Common Nonsense is a piñata stuffed with damning testaments to Beck's astoundingly flawed character. Not like his legionnaires care about his checkered history — Beck's viewers by and large adore his coke-bags-to-riches evolution — but the juxtaposition of his degenerate past against his current role as a self-appointed moral watchdog is nonetheless the stuff irony is made of. Beck deserves his own book in the annals of C-level celebrity vagrancy; former co-workers describe him as a sadist, and not just because he subjected listeners to such cheap radio gimmicks as hiring televangelist Jim Bakker's mistress Jessica Hahn as the "prize-and-weather bunny" for his morning show in Phoenix back in 1987.
Stories of savage hypocrisy show up on nearly every page. Despite having authored Arguing with Idiots (a book entirely devoted to wrestling with fact-focused liberals), Beck is here unmasked as a coward who's unwilling to engage informed lefties on his show. In the rare instances when enlightened guests do make it on, he is certain to dismiss any charges that he deems to be progressive propaganda. Zaitchik visits the first and last time that Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser appeared for an interview: "Beck made no pretense of having read Fast Food Nation, and he spent the segment mocking his guest. As Schlosser discussed by satellite the dangers of letting fast-food chains market to children, Beck winked at the camera and crammed a Big Mac into his mouth, giggling as he licked his fingers and wiped his chin. Had Beck read Schlosser's book, he would have known that he was making a literal ass out of himself on national television by smearing heavy traces of cow feces all over his smug face."
As Zaitchik reports, Beck's former addiction to weed, blow, and booze was merely recreational compared to his hard-on for power and capital. If the overriding theme of Common Nonsense is that Beck's long career in goofball radio was boot camp preparing him to lead platoons of dingbats in social, political, and cultural warfare, then the subtext is that no fix is potent enough to quell his insecurity and satisfy his ego. Since venturing into political talk radio in the 1990s, he was able to build influence with help from Clear Channel, which, thanks to federal deregulation, was empowered to vastly expand its monopolistic empire and became able to syndicate Beck's early programs across the country. From there it was on to CNN Headline News, and eventually Fox News, where he found his voice along with millions of paranoid simpletons who were anxious to tune in every night.
Common Nonsense serves up far too many jaw-droppers to recount in this space, from Beck's coming of political age during the 2000 Florida recount and subsequent Terry Schiavo debacle, to his "gloating calls for bombing runs on Baghdad," to his "snorting cocaine off the dashboard of his DeLorean." Only Beck can top Beck. One day he calls victims of Hurricane Katrina "scumbags"; the next he "[points] to the Dow Jones Industrial Average as proof that the Bush economy was strong, heartily [defends] torture, and [compares] Republican senator Rick Santorum to Winston Churchill." This is a man who equates green jobs with reparations, AmeriCorps workers with Nazis, and environmental activism with fascism. Beck is a bomb thrower, plain and simple, and Zaitchik highlights the most pivotal turns in his twisted jihad.