Interview: Alexander Zaitchik

Alexander Zaitchik deconstructs Glenn Beck
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  August 23, 2010

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REVIEW: Common Nonsense. By Chris Faraone.
It's hard to find words to describe how equally salacious and asinine it is that, on August 28, Fox News merrymaker Glenn Beck is hosting a Tea Party rally on the National Mall to coincide with the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Which is why I called on former New York Press editor and Salon contributor Alexander Zaitchik, author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance (Wiley), to explain this supreme stroke of propagandist irony. Before Zaitchik heads to Washington along with the crazies, he'll read from his exposé at Brookline Booksmith next Thursday, where plenty a lefty will no doubt share some good laughs at the expense of the dangerously credulous Fox News fanatic base.

You went in search of Glenn Beck's roots in Top 40 and talk radio. What was your course of action?
I knew that Tampa [Beck's first big talk-radio market] was the pivot city, so I started there to interview Ted Webb, who's a legendary DJ in the Tampa market. From there I went chronologically and started in Washington State.

What was it like for you to drop into some of these highly conservative environments?
The retirement villages in Tampa were shocking — something like a cross between a Hollywood film set and Disney World. They're just full of really wealthy old conservatives on golf carts, and they're all pinch-faced angry and wearing American-flag gear with Beck's books clenched to their chests. It was one of the most surreal things I've ever seen in my life.

What was your bombshell interview?
One that stands out in my mind is when I first found out that he had made fun of a woman on the air for having a miscarriage. The other guy who was fascinating was one of the only anonymous sources in the book; he was the one who told me about Beck's obsession with marketing theory in the early '90s, and how he used to quote Joseph Goebbels: "If you tell one big lie enough times it becomes the truth." That was back when Beck was driving around in his DeLorean, wasted.

Is Beck capable of shocking you at this point?
It would be pretty hard. One week he's recommending some neo-Nazi tract, and the next week he's pulling out some weird old anti-Semitic tract, and the next he's claiming that he's Martin Luther King and Thomas Jefferson. At this point, I think the whole country is pretty numb to his idiocy; the real shocking thing is that millions of people continue to take this guy seriously.

How much hate mail have you gotten?
The venom has trickled in, but it's nothing like when I published the first piece on Salon in September. I was getting a lot of attacks where people try to shut down your e-mail by putting you on a million lists, and then I was just getting all that "You godless socialist go back to Russia" kind of stuff, and thinly veiled threats that made me realize that I didn't want to do any readings in Utah.

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