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Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance 1st Edition

3.4 out of 5 stars 88 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470557396
ISBN-10: 0470557397
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Editorial Reviews


"A gripping and thoroughly researched Beck biography."
—Joe Conason, Salon

Common Nonsense will tell [his fans] more than they’ve ever known about Beck, but it will challenge the premises of his stories and his crusades. Zaitchik defends ACORN and environmental activist Van Jones from the pounding Beck gave them — at times, the reader feels that he’s watching a medic team pick up wounded bodies from the culture war.”
—David Weigel, The Washington Post

“Fox News host Glenn Beck delights in provocation — see his well-publicized spats with James Cameron, Rep. Anthony Weiner and others — and, according to Alexander Zaitchik's new book, he's always had the knack. Indeed, the book, which Firedoglake calls, ‘careful and studious...part biography, part deconstruction,’ reads like an extended list of all the folks the outspoken conservative pundit has irked during his rise from local radio host to national media icon.”
The Week

“A superb book… Alexander Zaitchik shows how Beck’s blackboard schemes are fiction—part of what [Zaitchik] calls ‘the oceanic audacity of his self-serving ignorance.’”
—Mark Schmitt, The American Prospect

“A sharp and informative smackdown.”
Mark Lilla, The New York Review of Books

“A tough critique of the host’s history, philosophies and methods, aimed at separating fact from hyperbole [t]hrough detailed interviews, an examination of Beck’s public statements, and a look at public records.”
—St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

From the Inside Flap

Common Nonsense

What kind of disc jockey would telephone the wife of a competitor and, over live radio, belittle her and her husband about her recent miscarriage? What kind of patriot would con his listeners into donating $450,000 to finance a series of Rally for America events that turned out to be nothing but a personal promotional tour? What kind of talk-radio host would falsely describe the president of the United States as a communist and black nationalist out to enslave Americans? The purveyor of such tactics—and worse—can only be America's newest household conservative name: Glenn Beck.

In Common Nonsense, investigative reporter Alexander Zaitchik traces Beck's personal history, from his troubled childhood through his years as a "morning zoo" DJ to his sudden and meteoric rise to the top of the conservative media heap. He pays special attention to Beck's transformation from alcoholic, cocaine-snorting, failed disc jockey without a political thought in his head to wealthy, bile-spewing, right-wing demagogue whose radio and television shows form the core of a multimillion-dollar media empire.

Drawing on interviews with Beck's childhood friends, radio coworkers, and TV colleagues as well as Beck's own published accounts of his life, Zaitchik reveals the cracks in Beck's personal creation myth. He pinpoints the moment when Beck, then working in Tampa and about to be fired from his first-ever talk-radio job, discovered right-wing rabble-rousing as his route to long-sought fame and fortune. He shows how Beck adapted the timeworn gags and manipulations of radio hucksterism—including the audience donation drive—into powerful tools for propaganda and personal enrichment. He also demonstrates how Beck's screeds about ACORN, czars, and socialists are carefully honed to intensify his listeners' fears and spur them to action at a time and place of his choosing.

Beck's manipulations are not aimed exclusively at conservative Tea Party activists. One of his favorite gambits, Zaitchik reveals, is to make outrageous statements—such as calling President Obama a racist—to provoke angry and overwrought reactions from the Left. He knows that nothing burnishes his reputation as a right-wing hero victimized by political correctness more effectively than a barrage of scoldings from the "liberal elite."

You can laugh at his crocodile tears, shake your head at the "facts" out of which he spins his wild theories, gape in wonder at his abrupt transitions from cheap sentiment to vicious attack and back again—but do not underestimate Glenn Beck. Read Common Nonsense and discover how this smart, ambitious self-promoter and his devoted flock poison our political discourse and weaken our democracy.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (May 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470557397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470557396
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
My title says I found this book is a bit depressing. It's depressing because after showing all the ignorance, not to mention out-right lying, that goes into numerous Glenn Beck pronouncements, the author, Alexander Zaitchik, is forced to admit that Beck is not going to smarten up or disappear anytime soon. Beck's schtick makes too much money and gets too much press and gives Beck too much a feeling of omnipotence and power.

Two people can look at the same set of facts, and come to different conclusions. Of course. But as Zaitchik illustrates, Beck pulls stuff out of the air and uses it as if it's a fact. I want to review Zaitchik's book, itself, and not just write an opinion piece on Beck (because boy is that another review). So, speaking about this book instead of about its subject matter, I must say that Zaitchik's detail is excellent. As a non-fiction book, it has extensive footnotes and you always know from where he got his information. Though you can tell Zaithchik is not a Glenn Beck fan, there is no unsubstantiated ranting (in the manner of, oh, Glenn Beck) - rather, you're told when, where, what and how.

I found the detail fascinating and I took pages of notes while reading this book. I came away with these main points:

1. Beck was into personal attacks while he was a drug-addled drunk DJ, and cleaning up his drug habit has not cleaned up his attitude towards demonizing in the harshest terms anyone who disagrees with him. This includes what Beck considers cute stunts. During the Terry Schiavo uproar, a local newspaper columnist disagreed with Beck's view. So Beck said on his radio show that he'd like to "murder" the man, and gave out the columnist's phone number, address and email address on the air. The columnist was inundated with death threats.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There's no denying that political discourse in America today is more rancorous and uncivil than at any previous time in our history. There's no denying that misinformed talk-show demagogues and their fawning followers have hijacked key debates about national issues, and drown out the voices of thoughtful moderates with their strident, ignorant clamor. And there's no doubt that the broadcast media has played a major role in amping up the hype over controversial issues in their endless quest for ratings at the expense of truth, accuracy, balance and integrity.

"Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance," paints an appalling portrait of one of the darlings of today's paranoid, fact-challenged, know-nothing, right-wing political fringe. In this review, I won't summarize Beck's rise to prominence--I find him too thoroughly detestable to be worth that unpleasant task. But I will say that this book chronicles that rise in clear, chilling, footnoted detail, using primary sources that leave no doubt that this is an accurate picture of the man. That his racist, bigoted, militaristic, hyper-religious, fact-free, self-serving bombast has any appeal at all for any Americans is a sad statement on the extent to which willful ignorance has today become a virtue. That Beck, and others of his ilk, continue to draw oblivious, adoring listeners into their hate-filled fantasy worlds testifies to the immense power of the modern media, a power that Nazi propaganda minister the late Dr. Josef Goebbels would envy. That they continue to do so also shows the distressing triumph of mindless entertainment over factual substance.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm mixed on this book. On one hand, the author did a great job of researching Beck's radio past and rise in television, and takes a pretty good look at many of Beck's influences. On the other hand, the author's contempt for Beck drips from nearly every page. If anything, I think that this book will serve for the left what Beck's books do for the right: preaching to the choir. If you don't like Beck, then this book just confirms everything that you already believed, and gives you a bit extra ammunition when you call him a charlatan who is interested in nothing other than building his own personal fortune by playing to the fears of his audience.
83 Comments 61 of 79 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I finished reading COMMON NONSENSE about a week ago, shortly before Glenn Beck had his encounter with actor James Gandolfini (HBO's Tony Soprano) at a New York theater. In Beck's own words:

"I said, 'Hey Jim, we have a mutual friend' and I told him and I shook his hand," Beck said. "And he said, 'What is Satan doing here?' I have my 5-year-old in my arms. I didn't shoot back: 'Why are you glorifying killing, mobsters, whoredom.' None of that ... Leave my kids out of it. Leave people's families out of it."

Upon hearing this, I had mixed emotions... I'm certainly no Beck fan, but perhaps Gandolfini could have moderated his comment a bit. Then again, I thought it was rather ironic that Beck would be "gushing" over the idea of meeting the TV star, and the moment Gandolfini indicated that the respect wasn't mutual, Beck tears the man down for the portrayal of his Tony Soprano character.

You can't have it both ways Glenn. You either like the guy or you don't. Don't feign love for the actor until he tells you, essentially, to p*** off, and THEN start off on a tirade of what an awful person the actor is because of the character he his famous for.

But I shouldn't have been surprised, having read Zaitchik's in-depth examination of Beck. The man is a total contradiction, a buffoon, a bully, and a thug. With a criminal record no less, and a self-described (and lengthy) history of alcohol and drug abuse.

And BOY do the Tea-baggers love him!

One of the more stunning stories Zaitchik relates was when Beck called the wife of a radio competitor very shortly after she had suffered a miscarriage. LIVE on the air during his program, he rings the woman up and says "We hear you had a miscarriage!
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