Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Glenn Beck's Ego Eclipses Fact

The Glenn Beck Program
KTTH 770 kHz
Weekday mornings 6-9 am

Beck (the widely respected recording artist) famously sang, "I'm a loser, Baby/So why don't you kill me?" When listening to Glenn Beck (the vastly overrated newstalk host) on his frequently self-indulgent and ignorant broadcasts, I sometimes feel like killing my radio.

In the first hour of this morning's edition of his daily syndicated show, New York City-based Beck was cross-talking with his producer/sidekick Stu. He then told of how Christopher Columbus was once saved by a late February total lunar eclipse, another of which shall occur, as it astronomically happens, tonight. It seems that the famed explorer was on his fourth and final visit to the New World in 1504, and his expedition was seriously down on its luck, shipwrecked and even facing starvation, not to mention hostile natives, in what is now northern Jamaica.

But the mariner hadn't earned the title Admiral of the Ocean Seas for nothing. While contemplating his limited options, Columbus's eyes surely widened when he noticed, in an almanac he'd salvaged from his crippled craft, that a German astronomer had calculated that a total lunar eclipse visible from the Western Hemisphere was imminent (on the evening of Leap Year Day, as it happened).

So Columbus approached the local chieftain on February 26th, warning him that if the explorer's entire party wasn't replenished with supplies, he'd destroy the moon three nights hence. Fortunately for Columbus and his men, the skies there were clear enough on the 29th, the terrified natives submitted as soon as the moon disappeared into the earth's shadow, and Columbus survived to return to Europe, where he would spend his remaining two years in retirement and obscurity.

Now Beck of course rather gratingly told this tale in typical Beck style--i.e., laiden with whimsical and unfunny gags on Sandals resorts, Rastafarians, etc. And he and Stu--who hopefully is nowhere near as young as his voice sounds--even described, in their fashion, the "blood-red" moon. That's a visual effect caused by the Earth's atmosphere which occurs during most total lunar eclipses, and therefore is something we may begin witnessing tonight when totality commences at 7:01 pm Pacific Time (assuming cloud cover above the Puget Sound region doesn't end up masking the whole shebang from us).

But so preoccupied was Beck with doing his "bit" (as such things are known in the radio biz) that he provided virtually none of the historical or scientific detail I related above. No, that might have elbowed aside some of his alleged comedy. So instead of seizing the opportunity to simultaneously inform his audience about something fascinating long ago while connecting it to an event tonight, Beck elected instead to make fun (if not funny) of an especially-inspired moment of a career so momentous that historian Michael Hart [see "Poll Faulting" archived herein July 2007] ranks it fully the ninth most influential in all of history. Beck never even bothered to mention that all this took place in 1504, leaving listeners to not unreasonably presume it happened three voyages prior during the more-celebrated Columbian year of 1492.

Such egregious factual lapses are because newstalk host Beck presents himself to his audience primarily as a funnyman. And man, it's funny how fundamentally he misunderstands the principal reason why most listeners might want to tune into a newstalk show like his. Most days, Beck's heavily-produced satirical takes on the news come off at best as forced and often even ill-informed, with the entire presentation usually emerging as little more than a low-rent pretender to the throne of the vastly-more-talented (and waaaaaaay funnier) Rush Limbaugh.

Like too many of his colleagues, Beck often fails to cite sources. So I wasn't surprised when he neglected to mention that many of us had read the details of this familiar (at least to historians) chapter in the Columbus story over the weekend, when it was featured prominently on The Drudge Report, widely considered to be the most-consulted website among newstalk radio hosts.

Throughout his bit, Beck referred to the "full moon". And that's technically correct, of course; every middle school science student is taught that lunar eclipses only happen with the moon in its full phase (just as a solar eclipse can only occur during a new moon).

But there was something truly breathtaking about this particular segment of Beck's show: despite riffing on (or, more precisely, just around) this remarkable historical vignette for over five minutes, neither Beck nor his yes-man ever once uttered this celestial phenomenon's lynchpin word.


That is, while each talked of the "full moon", the term "eclipse" was never used! (Needless to say, a garden-variety full moon never apparently disappears from the heavens.) Thus any listener who hadn't happened to have been aware of tonight's impending sky show must have been left totally mystified all along as to what in the heck Beck was talking about.

This constitutes nothing short of broadcasting malpractice.

BRYAN STYBLE/Seattle

1 comment:

local nonentity said...

I thought (but wasn't sure) that I once heard you on KIRO praising the Glenn Beck show. Your comments here have restored my faith in your ability to evaluate hosts. In view of your accurate observations that Beck is ignorant, self-indulgent, grating and unfunny: How do you account for his success? Does he have identifiable talents that others lack?