Glenn Beck’s Independence, USA: A Look At Conservative Punditry And Money

By @FrederickReese |
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    This Nov. 20, 2011 file photo shows TV and radio commentator Glenn Beck at the 114th Anniversary Justice Louis Brandeis award Dinner given by the Zionist Organization of America in New York. (AP Photo/David Karp, file)

    This Nov. 20, 2011 file photo shows TV and radio commentator Glenn Beck at the 114th Anniversary Justice Louis Brandeis award Dinner given by the Zionist Organization of America in New York. (AP Photo/David Karp, file)


    (MintPress) – Glenn Beck, the controversial former Fox News personality, has a crazy idea: Build a Randian city called Independence, USA. This self-supporting libertarian community — suspected to be expected in Texas — will cost approximately $2 billion to construct, as reported by the Dallas Observer.

    This community — supposedly meant to be a version of Galt’s Gulch from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” — is part of Beck’s reinvention of his media property, the Blaze.

    According to Beck, he will open three foreign bureaus in cities that are “important to America.” He also plans a move of his staff from their midtown offices to a building that will “send a very clear message to everyone in New York … it will piss everyone off.”

    Beck also announced his intentions to release his version of ABC’s Nightline, called For the Record — of which Beck promised will be “the most expensive show on the network, including mine” and will feature episodes exposing the National Security Agency surveillance on Americans and warning that the United Nations “want[s] your guns.” Beck plans on hiring investigative journalists and intends to produce more documentaries.

    Shortly after his departure from Fox News in 2011, Beck created GBTV — an Internet-only two-hour, subscription-based program — which claimed to have 300,000 viewers. On Sept. 12, GBTV transitioned to the Blaze TV and was announced to become a part of Dish Network’s broadcasting package. In addition to the Blaze TV, Beck is an author with Simon & Schuster’s Threshold Editions imprint and is an enthusiastic stage performer and public speaker.

     

    A new community

    In Beck’s dream of Independence, USA, as reported by BuzzFeed, “Beck revealed that his intention to ‘go Galt’ is quite literal, unveiling grandiose plans to create an entirely self-sustaining community called Independence Park that will provide its own food and energy, produce television and film content, host research and development, serve as a marketplace for products and ideas, while also housing a theme park and serving as a residential community … At the center — in the middle of the lake that is itself larger than all of Disney Land – Beck (with the help of David Barton) will create a massive ‘national archive’/learning center where people can send their children to be ‘deprogrammed’ and elected officials can come to learn ‘the truth.’”

    In the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” Galt’s Gulch was a hidden utopia created by the inventor John Galt to ferret away the world’s greatest minds in an attempt to collapse the federal government that is seen to work against the interests of industry and progress by destroying the free market. According to Rand, with the absence of the world’s “greatest minds,” society would implode on itself, leaving the “enlightened” to rebuild the world anew. Despite its critical panning — including Gore Vidal labelling the book’s philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality” and the New York Times Book Review stating that the book was “written out of hate,” “Atlas Shrugged” has always held a cult following among libertarians and conservatives, as it validates their philosophies on private ownership and personal entitlement.

    The Blaze describes its take on Beck’s “Galt’s Gulch” this way: “Galt railed against the collectivist system and believed that only through freedom could people tap into their divine potential to become creators of their own: leaders, businessmen, artists, and so on. The community that was created in this spirit was called ‘Galt’s Gulch,’ and it is that very ideal Beck strives to emulate in his own enterprises.  In fact, that’s why he moved to Texas … Drawing on this free market, limited-government model, Beck said he aspires to build an actual community based on just that.  While the price tag of building an actual city-slash-theme park is steep at an estimated $2 billion, Beck said he feels compelled to move forward with his ultimate plan ‘once piece at a time.’ Having toured ‘three possible sites in three different states’ and having spoken to two governors already, Beck is serious in his goals.”

    Beck’s turn from Republicanism toward libertarianism is based more on financial considerations than ideology. Beck has been working to expand his network’s viewership; previously, he made a bid for Al Gore’s Current TV, which was rejected on moral issues. Current TV would later be purchased by al-Jazeera. Current polling among young conservative viewers finds the Republican Party and its aligned “mouthpiece” — Fox News — distasteful, which may be the rationale for Beck’s recent motions.

     

    The movement

    The concept of a separate libertarian “paradise” is not a new one. In 2001, the Free State Project was established as a political movement toward recruiting at least 20,000 libertarians, moving them to a low-population state (New Hampshire was chosen in 2003) and basically taking over the state in the name of creating a stronghold for libertarianism. The mission statement of the Free State Project, as posted on their website, is: “The Free State Project is an agreement among 20,000 pro-liberty activists to move to New Hampshire, where they will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property. The success of the Project would likely entail reductions in taxation and regulation, reforms at all levels of government to expand individual rights and free markets, and a restoration of constitutional federalism, demonstrating the benefits of liberty to the rest of the nation and the world.”

    With the endorsement of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, the group currently has 13,610 claimed members; 1,120 of whom actually live in New Hampshire. Other voluntary political migrations in this nation included the Mormons’ establishment of Deseret (which would become Utah), Edward P. McCabe’s push to make Oklahoma a predominately black state (which was met with extreme racism and the establishment of Jim Crow laws in the state) and the Jewish migration from anti-Semitism in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Republicanism is against the ropes currently. On a shaky foundation even before the election, conservatives are currently finding themselves floundering now that the confidence that has been supporting them for so long has been deflated. A Rasmussen Reports poll now shows that only 8 percent of all Americans see themselves as members of the tea party, from 24 percent in April 2010 — just after the passage of the national health care law. Forty-nine percent of all respondents have a negative view of the tea party, compared to 30 percent who have a positive view. Many of the Republicans’ most steadfast pundits — including Ann Coulter — are starting to lash out at the antics of the party’s leadership, and fights among Republicans about disaster relief and resource allocations are exposing the party as being severely damaged.

     

    Money, funding and advertising

    This is problematic as the conservative media movement, as reported in Salon, is primarily considered a moneymaking venture. Former FreedomWorks chairman and former representative Dick Armey told Media Matters that the group wastes large amounts of donated money to media pundits, “The arrangement was simply FreedomWorks paid Glenn Beck money and Glenn Beck said nice things about FreedomWorks on the air. I saw that a million dollars went to Beck this past year, that was the annual expenditure.”

    Salon reported on the state of the involvement of the pundits on the SuperPAC, “‘If Limbaugh and Beck, if we were using those resources to recruit activists and inform activists and to encourage and enthuse activists, that’s one thing,’ Armey explained. ‘If we are using these things to raise money; one, it’s a damned expensive way to raise money; and two, it makes raising money an end on to itself not an instrumental activity to support the foundation work that our organization does.’”

    The Salon report continues, “Armey also said the relationship with Beck expanded to include rallies that were co-sponsored by Beck and FreedomWorks, and included appearances by FreedomWorks President and CEO Matt Kibbe.

    “Armey said he objected to these events, dubbed FreePACs, because they often charged admission to FreedomWorks activists.

    “A review of promotional information for the events found $20 was a standard donation requested at some of the locations, while a Dallas, TX., FreePAC last summer charged prices as high as $971.”

    The implications of this is great.  Conservative pundits push their viewers to support conservative groups, which pay the pundits for them to speak about the topics they want the pundits to talk about and to generally endorse the groups.

    If this true, conservative punditry is no more than paid advertisement.

    In 2011, Politico reported that many conservative pundits are paid sponsorship fees that buy prominent conservative groups promotional tie-ins, on-air plugs and editorial access of materials meant to go on-air. Glenn Beck is sponsored by FreedomWorks; Mark Levin by Americans for Prosperity; and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity by the Heritage Foundation. Michael Harrison, publisher of the talk media trade publication TALKERS magazine, said “The point that people don’t realize is that (big time political talk show hosts) are radio personalities – they are in the same business that people like Casey Kasem are in – and what they do is no different than people who broadcast from used car lots or restaurants or who endorse the local roofer or gardener.”

    In defense of their practices, Genevieve Wood, Heritage’s vice president for operations and marketing, said, ““We approach it the way anyone approaches advertising: Where is our audience that wants to buy what you sell? … And their audiences obviously fit that model for us. They promote conservative ideas and that’s what we do.”

    Such potential conflicts of interest are not a new or unique phenomenon among conservative talk show hosts. Since 2009, Beck’s economic warnings were typically lead-ins to in-program commercials for his sponsor, Goldline.

    This is generally seen as a problem with the right — no one has accused the Huffington Post or MSNBC of similar tactics — and this investment toward corporate concerns over issues important to the public is largely seen to be the leading complaint against the Republican Party.

    As reported by Salon, “The problem this presents for the movement, beyond the threat of eventually bankrupting the people who give it power, is that the business of money-making, for consultants and media personalities and Herman Cains, is at this point getting in the way of the business of advancing conservative causes. The groups exert massive influence, and they only ever push the Republican Party to get more extreme. Apocalyptic hysteria is much more effective at getting people to open their wallets than reasonable commentary. There are a lot of people whose livelihoods depend on keeping lots of conservatives terrified and ill-informed.”

    An extreme example of this is Alan Keyes. As reported by Salon, “Keyes and his loyalists now operate a for-profit Web site; a number of PACs and not-for-profit organizations focused on abortion (Life and Liberty PAC), immigration (Minuteman Civil Defense Corps), and economic populism (Declaration Alliance); a consulting firm (Politechs); a political-research firm (Primer Research); a political Web consultancy (Strategic Internet Campaign Management); a political media firm (Mountaintop Media); a mailing-list provider (Response Unlimited); an online-fundraising site (rightmarch.com); and a media-relations company (Diener Consulting) — many of which operate out of the same address.”

    If Glenn Beck, at his core, cares about nothing more than money, then is such a description of his “utopia” truly so ridiculous?

    “Glenn believes that he can bring the heart and the spirit of Walt’s early Disneyland ideas into reality. Independence, USA wouldn’t be about rides and merchandise, but would be about community and freedom. The Marketplace would be a place where craftsmen and artisan could open and run real small businesses and stores. The owners and tradesmen could hold apprenticeships and teach young people the skills and entrepreneurial spirit that has been lost in today’s entitlement state.

    “There would also be an Media Center, where Glenn’s production company would film television, movies, documentaries, and more. Glenn hoped to include scripted television that would challenge viewers without resorting to a loss of human decency.  He also said it would be a place where aspiring journalists would learn how to be great reporters.

    “Across the lake, there would be a church modeled after The Alamo which would act as a multi-denominational mission center.  The town will also have a working ranch where visitors can learn how to farm and work the land.”


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