How Michael Moore and Glenn Beck Killed the Truth

Is Capitalism evil? Is President Bush a bad president? Should health care be offered to everyone in all circumstances? Does everyone deserve a job? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. It’s that simple. Or at least, that’s what Michael Moore would have you think. And many have taken the bait.

Let’s get this straight: Michael Moore (and those who appreciate his films) are not completely off base. They’re right to point out the glaring flaws of capitalism, the problems with the abuses of executive power, and the need to take care of those who are sick and hurting. Christians would do well to listen to some of their arguments and engage them, and the Christians who count themselves among Moore supporters (of which there are an increasing number) are certainly not to be expected to simply “get over it.” As Christians living in a fallen world, one of the things we are meant to do is to bring the attributes of God to life in a real, tangible way. This is what being a “light on a hill” is all about.

Of course, how we go about doing this is where it gets complicated. Should we attempt to pass legislation so that a more just society will continue for generations, or is that simply an impossible fool’s errand? Should we seek merely to carry out as many acts of kindness as we can as individuals or are we wasting our time when we could be accomplishing some more “big picture” changes?

There may be answers to these questions. I certainly have my opinions. But one thing is for certain: Michael Moore is not supplying us with those answers. In fact, he is short-circuiting the discussion by oversimplifying it. While his concerns are often real and valid, he often invalidates his claims by framing them in broad, foreboding strokes. In Bowling for Columbine, the NRA is painted as an offshoot of the KKK (because it was established around the same time the KKK was disbanded), a group of hapless followers of the foreboding villain, Charlton Heston who, with the help of a craftily edited series of interviews and speeches, was made to look as if he was spitting on the graves of the victims of 9/11 and their families. In Fahrenheit 9/11, Bush was portrayed solely as a President who saw 9/11 as nothing except for an opportunity to invade a country in order to benefit his wealthy friends. In Sicko, the American health care system is portrayed as utterly broken, while Europe is portrayed as an example of perfect justice in the realm of health care. In Moore’s world, it was all so simple.

But the thing is, it’s just not. In this world there are no unadulterated villains and heroes. Comparing Bush to Hitler serves to either alienate those who differ or dilute the horror and tragedy of the holocaust. Lesser villains equated to great villains simply creates an army of people who have no clue what true evil and tragedy looks like.

Moore doesn’t usually outright lie (though he’s been known to come pretty close). Instead, he oversimplifies. He paints with a broad brush and dehumanizes everyone who disagrees with him. And others are following suit.

The scary thing is, those following suit are not always liberal democrats. Glenn Beck, who many see as one of the main voices for conservative politics, wrote a book with the empathetic and edifying title, “Arguing with Idiots.” He is apparently fast and loose with words like “socialism,” “racism,” and “indoctrination.” When Barack Obama sought to encourage students in a speech to do well in school, Glenn Beck called it indoctrination. He called global warming “the greatest scam in history.”

What Michael Moore and Glenn Beck have in common is a disdain for complexity. They find clarifying arguments to be frustrating and counterproductive to their cause and will seek to villainize anyone who suggests them. Watch, for instance, the calculated way in which Moore responds to criticisms of Sicko, not by addressing the issues but by claiming the entire news network is biased. Similarly, note how Glenn Beck, when asked simply to clarify his own statement, begins to accuse the news media of “trapping” him. When faced with the possibility that there may be more to an issue than at first meets the eye, both Beck and Moore become visibly frustrated.

To follow Moore’s or Beck’s lead is a huge mistake. While it may seem tempting to take the easy way to winning an argument, there are three crucial principles the Christians must never lose sight of: First, for the Christian, truth is a value that must be both treasured and actively protected, not only by refusing to tell lies, but by also acknowledging truths even when they are inconvenient. Second, Christians must remember that winning arguments is last on the list of priorities, and that political debate oftentimes serves to distract from the gospel. Imagine how thrilled Satan must be when we argue with our unsaved family members about socialism and gay marriage. Finally, we must remember that we are merely pilgrims in this world, and that any political defeat or victory will only last until he comes and is therefore of diminishing importance as each second passes.

Are Michael Moore and Glenn Beck horrible people? Man, it sure is tempting to say so, and it may even be partially truth. But the real truth is, it’s just not that simple.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • Adam Carrington

    Question: does your comparison of Beck and Moore extend merely to their disdain for complexity in discussion or do you see deeper, further links?

  • Adam Carrington

    Actually, I should go ahead and add this: I’ve seen Michael Moore and I watch Glenn Beck. I do find that Beck often over-simplifies arguments and makes attacks on opponents that are shrill and, in at least one instance, outrageous. But I also find in him redeeming qualities to encourage and in which to hope. I’m not the only one, consider this from this weekend’s Washington Post about “Brain-Dead Conservatives.” Steve Hayward mentions how some conservative pundits (like Coulter and Michael Savage have little to positively contribute. Then this:

    “The case of Glenn Beck, Time magazine’s “Mad Man,” is more interesting. His on-air weepiness is unmanly, his flirtation with conspiracy theories a debilitating dead-end, and his judgments sometimes loopy (McCain worse than Obama?) or just plain counterproductive (such as his convoluted charge that Obama is a racist). Yet Beck’s distinctiveness and his potential contribution to conservatism can be summed up with one name: R.J. Pestritto.

    Pestritto is a young political scientist at Hillsdale College in Michigan whom Beck has had on his TV show several times, once for the entire hour discussing Woodrow Wilson and progressivism. He is among a handful of young conservative scholars, several of whom Beck has also featured, engaged in serious academic work critiquing the intellectual pedigree of modern liberalism. Their writing is often dense and difficult, but Beck not only reads it, he assigns it to his staff. “Beck asks me questions about Hegel, based on what he’s read in my books,” Pestritto told me. Pestritto is the kind of guest Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity would never think of booking.

    Okay, so Beck may lack Buckley’s urbanity, and his show will never be confused with “Firing Line.” But he’s on to something with his interest in serious analysis of liberalism’s patrimony. The left is enraged with Beck’s scandal-mongering over Van Jones and ACORN, but they have no idea that he poses a much bigger threat than that. If more conservative talkers took up the theme of challenging liberalism’s bedrock assumptions the way Beck does from time to time, liberals would have to defend their problematic premises more often.”

    Also, I don’t know how much of his show/writings you’ve perused, but they are frustrating not in the fact that he always over-simplifies but in that he shows an ability to think clearly and deeply that he does not indulge enough.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Adam, that last paragraph sounds absolutely fair. My thesis is basically that both of these men hinder discussion and relationships by discouraging the acknowledgment of complexity, especially when it benefits them. I think this is the main problem we have in political (or general) discourse and I find it to be relatively damning in both of their cases. They set the wrong standard.

    I do get the impression that Beck is a much smarter guy than Moore is, though to me that just makes him more sinister.

  • Adam Carrington

    Well put. Beck’s superior intellect makes him both more potentially useful and dangerous. Too much the latter, I agree.

  • http://www.hezharsh.com Hezekiah Harshit Singh

    I probably do not understand the nitty-gritty of the ongoing American politics because I’m a foreigner. And I always find it frustrating to hear extreme and polarised views!

    Thanks for this sensible article, Good stuff Rich!

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I saw Beck’s book while wandering through the bookstore this weekend. I thought it was about him, not by him. But then i didn’t look that closely since I find him almost wholly uninteresting.

    I think it’s a difficult claim to speak of Beck’s intellect as superior. If it were such, he’d likely not put on the kind of show or have the kind of reputation he does. Unless he’s actually working for the liberals. Then I’d say the man was a certifiable genius. Nobody does a better job at smearing conservative values than Beck, O’Reilly, et al.

    Or at least so I presume. I can’t imagine that these men are representative of truly conservative political ideology. Maybe they are are. Maybe that’s what neocon means now.

    In any case, it’d be nice to silence these voices and give freedom back to speech.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Harshit – Thanks so much!

    The Dane – Well, said. That book is indeed a sight to behold.

  • Adam Carrington

    Beck often is being comedic, especially in his books. “An Inconvenient Book” is really funny at certain parts and is so on purpose. Even the title and cover show he is being intentionally humorous. Could not the same be going on with his new book (haven’t read it, don’t actually know). His Inconvenient Book was actually modeled after the Daily Show’s America book and is much like Stephen Colbert’s I Am America (and So Can You), both of which are liberal-leaning, funny, and owned by myself. I actually don’t own any Beck books, but was shown his old one by my college pastor and father-in-law, both of whom found him very funny.

    In criticizing specifics about him, one has to see when he is trying to be funny and not. For example, his Obama is a racist comment was not meant to be funny and was wholly wrong to say and he deserves the deluge of problems that came from it. When he has a book cover of the state of california being shoved down his throat, maybe he is trying to make a point in jest.

    To the Dane: Beck is not the intellectual wing of conservatism any more than Keith Olberman is for the Left. Both sides have their intellectuals and both have their more popular, intensely acerbic personalities. If you want conservative scholarship, consult persons like Harvey Mansfield of Harvard, James Caesar at Virginia, or Robert George from Princeton, among many others. Pestritto from Hillsdale is good, too.

    They are all well-read, reasonable, and their books, like liberal serious scholarship also, sell much less than the stuff Rich attacks in this article, be it from the Left or Right.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    And that right there is the shame. Better a populous that feeds on no political theory than the populous that feeds on political theory governed by entertainment value (i.e. how much vitriol, hatred, and rage they can generate toward other people).

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Word.

  • ke7

    While I see your point, I believe your arguments are based on false premises. First, Beck is not a religious figure. In fact, he is not even a Christian (though he would consider himself to be one–he is a Mormon). While he talks a lot about family values, principles and faith, the purpose of his show is not to spread religion or faith. It is political in nature. To state that his method of winning arguments does not help the spread of the gospel does not make sense because his method of winning arguments is not INTENDED to spread the gospel. It is like arguing that McDonald’s does not do a good job spreading the gospel because their advertising is biased.

    While I completely agree with you that taking care of the sick, helping the poor and exposing corruption in government are issues that we need to pay attention to as Christians (as Moore advocates), I don’t think anybody would argue with that. As Christians, we are mandated to do this. We give financially and serve charities of our choosing. I think where most conservatives and people who love truth have issues with Moore are in the way he calls his biased films “biographies.” His films are intentionally filled with fallacies meant to twist the truth to fit his personal viewpoints. Every fallacy in the book is included (see http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ for a list). As a truth-loving Christian, THAT is what I find offensive. I have a love and passion for the truth, and I will not sit by and listen to somebody’s mutilated version of it. To conclude that a disdain for Moore is equivalent to a disdain for compassion and charity is simply not correct. As far as Beck goes, in the years I have listened to him, in the books I have read, I have not found a time when he has twisted the truth to make it convenient for himself. In fact, I have heard him say he was wrong and apologize when he realized it.

    As for Beck’s “oversimplification of the truth,” I do not completely agree with you there either. Beck is on the radio three hours every morning. He is on television another hour every evening. He is in the media FOUR hours EVERY DAY! If all he was doing was spouting off oversimplifications of the truth all day long, he wouldn’t be able to last ten minutes. Because of the vast amount of time he spends on the air, it would be easy to find hundreds, perhaps thousands of statements that appear to be oversimplifications of issues. However, I listen to the man every morning, and I believe that he possesses an ability to take the complicated issues, break them down into logical pieces and present them in a logical and understandable way.

    While I would agree that the title of his latest book is harsh, I would suggest you read it before stating that it is filled with oversimplifications. He cites every single fact in the book. Also, at the risk of being redundant, I’ll also point out again that the purpose of the book is not to spread the gospel.

    I, for one, am extremely glad that Beck is here in these times. Standing up to an administration that advocates dictatorship (i.e. Honduras), communism (czar Van Jones), “abortion” up to the age of three (czar Cass Sunstein), forced sterilization (czar John Holdren) and the abolishment of free speech (czar Mark Lloyd) is extremely dangerous. Every God-fearing Christian should find all of these ideas disgusting and abhorrent. I pray for safety and Divine inspiration over Beck every day. If the forces he battles on a daily basis had their way, we would likely all be in prison for spreading the gospel.

    So, instead of bashing the man, support him. If you’re going to bash him, at least listen to him and actually read his books beforehand so that you are informed of his positions and understand where he is coming from. Obviously you have watched Moore’s movies–give Beck the same courtesy. And don’t bash him for not spreading the gospel, because that is not his mission. Be thankful that SOMEBODY is standing up politically for Christian principles, values and freedoms that ALLOW us to spread the gospel. As Christians, we don’t need to personally argue with friends and family to win political arguments, but we need people out there who do fight political battles. Beck already has enough people out there bashing him and attempting to silence him, he doesn’t really need those of us who share his values bashing him as well.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Ke7, this is a lot to respond to, and it seems like it almost all misunderstood what I was trying to say, so quickly:

    -My point is not that Beck is failing to share the gospel. My concern is that Christians tend to gravitate toward Beck, and that is bad for the gospel. This web site is devoted to critiques such as this, which is why it would be perfectly legitimate to write something about why McDonalds advertisements are harmful.

    -This article is what you would call the OPPOSITE of a defense of Michael Moore. I’m not sure how you got that I was supporting him. I agree with pretty much everything you said up there about him.

    -I’m going to have to disagree with you about Beck’s oversimplification. I would say that labeling various policy changes to “socialism” is a form of socialism, as is labeling your political opponents “idiots.” Also, just because you are stating a series of facts doesn’t mean there aren’t important facts you may be ignoring.

    -Beck would be a fantastic asset to the kingdom of God… if the kingdom of God was of this world.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @ke7:

    I pray for safety and Divine inspiration over Beck every day. If the forces he battles on a daily basis had their way, we would likely all be in prison for spreading the gospel.

    Speaking of over-simplification. Or, well, lying. Unless you’re talking about Cthulu? Is Beck battling against the Old Gods when he’s not using the various mass media to propagandize and sow fear, discord, and anger? Because if you’re all you’re talking about Beck battling (battling?) is the stuff that he engages on his various entertainment shows, I feel pretty safe in comforting you that if Beck ceases to ever speak again, your right to speak freely your mind in appropriate settings (i.e., your freedom for speech) will remain just as it is.

    @Rich:

    Beck would be a fantastic asset to the kingdom of God… if the kingdom of God was of this world.

    And if we wanted a lame kingdom. I mean in some ways it’d be a through-the-looking-glass kind of cool. Czars advocating communism? The mind reels.

  • Jason Allison

    @Rich
    Based on your response to ke7, I agree with that calling political opponents idiots is “oversimplified.” However for the rest of it, you are taking conclusions to arguments he has spent hours and written books arguing. The whole “socialism” thing is covered in his book Common Sense, on his TV show and his radio show. If you listen to him, you would know he does not believe that we live in a socialist society, but sees the potential for us to get there based on some of the current government movements, primarily the government takeover of health care and the media. The current administration does believe in the fairness doctrine and tighter government control over the internet. When he calls a policy socialist in nature, his arguments are based on historical fact and historical parallels. That the policy is socialist in nature is only the conclusion to the argument, not the argument itself. If you ignore the entire argument and take only the conclusion, of course you could state that he “oversimplifies” everything. I could do that to this article by saying “all Richard Clark does is write his opponents off by stating they oversimplify everything.”

    It is the same thing with the Obama indoctrination speech. As a concerned parent, I went to the Department of Education site and read the curriculum available for the kids. Based on that curriculum, it certainly looked as if the speech were going to be propaganda. If Beck and Hannity Limbaugh hadn’t talked so much about the speech, the speech may possibly have been very different. Also, I have not head Beck call the speech “indoctrination” at all since the actual content of it was released. In fact, he said on his radio show that it was “actually quite good.” To simply state that he oversimplified the facts by calling it “indoctrination” is itself an oversimplification. You have not taken into account the arguments or the conclusions that were actually drawn.

    As a side note, there is actually an ongoing legal dispute involving the interview you linked to. Beck agreed to do the interview only under the condition that they not edit it in any way. Based on his prior experiences (like with the View), he was afraid they would take his statements out of context and attempt to make him appear to say something other than what he actually said. Of course they ignored the terms of the contract and edited it anyway. So it would be interesting to know how that interview really went.

    In your statement that it is a mistake to follow Moore or Beck’s lead, I assume you mean that it would be a mistake to apply their approaches to political argument to the spreading of the gospel. You are absolutely correct. Thankfully, the gospel is built of clear, understandable truth that does not even need to be argued. It simply needs to be presented in a loving way. Political policy is not so straightforward.

    While I don’t agree with all of your conclusions, it is a thought-provoking article. Thanks.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Jason – “The current administration does believe in the fairness doctrine and tighter government control over the internet.”

    That right there is a statement that deserves miles of unpacking. Fairness doctrine aside, network neutrality (what I’m guessing you’re characterizing as “tighter government control over the internet”) seems one of the essential components of liberty in speech in the coming decades. Without network neutrality, predictions of the internet’s continued evolution are dire. And especially for those who eschew the entertainment-based simplifications of mainstream news sources like CNN and FoxNews, the public voice offered by a liberated internet is essential.

  • Jason Allison

    @The Dane:

    While net neutrality in theory sounds wonderful, you are never going to get it from an administration that is willing to so boldly silence their opponents. http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/52435 Talk radio is the only form of media dominated by conservatives and they want to silence it. If the conservatives moved to the Internet, do you honestly believe they wouldn’t do the same there?

    I realize that you lean more to the left and probably think that silencing talk radio sounds like a wonderful idea. However, if it were the other way around (voices from the left being silenced), I would be equally concerned. Free speech is one of our most foundational rights as Americans. We need to have the ability to hear voices from all sides and to silence them is a crime against our country. It is one of the primary reasons our founding fathers fought for this country. If we loose free speech, we are done.

    I personally do not believe that the government will truly deliver net neutrality. They might act in the name of it for as long as it suits their agenda and then it will be abandoned. The best way to achieve net neutrality? Keep governments out of regulating all together. I believe capitalism can work it out. For example, if an ISP begins to offer service without any kind of blocks or filters and all the customers flock to that company, the other companies will have to revise their strategy or go out of business.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Jason – Wow. I lean to the left all of the sudden? That’s so awesome to find out. What a funny world we live in. Next thing you know, I’ll also lean Roman Catholic, homosexual, and Luddite. You know what they say about presumption, Jason.

    Well, actually, they don’t really say anything about it but I’m sure if they did it would sound pithy and sharp like what they say when you assume things. How ’bout we go with that. You know what they say when you assume things…? (Only, hopefully you’ll leave “me” out of it.)

    Why would I want to silence talk radio? (I mean besides the fact that it’s largely uninformative, panders to emotionalism, and platforms ignorance of its mass self-consumption?) Is talk radio largely conservative nowadays. Last I listened to the format, the stations around me had a fair split with conservatives, liberals, libertarians, non-committals, and cross-ideological shows. While some were occasionally engaging, none were particularly exceptional or insightful so I stopped listening. This was circa 1995. I guess you could call that silencing talk radio, but I doubt that’s what you mean.

    As you say, freedom of speech is important and I believe net neutrality is the best way to preserve that. Corpocractic plans to govern the internets are even now ready to go that, while not intending to limit speech, will do exactly that. Unless the FCC’s current plan to institute net neutrality (already in the works) gets in the way.

  • Jason

    Wow. I will not argue with you on Michael Moore, because frankly I have never really payed much attention to him. I feel he is a “left wing” conspiracy theorist. But all in all I really know nothing about him.

    Glenn Beck however I love to watch. I get from your final paragraph, that any arguing among Christians is fatal. “Imagine how thrilled Satan must be when we argue with our unsaved family members about socialism and gay marriage” Should we not argue about issues such as gay marriage? Think of how thrilled satan is when we keep our mouths shut.If we do not tell our unsaved family members about homosexuality, and what the Bible says, then what are we doing for God? I believe we have kept our mouths shut for long enough. That is why Christians are loosing their rights to speak out. Our silence has caused more trouble than our arguements could ever cause.

    Back to Beck. He tells the truth, sure he causes uproars and issues, but in the end he speaks the truth. Sure our government isn’t a sociallist one yet, but we are headed there. It makes more sense to call it what it really is and open peoples eyes to what it really is. If he just said “their heading toward a sociallist government” no one would make the connections untill it is too late. He has shown time and time again that Obama and many of his friends, staff, and affiliations are for socialism.

    I thought it was funny that you brought up his inteview with Couric. Did you notice that he answer the question. It took a while but he answered it. She asked why he said that and he answered. His answer was because, before Obama knew the facts of the story, Obama made a pubic statement calling the officer “stupid”. He knew nothing about the situation, so why would he comment. It really was none of his buisness and he had bigger fish to fry. But everyone wanted to see what a black president thinks about a white guy arresting an “innocent” black man. Also Obama sat under a white hating preacher, that cannot be overlooked. He was taught to hate white people, and he stayed there for 20 yrs. He must have felt comfortable in this atmosphere in order to have stayed there for 20 yrs.

    Hound Michael Moore all you want, but Glenn Beck is doing great things for Christians. Glenn Beck on Godlessness in America:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEuAVgmWt0U&feature=player_embedded

  • Tom LaPorta

    I think that what MM and GB have in common is a tendency to put up extremely specious arguments, in which conclusions just don’t flow logically from the premises (and they don’t in any systematic way reveal their premises). MM does it by almost randomly jumping from point to point and from issue to issue. GB does it in a wider variety of ways. Some that I can think of off-hand are the way he quotes the Founding Fathers’ non-canonical writings as though they were gospel truth and the way he equates thinking that there is SOME validity to Marx’s thought with being a communist (Marx does have at least SOME value, even though Marxist Communism is completely untenable as a system), and accusing others of doing the same thing that he does nearly every day (just today, he brought up that it was suspicious that David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel used similar language to describe Fox News. I hear almost every single talking head on FNC, including Beck, accuse the public option of being a gov’t takeover, the Democrats of “ramming health care down America’s throat”, and referring to White House advisors as “czars”). I’m pretty concerned for the future of our country and of our world when these are the opinion-makers of our culture.

  • CalanTaylo

    I found it interesting that Beck uses Thomas Paine as a hero for his book considering Paine would reject nearly everything Beck stands for.

    After all, Paine rejected Christianity:

    “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.”

    “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

    He also wrote An Essay on the Origin of Free-Masonry (1803-1805), about the Bible being allegorical myth describing astrology:

    “The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the adoration originally payed to the sun.”

    Paine argues against private property, saying that it should be equally distributed or reimbursed:

    “In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity . . . [Government must] create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.”

    And Beck would consider Paine a Marxist today because he believed in disintegrating property rights and giving assets equally to all. He was against inheritance and thought that it created a society of perpetual inequality.

    It seems ironic to me that Beck would name his book after (and include a copy of a work) a person who he would consider an anti-Christian, Marxist, Socialist. I think that perhaps he should do a little research before he champions someone that would be against everything he pushes. Just my 2 cents.

    CT


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