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Glenn Beck doesn't do his homework - again

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Message Robert O'Connor
Last week, Glenn Beck held up a book called "The Red Network" and praised it for doing in the 1930s what he's doing now - outing communists and exposing the radical agenda they plan.

Except the author of "The Red Network" was Elizabeth Dilling. Dilling was a vocal anti-Semite, racist, supporter of Hitler, member of the German American Bund and was tried for sedition during World War II. Even after the war she was still dreaming up communist conspiracies not dissimilar to those put out by the John Birch Society (who Beck has also praised).

All of these things should have been obvious to Beck in reading "The Red Network," which has many shockingly racist and anti-Semitic passages. But nope, Beck praised the book and told his audience that he had spent all the previous night reading it.

After it came to his attention that he had promoted such a detestable author, he admitted to not looking her up, but didn't exactly retract his endorsement of "The Red Network."

Well. This week the trailer for his new novel came out, and it contained a passage from the poem "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" by Rudyard Kipling without attribution.

The big complaint I have with this whole thing was that Beck didn't attribute the words in the trailer to Kipling. Will Bunch, who reported the story, is ambiguous about whether it's plagiarism, but I say it is.

Beck interprets the controversy as similar to his quoting Dilling before. Kipling, of course, was a supporter of the British Empire. His poem "The White Man's Burden" has become an emblem of Euro-centric superiority and pro-imperialism whether or not it was intended as satire.

Kipling also portrayed many of the Indian characters in his novels as buffoons, especially Bengali characters. At the height of Kipling's career, Bengali's were experiencing a cultural renaissance (aptly named the Bengali renaissance).

A pinnacle of that renaissance, Rabindranath Tagore, would win the Nobel Prize in literature for his "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse" - specifically the poems in his collection "Gitanjali." And as beautiful as those poems are, his short stories, songs (including the national anthems of India and Bangladesh) are just as beautiful.

Kipling believed - as many Empire men did - that men of the British Empire were the pinnacle of civilization, that their colonized subjects were to be perfected into the likes of them, with their ancient culture ridiculed away (in one of his first short stories, "Lispeth" he writes "It takes a great deal of Christianity to wipe out uncivilized eastern instincts, like falling in love at first sight.")

And Beck - admitting again that he hadn't done his homework - believes that Kipling was on his side. And what was his side? Against the "racist" progressives.

Um, no. Kipling had nothing to say about the progressives of the time, much less about the progressives of today. If this is another attempt by Beck to compare himself to historical figures (having previously compared himself to Martin Luther King, Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, Gandhi and others), I assume it is to hype his novel.

After all, for all the criticisms leveled at Kipling, he was a master storyteller. As George Orwell pointed out in his superb essay on the man, Kipling's Barrack verses are even more beautiful when written in standard English rather than the vernacular. The prose-poems in "Just So Stories" are masterpieces and I personally think that "The Elephant's Child" from that collection should be read in every Journalism 101 class, as only a journalist such as Kipling could have written such a gem.

The problem is that Beck doesn't have any of Kipling's better qualities and most of his worse qualities. Beck is not coherent, while Kipling could be concise. Kipling could also effortlessly write memorable aphorisms, while Beck doesn't have a genuine poetic bone in his body.

But what Beck and Kipling do share is a smug feeling of their own civilization's superiority and a sense that their civilization is under siege. Except Kipling perceptively saw enemies of the British Empire in the real Nazis. Beck sees imagined threats from imaginary Nazis.
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Robert O'Connor is a journalist from St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has been published by the Chi-Town Daily News, Newcity Chicago, The New Indian Express, the Twin Cities Daily Planet and others. He's also worked in radio at Radio K (University of (more...)
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