Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck

When Glenn Beck signs off today at the end of his last Fox News cablecast, he will leave a TV legacy of reckless, divisive and ugly speech in his wake. He and Fox News should both feel some shame for the harm they have done to the national political discourse -- how they have taken an hour of dinnertime each weeknight and used it to help polarize us with paranoid and angry words.

But, of course, Fox and Beck don't seem to have any shame, do they? In the case of Fox News, it thinks good ratings are all that matter. And in the case of Beck, it's all about the new projects he has and his claim to make $30 to $40 million a year, with only a tenth of that having come from Fox.

Good for them and their skewed value systems. But given all the rancor and invective Beck has injected into American life via Fox during his run, I wonder why he found it surprising that he and his family were not  embraced by a crowd at Bryant Park when they attended an outdoor film showing there recently.

I say "not embraced" because what we mainly have is Beck's tearful on-air account during Tuesday's show of what happened to him and his family. And Beck is not exactly my idea of a reliable narrator.

Of course, it is unfortunate if what he says happened did happen. But given his reckless on-air attacks on the president of the United States and others, I do not think he should be surprised by any hostility he encounters in his off-air life.

He called President Obama a "racist" saying the president doesn't like "white people." Can you try and be more polarizing and divisive than that -- sticking your ladle deep into the steaming pot of America's troubled racial past and trying to give it one big, fat stir that might get it boiling over?

He called one of Obama's senior aides, Van Jones, a communist, and he went after him day after day after day for one stretch on his show, using rhetoric straight out of the ugly McCarthy era of the 1950s. He used his show to invite viewers to send in any negative information they had on Jones and others.

I will tell you something, I did much of my Ph.D. dissertation research on the blacklisting of the 1950s, and Glenn Beck's speech and attacks were as nasty and dirty as any of it. And there is no one who can absolve Fox News for loosening those ugly forces on American life again at a time when we as a nation need to come together to solve massive problems like no time since World War II.

Tell me about how Beck will end his Fox run in third or fourth place overall in cable news ratings, and I'll ask you at what price? He and Fox did it by speaking to our worst demons and betraying any notion of public trust that comes with being a cablecaster and part of the American press.

I publicly fought on principle against the White House when it made a highly organized attempt to say Fox News was not a legitimate part of the American press and should not be treated as such. I know the principle and the stand were correct. But every time I watched Beck go off on one of his hateful attacks, or paranoid, apocalyptic rants, I admit, that my conviction was tested. I was appalled when he tried to steal some of the moral authority of Dr. Martin Luther King by staging a state-fair-midway-show of a rally on the scared ground where King once spoke to the nation's conscience.

Beck and his soon to be ex-bosses at Fox News act like cablecasting is a game. That you can lie on-air as one executive did in pushing the notion that President Obama was a socialist, and then minimize it by terming your act "mischief."

No, mischief is Dennis the Menace ringing Mr. Wilson's doorbell and running away. What Fox did in putting Beck on its channel at dinnertime has far darker consequences for our democracy in this time of confusion and fear.

I am glad to see Beck leaving Fox News today, and I do not have one good thing to say about him -- or Fox for giving him this pulpit.

The plan is for Beck is to walk out of Fox News studios today and go straight into a two-hour program on his premium Internet service. Maybe he won't be as marginalized as I might wish him to be. But I'll bet he won't have 1.8 million people listening to dark, dangerous and off-the-wall musings as he did at Fox.