Glenn Beck flirts with sanity

In a special about swine flu and the vaccine for it, the Fox News host sounds almost reasonable -- almost

By Alex Koppelman
October 9, 2009 3:45AM (UTC)
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Glenn Beck

Fox News

Glenn Beck isn't going to tell you whether he's decided to get the swine flu vaccine, and whether he'll be getting his kids vaccinated too. "I'm trying to give you the facts tonight, with no opinion," the Fox News host said at the top of his hour-long special about H1N1 and the vaccine for it.


It may, of course, have been just that simple. But watching the show, it seemed like there was something else at work: It seemed like Beck was leaning towards the pro-vaccination side, that he, for once, doesn't believe the conspiracy theories. It was one of those moments where some of what Beck does seems like an act, a vestige of the showmanship he learned while a DJ on morning radio.

The man knows his audience. He has to know that his usual trips down into conspiracism mean that there are people watching him who do believe that the government will be injecting an RFID chip into your arm so that they can ship you off to a camp where you'll be held as punishment for refusing to be vaccinated. But he doesn't agree with them, and that means a little dance -- Beck debunks some of those fears, sure, but first he gives a little nod in their direction.

"We must take this threat [of swine flu] seriously," Beck said near the top of the show. "I think the government has done a responsible job so far. However, the arrogance of those in science and politics that we have seen lately should give us pause."


To start the special, Beck had two doctors on. One, Marc Siegel, is a Fox News contributor; he took the pro-vaccination side. The other, Kent Holtorf, specializes in bioidentical hormone therapy, an alternative medical treatment of dubious value. He took the anti-vaccine side. These sorts of he-said she-said debates, especially when conducted regarding issues of science, tend to give far too much credence to people who don't have evidence on their side. In this case, that was Holtorf, who argued against many vaccines generally, relying in part on an argument that's been repeatedly debunked about thimerosal, an additive, making some of the shots harmful.

In this segment, beyond the basic issue of having an anti-vaccination argument like this one on his show at all, Beck wasn't too bad. But he did revert to type on a couple of occasions, playing to the more paranoid in his audience -- after Siegel pointed out studies showing that the claims about thimerosal aren't true, for instance, Beck held up a copy of an old cigarette ad that featured an illustration of a doctor.

Beck even went so far as to debunk some of the wilder rumors floating around the Internet, which include a myth that the swine flu vaccine contains an RFID chip that will allow the government to track people. But he wasn't content to leave well enough alone, and started going back to his usual bag of tricks -- not too surprising, considering the fears in some circles about RFID chips being the "mark of the beast," a sign of the End Times.


"You have to know that the technology exists, but you also have to know that at this time there is no connection to the swine flu, there is no connection in any government contract, we can not find any government contract on these chips," Beck said. "However, it exists, and you must stay vigilant. Be aware, watch for it. Watch the companies and the government. I don't trust the government either. I know the days we're living in. Vigilance is the key word."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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