Analysts Discuss Glenn Beck's Rally

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - August 30, 2010

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the weekend rally on the National Mall and the throngs who showed up to answer FOX News host Glenn Beck's call.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Tens of thousands rallied near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington Saturday morning for an event with overtones of a Christian revival. The organizer, conservative commentator Glenn Beck, announced the gathering was about restoring honor.

GLENN BECK, host, "Glenn Beck": This day is a day that we can start the heart of America again. And it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God, everything, turning our face back to the values and the principles that made us great.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite Beck's statement about no politics, the other featured speaker was former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

SARAH PALIN (R), former Alaska governor: I know that many of us today, we are worried about what we face. Sometimes, our challenges, they just seem insurmountable. But here together, at the crossroads of our history, may this day, may this day be the change point. Look around you. You are not alone. You are Americans!


JUDY WOODRUFF: Highlighting themes of faith, hope and charity, Beck recognized several individuals, among them, Baptist Minister C.L. Jackson of Houston.

REV. C.L. JACKSON, Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church: God brought us here through this bright, young, I call him servant of God, son of God, Glenn Beck.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another was baseball superstar Albert Pujols of the Saint Louis Cardinals, who drew cheers.

The controversy surrounding Beck's rally grew out of the fact it was scheduled exactly 47 years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Across town, a group of civil rights activists led by the Reverend Al Sharpton held a counter-rally at a Washington, D.C., high school...

REV. AL SHARPTON, civil rights activist: Let us pray. Dear God, we thank you for...

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... followed by a march at the site of a planned King memorial. Sharpton urged his crowd to show restraint if confronted by those who rallied with Beck.

REV. AL SHARPTON: They want to disgrace this day. And we are not given them this day. This is our day, and we ain't giving it away.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The event Saturday remained peaceful. But, by Sunday the rhetoric was inflamed yet again. In an appearance on FOX News, Beck renewed his criticism of President Obama's faith.

GLENN BECK: What does the president believe? Four different speeches since he has been president, he has told -- and mainly students -- that your salvation is directly tied to the collective salvation. That -- that's not something that most Christians recognize. I don't -- I'm not demonizing it. I disagree with it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Speaking with Brian Williams of NBC News yesterday in New Orleans, the president was asked about the Beck rally and what it said about the country. Mr. Obama said the frustration was understandable, given the many challenges the nation faces.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Given all those anxieties, and given the fact that, you know, in none of these situations are you going to fix things overnight, it's not surprising that somebody like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country. That's been true throughout our history.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That much was evident by the large turnout on the National Mall Saturday.

For more on the rally and the man behind it, we are joined by Kate Zernike of The New York Times and author of the soon-to-be-released book "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America," and David Von Drehle. He's editor at large for TIME magazine.

Good to have you both with us. David, I'm going to start with you. You did write TIME's cover story on Glenn Beck last year. Remind us who he is, where he came from, and tell us a little about his background.

DAVID VON DREHLE, TIME Magazine: Well, Glenn Beck comes from top 40 morning zoo radio. That's where he started out his career, as a goofy guy doing radio stunts. He -- he did that through the '80s and the '90s. He has talked about his battles with alcoholism. He conquered that in part by joining the Mormon Church, straightened out his life, and, since then, has been moving in the direction of becoming more of a conservative talk radio host.

But his politics are very gradually evolving. And there's still a big part of that -- of that morning zoo, entertainment-oriented, event-organizing, entrepreneurial spirit to the kind of work that Beck does.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So how did he get to the point where he can attract such a huge crowd to the Lincoln Memorial?

DAVID VON DREHLE: Well, he's a great promoter. I really think it's three things, Judy. Number one, he has tapped into a spirit that is real. As the president was saying, there are a lot of frustrated people out there trying to figure out what's going on in this country right now. Number two, Beck is immensely talented and very hardworking. He -- he knows what he is doing.

And, number three, the media have changed. And so, because of technology, people can now be reached in the ideological niche or the entertainment niche that they choose. And, so, Beck's audience, which, on television, is about, you know, between two and three million people a day, back in the days of broadcast, that would have gotten him canceled. But, today, that can be a dynamic, large audience.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kate Zernike, you covered the rally yesterday. As we have said, you have written the book. He said he didn't want this rally to be about politics. He did have Sarah Palin talk. And you wrote in your story that the crowd was a mix of people who have been involved in the Tea Party. So, was it political or not?

KATE ZERNIKE, national correspondent, The New York Times: Well, I think it was certainly political in Sarah Palin's remarks. And I think there were actually a lot of people there who seemed to expect a little bit more. They were sort of surprised by the overtly religious tones and were sort of expecting more of a political rally.

And I think they are going to get that in a couple of weeks. Remember that there's going to be another series of rallies September 11 and 12 in Washington again. And that will be much more overtly political. And Beck is working with some of the people who will be arranging those rallies. So, I think it's sort of you have to look at these as kind of bookends to Tea Party action in Washington in these few weeks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how do you see the overlap, Kate, between these Tea Party folks, folks who may be part of that movement, and then this restoring-honor theme that Beck was -- was talking about on Saturday?

KATE ZERNIKE: Right. Well, I think -- remember that the Tea Party -- so, the Tea Party started in February of 2009. And about three weeks later, Glenn Beck had a special episode of his program on FOX where he called for the forming of these 9/12 groups, which are sort of the Glenn Beck brand of Tea Party.

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