Given the paper's unfair treatment of his Fox News show, it comes as no surprise the New York Times didn't much approve of talk show host and provocateur Glenn Beck's recent simulcast comedy show, which aired from Kansas City and over 400 theatres around the country. The criticism came in an Arts Beat blog post (hat tip Hot Air) by Times critic Mike Hale, "Glenn Beck, Simulcasting Discontent." Hale is clearly far more at home when praising left-wing Frontline documentaries for PBS, where he showed his eagerness for Euro-style socialized medicine to supplant the American system's "high-costs" and "failure."
Before starting his performance Thursday night at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo., which was simulcast to more than 440 movie houses around the country, Glenn Beck walked over to the camera, waved, and acknowledged the critic for The New York Times. The poor guy was in a theater somewhere in New York, Mr. Beck said, "all by himself."
Actually, at that moment I was one of eight people watching at the Clearview Chelsea Cinema, a number that would grow to 14 and hold there until almost the end of the show. (More on that later.) Not for the last time that night, Mr. Beck -- the comedian, Fox News host and suddenly hot spokesman for American populist discontent -- was hazy on the specifics but shrewdly aware of where his listeners were.
The small group that braved West 23rd Street was audibly pro-Beck, laughing at the same times as the capacity audience in Kansas City and occasionally saying something in menacing tones about the Federal Reserve or the progressive income tax. Being the critic, I didn't cheer or heckle, but I did yell at the screen once, something I don't think I'd ever done in a movie theater. It was 50 minutes in, when Mr. Beck announced that he was taking a 15-minute break and coming back for the second half of the show. "You've got to be kidding me!" was out of my mouth before I knew what was happening.
....But despite the modulation, and the smooth, folksy Garrison Keillor-with-a-bee-in-his-bonnet delivery, there was little in the show to reassure those who see Mr. Beck as a right-wing ranter bordering on a demagogue. Agreeable sentiments about personal and fiscal responsibility, education in citizenship and the value of nonpartisanship were wrapped in a vague, pandering mix of populist cliches, conspiracy theories and jokes that pounded away at blue-state punching bags: Nancy Pelosi, unions, the National Endowment for the Arts, government regulation and taxes, taxes, taxes. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Democratic Representative Henry A. Waxman were both made fun of for their looks; Mr. Waxman's nose was the subject of a particularly unpleasant visual joke.
Oddly enough, the Times has never had a problem with filmmaker Michael Moore's left-wing populism, conspiracy theories, or vicious, purposely misleading mockery of Republicans. In fact, the paper's chief movie critic thinks the mockumentarian Moore is "a credit to the Republic."