This line appears in a New York Times Magazine profile of Glenn Beck:

When I mentioned Beck’s name to several Fox reporters, personalities and staff members, it reliably elicited either a sigh or an eye roll. Several Fox News journalists have complained that Beck’s antics are embarrassing Fox, that his inflammatory rhetoric makes it difficult for the network to present itself as a legitimate news outlet.

Where to start? Beck is either a loon, it seems to me, or a charlatan, or a genuine enthusiast completely baffled by the world and entranced, like some unstable adolescent, by half-baked ideas that he seems to genuinely believe. I don't know the guy and can barely manage to watch more than a few minutes without being embarrassed for him and the universe, but I do find it bizarre that other Fox reporters regard him as the prime embarrassment for the propaganda network. (In this assessment, as always, I wish to make an exception for the terrific journalist, Shep Smith, and, on a good Sunday, Chris Wallace.)

Compared with Sean Hannity, for example, Beck seems to me to be a relative innocent. Hannity is a cynical liar and cool propagandist. You can trust nothing he says and although I find it hard to diagnose the motives behind Beck's enthusiasms (money? fame? emotional instability? misplaced patriotism?), he is, compared with Hannity, a model of genuineness. He did, for example, criticize Republican spending and debt under Bush. I remember, because he invited me on his show when it was on CNN before the 2006 mid-terms and we agreed on a lot. Hannity never criticized the GOP for its spending and borrowing, while immediately turning on a dime as soon as Obama was elected. Shameless does not even begin to describe the man's public character.

Then last night, in a lapse of hathos, I watched Bill O'Reilly. His Talking Points Memo was so full of meaningless cliches about "big government" and "progressives", so divorced from any coherent engagement with the reality of Obama's record and stated views, that it beggared belief. Here it is:

Just a few obvious points. O'Reilly lumps Obama into the "progressive values" camp and claims he is moving still further to the "left". What is his evidence for this?

He says first that in foreign policy, progressives believe that America is a "bully" and "too aggressive." Obama, however, has retained most of Bush's executive powers against al Qaeda (except, critically, torture), has poured more troops into Afghanistan than was ever the case under Bush, has ramped up the drone campaign in Pakistan, retained Bush's defense secretary, stuck to Bush's withdrawal timetable in Iraq, and embraced targeted killings of al Qaeda operatives, even US citizens. On Iran, Obama has managed to get a far more comprehensive and global set of economic sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards, and has refused to take military force off the table. Obama, moreover, went to Oslo to defend the necessity of war while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. For this record, O'Reilly says Obama represents the pursuit of "peace at pretty much any price." There is no other description of this than a travesty of the truth.

O'Reilly says that Obama, as a progressive, also wants open immigration, when, in fact, illegal immigration has gone down on his watch and many more law enforcement agents are now on the border. Obama, moreover, favors roughly the same immigration reform once backed by Karl Rove, George W. Bush and John McCain. Is Karl Rove an avatar of "progressive values"?

O'Reilly then says that Obama believes that a society "based on individual freedom has led to an unjust society." To buttress this, he shows a clip of Obama celebrating how through American history, African Americans, women, and workers fought to bring social change through their own efforts - and succeeded through organizing in a free society. His campaign and candidacy was based on a theme that America's freedom allows individuals to come together to make a better world. His argument is therefore the precise opposite of what O'Reilly claimed.

O'Reilly then says that Obama believes that a "big government" should impose the dream of a good education, a decent job and a house to live in, and thereby bankrupt the US. The only things that are truly bankrupting the US are entitlement programs that have been in place for decades, a new Medicare entitlement pushed through by George W Bush, and a soaring defense budget that O'Reilly supports. The debt Obama has added was the minimum necessary to prevent a second Great Depression, which would have added more to the debt than any short-term stimulus.

Beck is in many ways a clown. But my own sense of him is that he is, at times, a genuine clown, not entirely fake. (I know many disagree, and I cannot judge the man's soul from a distance, but that's my hunch.) O'Reilly, meanwhile, is a propagandist - not as bad as Hannity - but dishonest and wrong. And his claim to balance, by having on the hapless, clueless, intellectually vapid Dee-Dee Myers as a rebuttal, is absurd. Mr O'Reilly, I know Fox has long had a blanket ban on having me on as a guest, but here's a challenge: allow me to debate this Talking Points Memo with you, and reveal what a completely half-baked piece of nonsense it was.

I'm not Dee Dee Myers. I am not a progressive. And I think your version of this president is a caricature so unfair it deserves a real thrashing out on air, in public.

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