Van Jones, special environmental adviser to the President, resigned Sunday, leading to raucous debate between critics on the right and the left over the growing influence of political pundits on White House affairs. MSNBC’s pundit-in-chief Keith Olbermann, who has famously been feuding with Glenn Beck‘s colleague Bill O’Reilly, has issued an open call for “dirt” on his conservative nemeses, and has even dedicated an email address to accept tips.
Critics attempting to measure Beck’s role in popular political discourse have compared him to two opposing historical figures who captivated the public, and threw their weight around Washington in the 1950s. Some, like Mediaite‘s Glynnis MacNicol, see Beck as “the next Edward R. Murrow,” while others, like the Huffington Post‘s Joseph Palermo, liken him to the senator Murrow worked hard to expose. “Beck’s tactics, which are identical to [Joseph] McCarthy’s, have entered the bloodstream of our body politic.”
Whether a Murrow or a McCarthy, one thing is clear. Fox News has developed significant influence on the American political system, and some say, carries more clout than actual Republican politicians. In August’s monthly ratings, Fox News was in the top three for primetime in all of cable, for the seventh time this year. According to Politico, the incident “confirmed that the real opposition party to Obama right now is the conservative grassroots that draws its energy from Fox News, talk radio and the Drudge Report, and often leaves Republican elected officials scrambling to catch up.”
In response to the news, left-leaning members of the media establishment have been able to see the silver lining, like Time‘s Joe Klein, who writes of Jones’ departure, “The work of this presidency is too important to be side-tracked by a too-angry blowhard spouting foolish radicalism.”
Arianna Huffington, who knows and has worked closely with Jones, thinks Jones’ talents can be put to better use in a position outside the federal administration, where he won’t be “tied to his desk with a sock in his mouth.” She sees the Beck-Jones incident as a cautionary tale, and warns, “If the sliming of Van Jones is an indication of how things are going to be, a lot of 20-somethings posting to their Facebook pages as we speak better start worrying about the digital crumbs they are leaving behind for the future Glenn Becks of the world.”