Sunday update: How many people actually attended the "Restoring Honor" rally? According to an independent estimate by CBS News, 87,000. According to Fox News Channel and Glenn Beck, half a million, maybe more.
You say tomato....
Although teased on their front pages, the rally wasn't covered on Page One of either the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times, which of course will only feed the "Mainstream media doesn't get it" meme among Beck and his angry fans/followers.
Beck did tell Fox News' Chris Wallace -- in an interview that Fox billed throughout as an "exclusive" -- that he has no political ambitions, but the more interesting question is whether he might be running for the 8 p.m. timeslot or a more prominent position on FNC's lineup. Just what Bill O'Reilly needs: Something to be even more paranoid about.
Beck himself put the crowd at 300,000 to 650,000. Wallace was more conservative -- at least on that point -- referring to it as "tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands."
During the interview Beck sought to amend his earlier remarks about President Obama, but it quickly devolved into babble about liberation theology. It's as if he sees the president's role as Christian in Chief.
Asked about the takeaway from the rally, Beck said, "The message was about God and faith."
Yep, as in if people buy Beck -- a peculiar mix of Lonesome Rhodes, Elmer Gantry and Howard Beale -- as a serious voice on the political landscape as opposed to a revival/circus act peddling snake oil, then God help us all.
Saturday: Fox News Channel seemed to exercise restraint in covering Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally, though the channel did promote an "exclusive" interview with Beck for Sunday, as if it's difficult getting one of its signature talents to appear on the network.
Of course, "Restoring Honor" had to share Saturday morning with the day's really big news -- that Paris Hilton had sullied her honor again, getting arrested in Vegas for alleged cocaine possession. There was also plenty of Hurricane Katrina coverage, though FNC seemed inclined to accentuate the positive about New Orleans' recovery. No surprise there.
Fox reporters cautiously estimated the size of the crowd at many tens of thousands, while saying the permit was for 300,000 people. It will be interesting to see what the final estimates really look like. (CNN didn't venture a guess either.)
Amid a crowd that looked overwhelmingly white, however, Fox News found an African-American conservative, Deneen Borelli, who was billed as a member of a national leadership network of black conservatives as well as a "Fox News contributor."
In terms of being representative of those in attendance, interviewing Borelli was a bit like going to a "Star Trek" convention and interviewing a "Star Wars" fan.
"Thank God for Glenn Beck," Borelli said, adding that Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream "has been realized." She also defended the timing of the event to the anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech, which had been a source of controversy.
Borelli spoke about the need for unity, and Beck's remarks were rife with empty patriotic platitudes. If that seemed a little disingenuous given how divisive Beck's rhetoric normally is, it appeared the crowd -- all some-number-of-thousands of them -- ate it up.
The New York Times' Bob Herbert -- among the many to decry the event in advance -- got to the heart of the problem with Beck in his latest column, writing, "Beck is a provocateur who likes to play with matches in the tinderbox of racial and ethnic confrontation. ... He is an integral part of the vicious effort by the Tea Party and other elements of the right wing to portray Mr. Obama as somehow alien, a strange figure who is separate and apart from — outside of — ordinary American life."
There's a big difference between that and disagreeing with policy over taxes and healthcare.
Frankly, my guess is Beck's Howard Beale act makes some of the folks at Fox uncomfortable. He's a huge draw, sure, but increasingly difficult to control. Liberal commentator Bill Press said of him last year, "I'm amazed at how much Fox lets Glenn Beck get away with. I think he is a ticking time bomb, and one day he's going to explode in the face of Roger Ailes, and they're going to be sorry they gave him that television show."
It hasn't gone off yet. But like Press, I can hear the ticking.