Glenn Beck and the psychology of political debate

Glenn Beck’s Fox News finale was a jaunt down memory lane of Beck’s big issues -- from ACORN to what he referred to as “the caliphate” -- and filled with self-congratulation.

But, to paraphrase a Washington Post reference to a Time profile on the radio-host-turned-TV showman, was Glenn Beck bad for America?

Studies show that when it comes to politics, that brand of angry TV talk show host popularized by the likes of Rush Limbaugh doesn’t do democracy or political discourse any favors. A 2001 paper presented at the American Political Science Assn. found that when two political candidates engaged in a hostile debate, viewers had far more negative attitudes toward Congress, politicians and the entire political system than they would have after watching a civilized debate.

Also, a 2007 paper published in the American Political Science Review found that such “in your face” debate, involving much shouting and tight close-up shots of faces, drew the most attention and generated the strongest emotional reactions from viewers, but caused them to delegitimize the opposing viewpoint far more than if they had seen civil, measured discourse without the extreme close-ups.


On the bright side, perhaps Beck’s fallen ratings were a testament to the limits of viewers’ tolerance for that particular style.

Will you miss watching Beck tear up on TV? Post your thoughts below.

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