By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; C01
When bathed in his own afterglow, Glenn Beck becomes as soft and gentle as Mister Rogers.
In cadence and content, his Washington rally debriefing Monday on Fox News's "The Glenn Beck Program" was soothing television, with a slideshow that proved theirs was not a choo-choo train trip to the land of make-believe, but a real phenomenon. He called it a miracle.
Here's a picture Beck has of Sarah Palin praying for fully 10 minutes, Beck said, "the most beautiful picture of Sarah Palin ever taken," just look at it. Here's one of a man and his young son in a moment of patriotic bliss-out under blue skies. Here are the geese that flew in perfect formation over the crowd just as the rally began on Saturday in front of the Lincoln Memorial. As he stood in his bulletproof vest and prepared to restore America, those geese, Beck said, were a way of knowing that God had noticed.
Mostly it was a show about size -- width and length and area and might and nary a word about technique. Beck told his viewers not to believe anyone else's estimates of the impossible-to-know head count of Saturday's crowd. Believe only his own number, which he confidently reported at "a minimum of 500,000" people, "the sixth-largest gathering" on the Mall, ever, Beck said; roughly the size of that other defining moment, "Ronald Reagan's inauguration."
On-screen, there was no beading sweat or chalkboard -- in fact, 40 minutes elapsed in Monday's show before the host even slightly raised his voice, and that, of course, was caused by newly decoded (by Beck) messages embedded in the Declaration of Independence, within the line "firm reliance on divine providence." The rest of the show was a post-mortem report on his "8/28" amassing of believers, but it was also proof that the event was mostly about making TV.
"Two words adequately express how amazing this weekend was," Beck humbly submitted. "Thank you."
Yes, thank you, New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, Huffington Post, MSNBC, Associated Press and even CBS, with your independent aerial audit on crowd attendance that came to 87,000, give or take, for playing your parts so very well. "No newspaper in America" bothered to convey the message, Beck said, that the next "40 days and 40 nights" will see a profound spiritual shift in our lives. Thanks for that, too. Thanks to anyone who posted Web photo galleries of 8/28-ers and mocking what they wore, what their T-shirts said, how they looked.
It was all to Beck's greater good, giving him and the rest of Fox News enough to discuss, ruminate and refute for many hours to come. Even this review, I admit, is just another part of the depressing Moebius strip that guides the American news cycle. "The gates of hell will open," Beck calmly predicted, speaking of a backlash. Oh, how he hopes the gates open. How can he not?
Meanwhile, this obsession with size. It's not just Glenn Beck's. It preoccupies everybody who marches on Washington. Anyone who has lived here longer than one presidential term knows the drill about these events, which come and go all the time: People arrive, they assemble, they clog up the Metro escalators, and then they are terribly disappointed when no official count will corroborate or even challenge their own inflated crowd estimate, thus deferring their dreams. (And not 24 hours after it's over, it's like they were never here.)
"Metro workers said they had never seen anything like it," Beck said of the huge, huge crowd. So big. How did it possibly fit? Oh, so large. Metro workers simply stood in awe of its enormousness.
Beck gazed at the AP's aerial photo for a good part of his show Monday night. He had a copy of it blown up extra-big to give to Bill O'Reilly. ("For his wallet," he teased.) He told his viewers he had even better pictures coming, from the top of the Washington Monument, which would prove to us all that he is legion. Stay tuned. As always, stay tuned.
He also told viewers that the Smithsonian had called him and asked for souvenirs of the day's events, thus proving history was made, because why else would the Smithsonian call? That's another thing about living in Washington: You know that the Smithsonian suffers from a hoarding disorder.
Beck was happy and yet he was sad. He seems to have come away from Saturday's rally more convinced of end times, or something close: "I believe we're approaching a last call, all aboard," he said. "I had nightmares last night, because I felt maybe I wasn't clear enough. The message I feel I'm supposed to give you is get behind the shield of God."
In this mode, the purpose-driven Beck gave in to a sense of being exhausted, weary of having to do the Lord's work and explain himself over and over to the lamestream media who simply refuse to accurately spread his message. That you still are not clear on what the message is is not Glenn Beck's fault. It's everyone else's.