Q&A with Management consultant/author Michael Charney
Bedford-based writer, management consultant and book publisher Michael Charney claims to have never been that interested in politics. A small-government, moderate Republican, Charney tapped a latent, mid-life political passion when he embarked on a quest to gauge the social media waters of political debate and discourse especially among those who shout the loudest and feed a system of what the University of California-Berkeley graduate calls "electile dysfunction."
In his new book, "Chasing Glenn Beck: A Personal Experiment in Reclaiming our Hijacked Political Conversation," Charney casts Twitter bait and tries to figure out why "loudmouths" like Glenn Beck and other pundits get so much exposure, by making "absurd and offensive comments about religion, women and even our Founding Fathers."
Q. What possessed you to write this book?
A. Possessed is the perfect word. It did feel like a possession or, at the very least, an obsession. The idea for the book, unfortunately, emerged from tragedy. Shortly after the earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan last spring, Glenn Beck publicly declared that if we had all been just a bit better at following the Ten Commandments, then maybe this particular Act of God might never have happened. I couldn't believe it that he had crossed some line I didn't even know I'd drawn. And this guy seemed to have tremendous influence and his words echoed repeatedly across the social media landscape.
Q. Why Twitter?
A. I wondered if perhaps I could use that same technique to take him down a peg or two by using Twitter to plant some pretty ridiculous ideas about Beck — that he was a liberal, for example, or that he thought the bank bailout was too small. I spent three months on Twitter chatting with thousands of political junkies trying to find out why not only Glenn Beck, but all of the loudest, most raucous, most illogical voices, have taken over nearly all of the political conversation.'
Along the way, I found that on many topics people were actually quite funny. So the book has quite a bit of humor in it, as well. We find out, for example, why Rush Limbaugh should have asked for a bigger loan from God, and why Aristotle was never invited to any of the really cool parties.
Q. How much of a minority or untapped silent majority are 'consiberals' such as yourself?
A. If you listen to the media, who generally adore hyperbole, you would probably think that the vast majority of the Republican Party is extremely conservative. That's not actually true. While I have heard a few different figures, none of them comes close to suggesting that the very conservative wing of the party is all that large.
Linda Killian, in her book, "The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents," cites research from Pew suggesting that about 40 percent of the electorate is independent. If you construe 'independent' as being neither too far right nor too far left (and with a bit of both), then it fits my definition of "consiberal." That means consiberals are actually the majority of the electorate. If we can all wake up, we'll be a significant force in politics.
Q. Why did you start Riddle Brook Publishing and how is it going?
A. I started Riddle Brook Publishing last November, several months before releasing "Chasing Glenn Beck." My original plan was to publish through more traditional methods, but in discussing my opportunities both with agents and with potential publishers, I quickly realized that my material had a certain time-sensitivity, given the fact that we're now in election season and political conversation is particularly relevant.
The traditional publishing methods would take far longer than I wanted. Shortly after I began Riddle Brook, I decided that I wanted to help others experience the same joy that I received from seeing my work in print. I developed a specific mission: to create an opportunity for beginning New England writers who love narrative non-fiction the way I do.
A few months ago, I signed my first author, a wonderful, New Hampshire-based writer named Carrie. Her upcoming book, "What Color Is Monday?" relates her experiences raising five children, one of whom is autistic. I'm also hoping to sign one more writer this year and have received a number of queries from local authors with interesting stories to tell.
Q. What kind of feedback have you received about the book?
A. I've been very happy with the feedback, both from reviewers and from the public. The public's response has also been positive, though I admit to some surprise on where the responses have come from. I expected the far right to be less than thrilled — after all, I've accused them of hijacking the Republican Party — and I was right on that score. But I didn't expect the left to be quite so enthusiastic about what I've written.
Apparently, once they get over the shock of realizing that there are actually Republicans out there who share some of their values, they are quite receptive to many of my ideas.
Q. Did Glenn Beck know you were chasing him?
A.A lot of people following me on Twitter knew that I was "chasing" not only Glenn Beck, but a lot of the pundits like him. It doesn't seem, though, as if I attracted the attention of any of the pundits themselves. I imagine they must have pretty thick skins — along with an entourage that keeps track of such things for them. It certainly would have been interesting to hear from some of them.