Not just fascism, but Nazism. Beck’s reasoning is so ludicrous that you have to read it to believe it:

Let me just explain what happened in Nazi Germany. Remember it was National Socialism. We’re talking about nationalizing the banks. We’re also putting in socialized programs. National. Socialism. At first in Nazi Germany, everybody was so panicked, they were so freaked, remember, Don’t take any time to think about it, we just have to do, do, do. First all the big companies and big capitalists in Germany said, Oh goodness, there’s a savior — we’ll do that, yes! It didn’t take too long before — like, here in America, Goldman Sachs — they started to see the writing on the wall and went, Whoa, whoa, whoa, you guys are getting out of control here — what are you doing? They couldn’t get out of it fast enough. Unfortunately for those in Germany, you could never go back. I don’t know if this is the system we’re headed towards or not, where they’re not gonna let you out. But let me tell you something, you don’t want to play this game — this is becoming extraordinarily dangerous.

For an appreciation of Beck’s sheer nuttiness, though, I urge people to watch this clip of Beck interviewing David Horowitz, the former left-wing-conspiracy-theorist turned right-wing-conspiracy-theorist. On it, Horowitz, with Beck’s prodding, describes the existence of a vast shadow party organized by George Soros and made up of billionaires, street radicals, radical unions with a Leninist perspective, John Podesta and the Center for American Progress, pro-Cuba activitists, former communists, and a host of other subversives and insurrectionists, all “seeking to overthrow this system and to create a socialist future.”

Beck: “Do you think the President of the United States Barack Obama has that agenda—”

Horowitz: “Absolutely. I have no doubt about it.”

These examples could be multiplied many times over. And let’s not forget Fox’s tireless promotion of the virulently anti-Obama tea parties last April.

Now, as Kurtz notes, Fox does have some straight-shooting journalists, such as Major Garrett, Chris Wallace, and Carl Cameron, and some of its daytime shows provide a relatively uninflected take on the news. But even here the bias is palpable. On Monday morning, for instance, I watched as Fox brought on Karl Rove to comment on Rahm Emanuel’s criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan. In the course of five minutes he made a half-dozen preposterous claims about the brilliance of Bush’s policy and the failures of Obama’s, all of which went unchallenged. In the afternoon, I watched anchor Neil Cavuto join anti-global-warming documentary filmmaker Phelim McAleer in mercilessly mocking Al Gore and the environmental movement in general. On Tuesday afternoon, Cavuto went on endlessly about the closed door behind which senators are deliberating on the health care bill, speculating gleefully on whether it was locked or could be nailed shut, showing pictures of various types of doors, and airing excerpts from the Twilight Zone. By Wednesday, he was referring to the matter as “Doorgate,” and the network as a whole was comparing Obama’s criticism of Fox and the Chamber of Commerce to Nixon’s enemies list.

Watching all this, it seems clear to me that Fox is engaged in a calculated and determined campaign to destroy the Obama presidency—a campaign that also happens to be good for its ratings.

It’s true that, where Fox has a strong rightward tilt, MSNBC has a strong leftward one. Keith Olbermann seems to traffic in his own brand of Howard Beale-like bombast. (His “worst person in the world” segment is particularly obnoxious.) But the network just doesn’t seem to feature the conspiratorial looniness or corrosive fear-mongering that pervades Fox.

Some will no doubt disagree with my assessment, but Howard Kurtz doesn’t even think the issue is worth examining—the “media marketplace” will sort it out. He’s not alone. Despite the obvious influence of cable TV (and talk radio) in shaping the national political debate, our top newspapers have given up any pretense of acting as a monitor or referee of what appears on these shows. The New York Times, for instance, spends far more time dissecting reality TV than it does the political influence of TV news.

Into this vacuum has stepped Jon Stewart. Young people have embraced his show precisely because he’s willing to take on cable news in a way our top media reporters are not. And not just Fox. Last week, “The Daily Show” offered a brilliant expose of the superficiality and hollowness of the journalism practiced on CNN, showing how its anchors allow partisan spokesmen to make all kinds of ridiculous claims without challenge. “We’ll have to leave it there” was the stock response of CNN interviewers to the ludicrous talking points of their guests.

Michael Massing is a contributing editor to CJR and the author of Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq.