A column by David Carr in the New York Times is causing a stir in the Mediasphere today. The story concerns the status of Glenn Beck in the media marketplace, as well as at his Fox News home. Much of the article details the rapid decline of what was once regarded as the Beck phenomenon. But with escalating criticisms from fellow conservatives, deteriorating ratings, and advertisers running away, the thrill may be gone for everyone involved. The titillating portion of Carr’s column is a single line where he says that:
“…the erosion is significant enough that Fox News officials are willing to say – anonymously, of course; they don’t want to be identified as criticizing the talent – that they are looking at the end of his contract in December and contemplating life without Mr. Beck.”
Is that really so? Carr notes that his sources are anonymous, so it’s difficult to assess their credibility. And the presence of disgruntled colleagues at Fox wouldn’t be a new development. There have been plenty of complaints about Beck, both on and off the record. Jane Hall, a former Fox News contributor, said that Beck was one of the reasons she chose to sever her relationship with Fox. And Eric Burns, the former host of Fox News Watch, quipped that one of the advantages of not working at Fox was that he didn’t have to share an employer with Glenn Beck.
So I would be skeptical that Fox News would be looking to ditch Beck for low ratings. For one thing, as Carr notes, Beck’s ratings may be low compared to his ratings a year ago, but they are still far ahead of the competition (except for last Thursday when Rachel Maddow drew more 25-54 year old viewers). Also, people like Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, contrary to some assumptions, are not primarily driven by financial concerns. They are ideological animals and the proof of that is that Murdoch has run his New York Post at a loss for over ten years. What’s more, They have never complained about the revenue shortfall resulting from Beck scaring off A-list advertisers.
That doesn’t mean that Beck is safe. There are a couple of other factors that pose much greater risk to Beck’s TV future. One of which is the embarrassment of others at Fox, as noted above. Ancillary to that is the perception that Beck is actually harmful to the conservative agenda that Fox dispenses. The farther Beck goes off the rails, the more the GOP is regarded as out-of-touch, and perhaps Fox News as well. It isn’t just Beck’s ratings that are dropping. And to the degree that viewers associate Beck’s twisted ruminations to the network, he may be at least partially responsible for the overall declines as well.
Therefore, I believe that the potential damage Beck is doing to conservatism is far more likely to get him canned than his ratings. After all, he isn’t going to be replaced by Dennis Kucinich or Michael Moore. Fox will undoubtedly bring in a reliable right-winger who can advance the conservative agenda without Beck’s psychotic, delusional baggage. This is more about message than money.
If Beck is terminated, Fox will have to play it very carefully. If they are perceived by Beck’s disciples as having fired him, or being otherwise disrespectful, they are capable of causing quite a commotion, up to and including vandalism and violence. So look for Fox to steer Beck out the door by either allowing him to self-destruct via doomsday conspiracies and rabid bigotry, or by “discovering” some hideous scandal that would force Fox to throw Beck overboard.
As for Beck, I wouldn’t worry about him (well, financially anyway). He would still have his radio program, his publishing, and his Internet properties. Plus he has already addressed this scenario and declared himself omnipotent (Charlie Sheen’s got nothing on Beck). Here is how Beck responded to previous threats:
“They can take my job and they can take my wealth but that’s okay…even if the powers to be, right now, succeed in making me poor, drum me out, and I’m just a worthless loser – which I’m just about that much above that now – I will only be stronger for it. I will use American ingenuity and my ingenuity to pull myself up, and I will find another way to get my message out on a platform that will be a thousand times more powerful! Because of my faith, I know how this story ends.”
See? He’s winning. And he can’t be stopped by mortal men. The one question I have is, if he has a platform that is a thousand times more powerful, why isn’t he using it now? He must be saving it for his Post-Apocalypse Variety Hour and Praise-a-thon.