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The Beck Factor at Fox: Staffers say comments taint their work

Speaking his mind: Beck addresses CPAC last month. Some colleagues say his vitriol has underscored White House criticism that Fox is not a news organization.
Speaking his mind: Beck addresses CPAC last month. Some colleagues say his vitriol has underscored White House criticism that Fox is not a news organization. (Jose Luis Magana/associated Press)
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Beck sparked criticism from some Christian leaders last week when he urged parishioners to leave churches that promote "social justice" or "economic justice," saying these are "code words" for communism and Nazism.

He has also stirred controversy within conservative ranks.

In a speech last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Beck took pains to criticize the Republican Party as "addicted to spending and big government." That puts him on very different turf from Hannity, who champions the party and is headlining a fundraiser this month.

Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, two radio hosts friendly with Hannity, criticized Beck's CPAC remarks. Levin told Beck to "stop dividing us" and "stop acting like a clown." Limbaugh questioned why "the only people who can stop Obama should be excoriated for being just as bad."

In a recent online interview, CBS's Katie Couric asked Beck about critics who say he "resorts to inflammatory, unfair, despicable, hateful rhetoric." Beck's response: "Did they say that when I was saying the same things about George W. Bush, or is this new?" (Beck has criticized Bush, but not with the harsh language he employs against Obama.)

Asked if he regretted saying the president has a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture," Beck said: "I'm sorry the way it was phrased." But he would not respond when Couric read a Twitter user's question on what he meant by white culture, saying: "I'm not going to get into your sound-bite gotcha game."

One thing is beyond debate: Beck provides a strong lead-in for the network's evening lineup. "The significance of Beck to Fox's bottom line cannot be underestimated," says Tyndall, the industry analyst. "Getting an audience that size at 5 p.m. is absolutely unheard of."

But that growth has come at a price, at least for those at Fox who believe that Beck is beginning to define their brand. Glenn Beck is a media phenomenon married to a phenomenally successful network, but away from the cameras, theirs is a troubled relationship.

Web wars

The Internet may seem infinite, but a relative handful of sites are dominating the battle for news and information.

Eighty percent of the traffic for news and information is vacuumed up by the top 7 percent of such sites, says an annual survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. These, according to Nielsen figures, are led by aggregator sites: Yahoo (No. 1, with 40.8 million unique monthly visitors), AOL (No. 3) and Google News (No. 6). The television news sites are also strong: MSNBC (2), CNN (4), Fox News (7) and ABC News (8). And three newspapers make the list: the New York Times (5), Washington Post (9) and USA Today (10, with 9.3 million unique visitors).

But all Web destinations are not created equal. Consumers spend more than twice as much time on cable TV sites (23 1/2 minutes a month) as on newspaper sites (10 minutes a month). Online-only sites fared only slightly better (12 1/2 minutes a month). Two political sites stand out: the right-leaning Drudge Report (nearly an hour each month) and the liberal Daily Kos (48 minutes).

Drawing eyeballs online is only part of the battle. The report says that 79 percent of Web consumers have rarely if ever clicked on an online ad -- one reason that Internet revenue badly trails that of print publications. Even among the most loyal news consumers, only 19 percent said they are willing to pay for news online.

Still, the old and new remain connected. In examining more than 1 million blogs and social networking sites, the project found that 80 percent of the links are to the "legacy media" -- the traditional organizations that are largely shrinking.

Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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