Networks take different paths in covering Glenn Beck 'Restoring Honor' rally

The Fox News conservative commentator exhorted a sprawling crowd on the Mall on Saturday to restore the traditional American value of honor.
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 28, 2010

Where you stand on the news of the day often depends on where you sit. In the case of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on the Mall on Saturday, the three cable news networks have taken decidedly different paths to covering the event.

Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all say they will treat Beck's rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial like any other newsworthy event. All three networks have assigned reporters and camera crews to monitor speeches by Beck, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) and other dignitaries in what is being billed as a "nonpolitical" rally. Beck has drawn criticism for scheduling on the same date and in the same location as Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, although he has said the timing is accidental.

But in the days leading up to the rally, the three networks have looked at the same story very differently. One important factor may be that Beck is a popular Fox News host, and that the rally's star attraction, Palin, happens to be a Fox News contributor.

Over the past month, CNN has mentioned Beck's connection to Fox News and the rally only once as of Friday evening. On the eve of the rally Friday night, CNN aired an interview of Al Sharpton by talk-show host John King in which Sharpton criticized Beck for saying he's "reclaiming the civil rights movement." On the same day as Beck's event, Sharpton has organized another rally in Washington to honor King.

MSNBC has made numerous references to Beck and to Fox, though usually in disparaging fashion. One host, Cenk Uygur, while substituting for Ed Schultz, called the rally "ridiculous" and an "ego trip" and branded Beck "a bad guy." MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has been particularly aggressive, asking one guest on Thursday, "Are we expecting to see [Beck] part the Reflecting Pool?"

Fox News says that it has no official connection to the demonstration, explaining that Beck has organized it separately from his duties as a weekday host. Still, the network's tone has been much more friendly when it comes to the rally. In addition to dozens of mentions of it on his own show, Beck has appeared on "Fox and Friends," the network's morning program, and on Bill O'Reilly's evening program to discuss it. "Fox and Friends" directed viewers to Beck's Web site.

The rally's organizers -- the Beck-affiliated 9-12 Project and Mercury Radio Arts -- have told the National Park Service in their permit application that they expect 300,000 people to attend. That figure would place it among the largest demonstrations in the Mall's history, although some have doubted that the rally will draw anything close to it.

None of the cable networks would say on Friday how much time they will devote to the Beck and Sharpton rallies, or how they will describe Beck's and Palin's affiliation with Fox.

Fox News says it won't pre-empt its regular two-hour bloc of business news programs on Saturday morning for coverage, although Michael Clemente, Fox's senior vice president of news editorial, left open the possibility of giving some coverage to the Beck rally during brief news "breaks" during the morning. Beck and Palin are scheduled to speak between 10 and noon.

"We're treating it like so many events that happen on the Mall and draw a big crowd," he said, comparing it to anti-abortion marches and the Million Man March. He added, "It will be judged on the merits, by what people say, how many people are there and by how the crowd reacts to what's said."

MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines said his network will have reporters doing live hourly reports from both rallies during the morning.

He declined to say whether Beck's employment on Fox News would be mentioned. CNN spokeswoman Edie Emery said her network will cover both rallies "like we'd cover any other political news event," but also would not comment on how its reporters will refer to Beck and Fox.

The "Restoring Honor" rally is described by its organizers as a celebration of "our heroes, our heritage and our future" that "pays tribute to America's service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation's founding principles of integrity, truth and honor," according to its Web site. The event will feature a "Lincoln Memorial Re-dedication Ceremony."

In addition to Beck and Palin, speakers include baseball superstar Albert Pujols and St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa.

When Beck announced the event last fall on Fox News and his syndicated radio program, he promised to unveil "The Plan," a 100-year outline designed to "save the country." But the focus of the event quickly changed, with Beck opting for an event that would raise money for a Tampa-based group called the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a philanthropy that assists the families of fallen or injured special-forces personnel.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company