Glenn Beck and Fox News Channel formally agreed Wednesday to end Beck’s daily program, which will dissolve a 27-month marriage beset by outside pressures and internal tensions sometime this year.
The conservative host and the news channel, started by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch as an avowed counterweight to the liberal news media, agreed that they could not agree to continue, but neither side blamed the other or disclosed who was at fault. Beck will “transition” off Fox sometime this year, Fox and Beck’s production company, Mercury Radio Arts, said jointly.
Beck’s sometimes outrageous pronouncements — he infamously said that President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people” — were good for drawing attention and viewers, but they made him radioactive among sponsors. They also put him out of step with Fox News’ overall ethic, which is heavy on pugnacious conservative commentary but eschews the sort of apocalyptic rhetoric Beck favors.
Beck’s program has remained a solid draw for Fox despite a gradual slide in the ratings from its mid-2009 peak. Airing at 5 p.m., a period when fewer people are watching TV than during evening prime-time hours, “Glenn Beck” still draws more than 2 million viewers, making it one of the top attractions on a cable news channel. Beck’s ratings sometimes approached those of Fox’s “O’Reilly Factor,” consistently the most popular program on cable news.
But Beck’s broadsides alienated a number of organizations that fought back by pressuring his advertisers and embarrassing his bosses. Color of Change, a group that advocates on behalf of African Americans, started an advertiser boycott in July 2009; its efforts were abetted by Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog organization that made Fox News in general, and Beck in particular, its raison d’etre.
Jewish groups also were angered by Beck’s habit of denouncing his political opponents by comparing them to Nazis. Their anger was further stoked by Beck’s three-part series on liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros, whom Beck described as a Nazi collaborator during Soros’s boyhood in occupied Hungary.
After a coalition of Jewish rabbis called on Murdoch to sanction Beck in a full-page ad in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal in January, Beck further inflamed his Jewish critics by comparing Reform rabbis to “radicalized Islam” on his syndicated radio program a month later.
The outrage got to Murdoch and Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes, said Simon Greer, who heads the Jewish Funds for Justice, which organized the Wall Street Journal ad.
“I think Fox News and its leadership value their relationships with the American Jewish community, and Glenn Beck has consistently insulted and disrespected Jews to such an extent that it was bad for Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes’ worldview,” Greer said in an interview.
Leading conservatives have taken issue with Beck lately, too. Pat Buchanan and neoconservative columnist William Kristol, among others, criticized Beck’s comments about the Middle East after Beck asserted that the uprisings were part of an alliance between American liberals and Muslims seeking to create a caliphate that would spread radical Islamic ideology across the region.
“When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society,” Kristol wrote in the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard in February. “He’s marginalizing himself.”
Fox offered no comment Wednesday beyond a joint statement in which Ailes offered praise for Beck. It’s unclear who will replace Beck at 5 p.m., although longtime Fox commentator Andrew Napolitano matched Beck’s ratings when he filled in for Beck in mid-March.
Fox and Beck’s production company said that they will work together to develop TV shows for Fox News and for Fox News’ Web site, but no projects have been disclosed.
The absence of corporate support for Beck’s daily program has made some skeptical about Beck’s reported interest in taking over a cable TV channel and infusing it with programming similar to his Fox show. Oprah Winfrey has such a venture, called the Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, that has gotten off to a rocky start.
The news of Beck’s imminent departure from Fox brought a series of triumphant reactions from the groups that have opposed him, including Washington-based Media Matters, an organization that is partially funded by one of Soros’s philanthropic foundations.
“This is a good development for the American media,” said Ari Rabin-Havt, an executive vice president of the organization. “Glenn Beck was such an ugly and hateful voice on the air that it’s good for everyone.” Media Matters has accused Beck of inciting violent attacks on organizations affiliated with Soros.
Beck has also been controversial within Fox News; some journalists felt his blend of sometimes wild speculation and advocacy were out of sync with a network that produces news programming. Beck’s show precedes an hour-long newscast hosted by Bret Baier, creating something of a mismatch in tone.
Beck’s morning radio program, which is syndicated to hundreds of stations, will continue.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Ailes declined to spell out the details of Fox’s parting with Beck. “Half of the headlines say he’s been canceled,” Ailes said. “The other half say he quit. We’re pretty happy with both of them.”