Best line from the David Carr piece in the New York Times, which could just as easily be a review of the 1970s movie “Network” as a write-up of Glenn Beck’s troubles at Fox:
“…Now you are just getting down to diehards. I mean, how many people were in the Waco compound at the end? A couple of hundred?”
According to Carr, pretty soon, Roger Ailes may exit the compound…
Mr. Beck, a conservative Jeremiah and talk-radio phenomenon, burst into television prominence in 2009 by taking the forsaken 5 p.m. slot on Fox News and turning it into a juggernaut. A conjurer of conspiracies who spotted sedition everywhere he looked, Mr. Beck struck a big chord and ended up on the cover of Time magazine and The New York Times Magazine, and held rallies all over the country that were mobbed with acolytes. He achieved unheard-of ratings, swamped the competition and at times seemed to threaten the dominion of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity at Fox.
But a funny thing happened on the way from the revolution. Since last August, when he summoned more than 100,000 followers to the Washington mall for the “Restoring Honor” rally, Mr. Beck has lost over a third of his audience on Fox — a greater percentage drop than other hosts at Fox. True, he fell from the great heights of the health care debate in January 2010, but there has been worrisome erosion — more than one million viewers — especially in the younger demographic.
He still has numbers that just about any cable news host would envy and, with about two million viewers a night, outdraws all his competition combined. But 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.
On the other side, people who work for Mr. Beck point out that he could live without Fox News. Unlike some other cable hosts, Mr. Beck has a huge multiplatform presence: he has sold around four million books, is near the top of talk-radio ratings, has a growing Web site called The Blaze, along with a stage performance that still packs houses. Forbes estimated that his company, Mercury Radio Arts, had more than $30 million in revenue.
How could a breakup between Mr. Beck and Fox News — a bond that seemed made in pre-Apocalyptic heaven — come to pass? They were never great friends to start with: Mr. Beck came to Fox with a huge radio show and had been on CNN Headline News, so he did not owe his entire career to Fox and frequently went off-message. The sniping between Fox News executives and Mr. Beck’s team began soon after he went on the air in 2009.
Many on the news side of Fox have wondered whether his chronic outrageousness — he suggested that the president has “a deep-seated hatred for white people” — have made it difficult for Fox to hang onto its credibility as a news network. Some 300 advertisers fled the show, leaving sponsorship to a slew of gold bullion marketers whose message dovetails nicely with Mr. Beck’s end-of-times gospel. Both parties go to some lengths to point out that that the discussion has nothing to do with persistent criticism from the left.
It’s not about criticism, it’s about results. Carr fails to mention it, but one key factor in Beck’s demise has been a dogged campaign by a former University of Wisconsin law student named Angelo Carusone, who in 2009 launched a website and Twitter account called “StopBeck” – and set out to systemmatically defund the Beck show on Fox, both in the U.S. and in the U.K., where literally no advertisers participate in the Beck program. Carusone, who now works for Media Matters, is credited by liberal activists who pay attention to this stuff behind the scenes, with turning Beck’s cable show into a place too toxic for most advertisers to touch, with an early, very public parallel assist from Color of Change (which prompted Beck to go after, and ultimately get, CoC co-founder Van Jones, who left the Obama administration under fire from Beck.)
And while Beck remains quite viable on AM radio, but he’s also losing stations, not least of which in New York City.
So what’s wrong with Glenn’s act, besides the fact that it currently produces almost no revenue for News Corp? In short: like Howard Beale, Beck is just not fun anymore. Catching you up with that “Waco” quote:
William Kristol of The Weekly Standard suggested that Mr. Beck is “marginalizing himself” by arguing that socialists and leftists were working with Islamic radicals to sow worldwide chaos. But Mr. Beck has always marched to his own idiosyncratic music, and his ratings actually began dropping long before Egypt rose up against its leader.
The problem with “Glenn Beck” is that it has turned into a serial doomsday machine that’s a bummer to watch.
Mr. Beck, a more gifted entertainer than most cable hosts, can still bring it, lighting up with characters and voices. But much of the time, there is sense that the fatigue from always being on alert, tilting forward in the saddle against the next menace, is starting to wear him down.
What had been a fast and loose assault on all things liberal has grown darker and less entertaining, especially with the growing revolution in the Middle East, a phenomenon Mr. Beck sees as something of a beginning to some kind of end. He’s often alone in the studio with his chalkboards and obscure factoids, a setting that reminds me of an undergrad seminar on macroeconomics with an around-the-bend professor I didn’t particularly enjoy.
Last Wednesday, as he grabbed all the disparate strands from around the globe and tied them into a great, grand bow of doom, he ambled alone between various blackboards, each jammed with portentous bullet points. He often looked away from the camera into a middle distance as he spoke of a calamity that only he can see.
“He used to be a lot funnier,” said David Von Drehle, who wrote the article in Time magazine. “He was the befuddled everyman and something entirely new, but the longer people have listened to his ranting and raving, the wearier they become. Now you are just getting down to diehards. I mean, how many people were in the Waco compound at the end? A couple of hundred?”
Clearly, Beck has become an embarrassment to the “serious” portion of the conservative movement as represented by Kristol, with whom he is now very publicly fueding (he’s quickly being joined on that particular ledge by Newt Gingrich and fellow Foxer Mike Huckabee…) But as Carr intimates, he’s also becoming something of a liability to Fox, which Carr rather hilariously says is filled with journalists worried that Beck’s ravings will damage their ability to portray themselves as working for a news outlet. Stop laughing. But with a presidential election coming, and several Fox commentators likely participating in the GOP primary, it might be best for Roger Ailes and company to jettison the Apocalyptic jester thing and just go with run of the mill Obama-haters like Sean Hannity and Bill’O.
They can always bring Glennie back to reprise his act during Obama’s second term.