Glenn Beck: causing a rift at Fox News?


The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz has taken a close look at the Glenn Beck phenomenon as of late and is starting to hear that Fox News might be getting a bit divided behind the scenes on whether Beck is operating in the spirit of the network – Fair and Balanced. Excerpts from the story:

“In just over a year, Glenn Beck’s blinding burst of stardom has often seemed to overshadow the rest of Fox News. And that may not be a good thing for the top-rated cable news channel, as many of its staffers are acutely aware.

With his celebrity fueled by a Time cover story, best-selling books, cheerleading role at protest rallies and steady stream of divisive remarks, Beck is drawing big ratings. But there is a deep split within Fox between those — led by Chairman Roger Ailes — who are supportive, and many journalists who are worried about the prospect that Beck is becoming the face of the network.

By calling President Obama a racist and branding progressivism a “cancer,” Beck has achieved a lightning-rod status that is unusual even for the network owned by Rupert Murdoch. And that, in turn, has complicated the channel’s efforts to neutralize White House criticism that Fox is not really a news organization. Beck has become a constant topic of conversation among Fox journalists, some of whom say they believe he uses distorted or inflammatory rhetoric that undermines their credibility.

Ailes has occasionally spoken to Beck about the negative tone of his 5 p.m. program. And Beck, in turn, sometimes seeks Ailes’s advice.

Despite Beck’s ascendance, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity remain marquee names at Fox, with “The O’Reilly Factor” still the highest-rated program, drawing 3.7 million viewers. O’Reilly has embraced Beck, showcasing him as a weekly guest. Despite strong resistance from Fox management, O’Reilly has joined forces with Beck on the so-called “Bold & Fresh Tour” (named for an O’Reilly book), speaking to sold-out audiences from Los Angeles to Tampa.

Publicly, there is plenty of praise. While Beck declined to be interviewed, Chris Balfe, president of Beck’s company, Mercury Radio Arts, says that “Glenn and Roger have a fantastic relationship. That’s the reason he went to Fox, because of Roger.” He adds: “Roger definitely gives Glenn advice on a lot of different things he thinks Glenn could be doing better or differently.”

Fox responded by arranging an interview with Bill Shine, its senior vice president. Shine says that last fall a vice president was assigned “to help keep an eye on that program” and review its content in advance — a full-time job. “We see Glenn as an investment and we wanted to help him out even more,” Shine says.

Shine dismisses the notion that Beck’s prominence may be a liability for Fox, even while noting the left’s “hate” for the host: “I don’t perceive it to be a problem. . . . Glenn Beck is popular and controversial? Well, almost everybody here has been popular or controversial at some point in the last 13 years.” For the channel’s journalists, Shine adds, “sometimes it might make their job a little more difficult.”

Television analyst Andrew Tyndall calls Beck an “activist” and “comedian” whose incendiary style has created “a real crossroads for Fox News.”

“They’re right on the cusp of losing their image as a news organization,” he declares. “Do they want to be the go-to place for conservative populist ideas on television, or do they want to be a news organization? Ailes has done a good job of doing both.” 
The internal tensions are fueled by two views of Beck’s success. He is either a self-promoting independent operator, as some at Fox believe, or a team player who regularly talks up his new colleagues, as the Beck camp sees it. Some journalists and other staffers who are upset about Beck’s language declined to be identified criticizing a fellow employee.

Before launching his Fox program in January 2009, Beck had a popular radio show and Web site, as well as a magazine (called Fusion) and a thriving career as an author. These ventures — Beck doesn’t even work at Fox’s Sixth Avenue headquarters — give him an outside base that his team believes doesn’t sit well with some Fox executives.

There is no question that the Fox exposure has transformed his career. When Beck had a show on CNN’s Headline News, he averaged 367,000 nightly viewers in 2008, according to Nielsen figures. His Fox program is drawing 2.8 million viewers so far this year, slightly more than Hannity’s.

“What Glenn does is so unpredictable,” says Mercury’s Balfe, “that it gives people something to write about, chat about, blog and Twitter about.”

More than 200 companies have joined a boycott of Beck’s program, making it difficult for Fox to sell ads. The time has instead been sold to smaller firms offering such products as Kaopectate, Carbonite, 1-800-PetMeds and Goldline International. A handful of advertisers, such as Apple, have abandoned Fox altogether. Network executives say they believe they could charge higher rates if the host were more widely acceptable to advertisers.

Beck, who travels with a bodyguard and retains his own publicist, Matthew Hiltzik, has also clashed with Fox over media opportunities. Last fall Beck wanted to accept an invitation from Jay Leno’s prime-time show, but Fox management was opposed. Beck kept pushing and finally got permission to appear on the program in December. A Fox News spokesperson says the network simply wanted Beck to wait until the reverberations from his racism charge against Obama had faded. The executive suite was also rankled last week when Beck spent two minutes of airtime to promote his one-man show at Broadway’s Nokia Theater on Tuesday.

Fox staffers note that veteran producer Gresham Striegel left the network after clashing with Beck and say the host has surrounded himself with loyalists from Mercury, some of whom remain on that company’s payroll.

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.”

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. “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.”

RBR-TVBR observation: When Beck starts to affect the bottom line revenues of the network with advertiser boycotts and the like, there will be problems. But he is on a meteoric rise right now. As long as Beck is in good favor with the network’s architect Roger Ailes – and heeds his advice when it is underscored, he will do just fine. Articles like this from the Post only help advertisers realize he’s a good place to put their money because he is adding eyeballs every day. But like we said yesterday – he needs to be a bit more careful about what groups he offends, and not be afraid to sincerely and quickly apologize when he does take the rhetoric too far.