Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of a new book, "TOXIC TALK: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves." His website is billpress.com.More ↓Less ↑
There’s crazy and then there’s really crazy. But you know you’re really, really crazy when you’re too crazy or radioactive for Fox News. And that’s the case with Glenn Beck.
Of course, neither Fox nor Beck will tell the truth. Beck will explain that, after so many years at Fox, he’s just decided to try something new and different. Or maybe even “spend time with his family.” And Roger Ailes will insist he still loves Beck like a brother and wishes he would stay.
Don’t you believe it. Fox fired Beck’s butt, pure and simple. And it’s no secret why. In the end, Beck got fired for the same reasons everybody else in television gets fired: because they lose their credibility, their ratings, or their sponsors. Beck lost all three.
Even though he was a popular talk-show host, there was always a mean, dark side to Beck. He was a serial name-caller. He called Hillary Clinton a “stereotypical b—h.” He called Cindy Sheehan a “tragedy slut.” He called Jimmy Carter a “waste of skin.” But he really started losing his credibility – and raising eyebrows at Fox – when he called President Obama a “racist.”
Indeed, that slur in itself alienated many corporate sponsors. Two organizations, ColorOfChange.org and Media Matters For America, immediately organized a consumer boycott of Beck advertisers. As a result, StopBeck.com reports, between 300 and 400 companies requested that their commercials not appear on Beck’s program. His show became known in the trade as “empty calories” – long on ratings, but toxic for ad sales. Advertisers did not want to be associated with his ugly, and more and more incomprehensible, rants.
But then Beck’s ratings started to fall, also. At his peak, Beck could boast 2.8 million viewers: amazing, especially for a non-prime 5 p.m. time slot. But his numbers in January 2011 were the lowest since he started his Fox News show two years earlier, January 2009. Overall, so far in 2011, Beck’s total viewing audience is down 30 percent from what it was last year – and down 37 percent in the critical age 25-54 demographic.
One more thing that cost Beck his job: the crazy factor. Not even Fox could tolerate a guy who says the president of the United States “has a deep-seated hatred for white people.” Not even Fox could humor a fanatic who predicts the end of the world – Apocalypse Now! – at least once a show. And not even Fox had room for a Messianic clown claiming that God unleashed an earthquake on the people of Japan to punish them for their sins.
Just how unhinged Beck had come from reality was most apparent during the recent uprisings in Egypt. While everybody else in the media, liberal or conservative, was cheering the stirrings of democracy in a country long ruled by a brutal dictator, Beck saw something much more sinister. He tried to convince his viewers that the entire operation was part of a plot engineered by American liberals and Muslim extremists to create a caliphate that would spread radical Islam across the entire Middle East. His crackpot theory was denounced by leading conservatives William Kristol and Pat Buchanan.
Beck also alienated American Jews by constantly comparing his political opponents to Nazis. He compounded the problem by airing a vicious three-part series attacking billionaire philanthropist George Soros – in which he accused Soros of being a Nazi collaborator during World War II. Then, when a group of rabbis ran a full-page ad in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal condemning Beck’s ugly brand of politics, Beck responded by saying there was no difference between Reform rabbis and “radicalized Islam.”
It was bad enough when Beck said stuff like that on his own show. But when he appeared as a guest elsewhere on the network, as he did frequently, you could see how uncomfortable he made other Fox hosts, afraid he might say something inflammatory on their show. Give him credit for this: Only Glenn Beck could make Bill O’Reilly look almost reasonable.
In the end, as David Brock, founder of Media Matters pointed out, the real question was not why Glenn Beck was fired, but: Why did it take Fox so long?
For two years, Glenn Beck was the favorite punching bag for liberals. And now he’s gone. Will I miss him? Sure, I’ll miss him. Just like I’ll miss my next colonoscopy.