It is amusing to listen to the speculation over Glenn Beck’s announced departure from the Fox News Channel, with some progressive types hailing victory and suggesting advertisers had grown tired of the conservative commentator’s acidic rants. While it is true that his show has lost advertisers and experienced a drop-off in viewers, the move to pull Beck’s show can also be seen as “mission accomplished” on the part of the honchos at Fox. These pointedly partisan shows are not meant to be long-term vehicles; they simply serve to solidify a particular audience segment. Fox and Beck have achieved their goals; the network is further entrenched in right-wing politics and Beck has become wealthy and positioned to move into other media endeavors.
Liberals don’t get it. I certainly didn’t when I helped chase conservative radio icon Bob Grant off the airwaves in New York City years ago. While there was a short-term victory as advertisers pressured the owners of WABC radio, the Disney Company, and pulled their ads from Grant’s show, the man who insulted Dr. King’s memory on-air and regularly demonized minorities was soon on the air at another major New York City radio station. I learned from that experience that the world of right-wing partisan talk shows is a moving target; a traveling circus that simply moves from venue to venue. Beck might be leaving the Fox News Channel but he is not leaving the stage. He will continue to spew his unintelligible and paranoid rhetoric over the radio airwaves and his own Internet site. In many ways, he has brought his “freedom” from Fox and can now roam free in cyberspace in the growing climate of conspiratorial politics without the pressure of pretending to be a legitimate journalist on a cable news outlet. And, surprise! Beck is taking a Fox News honcho with him and will be cultivating projects with the folks at Fox.
What we fail to remember about Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Ann Coulter and others of their DNA is that facts and civility don’t matter. They make their money off ignorance, chaos and confusion. It is a toxic brew that is now deeply embedded in American politics and has found its way to state capitals and the halls of Congress. Beck’s career cycle fits a pattern for right-wing commentators- establish a reputation for outlandish claims and find a media outlet desperate to build its ratings that will give you a platform that enriches you and builds its audience and subsequently fills its coffers. The outlet that serves as the weigh station need not be identifiably conservative leaning. Lou Dobbs perfected his xenophobic worldview on CNN. In the case of Ann Coulter, a new startup, MSNBC, gave her room and license to become the queen of the conservative crazies, and gave another blonde bomber, Laura Ingraham, the same running room. I know because I was there at MSNBC at the beginning. Remember, it was CNN Headline News, now HLN, which first propped up Glenn Beck before he took his insanity to the Fox News Channel.
All of this speaks to the media deficit in the so-called progressive world. The right has mastered the art of policy manipulation through media, and has a constellation of outlets across platforms - television, radio, Internet, magazines; that almost through philosophical osmosis infests the body politic with its conservative point of view. It is the new form of narrowcasting or niche messaging that traditionalists abhor but the public has signaled is preferable to the mushy, gray area of journalistic neutrality. Just ask the suits at CNN who are desperately trying to find a formula that works for its old-world broadcast television news it promotes on cable. Meanwhile, nowhere is the hole deeper than in Black media. I am delighted by the news that AOL is developing a Black news portal with entrepreneur Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, and that a new cable network focused on Historically Black Colleges is in the queue for Comcast. I believe the more substance, the merrier and the better for our community. I hope more of us will take advantage of the new media environment and aggressively develop news and information portals to educate and mobilize our community toward political action.
Trust me. There is another Glenn Beck on the way at Fox. And like Beck, he or she will not be worried about a long-term contract or on-air longevity ala Larry King. The new model is quick in, quick out; make the reputation and the money and move on to the next great communications platform - the Internet and mobile devices.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.