Green Room

Success, Envy and Glenn Beck

posted at 11:57 am on March 15, 2010 by

Allah headlined this Howard Kurtz column about resentment within Fox News toward Glenn Beck:

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. . . .
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.

You can read the whole thing, but none of this would be news if Beck’s show was boring and nobody watched it. Only because Beck is successful — in the only way way TV measures success, ratings — is he “a constant topic of conversation among Fox journalists.”

Jealous much?

Let us begin by admitting the “feature, not a bug” aspects of Beck’s personality: He is emotional, dramatic and impulsive, occasionally prone to leaping before looking, as happened recently when he attacked Dutch leader Geert Wilders and, most memorably, got cross-wise with the Boss Emeritus over Eric Massa’s accusations.

OK, so Beck can be wrong and when he’s wrong, it looks bad for Fox News.  On the other hand . . . Geraldo Rivera.

Why am I suspicious that Geraldo is among those “Fox journalists” most worried about Beck’s impact on their “credibility”?

Beck’s weaknesses and his strengths are part of a package, a very successful package, and if he wasn’t successful, these backbiting criticisms wouldn’t be filling up a Howard Kurtz column. Beck has been tremendously valuable in encouraging the Tea Party movement. Go to a Tea Party rally and start asking people what they think of Glenn Beck — they love the guy.

Beck is by his own admission a political autodidact. He was a Top 40 DJ who didn’t really pay that much attention to politics and history until he got into talk radio, and so he brings to his Fox show a certain innocent enthusiasm that is disdained by serious professional journalists. OK, we get that, and we also get Jonathan Chait’s point at the New Republic:

Kurtz doesn’t quite put it this way, but I think the unstated worry is that Beck is too erratic and uncontrollable, and could one day blow up at Fox and the GOP and bring his audience with him.

Some of those worries may be legitimate, but at the same time, to what extent are Kurtz’s anonymous sources at Fox just trying to sabotage a rising star of whom they are envious?

Being a print-journalism guy by profession, I’ve never had a particularly high esteem for the perpetrators of TV news, in general. TV is an entertainment medium, and Beck is successful at Fox because he is entertaining.

Worry-warts are making too big a deal of his “erratic” nature. Heck, that’s a major reason people watch Beck — he is exciting precisely because he is unpredictable. If Beck is going to get whacked at Fox, he should be whacked for what he’s actually done, rather than because of some worry-wart’s fear of what he might do.

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The msm is even less believable when criticizing the right than when they’re hyping their own stuff.

I don’t believe anything until someone I think has integrity says it and I certainly don’t take the word of a member of the lefty media about what’s going on at Fox or anywhere else for that matter.

Why give Kurtz any coverage.

erp on March 15, 2010 at 12:05 PM

I certainly don’t take the word of a member of the lefty media about what’s going on at Fox or anywhere else for that matter.

Insofar as there are people at Fox who hate Glenn Beck, I’ll take Kurtz’s word for it. The fact that they’re attacking one of their own colleagues anonymously is the real point, I think.

The Other McCain on March 15, 2010 at 12:22 PM

It seems all of lame stream medias discussion of Beck’s ‘potential’ is in terms of how it will effect them. Job security through Alinsky? It reminds me of Lou Dobbs. Interesting how after Dobbs’ departure from CNN, they are now consistently in 4th place behind HLN. Be careful what you wish for?

FeFe on March 15, 2010 at 12:33 PM

We watch Glenn every single day. He has given American’s a view of what has and is happening in our country now from past countries rise and fall. He makes his Fox show easy for people to understand by his chalk board laying out his message. He has gotten American’s reading books about our founders and how they wanted our Republic to be. I don’t know who is plowing up snakes about Glenn at Fox, but I can think of two right off the bat. Fox would be an idiot to get rid of Glenn, IMO!
I know lots of people at HA don’t like Glenn, but you don’t have to watch him, now do you?

letget on March 15, 2010 at 12:34 PM

From the linked article:

they believe he uses distorted or inflammatory rhetoric that undermines their credibility

From the post:

TV is an entertainment medium, and Beck is successful at Fox because he is entertaining.

The Fox journalists don’t agree that they’re all about infotainment, and apparently have a different idea about what they’re attempting to do than the blogger, who foregrounds the satisfaction of his low expectations, while tacitly confirming their criticism.

CK MacLeod on March 15, 2010 at 12:50 PM

He is a mixed bag. He makes me cringe sometimes, but then he’ll do a show that is so informative that I am transfixed.

His “black board lessons” sometimes give information you will never get anywhere else. I have to admit that my take on Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Agenda has changed due to the information he had put forth on his show and that I have verified.

It is a bit spooky that this current administration is infected with truly radical individuals. I am sure that their administrations have had some doozies in them , but this current administration is clearly very-left heavy and has a clear “social-justice” Progressive agenda.

In addition, this man has exposed individuals that after have being exposed by Beck, have either left or have been replaced. He HAS to be on to something for this to happen. This administration doesn’t do that kind of thing easily, if at all. They are more prone to just ignoring their critics and just pressing on, steam-rolling over anyone who gets in their way.

Opposite Day on March 15, 2010 at 12:53 PM

I watch Beck almost every day. I often learn things; sometimes I cringe as he goes off on a tangent. But I like him and I trust him – not to be right, but to be honest about what he thinks.

Venusian Visitor on March 15, 2010 at 1:13 PM

I think the whole “broken clock right twice a day” adage applies to most of Beck’s critics. On occasion he does make an error, but he is the first to admit so openly.

He falls under the “intotainment” (great term, CK) label, but his willingness to put the valuable info out there would endear him to a great majority of his viewers on its own.

RachDubya on March 15, 2010 at 1:18 PM

The thing is Beck is just erratic enough that if he does go off on a dangerous tangent most of his viewers aren’t going to follow.

If he was always level headed and calm he would be more dangerous.

I doubt that there are many people who agree with Beck on every single issue. And I think Beck would be the first discourage blind followers.

Beck thinks out loud. And that is sort of fun to watch. that doesn’t mean you have to agree… or that he can’t rethink it later.

petunia on March 15, 2010 at 1:36 PM

Geraldo, of late, has become adamant and never wrong in is own eyes. If he is one of the detractors it would not surprise me. I think he used to think of himself as the iconoclast and has been supplanted.

jeanie on March 15, 2010 at 1:50 PM

I like Beck just fine, but I can see why a journalist struggling for some reasonable measure of objective reporting would be a tad dismayed at being painted with the Beck and Hannity brushes. Those two make O’Reilly seem fair and balanced.

John the Libertarian on March 15, 2010 at 2:42 PM

Peers loath others success … or ratings. But trying to start a FNC fight is a cute diversion. No one would fire a anchor with Beck’s ratings unless he himself did something really bad in management’s eyes.

When Whore-Raldo comes on I get up to take a leak. Just something about him …

tarpon on March 15, 2010 at 2:43 PM

His critics also fear Beck and his ability to teach an audience. Yes, there’s certainly envy among peers that Beck is the star and others aren’t. I understand that as it’s a human response to want to be loved, and some of these critics I’m sure dearly want, if not need, to be loved. But this goes beyond mere attention, headlines, and credibility. I think it goes to ideology.

This is an industry where its members aim in large part to “change the world.” It’s not enough to report the who, what, when, and where of reportage. It’s the why that they like to focus on and the area where ideology inserts itself as the “journalist” aims to “make a difference.” Ideology is what makes many of these people, especially those most interested in getting attention and airtime, tick. Otherwise, it’s just a job.

So Beck steps in and is wildly successful at ginning up excitement over an ideology that is antithetical to the liberal/progressive POV. That’s a real threat and strikes at the heart of those who used to dominate the media. Beck is gaining share. His critics are losing it. Beck is teaching an audience that remains receptive to his shtick, a shtick that is as effective at educating the audience as any tenured professor. Better, actually, because his audience is not captive.

That audience could be watching any number of mind-numbing shows, news or otherwise. They don’t. They watch Beck. They learn. They learn anti-progressive and true liberal material and history. They get a valuable lecture and can correlate that which is being done now to what has been done in the past. That audience is retaining that info and applying it to their lives while getting active and vocal.

That is the real threat to critics. Their ideology is not carrying the day like it used to and Beck is at the tip of the spear in displaying an alternate, conservative-libertarian philosophy. Don’t think that ideologues acting as propagandists won’t exert tremendous efforts to undermine Beck, Breitbart, Limbaugh, Malkin, Levin, the Tea Party, etc. There’s an escalation in the domestic civil war of governance and the neo-liberals will smear any they can to discredit/mute a contrarian POV. Envy is trivial compared to the existential, underlying threat to ideology. The legacy media monopoly is dead and the debate for ideas is more open now than in years past, something that some of those critics fear most.

AnonymousDrivel on March 15, 2010 at 4:24 PM

One of the things I was fearful about when I first came upon The Rush Limbaugh Show 20 years ago was “I hope he’s not another Morton Downey Jr.” Downey, if you’ll recall, was a former jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none who had hit upon a successful conservative talk show on WWOR TV in New York in the mid-1980s that ended up being beamed across the country. But Downey both couldn’t control his mouth and in the liberal media world of the day, didn’t know where the line was, and in the end, didn’t really believe in his message more than how well it was received by the public.

Limbaugh as it turned out, both believed in his message and was smart enough while building his audience not to cross the line that would have allowed the left to take his national talk show down while it was still in its developmental stage. And it’s success paved the way for both the other conservative talk shows that followed and for Rush and others to stretch the envelope more on what they could say, because by then advertisers knew the listeners were out there.

Beck’s somewhere in-between Limbaugh and Downey. I listened to his radio show for the first time about a decade ago while driving through Tennessee when it was early into syndication, and the most noticeable thing was how Glenn was still groping for a style that would better connect with viewers. At the time, he was doing these long (and to me, annoying) pregnant pauses between thoughts in the Paul Harvey vein, but eventually his style settled down into something that caught the attention of the CNN folks in Atlanta, and he’s been honing his persona for television since then.

It’s the style conservatives need to worry about, if they plan to hitch their hopes and dreams to Beck’s wagon. I think he believes in conservatism more than Morton Downey, but like Downey, he engages in some daredevil showmanship that excites his audience when it succeeds (Van Jones), but has the potential to cause major embarrassment, if he leaps before he looks at a key moment, and gets something really wrong just before a major election or a key congressional vote. So while watching Beck isn’t a bad thing, becoming a defender against all opponents, be they David Axelrod or Mark Levin, stands a chance to open conservatives up to both future anger and disappointment.

jon1979 on March 15, 2010 at 9:23 PM

The Fox journalists don’t agree that they’re all about infotainment,

If Geraldo and Shep don’t like it, they can buy the network and fire Beck.

Or they can shut their yaps and go back to reading teleprompters.

News-readers worried about their craft. LOL.

rightwingyahooo on March 15, 2010 at 10:00 PM

The fact that the first response by so many of Beck’s supporters to any and all criticisms of him by anyone, be it Mark Levin or Michelle Malkin or now some faceless Fox studio person, is to accuse that person of being “jealous” of Beck’s success…is somewhat less than persuasive.

Cylor on March 16, 2010 at 8:20 AM

The fact that the first response by so many of Beck’s supporters to any and all criticisms of him by anyone, be it Mark Levin or Michelle Malkin or now some faceless Fox studio person, is to accuse that person of being “jealous” of Beck’s success…is somewhat less than persuasive.

A. I agreed with Michelle’s criticism of Beck on the Massa story, and have myself also criticized Beck for his treatment of Geert Wilders.

B. In regard to Levin’s criticisms of Beck, I pointed out that the CPAC organizers, in choosing Beck for the closing speech, had passed over Levin and Malkin, both best-selling authors with deeper ties to the conservative movement, in favor of “a Johnny-come-lately.”

C. It’s one thing for Malkin and Levin to criticize Beck publicly, and another thing entirely for Fox employees to diss Beck anonymously to Howard Kurtz.

When Beck is wrong, he is wrong, and should be criticized for being wrong. What I objected to in the Kurtz column, beyond the anonymous backstabbing factor, was that Beck’s nameless critics were basically recycling liberal criticism of Beck: “Oooh, he’s dangerous! He’s scary! He’s an irresponsible conspiracy theorist!”

Beck’s meteoric success on Fox has caused some resentment merely because it has been so sudden. Conservatives by their nature tend to respect those who “pay their dues” by long years of service to the movement and — based on past experience — are suspicious of relative newcomers who are suddenly elevated to positions of prominence. (David Brock of Media Matters was the hottest thing in conservative journalism circa 1993-95.) So it is scarcely surprising that Beck’s faults and failures have been closely scrutinized.

I just don’t want to see this turn in the kind of bash-around situation we had in 2009, when Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin were denounced by some Republicans as “What’s Wrong With The Conservative Movement.” The fact that attacks like that are only ever made against the prominent and successful certainly lends itself to the “jealousy” interpretation. I mean, Rod Dreher? Conor Friedersdorf? Who the heck are those marginal malcontents to sit in judgment of Rush Limbaugh?

On the other hand, when acknowledged titans like Levin and Malkin find it necessary to criticize someone as prominent as Beck, I regret the necessity because I know that many conservatives are fans of all three — Beck, Levin and Malkin — and will be disappointed and confused by the conflict.

The Other McCain on March 17, 2010 at 11:34 PM

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