Success, Envy and Glenn Beck
posted at 11:57 am on March 15, 2010 by The Other McCain
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.”
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.