The Final Days of the Glenn Beck Phenomenon?

Rachel Alexander

3/29/2011 12:47:27 PM - Rachel Alexander

The mainstream media has been reporting with glee that Glenn Beck may be leaving his Fox News show for a web-only show or his own cable station. Beck’s detractors are hoping he is imploding and this is the end of his superstardom in politics. There have been signs of friction between Beck and Fox News, and the network will not confirm whether his contract will be renewed in December.

The left is terrified of Beck. He has become one of the biggest leaders in the conservative movement. His enemies have responded by trying to force him out of his Fox News show. The far left group Color of Change organized a boycott of the show in 2009 after Beck called Obama a racist. The group claims that 300 advertisers have left, including Wal-Mart, Geico and Sprint. Liberal rabbis took out a full page ad in the Washington Post earlier this year asking Fox News to sanction Beck over critical statements he had made about them. Some Christian conservatives have kept quiet instead of defending him because of his Mormon faith. His theological differences with mainstream Christians occasionally surface on his television show.

The Glenn Beck Show has become one of the top cable news shows in just a few years. Unlike other prominent conservative talk show hosts, Beck educates his audience about our country’s history and philosophical foundations. He has figured out how to do so in a way that appeals to even our younger generations with their shorter attention spans. He wisely puts on many shows discussing Tea Party concerns that have become front and center over the past couple of years; hammering on the dangers of our expanding debt and deficits that risk economic doom if something does not change. He frequently lays into far left activists and exposes their seedy connections, unafraid to connect the dots when it comes to real conspiracies. His honest, folksy style of speaking with its sense of urgency, accompanied by unusual camera angles, invitingly draws viewers in. People from all walks of life easily identify with him due to his troubled past, which includes overcoming alcoholism, drug addiction and the suicide of his mother when he was only 13.

Lately, Beck’s shows have explored radical Islam, including whether Islamic prophecies coincide with Biblical endtime prophesies. Beck believes there is a possibility that the Antichrist foretold in the Bible will come from radical Islam. Considering around 80% of the U.S. population considers themselves to be Christians, and there are political overtones to Biblical end times prophesy, it makes sense for Beck to cover a topic that many of his viewers are interested in. Fox News viewers are even more likely to be Christians interested in these kinds of issues.

But Beck has become so wildly popular that every thing he says is a potential lightening rod. He has reached Sarah Palin levels of media scrutiny. There is now talk that his plain-talking style of covering controversial topics like radical Islam is hurting him and that his ratings have dropped drastically. Is there any truth to this? The big networks are down double digits, while cable networks have increased their viewers. Last year, Beck had the third most popular show on cable news, and just last week his ratings jumped up to second place, putting him ahead of Hannity and behind the number one O’Reilly Factor. And unlike O’Reilly and Hannity, Beck’s pre-evening time slot is not even a prime spot. O’Reilly has Beck on his show as a guest every Friday, no doubt realizing it helps his own ratings too.

Beck is even more successful outside of Fox News. Forbes Magazine has estimated that Beck’s web operations earn him $4 million per year, twice as much as the $2 million he earns from his Fox News show. He launched the website “The Blaze” last fall. It has more traffic than Fox News’ Fox Nation website.

Beck’s total earnings between March 2009 and March 2010 were $23 million according to Forbes. His radio show is carried by more than 350 stations, and he is the third-most-popular political radio talk show host after Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. He regularly goes on live comedy tours around the nation. He has his own magazine, Fusion. He’s authored six New York Times bestsellers.

He launched the popular 9-12 Project in 2009 and quickly became one of the biggest faces of the Tea Party movement. Over 500,000 attended his “Restoring Honor” rally last August in Washington, D.C., dubbed “Beckapalooza” due to its draw. Unlike most conservative rallies, it wasn’t put on by a conglomerate organization, this was a rally where people came because Beck was the theme. Prominent groups like the National Rifle Association, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots supported the rally. It raised $5.5 million, which went to the veterans’ charity Special Operations Warrior Foundation after costs.

Critics of Beck reveal their desperation at finding a real flaw in him by trying to have it both ways in their attacks on him. They do not like the way he has been able to present the historical and philosophical background underlying political issues in an appealing way that doesn’t bore the average person. But at the same time, they attack his intelligence. They claim he has sold out and gone mainstream. Beck’s website The Blaze criticized investigative filmmaker James O’Keefe for selectively releasing portions of incriminating videotapes of figures on the left. Beck hired former Huffington Post CEO Betsy Morgan to run The Blaze. Yet on the other hand, critics claim he is part of the fringe right for attacking radical Islam, discussing Biblical end times prophecy, and calling Obama a racist.

The efforts to ruin Beck will not be successful. The boycott isn’t hurting Fox News. Those advertisers affected have simply moved to other shows on the network. The controversies Beck has brought while at Fox News are just enough to help the network, not hinder it. Beck is covering mildly controversial issues, he is not behaving like Charlie Sheen or David Duke. The fact he is Mormon means he is not the perfect conservative talk show host for most of Fox News’ base, but he is the only one on the network willing to cover subjects that desperately need to be aired on a popular network. Beck is charismatic, tireless and always coming up with creative new ideas that reflect the times. If Beck and Fox News cannot agree on renewing his contract, Beck will have no problem expanding his empire and drawing viewers elsewhere.