Campaign to Pull Glenn Beck Off the Air Gains Momentum, Here and Abroad
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The movement to pressure Fox News into assessing the financial viability of Glenn Beck's controversial talk show is gaining steam -- particularly overseas. In the United Kingdom, as of Tuesday, Beck's show had run without a single paid advertisement for six days in a row.
Beck, whose popularity and infamy have grown due to his propensity to cry -- literally and figuratively -- for the state of America as he sees it, is the target of a couple of campaigns aimed at connecting the dots for advertisers who pay top dollar (and pounds) for commercials that run during his hourly TV show, which airs every weekday.
On Tuesday it was announced that British advertisers and viewers have resolutely rejected Beck's program, which has become notorious for spewing storylines that have a great deal of traction among right-wing groups. Famously, Beck claimed that Americorps, a federal program which funds community service work, is a covert plot to create a "civilian army" of community organizers -- apparently a terrifying prospect to right-wingers. He also called health care reform "Obama brand reparations" for blacks and Native Americans.
For nearly a week now, Sky, a channel partially owned by News Corp. that airs Fox News programs in Britain, has been running local weather updates and news headlines, instead of paid commercials in the ad slots that bookend Beck's show. This likely comes as a direct result of campaigns by both StopBeck.com and ColorofChange.org, which launched in July last year.
The campaigns were launched as a reaction to Beck's on-air claims that President Obama is a racist who "has a deep-seated hatred for white people." While the remarks actually came during a guest appearance on another Fox News program, "Fox & Friends," the two anti-Beck organizations viewed the incident as part of a "larger pattern of race-baiting and fear-mongering" by Beck.
According to StopBeck.com, which organized the U.K. campaign, the number of dropped sponsors for the Glenn Beck show is now up to 116. ColorofChange.org, a Web-based grassroots civil rights group, says domestic dropped sponsors total 97, though the number is certainly "well over 100" when adding on the dropped British sponsors.
The move to stop Beck mirrors the move last summer to banish Lou Dobbs from his program at CNN. The Basta Dobbs campaign, led by Presente.org, was fueled by widespread anger at Dobbs' relentlessly anti-immigrant rhetoric, which was bolstered by the same racist fears that fuel a lot of Beck's own hateful brand. By November last year, Dobbs had left CNN in what was officially labeled a resignation, but was probably influenced by the populist pressure to oust him.
While CNN said Dobbs was leaving to pursue his special form of "advocacy journalism," which was no longer in line with CNN's mission as a news organization, it's not necessarily clear that Fox News cares about putting up a newsy front. After all, as Dani McClain, a campaign manager at ColorofChange.org, points out, "Fox has a lot of gall to position itself as a news organization," particularly when advertisers are bowing out left and right. This shows "Fox is a propaganda machine, not a news outlet."
ColorofChange.org's anti-Beck petition has gathered over 285,000 signatures so far. And those numbers have brought results.
Among those who've been moved to drop their sponsorship of Beck's show is Best Western International. "As a global, family-oriented brand with guests of all persuasions and viewpoints, we seek to avoid any controversial programming, regardless of political affiliation," said the hotel chain's spokesman, Troy Rutman, adding that the company doesn't intend to have any additional ad placements during the program.
Other advertisers don't spell out exactly why they've left, instead using euphemisms. One of these is Starkist Co., whose representative Mary Sestric wrote in an e-mail to ColorsofChange.org, "We have chosen to not air our commercial during Glenn Beck's program going forward given a number of alternatives that meet our advertising plan's criteria."
Many who are bowing out claim they simply bought blocks of ad time on Fox News without ever specifying -- or prohibiting -- Beck's program. Nestlé USA spokesperson Cathy Johnson wrote in an e-mail, "Nestlé USA has family friendly programming guidelines in place that are routinely moderated and enforced. However, we are aware of a recent commercial that aired during the Glenn Beck show. Airing the spot on Fox and this program was an error that has been corrected."
"We hope that leadership at Fox will be forced to make a decision due to advertiser exodus," says Dani McClain. "Ideally, we'd like to see Beck at the low end of the AM dial where you hear a lot of people ranting and raving. Either Fox News acknowledges that they aren't a news outlet, or they get rid of Glenn Beck."
So far, it appears Fox News may be opting for the former. Running a one-hour program six days in a row without paid advertising is a money-losing move, but apparently Rupert Murdoch, the stalwart conservative scion who runs News Corp., finds it's worth footing the bill for Beck's time on British airwaves -- for now.
Here in the United States, Glenn Beck's show sports a very different roster of advertisers than it did last year. Ads for Tylenol, Pantene, Toyota-Lexus, Campbell Soup, K-Mart and any other number of household American brands have been replaced by ads for conservative organizations, companies hawking gold and precious metals (which Beck peddles himself), and direct-response advertisers selling all manner of products with unrecognizable brand names and act-now 1-800 number directives.
Fox News has long been considered an enemy of civil rights organizations, but as right-wing fringe movements such as the Birthers, Tea Partiers and Patriots gain steam, Glenn Beck has proven himself even more frightening than the likes of Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, the channel's long-time fear-mongers.
"We think [Beck's] language goes beyond the pale -- beyond what the others are saying," McClain said. "We are specifically concerned about the rhetoric he uses around race. He taps into a fear in this time of economic instability, and he's playing on paranoia and fears that do exist in American society and taking advantage of them."
The question now is whether Glenn Beck's remaining advertisers will react to consumer anger about their financial backing of his hate talk -- or if Beck's gold-pushing and Fox's propaganda goals will be enough to keep him on TV.