Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes Make Clear That Glenn Beck, with His Incendiary Rhetoric and Wild Inaccuracies, Will Be the Face of Fox News
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
To those Fox News journalists who are reportedly "worried about the prospect that Beck is becoming the face of the network": Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes have picked a side in this fight -- and it's not yours.
For months, accounts of internal tension over Beck have been leaking out of Fox News. Back in March, media critic Howard Kurtz -- then with The Washington Post -- reported that "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."
In an October New York Times Magazine profile of Beck, Mark Leibovich -- who noted the "[o]ff-the-record sniping shoots in both directions" and could be related to upcoming contract negotiations -- reported: "But the friction is evident in many areas." In addition to reporting -- like Kurtz -- that some Fox News journalists felt Beck's inflammatory rhetoric undermined the network, Leibovich introduced a new twist: Ailes' support for Beck may have been flagging.
Ailes, Leibovich wrote, "has generally been supportive of Beck," but he's also "complained about Beck's hawking his non-Fox ventures too much on his Fox show" and has been "vocal around the network about how Beck does not fully appreciate the degree to which Fox News has made him the sensation he has become in recent months."
With his ratings in a slump, advertisers dropping like flies, and the reported sniping from Ailes, it seemed possible that Beck's influence at Fox might wane.
Then Rupert Murdoch stepped in.
When asked at the News Corp. annual shareholders meeting later that month about Ailes' reported frustration with Beck's use of Fox News airwaves to promote his own brand and interests, Murdoch dismissed such concerns, saying, "I don't know whether you watch Fox News, but Mr. Beck is the least of our stars who take liberties in promoting their interests."
And Murdoch was unfazed when asked at the meeting about reports that nearly 300 advertisers are boycotting Glenn Beck, responding, "That's not true. ... Maybe four or five who have been moved over to Mr. O'Reilly's program. No one has taken any money off the channel."
But perhaps most surprising was Murdoch's unprompted praise for Beck in a November interview in his native Australia, which was paired with some trash-talking aimed at Fox News ratings giant Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly's "easy" treatment of now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview was "disgraceful," Murdoch said. He then lavished Beck with praise:
There's a guy on Fox who started on CNN called Glenn Beck.
He is a little bit of an actor, he looks in the camera all the time. He's very genuine, extremely well-read libertarian, doesn't make any secret of it. He says don't trust the government, don't trust me, just trust yourselves.
He's hit a nerve. Millions -- millions -- watch him at five in the afternoon!
Never mind that these days, O'Reilly regularly pulls in well over a million more viewers in his 8 p.m. slot than Beck does in his 5 p.m. slot. Or that advertisers -- by Murdoch's own admission -- have moved from Beck's program to O'Reilly's. Beck is the one Murdoch brags about.
Is Murdoch out of touch with what is happening at his own network? Is his defense and praise of Beck an accident? That seems unlikely, given that he views the network as the jewel of his empire. When asked earlier this week by Fox Business' Liz Claman what News Corp.'s best growth market is, Murdoch said, "Our best growth engine right now is in this country." When Claman pressed for specifics, Murdoch immediately responded, "Fox Business. Fox News. Seriously."