Victory: 3 Ways Responsible Citizens Helped Get Glenn Beck Off the Air at Fox News
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"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mohandas K. Gandhi
In January 2010, a poll found that Glenn Beck was the second most popular television host in America, trailing only Oprah Winfrey. In August of that same year, hundreds of thousands of people turned out on the Mall in Washington, DC to attend a rally organized by Beck. This week, Fox News announced that it would no longer air the Glenn Beck Program.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Jewish Funds for Justice first engaged with Beck a year ago, when he attacked churches that engage in social justice, equating this core faith value with Nazism and communism. Since then, we have done our best to encourage Jewish leaders and others to speak out about Beck’s use of Nazi comparisons to demonize people with whom he disagrees, his claims that every policy that supports the common good is leading to another Holocaust, his fondness for global conspiracy theories populated overwhelmingly by Jews. And we have sought to hold him accountable for a constant stream of invective, racial bias and slander against vulnerable communities.
For those of us who have been wanting Beck off the air, today is a day to celebrate. Beck has done a lot of damage to social change movements in America and to the fabric of American life from his primetime perch on the most watched cable news network in America.
It is important to reflect on how we won.
There will be time in the weeks and months ahead for a full analysis, but a few key lessons come to mind.
1. Don’t be afraid to go after the biggest bully in the schoolyard.
There is a time to go after the proverbial low-hanging fruit. But if we only set our sights low, we will never have more than a marginal impact. When we began speaking out and standing up to Beck, many friends advised against it. They suggested ducking was the best approach when Beck lashes out. You can’t win, they said. You will only end up boosting his ratings, they said. The truth is, Beck had become powerful because he was a risk-taker, willing to say or do things others wouldn’t. It also made him vulnerable. But only if we found our David v. Goliath courage.
2. Find opportunities to engage allies from across the ideological spectrum.
All of us talk about how important coalitions are. But too often our coalitions are comfortable collections of the same old ideologically compatible organizations. Sometimes that’s enough to win, but usually it isn't. For far too long, Beck said things that were offensive to a wide range of Americans but the scenario in which a conservative network like Fox ends its relationship with an extremist remained unlikely until we could include centrists and conservatives in the ranks of those Beck had offended. It was these voices, from rabbis and other clergy, community leaders, historians and magazine editors, above all others, that placed Beck far outside the mainstream.
3. Strategic persistence pays off.
We know this to be true from all of the other victories we’ve had over the years. None come easy. All take time. Yet most of us limit our engagement with dangerous and demagogic figures like Beck to isolated statements of condemnation; a reactive approach. Collectively we must find the inclination and capacity to persist. In this effort we strategically assessed vulnerabilities, carefully considered our approach, held the bosses and businesses accountable, and pursued him all the way to the UK House of Commons. We put a stake in the ground – calling for his removal – when everyone said it was impossible. If no one persists, they will surely get away with it. Because groups like Media Matters and Color of Change and others did persist, that made all of this possible.
Fox News and Glenn Beck want the world to believe that all the people who spoke out against him had no impact on this decision. Don’t buy it. No one ever wants to give the opposition credit for their victories. But as Fredrick Douglass taught us, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." In January, 10,000 people joined our demand that Rupert Murdoch end Beck’s tenure on Fox. Today, power has conceded.
Together, everyone who was involved in this effort has shown that we can stand up to bullies, reject scapegoating and heal our nation by securing real solutions to the pressing problems facing so many Americans.