Yesterday’s announcement that Glenn Beck is ending his eponymous Fox News program has caused sadness on the right and jubilation on the left. But both sides share a common fascination with what is now one of the biggest questions in media: What’s the conservative star’s next move?
One much-discussed theory posits that Beck has Oprah-sized ambitions of controlling his own television network. This idea first gained traction last month when Beck poached veteran television executive Joel Cheatwood from Fox. Since then, there have been only unofficial signals that a Beck network might be in the offing. Robert Shelton, Beck’s longtime confidant and sometimes colleague at his radio production company, Mercury Radio Arts, recently penned a cryptic post on his Facebook page about a “new job” involving “lots of travel.” Shortly after a recent trip to New York to visit Beck, Shelton linked to a new “GBTV” fan site, listed under “TV Network.”
A less audacious scenario sees Beck continuing to aggressively expand his business in various old and new media directions, including stage, print, online news aggregation and film.
But regardless of the scope of Beck’s post-Fox plans, he leaves the network a wounded media commodity. His comet-like journey to megastardom since January 2009 has, almost from the beginning, been defined as much by its long tail of controversy as by its ball of front-end fire. Beck always had his critics. But ever since he appeared on Fox & Friends one June morning and called the president a “racist . . . with a deep hatred for white people,” the former Top 40 jock has been hounded and battered by a boycott campaign unique in the annals of television. A committed and effective coalition of forces has succeeded in getting hundreds of advertisers to drop Beck’s show, which it argues is dangerously polarizing, conspiratorial, racially charged and full of anti-Semitic tropes.
Even if Beck decides to soften his persona and message, observers say it will be impossible for him to scrub his image and rehabilitate his commercial appeal. “Beck has reached a point where his [polarizing] political profile vastly supersedes his broadcasting profile,” said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine. “This plays into big national sponsors' reticence to advertise on programs that they deem controversial.”
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