Glenn Beck 2.0: What Happens Next?

By Alex Weprin Comment

Outgoing Fox News host Glenn Beck is the subject of an in-depth piece by the New York Observer. The weekly paper compares Beck to the fictional media tycoon Charles Foster Kane from Citizen Kane.

The comparison is apt, the Observer notes, as Beck grew up listening to Orson Welles‘ radio plays, and named his company, Mercury Radio Arts, after Welles’ radio program.

The Observer speaks to Mercury staffers, including CEO Chris Balfe, The Blaze chief Betsy Morgan, and even a young sound technician. Update: While the Observer did speak to Morgan, quotes from Balfe and the sound tech were from other sources. It paints a fuller picture of Beck’s media empire, beyond the TV set. It also talks about his particular brand of commentary:

Like Welles’ radio entertainments, and not too far from Kane’s more propagandizing stunts, Glenn Beck’s brand of commentary is only feasible because it is not journalism (and because lawsuits for slander are difficult to win in the United States). Despite appearing on the Fox News channel—a putatively journalistic organization—Mr. Beck routinely couches his paranoid raves with disclaimers like “I’m not a journalist” or “Don’t take my word for it, do your own homework.”

But Mr. Beck is in the business of what these days passes for journalism. In August, Mercury Radio Arts expanded its Web outfit to include The Blaze—a news and opinion site aimed to attract a broader audience than Mr. Beck’s Tea Party diehards.

Elsewhere, The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz looks at Beck’s exit, and says it speaks volumes about the current culture of info-tainment opinion programming that is prevalent on much of TV:

Fox will do just fine without Beck, and the radio host will have no trouble making a living, either. The larger problem is a toxic culture that encourages pundits and politicians alike to do whatever it takes to get noticed. And sometimes that means cranking it up to ultra-high decibels.

There’s no use whining about an environment that favors attacks and exaggeration over analysis and accuracy; it is here to stay. But too many of us play a small role as enablers. If the hosts and bloggers who indulge in the worst excesses didn’t put up the numbers, they wouldn’t get the most prominent perches. Maybe they’re providing what the audience wants. But even in this anything-goes atmosphere, as Beck eventually learned, there is such a thing as going too far.