The "EXCLUSIVE" report from Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller this morning is that Glenn Beck, the one-time host of a popular Fox News program, poached content from right-wing bloggers without attribution. Those bloggers -- Andrew Breitbart, Pamela Geller, and assorted F-listers -- have just realized how angry this makes them now that Glenn Beck has been canceled and will thus no longer be a megaphone for their unhinged ranting "citizen journalism." Pam Geller, who is quite mad, says of Beck: "I like his work, but he's a thief."
As Salon's Alex Pareene notes, stealing content from people on the internet is essentially the cable news business model, so the revelation that Beck did it isn't exactly groundbreaking. Also, the fact that Beck's "researchers" were just trolling the fever swamp wasn't really a secret. And while I certainly don't begrudge Geller et. al. for kicking Beck while he's down, there's more to this than simple opportunism. This is all part of an ongoing sad/hilarious right-wing media feud. Breitbart and the Daily Caller are on one side, doing their best to get as much attention as they can; Beck is on the other, doing everything he can to halt the decline of his audience and influence.
It wasn't always like this. Beck's breakout story on Fox News was courtesy of Andrew Breitbart and his protégé, James O'Keefe. Back in September 2009, Beck worked with Breitbart to promote O'Keefe's now-infamous ACORN videos, teasing the tapes the night before their release as an "exclusive" that will "change a lot for those in power." Beck said Breitbart was one of "the great journalists of our time" and leaned on him for several of his stories.
Then Breitbart and O'Keefe suffered a string of embarrassing failures. Breitbart released the edited Shirley Sherrod tape and demolished what little credibility he still enjoyed. O'Keefe was arrested inside a senator's office and tried to lure a CNN reporter onto a boat full of sex toys. At the same time, Beck was suffering his own implosion. Between 2010 and 2011, hundreds of thousands of viewers fled Beck's Fox News show -- as did hundreds of advertisers who refused to run ads on Beck's show. Meanwhile, his radio program was being dropped from several major markets due to low ratings and "unacceptable" content. So, coming into 2011, Breitbart, Beck, and O'Keefe were all working towards the same end -- getting people to pay attention to them like they once had.
Enter the Daily Caller. Tucker Carlson's online vanity project has been trying desperately to establish itself in the already oversaturated market of ideologically slanted news/opinion websites, and has seemed almost eager to sacrifice credibility for page views. It was no surprise, then, that they agreed to publicize the many-times-discredited O'Keefe's latest project: the "sting" videos purporting to show NPR fundraising executives meeting with a phony Muslim non-profit and trashing conservatives. The NPR tapes made a big splash and O'Keefe and the Daily Caller got what they wanted -- important people paid attention to them.
Then Beck made his move. Beck's own ideologically slanted news/opinion website, The Blaze, posted a damning critique of the editing tricks O'Keefe employed to distort the remarks of the NPR executives captured on the tapes. On the radio, Beck said of O'Keefe: "You don't now take what you have and edit something to make them say something that they didn't say. I mean, you have no credibility then." The critique, coming from such an unlikely corner, was widely picked up by mainstream outlets, as well as conservatives who had grown weary of O'Keefe's antics and were likely thankful for the cover Beck provided them. O'Keefe was discredited (again) and the Daily Caller clammed up hoping the whole thing would blow over.
As Salon's Pareene wrote at the time, Beck's critique of O'Keefe would likely never have happened if he weren't desperate for a new path to relevance:
So no one on talk radio or at Fox will say that they're embarrassed by O'Keefe -- or that Breitbart's websites publish an endless stream of barely literate garbage -- so long as those sites remain in good standing with the movement. But as Beck's ratings have fallen and as his nightly stories have grown less and less useful to the movement, he's come under sustained attack from various "grown-ups" in the brotherhood of conservative pundits.
Of course, Beck did go down, as Fox News announced in the first week of April that he would be "transitioning" out of his daily program -- a poorly conceived euphemism for "fired." So Beck, having been publicly rejected and embarrassed by Fox News, is under assault from the erstwhile allies he betrayed, who now smell blood in the water.
And, as you'd expect, Breitbart is leading the anti-Beck charge. He was the first person quoted attacking Beck in the Daily Caller's piece from this morning, and in an interview to the Daily Beast he accused Beck of a cardinal sin: appeasing Media Matters:
In recent months he's started to use a phrase called, "The truth has no agenda" and he's used it to try and position himself against his conservative competitors to try and appease Media Matters and Voice of Change and his detractors, but if he's going to become the arbiter of how journalism is going to be done then he's opening himself to criticism... he was able to have a neverending stream of content over the last few years and there are a lot of bloggers and videographers who have been outraged by his methodology. I think he owes them an apology.
Beck is fighting back. He responded to the Daily Caller/Breitbart this morning on the radio, denying that they had "stolen" any material. He also suggested that the Daily Caller report was retribution for the NPR video critique and motivated by jealousy on the part of the piece's author and the bloggers quoted, who had unsuccessfully applied for jobs with Glenn Beck.
So what we have here are three right-wing media entities locked in a scorched-earth fight for the attentions of the increasingly small slice of America that doesn't care that each of them long ago sacrificed any and all claims to credibility. And if it continues along its current trajectory, it's going to get even uglier for those involved, and even more entertaining for the rest of us.