A recent report detailed growing tension between Fox News and its most famous on-air personality, Glenn Beck, and cited complaints by Fox president Roger Ailes of "Beck's hawking his non-Fox ventures too much on his Fox show." Fox News journalists are reportedly "worried about the prospect that Beck is becoming the face of the network."
Fox News takes on Glenn Beck
NY Times: Ailes "has complained about Beck's hawking his non-Fox ventures too much on his Fox show." In a September 29 profile of Beck in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Mark Leibovich wrote that Beck's "cross-promotion can be a sore spot at Fox News, particularly for its president, Roger Ailes, who has complained about Beck's hawking his non-Fox ventures too much on his Fox show," and that Ailes "has communicated this to Beck himself and through intermediaries." Leibovich further wrote that Ailes "has also 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." The article continued:
In the days following Beck's Lincoln Memorial rally, which by Beck's estimate drew a half-million people, Ailes told associates that if Beck were still at Headline News, there would have been 30 people on the Mall. Fox News devoted less news coverage to the rally than CNN and MSNBC did, which Beck has pointed out himself on the air.
NY Times: There is "friction" between Beck and Fox News journalists. In his profile, Leibovich also reported that the "friction" between Beck and Fox "is evident in many areas." He wrote:
When I mentioned Beck's name to several Fox reporters, personalities and staff members, it reliably elicited either a sigh or an eye roll. Several Fox News journalists have complained that Beck's antics are embarrassing Fox, that his inflammatory rhetoric makes it difficult for the network to present itself as a legitimate news outlet. Fearful that Beck was becoming the perceived face of Fox News, some network insiders leaked their dissatisfaction in March to The Washington Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, a highly unusual breach at a place where complaints of internal strains rarely go public.
NY Times: Beck's "television ratings have declined sharply -- perhaps another factor in the network's impatience." Leibovich further wrote, "While Beck's personal ventures and exposure have soared this year, his television ratings have declined sharply -- perhaps another factor in the network's impatience." Leibovich went on to detail Beck's ratings slip and how "as of Sept. 21, 296 advertisers have asked that their commercials not be shown on Beck's show (up from 26 in August 2009)." Leibovich continued:
Fox also has a difficult time selling ads on "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Fox and Friends" when Beck appears on those shows as a guest. Beck's show is known in the TV sales world as "empty calories," meaning he draws great ratings but is toxic for ad sales. If nothing else, I sensed that people around Fox News have grown weary after months of "It's all about Glenn." I was sitting with Bill Shine, the director of programming, on the Wednesday after the "Restoring Honor" event, which was held on a Saturday and still drawing analysis in the news media four days later. At the end of a half-hour interview in which Shine spoke well of Beck, a look of slight irritation flashed his face. He shook his head slightly. "The president of the United States ends the war in Iraq," Shine said, which Obama did the night before in a speech from the Oval Office, "and on Wednesday we're still talking about Glenn Beck."
Wash. Post's Kurtz: "[T]here is a deep split within Fox" between Beck supporters and others. In a March 15 Washington Post article media critic Howard Kurtz wrote that "Beck's blinding burst of stardom ... may not be a good thing" for Fox. Kurtz reported: "[T]here 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." Kurtz also wrote that Beck has achieved "lightning-rod status" by "calling President Obama a racist and branding progressivism a "cancer,' " which has "complicated the channel's efforts to neutralize White House criticism that Fox is not really a news organization." Kurtz added: "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." Ailes responded to the post by defending Beck and criticizing Kurtz's sources, saying, "We prefer people in the tent not dumping on other people in the tent," adding, "I was brought up to defend the family. If I couldn't defend the family I'd leave."
Sargent speculated that Hannity targeted Kevin Jennings because of Beck's ratings surge. In an October 1, 2009, post, blogger Greg Sargent noted: "Beck's overall viewership has climbed an astonishing 89%, and in the key 25-54 demo it has exploded by 136%. By contrast, Hannity's overall viewership has climbed a measly nine percent, and in the key demo it's jumped only 17%." Sargent speculated that this may have been the reason Hannity called for the firing of Department of Education official Kevin Jennings, writing: "Would Hannity be pursuing Jennings scalp if Beck hadn't seen his popularity surge in the wake of [former White House advisor Van] Jones' firing? Maybe. At the very least, though, maybe this explains the zeal driving Hannity. He wants his own scalp! Call it a quest for Beckian glory."
Huffington Post: "Is Sean Hannity Afraid Of Glenn Beck?" Following Sargent's post, the Huffington Post's Jason Linkins similarly wondered whether Hannity's call for Jennings' firing was "the actions of a hunted man." Linkins wrote that Hannity's actions may have been "driven by Hannity's fear of the sudden rise of Glenn Beck." Linkins went on to write:
Glenn Beck presents the only scenario in which you'd even dream of calling Sean Hannity vulnerable. But, really, all that Sargent suggests is that Hannity is acting on perceived vulnerability. So how does Hannity likely view the landscape?
Back when Beck was announced as Foxy-to-be, Hannity offered him a big showy welcome, which felt, even at the time, a little like a territorial pissing. Since then, Beck's been the superstar: making waves, taking those scalps, and getting the cable news network to come fully behind his Teabaggy 9/12 Project.
I can imagine that Hannity might find the attention lavished on Beck to be a little bit galling. Hannity's had the longer career, after all, during which he's dutifully suited up, sat behind a desk and occasionally had to fend off actual arguments: from Alan Colmes in the pre-solo days, to various panels now. The deck was always stacked in Hannity's favor, of course, but he had to at least offer the appearance of an honest broker of debate. Beck doesn't have to do any of that. Beck gets to stand up and riff about whatever he wants, pull morning-radio stunts and, really, not even worry about making any sense at all.
Beck flaunts the fact that he's the one guy on the network who never has to play it straight or even maintain intellectual consistency. Hannity, by contrast, is more of a duty-bound party hack and a broadcast traditionalist. He's doing the same work, carrying water for conservative interests, that he's always done, and makes the attempt to do so with gravity and professionalism. Beck takes that water, and uses it to boil a rubber frog. The next day, no one is talking about what happened on Sean Hannity's show. As it turns out, putting a mainstream face on the fringe isn't as attention-grabbing as letting your freak flag fly.
So, now, we have Hannity calling for a head of his own. It's not entirely out of step for him, but it sure feels like the actions of a hunted man. That said, let's not forget that Hannity has one trump card that will likely protect his prime-time perch for the time being: Fox can still sell national ads on his program in prime time.
Imus to Beck: "Sean Hannity, Rush, they both hate you." On the October 5, 2009, edition of Fox Business' Imus in the Morning, host Don Imus said to Beck: "You've got Sean Hannity, Rush [Limbaugh], they both hate you. You know that." Beck denied that claim, replying, "No, they don't."
Beck on Fox's "news" division: "Of course I make their job a living hell." On the March 17, edition of Imus in the Morning, Imus cited Kurtz's March 15 Washington Post article that Imus said showed "how Glenn is driving this big wedge between the news department and the shows at Fox News." Beck replied, in part, "I mean, of course -- of course I make their job a living hell," adding, "I don't -- that's not my intent." Imus later stated, "I've been around awhile. You guys all hate each other. And so, I understand all that. Hannity is livid."
Fox's Smith referred to Beck's show as the "fear chamber." On the March 13, 2009, edition of his Fox News show, Shepard Smith teased an upcoming episode of Beck's show, saying, "I love the program, but I don't listen to it." He later referred to Beck's show as "the fear chamber."
Cavuto to Beck: "You are scaring people." On the March 9, 2009, edition of his Fox News show, Neil Cavuto hosted Beck and told him, "You bum me out, because you say in 2014, I think you said there will be like three people working and the Dow will be at 27," as the blog Crooks and Liars noted. Cavuto also told Beck, "You scared me," and said "[y]ou think we're going to hell in a handbasket." He later said:
CAVUTO: Why are you doing this stuff in 2014 we'll all be eating lead? ... People watch you in droves. Your ratings are through the roof. You're radio rock star. So everything you say, when you say it, they're gonna say, "Gee, well, Glenn just said, you know, we're all gonna be dead." ... I just think that you're scaring people. I love you dearly, because you are a rock star. I'm just saying, I look at it, I watch in my office as I'm getting ready for my Fox Business show ... and I watch, and I'm saying, "Man, Glenn is scaring me."
Cavuto, whose show precedes Beck's, recently compared Beck to Howard Beale, saying that Howard Beale "is on the next hour" before adding: "I'm kidding, Glenn."