It unfolded, the way so many common sense crimes do, on the Fox & Friends couch. One hundred weeks ago, Glenn Beck, decked out in a powder blue tie and a matching powder blue dress shirt, lounged on the expansive Fox & Friends sofa and casually pontificated about the President of the United States, whom he flippantly, and repeatedly, referred to as “this guy.”
Discussing Obama's response at the time to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Beck denounced Obama as a “racist,” and claimed the black president who was raised by his white mother, exhibited a “deep-seated hatred for white people.”
And with that, Glenn Beck doomed his future at Fox News, and likely his television career.
Tomorrow marks Beck's final show on Fox News. It will also mark the unlikely departure for a cable new host who just over a year ago was being toasted as a cultural and ratings phenomena.
Years from now if and when people look back on Beck's troubled tenure, I hope jaws still hang wide open and there's still a sense of shock and wonder that any corporate “news” entity would ever allow, let alone encourage, someone as dishonest, irresponsible and hateful as Glenn Beck to use a national television platform to spread his toxic tales of paranoia.
And I hope that when future Rupert Murdoch biographies are written, observers don't omit the fact that he signed the paychecks that allowed Beck's nasty, divisive witch-hunts to flourish for more than two years.
That's the sad legacy of Beck's TV era, where race-baiting, attacks steeped in anti-Semitism, and thinly-veiled insurrectionism represented just a small dose of his daily rhetorical diet. When Fox News decided to let Beck run wild and lose himself in an illogical, all-consuming hatred for Obama and the left, the cable channel not only cut its final ties with journalism, but with common decency as well.
The good news though, is that Beck lost in the end.
The good news is that Beck's run on Fox News could not sustain itself because progressive activists made it increasingly difficult for Murdoch to profit from the host's hate game. Trust me, it's not like Murdoch or Fox News boss Roger Ailes suddenly experienced an epiphany about the stark consequences of sponsoring Beck's gutter attacks. Instead, Ailes likely concluded that Beck wasn't carrying his weight financially, so Beck had to go.
It's just that the slow-motion farewell took two years to unfold.
In the summer of 2009, Beck looked unstoppable. His late-afternoon car-wreck-of-a-show tapped into deep, dark right-wing resentment in the era of Obama. (i.e. Beck even gamed out what the looming American civil war would look like) And on the morning of July 28, 2009, Beck strolled onto the set of Fox & Friends, took his seat on the set, and announced that the president hated white people.
Incredibly, faced with an immediate uproar, Fox News stood behind Beck.
At the time, I'm sure he appreciated the gesture of solidarity. But ultimately, that boneheaded move by Fox executives doomed Beck's cable news career. Refusing to state unequivocally that Beck's comments were outrageous, uncalled for and completely irresponsible, Fox News's Senior Vice President of Programming, Bill Shine, issued a mealy-mouthed statement that made it clear nobody inside the cable channel was going to hold Beck responsible, and certainly nobody was going to reprimand him.
And in the short term, the move worked. By year's end, Beck's ratings hit all-time highs as he challenged Bill O'Reilly for the title of most-watched on Fox News.
But the outrage that Beck's comments sparked, coupled by Fox News' complete disregard of responsible broadcasting, set into motion an historic advertising boycott campaign that ultimately brought Beck down, and represents the biggest reason today why his television career is over. (After exiting TV, Beck, of course, is taking his talents to the Internet.)
Maybe Beck, Shine, and Ailes thought the “racist” controversy would fade away after a day or two. Maybe they thought that by downplaying the incident, Beck's critics would forget about the host's radical denunciation of the president. Or maybe they just thought they were impervious to liberal protests and were confident their loyal Obama-hating viewers wouldn't care about Beck's “racist” attack. (Hell, his fans probably cheered the attack.)
If so, the Fox sit-tight strategy represented a monumental miscalculation. The fact that Fox News wouldn't acknowledge Beck had stepped over a glaringly obvious line of common decency became the same reason why an avalanche of A-list advertisers deserted Beck and has steadfastly refused to be associated with him.
By defending Beck, Fox News executives set the stage for one of the most successful ad boycotts in U.S. television history as advertisers begged off the show:
Bank of America
Farmers Insurance Group
You get the idea.
Today and tomorrow, Media Matters will be looking back at the lowlights of Beck's relentlessly demented TV attacks. But as we show Beck the door, it's worth remembering that his brand of hate failed commercially. His audience shrank nearly in halfsince 2010, and Madison Avenue wanted nothing to do with him.
Just as important, remember the moment when Beck sealed his fate; his point of no return. It was two summers ago when Beck gave voice to radical right-wing in America and called the president a “racist.” When neither Beck nor Fox News executives had the guts to apologize, progressives took matters into their own hands and, with the help of the marketplace, drove Glenn Beck off the air.
Here's the clip that will live in Glenn Beck infamy: