Contractually, they're supposed to stay married until December, but the possible breakup between Fox News and Glenn Beck is already getting messy, and going public.
The increasingly pitched battle features a surprising number of leaks and anonymous attacks that appear to be coming from within Fox News, as sources there take aim at their own host in the pages of The New York Times, as well as other media outlets.
The swipes are especially unusual because Fox News chief Roger Ailes prides himself on overseeing a loyal team. As one former Fox News source recently told Media Matters, what Ailes “continually preaches is never piss outside the tent.”
Suddenly though, there's a whole lot of pissing outside the tent going on. Either that, or more and more people at Fox News already view Beck as being outside that tent.
It's true that we've seen Fox News insiders take (anonymous) swipes at Beck in the press before. Last year, it was reported by the New York Times that Ailes had “complained about Beck's hawking his non-Fox ventures too much on his Fox show.” The Times also detailed “friction” between Beck and Fox News journalists, some of whom felt the host embarrassed the organization.
What's different this time is that the swipes appear to be calculated and not coming from the Fox News room, but from its corporate offices.
The first volley was fired via the New York Times when columnist David Carr announced that executives at Fox News, looking at Beck's eroding audience and shrinking advertising base, were “contemplating life without Mr. Beck” when his contract expires at the end of the year. The suggestion startled many media insiders who assumed Beck maintained the loyal backing of his Fox News bosses. (A Beck source countered, telling Carr that maybe the host didn't need Fox News.)
Perhaps stung by the public acknowledgement that Beck's Fox News future was not secure, Beck's team soon made it be known, via Mediaite, that the host might poach a prominent Fox News executive, Joel Cheatwood, to help Beck run and expand his production company.
The bruising Fox News response? This, at Deadline.com:
But, contrary to a report that Cheatwood was “poached” from Fox News, sources say that Fox had no intention of renewing his $700,000-a year-contract when it is set to expire April 23. Cheatwood had reportedly been marginalized for more than a year, serving solely as Beck's liaison at the network. “Joel lost Roger (Ailes)'s respect and trust a long time ago,” a Fox News insider told Deadline.
Meanwhile, the Huffington Post quoted someone who sounded an awful lot like Deadline's “Fox News insider”:
But despite Mediaite's characterization of Cheatwood as a “Fox News bigwig,” a source close to the situation claims that Cheatwood has been marginalized at Fox News, saying that he already spends most of his time at Mercury and is only seen at Fox News HQ when Beck's show is taping. The source also told the Huffington Post that Cheatwood's contract with Fox News expires in the next few weeks, and that the network was not planning to renew it.
Then today, came another Beck career announcement in the form of a long piece in the New York Times which outlined the host's grand, post-Fox News plans of possibly taking over an entire cable channel.
The right-wing media response? A brutal takedown prominently featured on The Drudge Report (since removed from the site):
Number of advertisers now boycotting show closing in on 400...
It's not possible to tell who the Drudge “source” is. But odds are, Fox News insiders approved.
What has also added tension to the usually unified world of far-right media, where Obama and Democrats have always been the prime target, was the way Beck's website, The Blaze, recently helped debunk James O'Keefe's NPR video sting. The decision by the usually reliably partisan Blaze to take aim at O'Keefe, an Andrew Breitbart protégé, surprised observers, leading to speculation of another emerging conservative media rift involving Beck.
For now though, that spat doesn't compare to the titanic battle being fought out in the press between Beck and Fox News.
Let the leaks continue.