Let’s all cheer that Glenn Beck will be leaving Fox News, but we should also think about why the network may no longer want to stoke Beck’s brand of paranoid populism.
Beck is obviously on his way out because he’s been losing viewers (down one-third in just the past year), damaging Fox’s already fugitive credibility as a news organization, and, most important, losing advertisers (at least 300 have bolted since 2009) until hawkers of end-times seeds and gold are practically all that remain. And though it will never admit it, Fox has responded to public pressure: including from Media Matters (which got CNN to finally fire immigrant-basher Lou Dobbs, now comfy at Fox Business), the Color of Change and Jewish and other religious groups disgusted with Beck’s twisted pronouncements on the Holocaust. His vile distortion of George Soros, the Jewish financier and liberal philanthropist, as a Nazi collaborator who had manipulated the economy to create an American collapse, was uncomfortably close to an ancient anti-Semitic slur. Conservative Jews may have even realized that substituting, say, Goldman Sachs head Lloyd Blankfein’s name for Soros’s in that sentence could raise some very dangerous anti-Semitism out there.
That sort of reckless rabble-rousing has become a real threat to Fox and the conservative cause.
Beck sells a kind of verbal heavy metal: A song of paradise stolen by interlopers, a glorious Lost Cause. His was a call to arms to face the threat of government thugs coming for your guns, your granny and your liberty, truly music to the right’s ears—at least, until the Tea Party victories last November. After that, the music was on the other foot, so to speak.
Wisconsin’s battles over collective bargaining show that anti-government populism is beginning to give way to the more classic, anti-corporate populism, threatening not Obama but the right with chaos. Beck, of course, is a hyper free-marketer; he’s not against corporate power, just the government’s. But the mere idea of rousing the rabble becomes suspect when the rabble isn’t made up of white supremacists and Americans for Prosperity astro-turfers but instead teachers, firemen and nurses. All of a sudden, government-imposed order starts to look pretty necessary, at least from a certain point of view.
And you know the view we’re talking about. Governor Scott Walker said he was prepared to call out the Wisconsin National Guard even before the first union-friendly crowd gathered in Madison. Afterward, it came out that state Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald had wanted to forcibly detain Democratic state senators who had fled to Illinois—the only problem, he said, was that “no cop in the state” would arrest them. As it was, the Republicans passed the union-busting bill in a locked-down Capitol building in the middle of the night without giving legally mandated notice to all reps—and when called on that, they ignored a judge’s ruling blocking the enactment of the bill.
And Wisconsin is just the tip of the spear here. Newly elected Michigan governor Rick Snyder pushed through a bill that allows government-appointed “emergency financial managers” to dissolve entire town or city governments, terminate union contracts and fire elected officials by fiat—all without voter involvement. Ohio governor John Kasich has been plucking insufficiently zealous Republicans from state legislature chairmanships lest they impede his anti-union crusade. US House majority leader Eric Cantor has expressed his deep love for the Constitution by declaring that if the Senate doesn’t agree to a House-passed budget bill, then automatically it would become law, as if the upper house and the president were just so much eighteenth-century window-dressing.
I’m not saying that Wisconsin was the tipping point to Beck’s TV demise—he’s been tipping all year—but keeping Beck on might have complicated the Fox-GOP industrial complex’s ability to wield government power as things get rockier for the moneyed interests in the months and years ahead. When the second-most popular talking head on your network is predicting, as Beck did last night, a “summer of insurrection,” a “summer of rage,” you’ve got to start wondering which side he’s on.
As Beck told Fox Business host Andrew Napolitano yesterday about losing his slot on Fox News, "To all those who say ‘celebrate’: You are going to pray for the days of 5 pm. Look out.”