The Common Good

Is Glenn Beck's Departure the Beginning of the End for Fox News?

If you haven't noticed, Glenn Beck -- the vitriolic voice of "reason" and "values" for Fox News -- is gone. Thursday, June 30 marked the end of Beck's controversial career with FOX, but his pandering continues on The Glenn Beck Program, which is broadcast nationwide. While talk-radio remains a favorite medium for right-wing ideology -- and quite successfully at that, considering the top three talk syndicates are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, respectively -- what is more significant is what the ousting of Beck may mean for Fox News.

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The 24/7 news channel has enjoyed extraordinary ratings since 9/11, promoting a concoction of unwavering patriotism, so-called "fair and balanced" reporting, and disdain for dissent. But Beck's departure and recent rating reports suggest that the Fox News' hold on the American psyche is loosening. The Fox News network ratings have been in a steady decline, while viewership of CNN and MSNBC, particularly in the 25-54 demographic, has been on the rise. There is no disputing that Fox still dominates the cable news sphere, but the drop in its ratings, the rise in its competitors, and the increased attention to its modus operandi could signal a new era of sanity for grassroots organizers seeking media reform and progressive change.

A recent piece in Dissent by Mark Engler argues that Beck's signing off is the result of a successful boycott campaign by Color of Change that targeted corporate advertisers on the program:

I think we need to take time to recognize the innovative and relentless boycott that set out to strip Glenn Beck of his sponsors. The boycott was amazingly effective at doing just that -- ultimately convincing several hundred corporations (including major names such as Walmart, GEICO, and Procter & Gamble) to agree not to advertise on his show.

Engler explicates the success of the boycott in light of other ruminations regarding Beck's signing off. What is of importance for activists -- particularly those engaged in media reform -- is the point Engler makes about how the organizers framed the boycott by not going the traditional route of targeting consumers. Engler writes:

[It] wasn’t about getting the average American not to watch the show … . The Beck boycott was far more strategic. Its organizers identified wary advertisers as their point of leverage, targeted specific corporations that were buying ads, and used the announcement of each new company that agreed to withdraw as a way to build momentum.

Surely the Color of Change campaign played a role in bringing increased scrutiny of Beck’s paranoia-laden “journalism.” Identifying a weak point in Beck’s armor — that his network is a for-profit venture reliant on advertisers and viewers — allowed Color of Change to employ a time-proven tactic of people-power through the use of petitions to signify widespread support for getting Beck off the air and taking it not to Fox, but to the corporate advertisers it relies upon for revenue.

In addition to economic pressure being put on Fox News to moderate itself, increased scrutiny reveals that the giant media behemoth — seemingly able to say and do what it pleased without consequence — can no longer hide behind its cloak of “truth in reporting.” In the case of breaking down the mysterious machinations of Fox News, solid journalism and scholarly analysis are helping to discredit the corporation as a legitimate “news” site by exposing its deeply-embedded politicking for the GOP.

A recent Rolling Stone feature, “How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory,” details the origins of Fox News as a “giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism.” Of course author Tim Dickinson’s 13-page spread in the lefty Rolling Stone simply adds weight to what many progressives have realized for years. But Dickinson’s in-depth journalism reveals the dark personality behind Fox News — President Roger Ailes, not News Corp. magnate Rupert Murdoch — as the mastermind who “has used Fox News to pioneer a new form of political campaign — one that enables the GOP to bypass skeptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion.”

[Continue reading this article on the Waging Nonviolence blog.]

Jake Olzen is a member of the Kairos Chicago community and a graduate student at Loyola University in Chicago.

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