By Sarah Pavlus
Media Matters for America
To those Fox News journalists who are reportedly "worried about the prospect that Beck is becoming the face of the network": Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes have picked a side in this fight — and it’s not yours.
For months, accounts of internal tension over Beck have been leaking out of Fox News. Back in March, media critic Howard Kurtz — then with The Washington Post — reportedthat "there 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. … 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."
In an October New York Times Magazine profile of Beck, Mark Leibovich — who noted the "[o]ff-the-record sniping shoots in both directions" and could be related to upcoming contract negotiations — reported: "But the friction is evident in many areas." In addition to reporting — like Kurtz — that some Fox News journalists felt Beck’s inflammatory rhetoric undermined the network, Leibovich introduced a new twist: Ailes’ support for Beck may have been flagging.
Ailes, Leibovich wrote, "has generally been supportive of Beck," but he’s also "complained about Beck’s hawking his non-Fox ventures too much on his Fox show" and has 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."
With his ratings in a slump, advertisers dropping like flies, and the reported sniping from Ailes, it seemed possible that Beck’s influence at Fox might wane.
Then Rupert Murdoch stepped in.
When asked at the News Corp. annual shareholders meeting later that month about Ailes’ reported frustration with Beck’s use of Fox News airwaves to promote his own brand and interests, Murdochdismissed such concerns, saying, "I don’t know whether you watch Fox News, but Mr. Beck is the least of our stars who take liberties in promoting their interests."
And Murdoch was unfazed when asked at the meeting about reports that nearly 300 advertisers are boycotting Glenn Beck, responding, "That’s not true. … Maybe four or five who have been moved over to Mr. O’Reilly’s program. No one has taken any money off the channel."
But perhaps most surprising was Murdoch’s unprompted praise for Beck in a November interview in his native Australia, which was paired with some trash-talking aimed at Fox News ratings giant Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly’s "easy" treatment of now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview was "disgraceful," Murdoch said. He then lavished Beck with praise:
There’s a guy on Fox who started on CNN called Glenn Beck.
He is a little bit of an actor, he looks in the camera all the time. He’s very genuine, extremely well-read libertarian, doesn’t make any secret of it. He says don’t trust the government, don’t trust me, just trust yourselves.
He’s hit a nerve. Millions — millions — watch him at five in the afternoon!
Never mind that these days, O’Reilly regularly pulls in well over a million more viewers in his 8 p.m. slot than Beck does in his 5 p.m. slot. Or that advertisers — by Murdoch’s own admission — have moved from Beck’s program to O’Reilly’s. Beck is the one Murdoch brags about.
Is Murdoch out of touch with what is happening at his own network? Is his defense and praise of Beck an accident? That seems unlikely, given that he views the network as the jewel of his empire. When asked earlier this week by Fox Business’ Liz Claman what News Corp.’s best growth market is, Murdoch said, "Our best growth engine right now is in this country." When Claman pressed for specifics, Murdoch immediately responded, "Fox Business. Fox News. Seriously."
He later noted "other cable channels" — though not by name — and gave "Fox Broadcasting Company" a shout-out, but it’s clear that he believes financial future of News Corp. as a whole is tied closely to the financial future of Fox News.
Murdoch has quite consciously pushed Beck to the forefront at Fox News, and with him the type of paranoid, incendiary rhetoric and wild inaccuracies with which some Fox journalists are growingincreasingly uncomfortable.
With a directive straight from the top of News Corp., Roger Ailes quickly fell back into line as Beck’s key backer at Fox News.
Ailes came roaring back to Beck’s defense this week in an interview with Kurtz after prominent Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors condemned Beck’s three–day attack on financier and philanthropist George Soros.
In the special series — which ran from November 9th to 11th and was heavily promoted by Fox News — Beck falsely accused Soros of being a Holocaust collaborator and repeatedly attacked Soros with anti-Semitic stereotypes, referring to him as a "puppet master" and accusing him of controlling the media, the political process, and the global economy.
Kurtz, now with The Daily Beast, reported that Ailes offered a "spirited defense" of Beck in the wake of his recent attacks on Soros, and that Ailes had even reached out to the Anti-Defamation League — one of the groups that condemned Beck’s "puppet master" series — to smooth things over.
In fact, according to Kurtz’s interview, Ailes’ only real gripe with Beck seems to be that Beck criticizes Republicans too much. Ailes told Kurtz: "Beck trashes Republicans every night. I’ve said to him, ‘Where the hell are you going to get your audience if you keep this up? You’re trashing everyone.’"
Kurtz added: "There’s one criticism that Ailes doesn’t want to hear. He admonished the staff after unnamed Fox journalists told me they are worried that the divisive Beck is becoming the face of the network. ‘Yeah, shut up,’ says Ailes. ‘You’re getting a paycheck. Go on the team or get off the team. Don’t run around here badmouthing a colleague.’"
Indeed, Murdoch and Ailes have made their game plan for Fox News increasingly clear with their constant Beck boosterism. And ironically, Ailes’ analysis of Jon Stewart in his interview with Kurtzseems to best apply to Fox News and Ailes himself:
"If it wasn’t polarized, he couldn’t make a living." … "He loves polarization. He depends on it. If liberals and conservatives are all getting along, how good would that show be? It’d be a bomb.’"