“It took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 victims’ families … I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.”
You’d think making a statement like this would be enough to get anybody fired.
But Glenn Beck, who said this on his radio show in 2005 (in the context of comparing 9/11 victims to the Katrina victims being shown on TV), somehow managed to avoid such a fate.
In fact, Beck remained so popular, he was given a self titled show on Fox News in 2009.
But last Wednesday, Fox News announced Glenn Beck would be ending this year, though the network will continue to partner with Beck’s production company to produce other programming.
Some claim Fox is cutting the show after a severe drop in ratings.
But Beck still averages 1.9 million viewers daily and the network has been consistently among the top-rated cable news networks for years.
And the highly complimentary language in Fox’s statement about the split doesn’t seem to indicate a problem with his politics.
But still, it’s possible Beck finally got too out-there for a network that says it is committed to objective journalism.
Or maybe Beck, who has expressed interest in having his own cable channel, is leaving to pursue other options.
It’s all conjecture at this point. Perhaps the more interesting question is why he was there in the first place. What roles do Beck and his theatrical antics fill on a news network?
Beck’s incendiary statement warranted only reserved statements from Fox News executives, saying Beck does not reflect the opinion of the network (and a statement from Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox’s parent company, saying Beck was right). Beck then remained on air for the next two years.
Beck’s show is opinion. And with its chalkboard diagrams and puppet shows, it’s also entertainment. At least, that’s what Fox News purports.
In his interview on The Daily Show, Fox News anchor Bret Baier explained there is a difference between the network’s opinion shows and news shows, and said, “We respect the viewers’ ability to discern the difference between the two.”
But there’s something a little dangerous about Fox News’ blending of news and opinion, and journalism and entertainment.
Glenn Beck might be an opinion show, but the Fox News logo and their slogan “Fair and Balanced,” still reside on screen while Beck compares seemingly any and all liberal politicians to Hitler.
That name and logo give some sort of legitimacy to his outrageous rants, even if Beck himself says he is only offering his opinion.
Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, might be seen as a liberal counterpart to Beck in that they both blend news and entertainment (though to very different ends).
But a crucial difference in their practices is that Stewart is a comedian hosting a comedy show on a comedy network.
Stewart might have an equally obvious bias, but he critiques figures on both ends of the political spectrum for comedy’s sake.
The vague title of “opinion show” does little to dispel the idea that news invariably associated with a 24-hour news network. Viewers turn to Fox News expecting news, expecting to learn about current events and politics.
Even if Beck’s show isn’t viewed as unbiased journalism, that doesn’t mean his opinions don’t seriously affect real people’s political views.
With the complex debates raging in Washington today, from health care to budget deficits to wars being fought on three fronts, it is absolutely crucial we have an intelligent and objectively informed public.
But with today’s blurred line between news and entertainment, such a result becomes less and less likely.
Fox News’ decision to split with Beck could be an important first step in re-establishing the news network as a source of truly ‘Fair and Balanced’ news.
Beck is entertaining. Just don’t call him news.
Cara Dickason is a senior majoring in English and cinema-critical studies. Her column, “Cine File,” runs Tuesdays.