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The Fall of Glenn Beck: Did the Controversial Fox Host Become an Economic Liability?

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Fox News host Glenn Beck announced Wednesday in a carefully worded press release he will “transition off of his daily program” later this year in order to pursue solo projects. Fox News Chair Roger Ailes denied economic pressure played a role in Fox’s decision to let Beck go. But major advertisers have stayed away from Beck’s show since 2009, when he claimed President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” We speak with James Rucker, co-founder of ColorOfChange.org, a group whose economic boycott of Beck prompted as many as 300 companies to abandon the right-wing pundit’s program. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting before a live audience at the first day of the National Conference on Media Reform here at the Seaport in Boston. Thousands of people are coming here to talk about issues of media democracy. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez, and we’ll be with you for this hour. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, on Wednesday, the Fox News host Glenn Beck announced in a carefully worded press release that he will “transition off of his daily program” later this year in order to pursue solo projects. Beck had come under increasing scrutiny for his chalkboard-illustrated attacks on critics, including President Obama’s former green jobs adviser Van Jones, the group ACORN, and more recently on 78-year-old Professor Frances Fox Piven. Beck was not offered a new contract for his controversial 5:00 p.m. show, but he says his production company will continue to produce occasional content for Fox. He discussed his plans on the Fox Business show Freedom Watch with host Andrew Napolitano.

ANDREW NAPOLITANO: What’s next for you?

GLENN BECK: I have some things I —

ANDREW NAPOLITANO: That you’re allowed to reveal.

GLENN BECK: I really — you know what? I will tell you this. I’m working on some things with Fox, some specials, etc., etc. But I am so —- I’m so tempted to say this to all those who say, “Aah, celebrate! You are going to pray for the days of 5:00 p.m. You’re going to pray for the days. You’re going to look back and go, 'What'” -—

ANDREW NAPOLITANO: Are you telling me a bigger, better and more Beck than we’ve been accustomed to?

GLENN BECK: I’m saying — I’m saying that — look out.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes denied economic pressure played a role in Fox’s decision to let Beck go. But major advertisers have stayed away from Beck’s show since 2009, when he claimed President Obama has, quote, “a deep-seated hatred [for] white people or the white culture.”

GLENN BECK: The President, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don’t know what it is, but you can’t sit in a pew with Jeremiah Wright for 20 years and not hear some of that stuff and not have it wash over.

BRIAN KILMEADE: But listen, you can’t say he doesn’t like white people. David Axelrod’s white. Rahm Emanuel is his chief of staff, are white. This is — I think 70 percent of the people that we see every day are white. Robert Gibbs is white.

GLENN BECK: I’m not — I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people. I’m saying he has a problem. He has a — this guy is, I believe, a racist. Look at the way — look at the things that he has been surrounded by. His —- some of his -—

BRIAN KILMEADE: Give us an example, aside from this.

GLENN BECK: Let’s give — let’s give his new — his new green jobs czar. The guy is, again, black liberation theology, a black nationalist, who is also an avowed communist. He comes in, and he puts that guy in. Well, wait a minute. How many people with this kind of philosophy do you need to have in your life before we start to say, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your feet — your future.”

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Beck in 2009, talking on his Fox show.

Well, our next guess knows all about Beck’s financial liability to Fox. James Rucker is co-founder of Color of Change. His group led the economic boycott of Beck’s show that prompted as many as 300 companies to abandon the program. He’s joining us now.

James, thanks for joining us. Talk about what happened. Were you surprised with this announcement?

JAMES RUCKER: We weren’t surprised, although we didn’t know when it would happen. I mean, the strategy from the very beginning was to make Beck an economic liability for Fox. Everyday people, black, brown and otherwise, white and otherwise, found what Beck was doing, in terms of race baiting and deceiving, to be quite a problem. Of course, this was something that Fox News had become accustomed to practicing. For major brands, our goal was to make this a liability, to ask a company like Clorox or Lowe’s or Men’s Wearhouse, “Do you feel comfortable with your brand being associated with essentially underwriting this kind of rhetoric that Beck is putting out?”

Once the advertisers started to leave, many in the media — and mainstream media, in particular — wondered, well, can this actually work? One, will companies continue to leave? And then, once they leave, will they just come back in six months or so? And so, the focus was on making sure that, over the long haul, none of them came back and that the ad revenue that comes from the slots, the ad slots on Beck’s show, the idea was to diminish that value, which did happen. Investors started wondering, how are you sustaining this? How does this make sense that you’re able to charge a lot more on a different program, when Beck is supposed to be this great figure? So, at the end of the day, we knew, over time, it would become a liability they’d have to recognize, but we didn’t know it would come now, and it was definitely great news.

AMY GOODMAN: But how exactly did you do it? I mean, how did you approach these guys?

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, so, the first thing we did was we went to our members, and what you just played. The quote speaks for itself. Our members were enraged. What we did was we took that energy to the advertisers, first looking at them as partners. We said, “Look, you know, we understand you’re not choosing shows because of the message; you want to market a product. But what you’re actually doing is enabling this. And our members have a problem with that. Will you distance yourself from Beck?” And at first, we got a handful in about a week’s time to do that. It was also — it was kind of — you know, the idea was to come hard quickly, but in a way that treated them as a partner. There were some who said, you know, “Look, we’re not left, we’re not right.” And we said, “This is not a left-right issue. It’s about decency. It’s about not race baiting. It’s about being, you know, responsible as a news organization, that Fox says they are.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, when these companies pulled out, did they notify you that they were doing it, or did they just suddenly disappear in their advertising?

JAMES RUCKER: No, some eventually started disappearing; they would avoid the conversation. Initially, we made sure we could document every conversation, and we got people to a point where they would say, “Yeah, we’ll pull back.” Sometimes it took thousands of phone calls. We had members call, you know, a few thousand calls, say, in a few hours, to echo this point, that they have a responsibility to their consumer base to not be enabling what Glenn Beck was doing. And so, there was a kind of snowballing effect, and in the course of a few weeks there were maybe 30 or 40 companies. The number peaked at around 300 or so, and it stayed there ever since.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, you know, there’s been some who criticize what they call “clicktivism,” that this attempt basically to organize a mass movement basically through the internet messages or letters or calls. Your sense of how this has developed with Color of Change? Because you’ve had quite a few successes now, in terms of being able to build movements and pressure that you help to spawn, as well, Presente, which then started the campaign against Lou Dobbs, another very successful campaign. Talk about the debate over this form of organizing.

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, I mean, there are those who get very excited about a given technology and an approach. And their story line becomes: this is the new way, and kind of out with the old. In reality, a lot of what we do is actually on the ground. In the case of Lou Dobbs and Presente, there was an online component, there was a very big offline component, with people showing up where CNN was doing their Latino in America. They were kind of highlighting that. We had activists on the ground saying, “How do you reconcile catering to the Latino market with Latino in America, and at the same time you elevate Lou Dobbs?” So that was going online and offline. I think it’s really about understanding what technologies can be best applied where. We see this in other parts of the world, ways in which Facebook and internet technologies play a very big role. I think it’s not an either/or. I think the importance is to see what you can actually accomplish.

Just going back to what you were talking about before, net neutrality, we couldn’t have pulled off something like this Glenn Beck victory without an open internet. Do you think we could run advertisements that talk about what Glenn Beck is doing, could we speak directly to our members and new members, using commercial media? We can’t. And we saw that in play, big time, with the Dobbs campaign. We had ads we simply couldn’t run anywhere except the internet, because of corporate control.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you working on now?

JAMES RUCKER: Oh, there’s never a dull moment. One of the things we’ve been focusing more and more on is criminal justice reform. The case of the Jena 6, which was kind of a big campaign that we participated in and led in many ways, was just the tip of the iceberg, just kind of a particularly problematic example of the disparities that people face with the criminal justice system. I mean, we’re really, at the end of the day, trying to build political power and social change power for our constituents. In the case of Color of Change, it’s African Americans and allies; with Presente, it’s Latinos and allies. But there are so many ways in which systemic kind of infrastructural concerns really hurt our communities. The idea is to create opportunities where people power can make a difference. And that was the case with Glenn Beck. Almost 300,000 people participated — some online, some on the phone, and some on the ground, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re also launching a campaign around the Huffington Post?

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, which is actually completed. This plays into the same conversation of Beck, actually. Andrew Breitbart, who’s, you know, famous for the takedown of Shirley Sherrod, ACORN, using deceptively edited video — again, someone who lies and race-baits, like our friend Glenn Beck — Breitbart had, after doing all of these stunts, was no longer really on Fox. He tried to get on ABC News around the election coverage in November.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what he did.

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, so, in the case of Shirley Sherrod, he took a video, a few minutes of video, where she, as a USDA — supposedly a USDA official, was talking about discriminating against white farmers. Of course, the reality is, she was giving a talk about her upbringing and the challenges her family faced and how she had come out the other side, effectively, and was able to treat all people equally. Andrew Breitbart twisted this, put this on, via Fox, actually, and several other news outlets ran right along with it. And Shirley Sherrod, within an hour or two, lost her job. The NAACP was now seen as this purveyor of racism. Once the full take became available, it was clear, oh, this was all a hoax, this was all made up. And Breitbart didn’t apologize. He just dug in his heels, and he discredited himself.

Same with ACORN. The idea is, pimps and prostitutes can go basically get cover at ACORN. Again, not at all the case. Normally, you discover that a year, you know, six months later. The damage has been done.

So, Breitbart basically ruined his brand, wasn’t going to be taken seriously. He tried to kind of rehabilitate his brand with ABC News around election time. We and CREDO Action and some others teamed together — Media Matters, as well — to make sure that that didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen. They ejected him from their coverage.

A few weeks ago, or I guess maybe a month ago, Breitbart shows up on the cover of the Huffington Post. Twice. And so, we went to people we know who are at the Post and said, “Explain to us what’s happening, because this is not about elevating the voice of someone on the right, this is elevating the voice of someone who lies and race-baits repeatedly. This doesn’t make sense.” So we ran a campaign again, basically calling on the Huffington Post to drop him. And they did, actually, after he kind of did his Breitbart crazy thing, going after Van Jones, who hasn’t been with Color of Change for years, but trying to make that the point of the discussion. It didn’t work, and he’s now no longer able to be on the front page.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your hopes here, in terms of the conference and what you’re hoping to accomplish in terms of the development of Color of Change and the key issues that you think that this conference needs to address?

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, well, from an organizing perspective, to hold government officials accountable, to hold corporations accountable, in the case of like a Glenn Beck, you need people connected. You need to have access that’s not selective, and you certainly can’t have corporate gatekeepers. And so, so much of what this conference is about is building kind of people power, building infrastructure that enables everyday people to hold government accountable, to not allow corporations and government to control what we say, you know, what gets heard, and how prominent a given piece of speech is. So, it’s — the issues that are being covered at this conference are actually critical to the kind of work that we do and to democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks very much to James Rucker. He is co-founder of Color of Change. We’re broadcasting before a live audience in Boston at the World Trade Center at the Seaport. It’s the beginning of the National Conference on Media Reform.

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