A lot of people are claiming credit for the demise of Glenn Beck’s controversial Fox News cable show, announced on Wednesday, including the Jewish Funds for Justice.
““For over a year, JFSJ has stood up to Beck’s conspiracy theories, which often involve personal attacks on Jews and on faiths that pursue social justice,” said the group’s president, Simon Greer. “ In November, 10,000 people joined our call for Fox News to cancel Beck’s program, and many other Jewish leaders, including the editors at Commentary magazine, Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, Rabbi Eric Yoffie and rabbinical leaders of the major denominations have spoken out strongly against Beck’s rhetoric. Today, we feel like our voices have been heard.”
I’m sure JFSJ played a role in what happened this week, although gauging how much of a role is difficult. There were plenty of non-Jewish groups that were offended by Beck’s outbursts, contributing to the flight of advertisers and viewers alike.
And there may have been factors that had nothing to do with outraged viewers.
Today’s New York Times reports that after he moved to Fox in 2009 Beck “was unhappy from almost his first day on the job, which happened to be the day before Mr. Obama was inaugurated. Even in his first year, he was contemplating an exit from Fox and wondering if he could start his own channel.”
Beck’s drop in ratings played a role, the paper reported, but so did “fractures in the relationship” between Beck and Fox.
And maybe the mood of the country is changing just a little.
The economy, while far from recovered from the depths of 2007-2008, is on the upswing. Maybe the kind of anger that is Beck’s stock in trade doesn’t sell as well in an improving climate, and maybe that kind of populist rage is simply hard to sustain over time.
In today’s Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank writes “as the recession began to ease, Beck’s apocalyptic forecasts and ominous conspiracies became less persuasive, and his audience began to drift away. Beck responded with a doubling-down that ultimately brought about his demise on Fox. He pushed further into dark conspiracies, urging his viewers to hoard food in their homes and to buy freeze-dried meals for sustenance when civilization breaks down. He spun a conspiracy theory in which the American left was in cahoots with an emerging caliphate in the Middle East. And, most ominously, he began to traffic regularly in anti-Semitic themes.”
I have no clue what’s in Beck’s heart when it comes to Jews. He regularly expresses a strong attachment to Israel to a degree rarely voiced in the media. Yet, without accusing Jews of anything, he sometimes disseminates conspiracy theories that disturbingly echo traditional anti-Semitic canards.
His outburst against Reform rabbis suggested – at best – insensitivity and ignorance, although he apologized a day later. His virtual demonization of George Soros as a kind of personification of evil is scary to many in our community (but shared by some, as well, judging by the comments and letters to the editor we get every time we write about the issue).
If anybody thinks the Glenn Beck story is over and done, I suggest caution. Maybe the mood of the country is improving somewhat, maybe people are getting tired of the politics of rage – but with so many uncertainties in today’s world, that could easily change.