The Fox network, in ending its relationship with Glenn Beck after the expiration of his current contract as it announced yesterday, placed principle over profit. In today’s culture particularly, that is always a welcome development, an ethical one, and deserving of praise.
I can comfortably assign Fox Ethics Hero status and discount the braying from partisan Beck-haters like Media Matters, the shamelessly one-sided “media watchdog” that has declared “war” on Fox because it dares to deliver news from a generally conservative perspective. Beck was not brought down by their attacks, or by the boycotts against him by various interest groups. His show was still one of the most watched current events programs on cable, and Fox was still making money on it. The demise of Glenn Beck’s Fox show was not an example of successful suppression of conservative opinion by the Left.
Beck brought himself down by preaching a brand of cultural poison that is perilous to a democracy at a time when American society is especially vulnerable to it: suspicion and distrust. As I have written here on many occasions, America’s ideals rely on trust—trust in our institutions, trust in our elected officials, trust in law enforcement and the justice system, trust in the good will of our fellow citizens. It is a kind of trust that often requires its own leap of faith, particularly in times of crisis. For some very good reasons, including the abject betrayal of trust by leaders, important individuals and organizations in every corner of American society, public trust is at a dangerously low level, the lowest in our history. On this smoldering kindling Beck tossed kerosene daily, using his blackboard to draw imaginary dotted lines portraying various conspiracies, risking and even promoting a national conflagration of hate and fear. Beck shared levels of extremism and polarizing rhetoric with many of his less popular competitors like MSNBC’s Dylan Rattigan and Ed Schultz, but his narcissism and recklessness with the truth are even beyond their reach.
Increasingly, his rants began to bring to mind Paddy Chayefski’s “Mad Prophet of the Airwaves”, Howard Beale, in the writer’s disturbingly prescient screenplay for the 1976 film “Network.” The fictional network in the film refused to yank Beale and his rantings from the air because of his ratings, and I confess, when the New York Times reported some weeks ago that sources at Fox were whispering that Beck was on his way out, I didn’t believe it. Beck was irresponsible, and no responsible network would tolerate him, but I had begun to wonder if there were any such creatures as responsible networks. CNN promotes the judgment of Eliot Spitzer, a disgraced governor and disbarred lawyer; NBC buries bad news about its parent corporation; ABC uses hidden camera stunts to make biased political points on its newscasts; CBS was prominent in the despicable effort to link Sarah Palin and the Tea Party to the Tuscon shootings…and then there is MSNBC. Still, Fox would not have been my lead candidate to take a principled stand.
Yet it did. Hurrah. We have not seen the last of Beck, who is not without talent, and is still capable of surprises. He launched a “Daily Beast”-like website, “The Blaze,” which has shocked everyone by approaching even-handedness, except on matters directly related to its founder. Beck is something of a tragic figure, possessed of a lively mind deprived of the discipline conferred by a balanced education. Beck fills the gaps in his knowledge with passion and speculation, causing him to embrace, and manufacture, half-truths, quarter-truths and untruths, and to use them to make his audience believe that there is no one and nothing to trust except Glenn Beck and God.
However the decision came about, Fox did the right thing, and even its greatest detractors should give the network credit for it.