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Why the boycott against Glenn Beck will almost certainly backfire

By Matthew Shaer / August 25, 2009



Update: Palin urges fans to support Beck.

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Glenn Beck, the conservative commentator and star of one of the most successful shows on Fox News, is under attack. And as Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly proved, under attack is the best place for a conservative commentator to be. It allows the blusterer to play victim – and it gives a savvy spin doctor a chance to rile up his base.

First, let's get you up to speed. Last month, Glenn Beck told the hosts of Fox & Friends that President Barack Obama has a "deep-seated hatred for white people." That statement apparently wasn't explicit enough, so Beck made sure everyone understood his point: "This guy is, I believe, a racist," he said.

Plenty of folks on the left have accused Beck of treason for his comments. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume his internal filtering mechanism was temporarily disabled. What is the appropriate response to that kind of rhetoric? For his part, Bill Shine, Fox's senior vice president of programming, told TVNewser that Beck had expressed a "personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel."

But that wasn't enough for some of Beck's advertisers, who began this week to pull spots from "The Glenn Beck Program." Among the companies that removed advertising were Progressive, Geico, Radio Shack and Roche. Meanwhile, a political group called ColorOfChange.org is circulating a petition, asking consumers to boycott Beck's show.

"Beck is on a campaign to convince the American public that President Obama's agenda is about serving the needs of Black communities at White people's expense. It's repulsive, divisive and shouldn't be on the air. Join us in calling on Beck's advertisers to stop sponsoring his show," the petition reads.

Counterstrike

But it only took a few days for Beck's own PR machine to kick into gear. Goaded on by Beck, supporters have created websites such as DefendGlenn.com and SupportGlennBeck.com and taken to message board and blogs to argue their case.

"This website was created to counter a current campaign against Glenn Beck's sponsors," reads a declaration on SupportGlennBeck.com. "It is time to show these companies that the hard-working Americans who support Glenn are willing to boycott their products and stand on principle."

As for Beck, he emerged from a week-long vacation – which some speculated had been foisted upon him by a wary Fox News leadership – spoiling for a fight. Among his first features was a piece on Van Jones, an adviser to the White House on environmental issues, and a co-founder of ColorOfChange.org.

Jones, Beck said, is a "committed revolutionary." A certain strain of talking-head TV culture thrives on the perception of victim-hood – that it's the big Them vs. the little Us. By circulating the petition, ColorOfChange.org has given Beck a fresh chance to inhabit that role – and for Beck to ignore the nature of the ColorOfChange.org's original complaint.

Update: Radioshack wrote in with the following statement:

Unfortunately, our policy and response to the matter have been misrepresented by the activist group involved. RadioShack does not advertise on Glenn Beck's program and we have not advertised on his program, so there were no ads to cancel. The protesters have included RadioShack because one of our manufacturers advertises its "magicJack" product on Glenn Beck's show, and the ads say "available at RadioShack."

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