A year and a half ago, when the Obama White House declared war on Fox News, I wrote a post about how this was a plainly bad idea. The White House made friends with Fox again in short order, but today I'm reminded of something that occurred to me back then. It was the start of Glenn Beck's heyday: A year later, he'd celebrate his Rally to Restore Honor, and his viewership for the interim — buoyed by his rants against Obamacare — would be at its peak. To the White House, his threat level probably also seemed to be at its peak. But even then, there was something dark about his show. "Glenn Beck, with his 3 million viewers, has been called a 'cultural phenomenon,'" I theorized. "You know what? So is Glee, a show with well more than twice that many viewers. Hysterical conservative hyperbole isn't America. A showtune-singing multiracial gang of hopeful high-school losers, including a gay kid and a pregnant teen — that's America."
A year and a half after the skirmish with the White House, and six months after Beck's triumphant rally, the upbeat Glee (despite crazily inconsistent writing and some senseless musical numbers) is soaring even higher, with about 10 million viewers per new episode. Beck has plunged downward by a third — a much steeper drop than experienced by any other of the Fox News hosts. Times media critic David Carr has a theory as to why:
The problem with “Glenn Beck” is that it has turned into a serial doomsday machine that’s a bummer to watch. Mr. Beck, a more gifted entertainer than most cable hosts, can still bring it, lighting up with characters and voices. But much of the time, there is sense that the fatigue from always being on alert, tilting forward in the saddle against the next menace, is starting to wear him down. What had been a fast and loose assault on all things liberal has grown darker and less entertaining, especially with the growing revolution in the Middle East, a phenomenon Mr. Beck sees as something of a beginning to some kind of end ... Last Wednesday, as he grabbed all the disparate strands from around the globe and tied them into a great, grand bow of doom, he ambled alone between various blackboards, each jammed with portentous bullet points. He often looked away from the camera into a middle distance as he spoke of a calamity that only he can see.
Beck, Carr guesses, is narrowing his audience down to only the diehards — because most people don't want to hear about how the world is going to end. Not only because it's depressing, but also since the world is not going to end. While other Fox News hosts like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity are lecturing to an audience that believes in America, Beck is talking to people who don't believe in anything — except, perhaps, God and the end of days.
Carr spoke with several Fox News executives who said (on background, of course) that "they are looking at the end of his contract in December and contemplating life without Mr. Beck." One Fox development VP is on record saying they've tried to get Beck to make his show cheerier. But no one, not even Fox's crack publicity team, is quoted defending the controversial host — or insisting that his contract will be renewed. Which means that Beck, who can see doom in every shadow, is probably getting this message loud and clear: Something could very well come to an end within the year, and it won't necessarily be the world.