Just after 8 p.m., Beck took to the stage to rapturous applause. He paced in front of the sold-out crowd like an itinerant preacher bringing the good word to the faithful. “It has been an amazing ten days. I bring you greetings from people just like you from all across the nation,” he said. Days before, Beck had been in Chicago. “I think Chicago is one of the nicest cities in America, if you can get rid of the communists, the progressives, and the weather.” The crowd cheered again.
Beck then turned to the upcoming election.
“Someone asked me today, ‘Are we going to get a real politician, someone who is not manufactured?’ ”
“You!” came a cry from the darkened theater.
Beck chuckled, but he wouldn’t heed his audience’s wishes. He told them he won’t run, but he does have a dream ticket: Florida congressman Allen West and tea-party queen Michele Bachmann.
In Albany, Beck announced he’s not only leaving Fox, but he’s also leaving New York, taking his show somewhere to the middle of the country. Betsy Morgan, who runs Beck’s website the Blaze, told me Beck wants to remain authentic to his heartland fans. “I’m sure he’s sitting there thinking, My audience probably is saying, ‘Oh my God, he’s a total fraud,’ ” Morgan said recently. “I’m here in this high-rise, and they’re out in the country trying to make ends meet, watching gas going up to $4 a gallon, and I’m sitting here in New York City.”
By the beginning of this year, it was clear Beck would be leaving Fox. Ailes is a businessman, and he saw Beck, who had graced the covers of Forbes, Time, and The New York Times Magazine, leading rallies and becoming bigger than the Fox brand. Beck’s media company, Mercury Radio Arts, had broken the mold at Fox. He earned more than 90 percent of his reported $40 million income from non-Fox activities, including comedy tours, best-selling books, a magazine, and a subscription website. Ailes was peeved. When Beck rallied about 100,000 of his devoted followers in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Fox provided scant coverage of the event—CNN actually seemed to give it more play. And Fox executives told Beck he couldn’t promote the Blaze on-air.
“Ailes doesn’t want to be hated. It really bothers him.”
Ailes also faced internal resistance to Beck’s rise. Sean Hannity complained to Bill Shine about Beck. And it didn’t help matters that O’Reilly, who had become friends with Beck and can’t stand Hannity, scheduled Beck as a regular guest, a move that only annoyed Hannity further.
In March 2010, the Washington Post ran an article that reported on grievances Fox employees had about Beck. Fox’s PR department is notoriously strict when it comes to internal leaks, and the public griping was seen from the outside as a measure of the unease about where Fox was heading. Ailes was angry with the leak. Two days after the article was published, he visited Fox’s D.C. bureau and scolded the staff. “For the first time in our fourteen years, we’ve had people apparently shooting in the tent, from within the tent,” he said. “Glenn Beck does his show, and that’s his opinion. It’s not the opinion of Fox News, and he has a right to say it … I was brought up to defend the family. If I couldn’t defend the family, I’d leave. I’d go to another family.”
Recently, the Blaze ran an article debunking conservative provocateur James O’Keefe’s NPR sting, which had received wall-to-wall coverage on Fox. And during another meeting, Ailes called Beck into his office and told him the show had grown too religious.
“God’s really busy, Glenn,” Ailes told him. “He can’t be listening to you.”
As Ailes figured out what to do with Beck, a new problem emerged: Sarah Palin. Inside Fox, Palin had become a source of frustration in some corners. In the wake of the 2008 campaign, the network had wanted to capitalize on her celebrity. But as Palin contemplated her political future, she began to worry that being a celebrity pundit on Fox was potentially at odds with her presidential aspirations.
Last year, tensions between Palin’s camp and Fox erupted over a prime-time special that the network wanted her to host. Nancy Duffy, a senior Fox producer, wanted Palin to host the show in front of a live studio audience. Duffy wanted to call the program Sarah Palin’s Real American Stories. Palin hated the idea. She complained to her advisers that she didn’t want to be a talk-show host. She wanted to just do voice-overs. More important, she didn’t want Fox to promote her name in the title of the program. Not that it mattered: Palin’s ratings were starting to disappoint Ailes anyway. Fox hasn’t scheduled any additional specials.