Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Glenn Beck and the wages of hate

The two-minute hate George Orwell novelistically documented in “1984” has expanded in 2009 (courtesy of the fractious health-care debate) to the length of a town hall meeting. The once-civilized gathering, where neighbors could meet and discuss their differences (the better to dissolve them), has lately resembled a political rugby scrum. The conservatives have mightily attempted to disown these hapless yahoos — the same malcontents who animated the weak Tea Party movement, complaining about their taxes being too high weeks after their own taxes went down. But these are their people.

And after many days of noisy badgering and threats at the town hall brawls that have accompanied the health-care debate, progressives and the reasonable people of any political persuasion are starting to push back.

Glenn Beck is discovering that hard lesson where it counts. And where it hurts.

Some weeks ago,, an Internet-based advocacy organization addressing issues important to black and minority Americans, put out notice of its intent to call Bullshit on Glenn Beck, the oleaginous Fox News prime-time windbag who moved to Fox from CNN early this year. This is the mouthbreather who recently called President Obama "a racist” on the air during the “Fox and Friends” program.

“This president has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or white culture, I don’t know what it is... this guy is, I believe, a racist,” Beck said on July 28, discussing the president's role in the Henry Louis Gates incident. It was part of a long diatribe that evening that Beck continued with other half-truths, untruths, innuendo and character assassination. It was part of the ongoing wingnut jihad that Beck and his Fox confrere Bill O’Reilly (among others) have been waging for far too long now, against Democrats, people of color, progressives and other living things.

And the folks at ColorOfChange had had enough.

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On July 30 the brain trust at ColorOfChange threw down the gauntlet, at Glenn Beck’s bread and butter: the advertisers that keep his show alive.

The CoC strategy was simple enough, and announced online:

“Together we can stop Glenn Beck. Starting today we're calling Beck's advertisers, asking them if they want to be associated with this kind of racist hate and fear-mongering. When they see tens of thousands of people signing on behind that question, we believe they'll move their advertising dollars elsewhere, damaging the viability of his show and possibly putting him out of business. …

“All major media is funded by advertising. And advertisers, more than anything, care what consumers think. If we want to change what's happening and put an end to folks like Glenn Beck having a platform, we can do it.”

Thus began an online petition drive that has netted thousands of responses; Olbermann on MSNBC said tonight that Color of Change had so far garnered about 75,000 signatures supporting holding advertisers feet to the fire.

And something's happening. Gawker reported back on Aug. 6 that “some of [Beck’s] advertisers decided that bottomless white rage is off-brand:, Procter & Gamble and Progressive Insurance ads no longer appear during his show.”

Olbermann added to that list tonight. Apparently the folks at the Men’s Wearhouse clothing store chain could no longer guarantee they like the way Glenn Beck sounds. The folks behind image-conscious GEICO Insurance decided they didn’t want their genial Brit spokesgekko anywhere near Beck’s “Program.” Sargento Cheese, S.C. Johnson (“A Family Company”) and State Farm Insurance felt the same way.

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Looking to salvage some cheap triumph out of all this, a Fox News spokeswoman told TVNewser that the companies simply moved their spots to other Fox News shows, “so there has been no revenue lost” as a result of Beck's whacked-out meltdown. Which tidily misses the point.

Fox can’t juggle advertisers like that indefinitely, and they know it. Color of Change did what screaming and yelling and indignant op-eds apparently couldn’t do: with nothing more or less than principles, this plucky grassroots org drove a wedge between a network and its advertisers, a wedge based on nothing more than a call to morality and the importance of community standards of acceptable behavior.

Only this time the community was probably a national one; this time the community was too potentially deep and wide for those risk-allergic advertisers to ignore.

And let’s look at some of those advertisers. As the battle over health insurance (and insurance generally) heats up in the heartland, it can’t have escaped the attention of the Fox beancounters that three insurance companies have vacated some prime ad real estate on Fox News. Think others won’t get that message?

Glenn Beck’s gotten some strange but real traction out of doing his Howard Beale-on-meds act — for two networks, no less.

ColorOfChange’s calling Glenn Beck out — and taking its place in a slowly building pushback against an ugly, jingoistic intolerance we can’t get rid of fast enough. Bill, Lou, Rush … you been warned.
Image credits: Beck: Color of Change logo: Logos of Procter & Gamble, S.C. Johnson are properties of the respective companies.

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