Marking the end of a media era, former Fox News host Glenn Beck signed off his program during a live broadcast Thursday, saying his decision to leave the show was “divinely inspired” and promising to continue his fight to restore the values that made America great.
The final program that concluded his two-and-a-half year Fox run was vintage Beck. He lampooned the mainstream media, predicting that his new endeavors to GBTV.com would make them pine for the days when his television time was limited to only an hour a day.
Beck nostalgically recounted the unique features of his program, including its idiosyncratic reliance on chalk boards in an age of high-tech wizardry, and a red phone he used to challenge the Obama administration to call and defend its policies on air.
“This show has become a movement,” Beck said. “It’s not really a TV show anymore. And that’s why it doesn’t belong on TV. It belongs in your home.”
There have been reports of tension between Beck and the network, reportedly over advertisers who held back their support out of concern that Beck was too hot to handle. But Beck scoffed at the notion that Fox News may have dropped him because of his controversial past statements, including his July 2009 remark that President Barack Obama was “racist” and harbored “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” Beck later apologized for his choice of words.
On his last night, Beck pointed out that his final program was live. No network that had fired an anchor would ever allow him live access to its audience to say whatever he wanted for a full hour, he said.
“I hope I have earned some level of your trust,” Beck said, “and at the same time I want to thank Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, and everybody at this network for their trust.”
As the show progressed, Beck’s set was disassembled gradually. He said he was doing that to “restore” rather than “transform” the set to its original condition — a gentle gibe directed at Obama’s left-leaning base, and also an allusion to Beck’s Restoring Honor rally on the National Mall last August. By some accounts, that event attracted more than half a million people.
Beck admitted during his last program what the left always has suspected — that his controversial programs, at times, had been motivated by a sense of entertainment as well as ideology.
Sometimes, Beck confessed, “I only do things to hack the left off.”
That Beck’s program accomplished what most critics considered impossible for a 5 p.m. cable talk show is virtually undeniable. Viewership for his program exceeded 3 million per night at one point, astounding most media analysts.
Indeed, his program typically attracted more viewers than CNN, CNBC, and MSNBC combined, and he had the third-most-watched program on cable news, with 2.2 million viewers, before announcing in April that he would be moving on to other ventures.
Beck was occasionally compared throughout his tenure with Howard Beale, the unhinged anchor Peter Finch played in the 1976 movie "Network," who urged viewers to go to fling open their windows and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
But where the Beale character was irate, Beck proved himself to be one of the savviest stars in the media stratosphere in communicating with a devoted core audience.
In addition to his Fox program, Beck hosted the nation’s third-most-listened to radio programs in the nation and published a string of best-selling books, including "The Christmas Sweater," "Glenn Beck’s Common Sense," and "Arguing With Idiots." He also presented popular on-stage programs that toured from city to city.
At times, Beck’s show indeed did seem to verge on being part of the grass-roots conservative movement. His 9-12 Project, which he dedicated to rediscovering the spirit of national unity, faith, and purpose displayed the day after the 9/11 attacks, became a key player in the tea party movement that almost single-handedly stopped the seemingly unstoppable momentum toward rapid passage of the Obama administration’s healthcare reforms.
Although a last-minute switch of allegiance by blue dog Democrats did push the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act over the top, it did so without the single-payer medical system that progressives had hoped for.
Also, grass-roots activism and the backlash against “Obamacare” — much of it fed by Beck — helped propel Republicans to a historic landslide victory in the 2010 midterm elections, handing them back control of the House of Representatives and ending the short-lived era of Democratic supermajorities in Congress.
Part of Beck’s magic with viewers was his tendency to eschew glitz in favor of talking in a personal, often emotional tone connected with viewers as if he were speaking with them one-on-one. And in that sense, Thursday’s farewell program was vintage Beck.
“It has been an amazing ride,” he said, “and I have worked with some amazing people, and I’ve made amazing friends — mainly you.”
Later in the program, he said, “You and I have done a lot together, and we’ve learned a lot together, and you’ve taught me a lot.”
From the beginning, weathering a firestorm of criticism in the mainstream media, Beck insisted his fight to defend endangered American values was heartfelt and for real.
In an October 2009 exclusive Newsmax interview, Beck said: “We are fighting people who want to tell us how to live our lives and what to do. We are fighting people that want power over us. We are fighting exactly the same people without the British accent that our Founding Fathers were fighting.”
Also in that interview, in what may have foreshadowed his decision to leave Fox News, he added, “I’m not about money. I mean, I love money. I’m a capitalist. I love to make money, but that’s not my value and principle. My principle is freedom and securing that freedom.”
Early in his Fox tenure, Beck risked a lot when he decided that his connection with his audience was strong enough that he could broach the taboo subject of religion and faith. Beck began to speak openly about his most cherished beliefs and dared to touch on topics that at times sounded almost theological in perspective.
On Thursday, Beck said that he and his wife had wondered how it possibly could be “divinely inspired” that he should leave his program atop the pinnacle of the media world.
At first, Beck said, his agent thought his plan to leave Fox was part of a clever negotiating ploy.
But Beck always had said he would leave one day with “the changing of the seasons.”
One evening, amidst extraordinary success, he said he looked out over the New York skyline “overwhelmed with the feeling, ‘If you don’t leave now, you will not leave with your soul.’”
For Beck, who successfully fought a bout with addiction that nearly derailed a promising radio career, that was one risk he refused to take.
“As a guy who has traded my soul before,” he said Thursday. “I will not trade it again.”
Then he offered viewers some heartfelt advice: “Never want anything too much. It will destroy you.”
Beck invited viewers to visit his GBTV.com site and continue his unique conversation with America’s heartland.
Then he unveiled a list of names written on his iconic chalk board, speaking from a now-barren set and sharing the credit for the program’s remarkable accomplishments with all those who helped him to produce it.
His final words before signing off: “It is not the person that is leading the parade. It is not the person on the stage who gets all the credit. It is all the people behind them.
“It is all the people that have made this possible . . . from the very beginning.
“. . . From New York . . . goodnight, America.”
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