Is Glenn Beck too right wing even for Fox News?
Leading US brands pull advertising after presenter calls Barack Obama racist
It may in the end have little impact on the bottom line of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, but a fast-gathering boycott by some of America's best-known conglomerates of Glenn Beck, a conservative commentator on his Fox News channel in the US, is beginning to take on embarrassing proportions.
The baby-faced Beck joined Fox News in January and has quickly established himself as one of the network's stars by feeding the political prejudices of its mostly conservative audience. Indeed, his daily assaults against President Barack Obama and, in recent weeks his healthcare plans, have helped Fox achieve record ratings.
But Beck, who moonlights on the comedy circuit, stepped on too many sensibilities a few weeks ago, however, when he suggested that Mr Obama has a, "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture". He went on: "I'm not saying that he doesn't like white people. I'm saying that he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist."
Spearheading the advertisers' boycott of his daily programme is an African-American online political group called Color of Change. Some 145,000 of its members signed a petition asking Beck's advertisers to stop supporting him and the response has been impressive.
On Monday alone, eight new top-brand companies said they were joining the already long roster of firms no longer willing to have their spots aired during Beck's show. They included Wal-Mart, the discount retailing chain, as well as two other big national retail giants, CVS and Best Buy.
"While advertising on Fox is part of our communication plan, we had not requested time on Glenn Beck's show specifically," a spokesman for the chemist CVS confirmed to the Huffington Post website. "We have instructed our advertising agency to inform Fox to ensure Glenn Beck's programme is not part of our advertising plan."
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Other companies that had already agreed to spurn the show included Procter & Gamble, Radio Shack and Geico. None of these advertisers have said they will boycott the Fox channel entirely and thus are likely simply to shift their dollars to other programmes on the network's schedule. But their actions are beginning to resonate on the national stage, if only because it is proving to be remarkably successful.
It also comes at a time when the tone of public debate may have become more acerbic than ever before as opposing sides squabble over healthcare. Beck and some of his rivals, including Lou Dobbs on CNN, seem to be competing over whose insults about the President, liberals and Democrats are the most outrageous and rude. Dobbs distinguished himself this summer by supporting claims that Mr Obama is not, in fact, an American. "It's rare for a campaign directed at a TV show's advertisers to be this successful," said Color of Change founder James Rucker. "But we won't stop here. We're going to continue reaching out to Beck's remaining advertisers."
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Fans of Beck – and they are legion – are fighting back. They offer solace to their brethren and the broadcaster himself with a newly minted website. Called DefendGlenn.com, it boasts a "Turncoat List" of boycotting companies and urges visitors to contact them. "Tell them how big your family is and what you buy, and how much you used to spend on their products each month... and how you bought their competitor's product today," it advises.
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Fox News itself has had little to say of the boycott. It did however issue a statement soon after Beck made the allegations of racism, not on his regular show but on a morning programme called Fox and Friends, saying Beck had "expressed a personal opinion, which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel".
Beck made the remarks after the President suggested that a white policeman who had arrested the black Harvard law professor Henry Louis Gates had acted "stupidly".
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