Glenn Beck's not on Fox News this week, leaving everyone to wonder why not and, more importantly, where he went. Forced off the air by an advertiser boycott? The Hamptons? An Obama re-education camp? We know where, but not why.
The folks who think really hard about the machinations behind cable news — that'd include us — are wondering: Was Glenn Beck forced off the air this week by contrite Fox News executives in the wake of an advertiser boycott over his increasingly insane meltdowns? Or does Fox just want you to think that?
TVNewser reported today, citing "several sources inside" Fox News, that Glenn Beck was pulled off the air and sent on a forced, unscheduled vacation this week after executives became increasingly alarmed over the advertiser exodus from his show and wanted to "let some of the heat surrounding him die down." If true, that would be an almost unprecedented instance of the network backing down—rather than its preferred tactic of attacking viciously—in the face of criticism. Aside from the firing of E.D. Hill after her "terrorist fist jab" remark and an oblique apology after a graphic referred to Michelle Obama as "Obama's Babymama," it's hard to recall a case where the famously truculent network acknowledged criticism or reacted defensively.
Fortunately for fans of Fox's unrestrained dickishiness, it's not true: Not long after the TVNewser posted the item, Beck's personal publicist Matthew Hiltzik provided evidence to Politico that Beck's vacation was long-planned: An e-mail from an employee of his production company, dated July 14, saying, "All: Glenn will be off of radio & TV the week of August 17th, returning to air August 24th." Beck didn't start getting into serious trouble until July 28, when he said Barack Obama hates white people. So if it's authentic, the e-mail is fairly solid proof that Beck was planning to be out long before his latest psychotic episode began.
For what it's worth, a tipster tells us that she spotted Beck with his family and a bodyguard—so much for that "just us folks" image—leaving the Museum of Natural History today in Manhattan at about 12:30 p.m. So whether the vacation was planned or not, there was no travel involved.
So what gives? The strange thing about the TVNewser report was the response from Fox's flack: "A Fox News spokesperson denied our accounts and simply told us, 'Glenn Beck will back on Monday.'" That's awful weak stuff considering how easy it would have been to simply knock down the story from the start by, say, providing the e-mail proving that Beck's vacation was long-planned. And the fact that it was Beck's personal publicist, who's paid to look out for Beck's image and not Fox's, who eventually got that e-mail out there leads us to the following highly improbable-and-yet-irresistible conspiracy theory:
Fox deliberately planted the forced-vacation story, knowing it was false. The network generally has no interest in placating critics, but it is highly motivated to placate advertisers, who have moved their spots off Beck's show in droves. Beck's sudden absence from the air presented an opportunity to appear to be sensitive to criticism without actually doing anything: By spreading word that he was taken off the air, advertisers see that Fox has gotten the message. But by not actually taking Beck off the air, they don't have to deal with the blowback from Beck. That would explain the difference between the two flacks' responses. Fox's flack remained deliberately vague enough to keep the story alive, while Beck's flack provided the proof that would have killed it from the get-go.
If you think that's a preposterous theory, you're right. But you've also never worked with the Fox News' dedicated public relations team.