If ever a story had the earmarks of being agenda-driven from the get-go, Mackenzie Weinger's writeup at the Politico on Glenn Beck published Saturday morning fits the bill.
Weinger's premise is that Beck will never be as influential as he once was as long as he doesn't have a cable news program and continues to branch into entertainment-related ventures consistent with his beliefs. Excerpts, evidence which easily refutes Weinger's wishful thinking, and further commentary from yours truly follow the jump.
Weinger uses the time-honored "some observers say" establishment press technique (translation: either "in my opinion" or "I sure hope" – definitely the latter in this instance) to cobble together her case (bolds are mine):
Two years after leaving Fox News, Beck’s radio show is among the top ranked of anyone in political talk, the independent news network he launched has been picked up by Dish Network and several cable distributors, and he’s busy selling fans everything from best-selling books to jeans from his clothing line.
Beck, 49, is using the creative freedom of not being shackled to someone else’s network to take what’s been dubbed his “media performance art” to new levels lately — like when he reenacted the notorious baseball bat scene from “The Untouchables” to make a point about the Obama administration — but some observers say that becoming more of an entertainment force has meant diminished political impact for the conservative host.
“That does change the political influence you have, when you broaden out to be an entertainment commodity,” said University of Maryland journalism professor Mark Feldstein, calling him a “right-wing Garrison Keillor.”
“You bring in money, but you don’t have the role of lightning rod, catalyst, political icon, that he sort of once had,” Feldstein added. “I certainly don’t think he’s in the zeitgeist now the way he was. I think in terms of the effect on political discourse, it’s diminished.”
... While Beck dramatically warns listeners that “we are living in Biblical times” and “we are at the end,” it’s clear he’s preparing for anything but. Those who work with him at his news network, TheBlaze, say Beck is well on his way to building a massive, multiplatform media company as the network aims to become a fully distributed cable, satellite and telecommunications company.
... several media observers said they aren’t convinced that Beck remains as influential as he did during his time with Fox.
“Beck will continue to be an important conservative and inspirational commentator to many people,” said Paul Levinson, a professor of media and communications studies at Fordham University. “But unless he gets back into a primetime spot on network or mass-market cable television, his glory days will be mostly behind him.”
Alexander Zaitchik, the author of “Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance,” noted that Beck “has managed to carve out a lower-profile but very profitable national presence since leaving Fox.”
... “He continues to dream of mainstream entertainment mogul-dom. He describes his new entertainment production company, American Dream Labs, as a ‘Disney for the new century.’ But pleasing mainstream audiences means boring or turning off his base, and satisfying his base means turning off the vast majority of Americans who already dislike him.”
Talk about people who don't get it – They would be Maryland's Feldstein, Fordham's Levinson, and Zaitchik, whose book's title gives away his utter cluelessness.
For obvious starters, no one would dispute Rush Limbaugh's continued influence. He hasn't had a TV program in about 18 years, has never had a cable show, and has said repeatedly that having one to chase after audiences that which would be 80%-90% smaller than the 14 million who tune into his radio show would be a relative waste of time and effort. So why does Beck have to have a "prime-time spot in mass-market or cable television" to increase his influence? Answer: He doesn't.
As to Beck's business moves, what he is doing is what the rest of the center-right is largely only talking about: building platforms to reach the disengaged and misinformed, who since the 2012 election have been called "low-information voters."
Is it working? It's way too early to tell, but one benchmark of success – the 2013 Forbes 100 Most Powerful Celebrities list, has him at #34 (down from #23 in 2012) – ahead of Rush Limbaugh at #37 (down from #19 in 2012). Weinger mentioned Beck's placement but failed to note that he moved ahead of Limbaugh in a post-election year where both would have been expected to see declines. Thus far, there is no evidence that Beck has had to water down his message while tailoring it to fit other ventures to achieve this success, or has even thought of doing so.
Those who are so confident that Beck's long-term influence is waning should pause when they see this comparison:
The narrative isn't perfect, but what I see on the left is TheBlaze.com web site – just one of Beck's enterprises – steadily growing through the 2012 elections and mostly holding its gains. On the right, I see the New York Times shrinking through the 2012 election cycle until mid-summer last year, and then resuming its decline. (Both sites appear to have recently benefitted from relatively story-rich news cycles.)
Continue the above trends for about 7-10 more years, if not sooner, and you have TheBlaze.com on par or very close to the hallowed Times.
Where is the Politico's report on how "The Influence of the New York Times Is Diminishing"?
On and by the way, TheBlaze.com is number four on Doug Ross's Top 150 Conservative Web Sites compilation as of June, and is the top site listed there with an exclusively online presence.
Here's the thing Weinger and her assemblage of "experts" don't get. As much as Beck's name is associated with his efforts, he seems to be on track, like Disney, to doing something very important that the others in the industry haven't. That is, his enterprise is slowly but surely becoming NOT all about him, giving it potential for longevity that most others in the broadcast business who haven't done so won't have.
Beck's prior personal and business background seem to give him insights into reaching low-information voters, but he also appears to know that he can't accomplish his ambitions to fully reach them without working through other employees and contacts to a greater extent than his broadcast competitors. That, more than anything else, may explain why, contrary to Weinger's premise, his influence is growing.
And finally, note how TheBlaze.com has caught and passed the Politico, and left it eating its dust:
Maybe Mackenzie Weinger's next story should be: "Politico's Influence Diminishes." There's plenty of legitimate evidence of that.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.