I used to believe that Glenn Beck was a fraud. In fact, I have told him this to his face.
Of course, having been in and around the opinion-oriented media for over twenty years, I have learned that almost everyone in this business is, at least to some extent, running a scam. With regard to Beck, I just always assumed that, based on what a good performer he is, anyone like that in an occupation this corrupt, must also be mostly acting.
But then came Donald Trump.
As I have written about early and often, Trump’s run to the Republican presidential nomination singled-handedly (and quite by design) exposed the vast majority of the “conservative” media as total whores who are just trying to cash an easy check while protecting their precious gigs. Glenn Beck and TheBlaze network, in what was a surprisingly courageous decision, was the lone major holdout among the talk radio and television brigade when it came to the unqualified liberal conman who somehow became our president.
Yesterday, many people paid the ultimate career price for not selling out to Trump when Beck announced that he was laying off over 20% of his work force, mostly at TheBlaze. And make no mistake, this was largely about the consequences of the network deciding to tell the truth about Donald Trump, rather than to take a ride on a Trump Train fueled by deception and fairytale.
It is a fundamental truth of the modern fragmented media that it is far more lucrative to tell your audience a myth that they want to hear than to tell them an unpleasant truth. Because there are now SO many other options, even within the “conservative” niche, if you aren’t serving up ice cream or cotton candy on a daily basis, then most of the customers, as if they are still children, will simply find someone, no matter how lacking in credibility, who will give them their desired fix.
This reality was greatly exacerbated by the Trump phenomenon because of the cult-like nature of his fan base, and the visceral hatred among conservative media consumers of his general election opponent Hillary Clinton. Consequently, instead of being respected for taking a principled stand, Beck and TheBlaze weren’t just seen as out of touch by many of their fans, but in some cases as being down-right traitorous.
The result was a significant loss in audience/subscriptions at a time when the competition was riding a Trump-induced ratings wave. This, combined with the fact that all similar media outlets are under a significant economic burden from a broken and antiquated business model, forced Beck to make these painful cutbacks for the second time since Trump burst on the presidential scene.
I spent an entire day at Beck’s Dallas headquarters this past spring doing a series of interviews on the “Penn State Scandal,” which is the type of story, especially now, that only a real truth-seeker would have even considered devoting so much time to. I was impressed, even then, at the number of quality people working there under what I knew had to difficult economic circumstances.
It was clear to me that Beck was enduring a lot of personal pressure to make sure the company survived this perfect storm of negative circumstances. It was also obvious that he had no regrets about his decision regarding Trump, which was obviously making the struggle all the more difficult.
In July, I did an extensive interview with Beck for my weekly podcast where we delved deeply into these exact issues. I consider it to be one of the best and most important interviews that I have ever done, so I urge you to take a listen to it.
I think that you will conclude, like I did, that Beck may be a lot of things, but a fraud is not one of them. He talked openly about almost quitting the business entirely after Trump’s victory and about how the costs for not supporting Trump were even more devastating than he had been warned about. He also spoke convincingly that he is actually a happier man today, having stood up for what he believes, than he was just a few years ago when he was at the very top of the opinion-media game.
The media, as much as any other industry, is one where people aggressively copy what has been perceived as successful while vigorously avoiding doing what has gotten others in apparent trouble. When it comes to the “conservative” media, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Breitbart, and Tucker Carlson, among others, are seen as the “winners” of the Trump sweepstakes, while Beck and TheBlaze are the losers.
This means that, for at least the next decade (and maybe forever) selling out one’s principles to back a winner will be regarded as an action which will be rewarded. Conversely, sticking to what you believe and telling what you think to be an unpopular truth will be viewed as career suicide.
Gee, I wonder which type of behavior we are going to see more of in the future, and whether that will tend to increase or decrease the quality of content?
What makes this even more frustrating and unjust is that those who will be seen as the “winners” not only sold out their principles, but they were also dead wrong. Trump is going to be a failed president which will likely kill conservatism for the rest of my lifetime. Beck was absolutely right about Trump, and will eventually be fully vindicated, but when that officially happens he is likely to get little more than a pat on the back from those of us who will remember the sacrifice that he and others at TheBlaze made.
The personification of this upside-down world in which we now live is that former Blaze-TV host and Trump cheerleader Tomi Lahren, who was recently fired there for being a fraud, just got hired at Fox News Channel where her apparent job will be to serve as fantasy inspiration for members of Trump’s “Cult 45.” Meanwhile, many good people at TheBlaze are now out of a job largely because their company actually thought it was better to just tell the truth rather than titillate and manipulate the audience.
The “conservative” media began as a medium devoted to telling truths that the rest of the news media ignored. It has now come full circle to where it rewards those who strategically lie, and punishes those who tell it like it really is. The saddest part is that things are likely to get even worse.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.