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Profile: James Downie
James Downie was a participant or observer in the following events:
A screenshot from Glenn Beck’s final show. [Source: Gateway Pundit (.com)]Fox News chairman Roger Ailes negotiates the departure of one of his network’s most influential stars, talk show host Glenn Beck. Beck’s departure has been predicted by outside observers for weeks; as for Beck, he has already told Ailes, “I don’t want to do cable news anymore.” Beck has been with Fox News since October 2008, when he was hired to fill the 5:00 p.m. slot that had unsuccessfully been hosted by other conservatives such as John Gibson and Laura Ingraham. He debuted the day before President Obama’s January 2009 inauguration (see January 20-21, 2009). New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman will write that Ailes hired Beck “to reenergize Fox’s audience after Obama’s election.” (In January 2009, Ailes told Beck that Fox News’s primary mission was to oppose Obama, and that Beck was a major part of that effort—see January 2009 and August 11, 2009.) Beck has been hugely successful (see March 29, 2009), “tapping deep wells of resentment and igniting them into a vast, national conflagration,” as Sherman will write. However: “The problem was that it had almost engulfed Fox itself. Beck was huge and uncontrollable, and some of Fox’s other big names seemed diminished by comparison—and were speaking up about it. Beck seemed to many to be Fox News’s id made visible, saying things—Obama is a racist (see July 27, 2009 and July 28-29, 2009), Nazi tactics are progressive tactics (see July 26, 2010 and October 3, 2010)—dredged from the right-wing subconscious. These were things that weren’t supposed to be said, even at Fox (see February 20, 2009 and March 9, 2009), and they were consuming the brand. Ailes had built his career by artfully tending the emotional undercurrents of both politics and entertainment, using them to power ratings and political careers; now they were out of his control.” Beck’s show has suffered a steep drop in ratings because of an effective boycott led by a number of progressive and civil rights groups; over 400 Fox advertisers pulled their commercials from Beck’s show. Beck has become a divisive figure among other Fox hosts, with Sean Hannity complaining about his “stardom” and Bill O’Reilly, who detests Hannity, regularly scheduling Beck as a guest on his show, further angering Hannity. And Ailes is increasingly uncomfortable with the religious content of Beck’s show (at times Beck has told his viewers that God is speaking to them through him). Beck and Ailes agree that Beck will give up his 5:00 p.m. show and return for a number of network “specials.” The talks between Beck and Ailes are not without acrimony; at one point, Ailes tells a Fox executive, “I’m just going to fire him and issue a press release.” When the network announces the departure on April 6, Beck and other Fox spokespersons are careful to avoid any sort of “public meltdown,” and ensure the avoidance of what Ailes fears most: what Sherman calls the view of “Beck’s departure… as a victory for the liberal media.” Ailes tells reporters: “We felt Glenn brought additional information, a unique perspective, a certain amount of passion and insight to the channel and he did. But that story of what’s going on and why America is in trouble today, I think he told that story as well as could be told. Whether you can just keep telling that story or not… we’re not so sure.” David Brock, founder of the progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters, says “the only surprise is that it took Fox News months to reach this decision.” And James Rucker, the chairman of ColorofChange.org, the organization behind the advertiser boycott, says, “Fox News Channel clearly understands that Beck’s increasingly erratic behavior is a liability to their ratings and their bottom line, and we are glad to see them take this action.” Beck is expected to continue his daily AM radio show and to engage in other media activities in the future. New Republic reporter James Downie observes, “In recent months, it seems, Beck’s theories became so outlandish that even conservatives—both viewers and media personalities—were having a hard time stomaching them.” Downie notes that as Beck’s show continued, Beck became caught in what he calls a “vicious circle,” having to “top himself” from week to week with ever more intricate and outlandish conspiracy theories, and more extremist rhetoric. [Associated Press, 4/6/2011; Christian Science Monitor, 4/6/2011; New York Magazine, 5/22/2011] In his own explanation for his departure, Beck compares himself to Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, saying: “When I took this job I didn’t take it because it was going to be a career for me. Paul Revere did not get up on the horse and say, ‘I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.’ He didn’t do it. He got off the horse at some point and fought in the Revolution and then he went back to silversmithing.” [New York Daily News, 4/7/2011]
Entity Tags: Gabriel Sherman, Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Barack Obama, Sean Hannity, Roger Ailes, Laura Ingraham, David Brock, Paul Revere, James Downie, John Gibson, Glenn Beck, James Rucker
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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