Uber-popular Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck will end his daily program on the network later this year and “transition” into a behind-the-scenes role as a producer both in broadcast and online. His departure was jointly announced Wednesday by Fox News and Mercury Radio Arts, Mr. Beck’s production company, and not without drama.
“Sometimes you have to take a stand. And America is in deep and treacherous waters,” a grave-faced Mr. Beck told viewers at the close of his program Wednesday, calling his past tenure at Fox “sweet.”
He advised his audience to “spread the word and stick together,” adding, “Our only business is freedom in this country, and I will continue to tell the story.”
On the surface, the change appeared harmonious enough, despite recent reports of tension between the provocative host and the network. Both sides proclaimed they were “proud” of the new arrangement.
“Glenn Beck is a powerful communicator, a creative entrepreneur and a true success by anybody’s standards. I look forward to continuing to work with him,” said Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News.
“I truly believe that America owes a lot to Roger Ailes and Fox News. I cannot repay Roger for the lessons I’ve learned and will continue to learn from him, and I look forward to starting this new phase of our partnership,” Mr. Beck said in turn.
But within minutes of the announcement, Mr. Beck’s gloating critics were doing a victory dance and painting the news as proof of a major rift between the network and high-profile talent. Fox agreed to the change despite the fact that “Glenn Beck” - the program - draws 2.2 million daily viewers and, even with a recent fall in ratings, remains the third-highest-rated news show on cable TV.
“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,” said James Rucker, executive director of ColorOfChange, an activist group seeking political and social change for black Americans.
The group organized an advertiser boycott in 2009 against Mr. Beck for what it called “race-baiting,” later claiming nearly 300 advertisers had abandoned the show.
“The only surprise is that it took Fox News months to reach this decision,” said David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog.
“Fox News now has to choose. Will it eliminate all violent rhetoric from the network - not just during the 5 p.m. hour? And will the network make a commitment to end its role as a political operation masquerading as a news station?” Mr. Brock asked.
Mr. Beck said that The Blaze, his recently launched news website, will offer updates about his joint projects with the network and news of his final appearance at Fox. Speculation is rampant about his possible replacements; the Business Insider, for example, suggested that Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly or Shepard Smith are logical contenders. Meanwhile, Mr. Beck’s “transition” could make things less interesting for his critics.
“His departure from the air will eliminate an easy target the left had to exploit in their efforts to discredit Fox News,” said Brent H. Baker, vice president for research and publications at the conservative Media Research Center.
“Glenn Beck is a hero to many in the tea party, but he too often veered off into odd areas and erroneous claims that enabled the enemies of Fox News to denigrate the entire network,” Mr. Baker added.