What's Next for Glenn Beck?

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An imagined memo from a staffer in his company counseling a strategic break with the conservative movement

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Glenn Beck's nightly Fox News show is ending.

Is he going to get any attention beyond his core fan base once he lacks a regular televised platform? If so, he'll have to show us something new - and I think he's going to pull it off. The man's rise to fame basically entailed reinventing himself every time he lost hold on the public's attention. How he'll evolve next is impossible to know. What Roger Ailes and friends should fear most, however, is that he turns on his former allies in the conservative movement. Does that sound crazy?

It isn't.

Here's the memo I imagine floating around inside his media company.

TO: Glenn Beck
SUBJECT: The David Brock Option
DATE: April 7, 2011

Glenn,

Dude, sweet show last night! Speaking of which, I removed chalk from next week's office supply order - figure we've got enough already to get us through. Bet one of your fans would pay big money for the chalk boards. Especially if you broke 'em up with an ax or something on the last show.

I read up on David Brock like you asked. And I definitely see what you mean. Esquire would totally publish a long confessional magazine piece from you, but you're right: it can't be you admitting you were a charlatan or going over to the other side. It would be more like, "Wow, I looked deeper into this gold business, which several people at Fox assured me was on the up and up, and now I see that a whole lot of wealthy entertainers on the right are just sticking it to their listeners. That's why I'm gonna set up a fund for anyone who bought marked up commemorative coins because of me." I don't know if we should do that specifically, but you get the idea: we leverage the fact that the most conspiracy-minded people in the conservative movement trust you more than Roger Ailes or Rush Limbaugh (though I wouldn't go after him unless he attacks first), and the genius of it is that we'll never lose an argument because whatever dishonesty we choose to expose will be true: They actually are conspiring to mislead rank-and-file conservatives in all these totally egregious and provable ways!

Obviously, Fox has some dirt on you too, but it'll be tricky for them to exploit it. What are they going to say, we observed Beck putting Vicks VapoRub under his eyes to fake crying during his shows, and we're using it to discredit him now even though we were perfectly happy to broadcast what we knew to be fake? It hurts them more than us. It's kind of awesome how our reputation is so crazy that no one outside our of core group of fans expects us to put out honest work anyway.

But that doesn't mean they won't give us attention when we do.

That's the beauty of effectively exposing actual charlatanism - our conspiracy-minded base is prone to believe it, especially if you package it in your emotional, I'm-the-only-one-on-your-side style. And if the facts are sound, the mainstream media will totally pick it up too, regardless of your past behavior, especially if you're going after folks they already believe to be dishonest. That's what we learned from that experiment on The Blaze, which went phenomenally. Your Web staff did an absolutely devastating take-down of that James O'Keefe NPR video. Our core audience felt good about it, because they want evidence that reinforces their notion that we're just trying to do honest work. And because that particular piece happened to be accurate, it got picked up and spread around by the MSM. Even our staunchest critics praised it!

Obviously this whole strategy needs more study... and the deal for occasional TV specials with Fox gives us a bit of time and flexibility to think it over... but it's possible that this is the best way to keep attracting attention beyond our core audience, especially if Roger doesn't keep you happy as we part ways. Plus, this would give us an excuse to put Bill Kristol in his place. Some nerve attacking us... 

Yours,

[redacted]

p.s. Actually, now that I think about it, destroying the chalk boards with a chainsaw would be way better...

p.p.s. Or dynamite!!!

Drop-down bar thumbnail credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters


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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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