December 6, 2023

Beck and Fox End Relationship Grown Cold

Mr. Beck’s official departure was preceded by conversations over a period of months with the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes. Even as Mr. Beck and Mr. Ailes described how much they liked each other in an interview with The Associated Press, the message conveyed between the lines by both sides was that, despite ratings that would normally bring about an automatic contract renewal, this was a relationship that had grown cold — and run its course.

On Wednesday, the two sides made it official, announcing that Mr. Beck would end his top-rated show at some unspecified point later this year. His contract with Fox ends in December, but he is expected to sign off well before then.

Hired away from CNN’s Headline News in 2008, Mr. Beck found a home at Fox News, giving voice to disaffected Americans who were deeply troubled by President Obama’s election. He reached as many as three million viewers on some nights, setting time-slot records for Fox. Although his ratings have since declined — he averaged 1.9 million viewers in March — he still dominates the 5 p.m. hour among the cable news networks.

Notably, Mr. Beck became a daily broadcast platform for a libertarian strain of politics that is also evident in the Tea Party, a movement he embraced. Critics loudly condemned him for living with his own facts — but that only seemed to widen the conspiracy that he outlined each night, aided by a growing number of chalkboards in his studio.

But at that studio, he was unhappy from almost his first day on the job, which happened to be the day before Mr. Obama was inaugurated. Even in his first year, he was contemplating an exit from Fox and wondering if he could start his own channel.

Beck supporters presented a picture of constant sniping, planted stories about his declining ratings, and discomfort with his ability to build a career for himself outside the Fox News brand.

From Fox’s perspective, the facts about Mr. Beck’s run on the network have been public and indisputable. Among those were the refusal of hundreds of Fox advertisers to allow their commercials to be placed on Mr. Beck’s program, and a history of incendiary comments that attracted harsh backlash, including one where the host called President Obama a racist and another where he compared Reform Judaism to radical Islam. (He later apologized for both comments.)

Mr. Ailes suggested in the interview Wednesday that he was happy with the departure being characterized as either a cancellation or a decision by Mr. Beck to quit. Fox has retained all its other high-rated hosts in the past, but they didn’t come under the intense scrutiny that Mr. Beck has faced, nor the mass opposition from advertisers.

As onerous as that might have been to Fox financially, it did not seem to be an issue for Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation. In two recent comments to shareholders, Mr. Murdoch defended Mr. Beck. He said of the advertiser boycott, “They don’t boycott watching it. We’re getting incredible numbers.” He followed that by pointing out that even with his diminished ratings, Mr. Beck’s show provided a “terrific kickoff” to the lineup of Fox shows that followed.

But the ratings clearly could not overcome the fractures in the relationship. “By the end both sides had had enough,” said one executive who was involved in the decision to end the deal.

Mr. Beck’s new deal with Fox allows him to develop and produce new projects for Fox and its Web sites. But those projects are likely to amount to occasional specials and appearances, nothing more.

Mr. Beck is known to have contemplated an expansion of his subscription Web site and a takeover of a cable channel in whole or in part. Already, his growing media company produces several hours of shows on the Web each weekday.

A spokesman for Mr. Beck declined to say whether the agreement included a noncompete clause that would preclude Mr. Beck from hosting a TV show elsewhere for a period of time. On his show on Wednesday, Mr. Beck said to his viewers, “We will find each other,” adding later, “I’m going to be showing you other ways for us to connect.”

A senior Fox News executive, Joel Cheatwood, will join Mr. Beck at Mercury Radio Arts later this month.

Notably, descriptions of Mr. Beck’s future plans drew derisive comments in some quarters of Fox News, where they argued that Mr. Beck needed the huge platform of his Fox show to build his media empire.

At times, Mr. Beck and his managers said they sensed that Fox was retaliating in public, although they did not prove it.

Last month, when Mr. Cheatwood was first said to be moving over to Mercury, his Fox salary was suddenly leaked to a reporter. That day, a staff member who had been working with Fox on Mr. Beck’s show was asked if he could imagine working at an institution that would leak a salary figure. The staff member replied, “Not only can I imagine it, we’ve done it for 27 months,” referring to the precise number of months Mr. Beck had been at Fox. “It’s not fun.”

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