Beck: It Pays to Be Crazy

February 3rd, 2011 at 12:07 am David Frum | 52 Comments |

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Many people have suggested that since the crisis in Egypt began Fox News’ Glenn Beck sounds crazier than usual.

This is a hard assessment to quantify.  But if it is true, pills the uptick in craziness may be attributable to the decline in Beck’s audience.

Tim Mak explained the economic imperatives behind crazy talk in a classic report two years ago.  In case you missed it the first time, here it is again.


*  *  *


Conservative talk radio has never been more angry and extreme than today. You might think that’s a response to the Obama presidency. But even more, conservative talkers are responding to a collapse in advertising revenues.

According to Scott Fybush, the proprietor of North East Radio Watch, talk radio has lost 30-40% of its ad revenues over the past two years.

Further, in an interview with a talk radio trade publication, Talkers Magazine, late last year, Talk Radio Networks CEO Mark Masters said: “2008 will be known as the year that weak syndicated programs began dying off in droves,” adding that “it has only just begun.”

In this environment, radio hosts believe that anger is their only path to survival.  “If you’re not the most extreme person on the radio or making the most outrageous headlines,” says Fybush, “there is going to be some portion of the base that is going to ignore you and move onto someone who is more extreme.”

One of the most civil voices in talk radio, Michael Medved, explains the economic pressure upon the industry. He told NewMajority: “In this [economic] environment, you have something of a push to be outrageous, to be on the fringe, because what you’re desperately competing for is… P-1 listeners [those who tune in most frequently]. The percentage of people on the fringe who are P-1s is quite high,” he explained. As a result, talk radio hosts are feeling more pressure than usual to yell harder, scream louder, and insult further. Talk shows “are fighting for an ever- smaller pie, [which means that] you’ve got to be even louder about it because you’re trying to get the attention of an ever-smaller niche,” said Medved.

All these factors exacerbate the existing negative tendencies of conservative news talk radio. Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers Magazine, notes that “news talk radio has traditionally been a street medium… [that employs] the language and emotions and attitudes that one would hear on the street, by the fence, in the schoolyard.” Of course, schoolyard emotions evoke schoolyard results: a downwards descent into name-calling and fringe politics. Talk radio’s fascination with the “birther” movement is the logical end point.

As conservative politics attempts to reach out and rebuild, the incentives for conservative radio hosts point in exactly the opposite direction. The fact of the matter is that the survival of news talk radio “depends on ratings and revenue, not on getting people elected, or even on bring right,” says Harrison. If the economy worsens, expect more venom on your AM dial.

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52 Comments so far ↓

  • SFTor1

    If your local NPR station is pledging right now, give.

  • valkayec

    Just out of curiosity how does NPR compare in ratings to the “fright talk” radio over the long term?

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    And the Republican Party works for Beck. Bring on the apocalypse.

    At least Beck would agree with me that this is an appropriate song for the times:

  • Bosco

    Not courting the fringe much, eh, FrumForum.

    • jakester

      He courts the fringe by letting them come here and either be exposed for the crackpots they are or maybe actually reason things out instead of jumping to stupidest knee jerk conclusions like they used to

  • Beck: It Pays to Be Crazy | FrumForum | Conservative Government

    [...] The fact of the matter is that the survival of news talk radio “depends on ratings and … “conservative politics” – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Conservative Politics and tagged Beck, crazy, FrumForum, Pays. Bookmark [...]

  • armstp

    The sad thing is that many people watch Beck and believe every word he says.

  • Pablo

    There are over 307 million Americans. Beck had over 1 million viewers in January, which was a 39 percent decline from the previous January. There are approximately 306 million Americans who don’t watch Beck (I am one of them). Beck’s rantings are electorally insignificant.

    Why can’t we just ignore him?

    • midcon

      Because exponentially he is influential. He gives voice to those who are afraid but are not sure what they are afraid of. Beck tells them what to be afraid of. Do you think that most people (including me) really know much about billionaire George Soros? I mean, who doesn’t know Warren Buffet or Bill Gates? But George Soros? Who dat? Well, Glenn told us who dat is – the nefarious head of the SHADOW GOVERNMENT that is manipulating the lives of patriotic Americans. See, now we have someone to hate. So the parrots fly off into their normal lives and talk about government conspiracy, shadow governments, and the like. Beck gives them a target for their fears and once they have been convinced, no facts will ever intrude upon that conviction. We have met the enemy and the enemy is us, or rather the enemy is the ignorant us.

      • Elvis Elvisberg

        I see Pablo’s point, but I agree with midcon, with one additional point.

        The fact that Beck offers psychological comfort to folks doesn’t explain everything– hell, so does Alex Jones.

        But Beck is part of a the right wing’s para-media-industrial complex. He is influential because he has been treated as if he were influential. As David Frum put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.” Because the GOP has no policy views, it’s dependent entirely on Southern Strategy-based resentment.

        And now it’s too late. Remember, sinning against the reputation of Beck is part of what got archconservative GOP Congressman Bob Inglis a primary challenge, and a 42-point loss. See: No elected GOP official can cross right-wing paramedia leaders like Beck & Limbaugh.

        That’s their messaging, that’s their base’s source of information, meaning, and worldview. It’d be great were it otherwise, but Glenn Beck’s at the least uncrossable for the GOP, and at the worst writing their script. Party leaders like Darrell Issa and John Boehner are going to do everything they can to keep fear alive.

        Incidentally, Glenn Beck hates Jews:

        • abj

          But Beck is part of a the right wing’s para-media-industrial complex

          Not really. Beck goes off the reservation quite often and is too willing to criticize Republicans for their liking. Beck is just out for himself; he’s not a party hack like Hannity.

          BTW, I know Bob Englis believes he lost that primary because he criticized Glenn Beck (lack of evidence a majority of primary voters in his district even watch Beck notwithstanding), but it had more to do with his vote in favor of TARP than anything else. I find his explanation unconvincing.

        • Elvis Elvisberg

          So did Boehner, Cantor, and Paul Ryan. And nobody cares.

          Voting for TARP alone doesn’t explain noisy criticism of Ingliss, much less a primary challenge, much less a 42-point primary defeat.

        • abj

          So what? Each race is different. You haven’t really offered anything more than speculation to support your claim.

          Check this out:

          This is a local observer’s take on the subject. He’s an Inglis opponent, and nowhere in that diatribe is any reference to Glenn Beck or talk radio. Basically, it sounds as if the voters in his district had grown tired of him.

        • Elvis Elvisberg

          Thanks for the link.

          It’s a write-up of a debate, not a list of reasons why he favored Gowdy. There actually doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two on any issues. The blogger’s substantiation for wanting Inglis gone is as follows: “Now he has become “Congressman Clueless,” living the life of an elitist politician, compromising with Democrats, and resisting Conservative efforts to take America back.” That… really isn’t anything.

      • armstp


        Beck did not tell you anything about Soros. He just told you a bunch of lies and exaggerations. So much so that hundreds of Rabbis are now complaining to FOX about Beck’s completely BS treatement of Soros. By listening to Beck on Soros you problem even know less about Soros then before you listened to Soros.

  • abrady

    When it comes to be that Palin makes hundreds of thousands of dollars for “speaking” and Bristol’s going rate is $20,000, I am not surprised that Glenn is getting “crazier”. He gets the media coverage by sites like this, which give him and Fox free advertisement which leads to more MONEY.

    I am encouraged a bit by the fact that fewer people seem to be listening to his “drivel” but wish that Sarah and her daughter would fade into oblivion.

  • The “Crazy Like a Fox” Hypothesis | Talk Radio Sucks

    [...] a surprisingly weakly-argued headline piece on FrumForum, David Frum tries to make the case that Glenn Beck’s recent hysteria about Egypt [...]

    • COProgressive

      Slightly off topic…..well, really off topic, how do these random posts with just the headlines and a random snap of the text just happen to show up? There are two in this post.

      Just curious…..

  • andydp

    Even Peggy Noonan of the WSJ has opined that Beck is nuts. Remember: this is one of News Corps’ people not a fringe “Mother Jones/CNBC” commie pinko. Unfortunately, the people that listen to Beck think he is always right and we are being duped by the MSM.

    Well, I want to look at other ideas and sources, make up my own mind and partake in intelligent discussion.


    This is the “crazy like a fox” hypothesis, which has nothing to do with Fox News, but simply refers to the allegorical cunning of a fox, suggesting that a person who looks crazy may be just putting on a clever act.

    Frum is a very smart guy and usually argues his points well, but his point here has been made in a surprisingly limp manner. In fact, he didn’t really argue the case at all, just kind of tossed it out there. Even worse, one could argue that the article from Tim Mak contradicts his thesis. I don’t disagree with most of what Mak wrote — obviously the hunt for ratings is important and does drive some of the behavior we hear on talk radio — I just don’t see how it supports the claim that Frum is putting forth here about Beck and Egypt. For one thing, Beck’s ratings peaked after Mak’s article was written, and have only declined substantially over the recent term. Everything that Mak said in 2008 is still true today, but Beck’s ratings have changed a lot in that time, so clearly there are other more influential factors at work.

    In my opinion, Beck is neither crazy nor cunning. And if you look back at his track record, you can find comments just as nutty as what he said about Egypt last year, the year before that, and so forth. It’s just the way he is. And the mindset he represents is not rare at all — in fact, I have spent many years interacting with lots of people just like him on the Internet. What’s different now is that these folks have a lot more visibility. Paranoia and conspiracy theories and an “us versus them” mentality are not new, but in the past the people who exhibited these feelings kept them to themselves or shared them in small groups. Now they are becoming more “mainstream”, thanks to the existence of outlets like talk radio, Fox News and the Internet.

    I do believe there has been a trigger for an outbreak of madness on the right, but it’s not the Egypt situation or the need to prop up ratings. It was the election of Barack Obama. A dwindling but still large subculture of mostly rural, conservative, white, older Americans suddenly had the change that is happening in the world shoved right in their faces. And it scares them, not only for the usual reasons, but because many of these folks tend to be more afraid of change and more capable of exhibiting a persecution complex than average.

    They responded by circling the wagons. People like Glenn Beck were appointed leaders of the wagon train, since they have a pulpit and the ability to reach the audience of “victims”. There’s no secret to this, and if you need proof, all you have to do is listen to the ads that Glenn Beck himself runs. One in particular comes immediately to mind: it features Beck himself promoting his show as a “release valve” and a place for people to tune in to know they “aren’t alone”. All this while Under Pressure by Queen/Bowie plays in the background. Not exactly subtle.

    Bottom line: the situation in Egypt may be new, but the way that talk radio and Fox News are responding to it is not. I highly doubt Beck would be saying anything less crazy than he has so far if his audience were still above 3 million.

  • CentristNYer

    What this piece doesn’t really contend with is the WHY. Why are Beck’s ratings in free fall? I’d like to know.

    And is conservative media really suffering more than any other? The article that’s linked to here says that CNN’s evening line-up has had a similarly steep ratings drop, and they’re hardly broadcasting right wing nutjobs like Beck.

    Can anyone shed some light on these questions?

    • PracticalGirl

      I’ll take a stab, from somebody who watched Beck’s career explode from inside the industry. The short answer, I think? Beck’s ratings climbed when he was a relatively reasonable, humble and pretty funny entertainer, but started to decline almost immediately after he began to believe himself to be a Political Force to be Reckoned With. the ratings question? The other media outlets you question have lost ratings, but within the statistical norm. Their viewership has stayed relatively constant. The difference is they never had the incredible spikes Beck did.

      What happened to Beck? Several years ago there was a little-known talk radio host named Glenn Beck who also had a little-watched show on CNN. In the beginning, he was relatively reasonable, sometimes funny and almost always down-to-earth. He was connecting with the independent somewhat Conservative audience but often had points that even a liberal could say “hmmm” to and not immediately dismiss. His ratings at the time were relatively small but growing by leaps and bounds. The industry started to take notice. There were even some national radio hosts in the top 10 who tried to emulate his style in an attempt to keep audiences away from defecting to Beck.

      Then in 2002, Beck elevated his message board operator (Chris Balfe) to COO of his company, Mercury Radio Arts. Together, they employed a marketing strategy/new affiliate push that grew the number of stations offering Beck’s radi0 show from something like 35 to 270. Now he was a force heard by millions around the country, and this popularity led to the TV switch from CNN to Fox Noise and, at it’s peak, over 2 million viewers. That’s a whole lot of a very attractive demographic, and the show also attracted advertisers (legitimate ones) that nobody in the perspective media had ever attracted. Life was GOOD.

      Then it all got out of hand. In order to keep the audience (the P1s that Mak mentioned)and to gain publicity, the once-reasonable entertainer got more outrageous and began to present himself as a political force. For a small period of time, this was attractive- that “new car smell” somebody mentioned above. But the more polarizing and “crazy” Beck got (to attract the audience) and the more he started acting like Conservatism’s elder statesman, the bigger target he became. EVERYBODY was keeping tabs on Beck including watchdog organizations.

      Cut to 2009…Beck comes out with his “Obama hates white people”…And the house of cards begins to fall from the inside. The sponsors,, once happy to ride the Beck comet, now are jumping ship at an alarming rate. The competition sees blood, starts to attack/discredit to the very audience that once hung on his every word. The media watchdogs jump on what he said and use his very public persona against him. Those media outlets that helped elevate him? Right there to tell America of his naked racism.

      The TV audience? Well, there’s only so many times you can go to the circus before you get bored. The ratings drop was natural attrition. But it’s still at 1.7 million and still is double (at least) of any other cable news network program available.

      And his radio show? Still cooking. Third most listened to program in the country, well over 350 stations carrying him and a listenership of almost 9 million a week.


    There may not be any grand significance to it. Remember that he had a big ratings runup after Obama got elected and now things may just be settling down into a more typical range. Sometimes people gain popularity and then lose popularity even if they don’t change anything about what they do.

  • CentristNYer


    That’s the only explanation I’ve been able to come up with. I guess Beck no longer has that new car smell.


    Yep. There’s a reason that TV serials get canceled — at some point you’ve just exhausted the material and it isn’t fresh any more. Shows like Beck’s go on forever, but he never has anything new or interesting to say. Eventually people find other things to do with their time.

    I also think that TV as a whole is starting a process of slow decline that will remove it from its former place of prominence in our society by the middle of this century.

  • drcme

    Hey Talk Radio hosts: Man up and quit succumbing to pressure from your bosses. Maybe tell the truth for once. Maybe do what’s right instead of what’s good for your pocket book.

    Yeah, probably not gonna happen…

  • lessadoabouteverything

    That’s the only explanation I’ve been able to come up with. I guess Beck no longer has that new car smell.

    yep, that is about right. There are very, very few entertainers who are consistently popular for decades, Bob Hope, Sinatra but who is anymore? Successful ones re-invent themselves, like William Shatner or Betty White (who didn’t reinvent herself as much as become a national treasure) or content themselves being in an ensemble, like Chevy Chase (I thought he was hilarious, then painfully unfunny, now he is funny again in Community)
    As to newscasters, Beck ain’t no Cronkite, in 30 years people will feel embarrassed by him and he is likely to end up like a male version of Norma Desmond, scaring the little children in the neighborhood before being toted off to a mental hospital.

    • CentristNYer

      “As to newscasters, Beck ain’t no Cronkite…”

      You and I know that, but unfortunately, there are at least a million of your fellow Americans who don’t. And while that may be a very small sliver of the country, these are people who are politically active, show up at the polls in droves and have a propensity to repeat his nonsense to anyone with a pair of ears. So the ripple effect from his ravings has the potential to be quite considerable.

  • newyorkfilmacademy

    his teachers should be fired and the curriculum he was taught in the classroom should be banned

    Kalli Meisler, Director of Marketing, New York Film Academy

  • DanL

    It really made my day to come here and read that Beck’s numbers are in free fall. I think I will be humming something happy all day now.

  • pnumi2

    Beck’s ratings down. Productivity up. I wonder.

  • jg bennet

    I believe Beck ,be it for profit or paranoia, is trying to incite action from people. The Brandenburg test should really be tried against him and his connection to the attempt at the Tides foundation is just one example that could be brought up in the case.

    Brandenburg v. Ohio 1969 was a different kind of case for the Court, involving a KKK leader advocating the return of all blacks to Africa and all Jews to Israel. By unanimous vote, the justices defended the Klan’s right to say such things at rallies as long as there was no incitement to action, to wit, the Brandenburg Test was developed:

    The Brandenburg test – Merely teaching or advocating unpopular ideas must be distinguished from teaching or advocating the duty, necessity, or propriety of acting on those beliefs. The right to speak and organize cannot be abridged no matter if the group’s message and purpose are repugnant to American values (such as KKK speech). In order for government to intervene, the speaker must subjectively intend incitement (imminent evil), use words which are likely to produce action (imminent action), and openly encourage or urge incitement (suggesting, for example, it’s a duty to commit a crime).

  • jakester

    There is a market for this sort of nonsense. As long as mass ignorance coupled with some sort of paranoid fundamentalism is still part of our nation’s intellectual landscape, these people will thrive. Beck will always do well, or at least better than he merits.

    On a side tack, I was listening to that interminably boring pseudo-intellectual Dennis Prager who was commenting in a similar vein about the average person’s economic worries about unemployment and bankruptcy by telling us he was worrying about the exact same thing happening to himself. In true right wing “pull yourself up and get back to work” fashion, he remarked how he relieved himself of such concerns, if need be, he would work at McDonalds flipping burgers. How a wealthy celebrity, with many income streams and connections, could convince his audience that he might find himself stuck with only options like that is a testament to the gullibility of talk radio listeners & the right. From a guy with limited means who faces those issues in my life, I found that to be so condescending and patronizing coming from a rich elitist like him. Yet the next couple of callers, maybe ringers, were gushing over his alleged grit and determination.

  • PracticalGirl

    BTW: Mark Masters knows his stuff:

    “…Talk Radio Networks CEO Mark Masters said: “2008 will be known as the year that weak syndicated programs began dying off in droves,” adding that “it has only just begun.”

    Seeing the writing on the wall- entertainment talk radio stagnating but NEWS radio listenership on the rise-Master’s is launching an all-”news” network to provide programming to this niche. Modeled after Fox News to capitalize on the trend.

  • nuser

    Best click I ever made, really enjoyed Mose Allison.

    • Elvis Elvisberg

      Glad you liked it! That guy’s been making great music for a half a century.

      I’m not discouraged, I’m gettin there.

      • Traveler

        One of the best set of lyrics of all times, also by Mose Allison:

        “Your mind is on vacation, but your mouth is working over time.”

        Truer words were never spoken about wingnut talk radio.

        This reply option is great! We should all use it as much as we can. So much easier to enter and follow threads.

  • COProgressive

    ““2008 will be known as the year that weak syndicated programs began dying off in droves,” adding that “it has only just begun.”

    While I have to admit that I don’t watch or listen to Beck, or Hannity, or Linbaugh I have seen bits and pieces of Beck’s “Paranoria Central” TV show on Fox.

    I’ve never watched more than five minutes of his show and from the little I’ve seen, and the bit and pieces I’ve been shown I can’t see how any thinking individual could sit for an hour before Beck’s kind of drivel and accept it as “truth“.

    Beck is on the decline and he knows it. I suspect that when his run is over, which I expect within the next year or two, he will disappear from the airwave, for a while, and come back with a different kind of shtik.

    “Whenever nature leaves a hole in a person’s mind, she generally plasters it over with a thick coat of self-conceit.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    • jakester

      I’ve never watched more than five minutes of his show and from the little I’ve seen, and the bit and pieces I’ve been shown I can’t see how any thinking individual could sit for an hour before Beck’s kind of drivel and accept it as “truth“.
      In mass media, is that important?


    jakester: Remember that these people are shameless. Michael Savage, who’s a millionnaire many times over, has a Paypal donation button on his site for people to send money to a “legal defense fund” for his quixotic fight against the British Home Office. They all try to present themselves as being working-class stiffs, especially Hannity, who audibly bristles whenever anyone points out how much money he makes and what this says about his arguments against social policies that, because of his wealth, he’ll never need.

    • jakester

      You got that right, just the way they are always ranting about elitists as if they just some simple guy driving a truck or a forklift for a living. Their common touch is all about pandering to people’s crude instincts to sell the people policies that will hurt them.

  • DFL

    I know most of those who post here have contempt for Pat Buchanan(especially our host) but I was fortunate enough to grow up when he shared a talk radio show with the late Tom Braden, a liberal. No Limbaugh monologues or dittoheads. One man on the right and one on the left and guests from all political persuasions. It was a treat that is lost now. Talk radio listeners these days seem not to want to be challenged by debating others with differing views but instead want to be confined to their radio ghettos where their views are validated by the like of Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

    • jakester

      Pat is okay, except for some of his extreme bigotry. He usually attempts to use logical and rational arguments & doesn’t jump off with paranoid rants or an ad hominem slime attack. At least he tries to use reason compared to a creep like Savage or Beck.

      • CentristNYer

        Buchanan can espouse some fairly antiquated positions, but I find him generally more reasonable than a lot of his right wing peers. I’ll never forget that right after the 2000 election and the clusterf&%k over the Florida vote (where his presence cost Gore the election), he was actually the voice of reason. The day after the vote he was interviewed by one of the morning shows and said of the flawed ballot (I’m paraphrasing here), “I don’t really think all these people intended to vote for me, but we can’t very well change the rules after the fact.” It was a fair admission and the sort of thing you could never imagine a Hannity or Beck or Limbaugh or Palin ever making.

        • Traveler

          I sure concur. Pat was not my cup of tea most of the time, but he resonated often enough for me to listen and pay attention. John McLaughlin was also good. What happened? Reasoned pickings are so meager from the right these days. But believe it or not, even Krauthaumer gave kudos to the SOTU. Never know what will turn up out of the quagmire of confabulated conspiracies.

  • think4yourself

    Watching Beck is like turning on wrestling. You know it’s a farce, yet the characters are so outlandish you pause for just a minute and just before you go to another channel you wonder how come people actually watch this crap.

  • ktward

    DFL: Talk radio listeners these days seem not to want to be challenged by debating others with differing views but instead want to be confined to their radio ghettos where their views are validated by the like of Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

    This phenomenon is not exclusive to talk radio. It’s a fairly ubiquitous mentality across all news mediums. Mostly because we can, now, choose our favorite flavor of news.

    Keeping up on current events has become unbelievably complicated– inarguably time-consuming, and too often disturbing and frustrating. To simplify, we simply tune into the echo chamber of our choice.

    Frankly, I’m not sure what’s to be done about it.
    Further, I’m not convinced there’s anything that can be done about it. I’ve long contended that our individual psyches–by whatever various bio/psycho compulsions–inform and influence our worldview way more than any well-reasoned argument might.

  • Houndentenor

    I agree that while Pat is off the deep end much of the time, at least he actually believes what he’s saying. Beck is an act, and a pretty good one since so many people obviously take him seriously. I had the following conversation over Christmas.

    My sister: “You know Glenn Beck is right.”

    Me (indignantly): “About what???”

    My sister: “About everything!”

    There wasn’t much point in continuing with that conversation. I think people who listen to Pat B take him for what he is. But I think that a lot of people watch Glenn Beck and take him seriously. I know a lot of people don’t want to believe that but at least in my hometown they certainly do.

  • jmshendricks

    In the marketplace of ideas, telling people “You are stupid, crazy and evil” is not an idea. But liberals don’t have anything else.

  • rockstar

    Beck should go to college. He has the money now, he should study whatever he wants. Just read!

  • brownentgrp

    Be still my heart. Glenn Beck’s viewership is dropping. Maybe there is a god.

  • » Why Glenn Beck Is Sounding Even Crazier Than Usual Liberal Values

    [...] David Frum points out the obvious about Glenn Beck–he sounds crazy to attract an audience: Many people have suggested that since the crisis in Egypt began Fox News’ Glenn Beck sounds crazier than usual. [...]