< Color Me Offended


Friday, August 21, 2009

This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. Late last month, FOX News Channel’s Glenn Beck said he believes President Obama has a problem.


GLENN BECK: I'm not saying that he doesn't like white people. I'm saying he has a problem. He has a - this guy is, I believe, a racist.


BOB GARFIELD: As a result of that comment, there’s at least one organization working to create a problem for Beck, and that organization is ColorofChange.org, which has been lobbying advertisers on Glenn Beck’s program to pull their ads from his show. According to the group, as of Wednesday they'd gotten more than 20 companies to do just that. Of course, those companies are mainly still advertising on FOX News Channel. They've just asked that their spots don't appear on Beck’s show. But ColorofChange.org Executive Director James Rucker is pretty happy with what his group has accomplished, so far. James, welcome to On the Media.

JAMES RUCKER: Oh, thanks for having me.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, we're talking about a guy who shows footage of Nazis while talking about President Obama. Why was this particular comment the straw that broke the camel’s back?

JAMES RUCKER: This goes so far beyond the pale. I mean, when you call the President, whose mother is white, whose grandparents who raised him are white, and most of the people in his Cabinet are white, the idea that he has a deep-seated hatred for white people, it’s not just insulting, it’s actually poisoning the public discourse.

BOB GARFIELD: So it’s fear-mongering, it’s hate speech, it’s demagoguery but it’s also completely protected under the First Amendment.


BOB GARFIELD: Did you have to think twice about this?

JAMES RUCKER: I try to think twice about everything [LAUGHS] that we do. I would be the first person to stand up and protect Glenn Beck’s right to free speech. And, you know, he could be out on a corner somewhere and I think he should be able to say what he wants to say. But no one has a right to a platform of cable news that reaches millions of homes. It’s a part of private enterprise, funded by advertisers who make profits from consumers.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, fair enough. But I want to ask you to go back almost exactly eight years to when Bill Maher on his then ABC late night program Politically Incorrect, said something, you know, pretty astonishingly stupid, that the 9/11 terrorists weren't cowardly; what was cowardly was lobbing cruise missiles into alleged terrorist camps in Afghanistan and I think it was Somalia, and wound up losing his sponsors, and then his show. At the time, were you so sanguine about the right to exercise your economic influence on a TV network? JAMES RUCKER: Right, so he expressed an opinion, which, you know, I think certainly would upset a lot of people, but it’s to me clearly in the realm of opinion. And it’s not a systemic attempt to divide American society and also, you know, endanger the President and repeat things that are known to be false, in the context of a program that’s supposedly news and information and political commentary based in fact. I would still actually say advertisers, the American public can exercise their economic muscle, and if they don't like what someone’s saying they can reduce their platform, absolutely. But I just think what’s happening with Beck is very different, and I think it has very different consequences.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay fine, but, you know, ultimately I can still say to you the guy’s a hater, but if I don't like the stupid stuff he’s saying, I can always turn on CNN and watch Lou Dobbs and get a very thoughtful point of view.


JAMES RUCKER: And this is, I think, the core issue here. This is not just Beck, but I think Beck really does represent the worst of the worst. You can turn off Beck or I can turn off Beck. What that doesn't do is take him and take his rhetoric out of millions of other homes in this country. And if you look at, for instance, the town halls, you've got bands of very angry, very scared Americans, largely white, and they're getting a lot of that misinformation from a set of talking heads, and Beck is one of them. And this idea that what we're witnessing under Obama is America’s undoing, this is reparations under the guise of helping folks who are unemployed or making sure people have health insurance, that this is really about them and not us, when you’re a corporation like a Procter & Gamble or a Geico or, you know, these other companies that have pulled back, I think they recognize it’s, okay, what are we really enabling here, because it actually is bad for society.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay, one final question for you: If it’s true, as FOX has asserted, that the advertisers haven't really pulled their ads but just moved them elsewhere on the FOX News Channel’s schedule, have you really achieved anything?

JAMES RUCKER: I'm not in the advertising business but, you know, common sense supply and demand tells me that when you have everyone leaving a show, the actual value of the ads on that show will likely go down. Secondly, I think, and this is actually important, if the only advertisers that Beck can attract are obscure, non-household names, it marginalizes the show.

BOB GARFIELD: Well, I hate to break your heart as much as the news broke mine, but Glenn Beck got the highest ratings of his career - this week.

JAMES RUCKER: Oh, I'm very aware. There’s a market for what he’s doing.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, James, thank you very much.

JAMES RUCKER: Absolutely, thank you.

BOB GARFIELD: James Rucker is executive director of ColorofChange.org. We contacted FOX News Channel to request an interview with Glenn Beck or a spokesperson who could talk about the ColorofChange’s campaign. They informed us that Beck is on vacation and referred us to a statement they'd released in response to Beck’s comments about President Obama, quote: “Glenn Beck expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the FOX News Channel. And, as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.”