How Glenn Beck and Steve Forbes saved Halloween

Forbes Magazine called the host scary, a "demagogue." Then its owner got involved

By Alex Koppelman

Published October 29, 2009 12:01AM (EDT)

At times of crisis, it's good to have friends in high places. Like, say, if Forbes Magazine makes your face into a fairly lame Halloween mask and declares you the scariest person of 2009. Then, it helps if you're Glenn Beck and you can get the magazine's owner, Steve Forbes -- who also happens to be a failed Republican presidential candidate -- on the phone.

In text accompanying the mask, the magazine said of Beck, "This cable-news demagogue commands big ratings, an army of fans and crocodile tears on demand." The "demagogue" wasn't happy about this, so on Wednesday, he had Forbes on his radio show in order to complain a bit. As soon as the interview started, Forbes began sucking up and repudiating his own publication's work:

GLENN: Forbes is making me the number one scariest man in America?

FORBES: Well, hey, you know, people always want to be at the top of our list. We just happened to pick the wrong list.

GLENN: Not this one. I mean, isn't it am I spreading too many free market principles?

FORBES: It was a mis -- it was a miscommunication. We were going to put you on the most admired, most beloved, most reasonable, most enlightened list.

GLENN: Right, right.

FORBES: But we figured if we did that, it would yeah, we wanted to put a mask on you so you wouldn't get killed by the liberals.

GLENN: I mean, here's the competition: Rod Blagojevich, Bernie Madoff, Michael Jackson, David Letterman, Michael Moore, Roman Polanski. You've got a rapist who is nine slots lower than I am ....

FORBES: We normally would put you on the 400 list but we respect your privacy.

Forbes also said that the magazine's decision to include Beck as one of the masks "shows we believe in diversity here." But apparently he doesn't believe in it all that much -- after the show, he added some new copy to the article. It reads:

By Steve Forbes

I hereby amend Halloween Masks -- The Scariest People Of 2009

"Glenn Beck is the scariest person to big tax; big government; big spend; and weak defense liberals."

This seems like a little thing, and in the broader scheme, it obviously is. But to a journalist, the idea that your outlet's owner could decide he disagreed with something you wrote -- something that had already been published -- and then just blithely go in and change it is pretty scary. There's an ethical problem involved, certainly. Then there's the precedent set, the idea that your boss' boss might constantly be looking over your shoulder, judging your work for ideological correctness, ready to shame you publicly if he finds something in your writing he dislikes. Unfortunately, Forbes employees have other concerns as well -- on Wednesday, they were hit with a large round of layoffs, including the closure of two bureaus.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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