America is bored with Glenn Beck

Maybe his audience is dwindling because it won an election, and now it needs a break from caring about politics

By Alex Pareene
Published March 8, 2011 2:01PM (EST)

Have you heard? Popular medicine show entertainer Glenn Beck is a bit less popular than he used to be. His show -- already something of a loss-leader for Fox News, as it's lost most of the better class of advertisers -- has lost a million viewers since last summer. It's still doing well, but any random frothing talk radio windbag could pull the same numbers on Fox at 5 p.m., and without the advertiser-worrying controversy.

In the New York Times this weekend, David Carr addressed a few of the possible reasons for the drop-off in Beck's popularity: his shtick has gotten depressing, he's less fun than he used to be -- but he's always been gloomy, apocalyptic and relentlessly repetitive.

Sure, the novelty's worn off. Lots of people have probably just gotten bored with him. I am kind of bored with him, though his efforts to spin the recent Middle East upheavals have been impressive, even for him. (Without the guiding light of the late Cleon Skousen's skewed history lessons, Beck has to improvise his take on world events, which can be fun.)

Last week, Adam Serwer offered his theory, that Republicans aren't worked up anymore:

I think the answer may be in this Pew poll Ben Smith flagged yesterday showing that the number of people "angry at the federal government" has declined by 9 percent. According to Pew, "much of the decline" comes from "Republicans and Tea Party supporters." Republicans have calmed down, and Beck has stayed high-strung.

In other words, they won the election, saved America from the socialists, and are back to watching "NCIS" reruns at 5. It's not necessarily that Beck has changed -- it's that the Republicans are done riling up the rubes, and the rubes need a break from getting riled up.

There's a small segment of the populace that pays attention to politics ever, and a much smaller segment of the populace that pays attention to politics when there's not an election on. Fox's brilliance lies in its exploitation of the fact that a very dedicated niche audience is more than enough to dominate handily in the world of cable news, but even in that niche not everyone has the stamina to keep up with a full-tilt operatic campaign against the forces of evil every day of the year. Especially when there's no specific threat, like any legislation at all coming down the pipe from Democrats.

So Beck fulminates against the imaginary caliphate while everyone else waits for the 2012 operation to get underway.

The GOP always has its media arm ramp up the crazy in advance of big elections. It's a sort of get out the vote drive, convincing the base for months that America's very soul is in danger, getting more and more hysterical as Election Day draws near. Then, afterward, it backs off a bit.

As Carr points out, Beck doesn't need Fox. He's made a fortune outside of Fox, he has his own P.R. people, his radio show and his books and his tours and his website give him a direct line to his core audience. His core audience doesn't push the needle past what Hannity gets on an off night but it's enough to make him a very rich man.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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