Today marks Glenn Beck's last day on air as a Fox News commentator, and proponents of civil, fact-based political discussion everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. His departure comes almost exactly two years after he declared during an appearance on Fox & Friends that President Obama is a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people."
The members of ColorOfChange.org snapped to attention when Beck made that deeply inflammatory comment. Within hours, tens of thousands of people were calling on advertisers to divest from Beck's show, and more than 300 eventually did. Companies quickly began complying with our request, aware that they did not want their brands to be associated with the type of rhetoric for which Beck was becoming known. While the claim that Obama was a racist was clearly beyond the pale, it wasn't the first time Beck had planted a misleading and potentially dangerous idea in the minds of Fox viewers. He had already claimed that Obama was building a civilian army and that health care reform was really a move toward reparations -- anything to play on the racial anxieties that surely exist among some in his audience.
So given that today should be a day of celebration for those who worked to push Beck off of Fox, it's unsettling to see that Fox News and Fox Business Chairman Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of News Corp, which owns both networks, seem to continue to view on-air race-baiting as acceptable. In their recent support for Fox Business personality Eric Bolling, the two executives have shown that they have taken no larger lesson from Beck's fall and the impact on their bottom line and our public discourse.
Bolling is the Follow the Money host who claimed earlier this month that President Obama has a habit of having "hoodlum[s] in the hizzouse," referring to an official meeting the president had with an African head of state at the White House. In the segment, the African politician appeared photo-shopped with a gold tooth. This came on the heels of Bolling accusing Obama of "chugging forties" in Ireland instead of tending to the victims of tornadoes in Missouri. Sure, Bolling issued a weak pseudo-apology, claiming that he and his guests got "fast and loose" with the language. But that doesn't explain the photo-shopping, other graphics that accompanied the segment, or Bollings' comments on Twitter that repeated the offensive messages. It one thing for this type rhetoric to be spewed from AM talk radio, the last refuge of those whose voices are too extreme for the mainstream. It's another thing entirely when such rhetoric is given the kind of mainstream platform provided by Fox networks.
As much as the the exodus of advertisers from Glenn Beck's Fox News show hurt the network, Murdoch and Ailes' failure to hold Bollings accountable shows that when it's all said and done, Fox is still betting that advancing stereotypes and supporting race-baiting is good for business. For those of us who care about meaningful political debate, it is yet another painful reminder that Fox is willing to place profits over the demands of Americans of all stripes who no longer want to be divided along lines of race. If 2008 was any indication, with its "terrorist fist jab" and "Obama's baby mama" moments, then we need to prepare ourselves for 2012 and another round of relentless racially-coded jabs on Fox -- all aimed at stoking racial fears and prejudice. It is why the work of pushing back against Fox and holding Murdoch and Ailes accountable is bigger than partisan politics.
Today Beck exits the stage -- thanks to many who worked to expose him -- to pursue his career squarely outside of the mainstream. It's unfortunate that Murdoch and Ailes don't seem to view this as an opportunity to change course. If their handling of Bolling's comments is any indication, Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network will continue to find voices to explain the challenges in our society through a mix of conspiracy theories, inflammatory rhetoric and racial stereotypes that rely on prejudice and fear for their success. Murdoch and Ailes will likely continue to place profit above honestly informing the American people, but we will continue to expose them every step of the way.