Glenn Beck was mad. He's the right-wing talk-radio host who has a television program on the Fox News Channel. Advertisers were fleeing his Fox program en masse after the civil-rights group Color of Change mounted a campaign urging advertisers to boycott Beck, who labeled President Barack Obama a "racist." As the campaign progressed, Beck began his attacks against Van Jones. Jones was appointed by Obama in March to be special adviser for green jobs. He co-founded Color of Change four years ago. After weeks of attacks from Beck, Jones resigned his position at the White House last Sunday.
Beck said on Fox & Friends, the network's morning show, July 28: "This president I think has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people. ... This guy is, I believe, a racist." This inspired colorofchange.org to launch its campaign urging advertisers to drop their sponsorship of Beck's Fox program. The campaign had a powerful impact, with companies like Progressive Insurance, GEICO and Procter & Gamble immediately pulling their advertising. Since then, more than 50 companies have joined, including Best Buy, Capital One, CVS, Discover, GMAC Financial Services, HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Travelocity and Wal-Mart.
Van Jones was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world for 2009. His book, "The Green Collar Economy," was a national best-seller. A Yale Law School graduate, Jones didn't go after the lucrative jobs that were available to him, but moved to San Francisco, where he founded Bay Area PoliceWatch, a hot line for victims of alleged police brutality. He then founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, based in Oakland, Calif., "a strategy and action center working for justice, opportunity and peace in urban America." The center thrived, growing to a staff of more than 20 and building a solid record of fighting police violence and youth incarceration, along with spearheading green-job initiatives. The fusion of racial justice and economic and environmental sustainability is at the core of Jones' work.
Jones told me last October: "The clean-energy revolution ... would put literally millions of people to work, putting up solar panels all across the United States, weatherizing buildings so they don't leak so much energy ... you could put Detroit back to work not making SUVs to destroy the world, but making wind turbines. We think that you can fight pollution and poverty at the same time."
Beck alleged Jones was a former black nationalist and communist, that he signed a petition calling for a congressional investigation into the events of 9/11, and that Jones referred to Republicans as "a*#holes" in a February 2009 talk. (Beck failed to note that Jones referred to himself in the talk with the same term.) Jones apologized for the remark, which is more than George W. Bush did when recorded referring to New York Times reporter Adam Clymer with the same term in 2000.
Jones said Beck's attacks were a "vicious smear campaign ... using lies and distortions to distract and divide." Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said, "The only thing more outrageous than Mr. Beck's attack on Van Jones is the fact that there are sponsors that continue to pay him to provide this type of offensive commentary." He recalled Beck's 2006 radio attack on a 7-year-old African-American girl, when Beck, responding to her poem about her heritage, said: "You want to go to Africa? I will personally purchase your airfare. I'll do it. It's one-way."
Glenn Beck may claim a notch in his belt, but he's also helped push Van Jones back into an arena where he can be much more effective, as a grass-roots organizer working for progressive change from outside the administration. And with groups like the NAACP paying more attention to Beck, the advertiser boycott of his show is unlikely to just go away.
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Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Check out Van Jones on Democracy Now!, along with interviews with James Rucker, co-founder of Color of Change, and Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice:
Interview with Ben Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP, about Van Jones and more: