As Glenn Beck steps off centerstage at Fox News Channel, the question remains: What did him in?
After years of rumors about strained relationships between Fox News Channel officials and star Glenn Beck, the two made it official today, releasing statements which confirmed Beck would be leaving his self-titled 5 p.m. show later this year.
But what remains less clear: Does this mean Beck's unique media brand is in decline, or on the rise?
Critics hope it's the former, with advocacy groups Color for Change and Jewish Funds for Justice quickly issuing their own statements congratulating Fox for "canceling" Beck's show. Color for Change took on Beck after he accused President Obama of hating white people, claiming in its statement today that 300 advertisers refused to appear in the show due to his comments.
Beck also upset many Jewish advocates when he alleged Holocaust survivor George Soros had actually collaborated with the Nazis; 400 rabbis signed a letter protesting his show. “Fox News is dumping Glenn Beck because he has been rejected by Jews, by Christians and people of conscience from across the political spectrum," wrote Jewish funds for Justice executive director Simon Greer. "We applaud Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes for taking responsibility for Beck’s destructive impact and for finally ridding themselves of his hate speech."
Critics have also noted Beck's ratings have slipped recently (down 40 percent in the key 25 to 54 demographic, according to Reuters). But he remains a potent force across many media platforms, with a string of best-selling books, a syndicated radio show and a newly-established news/commentary website, the Blaze.
Beck's move is notable for one powerful reason; most of Fox's most powerful personalities have been with the channel for years and are securely part of the channel's corporate culture.
This may be the first time such a prominent personality split with Fox, particularly after his show's careful transition from CNN's Headline News channel just three years ago.
But Beck drew criticism from inside Fox News itself, insulated from the company by own production team Mercury Radio Arts. Some press accounts offered anonymous staffers grousing that his oddball conspiracy theories cheapened the Fox News brand. And Beck wound up apologizing for or walking back some of his most controversial statements, including accusing President Obama of racism and comparing reform Judaism to Muslim extremism.
A cynical observer might say the statement that Beck would produce occasional content for Fox News and "transition" off his 5 p.m. show with no firm departure date was just another way of saying he'll stay on air until Fox finds a replacement and they're paying him not to appear anywhere else afterward.
The New York Times reported recently that Beck might start his own cable channel. But even the Queen of All Media, Oprah Winfrey, has had trouble morphing her brand to fit across and entire cable channel, and she has a long track record of developing successful spin-off shows.
It is interesting to note that Beck separates from Fox not many weeks after MSNBC parted ways with its biggest liberal star, Keith Olbermann, who will debut a new show later this spring on CurrenTV.
Despite TV's well-deserved reputation for coddling stars -- and cable TV's history of showcasing divisive rhetoric -- it seems there are still some lines which can't be crossed indefinitely.