Why are Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly touring together?
In the big money, big ego world of TV news, these guys should be rivals. O'Reilly is becoming the grand old man of Fox News, the face of television's most-watched cable news network for as long as it has been on air.
Beck is the buzzed-about upstart, a rising star with growing viewership whose success in radio, TV and books has landed him on the cover of TIME magazine and at the head of a growing insurgency within the Republican Party.
Watching O'Reilly and Beck schmooze each other on The O'Reilly Factor last Friday -- trading compliments while 40 other channels aired the Hope for Haiti Now telethon -- they came off more like old drinking buddies than two guys at the head of the biggest echo chamber for conservative ideas in the country.
Then I talked to a few experts for my preview today of the pair's tour stop in Tampa tomorrow at the USF Sun Dome, and I got it. They complement each other.
"The tour is telling you they have found a way to co-exist," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Professor of Communication and the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "If they figure out a way to cross-promote, they should help each other, because there’s the potential of tapping each other's audience. It’s a very smart move; the dumb move would be to ignore the other person. The smart, strategic move is to be collaborative."
It's also probably a lucrative one. Tickets for the two sold-out Tampa shows were $45 and $120, tickets in California were $125. The Web site promoting the tour allows fans to buy Bold and Fresh coffee mugs, hats and tote bags; of course, each of them also has a book out.
But I also wonder if we're seeing a transition. O'Reilly is face of Fox News' past success -- an aggressive, usually conservative-oriented take on the news of the day, laced with a dose of alamism and fear.
Beck is a new voice who takes that alarmism to operatic levels, creating a cult of personality through his show that is focused on the issues he finds compelling. Most recently, he's unveiled a 100-year plan to curb what he calls "progressives" attempts to turn America into a "socialist utopia."
Watching Beck's show can feel like stepping into a alternate universe, where the White House is filled with Communists and Socialists and the word "progressive" in on track to become as demonized as the word "liberal."
Here is where O'Reilly and Beck's symbiotic relationship surfaces again; Beck's outsized allegations can help make O'Reilly look less extreme, while O'Reilly can step to moderate Beck's largest excesses -- talking down the controversy over Beck's assertion that President Obama is racist, for instance.
And as recent polls show that Republicans trust conservative-leaning Fox News more than any other source -- especially in the wake of a Democratic-controlled Congress and White House -- some experts wonder if we're not seeing a deepening of viewers tendency to only believe news which fits their worldview.
"(Beck's) not really building his case on facts so much as a gut reaction to things around him and the reactions of people around him," said Dan Amundson, research director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a non-partisan Washington D.C.-based think tank. "Even if people were to go after his factual record, I don’t think it would affect him – because (supporters) would see him as a guy who is speaking truth. Because that’s not why people are following him – he’s giving word to the way they see the world, emotionally."
It will interesting to see that dynamic in person tomorrow.