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When Glenn Beck left the Fox News Channel more than a year ago, he seemed ready - or even eager - to leave, and Fox News all but told him not to let the door hit him on the way out. Since then, Beck has not dominated headlines the way he once did, and some media observers have written him off. But as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Beck appears to have struck gold.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Fox's Sean Hannity is a down-the-line conservative Republican. Glenn Beck? Well, Glenn Beck is just out there with his trademark apocalyptic patter; concerned that liberals are conspiring to strip Americans of their liberties, claims that governments and corporations are conspiring to thwart their rights. Well, there's apparently a lot of conspiring, actually.
(SOUNDBITE OF VARIOUS BROADCASTS
GLENN BECK: No experimentation on my time, not with my children's money, not with my country.... Progressives get into bed with giant corporations that don't mind that big-government control.
FOLKENFLIK: He still invokes distant history. His delivery - at once histrionic and mesmerizing - and his sets in Dallas, if anything, are more dazzling than ever. Yet at his peak on Fox, Beck had more than 3 million viewers daily. Three-hundred thousand people pay for subscriptions to watch the Blaze TV, Beck's streaming digital channel, and a far smaller audience than that actually tunes in every day. Beck's critics have noticed.
ANGELO CARUSONE: There's no comparison. What we've done this year - since the beginning of the year till now - is only about 14 pieces or so, on Glenn Beck.
FOLKENFLIK: Angelo Carusone is campaign director for Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group that obsessively monitors the media, especially Fox.
CARUSONE: We did, you know, somewhere around 3,500 pieces in his last year of Fox News. And that is a reflection not just of Media Matters' focus at the time, but also his own position within the larger conservative media landscape, and the media landscape generally.
FOLKENFLIK: Variety's TV critic, Brian Lowry, devoted a column to Beck's ebbing influence - and yet, focusing on the size of Beck's current TV audience may miss the point. Beck often irritated his bosses, especially Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, with his entrepreneurial impulse - the books, the concerts, his top 10 radio show. So did his extreme views; calling President Obama a racist, for example. Many advertisers peeled away, under pressure from Carusone and others. But Beck's biggest paycheck didn't come from Fox - not by a long shot. Fox did give him a platform to promote other parts of his empire. Yet now with the Blaze Online and Blaze TV and Blaze Radio, he is the empire.
Betsy Morgan is Blaze's president and chief strategy officer. She says the new organization has a far more intense relationship with its consumers than most media companies.
BETSY MORGAN: It's not something that mainstream media has done particularly well. And I think that's because historically it's been a push medium; it's been a one-way medium; the ratings are nameless and faceless.
FOLKENFLIK: Morgan says the 9 million monthly visitors to the free site at theblaze.com are center-right politically, rather than necessarily Beck's brand of conservatism. But Morgan says like the paying subscribers, they're passionate about what Beck and the Blaze offer.
MORGAN: We know who these people are. They write us to compliment us; they write us to complain; they write us when they're concerned. And those inquiries get responded to.
FOLKENFLIK: With those paying subscribers, Morgan says the company will clear revenues of more than $40 million this year, with an editorial staff of a little more than 30. Beck also has a nationally syndicated radio show. And sure, he's been knocked off a few stations, but he just signed a contract extension that reportedly doubled his compensation to $100 million over five years. Beck has also just struck a deal with satellite TV provider Dish Network, to carry his TV programming on its own channel. Blaze is pursuing more such deals.
ZEV CHAFETS: Glenn Beck was enormously influential among conservatives who aren't influential. The grassroots love Beck.
FOLKENFLIK: The conservative journalist Zev Chafets has written a sympathetic biography of talk show host Rush Limbaugh; and his biography of Roger Ailes is due to come out early next year. He says Beck offers something different.
CHAFETS: He was especially popular with evangelical Christian conservatives - which is much less true, let's say, of Rush Limbaugh; or even of Sean Hannity.
FOLKENFLIK: In fact, Chafets says Beck presents himself as a man of destiny.
CHAFETS: And I think a lot of that has to do with his religiosity. I think that he tends to sees things less in political terms - you know, practical, partisan, political terms; and more in terms of good and evil, and with himself as a leader of the forces of good.
FOLKENFLIK: Indeed, on his very first program for the Blaze, Beck broadcast a live, outdoor production from Jerusalem.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLAZE BROADCAST)
BECK: The only message that I have for Israel and the Israelis is this: My friends, do not lose hope.
FOLKENFLIK: For now, Beck is preaching to a smaller but more devoted congregation. And here's the thing - he's making a fortune, and it's all being done on his terms.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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