Lonesome at the Top

By Zaitchik, Alexander | Mother Jones, July/August 2010 | Go to article overview
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Lonesome at the Top

Zaitchik, Alexander, Mother Jones

One reason Goldline is Beck's favorite sponsor: He doesn't have many to choose from anymore.

A FEW MINUTES past 7 a.m. last July 28, the sofa-sitting triumvirate on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends were giggling over a segment about a bodybuilder when Glenn Beck appeared at the edge of the set, his arm curled in a mock flex. Seeing Beck, cohost Steve Doocy switched the subject to President Barack Obama's upcoming White House "beer fest" with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the police officer who had arrested Gates outside his home nearly two weeks earlier. Obama had called the racially charged episode a "teachable moment" and was under fire from Beck and other conservative commentators for saying the police had "acted stupidly."

"That is unbelievable!" Beck shot back. When cohost Brian Kilmeade asked him to elaborate, Beck presented his theory: "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, or the white culture, I don't know what it is."

Kilmeade stammered that Obama couldn't hate white people, since his staff included many of them. Beck brushed the argument aside. "This guy is, I believe, a racist," he said, criticizing Obama for surrounding himself with people like green-jobs czar Van Jones, "a black nationalist who is also an avowed communist."

"As soon as we saw the video, we knew," says James Rucker, the director ofColorOfChange.org, an Oakland, California-based online civil rights group that had already challenged the racial tone on Fox News. "Beck's comments about the president perfectly captured what has been going on at the network for a longtime. It just took it to another level." The episode presented an opportunity for making a bigger statement. "If we could get well-known companies to visualize their brand being associated with what was coming out of Beck's mouth, we knew they would be very uncomfortable, and we presumed that they'd want to excuse themselves from Beck's circle fast," Rucker says.

Rucker had founded Color of Change in September 2005 along with Van Jones, who was well known for his work on police accountability and criminal-justice reform in the Bay Area. Rucker, then the director of grassroots mobilization at MoveOn.org, hoped to create a group that would bring digital organizing to "black, brown, or low-income" communities. Within four years of its launch, Color of Change had become the country's dominant online civil rights organization, with more than 600,000 members.

Shortly after Beck's comments, Color of Change urged its supporters to contact corporate offices. The first victory came soon afterward, as Lawyers. com, Procter & Gamble, and Prgressive insurance pulled their ads from Beck's show. Over the next two weeks, a large cluster of major brands including Best Buy, cvs, Wal-Mart, and RadioShack joined the list. "At first it was all a Sttle shocking," says Rucker. "But when we hit 20 companies, we started to realize we could go for every body...The campaign became self-reinforcing by creating a public story that there was something seriou sly wrong with this guy."

Beck never addressed the widening boycott directly, but his war on Jones escalated.

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