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Contemporary Aspects of Censorship in Great Britain and the United States

Free-Market Censorship

La censure libérale
Mark McNaught


Aux États-Unis, la radio et l’internet diffusent régulièrement des paroles injurieuses, racistes, paranoïaques ou violentes. Dans la mesure où le gouvernement américain ne peut intervenir dans le contenu du discours que de façon très limitée, du fait du Premier amendement, il n’y a pratiquement aucun moyen légal de faire barrage à une telle rhétorique. La société américaine dépend donc d’une forme de « censure libérale » pour sanctionner les discours d’incitation à la haine. Dans ce contexte, le discours de haine est censé pouvoir être « maîtrisé » dans le libre marché des idées, et ce, grâce à plusieurs mécanismes. Cela supposerait que la vérité est plus rentable, sur le plan commercial, que des mensonges, mais en réalité, ce n’est pas toujours le cas. Les émissions d’incitation à la haine attirent un public fasciné par la violence et la paranoïa des animateurs, de sorte que si l’émission devient un succès commercial, le public la boycottera d’autant moins. Afin de mieux comprendre la notion de censure libérale, nous explorerons d’abord la jurisprudence de la censure telle qu’elle existe aux États-Unis. Nous tenterons ensuite de définir plus précisément le concept même de censure libérale, avant de nous intéresser à l’émission de Glenn Beck sur la chaîne Fox News. Enfin, nous serons en mesure de répondre à la question suivante : la censure libérale n’est-elle pas en définitive un outil inefficace et inadapté pour faire barrage au discours d’incitation à la haine ?

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  • 1 Mark Weber, “French Courts Punish Holocaust Apostasy: Le Pen, Faurisson, Garaudy Fined for ‘Holocau (...)

1After having claimed that the Holocaust was a point de détail of the Second World War, Jean-Marie Le Pen was convicted in 1997 for Holocaust denial under French law, and fined $200,000.1 France has a high degree of liberty of expression, but the line is drawn at Holocaust denial given its troubled history in this regard. In the United States, the airwaves are filled with hate speech on radio and cable TV, which makes Le Pen’s remark look innocuous by comparison. Recently, Atlanta Radio talk show host Neal Boortz made the following comments about car-jackers in the area:

  • 2 Neal Boortz, “We Got Too Damn Many Urban Thugs, Yo... We Need More Dead Thugs,” Atlanta, 1 June 20 (...)

This town is starting to look like a garbage heap. And we got too many damn urban thugs, yo, ruining the quality of life for everybody. And I’m telling you what it’s going to take. You people, you need to have a gun. You need to have training. You need to know how to use that gun. You need to get a permit to carry that gun. And you do need in fact to carry that gun. And we need to see some dead thugs littering the landscape in Atlanta.2

  • 3 Department of Commerce Report, The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes. <>, accessed 12 Novembe</http>

2Nothing could be done to legally sanction this rhetoric, even though he was effectively calling for mass vigilante extrajudicial executions. Hate speech can only be legally sanctioned if it causes an imminent “clear and present” danger or invokes “fighting words” which can provoke imminent violence. This is an extremely high bar which makes any censorship of offensive, extreme, or violent rhetoric effectively impossible. A 1993 report prepared for Congress by the National Telecoms and Information Administration3 highlights this difficulty and effectively argues that hate speech will only go away when its root causes are eradicated: hatred, ignorance, and bigotry. This utopia is a long way off. In the meantime, the solution is what has been dubbed “free-market censorship”, which rests on the assumption that vile, unacceptable, and racist programming cannot be censored directly by the state given the First Amendment, but that such discourse will be ultimately defeated in the “marketplace of ideas”. This paper seeks to further examine this mechanism to evaluate its effectiveness, more specifically whether it can ever come close to eliminating offensive discourse on the airwaves. It will be argued that the very free market which is held to be capable of “defeating” violent rhetoric in reality opens up new niche markets for this type of discourse. As long as the programs manage to be commercially successful, capable of achieving a niche audience which financially sustains them through advertising of products and services aimed at said audience, violent racist rhetoric will continue to be broadcast to those who seek it. The internet has lowered the bars to entry allowing many to participate in the political discourse business. Even for those who do not seek it, preposterous, racist, inflammatory proclamations have a tendency to echo throughout the airwaves of even traditional mainstream media.

3 To demonstrate this hypothesis, we will begin by examining First Amendment Supreme Court jurisprudence to demonstrate why legal censorship is virtually impossible. This will be followed by an evaluation of the theoretical underpinnings of free-market censorship. We will conclude with the case study of Glenn Beck’s tenure at Fox News from 2009-2011, which will show how even the most extreme, provocative, and inciting rhetoric require considerable effort and time to combat, and then often come back in a different form.

Censorship Jurisprudence

4 The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

5From the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791 through the nineteenth century, the First Amendment applied only to the Federal Government, though many state constitutions had provided for this freedom. Perhaps the case which left the most indelible mark on freedom of speech was Schenck v. United States 249 US 47 (1919). Schenck, a member of the Socialist party, distributed pamphlets encouraging young men to avoid the military draft during World War I, stating that it was a form of involuntary servitude and contrary to the Thirteenth Amendment (banning slavery). He was arrested under the Espionage Act, and appealed his verdict on free-speech grounds. The Court upheld his conviction, arguing that it was “clear and present danger” to public safety to encourage men not to serve in the armed forces in time of war, thus establishing this doctrine as the legal test to decide whether speech could be legally suppressed. While upholding the conviction, the Court set a high standard for determining what expression could be limited.

  • 4 “Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire,” Oregon State Education. <>, accessed 12 November 2011.

6 In the Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire 315 US 568 (1943) case the Court held that “fighting words” could be suppressed. In November 1941, Chaplinsky, a Jehovah’s witness, distributed pamphlets calling other religions “rackets”. In a heated confrontation, Chaplinsky was escorted by the police from the crowds during which he called the police “damned fascists”, among other insults. Chaplinsky was charged with violating a New Hampshire statute which stated that no person shall use direct offensive, derisive or annoying words to any other person who is lawfully in any street or public place.4 In state court, it was ruled that

  • 5 Ibidem.

[T]he state statute restricting speech was specific enough that it complied with the requirements of due process and did not unreasonably impinge on […] First Amendment rights to free speech [and] did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.5

7The case went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the statute. The Court held that certain types of speech were found to not be protected by the First Amendment. The lewd and obscene, profane, libelous, insulting, and “those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are deemed worthless, of little use, do not contribute to the formation of ideas or discovery of truth, and are therefore generally unprotected. Chaplinsky was not sanctioned for the content of the flyers, but rather for uttering insults to the police in a context which could bring about immediate danger. This established the “fighting words” doctrine, another case in which speech could be suppressed, but the context had to be so specific that it did little to censor hate speech on a broader scale.

8 The “fighting words” doctrine was further refined in Brandenburg v. Ohio 395 US 444 (1969). In this case Brandenberg, a Ku Klux Klan leader in rural Ohio, held a rally which was partially filmed by a local TV station in which he vowed “revengeance” [sic] against “niggers”, “Jews”, and those who supported them. One of the speeches opined that “our President, our Congress, our Supreme Court, continues [sic] to suppress the white, Caucasian race,” and announced plans to march on Washington to air these grievances. The speech was uttered in a rural area where none of the aforementioned groups were present, and therefore did not pose an immediate incitement to violence. Brandenberg was later arrested by local authorities and charged under an Ohio criminal syndicalism statute which prohibited “advocat[ing] [...] the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform” and “voluntarily assembl[ing] with any society, group or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism.” The case was appealed and ultimately reached the Supreme Court, which held that “mere advocacy” of violence in the absence of the potential for “imminent and lawless action” was protected under the First Amendment. The Ohio statute was thus overturned, making any conceivable censoring even of hate speech even more difficult.

9 The difficulty over state interference in speech and the press was further enhanced in the New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 US 713 (1971) case. This occurred when the famous “Pentagon Papers” files related to the Vietnam War were leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post. Slowly but surely articles revealing the content of the files were released, and the Nixon administration predictably took a dim view and filed a restraining order, seeking to prevent the New York Times from publishing further portions of the papers. The case was heard before the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Nixon administration had failed to adequately demonstrate sufficient grounds for exercising “prior restraint”, which called for proving that releasing such information would cause “grave and irreparable” danger. Essentially, without the right to exercise “prior restraint” the government cannot prevent the publishing of information held by a newspaper or media outlet. However, if it the information can be proved to have been illegally obtained, those responsible can be prosecuted under national security law, for example. Although the NYT case dealt with classified information, this had the effect of reinforcing the wall between the press and the state, making it even harder for the latter to exert any influence over the content of what is divulged in the press. This also made the regulation of hate speech correspondingly more difficult.

10 The collective effect of these and other decisions regarding freedom of speech and the press is that the state has almost no power to restrain what is said in the media. When there were but a few TV and radio networks, from the 1940’s to the 1980’s, the Federal Communications Commission which granted broadcast licenses could keep watch to some extent over the content, for example limiting or censoring sex and profanity (rarely violence). But the massive proliferation of cable and satellite TV over the last 30 years has rendered the FCC’s guidelines virtually meaningless. The rise of conservative talk radio roughly over this time, and later the creation of Fox News in 1997, have provided forums for those who employ controversial, extreme, and violent rhetoric to ply their trade, with virtually no way for the state to limit or sanction their speech in any way. So, what means exist to combat hate speech on the airwaves?

Free-market Censorship

11Censorship is defined by the OED as “the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts.” From a strictly technical view, we have seen that direct censorship of the media by the government is practically impossible, given the First Amendment and Supreme Court jurisprudence. Broadly speaking, the prevailing attitude in the US towards free speech holds that any discourse should be allowed, but that incorrect, obscene or hateful speech will be sanctioned in the “marketplace of ideas”. While the philosophical underpinnings of the marketplace of ideas go back at least to the Socratic method, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the Abrams v. US (1919) decision put meat on the bones of this concept by opining that men

may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas ― that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

  • 6 André Schiffrin, The Business of Books, London: Verso, 2001, 103.

12We thus observe that competition of ideas is held to be important to establishing the truth. Consistent with the logic of the market, there are “winning” and “losing” ideas: which presumably implies that the former are true and the latter false. This theory conceivably holds if one assumes that a critical mass of people can actually discern what the truth is, as it is in the eye of the beholder, and that all sides of an issue are allowed to be presented. Censorship can be applied to a wide variety of expression: arts and sciences, books, radio and TV, museums, etc.. If one holds that the market is an effective medium for censorship, where the truth defeats lies, good information defeats bad information, it follows that the truth and good information must be more commercially successful, which is by no means always the case. In The Business of Books, André Schiffrin laments the fact that market dictates reward immediately successful books, which means that many books which are not commercially successful in the short run, but nonetheless could contribute meaningfully to the public discourse, have less possibility of getting published.6 This view holds that for the market to work effectively in the area of ideas, all must be out there to discuss and deliberate.

13 In her compelling article “Ambiguities and Imperatives of Market Censorship: The Brief History of a Critical Concept,” Sue Curry Jansen furthers our understanding of media market censorship by providing a structural definition which places the onus of censorship on the media institution, rather than on a battle between truth and lies.

  • 7 Sue Curry Jansen,Ambiguities and Imperatives of Market Censorship: The Brief History of a Critica (...)

Market censorship points to practices that routinely filter or restrict the production and distribution of selected ideas, perspectives, genres or cultural forms within mainstream media of communication based upon their anticipated profits and/or support for corporate values and consumerism. Such practices are reified, naturalized and integrated into the organizational structures and routine practices of media organizations and re-presented to the public as outcomes of consumer choices within a rational market system rather than as the result of calculated managerial responses to profit imperatives. Over time, these practices have become objectified, understood as ‘just the way things are’ or ‘how things work’, rather than as the historical outcomes of human decisions about how to organize the production and distribution of goods and services, and how to design, develop and deploy communication technologies. The veneer of inevitability that this phantom objectivity projects reinforces entrenched interests and makes the system highly resistant to change.7

14This definition is useful for understanding how the internal mores and pressures which bear upon a media institution inform what is said and what is not said, and what kinds of statements can be reprimanded. However, what is censored or not is heavily contingent on what morals or interests exist or do not exist within a specific media institution. This paper posits that these morals and practices among the various media institutions can vary widely, and make for vast difference as to what is considered acceptable political discourse.

15Taking these definitions collectively, free-market censorship could be an effective mechanism for censoring hate speech. If one hears racist or defamatory remarks on TV, one can turn it off and/or complain to the station. If enough people do so, this can put pressure on the station to tell the commentator to tone down his rhetoric and even get him fired. If they do not, there can be increasing pressure on advertisers to boycott the offending program or even the station, them not wanting their brands to become negatively associated with it. It requires a lot of work, organization, petitions, and public pressure, but there have been instances where this has worked both on a local and national level. However, this process has proved more problematic for media outlets which exhibit no known standards for journalism or ethics, and the government has no legal capacity to censor the speaker. Given Americans’ propensity for favoring free-market solutions to problems, the witholding of advertising revenue by companies from shows or networks has become more and more prevalent, but still remains a dull instrument for censoring hate speech.

16 This mechanism is even more unwieldy at a regional and national level, especially given the massive growth of nationally syndicated right-wing radio and TV. Many talk-show hosts make extremely offensive statements, which attract controversy and therefore higher ratings. The advertisers on these programs are often for products or services which conform to the demographic which watches or listens to them. This is the shadow of free-market theory: as long as it is commercially viable, there are no limits on how offensive it can be. The hosts revel in controversy, and are in seeming competition to come out with the most polemical statements, which are sometimes picked up by the more mainstream media. Valid complaints by concerned citizens are dismissed as liberal bed-wetting. The companies who run the shows are virtually impervious to criticism, and the advertisers who market during the offensive programs are not concerned about boycotts, because the people they are marketing to listen to the program due to its controversial nature.

17 Another buffer against free-market censorship is that the program does not necessarily have to be financially viable for the owner to maintain it if it serves a broader political agenda. Within Rupert Murdoch’s vast media empire, for example, there are many papers, programs, and channels which are not profitable, but are nevertheless effective in furthering his conservative perspective. Wildly successful shows like the Fox Network’s “American Idol” can pay the bills for much less successful niche programs with an ideological content. In this sense, the free-market concept of “winning” through high ratings and profitability has less significance. This “soft censorship” is a blunt instrument, but we will see that it is a mechanism which is capable of being effective, but is far from being reliably so. Even where censorship of this type does work, the voice can still be maintained on other media outlets.

18Case Study: Glenn Beck

  • 8 Premiere Radio Network Programming. <>, accessed 17 July 2011.
  • 9 See, for instance, Kate Sheppard, “The Koch Brothers’ Vast Right Wing Conspiracy,” Mother Jones, 4 (...)

19The odyssey of Glenn Beck’s tenure at Fox News between 2009 and 2011 is illustrative of how free-market censorship can work, but only through considerable effort on the part of those who object to the content of his programs. Mr. Beck, born in 1964, began as a radio DJ in 1983. His early radio shows were of a type which mixed music with “morning talk”, most often light banter about the events of the day along with jokes, but with little political content. He moved from station to station over the course of several years, often leaving after having made offensive and racist remarks. The Glenn Beck Program debuted on radio in 2000 on a local affiliate of the Clear Channel owned WFLA (AM) in Tampa Florida. Due to its success, Premiere Radio Network, a subsidiary of Clear Channel, expanded the syndication to 47 stations throughout the nation in 2002. Premiere Radio Network also employs high-profile talk radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, in addition to broadcasting the Jesus Christ Show.8 Beck also formed Mercury Radio Arts as his own private corporate entity marketing his products, scheduling events, and endorsing other products and services. It was in this context that he evolved into his political persona. When he became nationally syndicated, the scope of his activities went way beyond talking on the radio. He organized “Glenn Beck’s Rally for America” in 2003 to urge support for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also began “writing” books, and produced several which became best sellers, although the degree of his participation in their redaction remains unclear. Like many radio talk-show hosts, he is paid by companies and even think tanks9 to promote them on the air during the show, extolling their virtues which are seamlessly woven into the content of the program. He progressively developed a multi-million dollar media empire, selling everything from T-shirts to paid speeches.

20 His first break into TV occurred in January 2006, when he was hired by CNN Headline News to provide political commentary. He was then hired at Fox News in 2009, joining Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and the other aspiring right-wing TV talk-show hosts, while maintaining, as he still does, his daily three-hour syndicated radio show. At Fox, he was assigned to the 5:00-6:00 pm slot, which is typically a slow hour compared to the “prime time” slots between 8:00 and 10:00 pm. At the beginning, it appeared that he would lead a relatively typical political talk show, interviewing politicians and political operatives and giving his opinions on issues with a conservative bent. His first shows were fairly standard right-wing fare. However, within weeks, it was clear this would be no typical talk-show host. Perhaps key to his formula was his capacity to tap into his listeners’ anxieties about the economy and a sense of American decline, and explain this decline by citing dark progressive forces. His message was that America was falling apart financially and socially, and that it was divinely incumbent on him to create the necessary movements to bring back America’s glory: back to God. What started as a relatively straightforward political talk show on Fox News devolved into a series of controversial and incorrect statements, conspiracy theories, exhortations to violence, among others. While impossible to encapsulate the totality of his demagogy, we will focus on a series of comments and themes on his shows, which progressively led to his demise on Fox News Channel. However, his voice has not vanished from the airwaves, so the censorship is far from total. To better understand why, it behooves us to engage in an overview of three key events which transformed Glenn Beck from seemingly aspiring legitimate political commentator into one who employed violent, conspiratorial, and controversial rhetoric.

  • 10 <>, accessed 27 November 2011.

21 The first major incident of Beck’s Fox tenure which really grabbed negative attention, and arguably sowed the seeds of his downfall, was the Henry Gates incident in July 2009. This prominent black Harvard professor was arrested outside his own home in Cambridge Massachusetts by white officer James Crowley, after a neighbor had called the police thinking someone was breaking into his home. Having the police approach him while entering his own home, Gates became quite irate, and was arrested and brought to the station by Crowley. This was reported on a national scale, and was interpreted by some as a racially motivated arrest. Being well aware of the relationship between the police and African-Americans, Obama made a remark that the police had acted “stupidly”. Making comments on the vapid morning show Fox and Friends Beck speculated that given these comments, Obama was a “racist” who held a “deep seated hatred for white people,” despite the fact that Obama’s mother was white.10 A furor erupted directed at Beck for his comments, which inaugurated a steady defection from Glenn Beck’s program of advertisers who did not want to be associated with his rhetoric. Blue chip companies like Procter and Gamble, GMAC Financing, Sanofi-Aventis, and Roche refused to advertise on his show, but many continued to advertise on the Fox News Channel during other programming. The boycott only raised the profile of the Glenn Beck Program and led to increased viewership. At the height of his ratings, he was very close in ratings to prime time Hannity and O’Reilly, despite the fact that his show was on a less viewed time-slot.

  • 11 The website has a vast video archive of his performances.
  • 12 “Beck Introduces the New ‘Black Robe Regiment,’” <>, accessed 27 July 2011.

22 The period between this initial racist remark and his ultimate removal from Fox News is a long tale characterized by increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories, witch hunts, labeling his opponents “communists”, barking, and dressing up like a sorcerer with a staff. It is not within the scope of this article to enumerate the totality of Beck’s discourse, but three episodes will be highlighted which illustrate the degree to which Beck’s presence on Fox News became increasingly untenable.11 At the beginning of his Fox tenure and through much of his previous media career, there was not a strong religious component. Over the course of 2009-10, religion began to play a much more prominent role, and his increasingly messianic pretentions led him to call for a “Restoring Honor” rally on t 28 August 2010, on the site (Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC) where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a Dream” speech, on the 27th anniversary of said speech. There was a tremendous uproar over what was perceived to be a deliberate insult to Dr. King’s legacy, on the same place and on the anniversary of the 1963 “March on Washington”. A counterdemonstration was organized by black activist Al Sharpton. Several hundred thousand attended and listened to Beck’s exhortations for Americans to return to God. He also took the occasion to form the “Black Robe Regiment”12 seeking to enlist the participation of several evangelical leaders to become members of this ill-defined movement. Like so many of Beck’s countless projects, there was little follow-through and it has not emerged with any influence, but it attests to his desire to present himself as a messianic figure.

  • 13 “Beck: Tides Foundation is ‘Diabolically Genius’ and a ‘Shadow Government,’” <>, accessed 27 July 201</http>
  • 14 “Oakland’s KTVU: Williams Admitted Being ‘Inspired’ by Beck in MMFA’s ‘Jailhouse Interview,’” <

23 The second major issue to address is Beck’s obsession with the Tides Foundation within his chalkboard-drawn conspiracy theories, and the fortunately failed massacre by Byron Williams of Tides Foundation employees. For some reason, this progressive advocacy group based in San Francisco became the object of Beck’s ire. Over the course of many shows, he vilified the Tides Foundation and attempted to place it in the context of some larger progressive plot against America.13 While observing Beck’s anti-Tides rants on Fox News, a viewer named Byron Williams took notice. Inspired by Beck’s demagogy on 18 July 2010, Mr. Williams loaded his car with guns and drove towards San Francisco to assassinate as many members as he could of the Tides Foundation. He was pulled over by the police in Oakland before arriving in San Francisco to commit slaughter, had a shootout with the police, during which fortunately no one was killed. During an interview in prison Mr. Williams heartily confessed to have been inspired by Glenn Beck to go out and kill progressives.14 Legal reaction to this incident, while jailing Williams, did not address the possibility of Beck creating a “clear and present danger” through his words. The “fighting words” doctrine was not invoked, even though an armed man admitted to being inspired by Beck’s words to slaughter civilians, and it is difficult to conceive of a more blatant case of incitement. The difficulty, with these cases, is proving that the words spoken posed an imminent danger of inciting violence.

  • 15 “First Part of Entire ‘Puppet Master’ Series Against George Soros,” <>, accessed 27 July 2011.

24 George Soros, the billionaire investor who finances progressive causes, has been a target of Glenn Beck to a pathological degree. As with the Tides Foundation, many of Beck’s conspiracy theories were centered on the pernicious influence of Soros, who Beck also held to be a key cog in a diabolical leftist plot to destroy America. This took a particularly ugly turn in November 2010, when he began his “Puppet Master” series.15 This series of shows involved anti-semitism reminiscent of the Nazi era. While there were marionettes dangling in his studio, he accused Hungarian Jewish Soros as a thirteen-year-old boy of leading Jews to the concentration camps. Later in his series, he managed to conflate Islamic radicals with reform Judaism. This could arguably be viewed as the point where he went beyond the pale even for the neoconservatives who feature prominently on Fox News, many of whom are Jewish (e.g. Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz). Beck’s “Puppet Master” series was so blatantly offensive and anti-semitic, it made Le Pen’s aforementioned holocaust “detail” remark seem as eloquent as Pericles’ funeral oration. The exodus of advertisers from his show continued unabated.

  • 16 “Inside the Meltdown: What Glenn Beck Was Saying While You Weren’t Watching Glenn Beck,” <>, accessed</http> (...)

25 The final chapter of the Beck saga occurred during the beginning of the “Arab Spring”, during which at least Tunisia and Egypt were able to shed their autocracies, although with a future very much uncertain for the entire region. Beck started a new series in which he warned of a new caliphate, extending throughout the Middle East. He managed to form a new concept “Islamic socialists”, and linked them with US progressives as part of a grand plot to take over the region and the world. For days on end he linked the popular uprisings with a spreading Islamic caliphate, going off on unfounded theories about a spreading Sharia law.16 Again, relatively cooler conservative heads on Fox like Bill Kristol criticized him for his lunacy, but Beck struck back and questioned Kristol’s conservatism. This on-air internecine warfare must not have sat well with Fox News executives, and served to further marginalize Beck within the organization.

  • 17 “Dropped Sponsors,” <>, accessed 11 December 2011.
  • 18 “During Goldline Ad, Beck Warns ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes, And I Think It Is Coming This Sum (...)
  • 19 “The Survival Seed Bank Advertisement,” <>, accessed 17 July 2011.

26 As previously mentioned, from the original “Obama is a racist” comment on, there was a mass exodus of advertisers who did not want to have their brands associated with Beck’s demagogy.17 Those who continued to advertise often fit the core Beck demographic of people who had an apocalyptic outlook. Beck often seamlessly shilled for Goldline during his show and included ads for this company which sells overpriced gold coins, based on the selling point that the dollar was unstable, and that one had to invest in gold to have something of value when apocalyptic financial calamity ultimately erupted.18 Another prominent product flogged on Beck’s show was “survival seeds”, a selection one could use to plant a vegetable garden in the event of Armageddon when food at stores would no longer be available.19 There were other sponsors who were less apocalyptic and continued to advertise on Beck’s show, but virtually no prominent respectable company was willing to have its name associated with him.

27 Ultimately, the conspiracy theories, the baseless accusations against perceived enemies, the anti-semitism, anti Islamism, and other demagogy contributed to Beck’s undoing on Fox News. In addition, his ratings declined precipitously from an average of 3 million viewers per show in 2009, to 1 million viewers by 2011. Only marginal companies who appealed to his demographic continued to advertise on his show Although the behind-the-scenes details will probably never be known, Fox executives were inexorably drawn to the conclusion that Beck could not remain on Fox: he generated outrage not only among the wider public but also among fellow conservatives, advertisers boycotted, his discourse was increasingly bizarre, etc.. The decision was made to cancel his Fox show, his contract was phased out, and his final program was in July 2011. But does this demonstrate the efficacy of free-market censorship?


28This paper concludes by asserting that although in this one case Beck had his Fox show cancelled, it will have had a minimal effect in reducing hate speech in the US. The laws, Supreme Court jurisprudence, and American mores assure that hate speech will live on for the indefinite future, for those who wish to listen to it. Beck’s radio show continues, but the volume of his megaphone is much lower than it was on Fox, so his controversial declarations have less resonance within the media echo chamber. The mechanism of market-censorship given by Jansen was not applied by Fox in the case of Beck, because acting according to implicit rules implies that these rules against demagogy exist in the first place. On the contrary, within the Fox corporate culture, and as we are learning within the broader News Corporation culture as details of the phone-hacking scandal emerge, lies and fabrications were rarely if ever the subject of internal sanctions, demagogy was institutionalized, and ratings were the sole criteria of success. Free-market censorship worked in the case of Beck’s Fox show, but it is a very blunt, weak instrument which leaves most on-air demagogy untouched.

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1 Mark Weber, “French Courts Punish Holocaust Apostasy: Le Pen, Faurisson, Garaudy Fined for ‘Holocaust Denial,’” Journal of Historical Review, vol. 17, n° 2, March/April 1998. <>, accessed 12 November 2011.

2 Neal Boortz, “We Got Too Damn Many Urban Thugs, Yo... We Need More Dead Thugs,” Atlanta, 1 June 2011 edition of Neal Boortz Show. <>, accessed 17 July 2011. Many further video and other clips can be heard at this site.

3 Department of Commerce Report, The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes. <>, accessed 12 November 2011.

4 “Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire,” Oregon State Education. <>, accessed 12 November 2011.

5 Ibidem.

6 André Schiffrin, The Business of Books, London: Verso, 2001, 103.

7 Sue Curry Jansen,Ambiguities and Imperatives of Market Censorship: The Brief History of a Critical Concept,” Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, vol. 7, n°2: 12-30. <>, accessed 12 November 2011.

8 Premiere Radio Network Programming. <>, accessed 17 July 2011.

9 See, for instance, Kate Sheppard, “The Koch Brothers’ Vast Right Wing Conspiracy,” Mother Jones, 4 February 2011. <>, accessed 19 February 2013.

10 <>, accessed 27 November 2011.

11 The website has a vast video archive of his performances.

12 “Beck Introduces the New ‘Black Robe Regiment,’” <>, accessed 27 July 2011.

13 “Beck: Tides Foundation is ‘Diabolically Genius’ and a ‘Shadow Government,’” <>, accessed 27 July 2011.

14 “Oakland’s KTVU: Williams Admitted Being ‘Inspired’ by Beck in MMFA’s ‘Jailhouse Interview,’” <

>, accessed 27 July 2011.

15 “First Part of Entire ‘Puppet Master’ Series Against George Soros,” <>, accessed 27 July 2011.

16 “Inside the Meltdown: What Glenn Beck Was Saying While You Weren’t Watching Glenn Beck,” <>, accessed 27 July 2011.

17 “Dropped Sponsors,” <>, accessed 11 December 2011.

18 “During Goldline Ad, Beck Warns ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes, And I Think It Is Coming This Summer,’” <>, accessed 11 December 2011).

19 “The Survival Seed Bank Advertisement,” <>, accessed 17 July 2011.

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Mark McNaught, « Free-Market Censorship »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. XI – n° 1 | 2013, mis en ligne le 30 mai 2013, consulté le 12 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Mark McNaught

Rennes 2 University, France. Mark McNaught is a Maître de conférences in American Civilization at Rennes 2 University, and teaches law at Sciences-Po Paris. He received his Bachelors in Government and Philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin in 1994, and his doctorat en sciences politiques from the Université Bordeaux 4 Law Faculty in 2006. His work La Religion civile américaine : de Reagan à Obama came out in 2009, and Reflections on Conservative Politics in the United Kingdom and the Unites States: Still Soul Mates? in 2012. He is currently working on a book on civil religion, secularism in the US and France, and a written Scottish constitution. US law and institutions, federal elections, campaign finance, US History, and secularism remain areas of research interest.

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