The broader shift underway at Mercury began last summer, when Beck staged the multimedia event “Man in the Moon” in Lehi, Utah, the Saturday following the Fourth of July. A combination of film, music, and spoken word, the show aimed to tell the story of America in the form of a fable. It was narrated by God-like voice — Beck’s — that came from a “Man in the Moon” hoisted above the amphitheater. Sixteen thousand people flocked to see it. “I was looking for a way to tell a story that would branch out and be able to be broad to where people who didn’t like me or didn’t agree with me could bring their family and they could see it and they could experience the principles of what built our country without really even knowing it because it would be just a good story,” Beck says.
Though he is less visible now, his empire has ballooned since his departure from Fox News. Last year, Forbes
estimated his earnings at $90 million. He has 310 employees spread among offices in Dallas, New York, and Washington, D.C. TheBlaze TV, his Internet-television network, has 300,000 subscribers who pay up to $9.95 a month for access to his show and others, including a children’s show called “Liberty Treehouse” and a reality show about a family of survivalists preparing to go “off the grid.” Annual subscribers to TheBlaze TV get an @1791.com e-mail address that isn’t spammed with ads. TheBlaze.com, Beck’s online news portal, boasts upwards of 25 million unique visitors a month. Betsy Morgan, a president of TheBlaze, is a former Huffington Post
CEO and senior vice president at CBS News.
The Beck brand also includes a magazine, a book imprint — conservative star Michelle Malkin has a book coming out under the label, Mercury Ink, later this year — and a clothing line, 1791 Supply & Co, which sells T-shirts, polos, rugbys, hoodies, and denim. When Levi’s launched a commercial glorifying youthful protest, Beck boycotted the brand, which he called the “uniform of the progressive movement.”
“I know you’re celebrating, but never again will I give you a dollar or a dime or what is it now?” he asked on his radio show. “Four hundred dollars for a pair of Levi’s? Thank you, but no thank you.” Shortly thereafter, he started producing his own jeans. An ad for 1791 Supply & Co invokes an America of yesteryear. “These were the first American blue jeans,” a narrator says. “The jeans that built America. And they were built in America. Built at a time when things were timeless. A time when you knew things would last. A time when people worked for their dreams and their dreams worked for them.” It could be the script of a Beck motion picture.
What Beck is offering is access to a lifestyle that revolves around the values he preaches. That differentiates him from his fellow radio-talk-show and television hosts, from other media moguls who produce discrete entertainment products, and from the broadcast networks that once dominated the television market.
Beck is more ambitious. Morgan described the need Beck has tapped into in an interview with the blog Inside Flipboard last year. “People are looking for media brands where they feel affinity and alignment with their personal values,” she said. “There are so many choices now that it’s absolutely overwhelming for an average consumer to find a news brand that feels like it represents them.”
Beck puts it this way: “We stand for stories of love and courage where the good guys win. We are a group of people who believe that the good guys actually win in the end.”
The morning I visited, TheBlaze.com featured as its top piece the story of an eight-year-old boy who turned over the $20 he’d discovered in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel to a uniformed soldier. The boy, whose father had died in Iraq when he was an infant, had wrapped the bill in a note that read: “Dear Soldier — my dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this 20 dollars in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service. Myles Eckert, a gold star kid.”
“This is now the most viral story TheBlaze has ever done,” Beck announced on his radio show. “What does that tell you? I think because for just a moment while you’re hearing that story, the world makes sense. For just a minute, a fraction of a second while you’re reading this story, you recognize your country, you recognize how far we’ve drifted and you celebrate the fact that it still does exist, we still are a decent people.”
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Certainly, remnants of the old Beck remain. On his daily radio and television shows, he can’t escape the news cycle or fully embrace his more conciliatory self. When I sat in on a 7 a.m. meeting he held with senior staff members, he was fully focused on Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. “A new world order is coming, which is what the leftists, the Communists, and everybody else wants,” he said. South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham had, the previous day, pushed the president to take a number of diplomatic actions against Russia. A staff member brought Beck up to date. “You piece of garbage,” he said of Graham, under his breath. Beck has little love for Graham or his friend John McCain, the Republican senators who are often agitating for the U.S. to adopt a more muscular foreign policy.
News networks over the weekend reported that the president was not present at a meeting of his senior national-security staff. “Where the hell was he?” Beck asks. He looks at Joel Cheatwood, president and chief content officer of TheBlaze, whose face appears on a screen from Mercury’s offices in New York. “Joel? Have we gotten an answer yet? I want to be able to say we are getting stonewalled.” On his television show that afternoon, he says just that.
“I will always talk about politics in this format because that’s what this format is,” he says. “I am a man literally torn in half. Sometimes I am wildly pessimistic. But only when I read the news and I read what people in Washington are doing.”
— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.