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In 2009, Color Of Change forced Glenn Beck off cable television, holding his advertisers and Fox News accountable for his dangerous drumbeat of racist misinformation.
It’s one thing when some random person online tries to stoke racial fear and division. It’s completely different when a news commentator does it on national TV, building a following with the backing of major corporations as advertisers.
For years, Glenn Beck used his television show on Fox News to blame Black people and other people of color—our leaders, our organizations, and the policies that protect our rights—for all of America’s problems. Beck led deceitful but effective witch-hunts against progressives in the Obama administration, Black political leaders, and organizations that were helping make our communities more powerful. Even more dangerous than Beck’s over-the-top inflammatory rhetoric: the way he was building an infectious, deeply divisive and completely inaccurate narrative that Black political power is somehow a threat to white people.
Beck legitimized disproven, racist ideas about the role of Black people in society by integrating them into mainstream political conversations. White supremacists praised him for helping to make their ideas more respectable and widespread. And he did it with the support of hundreds of major corporations that advertised on his show. No one was fighting back effectively; our movement didn’t have an answer to Glenn Beck.
But in July of 2009, when Beck called President Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people,” we saw an opportunity to finally hold Beck and his sponsors accountable for his racist myth-making.
Within days of Beck’s attack on President Obama, tens of thousands of Color Of Change members were signing our petition to all of Beck’s advertisers, channeling our outrage into meaningful and strategic leverage over Fox News. At the same time, behind the scenes, our staff initiated a dialogue with some of Beck’s biggest advertisers, corporations including Walmart, CVS, Best Buy and Sprint. We conveyed to them the concerns of our members, and presented them with a clear choice: stop funding Beck, or become publicly associated with his racism and divisiveness. We partnered with Media Matters to track ads on Beck’s show, and worked with organizations including CREDO Action, MoveOn and Jewish Funds for Justice to draw more people into the campaign and increase the pressure.
Most companies moved quickly to pull their ads, once they understood the power of our members to hold them accountable. When a corporation refused, our members took action, flooding them with hundreds of phone calls, and spreading content and commentary on social media that linked their brand to Beck and his attacks on Black people. Nearly every corporation we targeted pulled their ads. The victories snowballed, continuing for months.
Our unique mix of strategically coordinated public and private pressure made the campaign “unusually successful,” according to The New York Times. More than 285,000 people signed our petition, and more than 300 advertisers dropped Glenn Beck, forcing Fox News to fill the ad space for his show with spots for gold coins, exercise machines and right-wing publications. The major advertisers stayed away for nearly two years until Fox News finally cancelled Beck’s show in 2011.
Beck’s departure greatly reduced his influence, and re-set the rules for what’s okay and not okay on political TV. The campaign demonstrated that Black people have the power to hold advertisers accountable for supporting media that demonizes us—even on Fox News.
Color Of Change continues to challenge the legitimacy and influence of right-wing voices attempting to move inaccurate, dangerous and racist arguments into the mainstream, including campaigns that successfully pushed Andrew Breitbart off of ABC, and pushed Pat Buchanan off of MSNBC.