Never really adding up to anything, the Beck show had a way of subtracting from itself. Under Beck's control, his set looked like a crackpot's headquarters instead of a broadcaster's command center. Even his skilled delivery, honed by years of apprenticeship and journeyman radio broadcasting around the country, projected like a controlled mental breakdown by the end of his show's run. (See also Dana Milbank's document of Beck's mental squalor, Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America.)
Beck always made of point of being independent of Murdoch's empire. He has his best-selling books, a website (The Blaze), a magazine, lecture-hall bookings, and probably a nut-fudge concession stand somewhere. If the press wanted to talk to him, they had to contact Beck's people at Mercury Radio Arts, not the folks at Fox. As several writers have pointed out, Beck's distance from the Fox mind-meld may have played a bigger role in the killing of his show than the advertiser boycotts and falling ratings. Murdoch craves dependency in his employees. As somebody (damn you, memory!) put it in the recent Bloomberg TV documentary on Murdoch, Rupert is the only person who matters at News Corp. There is no second-in-command or subsidiary power. There is only Rupert. If somebody comes or goes at News Corp., we can assume it's because he wishes it so.
We can be both comforted and dismayed by the discovery that Glenn Beck marks a space several rungs below Murdoch's absolute bottom: Comforted by the knowledge that even Murdoch and company are capable of revulsion but dismayed that had Beck taken 10 percent off his fastball, he'd still be pitching.
The show must have confounded Murdoch and his people by the end of its run. Part infomercial, part talk show, part confessional, part lecture, part revival, it wasn't journalism or even para-journalism. You never knew whether Beck believed what he was saying or whether he was just doing his best to stir the animals up (to pinch a phrase from Mencken). As Ailes told the AP, it's hard to keep that trick going forever.
Like other recovering alcoholics, Beck projected a warped sense of correctness about his view of the world. For the better part of 30 months, his passion intoxicated a sufficient number of viewers to keep Fox off his back. But instead of becoming more sober, he became less until he was as blitzed as the alcohol-deprived Jack Torrance in The Shining.
For now, Beck is gone. I'll drink to that. And somewhere tonight, I'm sure Rupert Murdoch is drinking, too.
Now don't all of you people in recovery come after me for those last two paragraphs. Sober up for a minute and keep your views to yourselves. Everybody else can send email to email@example.com. All you can drink flows from my Twitter feed 24/7. (Email may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)