Fox Corrects Beck, O'Reilly Gold Ads

Critics pan conservatives' conflict of interest when promoting gold

By Kenneth P. Vogel
|  Thursday, Dec 17, 2009  |  Updated 11:00 PM CDT
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Fox Frets Over Beck, O'Reilly Gold Ads

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Glenn Beck has laughed off the gold controversy.

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Glenn Beck may be blowing off concerns that he’s gotten too cozy with gold-sellers who sponsor his shows, but Fox News is taking the gold endorsement issue a little more seriously.

On Thursday, the network indicated it would ask Rosland Capital, a gold retailer, to remove from its website the logo for Bill O’Reilly’s Fox show, the O’Reilly Factor, which Rosland features along with an audio clip of O’Reilly urging listeners to buy gold because “The U.S. Dollar is under attack!”

Fox’s concern was that O’Reilly’s endorsement of Rosland was specific to the radio show he no longer does, and Rosland is not a sponsor of his television show.

Rosland spokesman Steve Getzug said the company had not heard from Fox but was already “in the process of pulling the reference down as part of an overall update of Rosland’s website.” He called the O’Reilly endorsement “dated” and said “it’s been a while since the company has updated its website.”

Last week, Fox, which also airs Beck’s television show, requested that Beck clarify his relationship with another gold retailer, Goldline International, leading the company to tweak its trumpeting of Beck’s endorsement. Goldline removed an identification of Beck as a “paid spokesman” from its website, but left the rest of the site – which prominently features his endorsement, photo and a radio interview he did with the company’s president Mark Albarian – intact.

The controversy seems to have amused Beck, who – in typically mocking fashion – dismissed questions last week about whether it’s a conflict for him to tout gold investments as a hedge against an economic collapse he often predicts as imminent on his radio and television shows, while gold coin retailers pay to advertise on those shows.

Removal of the “paid spokesman” language from Goldline’s site brought his arrangement with the company in line with a network policy prohibiting “on-air talent from endorsing products or serving as a product spokesperson,” according to Joel Cheatwood, a Fox News executive.

“We asked for clarification. We got it. We’re satisfied. It’s a dead issue,” he told POLITICO.

Liberal media watchdogs, commentators and satirists have had a field day with the increasingly overt – and profitable – synergy between gold retailers and their endorsers in the conservative media, including Beck, O’Reilly and fellow Fox News personalities Brian Kilmeade and Andrew Napolitano, among others.

Beck, though, used the issue to take on the liberals he regularly mocks as self righteous and clueless.

“I have a statement to make about the recent allegations by the liberal blogs that – quote – Glenn Beck promotes gold to audience, while profiting from gold investment firms,” Beck said in 4-minute video posted on his website Friday evening.

“Yes. Yes, it’s true,” he said, pretending to choke up and explaining that “like Tiger Woods, I’m not a perfect person, starting with my chins. I’ve got – I don’t know – seven of them. My hairline is thinning. I’m a little overweight.”

Scrunching his face into a mask of mock puzzlement, he said “the accusations that I actually purchase one of the products I endorse may be shocking to some.” He said he’s turned down or terminated endorsement deals “because I didn’t believe in them” and proclaimed, tongue-firmly-planted-in-check that he’d been trying to keep his arrangement with Goldline a “secret.”

“But I guess it was only a matter of time before people started to catch on, what with the daily advertisements and my firm belief that the dollar is in rough shape and people should protect themselves, and me being on the Internet and the radio and television all the time saying this.”

Beck facetiously said he “didn't know that by me suggesting to you to buy gold through a fine establishment like Goldline.com – 866-Goldline – that the global price of this trillion-dollar industry – global industry – would actually start to wildly fluctuate, because of me.”

In fact, Beck’s critics have not suggested that he was actually influencing the price of gold, which had been rising steadily until this month, by encouraging his fans to buy coins from Goldline.

But some financial analysts and precious metals experts did tell POLITICO that potential gold investors would be wise to look into bullion or exchange traded funds intended to track the price of gold, rather than the coins sold by Goldline and a handful of other firms that advertise on Beck’s shows and those of other conservative talkers. That’s because those firms focus on collectible or antique coins, which they sell for many times the value of the intrinsic gold and promote as being exempt from a potential government seizure of gold like that which occurred under Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.  Beck has suggested that gold coins are a good buy now because President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats are steering the economy towards disaster.

 

And that feedback loop – Beck stoking fear of economic collapse, hyping gold as a hedge against collapse, and endorsing a company selling gold – prompted liberals from the watchdog group Media Matters to MSNBC host Keith Olbermann to Comedy Central’s faux-news hosts Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart to allege a glaring conflict of interest.

“Glenn Beck is paid by Goldline to drum up interest in gold, which increases in value during times of fear, an emotion reinforced nightly on Fox by Glenn Beck,” Stewart said on The Daily Show last week.

Fox policy barring hosts from serving as paid spokespeople is industry standard, said Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin because it guards networks’ credibility against “the taint of self interest.” But he said, no matter what Goldline calls Beck, “the situation clearly crosses the line. If Beck is not serving as a paid spokesperson, then he must be the tooth fairy.”

There’s a larger issue in play, as well, according to Nancy Marsden of FITMedia, a non-profit group pushing the FCC to amend its regulations to set a higher standard for disclosure of paid endorsements on broadcast and cable television.

“Beck is a poster child for the proposed amendments,” she blogged on Huffington Post. 

Beck’s representatives declined to comment for this story, but Albarian, the Goldline president, said that disclosure of the company’s financial relationship with Beck’s productions eliminates any potential conflicts.

“We don’t influence the content of either his radio show or this television show,” Albarian told POLITICO. “Fox’s point – and I think I have to agree with it – is that we are not paying Glenn Beck outside of his radio show to do endorsements for Goldline.”

Albarian said that Goldline has also sponsored Beck’s comedy tours, which – like his radio and Fox News show – are either produced or co-produced by Beck’s production company Mercury Radio Arts, according to the company’s website. “This doesn’t change anything in our relationship. We’re currently an endorser and we look forward to doing so in the future.”

Albarian said that Goldline has never had an issue like the one with Beck with any of its other endorsers, a group that includes conservative talkers Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Lars Larson, Michael Smerconish, Dennis Miller and former Sen. Fred Thompson.

Goldline doesn’t “pick people because they’re conservative,” Albarian asserted, adding that it would consider paying an MSNBC host to endorse it and pointing out that the company had paid former U.S. Mint director and Democratic Congressman Jay Johnson for his endorsement until his death in October. “We pick people because they have a passion for gold.”

Goldline is not the only company to pay for endorsements from conservative talkers predicting dire consequences from the Obama administration’s economic policies.

Swiss America Trading Corp., a Goldline rival, pays firebrand radio talker Michael Savage, who – in a CD offered through Swiss America’s website – (linked from Savage’s own) talks to a company executive about such topics as whether “the U.S. dollar will decline further under Obamanomics.”

Rosland Capital boasts endorsements from O’Reilly, who also occasionally touts gold investments on his show, Kilmeade and Napolitano, among other endorsers not affiliated with Fox.

In addition to the O’Reilly Factor’s logo, Rosland’s website includes an audio clip of O’Reilly declaring “The U.S. Dollar is under attack! Under attack at home, from a Fed that’s printing paper money like it has no value, and from China, whose actions are tipping the balance of the global currency system away from the U.S. Dollar.”

And last month, when Beck appeared on O’Reilly’s show, O’Reilly asked him whether he thought “there's a global currency going to come and the dollar is just going to go some place away, but you're hoarding gold in your basement? That's what you're doing?”

“Not in my basement,” Beck said. “Definitely, not in my basement. Don't say it in my basement.”

O’Reilly apologized, and said he, too, had purchased “a bunch of” gold “because I think the Obama administration is mishandling the economy at this point.”

Fox hasn’t re-examined its other hosts endorsement deals, Cheatwood said, and he pushed back against critics, saying “thankfully, we don’t answer to them or have to worry too much about what the Daily Show is putting out there.”

He added that “critics will always get mileage out of whatever they chose to interpret as something that they can make hay with. And Fox News has certainly over the years had its share of that, and I’m sure we will continue to and we keep plugging way.”

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