Seven months ago, Fox News commentator Glenn Beck was hosting rallies for fed up conservatives on the National Mall and contributing alternate histories of the Gore administration to New York magazine. For better or worse, he and that chalkboard seemed like permanent fixtures on the cable news landscape. Writing in The New York Times today columnist David Carr calls Beck "a deeply angry guy on a running tirade about the conspiracies afoot," and asks whether his impassioned appeal to the tinfoil hat brigade will cost him his job. With Beck's ratings slipping--although still quite high for cable news--Carr reports Fox executives are "looking at the end of his contract in December and contemplating life without Mr. Beck." A roundup of opinions of what went wrong for Beck, and just how bad things really are:

About Those Ratings
TV Newser's Chris Ariens takes a closer look at Beck's 2011 numbers and sees a program hemorrhaghing viewers in key demographics.

Since the beginning of the year, Beck has been down the most of any FNC show. In February, he dropped -26% in total viewers (2.084M v. 2.833M) and -32% in the A254-54 demo (513K v. 753K). In January the drop was more striking: down -40% in total viewers (1.786M v. 2.955M) and down -50% in younger viewers (406K v. 806K). The show is now on par with with its numbers at launch. In Feb. 2009, his first full month on the air, Beck drew 2.173M total viewers and 512K A25-54 viewers.
 

The New Republic's James Downie notes that the show "has lost more than one million viewers over the course of the past year, falling from an average of 2.9 million in January 2010 to 1.8 million in January 2011" and Beck currently "ranks fifth among Fox’s six weekday talk hosts, trailing lesser-known personalities like Shepard Smith and Bret Baier." Then there's his three-hour radio show, which has been "dropped in several major cities, including New York and Philadelphia, and has seen a ratings decline in most other markets."


Stale
Mother Jones' Kevin Drum isn't a part of Beck's target audience, but he was surprised to hear Beck invoke the name of Van Jones, the White House environmental adviser who resigned in September 2009, during a segment last week. Doesn't he have any fresh sources of outrage? Beck "replays his greatest hits over and over, which starts to get preposterous even for his biggest fans, who must have an increasingly hard time believing that Van Jones is literally at the center of all that's wrong with the world." When he's not trotting out old favorites, Beck "creates ever more convoluted alternate universes that are not just harder to follow, but are also increasingly hard to believe for an audience that basically just wants to hear that Barack Obama is Satan."

Unsustainable
Beck became a star by making "outlandish, conspiratorial claims—about ACORN, Obama, and so on," writes Downie. To sustain this momentum he "had to keep creating new, more intricate theories." But his recent theories--specifically the claim that the Egyptian revolution was caused by communists and the Muslim brotherhood--are "so outlandish that even conservatives—both viewers and media personalities—were having a hard time stomaching them." This effect was on full display on yesterday's edition of CNN's "Reliable Sources," with conservative columnists Jennifer Rubin and David Frum attacking Beck as a "circus act" suffering through a decline that was "predictable from the start."


Not Buying It
At conservative media blog NewsBusters, Noel Sheppard characterizes Carr's column as a "hit piece" and notes that while Beck's ratings may be down, he's still far ahead of the competition on other cable networks. "On Thursday, Beck garnered almost two million total viewers," writes Sheppard. "Not only is that more than his combined "competition" on CNN, HLN, and MSNBC, it is more than any show on those networks gets at any time of the day.