TheDC Exclusive: Conservatives hit Beck for taking content without attribution
A number of conservative activists and bloggers say they’re furious at media magnate Glenn Beck for what they call content theft. Over the past several years, Beck has relied on video, audio and written content from others to fill his radio and television shows, as well as his websites. Often he has credited his fellow conservatives for their work. Yet in many other instances say dozens of conservative journalists who spoke to The Daily Caller, he has not, often taking elaborate steps to cloak the origins of the material.
Publisher Andrew Breitbart has seen a number of his stories surface on various Beck media properties over the past few years. While he describes himself as “grateful for the many times he has credited me and my sites,” Breitbart says that “sometimes he also uses other peoples’ work without crediting them, making it appear as though it were his own. But especially since adopting ‘The Truth Has No Agenda’ slogan – and trying to deliberately re-position himself as the pious conscience and judge of many of those he took content from – he has exposed himself to his new motto’s unforgiving standard.”
By any standard, Beck seems unusually reliant on the work of others, and unusually reluctant to credit it. In an interview with TheDC, Roger L. Simon, CEO of Pajamas Media, suggested that Beck has committed the journalistic equivalent of a notorious crime. “It is not a question of just doing it right the majority of the time. It is a question of doing it right always,” Simon said. “Doris Kearns Goodwin is forever a fraud in my estimation because she has been caught plagiarizing once. If you rob a bank once, you still robbed a bank.”
A remarkably large number of conservative writers say they feel robbed. During the March 18 airing of his television program, for example, Beck ran a portion of video created by a Chicago-based blogger who calls himself Rebel Pundit. The blogger, who does not publicly reveal his name, says he was initially pleased to see Beck running his video, which featured left-wing protesters demanding amnesty for illegal immigrants. He was soon shocked, however, to see that Beck’s staff had obscured the watermark logo of his website, RebelPundit.com, from the tape.
“I put my website name on there for a reason – to bring people from the movement to my website so they can see the other stuff that I’ve done,” the man behind Rebel Pundit told TheDC. “You’ve got pretty much the biggest guy in the movement take your stuff and actually have his editors spend the time to scrub my name off of it.”
Ironically, while Beck’s staff had gone to the trouble of removing any trace of the phrase “rebelpundit.com” from the video, they apparently missed an obvious obscenity in the background of the frame. Clearly visible on a sign held by one of the protestors was the demand, “Open the fucking border.” When it appeared on his show, Beck said, “Oh, don’t show that please.”
It was hardly an isolated incident. On a number of occasions, Beck has aired videos on his show without mentioning that they were produced by the Media Research Center (MRC), a conservative media watchdog group. On February 28 of this year, for example, Beck used MRC footage of Van Jones speaking at a rally in Washington’s Dupont Circle. Beck never indicated where the video came from, even as he berated the press for failing to investigate who was behind Jones’s rally.
The very next day, Beck aired footage on his show from the Wisconsin labor protests. The video was produced by a freelance journalist named Christian Hartsock, though viewers wouldn’t have known that since Hartsock’s name was never mentioned. “At the end of the day, what really matters is getting the message to the people,” Hartsock told TheDC. “With that said, I’m a journalist and credit is a currency, whether or not people admit to it.”
Mandy Nagy, a conservative blogger known online as Liberty Chick, spent untold hours last fall creating a chart that tracks left-wing billionaire George Soros’s influence over media organizations, only to see it appear, in its exact form and without any attribution, on Beck’s famous chalkboard. “We were laughing that he went to all the trouble of [recreating] the visual on the blackboard,” Nagy said, not sounding entirely amused.
John Sexton, who blogs at VerumSerum.com, has provided Beck with material several times, and has sometimes received credit for it. But in several other cases, Sexton says, “he’s used our stuff without any hat tip at all. I don’t understand that.” According to Sexton, in one instance even famously liberal CBS News credited VerumSerum.com for content it used, while Beck, who lifted the same material, did not.
Pamela Geller of AtlasShrugs.com recalls watching Beck use a story she wrote about campaign contributions the Obama campaign received from donors in Gaza. Many other publications referred to the story, Geller says, but only Beck refused to give her credit for it.
“I went through thousands of pages of FEC documents and it was an enormous task to uncover the campaign contributions from Gaza, a Hamas-controlled area, to President Obama,” Geller says. “It’s in my book and it wasn’t a secret that I wrote the story. I don’t know how to describe such outrageous and proud thievery. I like his work, but he’s a thief.”
Beck’s office responds to complaints like these by pointing out that Beck is a busy man who broadcasts in one form or another for nearly 1,000 hours a year. “Anyone could find examples of stories they think should have been sourced differently,” Beck’s representatives told TheDC. “In addition, many stories mentioned have multiple sources. Glenn’s shows have a high-standard and a long history of championing bloggers and attributing sources whenever possible including frequently providing extensive footnotes on GlennBeck.com. For example, The Blaze has already linked to The Daily Caller over 40 times, and the shows have cited a wide-range of bloggers, websites and reports over and over again.”
Yet not everyone gets credit. Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, who has written extensively on the Middle East, received a call earlier this year from one of Beck’s television producers about a show on radical Islam. “He was doing his Sharia and caliphate show,” Spencer says, “where he did a country-by-country survey of the Islamic movements in those countries and the likelihood that those countries were going to turn into full-fledged Islamic states, with Islamic law fully-implemented. I gave [the producer] all that information. She called me like five times that day. I was on the phone with her for a total of probably three hours or more. That entire Sharia-caliphate show was me.”
Spencer says Beck used everything he recommended. The producer, meanwhile, “was effusively grateful, and said ‘Glenn is going to be sure to cite you on the show.’ But, of course, he did not.” When Spencer complained, he received an invitation to come on a later show, anchored by a guest host. His contributions to Beck’s caliphate show were never acknowledged.
Cliff Kincaid, the director of Accuracy in Media’s Center for Investigative Journalism, had a similar experience. In the fall of 2009, Beck’s producers promised him a spot on Beck’s television show to talk about his investigation of the Soros-funded Free Press. After several long conversations with Beck’s producers, however, the invitation evaporated and Beck did the show alone, using Kincaid’s research as his own.
“It’s hard to get an explanation as to why these things happen except they [Beck’s producers] told me Glenn wanted to handle the issue himself, which means he wanted to appear to be the expert,” Kincaid told TheDC. “It’s his show, and he’s got a right to do that, but it is disconcerting that those of us who work hard on these issues and gather a lot of information expect to get some credit for what we’ve done.”
Douglas Stewart, a blogger for Yahoo’s Associated Content, wrote an article recently describing how the State Department likely knew about the Egyptian uprising before it happened. He sent his story to several radio producers, including Beck’s, hoping to publicize it. While Beck did mention his name on the air, Stewart said he was shocked to hear the host read almost his entire article on the air, virtually verbatim, as if it were his own.
A short time later, Stewart found seven paragraphs of his own material pasted into a “study guide” about Egypt on GlennBeck.com. There was no indication that Stewart had written it. Stewart complained in two separate emails to Beck’s webmaster, but never received a response.
“I took on writing at Associated Content in order to try and generate a meager amount of cash – they pay you $1.50 per ten thousand page views,” Stewart says. An acknowledgment from Beck might have driven significant traffic to Stewart’s posts. Instead, Stewart complains, Beck “has given almost zero credit.”
Last January, Andrew Marcus of FoundingBloggers.com uploaded a video interview he’d conducted with Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. The next morning on his radio show, Beck played a portion of the Walesa exchange, but never mentioned where it came from or who conducted the interview. “I don’t steal their stuff,” Marcus told TheDC. “They get credit, they get links and they get attribution. I think they’d be upset if people were lifting their stuff and not giving attribution. Fair use is fair use, but it includes attribution.”
It’s not only conservatives who’ve seen their work used by Beck without attribution. Last December, Beck played an interview with longtime radical Bill Ayers on his radio show. “This is an exclusive, I believe from TheBlaze.com right now,” Beck said on air, before playing the audio. “It is Bill Ayers talking about WikiLeaks. In it, he does not denounce violence of the Weather Underground.” In fact, though Beck never mentioned it, the interview was not a Blaze exclusive. It had been lifted from the liberal website, Citizen’s Radio.
In February of this year, Beck announced on the radio that he had created a new motto for his website, The Blaze. “This is the slogan that I wrote for The Blaze,” Beck said. “We’ve put it up everywhere here and we’ve written it out for The Blaze. And it is: ‘The truth has no agenda.’”
But in fact, this was not the truth. Beck did not write any such slogan for The Blaze. According to GoDaddy.com website domain name registration records, a man named Michael Opelka bought the domain “truthhasnoagenda.com” in July 2009. Beck has since hired Opelka to work for The Blaze. Shortly thereafter, Beck began selling “The Truth Has No Agenda” merchandise.
Beck’s reputation as an ungenerous user of other people’s work has occasionally surfaced in public. Conservative radio host Mark Levin recently took aim at Beck, whom he refers to as the “5-PMer,” this way: “You won’t find me putting my name on books that other people write. You’ll never find me doing that,” Levin said. “I would never, ever preach to you about principles and viewpoints that I am incapable of writing about. Never.”