Next month, the satellite-TV company will broadcast an ideological face-off between alarmist talk-show host Glenn Beck and disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who will go head-to-head on some of the same issues facing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The showy debate, dubbed “War of the Words,” will take place in Denver, just 24 hours before Obama and Romney square off in the same city.
Beck and Spitzer, who are known to occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum, first announced the debate on Sept. 13. The announcement was made at a staged, boxing match-esque “weigh-in” at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, where Dish CEO Joe Clayton introduced the two pundits and sports announcer Michael Buffer was on hand to shout his famous line, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”
The kitschy kickoff event took place during the same week that Dish announced it will carry Beck’s 24-hour online news network, TheBlaze.
Beck and Spitzer’s tacky face-off highlights the extent to which presidential elections have become big business in the media industry, which seems to find ever-more creative ways to cash in on the four-year political cycle that dominates Washington.
Overtly political fare has permeated every medium over the last few months. In cinemas, Dinesh D’Souza’s “2016: Obama’s America” was a sleeper indie hit this summer. On magazine covers, Newsweek had “Hit the Road, Barack” and Romney’s “Wimp Factor,” while Time magazine followed up with “The Mind of Mitt” and “What Obama Knows Now.” In books, the New York Times’ nonfiction best-seller list is teeming with election-related manifestos -- from Edward Klein’s “The Amateur,” which makes the case that Obama’s lack of experience makes him an unfit leader, to Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics,” a researched referendum on the Obamanomics of the last four years.
Of course, few events attract broader national interest than a presidential election, but the process this time around has also given a new sense of purpose to once-prominent media personalities who had been fading quietly into the woodwork -- as evidenced by the Beck/Spitzer debate.
Spitzer, following the prostitution scandal that forced him out of Albany in 2008, has not exactly set the punditry world ablaze. He brought mostly awkwardness to his critically maligned stint on CNN, which was cut short due to perpetually poor ratings. And his more recent reincarnation on Current TV has not lived up to the legacy of Keith Olbermann, his predecessor.
Beck, too, has seen his influence -- and audience -- diminish since his days as one of the most-watched hosts on Fox News. Last week, Angelo Carusone of Media Matters told NPR that the watchdog group had posted only 14 stories about Beck this year compared with 3,500 during his final year at Fox. “That is a reflection not just of Media Matters’ focus at the time but also his own position within the conservative media and the larger media landscape generally.”
Nevertheless, with a little over a month before voters pull the lever on Nov. 6, rampant election-related punditry is only going to increase in the coming weeks for public personalities -- large and small alike -- from every corner of the media universe. Even former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins is getting in on the action, touring 51 of the country’s capital cities with his spoken-word show “Capitalism.”
“I really don't like all this anger that's going back and forth,” the singer said of election-fueled polarization in an interview with Rolling Stone. “It's just not productive.”