Endgame

After Mass Layoffs, Can Glenn Beck Still Save ‘The Blaze’?

30 per cent of Glenn Beck’s ‘Blaze’ staff have been laid off. The company is also fighting a lawsuit. “I chose you, and I want you to choose me,” Beck has told remaining employees.

The employees of Glenn Beck’s Mercury Radio Arts and The Blaze, the privately-held companies that comprise his once thriving but now crumbling conservative media empire, suspected something bad was going to happen Thursday morning when they arrived for work at the suburban Dallas, Texas, production complex and noticed the extra complement of security guards.

By the time Beck himself spoke to his dwindling army of underlings as one of his personal bodyguards from Gavin de Becker’s celebrity protection service stood watch, nearly 60 of their coworkers had been abruptly fired—a body count that amounted to almost 30 percent of the workforce, according to estimates compiled by shell-shocked survivors.

In the 53-year-old Beck’s self-pitying essay on both Medium and TheBlaze.com—“You might have noticed that recently something has been bothering me,” he shared—Beck calculated Bloody Thursday’s casualty rate at “just over 20 percent of the combined workforce of Mercury Radio Arts and TheBlaze (with most of the changes happening at TheBlaze”).”

A spokesperson for Beck said he had no comment beyond his written statement.

Some of the terminated employees were seen reeling out of the company’s human resources office in tears after being instructed to surrender their IDs, pack up their personal belongings and vacate the premises, while their access to corporate email was revoked.

Among the departed, according to sources, were camera operators, producers, a receptionist, a beloved longtime makeup artist, and a well-regarded graphic artist who didn’t learn about his sacking until a coworker reached him Thursday night on his cell phone in Houston, where he’d trekked to help relatives cope with the floods of Hurricane Harvey.

George Szucs Jr., the executive producer of right-wing talk radio host Dana Loesch’s weeknight television show on The Blaze, was also handed a pink slip; Loesch, who’s been at The Blaze since January 2014, has been doing her show week to week since Beck and his top executive, Jonathan Schreiber, a former tech entrepreneur with a marketing degree from Yeshiva University, didn’t commence negotiations for a new long-term contract when the previous one expired several weeks ago.

“If I were her, I’d get the fuck out of there, and leave tire-tracks,” a veteran Beck employee told The Daily Beast. Szucs and Loesch declined to comment.

Also on Thursday’s chopping block, sources said, were at least three shows: The Wonderful World of Stu, a weekly television satire, a la E!’s The Soup, hosted by Steve “Stu” Burguiere, the executive producer, head writer and regular cohost of Beck’s radio program; Pat & Stu, the afternoon radio show cohosted by Pat Gray and Burguiere that follows Beck’s morning show on The Blaze; and Pure Opelka, radio jock Mike Opelka’s take on the news mixed with celebrity and political interviews.

Meanwhile, the future of Glenn, Beck’s weeknight television sermonette that is nominally The Blaze’s flagship program, is uncertain, sources said. That show is scheduled to be in re-runs next week.

“I chose you, and I want you to choose me,” Beck told his remaining employees on Thursday—a gathering small enough that it was held in The Blaze’s Studio C instead of the more spacious “Think Tank” where all-hands meetings are usually held. “Take the weekend to think about your goals here, and if you want to leave or stay,” he added, according to a witness account provided to The Daily Beast.

As some employees listened skeptically, Beck insisted that decisions on which ones stayed on the payroll and which were cut were made strictly on the merits for business reasons—not personal considerations.

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“There are no sacred cows, no ‘friends of Glenn,’” he said, according to a witness—adding that “nobody is here because they’re good at kissing my ass.”

Yet somehow, family members of Beck’s close friend Robert Shelton, who works in the sales department, managed to escape the bloodbath. According to a knowledgeable source, Shelton’s daughter Bailey was kept on as a makeup artist while the far more experienced Diane Lowe was sent packing; son Matthew Shelton, meanwhile, is staying on as Beck’s personal chef. Lowe didn’t respond to a request for comment.

This was the latest, and by most accounts the worst, round of layoffs in the ongoing painful shrinkage of Beck’s multi-media enterprises, which once generated $90 million a year, according to a Forbes magazine cover story in April 2010.

But in the past three years, they have experienced plunging traffic, subscriptions and ad revenue, weakening television household reach due to departures by cable distributors, and seemingly endless management chaos.

Since Schreiber’s arrival in late 2014 and the exodus of longtime Beck executive Chris Balfe and half a dozen other executives who helped engineer Beck’s success, The Blaze has cycled through half a dozen CEOs in the past three years.

Beck has suffered through various puzzling maladies (at one point telling fans he’d strapped himself into a gigantic gyroscope to treat a mysterious brain illness), while he tried to reinvent himself and transform his public identity from outrageous right-wing firebrand to sensitive lifestyle guru who wants to listen respectfully to, and even befriend, his ideological adversaries.

Meanwhile, as Beck himself has acknowledged, his staunch opposition to Donald Trump has cost him dearly in alienated former fans, and even his most reliable source of income, his daily Premiere Radio Networks syndicated talk show, has not been immune from the consequences of his Never Trumpism. An industry observer noted that Beck’s radio audience is also taking a hit.

'We can do more. We can do better'

In the meantime, legal expenses are mushrooming in Beck’s ongoing fraud, breach of contract, dereliction of duty lawsuit filed a year ago against former Blaze chief executive Chris Balfe after the latter tried to collect around $1 million he said he was owed in deferred compensation upon his exit from the company.

In what must be considered one of the wackier ironies in the annals of litigation, Beck’s Mercury Radio Arts—the plaintiff of record—is paying not only its own lawyer’s fees, but also Balfe’s, because of a feature of his employment contract that the trial court in Dallas has consistently upheld.

The litigants have already taken many hours of depositions in the discovery phase—and the combined legal expenses are rapidly approaching the sum Balfe was attempting to recover. If a trial starts next February, as scheduled, Beck’s outlay will far surpass Balfe’s original claim.

Aside from Beck’s essay attempting to explain Thursday’s implosion, Jonathan Schreiber also posted on Medium his own 3,400-word exegesis on the corporate bloodletting.

“What does success look like? If you are an entrepreneur, this seemingly simple question may be hard to answer. And no one even tells you to think about it, let alone helps you define it,” Schreiber wrote in a meandering essay that blamed the company’s troubles a general decline on the popularity of “conservative media.”

“Failure, on the other hand, is easy to define,” he went on, presenting the sacking of dozens of people, who are now desperate for jobs to support themselves and their families, as the sort of philosophical musing one might have enjoyed in a college dorm room at 3 a.m. “I am certain that TheBlaze is not a failure, yet I am equally as sure that TheBlaze is not a success.”

Beck, who has attempted multiple course corrections over the past three years in an effort to right his corporate ship, wrote: “We started The Blaze for one purpose: we wanted to change the world for the better. In this regard, I’m proud of the success that we’ve had, but it’s not nearly enough. We can do more. We can do better. Everything we’ve been working on for the past six months begins now.”

He added: “My purpose is clearer today than it has been in years: Love, Courage, Truth. As difficult as the changes we made today have been, this was an important first step in getting to where we are going.”

If Beck tried to sound an upbeat note—an optimistic future borne of clear thinking and self-knowledge—a former associate characterized the situation way: “Same mistakes. Same ‘now I know what we have to do’ declarations.”