In what one former associate of Glenn Beck described as “the last gasp of a dying empire,” the volatile right-wing radio, streaming video, and cable television personality is suing his longtime former chief executive, Christopher Balfe, whom Beck fired in December 2014.
The suit—in which Beck’s privately held company, Mercury Radio Arts, is the plaintiff and seeks a jury trial—alleges fraud, breach of contract, dereliction of duty, and various other misdeeds.
“I feel terrible for Glenn and I hope he finds the help that he needs,” Balfe, who worked closely with Beck for nearly two decades before their split, said Monday in a statement to The Daily Beast.
“The lawsuit speaks for itself,” said a spokesman for Beck—the only comment provided.
Beck, meanwhile, told listeners and viewers Monday of his syndicated radio program, which is video-streamed on his paid-subscription site TheBlaze.com: “I am—[Beck’s wife] Tania and I—are both really saddened by this and saddened that it has come to this.”
The 16-page complaint was filed quietly Friday in Dallas County, Texas, District Court, and apparently leaked Sunday night as an “exclusive” to the Lawnewz.com website, with another account splashed on GlennBeck.com.
“There are articles that have come out today on apparently lawsuit websites. I’m not going to give them publicity,” Beck told his fans. “And you’ll see more articles, I would assume, over the next few days. It’s an ongoing legal matter. And you’re not going to hear me talking much about it.”
Then, despite his insistence on not giving publicity to stories about the lawsuit, Beck recited the web addresses of the articles in question.
He is, of course, well known for changing his mind—campaigning hard during the Republican primaries for former presidential candidate Ted Cruz, for instance, mere months after announcing with spectacular fanfare that he was leaving politics for good.
Beck’s lawsuit is sharply at odds with previous expressions of gratitude he made three months after Balfe, along with fellow ex-Beck executive Joel Cheatwood, left Mercury Radio Arts, where Balfe was chief operating officer, and its subsidiary The Blaze, where Balfe was CEO.
“Chris and Joel helped me build one of the industry’s first truly independent multi-media companies,” Beck declared in March 2015, after Balfe and Cheatwood, who had steered Beck’s cable television career at HLN and Fox News, announced their formation of a new digital media company, Red Seat Ventures, and took several more top Beck executives with them. “I am sad to see them go but they left our company with an incredible foundation.”
Balfe retained minority ownership in The Blaze after he left, according to the lawsuit, and two sources familiar with the arrangement told The Daily Beast that his deferred compensation agreement featured monthly payments to satisfy around a million dollars that Balfe is owed under the agreement for both his ownership stake and his pro-rated share of company revenues.
But in recent weeks, say these sources, The Blaze has experienced cash-flow problems and has been having trouble paying vendors, while the website’s online traffic has plunged from around 26 million monthly global unique visitors in January 2015, the month after Balfe was dismissed, to around 10 million currently, according to the measuring service Quantcast.
Several more key executives have departed in the past year, along with Beck’s longtime television agent, George Hiltzik, as well George’s son Matthew Hiltzik, who recently resigned as the outside publicist for Beck and his companies; New York PR maven Davidson Goldin now has that account.
In another blow to The Blaze’s financial stability, the cable television distributor Cablevision recently stopped carrying Beck’s programming—representing an annual loss to The Blaze estimated at more than $2 million in subscriber fees and advertising sales, according to the sources.
These sources described Beck’s lawsuit as a pre-emptive strike.
They said that in June, after failing to receive his regular check, Balfe notified Beck’s company that if he wasn’t paid quickly, he would be exploring his options to obtain the money due him.
This none-too-veiled threat prompted Beck to file his own lawsuit claiming, instead, that Balfe actually owes him money—a portion of the $13 million Beck claims Balfe was paid as an executive between 2009 and 2014.
“This is a shockingly excessive amount that far exceeds appropriate compensation for companies of Mercury and TheBlaze’s size and financial performance,” the lawsuit contends.
But back in March of last year, when Balfe and Cheatwood were launching Red Seat Ventures, the 52-year-old Beck gushed: “I am truly grateful that we remain friends and am very excited to see what they do next.”
Their friendship didn’t survive, however, after Beck hired a little-known tech entrepreneur named Jonathan Schreiber, a diehard “superfan” of Beck’s syndicated radio program, who arrived in September 2014 from Israel via Miami, networked his way into Beck’s inner circle, gained the boss’s confidence and began accumulating power in the operations of both Mercury Radio Arts and The Blaze.
According to company employees, as The Daily Beast reported last February, Beck seemed to have become infatuated with Schreiber, who first showed up at The Blaze’s now-defunct Manhattan studios, and later had been regularly spotted in Beck’s expansive, glass-walled office at the rambling company headquarters in the Dallas suburb of Las Colinas—sometimes hugging his idol after a heart-to-heart.
Schreiber’s Orthodox Judaism apparently was in sync with Beck’s ardent religiosity as a Mormon convert, although staffers said Schreiber—who became president of Beck’s parent company—had an off-putting, arrogant manner with underlings, who gave him the nickname “Voldemort.”
Back in February, as Beck increasingly complained about Balfe and others who had helped orchestrate his career, Schreiber defended his own leadership to The Daily Beast.
“Glenn Beck, brilliant media mogul, realized he was unhappy in the direction his company was going so he brought in new blood,” he said in an email. “The goal being to put the company in the right direction. Through that process we separated with many people. Some will be missed, some less so.”
He added: “I am very proud of my work here, I am very proud of the culture we have created AND PROUD OF [his capital letters] the people WE have been able to bring in to the fold… No one likes to admit that they are not here because of themselves, it must be Voldemort.”