Glenn Beck's dual embrace of gold -- as an investment vehicle for his listeners and a personal moneymaking opportunity for himself -- has drawn boos from various journalism watchdogs. And now it looks like the talk-show host's close relationship with one purveyor of gold coins has gotten him in a bit of trouble with his employer Fox News.
Beck is prominently featured on the website of Goldline International, a vendor of "gold, silver, and platinum coins and bars as well as rare and collectible numismatic coins." According to the site, Beck is a "paid spokesman" for the company. "This is a top notch organization," a thumbnail photo of Beck's head declares.
Beck regularly does "live reads," or live commercials, for Goldline on his syndicated radio show, and has even interviewed Mark Albarian, Goldline's president and CEO, twice on the show, most recently on Nov. 12, 2009.
Critics including Media Matters say it's a major conflict of interest for Beck, who has often advised the viewers of his Fox News program to buy gold to protect themselves against the collapse of the dollar -- and of Western civilization -- without informing them of his Goldline deal. (Politico recently took an in-depth look at Beck and other right-wing talkers gold ties.)
Like other news organizations, Fox News prohibits its on-air personalities from making paid product endorsements. But it makes an exception for its commentators who are also radio hosts, who are allowed to perform live reads, says Joel Cheatwood, senior vice president for development.
"When we hired Glenn at Fox News, we hired him with the understanding that he had a well-established, burgeoning radio business, and we had to be accepting of certain elements of that," Cheatwood tells DailyFinance, noting that Beck's relationship with Goldline dates back to his time at HLN, CNN's sister network.
The same understanding applies to Don Imus, who recently started simulcasting his radio show on Fox Business Network. (An MSNBC spokesman says his network has a similar policy in place, while a spokeswoman for CNN said only, "CNN/US anchors and correspondents are prohibited from participating in any paid endorsements of products and services.")
But the exemption is meant only to apply to live reads, not to the kind of broader spokesmanship Beck, to all appearances, provides Goldline. In particular, Beck's ubiquity on the Goldline website is not in keeping with Fox's rules. A Fox spokeswoman said the network's legal department is taking up the matter with Beck's agent, George Hiltzik.
Even so, it could be argued that taking money from a gold vendor in any form creates a conflict of interest that calls into question Beck's objectivity on stories touching on gold's investment value. I asked Cheatwood whether Beck is capable of covering the issue in an impartial way.
"I think the beauty is he doesn't operate in a vacuum with the show," he said. "He's got a staff. I'm involved with the show daily. The rundowns of the show are circulated through Bill Shine," the network's senior vice president of programming. "It's a cooperative effort."
"If gold declines and the dollar goes up," Cheatwood added, "I absolutely guarantee the reporting will be that on the show."
Thar's gold in them shills! Fox raps Glenn Beck's endorsement deal