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Glenn Beck has lost advertisers on his TV show after calling President Obama "a racist" in the context of the Henry Louis Gates arrest controversy. The pressure on advertisers has become a politically charged debate about the right to free speech, censorship and what constitutes hate speech. Conservatives are questioning if the campaign against Beck is connected to the White House staff.
The corporate sponsors are responding to the African-American online political coalition ColorOfChange.org, which launched a campaign two weeks ago, urging companies to stop advertising on "The Glenn Beck Program."
Color of Change, in a press release Thursday, said that the "target companies" which have responded to its campaign to pull ads from Beck's show are: ConAgra (maker of Healthy Choice products), Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, RadioShack, Men's Wearhouse, State Farm, Sargento, Lawyers.com, Procter & Gamble, Progressive Insurance, SC Johnson and GEICO.
Fox News Channel has said that the advertisers have shifted their ads to different time slots so the campaign is not affecting revenue. Beck's 5 p.m. show is Fox News' third-highest rated, with over 2 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
Conservatives have questioned Color of Change's motives. The co-founder of Color of Change is Van Jones,who was appointed by Obama in May as the special adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Jones is listed on ColorofChange.org as: "Former Staff, Van Jones (Co-founder, inactive)."
The controversy started on July 22 when Obama, the first African-American president, inflamed the Gates controversy by saying the Cambridge, Mass., police "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates, a Harvard professor, while investigating a possible break-in at his home.
Two days later, Obama acknowledged: "I could have calibrated those words differently" and "unfortunately, I think, gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge police department" or specifically Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer.
The president then announced on July 28 that he Gates and Crowley had both agreed to meet with him at the White House for beer and reconciliation. That day, Glenn Beck was on the morning show "Fox and Friends" and asked about the president's remarks about Gates and Crowley.
Beck said: "This president has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." He added that "you can't sit in a pew with Jeremiah Wright for 20 years and not hear some of that stuff and have it wash over."
Specifically on the Gates arrest, Beck said, "What kind of president of the United States immediately jumps on the police? Just like what kind of president would say, 'Oh he's black, of course he's breaking into the house.' You'd never do that."
When the other hosts raised the point that the White House staff is largely white, Beck stood his ground, saying, "I'm not saying that he doesn't like white people. I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.''
Fox News Channel responded to the backlash against Beck later that day. "Glenn Beck expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel," said Bill Shine, senior vice president of programming for Fox.
Shine added: "As with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions."
Two days later, ColorofChange.org, which says it has 600,000 members, organized an online campaign called "Stop Glenn Beck's race baiting" to pressure companies to withdraw their ads from the show. The group "exists to strengthen Black America's political voice." By "using the Internet, we will enable our members to speak in unison, with an amplified political voice."
Color of Change's effective campaign to pressure advertisers involves a Web site where people can sign their name to a letter that is automatically sent to the president or CEO of the companies that advertise on Beck's show. The group say over 125,000 people have signed this online petition to advertisers.
Beck has defended himself from the advertisers' withdrawal, writing on Twitter Wednesday: "I have made VERY powerful people VERY angry. They have tried to cover their tracks. They have failed. Will expose and ask 4 your help VERY soon."
Conservatives are coming to Beck's defense, saying the right to free speech is being undermined by the anti-Beck campaign. One group that has sprung up to his defense is "Support Glenn Beck," which states on it Web site that it "was created to counter a current campaign against Glenn Beck through threats to his sponsors."
Support Glenn Beck has set up its own online petition which will be sent to the companies that have currently pulled advertising and those that may be considering it.
The group says on its Web site: "It's time we support Glenn Beck and show these companies that the other side is willing to boycott them as well . . . Let's show these companies that there are two sides to every issue and they made a mistake in choosing one."
Follow Emily Miller on Twitter.
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