How a law student used Twitter to pressure dozens of Glenn Beck’s advertisers into dropping their support

twitterAngelo Carusone says he didn’t start his campaign to pressure advertisers into ditching Glenn Beck’s radio and Fox News show as an opposition to his politics — though he admitted that their views significantly differ — but rather he saw Beck’s rhetoric as distinct from other commentators. “For me, the real motivator was what he had been doing to the political process, which was really feeding it into a frenzy,” Carusone told me, and then he listed off a number of the more outrageous claims that had escaped unfiltered out of Beck’s mouth over the last year — warnings of concentration camps being set up by the Obama administration, calling Obama a racist, and any number of the outrageous, much-parodied conspiracy theories that had debuted on Beck’s famous chalkboard.

So in July of 2009, inspired in part by the success of a civil rights group in getting advertisers to back away from Beck, Carusone launched his Stop Beck campaign. Since then, the University of Wisconsin law student has pressured between 100 and 200 advertisers (depending on the source) from either pulling their advertising from Beck’s program or from Fox News all together.

“The way I sort of looked at it was that appealing to Fox News wasn’t going to cause any results because they’ve already made their support of Glenn Beck very clear by hiring him and paying him,” Carusone said. ” … It’s about getting ad revenue, and part of the reason that he stands up there and says all these outlandish things is so that he can get attention and then try to translate that into advertising dollars. The way I looked at it is that companies, by supporting him through advertising, they’re continuing to support his platform. So I decided that they were the appropriate targets here.”

His methodology is relatively straight forward: Compile a list of Beck’s advertisers and approach them (usually on Twitter) one-by-one to point out the host’s more outlandish statements, and then encourage other Twitter users to do the same. Rather than going after all the brands at once, Carusone told me he’d usually pick one or two a day and focus entirely on them. “I don’t want to make it about politics, I just highlight the indecent remarks that he makes,” he said. “The sexism, the preying on racial anxieties, some of his more willful distortions, the ones that have dangerous consequences, and I ask if they’re comfortable associating their brand with that. And by and large, many of the advertisers say no, and they modify their advertising agreements accordingly.” Because he typically warns the companies privately before he begins the campaign, sometimes they say they’ll pull their advertising before he even publicly targets them.

Though it can be difficult to determine how many pulled advertisements are directly attributable to the law student, he pointed out that every advertiser from the UK has pulled its ads from Beck’s program (“His UK broadcast, instead of running commercials, runs Sky News updates during the breaks.”) and some companies havepublicly announced via Twitter their decisions.

Fox News spokespeople have vaguely responded to his efforts, claiming that when most brands pull their advertising from Beck they simply move it to other shows on Fox News, meaning no lost revenue for the network. “For them to suggest that it’s not having an effect is nonsense,” Carusone responded when I brought this up. “I fully acknowledge that it would have a better impact if these advertisers were dropping Fox News as a whole, but just because we’re not having a maximum impact doesn’t mean we’re not having an effect. I think, in part, there’s such a progress in the UK, but in the UK the reason he’s not running with any advertisements is that advertisers there were dropping Fox News as a whole, and they were dropping Fox News entirely because of the Glenn Beck controversy. I think the effect there was very visible.”

The organizer said that his project has even slowed down a bit simply because there are very few major brands left that will touch Beck. In fact, when you check theremaining sponsors on his compiled list, it does seem to be populated with smaller (and shady) companies — Goldline, Carbonite, among others.

Many in the blogosphere have complained that mainstream pundits seem to face few consequences no matter how wrong or outrageous their comments, and I asked Carusone if his method was perhaps a vehicle to bring real accountability. “This is a very first step,” he replied. “What has excited me about it is that people have started taking action. On the one hand I think this could be over and done with if we got more attention. The fact that he has lost so many advertisers, the fact that he’s lost all his advertisers in the UK is a major story. The fact that he’s still on the air is quite significant; the reason he’s still on the air is that Fox News is absorbing the loss and nobody is pressing them. The whole point of us doing this is to create the question so Fox News would have to address these issues and there would be some accountability. I think this is a very good model.”