The Fox News Channel is only too happy to have the Midas ratings touch that Glenn Beck has been providing, but the golden words he may pour into the ears of his audience have raised questions at the news network.
Most of those have concerned whether Mr. Beck, who often hails the virtue of buying gold on his Fox show (as a hedge against a coming economic collapse), had been identified as a “paid spokesman” for a company named Goldline International, which sells gold coins.
Joel Cheatwood, the senior vice president of development for Fox News, said the network’s legal department had recently sent a letter to Mr. Beck’s representatives “seeking clarification” about his work for Goldline.
“They sent back word that he is not a paid spokesman,” Mr. Cheatwood said, adding that it would be “problematic without question” if Mr. Beck did have a position as a paid spokesman for a product.
Fox News released a statement outlining its official policy about such issues: “Fox News prohibits any on-air talent from endorsing products or serving as a product spokesperson.”
Fox News stressed that it was not aware that Mr. Beck was listed on the Internet as a paid spokesman. But he definitely was, until very recently. On cached editions of the Goldline Web site over the last week to 10 days, a photograph of Mr. Beck was accompanied by an asterisk which led to a line at the bottom of the site that read: “paid spokesman.”
That ad (which is also linked to from Mr. Beck’s personal site, glennbeck.com) was changed, so that the words “paid spokesman” were replaced with “radio sponsor.”
It may have been the letter from Fox News — or maybe a stinging piece last week about Mr. Beck’s gold associations on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” — that led to the change in the “paid spokesman” designation.
Mark Albarian, the president of Goldline, said in an interview that the company had been a longtime advertiser for Mr. Beck, beginning on his syndicated radio show and continuing on television. Part of the radio sponsorship, he said, involves being able to use a host’s face on the company site.
“We used the term ‘paid spokesman’ because we felt it was important to tell people that there is a payment going to somebody,” Mr. Albarian said. But he said there was a misunderstanding about that designation because Goldline did not specifically pay Mr. Beck on an individual basis to speak on its behalf.
Matthew Hiltzik, a spokesman for Mr. Beck, said the host should never have been listed as a “paid spokesman” because he did not receive separate fees beyond the sponsorship for that or any other work he did for the company.
Before he moved onto Fox News, however, Mr. Beck appeared in a video on the Goldline Web site extolling the virtues of gold. And Mr. Beck routinely reads Goldline ads on the radio, a practice Fox said was acceptable under its guidelines.
Goldline was also listed as the exclusive sponsor of Mr. Beck’s comedy tour last summer. Mr. Albarian said the company was represented in advertising signs around the venues during the tour, in the same way that sponsors of any tour would be.
Mr. Beck has also interviewed Mr. Albarian on his radio show, although never on Fox News. He made a disclosure before a Nov. 12 interview, saying, “I want you to understand clearly going into this that this is a sponsor of my program.”
While he said he was aware of the skewering of Mr. Beck by Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” Mr. Cheatwood said that segment was broadcast after the letter about Mr. Beck’s association with Goldline had been sent, and had nothing to do with Fox’s actions.
Goldline’s Web site includes endorsements from a number of conservative radio hosts, including Laura Ingraham, Dennis Miller and Mark Levin. All of them, along with Mr. Beck, had read commercials for Goldline on the radio, Mr. Albarian said.
But he said the only other radio host besides Mr. Beck who read Goldline commercials and also appeared as a host or anchor on a television news channel was Lou Dobbs, the former CNN anchor.
“We like to use people who have a passion for gold,” Mr. Albarian said. “Glenn has a passion for gold.”