By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 17, 2008; Page C05
An hour after Glenn Beck appeared on CNN, Fox News announced last night that it had signed the conservative commentator, grabbing a rising star of the right from its news-network rival.
Beck, whose syndicated radio show is heard on 300 stations, has been hosting a 7 p.m. program for CNN's Headline News, which has grown more than 200 percent in ratings since its debut two years ago. At Fox, he will host a 5 p.m. program that's now devoted to the presidential campaign, as well as a weekend show.
Beck said in an interview that he had repeatedly had dinner over the past year with Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, as they discussed changes in America and how, in television, "there's got to be a better way to do what we do and not divide people." Beck said that he was drawn to Ailes's "panoramic" career and that he believes the onetime Republican strategist "could really teach me an awful lot."
Fox News will be "a better fit," Beck said, because "I'm kind of an island over at Headline. It's kind of difficult because I've got to bring my own audience over to Headline."
Beck's departure will be a blow to Headline News, whose other prime-time programs, "Nancy Grace" and "Showbiz Tonight," are quite different from Beck's entertaining, sometimes incendiary brand of conservatism.
Beck stirred controversy last year, for instance, when he interviewed Democrat Keith Ellison, the country's first Muslim member of Congress, and said he felt like saying: " 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.' And I know you're not. I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel." Beck later said he regretted the comments.
Fox Senior Vice President Bill Shine said that "many people here watched him get better at what he does, and there's a certain buzz about what he does."
CNN, which had planned to drop the 9 p.m. repeat of Beck's show for a Lou Dobbs rerun, wished him well in a statement. Beck said that CNN executives had been "very gracious" to him and that they had tried to keep him during recent negotiations.
Beck was lured to CNN by Joel Cheatwood, who made the pilot for his show and later jumped to Fox. Beck said he and Cheatwood "speak the same language" and that money was not a factor in his decision to sign the multimillion-dollar deal. "In the end, the question was, who's going to give me the opportunity to really grow and expand," he said.
Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."