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Did Glenn Beck Turn A Profit At Wilmington Charity Event?

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With news that Glenn Beck finally donated money to Wilmington, Ohio charities after staging in-person appeals on the town's behalf back in December, and with the news that most of the money raised from Beck's ticket sales did not go to Wilmington charities, it's time to ask this question: Did Beck actually turn a profit from his Wilmington appearances thanks to the sky-high ticket fees for performances. And did Beck turn a profit because Fox News, in a highly unusual move, allowed the host to charge exorbitant prices for fans to watch him tape his TV show in Wilmington?

Indeed, Beck's entire Wilmington production, which he relentlessly promoted as a selfless act of goodwill, looks increasingly cynical in its execution. It also looks increasingly profitable. For Beck, not the town.

We've always known Beck charged money for the Wilmington tickets. That's never been a secret. But the revelation late last week that such a large percentage of the ticket revenues did not go to charity raises the obvious question: Why did Fox News allow Beck to charge big bucks ($125) for tickets to the taping of his TV show? (And is that an option extended to other hosts?)

Let's recap what transpired in Wilmington late last year. In an effort to raise public awareness about the town and its unemployment struggles, Beck announced that he would visit Wilmington and shine a spotlight on the community. The host hoped that his legions of fans would descend on Wilmington for Beck's visit and (temporarily) boost the local economy.

When he announced his Wilmington plans, Beck also politicized his deeds by lying about how town, in a fit of Middle America self-determination, had shunned financial aid from Uncle Sam. Instead, residents turned to churches and neighbors in time of need, according to Beck. In truth, the federal government has pumped millions of dollars into Wilmington and the surrounding county in recent years. Just last week the government announced it was pouring nearly $3 million more into the community. (By comparison, Beck has donated $44,000.)

As part of Beck's whirlwind tour of the town back on December 15, he sold tickets to three separate events at the Murphy Theater, which he rented out. Fans were able to purchase $125 tickets to watch the taping of Beck's nationally syndicated radio show. Fans were able to purchase $125 tickets for the taping of Beck's Fox News program. And fans were able to purchase $125 tickets

to his one-man performance that evening, "America's First Christmas." Especially wealthy, or dedicated, Beck fans were even able to purchase VIP tickets to a breakfast meet-and-greet with the talker in Wilmington that day. (Those tickets sold for $500, not counting the $32 per-ticket service fee.)

Keep in mind that typically, television shows filmed before a live audience give away tickets. For free. The notion that a news (or even faux news) program like Glenn Beck would charge admission for the taping of a program is highly unusual. The idea that a show like that would charge $125 is just bizarre, and that Beck was doing that in a community suffering from sky-high unemployment was just jaw dropping.

At the time though, there were vague promises made by Beck's camp that the money raised from the ticket sales would go to help Wilmington charities busy trying to help those in need. If true, there at least seemed to be some sort of defense for the Broadway-style ticket prices.

And to his credit, Beck was able to sell lots of tickets in Wilmington. If you add up the revenue from Beck's three Murphy Theater events, he sold approximately $300,000 worth of tickets. Specifically, the taping of Beck's TV show sold out, generating nearly $100,000 in sales.

If all of that money, or virtually all of it, had gone directly to local charities than I could kind of understand why Fox News allowed one of its hosts to charge $125 for tickets to a taping. (i.e. It's all going to a good cause.) But we now know most of the money from those $125 tickets did not go to local charities.

Last week, we found out that from the estimated $300,000 raised from Wilmington ticket sales, Beck donated a grand total of $44,000 to local charities. So where did the remaining $256,000 go?

In terms of expenses associated with Beck's one-man, minimally staged productions that day, here's what the Wilmington News Journal reported [emphasis added]:

Chris Schock, the director of the Clinton County Regional Planning Commission, said the $44,611 was money remaining "after [Beck] covered local fixed costs like paying the Murphy [Theatre] for rent, expenses, their portion of the ticket sales and paying the City of Wilmington $10,780.78, which covered all of the city's additional expenses."

But there still seems to be an enormous gap between the $300,000 in ticket revenues Beck generated and the $44,000 he donated to charity. Beck's Wilmington costs accounted for nearly 85 percent of ticket sales? If true, that's one poorly run charity event. And keep in mind, the Fox News host pocketed $32 million in 2009. Did he not pick up any of the Wilmington expenses himself, or did he deduct every last penny before making his $44,000 donation?

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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a contributing (more...)
 
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