On Wednesday night, Glenn Beck's TV network The Blaze will air the first episode of an investigative newsmagazine show called For the Record — the latest move by the network to build journalistic credibility amid a broader debate about the state of conservative media.
Beck introduced the idea for the show in January as part of a larger plan to build out the network's news division and more sharply focus its programming on a libertarian audience. He said he hoped the show would eventually air nightly, and pledged that it would aspire to the highest journalistic standards, citing 60 Minutes as its inspiration.
"We are currently looking for our own Woodwards and Bernsteins," he said then. "Maybe they don't exist anymore, and if that's the case I don't really care. We'll grow our own!"
The target audience and slick production are fully apparent in the debut episode, which focuses on government surveillance issues, and features an interview with emerging libertarian star Sen. Rand Paul.
Hosted by former Fox News correspondent Laurie Dhue, the 50-minute mini-documentary is built largely on the accounts of whistleblowers from the NSA and House Intelligence Committee, and chronicles — with dramatic background music, and graphics meant to invoke grainy, digitized surveillance camera footage — the explosive growth, and questionable practices, of the intelligence community since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The episode doesn't break any news: The sources have all told their tales to other outlets in the past, including The Baltimore Sun, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. But nor does it commit any immediately apparent journalistic transgressions in the name of partisanship, allowing its subjects to lay blame on George W. Bush's administration for implementing warrantless wiretaps, and generally allowing intelligence agencies to cross constitutional lines while he was in office. Beck's talent for showmanship helps make it a compelling hour of TV, while the show's seven producers and editors manage to keep it (for the most part) on the journalistic straight-and-narrow.
For the Record's debut coincides with a Beck-led campaign to get cable and satellite providers to pick up The Blaze. But it also comes amid a growing debate on the right about the quality of conservative journalism.
After a series of "scandals" fueled by the right media were deflated when the full facts came out, Red State editor Erick Erickson wrote last month that conservatives "need to reset some of their reportorial resources to tell the stories that need to be told by focusing on the facts at hand in a worldview of the right."
Beck told BuzzFeed in a statement that he hopes the new show will stand as an example of credible journalism made for an audience of conservatives and libertarians.
"We hope that For the Record fills an important void in the marketplace — smart, deeply researched, and incredibly well-produced television journalism for an audience that is too often ignored by the media," he said.