As TheWrap reported last week, Beck's ratings are down 35 percent in total viewers in 2011 and 44 percent in the 25-54 year-olds demo.
Times' media writer David Carr reported Monday that, given the slide, "Fox News officials are willing to say — anonymously, of course; they don’t want to be identified as criticizing the talent — that they are looking at the end of his contract in December and contemplating life without Mr. Beck."
The story also cited "people who work for Mr. Beck" who "point out that he could live without Fox News" given his successful books, live appearances, and radio show.
Is it the usual game of chicken prior to contract negotiations, in which talent and network alike play down their need for one another? A sign that Beck's influence has dramatically waned? Or something else?
Some in conservative circles were immediately skeptical. Note Monday's Drudge headline: "NYT MISCHIEF MONDAY: 'FLOATS' FOXNEWS/BECK BREAKUP…"
There's reason to doubt Fox would let Beck go too easily: Even with ratings down, he still has one of the highest-rated cable news shows and easily the highest-rated in the 5 p.m. hour.
Joel Cheatwood, a senior vice president of development for Fox News and the executive in charge of the show, told the Times it was wrong to suggest Beck's connection with viewers is on the wane, but said he has talked to Beck about keeping the show upbeat.
“We have talked about that, at his instigation,” Cheatwood said. “It is really important that no matter how dire he thinks things are or what horrible direction things may be going from his perspective that the show maintains a sense of hope.”