Bob Beckel, who turned a long career as a Democratic political agent into an even longer one as a TV pundit, mainly for Fox News, where he took on the role of a fatherly internal liberal with a penchant for saying whatever he wanted, died at Sunday at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland. He was 73.
His daughter, McKenzie Beckel, confirmed the death but said the cause had not been determined.
As an expert, Mr. Beckel often exchanged with the likes of Sean Hannity and Greg Gutfeld. But some of are stances — though defending Barack Obama, he called for a visa freeze for Muslim and Chinese students — meant he often had more friends on the right than on the left.
“He and I got along very well. He had a key to my house,” Mr Hannity said on his show Monday. Laura Ingraham, another Fox host, appeared alongside Mr Hannity, calling him “an old-fashioned liberal you could fight with.”
But Mr. Beckel often crossed the line of cultural insensitivity. On the Fox News show “The Five,” where he hosted, he used racial slurs against Chinese people and repeatedly questioned the loyalty of Muslim Americans. “I am an Islamophobe. That’s right – you can call me that if you like,” he said in 2015, after the attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Fox News fired him in 2015, ostensibly over a dispute over an extended medical leave, which began with back surgery, but after he became addicted to painkillers, turned into a rehab stay. The network rehired him with much fanfare in early 2017 — only to fire him again a few months later, after a black employee accused him of making a racist remark.
Mr. Beckel denied the charges, saying he was staged because of his constant criticism of President Donald Trump.
Mr. Beckel achieved national fame as the outspoken campaign manager of Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign. By all accounts, he ran a smart race, helping his candidate survive an embarrassing loss in the New Hampshire primaries of Colorado Senator Gary Hart. – in part by getting Mr Mondale to question the substance of Mr Hart’s agenda during a debate by uttering the popular catchphrase, “Where’s the beef?”
Mr. Mondale won the nomination, but Ronald Reagan defeated him in November in one of the most lopsided elections in recent history.
Shortly afterwards, Mr. Beckel announced that he was done with campaigns, but not politics. The following year, he founded a consultancy that advised politicians and corporate clients, and in the 1990s he hung out as an expert on cable, network and local news reporting.
He joined Fox News as a commentator in 2000, and in 2011, joined four other network personalities to launch “The Five,” an afternoon gabfest loosely modeled on “The View.”
The show took off, dominating the 5pm timeslot, trailing only Mr. Hannity in Fox viewers. Many fans of the show, including a surprising number of liberals, said they tuned in mainly to see what the ever-unpredictable Mr. Beckel would do now.
Broad-shouldered and slightly stooped, adorned with bright suspenders and shirt sleeves, Mr. Beckel was as inclined to defend liberal pieties as to pierce them. He could make a rude gesture to one of his conservative sparring partners, or show up dressed as Santa just before Christmas.
“It’s like seeing a family come home on Thanksgiving and arguing about politics, but you know everyone loves each other,” he told DailyExpertNews in 2011.
Robert Gilliland Beckel was born on November 15, 1948 in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. His father, Cambridge Graham Beckel, taught at Queens College and later a secondary school in Lyme, Conn., where the family moved when Robert was in high school. His mother, Ellen (Gilliland) Beckel, was a homemaker.
His parents were both alcoholics, a fact which caused Mr. Beckel great shame, but which he spoke about freely, especially in light of his own later struggles with substance abuse.
But his father, who worked on the side as a labor organizer and civil rights activist, also passed on a fierce devotion to progressive ideas, a complicated legacy that Mr. Beckel explored in his memoir “I Should Be Dead: My Life Surviving Politics, TV and Addiction” (2015).
He graduated in 1970 with a degree in political science from Wagner College on Staten Island, where he also played soccer. He served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines between 1971 and 1972 and joined the State Department in 1977.
There he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary on the Panama Canal Treaty, the SALT II arms control negotiations, and US policy in the Middle East. He left to lead ground operations in Texas for Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign, a wasted effort that would nevertheless lead him to lead Mr. Mondale’s campaign.
Mr. Beckel worked hard as an expert. He did everything the producers asked of him, whether it was replacing holiday guests or doing election night coverage.
“It’s a way for me to keep my finger in the socket,” he told The Washington Post in 1991. “I can still get excited for the campaigns, but I don’t have to do them. I can go to Iowa and New Hampshire, do my stand-ups, and then go to bed.”
He married Leland Ingham, a professional golfer, in 1991; they divorced in 2002. Along with his daughter, he is survived by his son, Alex; his brother, Graham; and his sister, Peggy Proto.
In November 2000, Mr. Beckel made an effort to see if voters in Florida could be persuaded to change their vote from George W. Bush to Al Gore. When The Wall Street Journal reported on his project, Mr. Gore distanced himself from it, and when Mr. Beckel insisted, two partners left his firm, forcing him to dissolve it.
Mr. Beckel’s demons occasionally brought him controversy. In early 2001, he got drunk in a bar in Maryland and took a pass on a married woman. Her husband, sitting nearby, drew a pistol and pointed it at Mr. Beckel’s head; he pulled the trigger and it failed.
A year later, he hired a prostitute who then tried to extort money from him; after he declined and she went public, he was fired from the campaign of Alan Blinken, a Democrat (and uncle of Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State) running for the Senate in Idaho.
Mr. Beckel just kept rolling. With conservative writer Cal Thomas, he wrote a regular counterpoint column for USA Today, discussing topics such as immigration, the Iraq war, and holiday shopping; they later co-wrote “Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America” (2008).
But his real love was television.
“I can write a good, solid column about a presidential campaign in the LA Times and nobody will pay much attention to it,” he told The Washington Post. “I get on ‘Crossfire’ and people seem to care about that.”