By Lloyd Grove
The abrupt end of a beautiful friendship—nearly two decades of mutual admiration between struggling media entrepreneur Glenn Beck and his fired top executive, Christopher Balfe—has become a legal battle of ugly accusations that only promise to get uglier.
“Beck has driven [Mercury Radio Arts, Beck’s wholly owned private umbrella company] into the ground due to his own erratic behavior, excessive spending, and mismanagement,” Balfe alleges in a countersuit filed Monday afternoon in Dallas County, Texas, District Court—a response to Beck’s July 29 lawsuit accusing his former protégé of fraud, breach of contract, dereliction of duty and various other misdeeds.
A spokesman for Beck didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Balfe—whom Beck quietly fired in December 2014 while publicly lavishing praise—is demanding more than $3 million in deferred compensation and unpaid bonuses and legal fees, as well as unspecified “exemplary,” or punitive, damages.
Beck’s lawsuit—in which the official plaintiff is Mercury, parent company of Beck’s The Blaze—demands that Balfe, who was Mercury’s chief operating officer and The Blaze’s chief executive, return a portion of the $13 million he was paid from 2009 until his forced departure.
Balfe is pursuing a separate legal action claiming that Mercury and Beck are liable for his lawyer’s fees and must indemnify him from any monetary damages because of the laws of Delaware, where The Blaze is incorporated, and because The Blaze’s corporate bylaws protect officers of the company from lawsuits.
If Beck and Balfe can’t settle their disputes and their dueling lawsuits go forward, a take-no-prisoners discovery process could very well precede a full-blown jury trial that would undoubtedly air a mountain of dirty laundry.
Ironically, Balfe—who last year joined with several former Beck executives to launch their own digital media company, Red Seat Ventures—continues to own a slightly more than 10 percent stake in The Blaze.
“Balfe propelled Beck and Mercury on a meteoric rise to national prominence and delivered millions of dollars in profits to Beck and Mercury,” claims the complaint filed by the 38-year-old Balfe against his 52-year-old erstwhile mentor, for whom he started working as a 19-year-old computer geek in 1997, when Beck was a relatively unknown local radio host in Hamden, Connecticut.
Mercury Radio Arts responded to Balfe’s lawsuit in a statement: “So now the world is to believe that Glenn Beck would not be Glenn Beck without Mr. Balfe? Well, that’s not only comical but we look forward to presenting actual evidence that proves our position and makes a mockery of his.”
Balfe’s complaint, meanwhile, says: “Balfe tuned into Beck’s show daily. Beck often spoke about his recovery from his long journey with alcoholism and how he felt called to give back, particularly by creating a website for a charity he was starting—Family First. Even at 19 years old, Balfe was a skilled web designer. was building websites with advanced technology, such as live streaming. When Balfe learned Beck was doing a remote broadcast from a local coffee shop, he eagerly attended and offered Beck his help to make the website a reality.”
The lawsuit describes Balfe, who dropped out of the University of Connecticut and worked as a consultant before joining Beck’s enterprise fulltime in 2001, as a “close friend” who spoke at Beck’s 1999 wedding to his second wife, Tania.
“Nevertheless,” Balfe’s complaint alleges, “when Mercury later struggled due to Beck’s own erratic and reckless behavior, Beck suddenly fired Balfe with an unceremonious email. As before, Beck promised that Balfe would be taken care of in terms of a severance package commensurate with his long service, and that Balfe did not need to worry about Beck keeping his word because the two were close friends. Unfortunately, these promises proved hollow.”
Balfe’s lawsuit repeatedly acknowledges that he never had a written employment contract with Beck. “Claiming he was a man of his word,” it claims at one point, “Beck falsely and repeatedly promised Balfe that he did not need written contracts confirming their contractual agreements.”
Balfe’s complaint—which offers an epic narrative of Beck’s climb from “a morning radio DJ to a national superstar, appearing on the covers of Time, Forbes, and [New York Times] Magazine”—focuses on a more recent period in which “Beck’s behavior became increasingly erratic and he distanced himself from the company,” the lawsuit alleges.
Beck became obsessed with rebranding himself as an entertainment figure as opposed to a news personality, even though news is what had made Mercury millions,” it continues.
“Though Beck was known as a news personality, because of the backlash he had received from the major networks, Beck turned his back on the most lucrative part of his career, instead choosing to focus on entertainment.
“Beck began to refer to himself as Walt Disney and went so far as to paint ‘Walt’ above his door and ‘Roy’ above Balfe’s door,” the lawsuit goes on, in a reference to the entertainment legend’s older brother and business partner Roy Oliver Disney.
“Beck insisted his work with news be quashed, sometimes refusing to participate in a show entirely if it contained a news segment. He spent Mercury’s money developing films, planning amusement parks, and planning to reinvent the healthcare industry starting by building his own hospitals. In the summer of 2013, Beck even produced a live stage show called ‘Man in the Moon’ that cost over $2 million for a single night run.”
The lawsuit continues: “Beck also became suspicious of almost everyone. He began terminating employees, including those who had been with the company for more than a decade. Balfe navigated these terminations for Beck at his request, working hard to ensure that they did not result in the release of information that was embarrassing and potentially devastating for Beck’s brand.”
Read the rest here.