Cumulus Media, an American conservative broadcaster that owns over 400 radio stations across the country, is under fire for blocking an interview of Pete Buttigieg from airing last week. Bill Garner, host of the nationally syndicated Blair Garner Radio Show, interviewed presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in Nashville last week after the Buttigieg campaign reached out with an interest in speaking to country music fans.
Garner wrote in a Facebook page afterward that “[o]ne of the few truly viable candidates in the race raised his hand and asked for a place at the table. I was willing to give him that seat. I would have also given a seat to any other viable candidate, from both sides.”
Garner added, “Nobody else reached out. I assume nobody else even thought to reach out.”
After getting permission from Cumulus Media, Garner made the interview available on his personal Soundcloud, which he announced on Twitter.
Garner stressed that he didn’t intend to be political and wrote that “[j]ust to be clear, I would have also enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to have any candidate, including President Trump, as a guest. It was simply that Mayor Pete showed up, and made the ask.”
According to a statement to HuffPost, Cumulus Media decided to block the interview from airing over concerns of the FCC Equal Time Rule. According to a Cumulus spokesperson, programming managers decided not to air the interview “because of the large number of political candidates currently in the race” and that “the decision was made by local programming management based solely on concerns related to the application of the FCC’s Equal Time Rule.”
The Buttigieg campaign said that the candidate is “obviously disappointed that Blair’s listeners won’t have the opportunity to hear” his interview. Other country music media personalities have been critical of the decision, as have listeners of Cumulus Media’s stations.
Cumulus Media’s stated reason, a concern over the FCC Equal Time Rule, does not seem to hold much water. The equal-time rule specifies that U.S. radio and television broadcast stations must provide an equivalent opportunity to any opposing political candidates who request it. Of course, if the Equal Time Rule had consequences for any broadcaster who decided to interview a presidential candidate, countless radio and television stations would be on the hook—every candidate “runs the circuit” and appears on various stations to get their message across.
The equal-time rule was adopted over concern that broadcast stations could successfully manipulate the outcome of elections by presenting a favored candidate or point-of-view and excluding other candidates.
In relevant part, § 73.1941 of the Rule provides that “no station licensee is required to permit the use of its facilities by any legally qualified candidate for public office, but if any licensee shall permit any such candidate to use its facilities, it shall afford equal opportunities to all other candidates for that office to use such facilities.”
This does not mean that Cumulus Media would be compelled to interview all 20+ Democratic candidates. Rather, the broadcaster would need to honor “request[s] for equal opportunities . . . submitted to the licensee within 1 week of the day on which the first prior use giving rise to the right of equal opportunities occurred.” In other words, Cumulus Media has the right to refuse presidential candidates who want access to its stations until it welcomes one of those candidates, after which it loses the right to refuse other candidates (who make timely requests for an equal opportunity).
On these facts, the FCC rule seems pretextual. At best, the broadcaster wanted to retain its legal right to refuse future candidate requests. Critics agree and have decried the decision as “censorship.” Indeed, while a private corporation has the right to choose what airs on its stations, the decision to selectively block certain political interviews, if politically motivated, is troubling. It would represent a brazenly open example of our media attempting to construct the world we live in.
Cumulus Media is the third-largest AM and FM broadcaster in the United States, and so any decision by the company to selectively block content on political lines could effect millions of Americans.
If the decision was in fact politically motivated, it may have backfired. The decision to block the interview has garnered a great deal of press already, on the left and the right, and yet another country radio host is slated to interview Buttigieg in the wake of Cumulus Media’s decision. “Big Rick” Daniels, host of Big Rick in the Morning, told FoxNews he wants to give a platform to any public servant to be able to share their message with his country music listeners. Big Rick’s program director said in a statement that “our interest in having Pete Buttigieg on our morning show is not in response to Cumulus not airing the interview, although like everyone else the story did show up on our radar.”
As with any other instance of this pervasive bias, as always, the most reliable solution on the level of an individual viewer looking to prevent media outlets from narrowing their view of the world is to consume media from a variety of sources.