NASHVILLE, Tenn — Blair Garner, host of a nationally syndicated radio program, taped an interview with 2020 Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg in Nashville last week.
The idea for it came from the Buttigieg campaign, and Garner was pleased at the outreach.
“Since Country music tends to lean in a conservative direction, I was surprised” to get the opportunity, Garner wrote afterward. “But more than surprised, I was EXTREMELY flattered. One 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.”
But if you want to hear the interview, you’ll have to look up Garner’s personal SoundCloud page. Garner said he was told by someone at his employer, Cumulus Media, that he “couldn’t air it” on broadcast.
“This is an incredible act of cowardice for a company whose slogan is ‘Where Every Voice Matters,'” said Kurt Bardella, the publisher of the daily country music email newsletter “The Morning Hangover.” He was in the room for Garner’s interview with Buttigieg.
In an op-ed for USA Today, Bardella wrote, “I hope the executives at Cumulus take the time to actually listen to the whole conversation, reconsider their directive, and give Blair the go-ahead to air his talk with Mayor Pete.”
Cumulus, however, says it spiked the interview because of federal rules that mandate that radio stations provide equal time to political candidates.
“Cumulus Nashville’s programming managers made the decision not to air Blair Garner’s pre-recorded interview with Mayor Pete Buttigieg because of the large number of political candidates currently in this race,” the company said. “The decision was made by local programming management based solely on concerns related to the application of the FCC’s Equal Time Rule. The effects of the FCC’s Equal Time Rule are widely understood and considered whenever these types of issues arise.”
But this explanation doesn’t add up, according to experts who have studied the equal time rules. Cumulus’ rationale “is flat wrong,” media researcher and communications professor Dylan McLemore tweeted Monday. “The equal time rule is indeed ‘widely understood’ … to NOT include ‘bonafide news interviews,’ even by entertainment hosts like Garner. Cumulus knows this. So what’s the real reason?”
McLemore cited late-night talk show interviews as an example in which the equal time rule does not apply. “Look, Jimmy Fallon isn’t playing with Donald Trump’s hair if it means NBC has to give equal time to Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and every other candidate that won’t score them ratings,” McLemore said in his tweet. “But equal time doesn’t apply.”
As for the Buttigieg campaign, senior communications adviser Lis Smith said she thought the interview went well. “It was a great discussion, and we are obviously disappointed that Blair’s listeners won’t have the opportunity to hear it,” she told CNN Business.