A preview of self-censorship in the new political landscape

Over the next few months, there’ll be plenty of debate about the role of the government in funding public broadcasting.

The Trump administration reportedly has the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — and a host of other cultural and arts organizations– targeted for elimination.

There’s certainly a debate to be had over whether the government should provide financial assistance to a segment of the media it regulates and restricts how it can raise revenue. There’s no indication the administration nor Congress is interested in taking those restrictions off, a clear sign that the ultimate goal of politicians is to kill it.

But the New York Times’ media critic, Jim Rutenberg, has a cautionary tale of what can happen with a government that wants to control a message holds the money — self-censorship; newsrooms that pull their punches because of the fear the government will cut the revenue.

When a Texas congressman took to the House floor to complain about the way the media has covered President Trump, a commentator for a San Antonio public TV station took notice.

Rick Casey wrote his commentary. The station’s Facebook page promoted it with a nod to the upcoming broadcast.

And the station’s CEO spiked it just before it was to go on the air.

When I caught up with Mr. Emerson this week he acknowledged making “a mistake” that should not tarnish a career spent mostly in broadcast news, starting in a $1.25-an-hour job as a cameraman. “I had to make a decision in what was about 20 minutes,” he said.

He acknowledged that “clearly we always worry about funding for public television,” but said that wasn’t the “principal reason” for his decision to hold back the commentary. “We have to protect the neutrality of the station — somebody could have looked at it as slander,” he said. The “commentary” label, he said, would take care of it.

Mr. Casey is satisfied with the result. But he acknowledged that it was a close call and that he was uniquely qualified to push back in a way others might not be. “I’m lucky to be in the position of being 70 years old, and not in the position of being 45,” he said, meaning that job security was not the same issue. “There’s no level of heroism here.”

“If you look at what David Brooks has said on the ‘PBS NewsHour’ in his commentary with Mark Shields, he’s been very forceful in his opposition to Trump,” Casey told the San Antonio Express-News. “So that’s part of our brand, but it’s also part of our values. As a practical reality, if the Corporation for Public Broadcasting does lose its funding, I’m too humble to think it’s because of a piece that I did down in San Antonio.”

But the enemy of the American people is censorship, regardless of where the intimidation of an independent media originates.

  • Moffitt

    Chilling.

  • AmiSchwab

    the 2 main public tv stations (many affiliates) in germany are funded with “fee”. all of the stations hold no bars when covering anything. watch out for trump and co. look at turkey

  • lindblomeagles

    The Corporation for Public Broadcasting isn’t hurting Donald Trump. Donald Trump IS hurting Donald Trump. He wants to wantonly lie to the American people, and the private Media Corporations have finally seized on that and reported it — accurately. I said on Newscut at the time during the election, early fall 2016, when people wanted the media to call Trump’s lies lies that the media should be doing exactly that. I think it was Bob who thought calling somebody a liar compromised journalistic integrity. Yet, that’s exactly what Trump does – he lies. Fact checkers found 13 lies in his Florida speech yesterday alone, one of them involving Sweden of all places.

    • Rob

      Yes. NPR is doing neither itself nor its listeners a favor by refusing to call Trump’s lies lies.

  • MikeB

    A note for hesitant editors, Trump and the GOP will end this funding, no need to pull punches or trim reality in this environment.

  • Anna

    Trump is making it up as he goes along. The more chaotic and uncertain it is the better he likes it. If an advisor makes any attempt to contradict him or does anything to make him look bad, he strikes out on Twitter like a coiled snake.

    I see some cracks in the neo-Republican facade. After the Flynn debacle, no one wants to take the job of National Security Advisor. Those who would qualify are thinking better of it and staying where they are.

    It’s classic authoritarian control.

    It is easier to fool an angry, ignorant populace than it is an intelligent, happy and content one.

    The press needs to call his bluff. Call him a liar and let the chips fall where they may.

  • JamieHX

    Public news media have been censoring themselves and appeasing conservatives for decades. They have bent over backwards to try to prove they’re not part of the mythical “liberal media.”