Country radio host Blair Garner describes himself as “not a political guy,” but when Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg reached out and asked for an interview on his show, “The Blair Garner Show,” the host agreed and invited him to his studio in Nashville where they spoke for twenty minutes. But when Garner wanted to air the interview, Cumulus Media, which nationally syndicates Garner’s show, blocked it from being broadcast at all.
Garner, unhappy with Cumulus’s decision, posted a Soundcloud link to the interview on Twitter and composed an Instagram post explaining why he spoke with Buttigieg and why he thinks a free public discourse is important. “The best way to a reasoned, thoughtful position on any topic, is to hear from both sides,” Garner said.
My interview with @PeteButtigieg. The only candidate who asked to be on my show. My employer decided I couldn't air it – but I did get permission to post it on my personal Soundcloud here: https://t.co/Sqi0bOTyQ1 @Lis_Smith pic.twitter.com/0K88w3cA49
— Blair Garner (@blairgarner) July 19, 2019
Garner added that he was initially surprised Buttigieg wanted to appear on the show, “since country music tends to lean in a conservative direction,” but said he was “extremely flattered” at the offer.
“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,” Garner said. “I would have also given a seat to any other viable candidate, from both sides. The only condition? They must also value and appreciate our listeners, and never treat them as pawns.”
Since Garner posted the interview on Soundcloud on Friday, listeners have played it more than 4,000 times. In the interview, Buttigieg said he was intentionally seeking out traditionally right media to reach an untapped audience and said the Democratic Party should do the same.
“I think there is a genuine thirst, a desire for people to look for optimism, to look for hope… not anything about trashing one side or the other,” Garner told the Washington Post. “I think it speaks to the merit of the interview and also his message.”
Garner offered to create alternative programming to the interview if certain stations didn’t want to broadcast it.
Kurt Bardella, creator and writer of country music newsletter Morning Hangover, who was in studio during the interview, provided a statement to Rolling Stone and other outlets: “It is an incredible act of cowardice for a company who’s [sic] slogan is ‘Where Every Voice Matters’ to censor an interview with someone who, for the first time ever, thought it was worthwhile to engage the country music audience in a conversation about the future of our country… Country radio should be on the frontlines of breaking stereotypes and promoting diversity of thought.”
Cumulus Media is one of the largest broadcasting networks in the country that syndicates many conservative talk shows. A spokesperson said in a statement that Cumulus blocked Garner from airing the segment “because of the large number of political candidates currently in this race,” citing the FCC’s Equal Time Rule. But, the Equal Time Rule grants exceptions for “news interviews” and is largely a formality these days and not a concern for broadcasters unless they’re selling political advertising. Many confuse the Equal Time Rule with the Fairness Doctrine, which required equal air time to both sides of the spectrum and has not existed since 1987.
It’s a scary time in America when large corporations have increasing monopolies over broadcast channels, and corporations with a political agenda use those airwaves to block political discourse or transmit a singular political narrative.