Pete Buttigieg became a household name in part by giving interviews to media outlets of all stripes, including, most recently, a Nashville-based country radio station.
But the station managers killed the interview and banished it to audio purgatory on Soundcloud.
The nationally syndicated host Blair Garner broke the news on Facebook Friday. After taping an interview with Buttigieg, he wrote, “I was told that I couldn't air it.”
Cumulus Media, which owns the Nashville station and hundreds more across the country, told news outlets that it invoked an obscure Federal Communications Commission rule that requires broadcasters to give equal airtime to politicians.
"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 the [2020 presidential] race," the company said in a statement. A representative for Cumulus Media did not respond to VICE News’ questions about if and when it has enforced this standard in the past.
The “equal time” rule was written in part to ensure politicians have the same opportunity to fill ad slots. But it can also pertain to neutral content such as an interview, said Dan Kirkpatrick, an attorney who counsels broadcasters on FCC compliance.
“If, say, three minutes of the interview were broadcast, a competitor could say, you need to give me three minutes of airtime,” Kirkpatrick told VICE News. “There are exceptions for news coverage. If it's a legitimate news program, you can talk about politics.”
While the "Blair Garner Show" is not a news program per se, the FCC has used the term liberally in the past. Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show previously met the agency’s bar, as has "The Howard Stern Show."
Buttigieg’s interview with Garner was a news interview by any definition. Here are some highlights:
On reaching out to a radio show with a largely conservative audience:
“I think there are a lot of voters who just feel like maybe they haven’t heard much from my side of the aisle in a while. You know, I live in Indiana; it’s very similar. A lot of places where our message can resonate with folks of different political persuasions. A lot of people don’t really think in terms of party anyway, anymore. They’re more looking for the right kind of leadership and open to different types of ideas. But you got to show up.”
On Donald Trump’s Bible-thumping:
“Maybe instead of waving it around, he ought to open it up. If he does, he’ll find a lot about how we’re supposed to walk in decency and humility, and treat others as we would want to be treated. That we have an obligation to identify with those who are locked up, to visit the prisoner, that we will be judged based on what we have done for the least among us. That’s the stuff of faith with works.”
On turning back the political clock:
“That’s one thing I’m worried about in my party, the Democratic Party: We might be viewed as saying, Hey, let’s just go back to normal and whatever we were doing before. And I don’t think that’s the answer either. As terrible as today’s situation is, I don’t think we can rewind to the '90s anymore than Republicans can take us back to the '50s.”
On Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham:
“Now you just look into the eyes of these Senate Republicans, trying to think up some type of justification for the president’s behavior. And you can tell they don’t even believe it. You can tell they’re not even pretending, sometimes, to be acting in good faith.”
On the Democratic Party’s left turn:
“I think we gotta make sure we don’t go off the cliff. But I also think it’s the case that, frankly, this president is gonna say the same thing about us no matter what we do. If we adopt a far-left platform, he’s gonna say we’re all socialist. And if we adopt a conservative platform, he’s gonna say we’re all socialist. So we might as well say what we’re for, defend it, explain it, and trust that we can build a majority out of that. Because the majority of Americans already agrees with us when it comes down to the issues.”
Cover: Democratic presidential hopeful South Bend Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the AARP and The Des Moines Register Iowa Presidential Candidate Forum on July 20, 2019 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)