By Hillary S. Meeks
Killeen Daily Herald
Democratic nominee Mary Beth Harrell on Saturday condemned local PBS station KNCT-TV's decision not to air a 15-minute segment of the national news magazine show "NOW" featuring the 31st Congressional District race.
The program, "Sway the Course," which was scheduled to air at 7:30 p.m. Friday, highlighted the race between Harrell and her Republican opponent, incumbent Congressman John Carter, and explored how the war in Iraq may influence voters in the upcoming election.
The show included interviews with soldiers and residents from Killeen and Fort Hood, as well as interviews with Carter and Harrell.
"The general manager and apparently other people involved with KNCT chose not to air the program when virtually every other PBS station in the nation did," she told a gathering of supporters during a news conference at Central Texas College. The college operates the public TV station.
Harrell said she will have her lawyers lodge a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission if KNCT-TV does not respond to a letter she sent the station asking for an explanation, or if an inadequate explanation is given.
"I think the FCC needs to investigate why they did this," she said.
While Harrell's supporters held up signs claiming KNCT was practicing censorship by not airing the "NOW" documentary, CTC and KNCT spokesperson Barbara Merlo said that is not the case.
"The station manager made a decision not to air the program because he didn't have an opportunity to view it in advance, and our standard is that, because it's a local race, that it be a balanced and fair show," she said.
Merlo said KNCT-TV station manager Max Rudolph and CTC Chancellor James Anderson will review the show Monday morning and decide whether it is "balanced and fair," which will determine if it is aired Monday evening. She stressed the decision has not yet been made to black out the program.
"As a public institution, it is our job to stay out of politics. We encourage people to participate in the political process, but it is very specific to our policy to not provide one candidate an opportunity that would be provided to another," Merlo said.
Harrell supporter Joe Landez said the local PBS station's tendency to not run programs which don't include every candidate shortchanges voters.
"This is not the first time it has happened. There has been an effort to get Mr. Carter to debate on this station, and their policy is if one candidate declines, the forum is canceled, which gives that candidate the ability to control the media," Landez said.
Harrell said she is not pointing a finger at her opponent, but that she is concerned the station's reason for pulling the show may have been politically motivated.
Amy Ellsworth, spokesperson for Carter, said the congressman is supportive of the "NOW" show.
"We would have loved for it to run everywhere, but stations have a right to air what they do or don't want to," she said. "It was a great piece. It shows that Congressman Carter is in line with his voters and being supportive of the troops, and it shows that Mary Beth Harrell has stood her ground on the whole view of cut-and-run Democrats."
Joel Schwartzberg, a producer for "NOW," said each PBS station has the prerogative to choose what shows run, though it is unusual for a station not to run a program which is normally aired.
"Our position is that we regret that they chose not to run the show. We thought it was a very fair show and would have been very enlightening and interesting to the people of Killeen," he said.
Schwartzberg said he talked with Rudolph prior to the show's airing Friday about the station's concerns, one of which was that Matt McAdoo, the Libertarian nominee in the 31st Congressional District race, was not represented.
Schwartzberg said McAdoo, whose photograph and stance on the war in Iraq appeared in the show briefly, "got less play" because his platform does not center around the war, and the show was about how voters would be influenced by the war and by political campaigns using it as a centerpiece. The producer said KNCT was given this same explanation.
CTC's Merlo said the station had been told by producers that McAdoo was not in the piece at all.
McAdoo said he was disappointed the show didn't run.
"For me, I didn't see any reason why it would raise concern from the station. They gave me about 15 seconds on my position on it, and objectively, they did cover pretty much all three viewpoints," he said, noting his viewpoint is that the United States should "get out of this yesterday."
McAdoo said he watched the program on the Internet at www.pbs.org/now, and encouraged anyone who did not see it to view it online.
Contact Hillary S. Meeks at firstname.lastname@example.org