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Public affairs outlet C-SPAN got dragged on Twitter Saturday over the decision to air former President Donald Trump’s latest rally. C-SPAN framed the event as coverage of a 2024 presidential candidate, but some users pointed out that Trump has not declared candidacy for president
Dean Obeidallah, the host of a SiriusXM show, demanded to know “why they are using our cable fees to cover a man who plotted a coup and then incited the Jan 6 terrorist attack.” He encouraged folks to contact C-SPAN directly.
MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan asked, “why?”
According to the C-SPAN website, it is a private nonprofit created by the cable television industry in 1979 to focus on public affairs programming.
C-SPAN receives no government funding, funding comes through license fees paid by television providers — the cable and satellite companies that offer C-SPAN to their customers as a public service — and through advertisements on our digital platforms. C-SPAN’s mission is to provide our audience with access to the live, gavel-to-gavel proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and to the other forums where public policy is discussed, debated and decided — all without editing, commentary or analysis, and with a balanced presentation of points of view.
Given C-SPAN’s expressed mission, it’s still unclear why platform Trump, besides clicks. Billed as a rally to “save America,” Trump isn’t simply advancing a political agenda worthy of debate. He continues to further conspiracy theories and blatant disinformation to destabilize the current government.
A fundamental question for C-SPAN’s leadership is whether platforming someone who routinely uses their rallies to spread disinformation and undermine democracy is being “balanced.” The antiquated notion of “balanced presentation” doesn’t seem to have kept up with the times. As a product of the cable-news industry, it looks like C-SPAN has learned nothing about disinformation and the false choice of covering “both sides” undisturbed.
A glance at C-SPANs executive committee and board of directors shows a predominantly white male group of elites. Pat Esser, president of COX Communications, serves as the executive committee’s board chairman. In a December 2020 statement announcing his selection, Esser
“C-SPAN is a national treasure that provides the public with unprecedented and consistent access to government proceedings and balanced coverage of political news,” said Esser.
One would think that “balanced coverage” would not simply mean spotlighting anything anyone says. Trump continues to lie about losing the 2020 election, keeping alive a source of political disinformation that has fueled attacks on democracy, including the Jan 6 Capitol attack.
It may be time for C-SPAN to reflect inward on how to carry out its mandate in this current political climate.