Political strategist Marc Rotterman abandoned political activism eight years ago to create, produce and moderate what has become a popular Raleigh, North Carolina-based PBS political panel show. The path from politics to journalism has proved successful. Think George Stephanopoulos, Jake Tapper and Chuck Todd.
But Mr. Rotterman differs in one very important way. The other hosts are liberal Democrats, while Mr. Rotterman is a conservative Republican. And that, in today’s world, has made all the difference.
After his weekly show on Nov. 7, Mr. Rotterman was asked to drop by the general manager’s office and was informed his program was canceled. He was given no verbal or written reason.
He was understandably shocked. “Front Row” was one of the most popular shows the station featured, often drawing more viewers than public television’s “Washington Week” in the North Carolina market. The program was self-funding and earned bipartisan praise from conservatives and liberals.
A successful political consultant with his wife, Karen, former Reagan appointee and former director of communications to a North Carolina Republican governor, some believed when Mr. Rotterman pitched the show that his “conservative bias” would affect his ability to be a fair moderator. Those claims were never proved correct — except now, perhaps, in the eyes of the woke PBS executives. In an email from executive producer Kelly McCullen, Mr. Rotterman was accused of “sliding to the right,” a charge that leading North Carolina Democrats would dispute. North Carolina House Democratic leader Robert Reives II says the canceled show “Front Row With Marc Rotterman” offers North Carolinians “a chance to watch spirited, weekly debates on topics that matter. The collegial atmosphere and the ability to have civil disagreements is sorely missing from politics today.”
The new PBSNC general manager, David Crabtree, has had little to say publicly about the matter, but many believe “Front Row” was canceled because the PBS management is no longer interested in airing any views other than those compatible with their own “progressive” agenda.
Transparency is fast emerging as the major obstacle in the way of the woke left’s campaign to banish those who question its narrative from the public square. Today’s elites reject the classical liberal view that free speech is essential to the functioning of a free society as it allows thinking people to decide for themselves which opinions they might choose to support. Mr. Rotterman and his attorneys believe it is this very intolerance that motivated the cancellation.
The belief in free speech, however, remains embedded in the political DNA of the American people. When Elon Musk released evidence that Twitter not only engaged in a conscious campaign to shut down speech with which its owners took issue but also coordinated its censorship campaign with the government and with politicians its leadership wanted to promote, the elite media dismissed the whole thing as a lot about very little, but the American public wasn’t so sure.
In fact, in the wake of Mr. Musk’s bringing transparency to Twitter, Republicans, Democrats and independents all expressed shock to pollsters, with two-thirds or more telling Harvard-sponsored pollsters they believe Twitter engaged in censorship and should be investigated, and that those responsible for what they agreed was election interference should be prosecuted for their actions.
The Musk episode demonstrates that most Americans, when faced with proof that someone is trying to shut down public access to information simply because they disagree with it, instinctively side not with the censors but those being shut down.
Mr. Rotterman believes that when North Carolina taxpayers realize that state PBS executives are consciously denying anyone with whom they disagree access to the airwaves, they will react as the public has to the Musk revelations. Moreover, he is also convinced that once the public gets access to the behind-the-scenes goings-on that resulted in the cancellation of his show, there will be a public backlash that may or may not result in the renewal of “Front Row” but will make it more difficult for the woke crew in charge of PBS programming in North Carolina and beyond to continue their campaign to control the information available to the public.
He may be right, and if successful, Mr. Rotterman will have done more to inhibit woke censorship than most.
• David Keene is editor-at-large at The Washington Times.