Rick Casey on Texas Week
Rick Casey on Texas Week Credit: KLRN

KLRN-TV‘s President and CEO Arthur Rojas Emerson knows he made a mistake in preventing Texas Week host and journalist Rick Casey from sharing his “Last Word” commentary with television viewers two Fridays ago.

If Emerson had any doubts, all he had to do was take another call from a friend or colleague offering the same advice: You’ve dug yourself a hole, Arthur, now stop digging.

Emerson can turn this learning moment into new viewers for Casey and, perhaps, new donations to support Casey’s on-air work. He expressed “sadness and regret” for his decision in a Saturday conversation, and restated his respect for Casey and his work.

Casey, as we first learned Thursday from Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia, had recorded his weekly, four-minute ‘Last Word’ commentary chiding U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) for his remarks on the House floor disparaging media coverage of the Trump administration and suggesting citizens instead get their “news” directly from the president.

I tried that Saturday morning, perusing Twitter and @realdonaldtrump in search of news and context about the week’s past events. I didn’t find any, and I won’t waste space here attacking President Donald Trump, his followers, or his adversaries, other than to say the caliber and tone of the content is deeply disheartening.

If there is a single thread running through it all, it’s “Make America Ignorant Again.”

Voters were divided over the choice of Trump or Hillary Clinton for president, giving Clinton the popular vote and Trump the electoral win. Now that Trump is president he continues to wage war on the media. The nation seems equally divided between those in support of his distinctly unpresidential and undemocratic campaign and those ready to defend and support a free press.

It’s only fair that Casey and other journalists report and comment on this strange and disturbing moment in the nation’s political life. Emerson, however, feared Casey’s commentary was unduly partisan and potentially lead to the loss of $1 million in annual funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to KLRN-TV.

KLRN President and CEO Arthur Rojas Emerson.
KLRN President and CEO Arthur Rojas Emerson. Credit: Courtesy / KLRN

“Associating our leaders with those in power in North Korea is name calling, and that’s what Rick did, and that’s what led me to make the decision,” Emerson said Saturday in an interview with the Rivard Report. “Rick tapes his show on Thursday and we edit Thursday night. I came back into town Friday evening and only had 20 minutes to make the decision before the show aired. From time to time, I am going to make a mistake. I certainly should have called Rick before making that decision.

“Rick is entitled to say such things as long as we go with a disclaimer, which you will see on-air going forward,” Emerson added. “Rick can say anything he darn well pleases as long as it is marked ‘commentary.’ We will designate it as such going forward.”

I searched mysanantonio.com for Casey’s ‘Last Word,’ which is published in the print edition of the Express-News on its Saturday editorial page one day after it airs on KLRN. I only found columns from 2013 and 2014, but here is the link to the expressnews.com posting, although there is a paywall.

I did not interview Casey, but I did speak at length with Emerson, who served as general manager of the Spanish-language Canal 60 Telemundo television station here from 1989-2001. For 15 years afterwards, he ran his own ad agency, which produced political advertising for elected officials in both parties.

He should know that losing public funding was highly unlikely, given what is being said on various PBS news programs by the president and other administration officials, and what commentators such as the New York Times columnist David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields are saying in response on air.

Even if independent reporting and commentary eventually leads to a cut in funding, Emerson undoubtedly will find new donors willing to step into the breach. A retaliatory funding cut would draw national attention, giving Casey an even bigger audience and attracting new supporters.

Several people told me that Casey invited Emerson into the studio for this past Thursday’s taping to discuss his decision, an offer Emerson declined.

“The show isn’t designed to feature the general manager of the station, and I would make a terrible interview,” Emerson said. “The show is designed to feature the people who are newsmakers. I’m not a newsmaker and don’t intend to be.”

I challenged him on that last claim, but find myself far more interested in Emerson’s renewed pledge to support Casey and his editorial independence than to fan the flames of controversy.

Rivard Report readers of a certain age watch KLRN-TV, but most of our readers do not and virtually none of them watch local network affiliate news. The station’s demographics skew toward highly educated seniors. Who else is at home watching television news on Friday at 8 p.m.?

Few of our readers subscribe to a print newspaper and very few pay subscription fees to read the Express-News online. In this instance that means they miss the work of the finest urban affairs columnist of his generation in San Antonio.

Casey is a St. Louis native who came to San Antonio in the 1960s to attend St. Mary’s University, where he edited the school newspaper and earned an internship at the San Antonio Light, which for newcomers to this city, was the Hearst-owned afternoon daily until its financial collapse in 1993.

Casey’s column in the Light from 1984-93 was a must-read. He was one of the few newsroom names who survived the Light‘s closure and moved to the Express-News when Hearst bought it from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. I was another.

Casey spent a decade at the Express-News before moving his column to the Hearst-owned Houston Chronicle. He retired in 2011, moved back to San Antonio, and shortly afterwards, launched Texas Week with Rick Casey.

San Antonio would be a better city if Casey were still producing a regular metro column. It would be difficult to overstate the reach and influence that he and his peers enjoyed in the heyday of San Antonio’s newspaper wars. Those days are gone, of course, but Casey still has an important platform with his weekly program.

If KLRN can ever figure out how to reach a younger audience, new generations of consumers who choose to get their news from real journalists instead of fake news sources or the newsmakers themselves will be introduced to Casey and find themselves better informed about their city and state.

“I have the utmost respect for Rick Casey,” Emerson said Saturday. “I’ve known him for 40 years and he’s a wonderful journalist and commentator. Rick is great asset to KLRN and we don’t want to do anything to do to hurt that relationship.”

We’ll step in for Rick Casey here and make that this week’s last word.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.