Denver Radio Host Fired in Mid-Show After Criticizing Trump

Craig Silverman had clearly worn out his welcome on KNUS, a conservative talk-radio station in Denver. Midway through his three-hour show on Saturday, after a segment criticizing President Trump, the station suddenly cut away to a news report, and the station’s operations manager walked into the studio and told Mr. Silverman, “You’re done.”

But it was less clear which had bothered his employers more — the negative views of Mr. Trump that he voiced on the air, or the fact that he had also gone on competing stations’ programs to express them.

Like many talk-show hosts, Mr. Silverman, a lawyer and former chief deputy district attorney, likes to debate and push boundaries. His constant on-air arguments with a co-host, Dan Caplis, helped make the duo’s former show on another Denver station one of the most popular in the city.

But Mr. Silverman said in an interview on Sunday that he sees himself as an independent analyst, not a partisan conservative — and that may have made him increasingly unwelcome at KNUS. Mr. Silverman said the station’s owner, the Salem Media Group, which focuses on conservative and Christian programming, is “100 percent behind Donald Trump.”

Neither Salem Media nor the operations manager at KNUS, Kelly Michaels, responded to requests on Sunday for comment.

Mr. Silverman said he supported Mr. Trump in 2016, taking a chance that he would shake things up for the better in Washington. But after seeing Mr. Trump’s performance in office, he said, he “stepped back off the Trump train” and rebranded his show as the “Island of Independence.” As the investigations of Mr. Trump and his associates accelerated toward an impeachment inquiry, he said, he tried to concentrate on discussing the facts objectively, “and not go down various rabbit holes or engage in any what-about-isms.”

The station management never told him what to say on the air, Mr. Silverman said. But he started to notice that the other hosts on the station gradually stopped inviting him to appear on their shows. He said he thought it was because he was the “only non-Trumpster.”

“I think it makes great radio when people can disagree,” he said. “But something about Trump and impeachment — my colleagues don’t want to discuss it, and they don’t want any disagreements.”

He said he became frustrated at feeling frozen out on KNUS. “I expressed myself on Twitter, but I was hoping to be able to express myself on my own radio station, but that wasn’t available,” said Mr. Silverman. “So, other media outlets asked me on.”

He said that angered the station’s managers, who warned him last week that if he continued to speak on competing shows, his job would be jeopardy.

“I canceled going on, and then I met with them on Thursday,” Mr. Silverman said. “I explained that under my contract, I have a right to go on other media. And they said, well, we don’t want you to do it.”

In addition to dropping Mr. Silverman from the air, KNUS has also apparently removed all of his content from its website, including more than five years’ worth of podcasts.

Elizabeth Skewes, a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder who teaches media law and ethics, said that while “to some degree, Craig Silverman was doing what he was hired to do, express his opinion,” the station was well within its rights to dismiss him if it no longer wanted to put those opinions on the air. The First Amendment protects free speech only from government censorship, she said, not from private business decisions.

Even so, she said, she saw it as part of a problematic trend.

“We’ve become less tolerant of alternative viewpoints as media has become more polarized,” Professor Skewes said. “The more narrow it gets, the worse off we are as a democracy.”

Others working in broadcasting have seen their careers abruptly deflected over whether they were supportive of Mr. Trump. When Jerry Bader, a conservative radio host in Green Bay, Wis., was fired in 2018 after 18 years at the station, he said it was over his criticism of the president. In October, the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, who had frequently aired reports critical of Mr. Trump, abruptly resigned after publicly clashing with a staunchly pro-Trump host on the network, Tucker Carlson.

And James Bunner, a reporter for KTTC-TV, an NBC affiliate in Rochester, Minn., was fired in October for wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat while covering a Trump rally.

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