MPBN’s ‘humble Farmer’ claims station censored him

This story was published on March 16, 2007 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

The “humble Farmer” has taken a preemptive vow of silence.

Robert Skoglund, 71, whose radio persona and show on Maine Public Radio both go by the name “The humble Farmer,” is adhering to a self-imposed silence in response, he claims, to pressure from Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s management to avoid appearing political.

Since April 1978, Skoglund has produced a one-hour show that airs on Maine’s public radio stations featuring jazz from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, interspersed with segments of Skoglund’s wry observational humor, delivered in a heavy Maine accent.

The prepared “rants,” as he calls them, might leave the listener chortling in agreement or scratching his head, but most often, the response is a knowing chuckle.

But the rants that Maine Public Broadcasting Network has perceived as political have landed Skoglund in hot water.

A show taped for broadcast in early November was killed, he said in a telephone interview from his winter home in Fort Myers, Fla., Thursday, because in the program he read a letter from a Maryland man who decried the state of public schools there after adoption of a tax cap.

Reading the letter apparently was perceived as advocating a “no” vote on the so-called Taxpayers Bill of Rights on the ballot the next week, Skoglund said, a perception he finds ridiculous.

“It is what he perceived,” he said of Charles Beck, MPBN’s vice president for radio services.

A phone call to Beck was not returned Thursday.

The incident prompted a letter from Beck, dated Nov. 20, 2006, in which Beck cautioned Skoglund to maintain political neutrality.

Beck wrote: “[Y]our show is indeed valued by MPBN, and I myself am and have been a fan for many years. I have to say, though, that I am (we are) very disappointed at your apparent continued lack of understanding and willingness to comply with our need to maintain political neutrality in our programming, real or perceived.

“If we were to allow a program, such as yours, to regularly advance a political agenda – clear or implied – we would break that trust with our listeners and supporting members,” the letter stated.

Beck noted the letter marked the third warning on the issue, and outlined MPBN policies including: “You will not introduce your own or others’ political thoughts, ideas, expressions, writings or thinking which clearly or can be perceived as endorsing, dismissing or taking a stand on controversial issues.”

Since the letter, Skoglund dropped the rants and merely plays music and announces the song titles and musicians. His unedited programs are available on his Web site, www.thehumblefarmer.com.

Another rant that drew Beck’s ire came in the Feb. 28, 2003, show, a few weeks before the U.S. invaded Iraq.

“How do you feel about war?” Skoglund asked listeners. “I probably shouldn’t take sides … but I am going to come right out and admit that I don’t care for war. No, it’s not the war itself that bothers me. It’s the needless killing and starvation and destruction and expense part of war that bothers me.”

His rant continued to refer to “a wimpy-looking, weasely-faced war monger from way down south who didn’t even get most of the popular vote.”

Skoglund continued: “All this while, even though the war-mongering, rat-faced wimp knows what he’s going to do no matter what, he’s making a big public show of talking with the top guys in Russia and France and England – trying to either get their support or keep them off his back while he blows half the world to kingdom come.

“I’ve said enough about him. Every time I see him blabbing on TV I wonder how anyone could possibly have been stupid enough to vote for such an idiot. I comfort myself by knowing that most of the people who went to the polls didn’t.”

The rant ends with Skoglund saying the man he is speaking of wrote a book about his views called “Mein Kampf,” which of course is Hitler’s manifesto.

Yet another one, an Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Mussolini which he read verbatim, also seemed like a veiled shot at the Bush administration.

“They picked on half a dozen [rants],” he said, out of 15,000 he has done over the years.

“These guidelines are obviously a mechanism through which ‘humble’ can hang himself,” Skoglund said, and so he has opted to play it safe by cutting the personality from the program. “I realized they were setting me up to fail.”

Hundreds of listeners have contacted him and expressed their support, he said.

A Camden man who described himself as politically conservative recently sent Skoglund a $100 check, and said though he disagreed with his views, he wanted to support keeping The humble Farmer on the air.

Skoglund also believes Beck objected to a recording Skoglund made for an automated telephone campaign urging people to vote for Democratic candidates in the fall election.

“That’s what precipitated this,” he said.

A year ago he asked MPBN to pay him $30 for the show. Up to that point, he provided the program to MPBN for free.

Skoglund, who lives in St. George during the warm months, has parlayed the “humble Farmer” persona into a marketable corporate speaker. He has gigs planned in Gallup, N.M., and Miami, he said.

More than anything, Skoglund believes he is misunderstood by Beck and MPBN management.

“I’m not a political animal. I’m a social commentator. I don’t deliver punch lines. What I say is conducive to thinking,” he said.

The backlash is likely coming from “frightened bureaucrats with big salaries and cushy jobs,” Skoglund said, echoing the observation of newspaper columnist Al Diamon who weighed in on the matter.

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