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Pledge to Save Journalism

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It's pledge time at many noncommercial, listener and viewer-supported television and radio stations and you may already be feeling irritated by the persistent pleading from your favorite public radio or TV host.

But before you switch the dial, before you touch that remote, remember. All that guff you're hearing about the importance of public service reporting that's insulated from the influence of corporate advertisers? It's not guff -- as ABC TV affiliates in five southeast states have just found out. Advertisers punish and Toyota apparently did just that, by pulling advertising off scores of affiliates of ABC TV "as punishment" for ABC News reporting on Toyota's sticky pedals.

Here's the story: ABC News and its chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross have been reporting on the problem of "runaway Toyotas" since last November. Sticky pedals, safety problems, misstatements of fact... Ross had hosted a series of stories long before Toyota management started issuing apologies and denials about the extent of their cars' defects.

Early in February, as the company announced its biggest-ever vehicle recalls, Southeast Toyota dealers started pulling their commercials off ABC. According to web excerpts of an ABC report, the ad agency representing 173 dealers told local ABC affiliates that the shift was due to "excessive stories on the Toyota issues." One unnamed ABC station manager quoted in a February 8 story on the ad-pulls is quoted as saying that the dealers shifted their commercial time buys to non-ABC stations in the same markets, "as punishment for the reporting."

22Squared, the Atlanta advertising agency that handles the account for the dealers, didn't beat about the bush. An email sent to stations by the agency read "Please let me know the earliest that we can get off the air on your station."

Now Toyota is expected to add the 2010 Prius to its list of recalled vehicles. Will ABC News continue reporting? Probably. But will cash strapped local affiliates continue to run those stories? I wonder.

While we find out, have you paid your pledge?

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.