TVs at the YMCA no longer play CNN

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

A banner at the entrance to the Guilderland YMCA offers greetings in world languages including Tagalog, Swahili, and Croatian. A Capital District YMCA spokeswoman said the decision to no longer show CNN at the Y is a move toward diversity and inclusion.

GUILDERLAND — Members walking the treadmills or riding stationary bikes at the Guilderland YMCA can no longer watch CNN on one of the four television sets in the exercise room.

Some Y members were happy about the change, while others were dismayed. One, who didn’t want to be named, called it a sign of “the death of civil discourse.”

The philosophy of the YMCA is to be welcoming to everyone, including people with an array of different perspectives, said Erin Breslin, director of marketing and membership for the Capital District YMCA, explaining why the Guilderland facility recently stopped playing CNN.

“We recognize and value diversity. We cherish your right to have a different point of view,” Breslin said, eventually explaining that there had been complaints from members who said that they felt less welcome when CNN was playing, Breslin explained.

Different stations have different points of view, she said, and the YMCA recognizes that content can sometimes be “less welcoming” for people who do not share a particular point of view.

The Cable News Network, founded by Ted Turner in 1980, was the first to provide 24-hour news coverage. Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, CNN aired unedited coverage of many Trump campaign rallies, drawing criticism from the other Republican candidates vying for the GOP nomination. Since his election, Trump has frequently excoriated CNN, along with other mainstream media, saying they produce “fake news.” He encourages his supporters to criticize any press that doesn’t flatter him. At a Trump rally in July, the crowd chanted “CNN sucks” during a live shot by a reporter from that network.

If she were a Donald Trump supporter, Breslin said, “I would feel less welcome if CNN were on.”

The Y “can’t be welcoming and also be providing that type of programming,” Breslin said.

The policy is decided at the level of the Capital District YMCA, Breslin said, and has been in place for “a couple of years.”

It is not a new policy at Guilderland, but a matter of enforcing the existing policy, Breslin said, adding that the change at Guilderland started a few weeks ago.

Lisa Wolcott, director of operations at the Guilderland Y, agreed, but said that she thought both CNN and Fox News, which Trump largely views favorably, had been played at that branch until the districtwide policy was put in place two years ago.

Having both of those channels on “creates conversations in the building,” Wolcott said, although she said she was not aware of it having caused any particular arguing or fighting.

With regard to stopping the airing of CNN, Wolcott said, “Guilderland was a hard transition. We’re a very diverse branch, a very diverse community.”

Guilderland is now trying to follow the Capital District YMCA policy, Wolcott said.

The website of the YMCA of the USA states that the organization is committed to inclusion: “The Y is made up of people of all ages and from every walk of life working side by side to strengthen communities. Together we work to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, age, cultural background, ethnicity, faith, gender, gender identity, ideology, income, national origin, race or sexual orientation has the opportunity to reach their full potential with dignity. Our core values are caring, honesty, respect and responsibility — they guide everything we do.

Nine percent of Guilderland’s population is foreign-born, according to data from the 2017 American Community Survey, compiled by TownCharts. According to the most recent federal census, conducted in 2010, Guilderland has 35,303 residents.

The part of Guilderland with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents is Westmere, near the YMCA. Fourteen percent of Westmere’s residents were born in other countries. Of Guilderland’s foreign-born residents, people from India make up the largest percentage, at 26.2.

Among enrolled voters, Guilderland is a Democratic town. Forty percent are enrolled as Democrats, compared to 25 percent Republican and seven percent small parties; 28 percent are unaffiliated.

The YMCA’s policy now is to avoid national news altogether, Breslin said, in favor of local news about things happening in the community. Stations that play news all day, like Spectrum News, remain on; local network news programs are shown at the times when they air. More focus is on sports channels like ESPN, and the YMCA experiments with showing golf channels and public access, Breslin said.

During a recent visit, the four sets were showing Spectrum News, NBC Nightly News, Channel 6 local news, and football. Wolcott said the Guilderland YMCA sometimes also plays WMHT or the Food Channel.

Some Y members report that, in place of CNN, the Guilderland Y now also shows the Lifetime network, soap operas, dating shows, and infomercials. Wolcott said that Lifetime had been on one time, and said, “It’s not something we’re looking to keep on.”

Wolcott said that member preferences will sometimes be accommodated and a channel changed if no one else is adversely affected. She gave the example of a member who likes to keep her mind active by watching the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” and said that the staff will sometimes turn that show on at her request.

Spokeswoman Emily Waldren of the national YMCA wrote in an email, “The Y is a federated organization and each Y is an independent and autonomous organization. As such we don’t have any sort of national policy or recommendation regarding televisions/television stations at the local Ys.”

Response from members

Many Y members spoke about their views about the change, but few were willing to give their names. One man said that the larger issue at stake is “the death of civil discourse,” but said that the political climate today is so contentious that he would be afraid for his safety if he gave his name.

Henry Whipple of Knox, who was riding a stationary bicycle near the set that formerly showed CNN, said he thought the change was good. He would rather see Fox News, he said, adding that CNN was “mostly negative about anything the president did.”

Whipple, who had served on the Knox town board as a Republican councilman, offered that, while he was glad about the change, he had never complained about the programming.

David Weller of Guilderland, 75, said he has been working out at the Guilderland Y for two decades and views the decision to stop playing CNN as short-sighted.

He does about 45 minutes of cardio before starting his workouts and said that watching national news makes the time pass more quickly.

He first noticed the change one Sunday when the set that had shown CNN was playing a Lifetime-network reality show called “Married at First Sight,” which tracks what happens after several sets of strangers, who have been matched by relationship experts, agree to marry when they first meet.

Weller said there are a lot of important things going on in the world, and he has “absolutely no interest” in “Married at First Sight.”

“I’ve always felt like the Y is a progressive organization,” he said. “You walk in the door and there’s ‘hello’ in 18, 19, 20 different languages,” he said, referring to a banner in the foyer that greets visitors in a number of world languages.

“Everyone is welcome there,” he said, adding, “Taking CNN off the air is counter to what I thought the philosophy of the Y was. I thought we have room for everyone’s point of view.”

Rather than taking away one channel, why not add another, he asked. If some members prefer to watch Fox News, the YMCA could play Fox and CNN on different sets, he suggested, so that people can choose where they want to get their information. Or the Y could poll its members and see what most people actually want.

Breslin had told The Enterprise that Fox News had been played on some YMCA sets at some point in the past, but not in a long time.

Another member, Beth Pradhan, said she does not have cable television at home and that she had relied on the Y for more in-depth television coverage of stories than she could get elsewhere. She is “discouraged,” she said, to be seeing game shows and infomercials now.

Pradhan said her children had attended Guilderland schools, and that the district has tried for years to encourage children to speak their minds and respect disparate views.

“Why can’t we adults do that?” she asked rhetorically, adding that children look to adults as their models.

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