Obama Pressures Stations to Drop NRA Spot
September 30, 2008 - 9:34 AMThe Obama campaign's effort to pressure TV stations in Pennsylvania and Ohio to stop airing a National Rifle Association ad is "frightening" and "dangerous," a campaign finance expert said.
“When a candidate threatens a broadcaster with government sanction over the content of an ad, it is very worrisome to the First Amendment and the guarantee of free political debate,” said Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Campaigns, an organization that focuses on money in politics.
The controversy began last week after the NRA, a defender of the Second Amendment, began airing political ads accusing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of wanting to ban certain guns and put a tax on others.
According to the Obama campaign, the ad (one of a series) makes numerous false statements and misinformed the public, and therefore they should not be aired.
“The advertisement knowingly misleads your viewing audience about Senator Obama’s position on the Second Amendment,” wrote Robert Bauer, general counsel to the Obama campaign in a letter dated Sept. 23 to various TV stations in Pennsylvania and Ohio. (See letter)
“For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement,” Bauer continued.
All stations that broadcast on the public airwaves, excluding cable channels, are subject to governance by the Federal Communications Commission ( FCC).
The letter goes on to dispute the factual content of the advertisement. It also cites two court precedents:.
“Unlike federal candidates, independent political organizations do not have a ‘right to command the use of broadcast facilities,’” Bauer argued.
Citing FCC rules, the Bauer wrote that television stations have a “duty to ‘protect the public from false, misleading or deceptive advertising. … Failure to prevent the airing of ‘false and misleading advertising’ may be ‘probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility.’ This advertisement is false, misleading and deceptive,” Bauer insisted. “We request that you immediately cease airing this advertisement.”
The NRA Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) responded two days later with its own letter to TV stations, saying the ad’s assertions were based on extensive research.
“The legislative and policy record of candidates and officeholders such as Barack Obama are well known and documented by the NRA on an ongoing basis,” said the letter to station managers from NRA counsel Cleta Mitchell. “Accordingly, we respectfully request that your station disregard the shamefully false assertions from the Obama campaign and its attorneys regarding the NRA-PVF ads and that the ads run in accordance with the purchases made by NRA-PVF in the media buy.” (See letter)
Parnell, of the Center for Competitive Campaigns, said the ads are being targeted primarily for their point of view rather than their accuracy.
“Misleading is in the eye of the beholder,” Parnell told CNSNews.com. “I might disagree with the perspective or the conclusions in the NRA ad, but there is nothing egregiously false.”
He added that “Sen. Obama is in no way unique. Political campaigns of all parties have been known to demand critical advertising be taken off the air.” But Parnell could not immediately recall previous presidential candidates calling for ads to be taken off the air.
“Broadcasters face the most ominous risk: that the renewal of their license will be denied based on political concerns, or that the FCC will impose restrictions on the broadcaster,” Parnell said.
“The American public is always better off when candidates and citizen groups have the opportunity to put their message on the airwaves.”