Threat of Lawsuits Stymies Free Speech in Campaign

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Remember the last election campaign? Remember how it was a bit rough-and-tumble, with all kinds of accusations? Remember those Swift Boat ads that basically stated the opposite of the facts as the US government had recorded them?

Well, the Republicans remember it, but they're not very happy when the same kinds of ads are used against them--even when the things in them are true.

In fact, they're so unhappy about it that they're threatening to sue TV stations that run ads (sponsored by MoveOn.org) referencing charges of corruption against its current candidate in Virginia.

Hey, remember when the Republicans hated the very idea of lawsuits, and wanted to pass legislation making it harder to pursue frivolous lawsuits? Remember the scorn they heaped on VP candidate John Edwards for being a dreaded "trial lawyer" who evilly sued big corporations for sucking the intestines from a 7-year-old child with its faulty pool drain cover?

I guess lawsuits aren't so bad when they keep your little peccadillos out of the public eye.

Despite the threat of a defamation lawsuit by U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake, all three Hampton Roads network TV affiliates have refused to drop a controversial political ad attacking her.

That contrasts sharply with the actions of Cox Communications, which permanently pulled the ad from its cable TV channels after receiving Drake’s threat.

This is the third in a series of ads by MoveOn attacking four Republican congressional candidates in Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia.

All three local network affiliates – WVEC, WAVY and WTKR – received a letter from a local lawyer representing Drake’s campaign, demanding that they drop the ad or face a possible defamation lawsuit.

After obtaining legal advice, all three general managers said they believe the ad by the liberal group MoveOn.org meets the legal standards for broadcast and they have no immediate plan to drop it.

At WTKR, general manager Frank Chebalo said his station has a responsibility to its viewers and to the rules of the FCC.

“We are not in the business of having to or judging all of our commercial content,” Chebalo said.

“We cannot be in a position of taking every commercial we run and evaluate its editorial content.”

Asked whether he feared a lawsuit, WAVY general manager Doug Davis said, “No. We take it seriously, but we are comfortable with our decision.”

The ad says Drake was “caught red-handed” accepting campaign contributions from defense contractors, then opposed penalties for companies that overcharged the military in Iraq.

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