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DAVID ROSMAN: Fox News need not take Carnahan commercial so personally

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:08 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 22, 2010

There are possible storm clouds blowing in on the political landscape. It could be a major defeat for political campaigns as well as a major boon for the voting public. Non-voters will not care one way or another. Political storms and winds are fickle that way.

On Sept. 10, 2010, the Carnahan for Senate campaign began running a television advertisement featuring the Fox News Network’s Chris Wallace posing a question to congressman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., that aired Jan. 15, 2006. (You do not have to donate to the campaign, just watch.)

Voice over: "I am Robin Carnahan and I approve this message."

Chris Wallace: "You (Roy Blunt) just said a moment ago that you have to show you (the Republicans) are the party of reform, and you (Blunt) are the man to do that.” Confusing, huh?

Wallace then continues the question with two specifics.

  • The attempt by then lobbyist Blunt to amend the Homeland Security Act to aid Phillip Morris Co.
  • Blunt’s campaign committees’ $485,000 payments to companies with direct ties to the infamous Jack Abramoff.

The 32-second commercial only implies that voters should be asking Blunt for the answers. He has no response in the commercial.

Fox’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, contends that: “Robin Carnahan for Senate Inc. usurped proprietary footage from the Fox News Network (FNC) to (make) it appear — falsely — that FNC and Christopher Wallace, one of the nation’s most respected political journalists, are endorsing Robin Carnahan’s campaign for United States Senate. In so doing, Defendant infringed FNC’s valuable and proprietary creative expression and used Wallace’s image and persona for monetary gain without his permission.”

Carnahan’s campaign made a commercial using a clip from Chris Wallace’s Sept. 15, 2006, interview of Roy Blunt to gain ill-gotten booty. I question Chris Wallace’s claim of being “respected.”

I was unable to contact a spokesperson at Fox, but Talking Points Muckraker, an online newsletter, quoted Chris Silvestri, senior vice president of legal and business affairs for Fox News, as saying, “We filed this lawsuit because we cannot allow it to appear as though Chris Wallace is endorsing any candidate.”

Linden Zakula, spokesperson for the Carnahan campaign, told me that they will be fighting the suit and, unless ordered by the court, will continue to run the advertisement. He also said that the Carnahan commercial does not say or indicate that Fox News was endorsing anyone. OK, I’ll buy that along with a bumper sticker.

Section 107 of the copyright law allows for exceptions to copyright infringement. “The fair use of a copyrighted work…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

It would appear that the use of Wallace’s image, voice and picture may be proper under this section. Carnahan’s campaign is a nonprofit and the purpose was as “criticism” of her opponent.

The more legitimate claim is the possible assumption by the viewer the clip constitutes a “support” statement for Robin Carnahan, something Fox would never do, unless Robin would decide to run as a tea party candidate.

Why should Fox care? What is the big deal? I have learned over the years never to take political attacks personally. Fox is taking it personally.

If Fox wins? The bad news is that use of quotes and footage from news services in political advertisements may be blown into the reefs. The good news for the viewer is there might be fewer attack ads. Maybe we will actually be told what a candidate stands for. I can only hope for a strong wind.

With the possible exception of those who claim tea party affiliation, the citizens of this great nation really want the politicians to play nice with each other. The attacks have become more ferocious and voluminous in the last two decades. If Fox wins, maybe our elected members of congress will start to play nice again. If Fox loses, maybe things will remain status quo.

I hope for the latter with the results of the former.

The winds are moving the storm clouds in faster now. Lots of hot air coming. Maybe I’ll just go outside to fly a kite and wait.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.

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Comments

Jim Jones September 24, 2010 | 5:53 p.m.

A ban on attack ads would be WONDERFUL! I had previously decided to NOT vote for anyone who employs attack ads. I am sorry to say that several of the candidates that I WOULD have voted for will not get my vote because of their ads. So, like I said, I would welcome a ban on all attack ads then maybe we will find out where the candidates actually stand on issues. Or is that making it too difficult for candidates to have to take a stand in public?

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