CBS to air new “anti-Clinton ad” ?; Citizens United ad would apparently violate CBS's stated policy not to run “advocacy” ads on “controversial issues of public importance”

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CBS is apparently set to run a new TV advertisement attacking former President Bill Clinton that appears to violate the network's stated prohibition on “advocacy” ads that deal with “controversial issues of public importance.” Under the headline “Citizens United Launches New Anti-Clinton Ad Campaign to Air during '60 Minutes' Interview,” Citizens United (led by David N. Bossie) announced on its website the new ad is to air during Clinton's June 20 appearance on CBS's news program 60 Minutes. The self-described “advocacy” group explained, “Amidst the hype surrounding the release of former President Clinton's new book, 'My Life', Citizens United sets the record straight by exposing the real legacy President Bill Clinton left for America.”

The Citizens United ad claims that Clinton is “responsible” for “leaving us vulnerable to terrorists.”

CBS's airing of the Citizens United ad would be noteworthy because the network refused to run ads from and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) during this year's Super Bowl. At the time, CBS explained that it does not run “advocacy advertising” :

CBS says the sponsor, an online activist group called, crossed the line by attempting to use Super Bowl airtime as a platform for public debate: something CBS and other networks have banned for years. “The network simply does not accept any advocacy advertising of any kind,” says CBS Executive Vice President Martin Franks.

CBS also explained that it rejects ads dealing with “controversial issues of public importance.” From a Reuters article in January:

The network rejected the ad based on its policy against “advocacy advertising,” which it said was designed to prevent those who could afford to advertise from having undue influence on “controversial issues of public importance.”

However, the network's claim that it does not broadcast “advocacy” advertising or ads about “controversial issues of public importance” rang hollow at the outset. In January, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) noted in a floor speech that CBS has recently aired other advocacy ads, including controversial ads sponsored by the White House Drug Control Policy Agency. Senator Durbin noted:

Look at the record, though. CBS has run controversial ads, many of which were good for America to see. Ads sponsored by the White House Drug Control Policy Agency confronted a tough issue, maybe in controversial terms to some, but ads that were important. The White House Drug Policy ad that ran during last year's Super Bowl accused American drug companies of directly supporting international terrorism that led to the taking of lives of American citizens. Risky, edgy, controversial? Yes. Did we have a right to see that as Americans? You bet we did.

Durbin went on to suggest that partisan political -- and financial -- considerations may have been behind many recent decisions by CBS. Durbin noted, “Maybe network executives at CBS are so afraid of political pressure from the rightwing and their business advertisers who are in league with the rightwing politics of America that they are afraid to put anything on the air that might in fact make things uncomfortable. If that is the case, it is time for CBS to announce the name of their network is the 'conservative broadcasting system' and come clean with American viewers.”

In January, Representatives Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jan Schakowksy (D-IL), and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) sent a letter co-signed by 23 of their colleagues to CBS President Les Moonves. The letter noted that the decision not to run the ad “appears to be part of a disturbing pattern on CBS's part to bow to the wishes of the Republican National Committee.”

In February, the network began airing a Bush administration ad for the new Medicare prescription drug law. CBS stopped running the ad when the Government Accounting Office (GAO) began reviewing its content; the GAO eventually concluded that the ad was not “free of political tone” and “may appear to some as an attempt to persuade the public to the Administration's point of view regarding the newly enacted benefit.” CBS surely knew that the Medicare ads dealt with “controversial issues of public importance” ; some House Republicans considered the Medicare law so important -- and the vote on the legislation so controversial -- that they apparently tried to bribe one of their fellow members of Congress in order to secure his vote.