Corporate Media Censors MoveOn
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Editor, The Konformist
Corporate Media Censors MoveOn
By Joel Bleifuss, In These Times
Posted on July 27, 2006
Perhaps you have thought, "If the voters knew how venal a GOP member
of Congress was, they could never get re-elected."
MoveOn is testing that proposition with a public service ad campaign
that targets four Republican candidates whose votes in Congress have
put special interest profits before the public good.
"Caught red-handed" is the moniker for a series of MoveOn TV ads
that expose the lawmakers' fealty to the corporations that fund
their campaigns. MoveOn PAC Director Eli Pariser puts it this
way: "The most visible and insidious form of corruption is the form
that is also legal, and that is the money politicians take from big
companies and the votes that they give in return to help those
Take, for example, Rep. Deborah Pryce, the fourth ranking GOP leader
in the House. She represents suburban Columbus, Ohio, and was on the
receiving end of this ad:
Announcer: Congresswoman Deborah Pryce--she accepted more than
$100,000 from energy companies and she voted against bills that
would have penalized those companies for price gouging. (On Screen:
a series of black-and-white photographs of Rep. Pryce.)
Announcer: Instead of protecting us, Congresswoman Pryce has been
caught red-handed, protecting oil company profits while we pay more
at the pump. (On Screen: a close-up of Rep. Pryce's hand in one of
the photos as an invisible brush paints her hand red.)
Announcer: Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, Jack Abramoff. And now Deborah
Pryce. Another Republican caught red-handed. (On Screen: Pictures of
DeLay, Cheney and Abramoff flash across the screen, all with red-
To help the Democrats pick up 15 seats and gain control of the
House, MoveOn PAC decided to concentrate not on the hotly contested
races but on second-tier races where Republican incumbents had a
good, but not insurmountable, lead in the polls. Besides Rep. Pryce,
MoveOn has set its sights on Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.), Rep.
Thelma Drake (R-Va.), and Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.).
Each has been confronted with three waves of ads. The first, which
aired in early April, focused on the votes that protected energy
corporations from price gouging, as mentioned above. The second ad
concentrates on votes by the four that prohibited the federal
government from negotiating lower prices with the drug companies.
The ad aimed at Rep. Johnson shows a grandmotherly figure empty a
pill bottle into her hand as the voiceover says, "Seniors relied on
her. Yet Congresswoman Johnson accepted $400,000 from big drug
companies and got caught red-handed voting for a law that actually
prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices for our
The third takes the representatives to task for votes against a bill
that would have instituted criminal penalties against war profiteers
like Halliburton. As a fist-full of money changes hands, a voice
over reads: "Congresswoman Thelma Drake accepted $25,000 from
defense contractor PACs. Then she opposed penalties for defense
contractors like Halliburton who overcharged the military in Iraq at
a time when soldiers didn't have enough body armor."
Indeed, in March, Drake voted against a Democratic bill that would
have blocked firms that had been found to overcharge the government
by $100 million or more from receiving any further contracts. The
targeted Congress members are crying foul. In Indiana, Rep. Chocola
expressed his anger that the ads have implicated him in voting in
the interests of big oil, which contributed $80,000 to his
campaigns, and the pharmaceutical industry, which has contributed
$48,500. He denounced MoveOn as "a radical group that does not share
the views or values of the people of the 2nd district."
In Connecticut, Rep. Johnson hit back with an ad attacking
MoveOn: "A radical group whose ads have been called 'shameful' and
misleading' is at it again. ... this group compared America's
leaders to Nazis." That Nazi comment refers to one of 15,000 ads
submitted in 2004 to the MoveOn.org Web site as part of a contest.
The ad was subsequently taken down by MoveOn.
Rushing to the defense of the GOP incumbents, the Republican
National Committee went on the offensive on June 9, apparently
supplying the Pryce, Drake and Chocola campaigns with text for a
letter that the campaigns could send to stations that ran MoveOn's
ads. The letter Drake for Congress sent stations read in part:
The newest ad attacks Congresswoman Drake personally for allegedly
protecting war profiteers and goes on to implicitly accuse the
congresswoman of taking bribes. These ads are reckless, malicious
and false, casting Ms. Drake in a false light by accusing him [sic!]
of unsubstantiated criminal conduct. We also believe the
republication of these allegations by your organization ... subjects
your organization to the same potential liability for defamation as
In Virginia, Cox Communications, citing "business risks," agreed to
stop running the ad attacking Rep. Drake. Thom Prevette, a Cox
Communications spokesman and vice president, told Norfolk's
Virginian-Pilot, "In this case, it's prudent for us to discontinue
running those ads for business reasons."
Uh huh? Turns out that in 2004, Prevette contributed $500 to Drake's
campaign, as did another Cox Vice-President, Franklin R. Bowers. And
in Indiana, South Bend's WSBT-TV, a CBS affiliate, pulled the ad
attacking Rep. Chocola, while in Connecticut, Hartford's NBC
affiliate WVIT refused to take the ad. No conflicts of interest to
But the GOP had its greatest success cowing the media in Columbus,
Ohio. Two Sinclair-owned stations, the ABC-affiliate WSYX-TV and the
Fox affiliate WTTE-TV, pulled the ads. In response, MoveOn's Pariser
issued this statement: "Isn't it ironic the Swift Boat Veterans can
lie on Sinclair-owned affiliates, but the public is shut out from
learning information in the public record about Rep. Pryce?"
And the GE/NBC-affiliate in Columbus WCMH-TV declined MoveOn's ad
dollars as well. According to a spokesman, the station "in
consultation with legal counsel, made the decision not to accept the
During the 2004 election, WCMH-TV did accept ads from the Swift Boat
Veterans. The Time-Warner cable station WSYX-TV in Columbus also
refused to run the anti-Pryce ads. Turns out, Time Warner Cable's
Columbus Division president Rhonda Fraas has contributed a total of
$2,000 to GOP candidates in Ohio since 2003. So much for the liberal
Yet the most glaring conflict of interest involves WBNS-TV in
Columbus, where General Manager Tom Griesdorn pulled the ad that
attacked Rep. Pryce for protecting the oil industry from price
gouging legislation and that linked her to convicted lobbyist Jack
Abramoff. Rep. Pryce heralded the move, saying that her
constituents "no longer will ...be inundated by these slanderous,
negative attacks ads run on behalf of my opponent."
Greisdorn explained to the Columbus Dispatch, "In the end I deemed
it was defamatory because the allegations could no longer be
defended to the satisfaction of our attorneys." But was it the
satisfaction of the attorneys he was concerned about?
According to federal campaign finance records, John Wolfe, the CEO
of the Dispatch Media Group, the corporation that owns WBNS-TV, has
donated $3,000 to the GOP since 1998. That is nothing compared to
his wife Ann, who since 1998 has contributed $48,100 to the
Republican cause, including $2,100 to Rep. Pryce, who along with the
Wolfes resides in the tony Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington.
Wolfe's Dispatch Media Group also owns the Columbus Dispatch, the
region's main newspaper, which has been less than zealous in
covering the controversy over the MoveOn ads.
For example, in addition to not reporting WBNS-TV's conflict of
interest, the Columbus Dispatch has let stand Pryce for Congress'
claim that the congresswoman "has no connection whatsoever" to
Abramoff. But, as the paper reported last year, Rep. Pryce has
received $8,000 in donations from a Michigan Indian tribe
represented by Abramoff (she returned the money following the
lobbyist's legal troubles) and she has held fundraising parties at
Signatures, a Washington, D.C. restaurant that Abramoff owned and
where the fundraising operations Pryce controls spent more than
Despite resistance from GOP affiliated media, the "caught red-
handed" campaign seems to be working. In Connecticut, a survey taken
in Rep. Johnson's district found that, following the ads, her share
of the vote dropped from 47 to 41 percent, while her Democratic
opponent Chris Murphy's share of the vote rose from 46 to 51 percent-
-an 11 percentage point shift.
Similiarly, in Virginia, Thelma Drakes' 51 to 42 percent lead in the
polls shrank to a 46-46 tie with challenger Phil Kellam--a 9
percentage point shift. MoveOn set out on this campaign, in the
words of Pariser, to find out: "How do you take the issue of
corruption and tie it to the politicians that we need to beat in
November?" The answer: Paint their hands red, for all to see.
Joel Bleifuss is the editor of In These Times, where he has worked
as an investigative reporter, columnist and editor since 1986.