Anti-abortion Democratic candidate Randall Terry is continuing his push to buy political ads on TV stations despite being rejected by the party. He’s been able to make buys on several stations in states where he’s been able to get on the ballot. Now he’s got his sights set on the June 5 New Jersey Democratic primary. Whether or not he’s successful, a public battle over whether stations have to air his ads may be all that Terry needs to get the attention he’s after.
Within hours of posting my column last week on broadcasters’ handling of non-candidate political ads, I received an email from Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist who is making some noise by running in the Democratic presidential primaries.
It was a complaint. He contended that I had screwed up in suggesting that the FCC had declared in its Feb. 3 ruling that his Democratic credentials were not in order — that he was not a “legally qualified candidate” — so no TV stations had to carry his ads, which typically feature images of dead fetuses.
He was right. The FCC ruling involved WMAQ Chicago was primarily based on the fact that Terry was not on the ballot in Illinois (he is a write-in) and was not able to make a “substantial showing” that he was true candidate. The ruling carried no particular weight in other cases, although it did confirm that Terry and others had limited right to dictate in which programs their ads would appear. (Terry was trying to place his ads in the Super Bowl.)
In fact, Terry has been able to get his ads placed on stations in states where he has been able to get on the ballot. For the March 6 primary in Oklahoma, for instance, he says, he bought dozens of ads on stations in five markets in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.
I promised to correct the record.
With that that obligation fulfilled, I can now report that Terry is not done. His campaign is now gearing up for New Jersey and its June 5 primary. He told me that he is well on his way to collecting the 2,000 signatures he needs by April 2 to get his name on the Democratic ballot.
When he does, he expects to march into stations in New York and Philadelphia and demand not only that they air his ads, but do so without censoring them. And, of course, he will be asking for the lowest-unit-charge discount. These are the entitlements bestowed on legally qualified candidates by federal political advertising law.
He anticipates that the stations will not be keen on airing the ads and will again challenge his credentials. “They’re going to fight me, but I will prevail.”
And he just might.
The big-market stations may find themselves in the same box as KFOR Oklahoma City did in February. The NBC affiliate wanted no part of Terry’s ads. In hopes of rejecting them, it procured a letter from the state Democratic Party stating that Terry was not a bona fide Democratic candidate.
But in the end, KFOR felt that it wasn’t enough. Since Terry was on the ballot, it concluded, he deserved all the privileges of a legally qualified candidate. To safeguard its license, it accepted what KFOR General Sales Manager Wes Milbourn calls a “minimal” schedule of ads from Terry.
Terry made a good showing in Oklahoma, picking up 18.1% of the Democratic votes. But it wasn’t enough to earn him any delegates to the national convention. The Oklahoma Democratic state party yesterday ruled that he wasn’t entitled to any for failing to meet certain party criteria and dealines, according to chairman of the state party, Wallace Collins.
It’s a bit of a setback for Terry’s New Jersey ambitions. He had hoped that having a delegate or two or three would strengthen his argument for legally qualified candidate status.
Like Terry, I suspect the New York and Philly stations will resist his getting that status and airing his ads, which in addition to dead fetuses refer to abortion as murdering babies and “child killing.” They are meant to upset people. You can see for yourself by going to his website. Terry told me the top three videos are the spots he ran in Oklahoma.
Terry says he hopes to run similar ads in New York, except that he will be focusing on the “racist aspect of child killing.”
According to Terry, 12% of women in America are African American, but they account for one-third of the abortions. “There is a grotesque targeting of black babies by the abortion industry.”
What may save the New York and Philly stations from having to air a lot of Terry’s ads is the cost of their air time. A single spot in the evening news in either market, I’m told, can cost a few thousand dollars.
According to one trusted source who tracks political spending, Terry has so far spent just $41,000 on ads in Oklahoma and seven other states. Terry claims that figure is “way low” and that he has spent twice that in 15 states.
But Terry says he is not deterred by the cost. “We’re raising money hand over fist and, even if I do a $100,000 [buy] in New York City and a $40,000 buy in Philadelphia, we can make a dent…. I will put every penny that I can into those ads.”
How many ads he buys may not be the point. Even a few of the ads on the likes of WNBC or KYW will be enough to shake up the citizenry and get everybody running to his website to find out what all the fuss is about. He will have made his statement.
As a matter of fact, a public battle over whether stations have to air the ads at all may be all that Terry needs to get the attention he is after.
Washington communications attorney Jack Goodman has a theory that says that even if Terry manages to get on a primary ballot, the FCC may still deny him the rights of a “legally qualified candidate” on the ground that he is not qualified to hold the office for which he is running — that is, nominee of the Democratic Party for president. The Dems will no doubt be happy to supply 100 reasons why he isn’t.
Let’s hope that theory or another carries the day at the FCC so that stations in New York and Philly can spare the citizens of the Garden State the provocations of Randall Terry this spring.
Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. You may contact him at 973-701-1067 or [email protected].