Fox News Channel, McCain Clash Over Debate Ad
Republican Presidential Candidate Used 19-Second Clip from Debate Sponsored by Cable News Network
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/26/2007 11:45:00 AM
Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Fox News Channel are at loggerheads over a campaign ad that uses a 19-second clip from McCain's widely cited "tied up" comment during a Fox News-sponsored debate telecast.
McCain was looking to capitalize on the buzz surrounding his TV appearance by using it in an ad he started running in New Hampshire and bicycling around the Internet. Fox News said the ad is copyright infringement; that it asked the campaign to pull the ad but it declined; and that it would sue but for not wanting to give McCain's campaign more oxygen.
The campaign uses the clip, complete with Fox News logo in the corner, to promote McCain's pork-barrel-busting reputation, specifically his comment during the debate on thwarting an attempt by Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) to fund a Woodstock museum, as well as what he said was "$500,000 for a ‘Virtual Herbarium’ and $1.2 million for research on growing grapes."
In the clip, McCain got a standing ovation from the debate audience for pointing out that he had not gone to the iconic rock concert at Woodstock, N.Y., having been "tied up at the time" -- a reference to the fact that he was a prisoner of war in Hanoi during that period. He got no ovation from Fox News for using its footage.
“We’re thinking of filing a lawsuit," a Fox News spokesperson said, "but that would give McCain’s campaign the oxygen it desperately needs since it’s clear that they have no money.”
Blogs including The Huffington Post and the New York Times political site also picked up on the story.
TV networks are increasingly permitting their candidate footage to be excerpted and otherwise used on the Internet given the emergence of sites like YouTube as places where people congregate to learn about their future political leaders. It can also provide some extra promotion for the network's coverage of an increasing proliferation of debates.
But Fox News said it has a policy against making debate footage available for political ads -- a concern not confined to Fox News -- and it sent the campaign a cease-and-desist order. The campaign had not returned a call at press time, but a Fox News lawyer characterized the response by the McCain people as defending the clip as fair use, citing its relative brevity out of a 90-second debate.
According to a Fox News lawyer, who asked not to be identified, "There is no fair-use argument for the way they are using our footage, the reason being that they are using the footage in a campaign advertisement to elicit contributions to their campaign. That is a commercial purpose for the use of our footage, which is nowhere near allowed under a fair-use argument … What they're doing is copyright infringement. It's never a fair use to take the copyrighted material of a third party and use it for your own commercial purposes."
"Our legal team has full confidence that the campaign's minimal use of Senator McCain's own comments in the debate clearly constitutes fair use under the copyritght law," said campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.
Sherwin Siy, staff attorney for fair use advocate Public Knowledge, agrees, saying he thought McCain had a "very good argument for fair use" for the 19-second excerpt, adding that the fact that it was used in a commercial did not mean that fair use shouldn't apply. "This is not the sort of free speech Fox has the right to prohibit under copyright law," he said.
That fair-use doctrine grants some use without compensation or permission of copyrighted material for various purposes, including news, criticism and artistic works.
Are any Fox outlets carrying the ad? "I would hope our Fox brethren would not take it," the Fox lawyer said.
Actually, one already did. The campaign aired the ad once on the Fox Boston station in the pregame show for the World Series game Thursday night, hoping to get the viewers in every bar in Boston, according to Rogers.
The campaign is also booked through the weekend in a statewide New Hampshire buy, he said, with no plans to pull it, but currently no plans to air it elsewhere.
My understanding of the rules regarding political advertising is that they have to be accepted by broadcast outlets provided that they refer to a legally qualified candidtate who appears in the ad or for a ballot proposition and that they indicate who paid for the ad. Broadcast stations must accept political advertising that meets those criteria if the campaign has ready money to pay for the air time. They are prohibited from censoring the ad in any way.
I am also amazed and disappointed by the Fox News Channel spokesperson who attacked the McCain campaign. It is one thing to have a disagreement and to express one's position. It is quite another for a news organization publicly to attack the campaign of a presidential candidate in a race that it is covering.
It raises questions about Fox News' fairness and balance. I say this having represented news outlets as a spokesperson for 30 years. The rule I have followed is to protect the credibility of the news outlet above all else. The proper way to handle it is state the network's position on its copyrighted material and leave it at that, not to characterize the campaign.
Ted Faraone - 10/27/2007 7:45:00 PM EDT
Isn't it a violation of FEC campaign finance rules for Senator John McCain to spend primary money on an ad against a candidate who is not in his primary?
Or has Senator "Campaign Finance Reform," decided that rules should not apply to incumbents running for higher office?
robert chapman - 10/27/2007 12:00:00 PM EDT
K Morrison - 10/26/2007 8:27:00 PM EDT
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