Broadcasters are off the hook for possible legal penalties arising from two of the most controversial news reports generated during the 2004 presidential campaign.
All six members of the Federal Election Commission have voted to dismiss complaints against both CBS and Sinclair Broadcast Group for reports that cast President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry in harsh lights.
The FEC found Sinclair's airing of excerpts from Stolen Honor, a documentary criticizing 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry's military service in Vietnam and his subsequent anti-war activities, did not violate federal election laws because the broadcast was protected by the government's exemption of news shows from campaign finance restrictions
Similarly the FEC said CBS and former anchorman Dan Rather could not be held liable for a discredited 60 Minutes report questioning whether the President fulfilled his National Guard obligations.
The uproar over the broadcast, however, did lead to Rather's retirement and the firing or forced resignations of four CBS producers.
Regarding Sinclair's broadcast, the Democratic National Committee had complained that the broadcast was an impermissible contribution to the Bush campaign.
The FEC also dismissed a complaint filed by an individual in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, about anti-Kerry editorials by Sinclair commentator Mark Hyman. Sinclair said it was "pleased" by the rulings.
Sinclair's report caused an uproar not only within the Democratic party but among activists opposing media consolidation.
They argued that Sinclair's airing of the show in each of the 39 markets where it owns stations is a sign that the company has too much power to impose its opinions on local markets.