In two races for the US Senate, candidates have filed defamation lawsuits against their opponents charging that attack ads go over the line from political argument to actionable falsehoods. However these suits ultimately play out, they demonstrate the premise that we’ve written about before, that broadcast stations are prohibited by FCC rules and the Communications Act from censoring the content of a candidate’s ad, and because they cannot censor the content of a candidate’s ad (or refuse to run a candidate’s ad because of the content of that ad), stations are immune from liability that might otherwise arise from that content. But the candidates being attacked can sue their opponents for the contents of those ads, and that is just what has happened in the North Carolina and Minnesota Senate races.
In North Carolina, according to press reports, Democratic candidate Kay Hagan has filed suit against the campaign of Elizabeth Dole for a commercial that accused Hagan of being associated with a group called Godless Americans – an ad ending with a woman’s voice that some interpreted as being that of Hagan (when it was in fact not) saying "there is no God." In Minnesota, Senator Norm Coleman has reportedly filed a lawsuit against Al Franken’s campaign claiming that Franken campaign ads improperly claimed that Coleman was rated one of the four most corrupt Senators and that he was getting an improperly financed apartment in Washington DC. Continue Reading Senate Candidates File Lawsuits For Defamation in TV Commercials – But Not Against the TV Stations