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Two of Nashville’s three major television stations refused to air an advertisement last week that attacked Bob Dole for trying to outlaw gay marriages.

The ad, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay and lesbian political organization, shows a photograph of Dole and his wife while a voice says, “There was a time when a divorced man would not have made an ideal candidate for marriage.” Other photographs show Sen. Phil Gramm with his Eurasian wife and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with his white wife. The Gramms “would not have been accepted by some people,” the voice continues, and inter-racial marriages were once “so shocking to the majority that they were not legal.”

The voice asks, “Why are Bob Dole and Congress wasting our time with new laws attacking gay relationships?”

“I thought the ad was unfair to Dole,” explained a station executive at WSMV-Channel 4, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I don’t have a problem running an ad on the gay marriage issue, but I didn’t see the point of dragging in Bob Dole’s divorce.”

“If they’d changed the copy, we might have run it.”

WKRN-Channel 2’s station manager, Mike Sechrist, said the station “will not accept issue advertising unless it is a pending ballot issue which will be decided by the voters.” He said the sales staff rejected the ad because it violated the station’s policy and added that he supports the staff’s decision.

In a press release, the Human Rights Campaign charged that Channel 2 refused to run the ad because, as a station salesman explained, the gay marriage issue would stir up too much controversy among the area’s “700 Catholic churches.” Sechrist, a Catholic himself, said he doesn’t believe anyone at the station made that statement. (According to the Catholic Diocese, there are actually about 50 Catholic churches in Middle Tennessee.)

At WTVF-Channel 5, general manager Lem Lewis typically did not return calls to his office but issued a statement saying, “We both ran the ad and provided an opportunity for opposing views in our newscast.”

In other cities, station reaction to the ad has been mixed. All three San Diego stations aired the ad during the Republican convention, but none of the major Chicago stations will run it during the Democratic convention, according to David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. In New Orleans and Tampa, stations split on the issue.

Channel 5 made the right decision. Public debate over pending legislation, such as the anti-gay marriage bill now before the U.S. Senate, lies at the heart of what the First Amendment is about. No station licensed to use the public airwaves should be able to cut off that debate by refusing to sell advertising time because one station thinks the ad is unfair or another has a policy against “issue”-oriented messages.

Television stations that wrap themselves in the Constitution demanding access to trials and police records because of their “obligation” to inform the public need to look first at their own sales departments.

Odds and ends

The current issue of Spy magazine reports that when one of Vice President Al Gore’s children was recently suspended from school for possession of marijuana, he personally telephoned the Washington media and persuaded them to kill the story.

“Every news bureau chief in town” knows about the incident, writes Spy, “...but Washington takes care of its own.”

One sympathizes with the vice president for trying to protect his children, but Gore will someday be asked to return those favors. A woman at Gore’s press office said last week that they were “aware” of news reports about Gore’s child and said someone would call later with further comment. No one did.

In light of recent headlines blaming Clinton for the upsurge in teenage drug use, the vice president’s near success in burying the story about his child is evidence of Gore’s influence and popularity among the Washington press corps. Can anyone imagine the media being that kind to Chelsea?

The Tennessean can be depended upon to endorse Democrat Bart Gordon over Republican Steve Gill in November’s Sixth District congressional race. But that hardly explains the morning paper’s recurring use of a Gill headshot that makes the Nashville lawyer look unkempt, cross-eyed, and vaguely demented.

“They’ve been using that picture since the ’94 campaign,” complained Gill’s campaign manager, Tony Grande. “We’ve given them other photos at least four times, twice this year alone.” After the paper used the bad photo again just before the Aug. 1 primary, Grande called Tennessean photo editor Rick Musacchio, who told Grande it was the only picture in the files. For the fifth time, Grande sent another picture.

The day after the election, which Gill won easily, the paper finally used the campaign photo.

To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), call him directly at 252-2363 or send an e-mail to hwalker@bccb.com.

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