Hoping to draw the public's attention to the threat of nuclear
weaponry, an issue that both presumptive nominees for president
regularly mention on the campaign trail, the Union of Concerned Scientists
bought billboards at the airports in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul,
where the Democratic and Republican conventions will soon be held.
But those billboards have now been taken down, after a complaint by
Northwest Airlines, the official airline of the Republican convention.
The scientists' group has accused Northwest, whose headquarters are
in Minnesota, of "taking on a new role as censor" and of having acted
because it regarded the Minneapolis advertisement to be both "scary"
and "anti-McCain." But the airline, while acknowledging that the
billboard there had been removed at its request, said it had not been
motivated by partisan considerations.
"We don't allow controversial or political advertising in our
concourse, and this was both," said Tammy Lee, a spokeswoman for
Northwest. "It is content that is considered objectionable in a safe
and secure environment, and we got a lot of complaints about it."
The two versions of the billboard are virtually identical. They
show the downtown area of the convention city in the cross hairs of an
aerial targeting device, and warn that "when only one nuclear bomb
could destroy a city" like Minneapolis or Denver, "we don't need
6,000." The name of Senator John McCain or Senator Barack Obama follows, with this admonition: "It's time to get serious about reducing the nuclear threat."
"Nuclear weapons are scary, and that's why we need to pay attention
to them," said Elliott Negin, a spokesman for the Union of Concerned
Scientists. "But to say that the billboard is anti-McCain is ludicrous.
In fact, both McCain and Obama largely agree with us that we need to
rid the world of nuclear weapons. These are not, quote-unquote, attack
ads, they are a strong reminder to both candidates that this is a very
serious issue they need to address. Northwest Airlines is trying to
censor free speech, and I don't think that's their role."
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Both advertisements were placed on billboards belonging to Clear
Channel Outdoor, a branch of the media conglomerate, which is based in
Clear Channel is the country's dominant radio broadcaster, with
more than 1,200 stations and revenues last year of $6.8 billion, much
of which is generated by conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and Dr. Laura Schlessinger.
Ms. Lee, of Northwest, said that Clear Channel had erred in
permitting the billboard to go up in the first place in Minneapolis,
because the contract with the airport authority states, "Under no
circumstances shall displays embody controversial, social, moral,
political or ethical issues."
The situation in Denver, where the Democrats meet next week, is
somewhat different, however, in that no one there appears to have
formally objected to the advertisement.
Tony Alwin, a spokesman for Clear Channel, said Thursday in a
written statement that the company was required to remove
advertisements from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport "if that
advertising copy is objectionable to Northwest Airlines." Further, the
statement said, "After being informed of the reasons for Northwest
Airlines objections to the advertising copy in question, Clear Channel
Outdoor elected to remove similar advertising copy from the Denver