October 29, 2012 3:23pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Republican Congressman Sues TV Stations Over 'Defamatory' Political Ad (Video)
With a little more than a week until Election Day, TV stations around the nation are airing around-the-clock political attack advertisements. One Republican candidate has had enough.
Jeff Denham, the U.S. Representative for California's 19th congressional district who is running in the 10th after redistricting, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the owners of various local TV stations over a 30-second ad that allegedly conveyed that he had voted to protect his own pay in the event of a government shutdown.
The lawsuit filed in California federal court names Hearst Stations, Great American Media Inc. and Sacramento Television Stations, among others, as owning TV stations that broadcast a "lie."
In the commercial, a voice-over states, "In times of conflict, American troops have our backs. But that didn't stop Jeff Denham from turning his back on them. With a government shutdown looming in Washington, Denham voted against a measure to guarantee our troops would still receive their pay. But Denham did protect his own paycheck."
Denham says that isn't accurate. The GOP congressmen points to H.R. 1255, which he says proves he voted to prevent payment of salary to members of Congress during a potential government shutdown. He also says he has consistently protected veterans as an elected official.
Despite the nasty things sometimes said in campaign advertisements, libel lawsuits over attack ads are quite uncommon. A suing politician runs the risk of appearing thin-skinned and litigious. Plus, there are the high bars that judges impose upon public officials to win in court.
Denham believes he has enough evidence to withstand the usual defenses.
According to the complaint, "While Congressman Denham vigorously supports First Amendment rights and the profound national commitment to the principles that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials, the Defendants have with actual malice, which is to say with knowledge with falsity or with reckless disregard of whether the publication was false, lied about him maliciously."
To win a lawsuit against the TV stations, Denham will need to show they met the "malice standard" by failing to do the requisite fact-checking. Although claims like this are rare, they aren't impossible to win. In Texas, for instance, TV stations once had to pay a complaining politician, according to the Broadcast Law Blog.
Denham says that he put stations owned by the defendants on notice about the alleged falsity of DCCC's ad. On October 24, his lawyers are said to have advised the defendants and provided references to the Legislative Digest.
The DCCC is sticking to its attack on Dunham, who is running a tight race against challenger Jose Hernandez.
Jesse Ferguson, the communications director of the DCCC, told local press that "No matter how hard Congressman Denham tries to cover up his record and distract from his votes, he voted to protect his pay and not the pay of our troops."
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