(Aerial stock photo taken in 2007 while on a Northwest flight to MSP)
Published on Friday, August 22, 2008 by The New York Times
Ads on Nuclear Threat Removed From Convention Airports
by Larry Rohter
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."
Both advertisements were placed on billboards belonging to Clear Channel Outdoor, a branch of the media conglomerate, which is based in Texas.
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 Airport."
© 2008 The New York Times