Did ABC Have an Obligation to Air That Burning AOC Ad?



The most controversial moment of the third 2020 Democratic debate didn't actually happen during the debate at all. Instead, it centered around one of the commercials: a viscerally violent, targeted attack on Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The ad in question, which aired specifically on ABC's Sinclair affiliate channels during the debates, literally set fire to a picture of Ocasio-Cortez––a woman who has been very vocal about the constant barrage of death threats she gets from conservatives. The spot was funded by New Faces GOP, a right wing political action committee led by failed Republican Congressional hopeful Elizabeth Heng, who lost her bid in California last year by 15% to her Democrat opponent. Heng narrates, "This is the face of socialism and ignorance," as the camera lingers on Ocasio-Cortez's face warping in the flames.

It's the kind of video that wouldn't seem out of place if you found it on a mass shooter's hard drive.

New Faces GOP www.youtube.com

Viewers immediately took to Twitter to express their horror with ABC for airing the ad, with the hashtag #BoycottABC making the trending list in no time. But considering the myriad laws surrounding political advertisements on mainstream broadcasting companies, it's important to ask whether or not ABC even had the option to turn the ad down. After all, it wouldn't be fair to blame ABC for something they didn't actually have any power to stop.

Thankfully, that's not the case here. As it turns out, the only time a broadcast company's hands are really tied when it comes to airing a political ad is when that ad is being put out by a "legally qualified candidate." In other words, Elizabeth Heng is not actively running for election, so the decision to air the ad was up to ABC. In fact, even if we argue that the direct decision to air the ad came down to their Sinclair affiliates, ABC is still responsible for choosing to partner with a notoriously slanted conglomerate. You can sleep easy knowing that ABC deserves every last bit of the wrath it's currently receiving.

Free speech platitudes don't apply here, either, as ABC (and every other major broadcasting company, for that matter) have always been the arbiters of what content they allow on-air. In fact, back in March of 2019, every major network other than FOX refused to promote an ad for an anti-abortion movie due to its sensitive nature. So if they're airing an ad targeting an individual politician with something that could easily be conveyed as threats of violence, you better believe they're doing it solely because they received a good chunk of money in return.

At this point, what's stopping them from showing outright white supremacist propaganda?

Not much, really. As long as the white supremacists don't technically break hate speech laws (so, you know, just make everything thinly veiled), ABC would probably be cool with it if they were paid enough.

Considering profit is really all that matters here, boycotting is the way to go. Hit them where it hurts the most, right in their wallets. #BoycottABC

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