Program hosts at WGN-AM (720) have been ordered not to react on the air to a political commercial that alleges Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is gay. Paid for by one of Kirk's opponents in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, the spot began running Monday on the Tribune Co.-owned news/talk outlet and at least two others Chicago stations.
Andy Martin and Mark Kirk
Federal law and FCC regulations require stations to air political candidates' advertising without editing or censorship unless the message contains obscenity or violates a felony statute. As a result, there was nothing stations could do to limit or reject the commercial for perennial candidate Andy Martin, one of six vying for the Republican nomination for the senate seat now held by Democrat Roland Burris.
Martin's allegation of "a solid rumor that Kirk is a homosexual" was denounced by Kirk's campaign, which issued a statement saying: "The ad is not true and is degrading to the political process. The people of Illinois deserve better." Kirk holds a strong lead in the polls for the Feb. 2 primary.
In a preemptive memo to WGN hosts and producers last week, assistant program director Dan Zampillo wrote:
"A station cannot selectively disclaim political advertising that it does not agree with. . . . Both as a general matter and specifically with regard to the Martin spots, please do not react to political commercials on our air, or take calls that do the same thing. You can of course discuss candidates, elections, political advertising and political issues as you always do, but do not react to a commercial you hear on-air one way or another."
But that didn't stop one WGN personality from tackling the issue first thing Monday morning. Steve Cochran, who filled in for morning host Greg Jarrett, was interviewing Chicago Tribune political writer Rick Pearson when news anchor Andrea Darlas brought up the controversy. Barely concealing his disgust, Cochran snarled: "The great comedian Ron White, one of America's great philosophers, may have said it best: 'You can't fix stupid.' "
Martin's anti-Kirk commercial also aired Monday on CBS Radio all-news WBBM-AM (780) and Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890).
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