Nothing New Under the Sun


RBR-TVBR News reported that Missouri broadcasters have been forced to air objectionable ads for a splinter write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate named Glenn Miller.

Miller’s controversial political advertising announcements, said to be racist and anti-Semitic, have generated protest not only against his candidacy, but also against the stations that have given voice to his views. Although his campaign has been met with predictable ire and dismay, it proves the adage there really is nothing new under the sun.

It has happened before. And it is well-settled that Congress has tied broadcasters’ hands when it comes to providing candidates with unfettered access to the airwaves. Almost 40 years ago, a number of Georgia radio stations broadcast these words, uttered by one J.B. Stoner, Chairman of the neo-Nazi National States Rights Party:

I am the only candidate for U.S. Senator who is for the white people. I am the only candidate who is against integration. All of the other candidates are race mixers to one degree or another… The main reason why niggers want integration is because the niggers want our white women. I am for law and order with the knowledge that you cannot have law and order and niggers too. Vote white. This time vote your convictions by voting white racist J.B. Stoner into the run-off election for U.S. Senator.

The Atlanta NAACP complained to the FCC that the ads posed a serious and imminent threat to the safety and well-being of the stations that broadcast the Stoner diatribe and to the community at large. It claimed that stations were targets of threats of bombing and violence.

The Commission denied the complaint under clear federal law. Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, prohibits stations from censoring broadcasts made by legally qualified candidates for public office. Section 326 prohibits the Commission from censoring broadcast matter generally.

Despite candidate Stoner’s abhorrent remarks, the Commission held that “it has been the judgment of those who drafted our Constitution and of the overwhelming majority of our legislators and judges over the years,” that the public interest is best served by permitting the expression of a broad variety of views. The FCC added:

[T]his principle insures that the most diverse and opposing opinions will be expressed, many of which may be even highly offensive to those officials who thus protect the rights of others to free speech. If there is to be free speech, it must be free for speech that we abhor and hate as well as for speech that we find tolerable or congenial.

The FCC’s ruling is Atlanta NAACP, Atlanta, Ga., 36 FCC2d 635 (1972).
The Missouri stations that broadcast Miller’s invective, like it or not, recognized and met their obligation under federal law and the public interest. No matter how offensive or outrageous one’s views may be, the First Amendment and the FCC’s political rules protect the ability of candidates for public office to express them.

–John Wells King is a partner in the Washington DC office of Garvey Schubert Barer, and is a contributor to RBR-TVBR News.