Raleigh, N.C. — When I fact-checked an ad by North Carolina Citizens for Progress earlier this week, I said the ad was unfair to Republican candidate Pat McCrory. It suggests McCrory was improperly working on behalf of LendingTree.com, a conclusion that's not supported by the facts cited.
McCrory found the ad so offensive that he asked the FCC to intervene on his behalf and is now threatening to sue Citizens for Progress, the Democratic Governor's Association and one television stations that is airing the ad. From a McCrory news release:
Today, the McCrory campaign moved forward with defamation action against the groups responsible for airing the false and illegal commercial currently running against Pat McCrory in addition to the television station ABC-11, the Raleigh WTVD affiliate. Twenty-four hour notice has been given to all entities involved and is outlined in the attached letters. One station has agreed to stop running the commercial but only ABC-11 took the step to inform the McCrory campaign that it refuses to stop airing the ad. The McCrory campaign assumes that the other stations are still reviewing the legal arguments and we look forward to hearing from them.
Brian Nick, a spokesman for McCrory, said the campaign planned to file suit tomorrow.
Defamation suits are unusual but not unheard of in campaigns. Sen. Kay Hagan sued Sen. Elizabeth Dole over the Dole campaign's "Godless" ad in 2008, although dropped the suit after the election.
"We're doing all this in the required steps and have every intention of moving forward," Nick said.
When I reached WTVD General Sales Manager Tim Alwran, he said that he had not received notice of the potential suit yet.
Michael Weisel, a lawyer for Citizens for Progress, could not be immediately reached for comment. But earlier in the week, he said the ad doesn't claim that McCrory was a lobbyist and it doesn't make a specific accusation.
He also said that McCrory's reaction was stronger than typical, particularly given the context of campaign advertising.
"There is always push-back on ads, but this is a panicked, desperate reach," Weisel said.
Although public records show that the first run of the Citizens for Progress ad was supposed to end today, the group has bought additional airtime. According to media buyers, they have bought $192,000 worth of cable and broadcast advertising over the next week.
Update: Weisel sent an e-mail late yesterday detailing Citizens' response to the McCrory threat. As part of that e-mail, they cite a legal analysis of the ad that states:
“Given the documentary evidence that we have reviewed, in our opinion it appears that Mr. McCrory can have no reasonable hope or expectation that he can establish the elements of defamation or establish that the statements in the Today's Tree ad were published with actual malice by either NC Citizens for Progress or by any broadcast stations airing the advertisement. Despite the threatening language contained in the Cease and Desist Memo that NCCP or broadcast stations are “on notice” of the ad’s purported falsity, the Cease and Desist Memo appears to support and underscore the very truth of the statements in the advertisement.”