I’m all for freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is what made our country great and allows a free exchange of ideas in the world. However, time and again, courts have found there are limits to free speech. You cannot yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater and call it free speech, nor can you slander someone. So, at what point, if any, do we decide that an advertisement that comes across as politically motivated is completely irresponsible and should not be allowed to run on the public airwaves?
At issue is a Louisville, Kentucky ad agency called Bootstrap, which bills itself as “the world’s first and only conservative ad agency.” The company has made a name for itself creating ads for Knob Creek Gun Range in West Point, Kentucky, a gun range boasting the largest machine gun shoot in the world. Gun laws in Bullitt County, Kentucky are some of the least restrictive in the country, attracting a large number of people to the range to practice what they believe to be their second amendment rights.
Now Knob Creek has hired Bootstrap several times in the past to produce ads for them that air on radio stations where the listener is likely to have a conservative bias (i.e. country and oldies stations). These ads frequently use half-truths, misinformation, and fear to sell the product they are intended to support. The latest ad, however, is downright frightening in how inaccurate it is and the ignorance it is intended to play on. Impersonating Obama, stuttering and all, the ad claims that Obama intends to outlaw guns in America:
Time and time again, the bitter non-believers, clinging to religion and guns, say I’m opposed to the second amendment and want to ban hand guns. But let’s be clear. I want to ban all guns. Hunting and assault rifles, too. Basically anything at Knob Creek Gun Range in Bullitt County I’d ban. From scopes, mounts, and reloading supplies to reasonably priced family, single, and unlimited yearly memberships, gun safety and concealed carry classes, gift certificates, and gun racks. Look, I’d ban Bullitt County just ’cause I don’t like the name. Change it to “Oopsville.” I like that. Knob Creek Gun Range in West Point, Kentucky…It could be your last chance to buy before Christmas or possibly ever again. ‘Cause, believe me, change is coming.
Anyone who knows anything about the constitution will know that Obama has no intention of repealing the second amendment and, even if he did, he could not do it without the ratification of another amendment to repeal the second amendment, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon because of the very people who are most likely to be affected by this ad. The ad seems to think that by not saying Obama’s name, they are skirting the issue of libel and slander. Yet, that is exactly what they are doing by implication.
So, who exactly is Bootstrap? A quick whois reveals an even bigger mystery, as they have chosen to register their domain through a company called Domains by Proxy, Inc. that allows them to register their domain without revealing their company’s contact information or the name of the owners. Instead, Domains by Proxy lists their contact information as the contact information for the domain. Their web site claims that
a shortage of ad agencies and companies willing to promote traditional, American values means they’re also the most overlooked. This virtually untapped market is constantly seeking brands to help them share and express their beliefs. When they find one, it becomes more than just a product or service, it becomes part of a greater cause — one they’ll tell their friends about, go out of their way for, and even spend more to support. One that can even trump a slow economy.
But yet they claim that the majority of their ads do not express any political point of view. A quick scan of the company’s portfolio reveals a different story. Besides the Obama ad, they also produced a less sinister ad for Knob Creek making fun of Obama’s slip in saying there were 58 states, and an ad for a local chiropractor that implies the public health care option will allow doctors to force a diagnosis upon you (how dare a doctor presume to tell you what is wrong with you!) and that the government would prescribe ridiculous solutions to your illness (psychotherapy as a cure for the flu). The message: come get your spine adjusted before you have to get psychotherapy for the flu!
The purpose of these ads is clear: get people’s attention by massaging their misconceptions and misinformation that conservative pundits have already put down their throat. The dangerous thing is that stunts like this could potentially breed hatred for the president and further division in the political world than is already present. By presenting outright lies as the thoughts of the president, they are perpetuating misinformation that goes unchallenged.
It’s beyond belief that legitimate radio stations would allow this kind of crap to air. Yet, WRKA, a classic country station owned by Cox Radio, does air the ad. What message is Cox sending about the perceived intelligence of their listeners?
As I said at the beginning of this post, I strongly believe in the right to criticize the president. Yet, if lies like this were being spread about me, I would have the right to sue Bootstrap for libel. Why do these companies feel they can get away with the same exaggerations in the political realm? Because we let them, and that is why most of middle America doesn’t trust either political party at the moment. It’s become a game of rhetoric that needs to stop.
The rules for advertising in this country have become so open to interpretation. I say it’s time to close the gaps and make advertisers accountable for what they say in their ads.