Letter from Comcast's counsel
We are writing on behalf of our client, Comcast Cable Communications, in
response to your request that Comcast run a television spot regarding U.S. Rep.
Chris Carney, sponsored by the so-called "Blue America PAC." Since this spot
would not be considered a candidate "use" under Section 315 of the Communications
Act (47 USC 315), Comcast would face potential liability for any defamation
contained in the spot.
As you know, the spot contains the following audio regarding Rep. Carney: "He
wants to pardon phone companies who broke the law and gave thousands to his
campaign." That audio is spoken over a video image showing the logos of the
following entities: AT&T, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association
("NCTA"), Verizon, Embarq and Comcast. A Monopoly-type "Get out of jail free"
card is then superimposed over the images of the logos. Thus, the express
language of the spot combined with the images shown implies that the entities whose
logos are shown "broke the law" and face either "jail" or a potential
"pardon," both of which would be applicable to a criminal conviction.
In support of the statement that these entities "broke the law," you have
provided links to the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF") and,
in the case of Verizon, the ACLU, "demonstrating that listed telecoms are
defendants in the lawsuits based on illegal spying." For the proposition that
"[t]hese telecoms broke the law with their illegal spying," you provide a link to
your own opinion blog in Salon.com. None of the links provided implicate NCTA
in any way.
A ll of the lawsuits for which you have provided links are civil suits that
would not result in criminal liability, even if decided against the defendants.
More importantly, however, there have been no adjudications in any of these
lawsuits against the defendants , including Verizon and AT&T. As I am sure you
know, the mere filing of a lawsuit, whether civil or criminal, is not
equivalent to a finding of liability or wrongdoing by the defendant unless so decided
by a judge following prosecution of the litigation (or, in the case of a
criminal complaint, a guilty plea by the defendant). In fact, the EFF website shows
that the civil suits against Comcast (and other carriers) ha ve been
dismissed: http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/att/mdl3.pdf .
Under the circumstances, the spot you have provided is factually incorrect
and potentially defamatory against the entities shown. Under Pennsylvania law, a
false allegation of criminal wrongdoing is considered to be defamation per
se. While Comcast tries to accommodate all requests to run political
advertising, regardless of the position taken (even if critical of Comcast itself), the
company cannot accept a spot that is false and defamatory. Accordingly, we have
advised Comcast to decline your request to run this spot, and they have
concluded that they have no choice but to do so . If you believe you have
additional documentation that would alter our conclusion, or if you care to submit an
alternate spot that is factually correct, you are, of course, free to do so.
David Silverman | Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
1919 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 200 | Washington, DC 20006-3402
Tel: (202) 973-4200 | Fax: (202) 973-4499
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Website: www.dwt.com
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