With a congressional campaign planning to continue using an ad depicting a fictitious front page of the Akron Beacon Journal, the newspaper filed a complaint Thursday with the Ohio Elections Commission.
The ad being used by U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson’s campaign shows a fake front page of the newspaper, removing actual headlines and photos and replacing them with fake headlines attacking his opponent and her party.
“That is a fictitious representation,” Beacon Journal Managing Editor Doug Oplinger said. “It is a lie and they can’t do that.”
The Beacon Journal, alerted about the ad Wednesday, requested that the campaign stop using the ad that had reportedly been shown on its campaign website, YouTube and television. The ad has been removed from the campaign website and YouTube, but an attorney for the campaign told the newspaper’s attorney that the ad likely will still air on television.
The newspaper has a strict policy on the use of its content in campaign advertising. Nothing is to be altered, Oplinger said.
The ad has garnered statewide attention from print and television media that were already tuned into the hotly contested 6th District race between Johnson, a Republican, and state Rep. Jennifer Garrison, his Democratic opponent in Tuesday’s election. The Ohio Democratic Party on Thursday called for Johnson to apologize for the ad.
During the ad, labeled as a television ad, an image of the May 30, 2011, Beacon Journal front page is displayed, although the date is removed. Because the stories and reporters’ names can be identified, it was clear what edition of the newspaper was used.
The original story at the top of the page was on a local soldier killed in Afghanistan. While the story remained in place, the headline was changed to: “Democrats do it too.” A picture of a family resting at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery was replaced with a photo of President Barack Obama. A picture of a man remembering a friend killed in Vietnam and the headline on that story were replaced with a photo and headline attacking Garrison.
Sarah Poulton, a spokeswoman for Johnson’s campaign, issued a statement by email Thursday that said the campaign has been airing a television ad that “accurately quoted” an Ohio newspaper. She said the Beacon Journal told the campaign it doesn’t permit the use of quotes from its editorials unless the entire editorial is used.
“Although it’s clear that the law and First Amendment permit the use of quotes from newspapers in political ads, we have honored the newspaper’s requests and are editing and replacing the commercial to remove the accurate quotes altogether,” Poulton wrote.
Asked if the campaign will continue running the ad on any platform, Poulton said the campaign wouldn’t comment further.
Mark Landes, a Columbus attorney representing the Johnson campaign, told Karen Lefton, the Beacon Journal’s attorney, that the ad may be aired again in the next few days.
Oplinger said the ad, which draws from a 2004 editorial in the Beacon Journal, doesn’t accurately quote from the editorial. But, he said, the main issue isn’t with the quotes that are used, but with how the ad rewrites a front page of the newspaper.
“They do not have the First Amendment right to completely alter our product,” he said.
The Beacon Journal faxed a complaint to the Ohio Elections Commission on Thursday evening and a written copy via overnight delivery. The complaint accuses the Johnson campaign of violating a state law that prohibits false statements in campaign materials and incorrectly identifying the source of a statement. The newspaper is asking that the campaign be sanctioned.
The 6th District, along with the 14th District that includes the northern part of Summit County, have been identified as the two most competitive congressional races in Ohio. Johnson and Garrison are both from Marietta.
Johnson, elected in 2010, has raised and spent twice as much as Garrison, who won a state legislative seat in 2004. The two together had spent more than $2.5 million as of Oct. 15, according to the Center for Responsive Politics website.
Garrison, who has been interviewed about the ad by numerous media outlets in the sprawling 6th District that includes Ohio River communities from East Liverpool south through Portsmouth, said the ad shows Johnson’s “desperation.”
“It’s so outrageous people find it hard to believe that he would actually do this,” she said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmithabj and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.