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RNC (and DNC*) censorship, take one

*UPDATE: Don't just blame Minnesota/the Republicans; it happened in Denver too

Does urging both presidential candidates to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons constitute a "petty political attack"?

Apparently Northwest Airlines, the official carrier of the Republican National Convention, thinks so, since NWA recently asked Clear Channel to yank an anti-nukes ad that had been posted in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. (Clear Channel promptly complied.)

Grim stuff. A press release from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which had taken out the ad in question, follows; here's the write-up from the Star-Tribune. 


NORTHWEST AIRLINES ASKS CLEAR CHANNEL TO PULL SCIENCE GROUP'S ANTI-NUCLEAR-WEAPONS AD IN MINNEAPOLIS AIRPORT
 
BILLBOARD CALLS FOR SEN. McCAIN TO 'GET SERIOUS' ABOUT REDUCING THE THREAT OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
 
WASHINGTON (August 19, 2008) - Northwest, the official airline of the Republican National Convention, has taken on a new role of censor. Yesterday it asked Clear Channel Communications to remove a Union of Concerned Scientists' (UCS) anti-nuclear-weapons billboard in the Minneapolis airport because it is "scary" and "anti-McCain." Clear Channel agreed, and plans to take the billboard down today.
 
The billboard is one of two placed by the Union of Concerned Scientists at the Minneapolis and Denver airports to coincide with the Republican and Democratic conventions. The ads urge both parties' presidential candidates to address the threat of nuclear weapons. The Minneapolis billboard had been on display since August 13. The Denver billboard was posted last Friday.
 
The Minneapolis version features an image of downtown Minneapolis with target crosshairs superimposed on it. "When only one nuclear bomb could destroy a city like Minneapolis," the headline reads, "we don't need 6,000." The subhead states: "Senator McCain: It's time to get serious about reducing the nuclear threat." The Denver billboard features an image of that city and addresses the same statement to Sen. Barack Obama.
 
In an email exchange with Clear Channel, Northwest Airline officials complained that the billboard image is "scary" and "anti-McCain." In an email to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Tammy Lee, Northwest's vice president of corporate communications, said, "Out of an abundance of respect for both parties, we will not allow attack ads of either persuasion to be prominently displayed in our concourses. Our customers and employees complained and we responded. We will not be a party to petty political attacks on either side."
 
"Nuclear weapons are scary, and that's why we need to pay attention to them," said Elliott Negin, a UCS spokesman. "But to say that the billboard is anti-McCain is ludicrous. In fact, both McCain and Obama largely agree with us that we need to rid the world of nuclear weapons. These are not 'attack ads,' they are a strong reminder to both candidates that this is a very serious issue they need to address. Northwest Airlines is trying to censor free speech, and I don't think that's their role."
 
(For Sen. John McCain's position on nuclear weapons, go to www.johnmccain.com/involving/petition.aspx?guid=46fc9952-ebb3-49ea-bdc7-6537fee1399f; for Sen. Obama's position, go to http://www.barackobama.com/issues/foreignpolicy/#nuclear.)
 
The billboards are a part of a larger UCS media campaign that includes smaller versions in bars and restaurants around the convention sites. The group also bought Web ads on Minnesota and Colorado political blog sites. (For more on UCS's ad campaign, go to www.reducethethreat.org.) 
 
"The Cold War ended nearly 20 years ago, but the United States and Russia still have many thousands of nuclear weapons, and each keeps more than a thousand on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within a matter of minutes," said Lisbeth Gronlund, a physicist and co-director of UCS's Global Security Program. "This creates a real risk of an accidental or unauthorized Russian launch against one, or more, American cities. We need a public debate about U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and that's why we launched our media campaign."
 
The UCS campaign builds on the organization's multiyear effort promoting a fundamental reassessment of the role, purpose and future of U.S. nuclear weapons. Earlier this year, UCS released "Toward True Security: Ten Steps the Next President Should Take to Transform U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy" and a scientists' statement on nuclear weapons signed by 21 Nobel laureates. In December 2007, the organization conducted a public opinion poll in South Carolina that found more than two-thirds of likely Republican and Democratic primary voters in that state want the United States to spearhead an international effort to reduce the number of nuclear weapons globally and believe that those reductions would make the United States safer.

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