Graphic abortion ads running on Pittsburgh, Steubenville TV stations

Brian Bowling
| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Several television stations say federal regulations compel them to run graphic political ads from a fringe presidential candidate, but a lawyer who specializes in campaign law disagrees.

The ads feature what appear to be aborted fetuses, beheaded bodies and video of a beheading in progress.

“This has crossed all boundaries,” said Lorraine Gregor, 61, of McKees Rocks, who saw the abortion ad while watching the morning news. “It was awful. It was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in my life on TV. That just goes too far. … Nobody needs to see that.”

The candidate behind the ad, pro-life advocate Randall Terry, is on the ballot in West Virginia. The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday ruled that stations whose broadcast area includes part of the state have to sell him airtime.

Terry's campaign didn't respond to a message sent through its website's contact page. There was no phone number listed.

Dan Backer, a Washington lawyer who specializes in campaign and political law, said the FCC regulations give Terry access but not unfettered access to the airwaves.

“They can't edit the ad, but they can say: ‘Look, we're not willing to run it because it violates our decency standard,' ” he said. “They're not required to let him run anything he wants to.”

WTAE-TV and WPXI-TV have run the abortion ad, but included a disclaimer warning viewers of the graphic nature of the ad. WTOV-9 in Steubenville, Ohio, has done the same.

Michael Hayes, general manager at WTAE, couldn't be reached for comment. The station has a notice on its website explaining why it believes it has to run the ads at 6:10 a.m., 5:45 p.m. and 11:35 p.m.

Ray Carter, vice president and general manager for WPXI, said FCC regulations don't even allow stations to limit the ads to times when children aren't likely to be watching.

“Fortunately for us, the times they bought were either very early morning or late night,” he said.

Carter said he's not aware of a single time that the FCC has upheld a station that refused to run a political ad on decency grounds.

Tim McCoy, vice president and general manager of WTOV-9, said his station's lawyer came to the same conclusion. Carter and McCoy said their stations have received numerous complaints about the ad.

“Obviously, people are upset when they see the content,” McCoy said.

Managers for KDKA-TV and WPGH-TV couldn't be reached for comment.

In a separate issue, Chicago-based Patriotic Veterans Inc. said it is filing a complaint with the FCC because KDKA Radio refused to run an ad criticizing two of Sen. Bob Casey Jr.'s votes.

Michael Young, senior vice president for KDKA Radio, said the station requires people running political ads to substantiate the claims they make in the ads and, so far, the group has not done that.

Staff writer Mike Wereschagin contributed to this story. Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or

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