RICH WHITNEY, LEALAN JONES, AND THE ILGP FILE SUIT AGAINST WTTW OVER DEBATE EXCLUSION
Carbondale, IL— The Illinois Green Party and candidates Rich Whitney and LeAlan Jones filed suit in federal court late yesterday against public television station WTTW, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Public Broadcasting Service and President and CEO of WTTW Daniel J. Schmidt. Gubernatorial candidate Whitney and Senatorial candidate Jones were both excluded from debates which occurred on WTTW this week. This happened despite the Illinois Green Party being one of only three legally established political parties in the state. Furthermore, Whitney received over 360,000 votes in the 2006 gubernatorial election.
The complaint alleges that WTTW, PBS and the CPB violated their 501(c)(3) status by conducting debates that had the effect of participating in, or intervening in a political campaign “on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” These debates plainly had the effect of supporting the Democratic and Republican candidates, who alone were provided with a forum to propagate their views, to the exclusion of the two ballot-qualified Green Party candidates. The suit also charges these three corporate defendants with having violated the Federal Communications Act, including its Equal Time provisions pertaining to political candidates, by sponsoring a debate that gave the Democratic and Republican candidates more time than their Green Party challengers.
In a third count, the plaintiffs charge the three corporate defendants with violating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Act which clearly states that, “The Corporation may not contribute to or otherwise support any political party or candidate for elective public office.” Finally, the complaint alleges that Schmidt violated the First and Fifth Amendment rights of Whitney and Jones by discriminating against them on the basis of their political views.
“We gave WTTW every opportunity to do the right thing and invite me into the debate and it refused,” Whitney explained. “I was even there, right outside the building protesting Thursday evening, and would have stepped in to enter the debate if the station had invited me at 6:59. But WTTW stubbornly refused to invite me and betrayed its own purpose and mission of serving the public interest.”
“This is an outrage,” he continued. “A public broadcasting station has a solemn obligation to inform the public by presenting all points of view on the issues, as well as equal time for ballot-qualified candidates. It is not supposed to play favorites, yet WTTW used taxpayer funds to promote the campaigns of its two favored candidates. Think about it: a taxpayer-supported public broadcasting station favored the corporate-sponsored candidates over the two public-interest candidates. LeAlan and I don’t accept corporate sponsorship as a matter of principle. What a sad day this is for broadcasting history and our democracy.”
“WTTW not only committed an offense against American taxpayers; it also disrespected the voters. The people of Illinois deserve to hear all points of view of all ballot-qualified candidates put to the test of debate. The voters of Illinois deserve to hear real answers to the real problems afflicting them. WTTW chose to deprive the voters of that opportunity and instead subjected voters to a repeat of the same nauseating spectacle that they’ve already witnessed in the other so-called debates between Pat Quinn and Bill Brady — an uninformative mud-slinging match between two candidates who consistently refuse to address the burning question of the budget crisis in Illinois, and who are both content to allow the systematic destruction of public education, public colleges and universities, and the public sector in Illinois.”
“To tell voters that their only choice is between Pat Quinn and Bill Brady is like telling them that they have a choice between driving off a cliff at 55 miles an hour and driving off a cliff at 60 miles an hour. Now choose the lesser evil, because you sure don’t want to even consider ‘wasting your vote’ on that other candidate,” Whitney concluded.