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Hillyer & Citizens United Threaten Legal Action Against CNN

From an email sent from Hillyer to CNN Senior Producer Melissa Dunst Lipman, obtained by FishbowlDC:

    Dear Ms. Lipman:

    I write to register strenuous objections to your highly unprofessional hit piece last night (Broken Government — “Campaign Killers,” hosted by Campbell Brown ) against David Bossie and Citizens United, and to demand an on-air retraction of part of it, along with corrections made in any future showings. In particular, if a retraction of the defamatory words “fringe militia” is not offered publicly by CNN, and soon, I will advise Mr. Bossie to consider legal action.

    All of us here at Citizens United object to numerous aspects of CNN’s conduct.

    Ms. Brown referred to Mr. Bossie and Citizens United as being one of several “fringe militias.” Not only is Citizens United hardly a “fringe” group (unless consistent and open association with the former Speaker of the House, a current leading presidential candidate, and numerous other leading Republicans can be considered “fringe”), but to refer to it as a “militia” is a clear and obvious falsehood. We demand a retraction.

Read the rest of the letter after the jump…


    Ms. Brown called Mr. Bossie a “dirty trickster.” As Citizens United prides itself on open, aboveboard, transparent, and accurate documentaries and ads, all fully fact-checked, we demand a retraction.

    Ms. Brown said, and I quote, that “Many mainstream Republicans have denounced his tactics.” The only example she offered was of the elder President Bush complaining about an ad 15 years ago that Mr. Bossie did not produce. As both Ms. Brown and you, yourself, Ms. Lipman, consistently represented to us that your interest was in Citizens United, rather than in anything done by other groups or people at other times , we challenge you to produce anything approaching “many” mainstream Republicans who have denounced Mr. Bossie’s tactics as president of Citizens United. Furthermore, Ms. Brown said that “mainstream Republican may distance themselves from Bossie….” I challenge her to find mainstream Republicans, right now, in 2007, who are familiar with the work of Mr. Bossie at Citizens United and yet who distance themselves from him or his organization.

    Throughout our dealings with Campbell Brown and with you, Ms. Lipman, CNN consistently misrepresented the purpose of the show and the nature of the focus on Citizens United and Mr. Bossie. You consistently said that your interest was in Citizens United, not in people who once were associated with the organization or in political activities not taken under the auspices of the organization. All of these representations turned out to be false. You also originally expressed a particular interest in Citizens United’s unique focus on full-length documentaries rather than in the typical, short TV ads of the sort your show went to great pains to portray as being sleazy or “filthy.” Midstream, you changed your focus with us to campaign ads—thus putting us in the same category as the nasty tacticians of MoveOn.org, even though at one point you specifically told us we would not be presented as a counterweight to MoveON–but then only in the most fleeting way did you air or discuss a single ad actually produced by Citizens United. Instead, you dug up a 15-year-old controversy irrelevant to the work of this organization.

    To wit: During the taping of CNN’s interview with Mr. Bossie, you personally misrepresented the several degrees of separation between Citizens United and the aforementioned 1992 ad about the relationship between Bill Clinton and Gennifer Flowers. Having later confirmed for ourselves that your questions to Mr. Bossie were asked under a false scenario, we kindly offered to let Mr. Bossie be re-interviewed on that subject with the correct facts at hand (in other words, with the facts themselves on hand, not the false context in which you originally presented the question). Despite your acknowledgement, by phone with me, that you had presented the wrong context when asking the question, you declined our offer to re-answer the questions. Then, in airing the segment on Mr. Bossie, you did not air any of his contentions that the ad in question was decidedly not a “low blow,” which is how you characterized it on the air. So you associated Mr. Bossie with an ad that neither he nor Citizens United produced, and you characterized the ad as a “low blow,” but then did not give Mr. Bossie the chance to explain why the ad you associated with him was not a cheap shot.

    More bizarrely, even though you interviewed the man, Floyd Brown, who actually did produce the Gennifer Flowers ad, you did not ask him on air about that ad but instead asked Mr. Bossie about it. Why would you ask Mr. Bossie about it rather than Mr. Brown, unless your pre-conceived plan all along was to tar Mr. Bossie with the brush of a political hit-man?

    Furthermore–and this is where your show carefully skirted direct factual errors only to deliberately enter the realm of rank unfairness (clear violation of journalistic ethics if not of the law)–you threw out nearly a full hour of an interview in which Mr. Bossie explained a philosophy of not being a political hit organization, in order to portray Citizens United as nothing but, yes, a hit organization, without offering any proof thereof. Again and again during the interview, Mr. Bossie explained that his goal is to put out “thoughtful” (direct quote, repeated numerous times) documentaries aimed at providing context and depth to the political debate. Not one of those explanations from Mr. Bossie was aired, however.

    This is important. Eli Pariser of MoveOn gleefully welcomed the portrayal of his group as unapologetic muckrakers. You did him the courtesy of accurately portraying his own stated self-understanding. But with Mr. Bossie and Citizens United, you offered a portrayal directly counter to our own professed goals, without offering a single example of Citizens United ads or actions that contradict those stated goals. And the incredibly brief snippets of quotes from Mr. Bossie that you did air were ones that did not even begin to accurately reflect the tenor of his interview. Again, if you are going to call somebody a “dirty trickster” or say he is part of a “fringe militia,” you certainly have the obligation to offer evidence thereof and to give the subject a chance to respond (or at least to quote earlier published responses thereto). Instead, you repeatedly assured us that we were definitely not going to be so portrayed, and that we had nothing to worry about on that front. In short, you lied to us, deliberately and repeatedly.

    But wait–it gets worse! We wanted to videotape your interview with Mr. Bossie ourselves, for internal use, but you refused to let us do so. Now it becomes clear why: because you did not want us to have an independent video record of your distortions of that interview.

    Meanwhile, I repeat that we can offer Republican elected officials aplenty, including some of the most recognizable GOP “moderates” in Congress, as witnesses that we are not “fringe” and that they do not want to “distance” themselves from our work. I challenge CNN to find mainstream Republicans who will support CNN’s portrayal of us.

    The fact of the matter is that our documentaries feature the willing participation of such decidedly not conservative people as former Senate Democratic Leader George Mitchell, historians Walter Isaacson and Douglas Brinkley, and many others. Those documentaries have won top honors at non-political, mainstream film festivals. And when our documentaries or commercials hit political adversaries, we definitely hit them hard–but we also hit them fairly and accurately. None of that context was provided by CNN–nor did they accept other helpful offers of ours to provide context for our efforts.

    I could offer other examples, too, of snide and unfair characterizations made by CNN just in the short segment on Mr. Bossie and Citizens United, but our point has already been amply made. Broken Government — “Campaign Killers,” hosted by Campbell Brown, was a despicable piece of sleazy, tabloid journalism. I repeat our demand for the specific retractions and corrections listed in the first four paragraphs of this letter. And we hereby notify both you and anyone who (unlike you) cares about responsible journalism that we are willing and ready to take our moral case against you to the judgment of public opinion.

    With disgust,

    Quin Hillyer
    Director of Strategic Communications
    Citizens United

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