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Company to ditch anti-nuke billboard at airline's request

By The Associated Press,
First Amendment Center Online staff

MINNEAPOLIS — A unit of Clear Channel Communications Inc. will take down an anti-nuclear billboard at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at the request of Northwest Airlines, the advertising company announced earlier this week.

The billboard was one of two placed by the Union of Concerned Scientists at the Twin Cities and Denver airports ahead of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions to urge the parties' presidential candidates to reduce the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, said Elliott Negin, media director for the scientists group.

The ad in Minnesota reads, "When only one nuclear bomb could destroy a city like Minneapolis... We don't need 6,000." It also says, "Senator McCain: It's time to get serious about reducing the nuclear threat." And it shows a picture of the Minneapolis skyline with target crosshairs superimposed on it.

The billboard in Denver names and shows that city instead, and addresses the same statement to Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.

Negin told the First Amendment Center Online that nobody had raised objections to the ad’s display in Denver.

Peggie Hardie, general manager for Clear Channel Airports in Minneapolis, said Northwest has always had the right to reject advertising on its concourses at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

"It uses the word 'bomb' in an airport so it's not real appropriate," Hardie said. "It's probably a little unsettling to people to see that in an airport environment, particularly post-9/11."

Clear Channel has asked the Union of Concerned Scientists to modify the ad so it doesn't intimidate passengers, and will accept a revised version if its concerns are met, Hardie said.

Negin told FAC Online that his group was reluctant to alter the ad because doing so might imply that the group agreed there was something wrong with the original message.

E-mails from Northwest officials to Hardie — which Negin said the union obtained from its ad agency — described the ad as anti-McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential candidate.

"I just took a look and I can see how this would be offensive/scary to some (the concept of our city in the crosshairs of a nuclear bomb) and the strong anti-McCain message. Can we remove it?" Kathleen Nelson, Northwest's regional director, wrote to Hardie.

Negin disputes that the ad is anti-McCain, noting that the Denver version names Obama. He also says both candidates largely agree with the group's position.

"It's just trying to draw attention to an issue that's an important one and we need to deal with it," Negin said. "And now Northwest Airlines is trying to play political censor. And I don't think that's their role."

But Northwest said the billboard was too political.

"We received several complaints from customers and employees on the content of this ad and erred on the side of avoiding objectionable content," Northwest spokeswoman Tammy Lee said in an Aug. 18 statement. "The airport is a place where people of all political persuasions come for business and pleasure and we wanted to avoid any issues related to what was perceived as a political message."

Negin noted that Clear Channel had already accepted and posted the ad, and he said the company should let it stay up.

“It’s disturbing that a private tenant in a public, taxpayer funded building can dictate” what ads can be displayed, Negin told FAC Online.

Negin also said his group would be placing similar ads in the form of posters in Twin Cities and Denver restaurants and bars during the conventions to try to ensure that the nuclear threat is discussed at the conventions and on the campaign trail. The Democrats gather in Denver Aug. 25-28; the GOP meets in St. Paul Sept. 1-4.

"We would agree that nuclear weapons are scary, and that's why we need to pay attention to them," Negin said.

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