Bias Alert: Seattle Times Says This Republican Candidate Can't Use Its Headlines in an Ad

Headlines For Me, Not For Thee (Washington Free Beacon)
October 7, 2022

A Washington State newspaper is demanding a Republican Senate candidate comply with a seemingly new rule that has never applied to Democrats, which the campaign says is a political ploy. 

The Seattle Times told Republican Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley in September she had to cut their masthead out of her campaign ads, saying it "left the mistaken impression the Times had endorsed her campaign." But the ad only featured headlines from the paper, something almost every campaign ad does to highlight relevant issues for voters.

Lawyers for the Smiley campaign said in an FEC complaint they filed last week against the Times that confusion over "an inferred endorsement" was unlikely, given the Times’s endorsement of her Democratic opponent, Sen. Patty Murray (D., Ore.), who used a Times headline as recently as 2016 for an ad. The Times endorsed Murray in her last four elections.

The Times's objection seems to be based on a new standard. Rep. Kim Schrier (D., Wash.) used one of the paper’s headlines in an ad during her 2018 run for Congress. When asked whether Schrier’s ad created the same mistaken impression about an endorsement, a senior vice president at the Seattle Times told the Washington Free Beacon, "We’ll decline further comment on this."

The Times is the latest entity to make such a demand of the Smiley campaign. Starbucks took issue with the Times headline that featured its name. And in September, the Seattle Seahawks complained that Smiley’s husband, a disabled Army veteran, wore a team jersey in another ad. The team gave him that jersey at a game honoring military service members in 2014. Major Scott Smiley was blinded by shrapnel from a car bomb detonation during a 2005 tour in Iraq.

"This action, taken on the part of the Seahawks, is proof that they only support veterans when they can get publicity out of them or use them for their own benefit," said Elisa Carlson, a spokeswoman for the Smiley campaign. "The Seahawks should stick to football and giving the great people of Washington State an outlet for entertainment—free from their political biases and agendas."

The Smiley campaign responded to the corporate pile-on in a press release last week, saying the logos fall under "fair use" protections. The campaign’s attorney said she has never received requests to remove newspaper headlines from ads when working with political candidates and that the practice is "not common." The paper’s licensing rules allow facts and brief phrases to be used by third parties. The attorney also said Starbucks’s request was "highly unusual" and "floored" the campaign’s legal team.

Smiley would have to pay $5,000 to put up a new ad without the Times’s logo, the campaign said in the FEC complaint. The campaign has changed the color tones of the Seahawks jersey in the "Game Day" ad but is refusing to change or take down the other.

In a September ad for Murray’s campaign, a retired U.S. Army captain wore his Army gear, apparently violating a military directive that prohibits service members from wearing military apparel for political events. Veterans have filed a complaint with the Department of Defense over the ad, American Military News reported.

The Seattle Seahawks and Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment.