Fred Thompson and Equal Time Law

WaPo’s Michael Shear reports that a presidential bid by Fred Thompson could essentially force television stations to stop running “Law & Order” reruns and movies in which he appears.

Federal campaign law requires broadcasters to give all candidates equal time on the airwaves. That rule applies to entertainment programs like “Law & Order,” meaning stations that run the show would be required to give other GOP candidates a like amount of prime-time exposure. With as many as a dozen or more Republican candidates competing for the nomination, that would be prohibitively expensive. “As a practical matter, [the television stations] would in all likelihood have to pull all of the Fred Thompson shows for the duration of his candidacy,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project.

There is precedent for such nonsense:

During the 2003 gubernatorial race in California, television stations dropped all Arnold Schwarzenegger movies out of fear that showing them would require them to give countless hours of free airtime to all 134 other candidates for governor. Stations also dropped “Bedtime for Bonzo” and other Ronald Reagan movies during his campaigns for governor of California and president.

Even better, this may trigger a round of lawsuits:

There is potential good news for “Law & Order” fans. The FCC rules have never been applied to cable channels, though several legal experts said cable often abides by an equal-time guideline in the hopes of avoiding a legal case that would set a precedent. Thompson’s situation could spark such a case, though a spokesman for NBC Universal, which syndicates “Law & Order,” said the network had no comment.

The TNT cable network shows several hours of “Law & Order” reruns every day and often holds all-day marathons. If that continues while Thompson is running for office, one of his rivals could seek to apply the equal-time rule to cable TV. To do that, the other candidates would have to monitor each of Thompson’s appearances, count the minutes he appeared, and then request equal time within seven days of each episode. Only the actual time that Thompson appears in each episode is counted, legal experts said.

We really ought to amend the Constitution to the effect that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” That would stop such silliness.

via Jonathan Adler via Glenn Reynolds

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Congress, Media, US Constitution, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    While your recommendation has a certain euphony to it, I don’t think it would get past Congress or, probably, the electorate. Far too radical, but a good first attempt.

  2. NoZe says:

    Maybe they could digitally replace Thompson’s character in all these movies with, say, William Shatner. He seems to be on everything these days anyway!

  3. Bithead says:

    Draft Sean Penn, and watch the resulting contradictions, as regards all of this.

  4. Steph says:

    I want to know why the other candidates don’t have to have equal time to all this Obama butt kissing we get in Chicago.

    Now they are pressuring the Cubs to have him throw out the first pitch.

  5. Eneils Bailey says:

    Does this mean if Algore, John Kerry, and Al Sharpton got into the race the comedy channel would have to stop showing “The Three Stooges?” Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck. DAMN.

  6. John O says:

    Hasn’t our ‘living constitution’ moved on from such a quaint notion?

  7. Roger says:

    If Gore runs, they can’t show his documentary. What about reruns of appearances on Saturday Night Live or other talk shows?

    An even bigger question, does the Fairness Doctrine still make sense in today’s world with so much access to so much media?

  8. brainy435 says:

    The sad part is that there is probably a good portion of the country that would think that idea would NEED to be an ammendment…