Trump campaign sues Wisconsin TV station over ad using his words on coronavirus

Trump campaign sues Wisconsin TV station over ad using his words on coronavirus
By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Donald Trump, CC BY-SA 2.0,

President Donald Trump’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic has been the subject of various attack ads, including one from the Lincoln Project (a group of Never Trump conservatives that includes attorney George Conway) and one from Priorities USA (a Democratic super PAC). The theme of those ads is that Trump hasfailed to take the coronavirus threat seriously. And in Wisconsin, Trump’s reelection campaign has filed a frivolous lawsuit against WJFW-TV (which airs NBC programming in North-Central Wisconsin) for airing the Priorities USA ad — calling it “false and defamatory," claiming that the ad takes Trump’s words out of context.

The campaign filed the lawsuit on Monday, April 13 in Price County Circuit Court. The ad by Priorities USA, called “Existential Threat,” depicts a graph and timeline that uses actual statements Trump made in January and February — for example, “This is their new hoax” and “We have it totally under control.” A variety of Trump critics, from liberals and progressives to centrists to Never Trump conservatives, have been using these quotes to tar and feather Trump and demonstrate that he spent months downplaying the severity of coronavirus. But the Trump campaign, in its lawsuit against WJFW-TV, takes issue with the way Trump’s words “the coronavirus” and “this is their new hoax” are used together — arguing that the ad makes it sound like Trump was saying “the coronavirus, this is their new hoax” as a single sentence. However, the intonation in Trump’s voice makes it sound like two different statements made at different times: Trump’s tone of voice is much lower on “the coronavirus” than it is on “This is their new hoax.”

Law & Crime reporter Jerry Lambe explains, “The tone and deflection of the speech between the first and second phrases is quite different, but the Trump campaign’s lawsuit suggests the text on the screen contains a comma to connect the phrases in a way which suggests they were uttered together.”

Trump’s “this is their new hoax” assertion was made at a South Carolina rally on February 28. Downplaying the threat that coronavirus posed in the U.S. — even though it had killed thousands of people in China — the president argued that Democrats were using coronavirus as a “hoax” just as they had used impeachment and the Ukraine scandal as a “hoax.” Trump’s campaign is claiming that he was saying that Democrats were perpetrating a hoax, not that coronavirus itself was a hoax. But clearly, Trump was downplaying coronavirus’ severity and the threat that it posed in the U.S. — where, according to John Hopkins University in Baltimore and CNN’s coronavirus/Hopkins page, it had killed more than 23,600 people as of Tuesday morning, April 14.

In the lawsuit, Trump’s campaign argues that “Trump’s actual remarks demonstrate that he was specifically referring to the Democrats’ politicization of the coronavirus pandemic when he used the word ‘hoax.’”

Lambe also points out that although the lawsuit “refers to the defendant as WJFW-NBC,” it “is formally filed against Northland Television, LLC, the corporate owner of the local affiliate. The affiliate is not owned by NBC but broadcasts the network’s programming.”

The Lincoln Project’s attack ad, titled “Distraction,” is equally scathing. In that ad, anti-Trump conservatives tear apart the absurd claim that Trump, in January and February, was distracted from coronavirus because of his impeachment. That ad argues that when the World Health Organization (WHO) was warning that coronavirus was a “global health emergency,” Trump was too busy with “campaign rallies and golfing” to seriously address the crisis:

Priorities USA has released an official response to the Wisconsin lawsuit, asserting, “This is pretty simple: Donald Trump doesn’t want voters to hear the truth, and he’s trying to bully TV stations into submission. The truth is that Trump ignored warnings from experts and his own team and downplayed the coronavirus even as it spread unchecked across the country and the world. Americans are now suffering as a result of his inaction. We will never stop airing the facts and holding the president accountable for his actions.”

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