A local radio station says they’ve stopped running an ad funded by a Republican political action committee after an outpouring of outrage from listeners who found the spot, which highlights Democratic New York 19th Congressional District candidate Antonio Delgado’s brief career as a rapper, racially inflammatory and misleading.
“There’s racial overtones, a lot of inaccuracy, promoting fear, and there was distortion,” Radio Woodstock WDST 100.1 owner and President Gary Chetkof said of listeners’ reaction to the attack ad. “People felt that it really didn’t fit with this radio station’s ideals and standards.”
Delgado, a Harvard-educated former corporate attorney, is locked in a fiercely contested election fight with incumbent Republican John Faso. The race is considered one of the most competitive in the nation and key to Democrats hopes to “flip” the House of Representatives in November. Well-funded “Super PACs” supporting both candidates have flooded airwaves and social media with attack ads.
Among the wave of negative spots are two funded by The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Super PAC associated with House Speaker Paul Ryan that take aim at lyrics contained in a 2007 hip-hop album recorded by Delgado under the name AD the Voice. Over a soundtrack of beats, scratches and heavily “bleeped” rapping, a female narrator quotes news reports referencing Delgado’s purportedly “profane,” “offensive” and “sexist” lyrics before accusing the candidate of “extremist attacks on American values” before ending with the line, “Antonio Delgado can’t be our voice in Congress.”
Delgado, who recorded the album during a short-lived career as a rapper after law school, has said that the lyrics cited were taken out of context in an artistic effort that was intended to send a positive message and promote civic participation among inner-city youth. Faso has stressed that the ads we’re not produced by his campaign and that he has no control over the Super PAC; federal election law forbids campaigns from coordinating with PACs. Faso has also called on Delgado to explain whether he still holds some of the sentiments expressed on the album.
Delgado supporters have attacked the ads as a transparent dog-whistle to racism and part of a broader effort to unfairly portray the candidate, who grew up in Schenectady and moved to Rhinebeck shortly before entering the race, as an outsider. The ad was featured in a Washington Post story earlier this month highlighting a number of racially charged negative ads run by GOP interests this campaign season. SUNY New Paltz associate vice president and Faso friend Gerald Benjamin was forced to issue an apology after he was quoted in The New York Times expressing doubt that “a guy who makes a rap album” could represent upstate New York’s “lifestyle and values.”
‘This ad really goes too far’
Chetkof said this week that the ad, which was routed to WDST from the station’s national advertising representative, caused “trepidation” among his staff even before it began airing. Shortly after its first airing, Chetkof said, the station began receiving complaints — first in a trickle, then in a flood of calls, emails and social media posts.
“Our listeners were telling us that this ad really goes too far,” said Chetkof who noted that WDST runs on a combination of ad revenue and financial support from listeners, making it accountable to both advertisers and their audience.
Chetkof said the ad aired about 20 times in total before he called a meeting with station executives last week to discuss pulling it. But first, he said, the station reached out to their FCC attorneys for guidance. FCC regulations require radio and TV stations that use public airwaves to provide political candidates with “reasonable access” at the lowest available advertising rates. But, WDST attorneys advised, the rules did not apply to political action committees, which are barred by law from coordinating efforts with candidates.
“[PACs] are like any other third-party advertiser and we have a right to reject their ad.”
Chetkof said that the station offered the PAC the opportunity to replace the ad with another one, but they declined. He added that the station would continue to run political ads for both candidates in the race.
“This was really about this one particular ad,” said Chetkof.
Congressional Leadership Fund spokesman Michael Byerly disputed WDST’s account of their decision to pull the ad saying that the PAC had discontinued the relationship.
“This is simply inaccurate,” Byerly wrote in an emailed statement. “We stopped running ads on this station. Our ads detailing Antonio Delgado’s offensive lyrics and views are still running on television, radio, and digital platforms throughout the district and will continue to run until Election Day.”
A spokeswoman for Delgado’s campaign praised the station for pulling the ad and repeated calls for Faso to denounce the CLF campaign.
“100.1 WDST joins a long list, which includes 18 local members of the clergy, local and national news outlets, and even John Faso’s own friend Dr. Benjamin, who have all denounced these ads,” Melissa Toufanian wrote in an email. “When will John Faso denounce them?”