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TV station says its decision to take GOP Senate ad against Cheri Beasley down was premature

A North Carolina TV station erred last week in taking down an ad against Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to a letter from an attorney for the station's owners. In the letter, the station owners also asked Democratic lawyers to stop referencing that decision in their cease-and-desist letters to other stations. 

On June 2, a representative for WSOC-TV in Charlotte told lawyers for the Democratic Elias Law Group it had pulled an NRSC ad after it was told the ad contained a false statement and language about Beasley. The Elias Law Group has done work for the NRSC's counterparts, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Kathleen Kirby, an outside attorney recently hired by the Cox Media Group, which owns the two stations, wrote to the Elias group on Wednesday to say the message about taking the ad down "was prematurely sent" to his firm. She said it contained privileged and preliminary advice from the station's counsel and was not the final decision. 

The ad attacks Beasley's record as a former state Supreme Court chief justice and said she voted to free a man charged with 12 counts of child pornography. Beasley voted with the Democratic majority on a case in 2019 that said police did not have the right to search a USB drive without a warrant, and sent it back to the lower courts. The man, James Howard Terrell Jr., was freed in December 2021. 

"The defendant was not set free by the ruling as the ad claims. CMG will not run the ad when it contains a false statement on material issue," wrote a representative for WSOC-TV and WAXN-TV in Charlotte, N.C on June 2. He had sent the email to the Elias Law Group, which asked the station to take it down.

The ad was taken down on the two stations on June 2, and at least six other stations took the ad down temporarily over that weekend after being asked by Elias lawyers, according to emails reviewed by CBS News. 

The NRSC is now running a tweaked version of the ad on the stations that initially took it down, while most in the state are still running the original version. 

Kirby also took issue with Elias' counsel for using that message in communications with other TV stations in its requests to them to take the ad down. Kirby is a media attorney for Wiley Rein LLP, a firm that has been paid by the NRSC and Republican National Committee this cycle."  . 

"It appears that you are referencing this email communication in a manner that mischaracterizes its contents as the final determination by CMG concerning the ad's suitability for broadcast. This is incorrect," Kirby wrote to Elias. "We request that you make no further use of this communication, including citing this material in other cease-and-desist letters." 

After the ad was taken down, the NRSC pointed out in a release that the Cox Media Group's general counsel and executive president, Eric Greenberg, has donated to Democratic Senate campaigns in recent years. 

"We're glad to see the dirty tricks by Cheri Beasley's campaign to cover up her record of letting off violent criminals are being exposed," said NRSC spokesperson Chris Hartline. "We will continue reminding the voters of North Carolina that Cheri Beasley consistently sided with violent criminals and failed to protect families and children."

In a response, Elias Law Group Partner and DSCC counsel Jacquelyn Lopez said, "It's unfortunate that Cox Media Group hired one of the NRSC's own law firms and is relying on this partisan and unsound advice."

In their statements, both Beasley's campaign and the DSCC said they will continue to highlight the original ad's removal by multiple stations last week. 

"This is nothing more than an embarrassing, desperate attempt by Washington Republicans who were caught lying about Cheri's record," said Beasley campaign spokesperson Dory MacMillan.

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