By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers’ attempt to silence Empower Wisconsin’s TV ad critical of the Democrat have failed.
Milwaukee-area TV stations will continue to air the spot — paid for by Empower Wisconsin — that holds Gov. Tony Evers accountable for his failed response to last year’s riots in Kenosha, even as the governor’s high-powered lawyers threatened them with a cease-and-desist letter.
The 30-second advertisement is one of two ads airing this week on WISN, WITI, WTMJ, and WDJT.
On Tuesday, Empower Wisconsin announced the release of the ads, which tell the stories of Kenosha businesspeople, who, thanks in large part to Evers’ failure to protect the city from lawlessness, were forced to helplessly watch as rioters ruined their community.
One spot features a business owner named Kimberly, whose shop was damaged in three days of riots in August 2020 that destroyed large swaths of Kenosha’s Downtown and Uptown Districts.
“As a mother, we were scared and we were hoping and hoping that help would come, and night after night it didn’t come. And that is hard to explain to kids, ‘Why isn’t Gov. Evers sending the help?’ I didn’t have an answer,” Kimberly says in the ad.
On Wednesday, Evers’ attorneys hit the TV stations with a warning letter, demanding in bold letters that the ad featuring Kimberly “be pulled from the air now.” They claim the ad constitutes “false” advertising. The governor’s legal team charges the ad contains “an incendiary and blatant falsehood aimed at deceiving Wisconsin voters.”
“…(T)he narrator blatantly lies to your viewers, saying ‘it took the loss of lives before help finally came.,’” writes Courtney T. Weisman and Jonathan S. Berkon, attorneys at law firm Perkins Coie, which has represented some of the biggest players in the Democratic Party, including failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The attorneys argue that Evers dispatched the National Guard “and help did arrive prior to any loss of life.”
The issue is not whether the governor called up the Guard, it’s whether he, as the commander-in-chief of Wisconsin, supplied adequate resources to protect Kenosha. He did not, according to the many local, state and federal officials who repeatedly begged Evers — as the mob violence escalated — to provide enough state resources to restore order. The facts are politically inconvenient to the governor as the one-year anniversary of the riots approaches, and he’d rather not have them aired publicly.
As reports and communications from the time show, the governor was slow to deploy National Guard, and he failed to provide full support when he eventually consented. And Evers initially rejected federal law enforcement assistance from then-President Donald Trump in what clearly was an act of political pettiness.
Scores of businesses, government buildings and homes in Kenosha’s Uptown and Downtown districts were smashed up, looted and set on fire, many burning to the ground. The riots, which grew out of protests following the officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man who repeatedly resisted arrest, left Kenosha businesses with a $50 million bill.
Kimberly was not alone in her assessment.
“It took two citizens to lose their lives before the Governor decided to act,” said Zach Rodriguez, District 8 Kenosha County Board of Supervisor member.
But Evers’ high-priced legal team insists that those claims are “misleading and terrifying” to the TV station’s viewers. They tell the stations that Empower Wisconsin doesn’t have “the right to command the use of broadcast facilities” — in other words, advertise messages the governor doesn’t like.
And then they drop the big threat.
“Failure to prevent the airing of ‘false and misleading advertising’ may be ‘probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility’ that can be cause for the loss of a station’s license,” the letter warns.
The TV stations aren’t buckling under the weight of such threats from the state’s most powerful politician.
“The First Amendment won today, plain and simple,” said Stephan Thompson, spokesman for Empower Wisconsin. “Tony Evers and his expensive Democratic Party lawyers tried to bully and threaten to hide the truth, and they lost. We can never forget what happened to Kenosha a year ago; more so, we need to make sure it never happens again.”
Conservative talk show host Mark Belling blasted Gov. Tony Evers Wednesday on his Milwaukee show. Belling said the governor can’t stand anyone challenging his narrative of events.
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