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And now a word from our sponsor, Bill Clinton

"And now a word from our sponsor, Bill Clinton" Continued...

Issue: "Modern martyrs," Nov. 30, 1996

"We were a little... upset that the Clinton campaign would choose that subject matter and advertise in such a way that we felt was very misleading, grossly misleading," said Salem's Stuart Epperson. "We felt compelled to do editorials pointing that out. We felt that our listeners got the point when we did our editorials, that they understood that [the ads were] a campaign deception."

Mr. Atsinger's editorial about Bill Clinton and religious freedom began: "Does Bill Clinton believe Christian radio listeners are totally gullible?" He attacked Clinton on two points, including comments made by Joycelyn Elders, Clinton's former surgeon general.

And in the one about abortion, Mr. Atsinger said: "Bill Clinton has consistently supported partial-birth abortion. He has supported the expansion of fetal tissue research. He's worked to make abortion more accessible in U.S. military hospitals. His latest ads are deceptive, and they insult Christian radio listeners." The other two pounded Mr. Clinton for his support of the homosexual agenda and his weakened and ineffective war on illicit drugs. All four editorials ended with: "Mr. Clinton, your actions speak louder than your words."

Salem took a calculated risk in running the editorials. By law, they were required to submit the transcripts of the editorials and a broadcast schedule to the Clinton/Gore campaign. The stations would have to provide free airtime every time one was broadcast, if campaign officials wanted to respond.

They did. In responding to the editorials, the Clinton campaign sought the endorsement of two ministers. Their scripts were almost identical, with the exception of their names and years of ministry. The first one to arrive at Salem headquarters in California began: "My name is Timothy Shirley. I've been in the ministry for 15 years. I don't much care for politics... ."

The second was done by Hugh Tobias, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Madison, Ala. Both ads repeated verbatim many of the phrases in the original Clinton ad. "My name is Hugh Tobias. I've been in the ministry for 22 years," he said. "I don't much care for politics. But when I heard the editorials attacking President Clinton, I thought Christian radio listeners deserved to know the truth... .

"He supports a complete ban on late-term abortion procedures except under extraordinary circumstances, when the mother's life is in danger or faces a serious health risk, like the inability to have another child... .

"Christian radio listeners deserve the truth--President Clinton shares our values."

Salem's Mr. Merritt said, "The seed of the whole thing was them actually buying advertisements. The battle that ensued was they kept the advertisements on, but we launched our editorials, and they launched their response.

"We were hoping they wouldn't, of course, but we felt that they would because we thought they were so brazen to purchase air time on Christian radio and make those deceptive assertions. We were pretty much assuming they would. We were very careful. We dotted every i, crossed every t, because we want to be above reproach with the FCC. We were prepared for them to do that, and they did.

"We were on a week before they responded. Then it was one for one. We had to hold our noses. I think Ed still felt in the end that we had to go out and say what we believe."

In a telephone interview with WORLD from his home in Alabama, Mr. Tobias said he didn't know how or why the campaign found him. "I got a phone call from a production company in Washington asking me if I would be willing to do that," he said. His voice also was used in TV versions of the ad.

Reaction to his participation has been mixed, said Mr. Tobias, who calls himself a moderate. "I got calls from people I haven't ever heard from," he said. He declined several times to discuss any criticism, to discuss his positions on the issues he raised in the ad, or to discuss how he feels about Mr. Clinton's handling of the issues. "I would prefer," he said, "not to get into any of the issues."

Mr. Tobias acknowledged he didn't write the scripts, but insisted he did have "input." He declined to name his church, the name of which WORLD verified through another source. "I really don't want to get the church in the middle of this," Mr. Tobias said. "The church and I at this point don't need to be connected in the press in any way." But he doesn't regret making the ad. "I'm not sure that people understood the real motive behind it," he said, "which was to draw attention to other perspectives on the roles that Christians can have, aside from that espoused by the Christian Coalition, and the voter guides particularly."

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