Next Monday, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority will run an ad campaign that it finds “demeaning”.
The ad is the work of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group that fought the construction of a mosque near the World Trade Center.
It reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” And it concludes “Support Israel. Defeat jihad.”
WNYC’s “Transportation Nation” reporter Jim O’Grady says the MTA lost their court fight against posting this ad because a judge ruled that their rejecting it on grounds that it is “demeaning” had violated the group’s First Amendment rights.
The MTA issued this statement:
“The MTA sells advertising space to raise revenue to support mass transit operations. MTA’s existing policy for ads carried on subways, buses and trains permits both commercial and non-commercial paid advertisements. MTA does not decide whether to allow a proposed advertisement based upon its viewpoint and the MTA does not endorse the viewpoint in this or any other paid advertisement. MTA is currently reviewing its policy of accepting non-commercial viewpoint advertisements.”
Read the Transcript
The text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
Aaron Schachter: Now, given all the anger and protests sweeping the Mideast, you might be surprised to hear about an ad campaign that’s about to run in 10 New York City subway stations. The ads are the work of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the group that fought against a mosque near Ground Zero. The message, adapted from an Ayn Rand lecture, reads like this: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” It concludes, “Support Israel, defeat Jihad.” The words are wedged between two Stars of David. The Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York didn’t want to put up the ads, but a court said it must. Jim O’Grady is a reporter for WNYC’s Transportation Nation. Jim, why can’t the MTA decide what it wants to put on the subway stations or buses?
Jim O’Grady: Because a judge has ruled that the MTA’s policy of prohibiting what it calls demeaning speech in noncommercial ads on subways and buses and throughout the system is unconstitutional. That had been the reason the MTA gave for rejecting these ads, but a court has decided that is not a good enough reason because it went against the first amendment.
Schachter: Because it was offensive.
O’Grady: I’m sorry?
Schachter: The MTA said it was offensive.
O’Grady: Yeah, specifically, demeaning, and it cited the word savages as the objectionable term, but the MTA in New York has run issue ads before, some of them controversial. They allowed a religious group called Muslims for Peace to run an ad an 90 public buses that said “Muslims for peace, love for all, hatred for none.” The MTA decided that that was not demeaning. They ran an ad by an atheist group that said, “A million New Yorkers are good without God, are you?” Some people would be offended by that. The MTA decided this speech itself was not demeaning, so the MTA has been making these judgement calls all along and a court recently said no more judgement calls, MTA; if a group pays for an ad with an issue you have to run it.
Schachter: All or nothing, basically.
O’Grady: Yeah, and that is why the MTA is now considering for the first time at its board meeting next week changing its policy about issue ads and not accepting them anymore, and deciding to only accept commercial ads.
Schachter: Now, this same ad campaign has already run in San Francisco and the transit authority there took the unusual step of denouncing the ads. It ran them on buses, but it denounced them and put huge disclaimers next to the ad, you know, saying basically we disavow the message that is here on our buses. Could the MTA in New York decide to do the same thing?
O’Grady: The MTA in New York has decided to not do that. You’re right, the ads in San Francisco were accompanied by huge ads with an arrow pointing at the issue ad, saying we don’t agree with this. New York MTA had decided they’re not gonna do that; they feel like their very public fight in court against showing these ads has demonstrated their distaste for the message on the ads.
Schachter: I wonder at this moment in time if the argument has been made by the MTA that the transit authority in New York, that it’s just a dangerous thing to do right now, to run these ads.
O’Grady: You know, the MTA is not saying that, but critics of the ads are certainly saying that. And a little bit about the group that is paying for these ads — it’s called the American Freedom Defense Initiative. And a woman named Pamela Geller is behind this group. They are devoted to provoking a conversation about the nature of Islam through public statements. Pamela Geller says she thought about pulling this ad in light of unrest in the Islamic world around the globe, but she decided this is my issue and in her way of framing the issue, she says she’s not going to be intimidated.
Schachter: Jim O’Grady with WNYC’s Transportation Nation, great to speak with you, thanks.
O’Grady: Same here, thank you.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.