The spot features a graph mapping coronavirus cases in the U.S. over the past two months, with audio of comments Trump has made downplaying the threat of the virus.
Trump’s campaign filed the lawsuit on Monday in the state of Wisconsin circuit court against WJFW-TV, an NBC affiliate, claiming that the ad “takes audio clips of candidate Trump and pieces them together to manufacture a false statement that was not made by the president: ‘The coronavirus, this is their new hoax.'”
The lawsuit was filed after the campaign fired off cease and desist letters to stations across the country threatening them with legal action if they continue airing the ad. Trump’s campaign also has warned not just of lawsuits but that they could “put your station’s license in jeopardy.”
According to the lawsuit, the Trump campaign warned WJFW in a March 25 letter about running the spot but the station continued to air it.
At a Feb. 28 rally, Trump said, “They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over, they’ve been doing it since he got in. It’s all turning, they lost. It’s all turning, think of it, think of it. And this is their new hoax.”
The Priorities USA Action ad does not explicitly say that, at that rally, Trump called the virus a “hoax.” It runs audio of Trump saying “This is their new hoax,” without identifying who he was talking about, as the number of coronavirus cases rises on the graph.
But the Trump campaign says that ad “intentionally creates a false message by manufacturing fake audio and using such fake audio to create a false, captioned quotation, in both cases to make it appear as though candidate Trump said the phrase ‘The coronavirus, this is their new hoax.’ The pieced-together audio clips thus falsely represent that the candidate stated at a Trump Campaign rally that the coronavirus is a ‘hoax,’ when in fact, ‘this’ refers to the Democrats’ exploitation of a pandemic and related characterization of the candidate’s response to the pandemic as inadequate.”
The general manager of WJFW did not immediately return a request for comment.
But the lawsuit immediately triggered concerns that the campaign was singling out smaller stations in battleground states that do not have high financial resources. Many local TV outlets have been hit hard by the crisis, as major local businesses like car dealers and retailers cut back on their advertising spending. Stations that are part of major groups like Hearst TV and Tegna have continued to air the spot.
Josh Schwerin, senior strategist and communications director for Priorities USA, wrote on Twitter, “One of the weird things about Trump suing now is that by waiting nearly 3 weeks, the ad has basically run its course and we’d be moving to the next one anyway. Even if they were successful everyone already saw the ad.
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