Climate activists rip Clear Channel for rejecting billboard

An advocacy group blasted Clear Channel Thursday for rejecting an advertisement aimed at countering a controversial Heartland Institute climate change billboard.

The Chicago branch of Clear Channel Outdoor this week rejected the digital billboard proposed by Forecast the Facts, a group that advocates for connecting extreme weather to climate change. Clear Channel is a major national media company.

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The ad was a response to a short-lived Heartland Institute billboard campaign that compared those who support climate science to the Unabomber and Charles Manson. Heartland pulled the billboard, which ran ahead of the conservative group’s upcoming Chicago climate change conference, amid outrage from its supporters and environmental groups.

The Forecast the Facts billboard took aim at Pfizer, one of Heartland’s corporate backers, for not cutting ties with the group. The proposed ad includes the Pfizer logo alongside text that reads, “We still support climate deniers. Do you?”

Pfizer has stood by Heartland despite growing pressure from activists. The pharmaceutical company said it disagrees with Heartland’s stance on climate change, but supports the group on health policy, according to a statement provided by the company to Forecast the Facts.

Forecast the Facts's proposed ad mimics language in the Heartland billboard, which included a picture of Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, with text that said, “I still believe in global warming, do you?”

Heartland disputes the view, held by the overwhelming majority of scientists, that the planet is warming and human activities are playing a major role.

“Apparently Clear Channel thinks it’s fine to defame the millions of Americans who recognize the reality of climate change, but it’s not okay to hold accountable the corporations who make that kind of offensive propaganda possible,” Brad Johnson, Forecast the Facts’s campaign manager, said in a statement.

Clear Channel Outdoor said Thursday that its decision to reject the advertisement had nothing to do with politics. 

Jim Cullinan, vice president of marketing and communications at Clear Channel Outdoor, said the company had legal concerns with the billboard that could not be resolved with Forecast the Facts.

“We are simply an advertising channel,” he said in a phone interview with The Hill. “We work with all of our customers to ensure that the copy and content of our advertising is appropriate and legal.”

Cullinan added: “There are certain things, for legal purposes, that we had concerns with. We tried to provide alternatives to this environment group, but they weren’t satisfied.”

Cullinan said that Clear Channel Outdoor has approved another advertisement that counters the Heartland Institute billboard. The billboard, by the Climate Reality Project, asks, "Who to believe on climate? Heartland...or EVERY Every National Scientific Academy in the world?"

He said the company approved the original Heartland billboard because it used images that were in the public domain.

This story was updated at 5:09 p.m.