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WASHINGTON POST: Pro-Trump group angry it can’t run an ad attacking Zuckerberg in Silicon Valley

The latest attempt by former president Donald Trump’s supporters to go after social media titans is playing out in Mark Zuckerberg’s backyard over an ad for a documentary attacking the Facebook founder that its backers want to air on a cable system serving Silicon Valley.

When the conservative group Citizens United, run by Trump ally David Bossie, wanted to promote its 42-minute film “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump,” it approached Effectv, a division of Comcast, last month about running an ad in the San Francisco Bay area market.

It was turned down.

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In an email reviewed by The Washington Post, an account executive at Citizens United’s media-buying firm wrote in an email that Effectv told him it would not run the ad because it violated its guidelines that ads should “not call out CEOs in a negative way.” A spokeswoman for Comcast confirmed to The Early that the ad did not comply with the “personal attacks” section outlined in the company’s ad content guidelines. She spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide a response from the company, saying she wasn’t authorized to use her name.

• The guidelines stipulate that any ad “may be rejected if it is merely an attack of a personal nature, a direct attack on an individual business or comment on a private dispute. Advertisements may be accepted if the attack is on a business that is in the public forum or the issue is one of public concern.”

Citizens United wasn’t happy it couldn’t take a shot at Zuckerberg in the area where he lives.

“Rejecting the ad is just another case of the biased corporate media suppressing a story because it doesn’t fit their narrative,” Bossie said in a statement.

Shifting reasons or consistent policy?

The group accused Comcast of giving shifting reasons for why it was rejecting the advertisement.

In a letter to Comcast, reviewed by The Washington Post, Citizens United’s general counsel alleged that during a call with Comcast, the initial rationale over why they decided to reject the ad shifted from not liking the “image of the ad” to violating Comcast’s “prohibition on personal attacks.”

“When we requested specific suggestions and edits so that we could modify the ad to conform to the guidelines, you responded that you and your Comcast colleagues ‘really hadn’t given it much thought,’” wrote Michael Boos, Citizen United’s executive vice president and general counsel.

The Comcast spokeswoman said that “in the event that an advertiser wishes to revise a spot, we would re-review it for consideration.”

She also said the company has rejected ads in the past that are inconsistent with the “personal attacks” policy, including a spot last year by the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group, called “Fox News is killing us.”

The Citizens United documentary is the latest attempt by Trump’s allies to attack social media companies they argue are hostile to conservatives. The film’s importance to the MAGA universe was on display last week when Trump hosted a viewing of the film at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

The movie alleges that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, helped Democrats by pouring money into the 2020 election for voter turnout and education efforts in areas that benefited the party. The couple and the group they worked with — the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a nonprofit group that distributed more than $300 million in grants to election agencies in 2020 — have previously denied the effort was partisan. They said the money went to jurisdictions that requested it and that there was no bias in how it was distributed. Facebook declined to comment about the ad or the film to The Early.

Citizens United bought advertising for the documentary nationally on DirecTV and Dish Network as well as the pro-Trump networks One America News and Newsmax, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the group’s advertising strategy. This person said the ad buy targeted cable news channels and spots in “news clusters” across the country — including on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, HLN, CNBC, Fox Business, Bloomberg Television and the Weather Channel.

Experts on communications law told The Early that while Comcast isn’t required to have a reason to reject certain advertising, the broad standard applied in this case could raise ethical or conflict of interest questions.

“There’s ethical issues abound when you refuse to run an ad,” said Jessica González, the co-chief executive of Free Press and Free Press Action, a liberal group that has been critical of both the Trump administration and social media companies. “We’d have to know, for example, if the station gets funded, or has advertising that Facebook runs on it or anything in the Meta universe.”

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