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As nation watches Denver, Obama campaign muscles Chicago station over ex-radical Ayres

August 28, 2008 | 12:22 am

In a surprising attempt to stifle broadcast criticism of its candidate, the presidential campaign of freshman Illinois senator Barack Obama is organizing supporters to confront Chicago's WGN radio station for having a critic of the Illinois Democrat on its main evening discussion program.

"WGN radio is giving right-wing hatchet man Stanley Kurtz a forum to air his baseless, fear-mongering terrorist smears," Obama's campaign wrote in an e-mail sent to supporters. "He's currently scheduled to spend a solid two-hour block from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. (Wednesday night) pushing lies, distortions, and manipulations about Barack and University of Illinois professor William Ayers."

Station logo of Chicago's WGN Radio 720 the target of an orchestrated protest effort by the campaign of Democrat presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama

Kurtz, a conservative writer, recently wrote an article for the National Review that examined Obama's ties to Ayers, a former 1960s radical who helped found a protest group that advocated violence.

The magazine was blocked in its initial attempts to obtain records from the University of Illinois at Chicago regarding the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school reform project that Obama chaired and Ayers co-founded.

As The Ticket reported here, the school later reserved its position and opened the records Tuesday. Media organizations are poring over scores of boxes of documents to study the Obama-Ayres relationship, which the senator has described as merely casual.

Obama's campaign is urging supporters to call the radio station to complain. "Tell WGN that....

...by providing Kurtz with airtime, they are legitimizing baseless attacks from a smear-merchant and lowering the standards of political discourse," the note said.

WGN, like the Chicago Tribune and The Times, is owned by Tribune Co. As a clear-channel station at 720 on the AM dial, WGN's signal reaches dozens of states. Such efforts to prevent programs often backfire by calling even more public attention to the controversy.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that WGN would give a slimy character assassin like Kurtz time for his divisive, destructive ranting on our public airwaves," the note continued. "At the very least, they should offer sane, honest rebuttal to every one of Kurtz's lies."

Zack Christenson, executive producer of the longrunning interview program "Extension 720 with Milt Rosenburg," said the response from Obama supporters was strong. Rosenberg like Ayres is a college professor.

"I would say this is the biggest response we've ever got from a campaign or a candidate," said Christenson. "This is really unprecedented with the show, the way that people are flooding the calls and our email boxes."

Christenson also stressed that the Obama campaign was invited to send a representative to appear on the show to balance the discussion of the newly-opened documents. But the campaign headquarters just down Michigan Avenue from the station refused the request. This is not the first time Obama's organization has sought to steer supporters to influence a broadcast outlet airing criticism.

Our colleagues John McCormick and Steve Schmadeke have more details on this brewing controversy at the Swamp.

--Andrew Malcolm

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