updated 7/19/2004 7:21:35 PM ET 2004-07-19T23:21:35

Fox News’ use of the slogan “Fair and Balanced” constitutes deceptive advertising, two political advocacy groups claimed Monday in a petition filed with the Federal Trade Commission.

Liberal MoveOn.org and historically nonpartisan Common Cause assert that Fox News’ reports are “deliberately and consistently distorted and twisted to promote the Republican Party of the U.S. and an extreme right-wing viewpoint.”

Alleging consumer fraud, the complaint calls for the FTC to order Fox News, consistently the highest-rated cable news network, to cease and desist from using the slogan.

Irena Briganti, a Fox News spokeswoman, told The Associated Press that “while this is clearly a transparent publicity stunt, we recognize all forms of free speech and wish them well.”

James Kaminski, a former FTC lawyer currently practicing advertising law with Arent Fox Attorneys, sees little chance for the petition, noting that the FTC does not wade in political waters.

“Whether (Fox is) biased or not ... it’s a freedom of speech issue,” he said.

But Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, said the legal actions were consistent with the First Amendment. “Fox has no obligation under the law to be fair and balanced, just not to market itself as fair and balanced,” he said.

After a press conference announcing the petition, members of MoveOn.org and Common Cause marched to the Fox News Headquarters to hand out DVDs of the recent documentary “Outfoxed,” which alleges a pattern of right-wing biases in the network’s reporting, citing statements by former Fox employees and internal memos.

The documentary is “Exhibit A” in the FTC petition.

At the press conference, Common Cause’s Pingree said the petition was consistent with the 34-year old citizen advocacy group’s history, and a response to the “growing firestorm about what’s going on with the media.”

The Federal Trade Commission, which hears all consumer complaints, will now judge whether the complaint has merit, a process that could take months.

Mitch Katz of the FTC’s Office of Public Affairs would not comment directly on the petition, but did acknowledge that a label like “fair and balanced” may be inherently subjective.

More legal action over motto
Fox has sought to trademark its “Fair and Balanced” motto, which also has been met with legal action.

Independent Media Institute, a not-for-profit promoter of independent journalism, filed a petition last December with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office challenging Fox’s trademark request.

The IMI’s petition claims that the term “fair and balanced” is so prevalent as to be generic, and is “entirely mis-descriptive” when it comes to Fox News.

Last summer, Fox News Channel tried to block publication of liberal humorist Al Franken’s book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” saying it made unauthorized use of Fox’s “fair and balanced” slogan.

The judge dismissed Fox’s case, saying it was “wholly without merit,” and the trademark “Fair and Balanced,” registered by Fox in 1998, was weak. He also said the network was “trying to undermine the First Amendment.”

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