Christie ‘Today’ show appearance could generate equal time issues for primary foe

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie’s upcoming Today show appearance could give the governor’s lesser-known primary opponent grounds for requesting equal on-air time, says an FCC official.

According to the commission’s Media Bureau’s Policy Division,  Christie’s slated appearance on the Today show as a “co-host” would mean Seth Grossman, an Atlantic County-based lawyer challenging the governor in the Republican primary, could request broadcasters afford him equal time, said Robert Baker, Assistant Division Chief of the media bureau.

“[The appearance is] subject to the equal time law even though the Today show would be considered a news program as an exempt program,” said Baker, explaining NBC’s Today show program meets the FCC’s “news exemption”  under the equal time rule.

“As a host,” he said, “It’s not an exempt appearance.”

Christie is scheduled to co-host the program for an hour on May 24 beginning at 8 a.m.

The FCC rule aims to force broadcasters to afford equal air opportunities for legally qualified political candidates. However, a “bona fide” news show is exempt from the rule under certain provisions.

Baker explained a candidate’s appearance as an “anchorman, weatherman [or a] sportscaster,” would make the appearance subject to the equal time rule since the candidate is not simply a guest on the exempt program.

A legally qualified candidate eligible to request equal time would have to request it from the broadcaster, not the television program, officials said. In theory, Grossman could appeal for time on the same affiliates that run the Today Show.

“The opponent would have to file a request for equal air with the stations,” said Jack Goodman, a Washington, D.C.-based broadcast attorney and member of the Federal Communications Bar Association.

A legally qualified candidate has seven days to file the request. The clock starts once a program is aired or broadcasted.

Christie’s only Republican primary opponent, Grossman, told PolitickerNJ he believes “it’s unfair” the incumbent governor is able to so easily “basically campaign” on the airwaves, but said he’s had little time to look into the matter.

“Frankly, I’m just reaching as many people as I can through any means,” Grossman said.

A Today spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the program took Christie’s re-election campaign into consideration when it booked him as a co-host.

Christie ‘Today’ show appearance could generate equal time issues for primary foe