Boston Herald Has Good Trolley Karma

October 6, 2015

The feisty local tabloid has two MBTA-related stories pretty much to itself today.

First, Kimberly Atkins’ column on an advertising rumpus that’s shadowed the T for two years now.

T ad issue may merit court’s consideration

Free-speech dispute on Supreme’s radar

WASHINGTON — A free-speech dispute over political ads in MBTA buses, trains and stations is likely headed for the U.S. Supreme Court and could have far-reaching effects on Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 2.35.04 PMpaid messages on public property.

The case stems from 2013, when the MBTA agreed to post paid ads from pro-Palestinian group Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine that read: “4.7 million Palestinians are classified by the U.N. as refugees.” But the T then rejected the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s ad, submitted in response, which read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”


So far, as Atkins reports, “[t]wo federal courts had backed the MBTA’s decision to reject the AFDI ad, under its policy barring ‘disparaging’ or ‘demeaning’ messages.”

Prior to those two decisions, the MBTA’s batting average in ad dustups was well below the Mendoza Line, as the hardreading staff noted two years ago. And Atkins also writes that “[i]n New York and Philadelphia, by contrast, courts have ordered transit agencies to run paid ads they had rejected, including one that claimed Muslims believe ‘killing Jews is worship.'”

So who knows if it even gets to the Supremes, and who knows how they’ll lean.

But we’re guessing the MBTA loses this one too.

Elsewhere in today’s Herald, there’s this news from the T’s Ghost of Winter Past.

Scott bows out of bid for NTSB post

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 2.20.08 PM

President Obama has withdrawn his nomination of former MBTA chief Beverly Scott to the National Transportation Safety Board, abruptly ending her controversial bid to the $155,000-a-year post, the Herald has learned.

Obama officially rescinded her nomination yesterday, according to a White House document viewed by the Herald. A White House spokesman said last night Scott requested that her nomination be withdrawn “due to personal reasons related to her family.”

Efforts to reach Scott were unsuccessful.


That’s a surprise, eh?

(To be fair graf goes here)

To be fair, today’s Boston Globe does have a squib (via the State House News Service) about Scott, although it tells a slightly different story.


Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 2.24.30 PM


Huh. Maybe we need Scott herself to come forward as the tiebreaker.

Yeah – that’s coming just like a Riverside train.

MBTA = Money Being Thrown Away? Again?

November 8, 2013

From our Or You Could Just Set Your Money on Fire desk

DownloadedFileIt’s been a good ten years since there was a serious legal rumpus over the MBTA’s rejection of an ad campaign. But from all preliminary indications, we’ve got a doozie in the works right now.

First, some background. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has a long history of a) banning controversial transit ads (everything from abortion rights to animal cruelty), b) winding up in court, and c) losing. A 2002 Boston Globe piece (via – hide the kids! – Cannabis News) called the roll:

Since 1974, the T has lost three federal suits brought by advertisers: Preterm Inc., an abortion clinic, in 1974; Citizens to End Animal Suffering and Exploitation, in 1992; and the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, in 1994.


Add a fourth loss in 2002: Change the Climate sued over the MBTA’s refusal to run the group’s pro-marijuana ads. At which point the MBTA instituted what T spokesman Joe Pesaturo told us were “court-approved guidelines [that] haven’t been challenged.”

Until now.

This latest scuffle has a prologue: Two weeks ago, the T played peek-a-boo with an ad campaign placed by a pro-Palestinian advocacy group, The Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine. From Boston magazine’s Boston Daily blog:




After receiving multiple complaints about large signs depicting a shrinking Palestinian landscape, which were put up around the MBTA system, the T’s advertising partner, Titan, pulled them down.

The ads went up around the transit system on Monday, and were paid for by The Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine, a group that describes itself as “a diverse, community-based group dedicated to organizing activities and educational events that advance the cause of peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.”


But almost as quickly the ads reappeared. An MBTA official said, “The ads are going back up. Their removal was the result of a miscommunication between the MBTA and its contractor, Titan. There was a breakdown in our established procedures for handling complaints about specific ads.”

Now we have the flipside to the Incredible Shrinking Palestine ads: An ad campaign from an “anti-Islamist advocacy group” that the MBTA has refused to accept.

From today’s Boston Globe:

Pro-Israel group sues MBTA over proposed ads

An anti-Islamist advocacy group is suing the MBTA after the transit agency rejected a proposed subway advertisement on the grounds that it was “demeaning or disparaging.”D.C.BusAd

The ad, funded by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a New York-based organization that seeks to combat a purported spread of Islamism in the United States, reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel; defeat Jihad.”

MBTA officials rejected the ad Monday on the basis that it violated their advertising guidelines, and today said they would be willing to change their stance if the activist group modifies the ad.

But lawyers for the organization say they have received no overtures from the MBTA, and wouldn’t be willing to change the advertisement anyway.



(The Boston Herald had nothing in today’s print edition, belatedly slapping an AP story on its website.)

The MBTA’s statement in response to the lawsuit:

The MBTA has reached out to the plaintiff in an attempt to resolve this matter.  The MBTA is asking that the message be modified to meet the requirements of the MBTA’s advertising standards.  The MBTA is not opposed to groups expressing their points-of-view, but it must be done in a respectful manner that recognizes and appreciates the cultural diversity of a public transit environment.


And spokesman Pesaturo kindly sent us the “court-approved ad guidelines” as he referred to them. Relevant section:

Advertising Standards

(a)        The MBTA intends that its facilities constitute nonpublic forums that are subject to the viewpoint-neutral restrictions set forth below. Certain forms of paid and unpaid advertising will not be permitted for placement or display on or in MBTA facilities.

(b)       The MBTA shall not display or maintain any advertisement that falls within one or more of the following categories:

(i)         Demeaning or disparaging. The advertisement contains material that demeans or disparages an individual or group of individuals. For purposes of determining whether an advertisement contains such material, the MBTA will determine whether a reasonably prudent person, knowledgeable of the MBTA’s ridership and using prevailing community standards, would believe that the advertisement contains material that ridicules or mocks, is abusive or hostile to, or debases the dignity or stature of, an individual or group of individuals.


Of course the thing about “court-approved” is which one? Might not be the court you land in this time.

So, to recap: Is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority about to get involved in yet another money-pit defense of its pick-and-choose advertising policies? The T says it won’t lose this time.

Time will tell.