The federal lawsuit between the National Rifle Association and the ad firm that created its now-defunct NRATV outlet has taken an uglier turn, with the pro-gun group now alleging its own leadership found the TV outlet’s messaging “distasteful and racist.”
According to an Oct. 25 amended complaint filed in its ongoing lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen, NRA officials believed the short-lived TV outlet—which featured shows from right-wing stars like Dana Loesch and Dan Bongino—“strayed from the Second Amendment to themes which some NRA leaders found distasteful and racist.”
As an example of a “damaging” segment, the NRA filing alludes to an instance on Loesch’s show Relentless, in which an on-air graph featured a picture of kid’s cartoon character Thomas the Tank Engine wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood.
“Attempts by the NRA to ‘rein in’ AMc and its messaging were met with responses from AMc that ranged from evasive to hostile,” the gun lobby further alleges.
Furthermore, the NRA claims, in closed-door meetings Ackerman McQueen presented to embattled NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre “fabricated and inflated sponsorship and viewership claims.” When tasked with the “simple request” of gathering digital “unique visitors” data for NRA executives, the filing claims, AMc went silent. Overall, the gun group alleges, the ad firm often gave an “intentionally (and wildly) misleading” representation of NRATV’s viewership performance.
“Tellingly, when NRATV finally shut down in June 2019, no one missed it,” the NRA fumes in the new filing. “Not a single sponsor or viewer even called, confirming what at least some NRA executives suspected—the site had limited visibility and was failing the accomplish any of its goals.”
The amended complaint is just the latest shot fired in an ongoing battle between the gun-lobbying group and its estranged ad firm. The lawsuit, originally filed in late August in Dallas, blasted AMc for its handling of NRATV and demanded the firm remove any reference to the NRA from its website.
Prior to that, the NRA sued Ackerman McQueen in Virginia Circuit Court to demand information about its billing practices and eventually demand tens of millions of dollars.
The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, has been embroiled in several scandals of its own: a ProPublica report alleging sexual harassment by a senior NRA staffer; vicious infighting among top executives; and reportedly out-of-control spending and debt fueled by legal fees, unpaid bills, and expenses on lavish travel, clothing, and makeup for LaPierre and his wife.
In a lengthy statement to The Daily Beast, the ad firm blasted the NRA’s “false claims” and went after LaPierre, alleging the NRA CEO repeatedly “defrauded” the firm. “In the final 18 months, AMc representatives progressively discovered that LaPierre and his executive team, with the board’s oversight and approval, were marketing false products and narratives to NRA members, covering up sexual harassment, attempting to intimidate public officials, disrupting internal investigations about Russia, spending member money for personal benefit and more.”
AMc further wrote: “LaPierre controlled every aspect of NRATV for which he recruited talent, approved every budget, audited every metric and required ultimate confidentiality. Ackerman McQueen routinely offered and toward the end of the relationship demanded that an outside firm audit NRATV performance but LaPierre refused. Unlike the NRA, AMc welcomes full transparency. LaPierre’s apparent paranoia and lust for secrecy fed his justification for private air travel, luxury hotels and countless other expenses for himself, his family and friends that were all paid by member dues.”
The ad firm’s statement concluded by alleging that LaPierre and the NRA now “grovel at the feet of the media they used to decry” by filing lawsuits against the NRATV creator—“another cynical attempt to distract from Wayne LaPierre’s documented mismanagement of the organization and the captive board’s complicit behavior,” the firm added.
Meanwhile, the NRA added in a statement from Michael J. Collins, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and counsel to the NRA: “The NRA believes Ackerman McQueen breached its fiduciary duties, engaged in fraudulent billing, and failed to maintain adequate books and records—all in an effort to enrich itself at the expense of the NRA and its members. The allegations reveal a pattern of corruption that included NRATV, a failed media enterprise the agency proposed, managed and sustained through misleading accounts of viewership and promised commercial viability. In the end, the NRA believes NRATV became all ‘smoke and mirrors’—a vehicle touted by Ackerman for the sole purpose of continuing the flow of millions of dollars of fees which the agency needed to sustain itself.”
Collins continued: “At the same time, when questions began to arise about Ackerman’s billing practices and whether it was taking advantage of the considerable discretion it possessed in such matters, the agency stonewalled the inquiry and embarked upon a scorched-earth campaign against all of its perceived adversaries. Ultimately, this included the CEO of the Association, executives, and outside professionals charged with obtaining answers to legitimate concerns about the agency’s practices. The NRA and its members are determined to ferret out what now appears to have been a considerable amount of corruption.”
—This story has been updated with comments from both Ackerman McQueen and the NRA.