‘FAIR AND BALANCED’ ALITO ADS….No one familiar with Fox News will find this surprising, but it’s still disappointing for a purported news network to pull a stunt like this.

Fox News is refusing to air an ad critical of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, citing its lawyers’ contention that the spot is factually incorrect.

A spokesman for the groups sponsoring the ad said the network’s decision reflects the political right’s effort to shield President Bush’s choice for the high court.

The ad says that as an appellate court judge, Alito has “ruled to make it easier for corporations to discriminate … even voted to approve strip search of a 10-year-old girl.” Referring to a document Alito wrote in 1985 while seeking a job in the Reagan administration, it quotes him as saying that “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”

On the substantive point about the Alito ad, it’s a pretty hard-hitting spot, but it’s hardly “inaccurate.” There are matters of opinion and perspective, but FNC suggested the ad is patently false. It’s not. Alito does have a controversial record on discrimination; his ruling on the strip search continues to be a point of contention, and on his application to become deputy assistant to Attorney General, Alito really did state his opposition to a constitutional right to an abortion.

Put it this way — if Fox News was willing to run Bush-Cheney 2004 ads, this Alito spot should have cleared the network’s fact-checking process with flying colors.

On a side note, is it me or has the last year been awful for progressive voices seeking paid air time on TV? In January, MoveOn.org raised enough money to buy an ad during the Super Bowl, but CBS rejected it, noting its “long-term policy not to air issue ads anywhere on the network.” Just a few weeks prior, CBS and NBC refused advertising from the United Church of Christ because the church’s open, tolerant message of inclusion was labeled “too controversial.” More recently, a Utah television station (owned by Clear Channel) refused to air an anti-war ad featuring Cindy Sheehan.

I guess access to the “public’s airwaves” can be a real challenge sometimes.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.