The annual Super Bowl game draws a huge audience of television viewers – 130 million Americans are expected to view the game February 1 -- and advertisers of all types want to reach that audience. So CBS, which will air the most-watched football game of the year, has jacked up ad rates accordingly and begun selling chunks of air time to peddlers of beer, soda pop, cars, trucks and political agendas.
But the network is not taking ads from all comers. Some political views have been judged unacceptable by CBS censors. While advertising industry sources say CBS will air a pair of advocacy commercials prepared to advance the agenda of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the network has refused to accept an advertisement prepared by critics of the man who currently occupies the White House.
The MoveOn.org Voter Fund recently conducted a "Bush in 30 Seconds" TV ad contest, in which it promised that the winning entry would be shown during the Super Bowl broadcast. MoveOn, the innovative internet-based activist community, was willing to pay the $2 million it would cost to air the ad. And no one suggests that the ad is inaccurate or inappropriate; indeed, Fox TV commentator Bill'Reilly, no fan of MoveOn, says: "It's not offensive, (it) makes a legitimate point politically."
Yet, CBS is refusing to run the MoveOn ad, claiming in the words of CBS spokesperson Dana McClintock, "We have a policy against accepting advocacy advertising." The reason? CBS told MoveOn that it does not want to trouble viewers with commercials that address "controversial issues of public importance."
The MoveOn commercial does indeed address an issue of public importance: the rapid growth of the federal deficit. But as advocacy ads go, this ad is not particularly controversial. The ad simply warns that the Bush Administration's reckless policy of cutting taxes for wealthy Americans while hiking spending is creating a huge federal budget deficit that will have to be paid off by future generations. That statement merely echoes concerns expressed by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Just this week, more than three dozen Republican members of the House launched a campaign to get the White House to slow the rate of deficit spending.
In fairness to CBS, the MoveOn advertisement might be considered controversial by White House political czar Karl Rove and others who are offended by any criticism of the president or his policies. But if controversy is really a concern, then why would CBS consider airing advocacy commercials from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy?
At a time when millions of Americans, including federal judges, mayors, governors and members of Congress are questioning the wisdom of continuing the failed war on drugs, the Office of National Drug Control Policy advocacy ads frequently inspire controversy. Indeed, past Super Bowl commercials from the agency, which equated casual drug use with support for international terrorism, have stirred significant debate – and, yes, controversy.
So what's the real reason for the CBS decision to censor an advertisement – from MoveOn -- that raises legitimate questions about the president's approach to a pressing national concern?
"It seems to us that CBS simply defers to those it fears or from whom it wants favors – in this case, the Bush White House," argues Eli Pariser, campaign director for MoveOn.org. "This is the same CBS that recently backed down when the Republican National Committee made a stink about its mini-series on former President Reagan and his family."
Pariser notes, correctly, that Viacom -- the parent company of CBS that also owns the UPN network, MTV, Showtime, Nickelodeon, BET, Paramount Pictures, Blockbuster Video, over 175 radio stations and more than 35 local television stations -- has been in the forefront of lobbying for the lifting of Federal Communications Commission limits on media consolidation and conglomeration.
On June 2 of last year, the FCC voted 3-2 to allow networks such as CBS to dramatically expand their control over local television markets.
Even when Congress roll back the FCC rule changes, the Bush White House took the side of CBS – pressuring Republican leaders in the House and Senate to prevent votes on initiatives to retain existing ownership limits. Now, in an election year, CBS is taking the side of the Bush White House and censoring an advertisement that seeks to open a debate about the president's fiscal policies – while at the same time preparing to air a commercial that advances other policies promoted by the same president.
When it comes to censoring Super Bowl commercials, CBS is way out of bounds.
To view the MoveOn Voter Fund commercial, go to: http://www.bushin30seconds.org/
To learn more about the controversy and the fight over the FCC rule changes, go to: http://mediareform.net/media/
To learn more about lobbying of the FCC and Congress by CBS and other major communications corporations, go to http://www.publicintegrity.org/dtaweb/index.asp?L1=20&L2=21&L3=0&L4=0&L5...