Commentary

The Morality of Network Money

So far this year CBS is second only to Fox in network ratings. They sold north of $200 million in Super Bowl XLIV ads and analysts say CBS will be an obvious bottom line beneficiary of the Supreme Court ruling striking down longstanding restrictions on corporations' political campaign spending. They have a solid Late Night Show (as long as Dave keeps his johnson under control). The only apparent problem other than upfront ad sales taking a beating like everyone else's, is that their audience has half a foot in the grave. So why then invite trouble?

In spite of the fact that all the broadcast networks, including CBS, have policies that rule out the broadcast of certain types of contentious advocacy ads, they apparently have decided to run an anti-abortion 30-second spot for the Colorado-based conservative Christian group Focus on the Family during the Super Bowl. The spot is said to feature Tim Tebow, University of Florida QB, marginal NFL prospect and proponent of face paint for Jesus and his mother who contracted dysentery in 1985 and was advised by her physician to have an abortion, because the prescription medication she would take would likely cause damage to the fetus. She refused and Florida won the national football championship twice.

Perhaps CBS is a little gun shy since the network took some heat for rejecting a 2004 ad by the liberal-leaning United Church of Christ highlighting the UCC's welcoming stance toward gays and others who might feel shunned by more conservative churches.

Or maybe it is the $2.6 million that CBS is asking for such a spot? Trust me when I say that CBS will suffer far in excess of $2.6 million worth of grief for essentially siding with abortion opponents. A protest letter from the Women's Media Center says "By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers." The National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority have also called on the network to pull the ad. But, hey, media dollars are getting harder to come by every day and maybe this will simply open the door to advocacy ads that will have a polarizing effect on the country but will fall to the bottom line of all the networks at a time when dollars are more important than judgment (read: Wall Street bonuses).

Pretty soon, in addition to asking you to text $10 for Haitian relief, the advocacy groups that have your email and home address will start asking you to contribute to funds built to buy airtime so that your views can be imposed on everyone else. Defenders will call it freedom of speech. Opponents will call it bullying by the best-financed. The networks will call it found money.

On the other hand, it remains to be seen if saving Tim Tebow from suction aspiration is sufficient reason to change anyone's mind about having an abortion.

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