"What CNN has done is at best a foolish business decision based on politics and at worst a decision that is anti-democratic," says Larry Weinberg, executive vice president of Israel 21C, which is sponsoring the campaign, along with the American Jewish Committee.
CNN declined to run the spots because it doesn't "air advocacy ads regarding international issues from regions in conflict." This is the one line explanation received by Brad Mont, president of Media Ad Ventures, the Washington D.C. buying firm that was working for the two groups.
Mont says he has seen nothing like it in 20 years of media buying. "All other rejections have been questions about whether or not the facts were right," he says. "We worked with the client to make sure we had an ad that would be able to clear and it was accepted to run on the major stations."
Weinberg says he wanted to use CNN exclusively to reach "every CNN household in America." And he wanted to buy CNN directly from the network because "you don't get satellite subscribers if you buy from local cable operators."
But buying from local cable operators is what Mont was forced to do. "We've gone to local cable systems to get ads on CNN, including the Time Warner system, CNN's parent company," Mont says.
One could say it was a creative way to sidestep the problem, but Mont also says, "On a CPM basis it's more efficient to reach the whole country on CNN. You know when it's going to air instead of cobbling together the local cable systems. Now we're stuck with broad rotators or remnant times and we don't know when people will see the ads because we don't know when they will air."
He says he used a cable consolidator to buy ads on local cable station across the country.
CNN declined to comment for this story, except to provide MDN with the same line it gave to Mont.
The ads began on Sept. 12 in Washington and Sept. 17 in New York and Silicon Valley. On Oct. 1 they began running in the top 100 cable markets. The 30 second spots will run through November.
It is the first time TV has been used to garner support for Israel in the U.S. "The campaign has a simple objective: to inform Americans about the vitality of the Israeli democracy and help them understand how much its society and ours have in common," Weinberg says.
But he says CNN's actions have made this difficult to achieve. "Our ads seek to educate Americans so they can make their own judgments. When CNN refused, they reduced the material that makes this democracy run. They made a mistake not thinking about it as a media decision, but about politics, taking the heat about their edit policy in order to please the critics."
CNN says it previously rejected ads from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.