Increasingly sophisticated lobbyists like the Freedom Watch folks want to send messages like a recent one that 1) "thanks" our troops for doing the dirty work in Iraq, and 2) asks for a little money under political fund-raising, as well as 3) advocates pro-Bush Administration and pro-Iraq War positions on its Web site.
CNN and Fox News had no problem with the spot. But NBC initially rejected the Freedom Watch commercial featuring grateful scenes of citizens and one retired general -- all with cheesy melodramatic music. But NBC's rejection wasn't because of creative style; it was because of a mention of the group's Web site.
NBC's thinking was that issue-advocacy advertising -- long held in contempt also by other TV broadcast networks because of its one-sided approach -- could be extended to the Web sites of the companies that paid for those commercials. But after a few days NBC reversed itself, realizing that for some parts of the new digital age it can only judge in a limited way what is on the traditional TV screen.
There is no debate here. What was on the screen was tacky, but harmless. Freedom Watch's real aim? I'm guessing it wasn't targeting "My Name is Earl" but that favorite Sunday morning NBC political issue show, "Meet The Press." Family programming, for sure.
How do you make those commercials less one-sided? You can't -- and there's the rub. Broadcast networks are in the position of offering balanced opinions when it comes to issues.
Perhaps lefty political group MoveOn should do a similar "thank you" ad under the theme to offer balance: "Support our troops -- but not the war. We thank you." Of course, that ad would have to run right now to balance Freedom Watch's ad.
Political messages are never trouble-free to begin with. The digital world makes figuring that ou much more complicated -- and polarizing. In-between old TV networks can get somewhat lost trying to sift through old advertising standards.