TV 'Advocacy' Commercials Don't Tell The Whole Story

If cars in Iran are seemingly running on water, I want to know about it. I have a right to believe in any crap I want.

Oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens doesn't go that far. But he suggested something else and, as a result, got roughed up a bit by NBC.  A commercial calling for a change in the U.S . from its drug-like dependence on oil (the irony is that Pickens became famously wealthy because of oil), said cars in Iran are fast becoming equipped with dual fuel systems: one that runs on old-fashioned gasoline, the other on newfangled natural gas.

The commercial also said Iran was doing this to drive up the price of oil for export while giving their citizens a break, using the country's almost-unlimited supply of natural gas.

NBC initially called this commercial "controversial" -- though it ended up running the ad anyway.  NBC affixes this moniker to ads when it believes that someone or some group may get the short end of the stick when statements are not true.

Probably NBC should have called spots like these "not readily provable" or something similar. The word "controversy" seems to cover all this -- but it really doesn't say anything. NBC is not alone. Many networks do the same thing -- especially when it comes to what they call "advocacy" advertising.

 NBC also runs detergent ads. My clothes are clean -- but not sparkling white. But those ads don't say one specific detergent is definitely abetter than another. That would be controversial, which would seem to mean:  "We can't figure out who is telling the truth here."

Pickens has First Amendment rights, like any other billionaire. That means he can buy his own cable network and run his Pickens Plan 24/7, or buy up entire broadcast prime-time schedules with commercials to get his point across.

Pickens did just that with those Swift Boat ads that attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.  And, weren't those commercials on the money? Not exactly. But, hey, we're not all perfect. My toothpaste doesn't magically give my teeth a gleaming, animated sparkle either, even if the ads show that.

Networks have problems with some TV commercials not because they present someone's opinion -- their "advocacy" - but because the opinions, and presentation of what are deemed "facts," come at others' expense. Pickens didn't say, for example, that Iran was the only nation to be making dual-fueled cars. Then NBC would have a problem, because U.S. viewers would be confused, possibly misled, looking for the nearest Iranian Toyota dealership.

Even then, many might say, "Hmm, could that really be true? What else is going on here? Whose money is pushing this agenda and why?" All good. Networks and big-moneyed citizens who run TV ads shouldn't fear these TV viewers



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