During this year’s Super Bowl, CBS plans to air an ad from an organization called Focus on the Family. The ad will feature NFL player Tim Tebow and will take an anti-abortion stance. Should CBS air such a controversial ad during such a populist event? Participating in this week’s Conversation are Press Publisher Jed Morey, Associate Publisher Beverly Fortune, and Editor in Chief Michael Patrick Nelson.
BEVERLY: The Super Bowl will be watched by millions of people. It is regarded as a family-type show with family-type entertainment, and a halftime show that is hotly anticipated. Let’s not even get into how the country dealt with seeing Janet Jackson’s nipple. The fallout from that wardrobe malfunction is still being discussed, six years later. How are we then supposed to digest an ad that really boils down to a woman’s freedom? Are we ready to go back 50 years?
JED: I think this is less about the content, or intent, of the show. Super Bowl, Oscars or Sponge Bob, this is about whether it is the media’s responsibility to edit commercial messages. Just as I don’t believe the government can or should legislate morality, I don’t believe media companies should get involved in the debate over broadcasting morality. If the group paying for the ad is organized lawfully the debate should end there.
MIKE: It’s hard to deal in absolutes, though, especially with the limited inventory we’re talking about here. The sheer demand for air time during the Super Bowl requires that CBS turn away some advertisers; on what basis do they choose to do so? It’s worth noting that CBS turned down two other ads they presumably deemed objectionable—one for Internet domain company GoDaddy, which features (and I’m quoting ABC News here) “an effeminate former football player-turned-lingerie designer,” and one from Man Crunch, a dating website for gay men, which shows two male football fans kissing. In that context, I think it’s fair to question their decision to air the Focus on the Family spot.
BEVERLY: I have to agree with Mike on this one. It seems that CBS is being arbitrary about what they deem is acceptable for public viewing. I saw the Man Crunch video and it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen on Two and a Half Men or any other primetime show. I believe that the difference here is that the Focus on the Family spot is an advocacy ad, not a for-profit advertisement, which will then open the door for more of this propaganda to be seen on other sports shows. What’s next? Can we expect an ad from the Catholic Church espousing fidelity during the Masters tournament? Where does it end?
JED: I agree that they’re being duplicitous but still think they should accept the advertisement. By choosing to prohibit any lawfully organized business willing to pay prevailing rates for advertising during the Super Bowl or any other network program, they are going down a slippery slope. I don’t think that CBS, as a publicly held entity—governed by the Federal Communications Commission and established for the public benefit—should have moral or ideological leanings. It should be a matter of law and economics. I think most pharmaceutical companies do more harm than good and should be banned from shoveling their propaganda down the throats of Americans, so to use your question, where does it end?
MIKE: Well, we could further question the twisted values of a game that seemingly encourages (A) gambling and (B) binge drinking, but feels that even hints of homosexuality should be banished. It’s purely hypothetical, Jed, but would you support the airing of a spot for Planned Parenthood during the Super Bowl? I assume so. Would CBS air it? I have my doubts. I’m not saying the Focus on the Family ad shouldn’t be aired; I’m saying that by choosing to air that spot and rejecting others that fall on another end of the spectrum, CBS is broadcasting morality, even as its defenders might suggest the opposite.