Sunday, January 31, 2010


The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations - even non-profit corporations - can spend any amount of money they want to try to influence national attitudes on issues of public interest, most particularly in elections. The result of this sort of unleashing of third-party advocacy ads - advertisements that have nothing to do with selling any products or services to anyone - can be seen in the decision of CBS to sell a commercial in the Super Bowl telecast to a corporation called Focus On The Family. Their commercial message features a popular college football player, Tim Tibow, and is openly anti-abortion rights. To sway public thinking on abortion rights - that's the only purpose for this non-profit organization to pay $2.5 million or more for this commercial. Focus On The Family has nothing - let me repeat that - they have NOTHING to sell to the American people. No burgers, no fries, no beer, no stocks, bonds or mutual funds, no cars or computers. And Focus On The Family certainly isn't in the dating business.

The Court has ruled. The "right to spend" has been established. But the "right to buy" is still somewhere off in the distance floating, adrift in the unknown. CBS is not required by law or regulation to sell time to Focus On The Family - or to any advertiser... not Coke, Apple, E-Trade, MacDonald's... not anyone. It's entirely up to them. An advocacy ad is treated like any other at CBS - or so they say - and somehow, without comment, this anti-abortion ad seems quite acceptable for CBS on Super Bowl Sunday.

CBS didn't accept everyone who wanted to buy a commercial in the Super Bowl. They refused an ad from a gay male dating service. I've seen the ad. It's pretty funny. Three guys are watching what we are to assume is the Super Bowl. One team scores a touchdown and two of them react as any fans might - jumping up and down, arms raised in the air, shouting, smiling... you've seen it all before. But then, they reach for the chips and their hands touch. Kaboom! Magic strikes. The next thing you know they're locked in an embrace, kissing (although we do not see their faces or lips)... and the third guy in the room is in obvious shock. It is a funny commercial, well within the tradition of funny Super Bowl commercials. Finally we see the corporate logo and ID and we, the viewers, discover this is an advertisement for a gay male dating service.

CBS won't run this commercial. They turned it down. It doesn't meet their standards. We don't know what those standards are. CBS has not made them public. But, talking babies who sell stock... well, they're just fine. And a famous college football player who thinks abortion is against God's wishes (how do he know?)... as far as CBS is concerned that's also a good commercial to broadcast.

I have no dog in this silly race - the one pitting Focus On The Family against a gay male dating service. I'm not in the target market for whatever either of them has to offer. I only want to point out that an absence of a "right to buy" can make a "right to spend" meaningless.

Perhaps you don't care about this one. But what happens when CBS, or any of the networks or any of the thousands of radio and television stations across the United States, decides which corporate ads supporting certain candidates for public office they will run and which they will reject? Take a look at who owns the media and tell me if you don't know already that this will happen and if you can't figure out whose ads will get on the air and whose will never see the light of day.

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