CENSORSHIP AT CBS
MoveOn.org, January 30, 2004

The CBS networks still refuses to run our winning ad in the Bush in 30 Seconds ad contest during the Super Bowl. The MoveOn.org non-partisan campaign to get CBS to air issue ads continues, but we're not going to let CBS's censorship stop us in the mean time. That's why we're spending over $1 million to air the ad in our swing states and nation-wide on other channels -- starting with two spots on CNN that will air during the Super Bowl half time.

This Sunday, during the Super Bowl half time show, join us in changing channels on CBS. At 8:10pm and 8:35pm EST, switch over to CNN to watch "Child's Pay" on a channel which doesn't censor its ads. We'd like to keep a tally of the number of people who participate -- you can sign up here:
http://www.moveonvoterfund.org/boycott/?id=2294-2948232-l_r6pcyFXpr0cznWj6ENOA

The number of groups, individuals, and newspapers that have called on CBS to run our ad is remarkable. The National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union have asked their own members to call CBS. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) gave a powerful speech about CBS on the floor of the Senate, saying, "Maybe network executives at CBS are so afraid of political pressure from the right wing and their business advertisers who are in league with the right wing politics of America that they are afraid to put anything on the air that might in! fact make things uncomfortable. If that is the case, it is time for CBS to announce the name of their network is the 'Conservative Broadcasting System' and come clean with American viewers."

28 members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter to CBS which stated, "The choice not to run this paid advertisement appears to be part of a disturbing pattern on CBS's part to bow to the wishes of the Republican National Committee. We remember well CBS's remarkable decision this fall to self-censor at the direction of GOP pressure. The network shamefully cancelled a broadcast about former President Ronald Reagan which Republican partisans considered insufficiently flattering." Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote a separate letter to CBS urging them to reconsider their decision.

Today, the L.A. Times printed an Op-Ed piece of ours which lays out the case against CBS's censorship. That's attached below. But the editorial pages of the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and many other papers came out in our favor as well. As the Globe wrote, "MoveOn.org's 30-second ad, which has aired on CNN, is a gentle yet powerful depiction of how hard today's children will have to work to pay off the country's mounting deficit. That's a vital message that might get lost in a year ! of campaign rhetoric, and it deserves a response from the White House in its own 30 seconds of imagery. America, sitting on the couch, junk food in hand, just might sit up and want to know more."

Luckily, there are still some networks that do allow the free exchange of ideas. Please join the one-minute boycott: at Super Bowl halftime, switch to CNN and watch "Child's Pay," and let us know at:
http://www.moveonvoterfund.org/boycott/?id=2294-2948232-l_r6pcyFXpr0cznWj6ENOA

Here's the L.A. Times' Op-Ed piece, which ran in today's paper:

One Thing That Won't Be Tackled on Sunday: Issues
By Eli Pariser
Campaigns Director, MoveOn.org Voter Fund
http://www.moveon.org/r?484

When the Super Bowl is beamed into living rooms around the world Sunday, you can expect to see TV spots hyping cars, beer, razor blades, three different erectile dysfunction cures, toilet paper and snack foods.

The ads will be slick and clever, lavishly produced, brilliant in their marketing. Some, no doubt, will be sexually suggestive or violent. Most will cost $2 million to $3 million to produce and broadcast.

But here's what you won't see: a single ad about the big issues that face our country today.

Outrageous as it may sound, CBS has decided that ads selling erectile dysfunction medicines and toilet paper are appropriate for Americans, but serious discussion should be banned. An ad about our country, our war, our president, the state of our schools or the size of our budget deficit? That, in the eyes of CBS officialdom, would be too controversial.

We know, because we tried. We thought that the Super Bowl, with 130 million viewers, would be a great place to get our message out. So we held a contest on the Internet to select the best ad we could possibly run. The ad we selected from 1,500 submissions shows children cleaning offices, washing dishes and hauling trash. It ends with the question: "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1-trillion deficit?" (It's viewable at http://www.MoveOn.org ).

But even though we were willing to pony up the $1.6 million to pay for it, CBS refused to sell us the time, citing what it says is a 50-year-old policy prohibiting ads that take stands on controversial public policy issues.

CBS claims its policy is designed to keep the Citibanks and Microsofts of the world from buying time to tell Americans how to think. "It is designed to prevent those with means to produce and purchase network advertising from having undue influence on 'controversial issues of public importance,' " the network said this week.

Sounds fair, doesn't it? But what it really means is that if McDonald's buys an ad promoting its tasty Big Mac, no one can run an ad that says Big Macs are full of fat and unhealthful. Pfizer can run a spot saying it's "helping people in need" get medicine, but we can't air an ad saying that Pfizer lobbied to weaken the new Medicare bill to prop up drug prices. Halliburton has slick ads that stress its role supporting the troops in Iraq. But CBS would reject an ad that pointed to Halliburton's profiteering.

The fewer issue ads run, the more time there is for ads with mud-wrestling women selling beer and leggy models peddling fast cars. CBS execs think Americans love mindless consumerism more than anything else and that it's their duty to pander to this.

But with "fairness" doctrines no longer governing the airwaves and the media more concentrated each day, it's getting harder and harder to engage regular people in political discourse. Even the town square has been replaced, in most communities, by private malls, where politics is not encouraged.

Instead of taking every opportunity to promote civic discussion, commercial broadcasters like CBS shrink away. The airwaves are, more than ever, private enterprises. And for that we pay a price: As public political speech becomes more difficult and infrequent, the public becomes less engaged in the policies, processes and laws that govern us.

"Controversy" isn't the real problem. Network front offices love it when one group or another protests sexy babes in bikinis peddling beer brands, or violent video games in which the highest body count wins. That builds buzz.

The CBS policy represents the triumph of corporate self-interest over the public interest. This is the same CBS, after all, that yanked the Ronald Reagan miniseries recently when Republican bigwigs complained. As Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) noted this week, "These are the same executives at CBS who successfully lobbied this Congress to change the FCC rules on TV station ownership to their corporate advantage." CBS simply would rather not risk offending powerful people in Washington who decide such critical regulatory matters.

But try getting that issue into a 30-second spot for Super Bowl audiences.