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Liberal Groups Decry CBS's Flip-Flop On Advocacy Ads

by Eric Lach

In the build up to the Super Bowl, CBS is playing defense, under pressure from liberal groups accusing the network of bias in its advertising selections.

Many groups, including the Women's Media Center, are looking past Mancrunch, questioning CBS's previous rejections of advocacy ads by The United Church of Christ (UCC), MoveON.org, and PETA. First, in a reversal of a previous policy of not accepting controversial advocacy ads, the network announced it would air an ad produced by Focus on the Family, an anti-abortion group, featuring star Florida QB Tim Tebow. The theme of the ad will be "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life," and the spot is expected to depict the story of Tim's mother, Pam, who had Tim against doctor's orders, after becoming sick abroad.

CBS fueled the controversy by subsequently rejecting a Super Bowl ad submitted by Mancrunch.com, a dating site for men on the "down-low." The spot features two men in football jerseys, watching football. After they accidentally touch hands when reaching for the chips, they share a look, then dive into each others arms. In a statement, CBS said that after review, the network's "Standards and Practices department decided not to accept this particular spot."

The Daily Beast is reporting that CBS worked on the ad with Focus on the Family for months.

Women's groups protested CBS's decision to run the ad. In a letter to the network, The Women's Media Center said that with the decision to run the ad from an "anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance."

In the statement, CBS pointed out the Mancrunch.com ad's "entirely commercial" nature (the network, like U.S. law, treats political speech differently than commercial speech), but many, including the Women's Media Center, are looking past Mancrunch, questioning CBS's previous rejections of advocacy ads by The United Church of Christ (UCC), MoveON.org, and PETA.

In 2004, the UCC produced an ad called 'Bouncer' for a television ad campaign. The ad featured night-club bouncers standing in front of a church, turning away various people, including a same-sex couple. CBS, along with NBC, rejected the ad, citing the Bush administration's stance on same-sex marriage. Fox and a number of cable networks aired the ad.

"CBS said at the time that they would not air advocacy ads," Gregg Brekke, UCC's News Director told TPM. "With the Tim Tebow ad, that policy was obviously reversed very quickly."

According to the UCC, CBS now says it retroactively approves of the 'Bouncer' ad, though the UCC has no intention of buying ad time. In an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, director of communications for the UCC, wrote:

CBS' about-face only underscores the arbitrary way the networks approach these decisions, and the result is a woeful lack of religious diversity in our nation's media. Such flip-flops only lead the public to believe that broadcasters own the airwaves when, in theory at least, they do not.

That same year, CBS rejected Super Bowl ads from MoveOn.org and PETA. As the New York Times reported at the time, CBS cited their long-standing policy not to ads that took sides on controversial public-policy issues.

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