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December 1, 2004
Acceptance Deemed Too Controversial

Okay, this is really getting scary. Via Josh Marshall.

The United Church of Christ is launching a new ad campaign tomorrow. The commercial features a church guarded by bouncers, refusing entry to some people while allowing others to pass. The first people refused entry are two men holding hands, followed by several others, minorities, etc. The tag line of the spot is "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

See the ad here.

Both CBS and NBC have refused to air the ad, calling it "too controversial."

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."


This is infuriating on so many levels. First of all, as the UCC's press release points out, it is quite ironic that after one of the most vicious political campaigns in history during which both sides launched countless ad campaigns filled with outright lies and massive distortions, the networks would balk at this message. They didn't seem to have much of a problem with the Bush or Kerry campaign ads, in fact they profited enormously from them.

More important than the networks' hypocrisy, though, is the idea that 1) this ad is controversial and 2) that controversial ideas will not be aired. It is this last that literally gives me the chills, as it should every one of us. They are saying that because this ad touches on a current debate in the country, it is too controversial to air.

This gets directly to the heart of what is so dangerously wrong with our media. The media's role -- particularly the major broadcast networks who operate on the public airwaves and are allowed to do so only because they agree to serve the public -- is to present a full range of ideas to the public. By deeming any one issue "too controversial," they are completely ignoring that responsibility. It is particularly ominous when the message they are so concerned about is one of inclusion and charity without prejudice.

Now, it could be argued that the same people who are so outraged by this item, myself included, would be up in arms if the networks agreed to air a commercial for a church or other group which specifically barred homosexuals and said or implied so in their commercials, (seen any Boy Scouts commercials lately?) and it's probably true that many would argue against such an ad. But they'd be wrong.

Ultimately, we're better off if all sides can express themselves openly and allow people to make their own judgments. What's important is that the ads not be deliberately misleading or outright false. If we held our political campaigns to the same truth standards to which we hold shampoo commercials, we'd be in pretty good shape. You can say what you think, but you can't lie about what the other guys think.

I find the mention of the "Executive Branch" in the network's rationale particularly disturbing. Since when do our media outlets decide what is controversial based on what the president thinks is acceptable? If someone wanted to air a commercial criticizing the privatization of Social Security would that be too controversial? What about something against tax cuts? Mammoth deficits? Too controversial? Health care? I could go on..

Oh, and for the record, the ad is right: Jesus didn't turn people away. That was his whole deal.


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