Thursday, December 02, 2004

Big Media Unfair to Churches

This story seems like it should be getting more attention by the religious right than it apparently has:

The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a 30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its all-inclusive welcome has been deemed "too controversial."

The ad, part of the denomination's new, broad identity campaign set to begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that -- like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.

According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples -- among other minority constituencies -- and is, therefore, 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."
Josh Marshall has been following the story (here, here, here and here for instance) and Andrew Sullivan has mentioned it but I haven't been able to find this story on any of the conservative blogs that I read regularly.

It seems to me that if we are going to criticize the media for being unfair to Christians, that should include liberal Christians as well. I don't agree with the United Church of Christ on the issue of homosexuality, and the equation of moral disapproval with racial bigotry is dishonest, but they ought to be able to advertise on public airwaves just like the condom companies and Frederick's of Hollywood. People who don't want to watch the ads can change the channel. (Or, better yet, sell the fricking TV!) And the ad itself does not seem particularly offensive. Surely this is another example of the media's arrogance and blindness, which we have not been shy at pointing out when it affects us personally. Of course, this isn't a First Amendment issue: Viacom has every right, as a private company, to refuse to run anything it wants. But so do we, as consumers, have a right to protest such decisions.

And, if the argument from principle is not sufficient, consider this: it may well be in our best interest to protest. Is it possible that the ad was refused in order to make the religious right appear the villain? Josh Marshall points out the following rationale:
The CBS memo to the UCC includes three basic points.

1. The alleged policy of not running ads which address issue of public debate or controversy.

2. An alleged rule against ads from religious organizations which can be said in any way to proselytize.

3. And the fact that President Bush has recently called for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Reason #2 seems like the best argument (though it's pretty weak in itself). But the CBS memo specifically says that this isn't the reason they're rejecting it. Reason one, they say, was an entirely sufficient reason for rejecting the ad.

But having enunciated this bar against ads which discuss or take a position on any "current controversial issue of public importance" they then gratuitously add this line about President Bush's call for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.


I would think that the general rule, if evenly enforced, would be sufficient. I cannot think of any good reason why President Bush's (who's now apparently been renamed 'Executive Branch') stated position should have any bearing at all on whether the ad should run.

Can you?
Actually, yes, I can. By including that sentence, CBS is suggesting that it is afraid that it may suffer at the hands of the Bush administration if they air an ad the administration finds offensive. They are invoking, without actually mentioning, the spectre of Right-wing Thought Police. This has the benefit of being perfectly deniable, since no actual charges against Bush have been made, but people will still gain the impression that Things Are Getting Scary.

This is actually a rather common tactic in political rhetoric and is frequently used to sow resentment. Throughout history it has been a cause of anti-semitism when the discontent was aimed at a successful Jewish class, and Evangelicals are becoming as safe a whipping boy as the Jews in certain circles.

I would much rather that we were on record as objecting on principle to the sort of soft censorship that CBS is perpetrating against our fellow Christians. But, for whatever reason, we ought to speak up.

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