Almost every year, the Super Bowl is the most-watched television program and it's not just football fans who are responsible for the massive viewership. The annual game has become a social event replete with parties and non-football fans who tune in to see highly publicized halftime shows, inventive commercials and episodes of promising new TV shows afterward.
This year is no different except that when viewers tune in next Sunday, they probably will see a 30-second anti-abortion commercial funded by the far-right, religious Focus on the Family organization but they won't see a light-hearted ad for a gay dating Web site that features two men and another that's gay-themed. That's because CBS executives said the network doesn't accept advocacy ads.
Focus on the Family's so-called "Celebrate Life" commercial features Heisman Trophy-winning college football quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam. She reportedly talks about how when she was pregnant with her son, doctors advised her to have an abortion because drugs used to awaken her from a coma suffered while carrying her baby likely would make it stillborn. Pam Tebow carried the child to term and he was born healthy.
(Note: When Pam Tebow was pregnant in 1987, she and her husband were on a long-term missionary assignment in the Philippines, where abortion was illegal. Let's see if that fact is mentioned in the ad.)
Accepting the ad, reportedly for a price of at least $2.5 million, at first seemed to signal that CBS had changed its policy for commercials during the game. Remember, in 2004 the network used its "no advocacy" rule to reject an ad from the United Church of Christ that promoted its tolerance of gay and lesbian people. It also rejected an ad that criticized then-President George W. Bush.
Shortly after acceping the Tebow ad, however, CBS turned down an ad from ManCrunch, a dating site, in which two men watching a football game on TV cheer, then reach into a bowl of potato chips where their hands touch. As they look longingly into each other's eyes, the pair begins to kiss. In the other rejected ad, for GoDaddy, a fictional football player who's retired has become a slightly queeny fashion designer who sells his wares on a Web site created by GoDaddy; the implication is that the ex-player is and always was gay.
The blatantly hypocritical actions of CBS are troubling. Just what, exactly, are the network's standards for commercials? We don't know because CBS won't say. Given the evidence, there's little choice except to believe the network thinks its OK to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Several gay rights and progressive groups, including the National Organization for Women and Credo Action, have protested and started petition campaigns to lodge complaints with the Federal Communications Commission.
One set of rules should apply to commercials, whether they have a conservative or liberal slant. I say this might be an occasion where more direct action is needed. Unless CBS rejects the Tebow ad, or accepts the two others, a boycott of the network's programming is in order.