CBS contacted Media Matters, but left questions on advocacy ads unanswered

In response to Media Matters for America's December 1 item about CBS's decision not to air a United Church of Christ ad, a CBS spokesperson contacted Media Matters to make the case that the network's policy on advocacy advertisements is consistently applied. The spokesperson, however, was unable or unwilling to explain why the network ran advocacy ads that support Bush administration positions while rejecting those deemed contrary to administration policies.

The CBS spokesperson wrote: “CBS has a long standing policy of not accepting advocacy and issue oriented advertisements” and provided the text of the network's policy on the matter, as well as a January 28, 2004, statement on the same. The written policy added no significant information to what is already known: that CBS says it doesn't run “advocacy” ads on “controversial issues of public importance.” But the statement ostensibly explained why the network's decision to air White House ads about drugs did not run counter to CBS's ban on advocacy ads:

Suggestions have also been made that we are violating our own policy by allowing the airing of messages which aim to curb drug abuse and smoking by minors. CBS is unaware of responsible groups which advocate drug abuse and smoking by minors, so it is hard to understand how these laudable efforts would constitute “controversial issues.”

Media Matters found this paragraph curious, and CBS's advocacy policy still seems to be inconsistently applied. Seeking clarification, we asked the CBS spokesperson the following questions via email:

Why did CBS not consider the White House's Medicare ad an advocacy or issue oriented ad?

What is “controversial” about the message that “all are welcome in our Church” ? Even the Reverend Jerry Falwell said on CNN yesterday that he didn't understand why CBS & NBC refused to air the ad. See: link

The CBS statement of 1/28/04 says “CBS is unaware of responsible groups which advocate drug abuse and smoking by minors, so it is hard to understand how these laudable efforts would constitute 'controversial issues.'” The network's position, then, seems to be that advocacy ads are fine, as long as no “responsible groups” would disagree with the message. A) What “responsible groups” take the position that minorities, the handicapped, or an apparently homosexual couple should be barred from attending Church? B) Under what rationale would a group that advocates such discrimination be deemed “responsible” ?

Do advertisements for commercial products that depict apparently homosexual couples (or minorities, or the handicapped) also run afoul of the network's opposition to “controversial issues” ? Does that mean that CBS rejects such advertisements?

The network spokesperson replied two minutes later, indicating that CBS's written statement and policy would have to speak for themselves.