Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Controversy growing for Super Bowl commercial

There was a discussion on the radio today while I was in the car about an ad that a pro-life group wants to run during The Super Bowl. The ad involves Tim Tebow and his mom, who was apparently encouraged to get an abortion when she was pregnant with him while doing missionary work in, I think, the Philippines. If my facts aren’t 100 percent correct here, forgive me, I’m going off what I heard on the radio.

Obviously Tim’s mom didn’t get an abortion and the baby turned out to be Tim Tebow and the world is a better place as a result. Not surprisingly, several pro-choice groups are upset about the ad and are urging CBS to refuse to run it. This is going to be a hotly debated issue regardless of what CBS decides.

To me, there’s no issue here: The first amendment guarantees a pro-life group can run an ad like this as long as it doesn’t libel anyone in the ad or perpetrate some kind of fraud. If the ad says that Tim Tebow’s mom chose not to have an abortion and in the opinion of those paying the $2.5 million for the 30 seconds, this is proof that pro-life is the right way to go, there’s not a single reason not to run it.

There would also be no reason not to run an ad paid for by pro-choice advocates that brought forward the mother of a convicted murderer to say that she wanted an abortion when she was pregnant but couldn’t get one or couldn’t afford one and this is proof that Roe v. Wade needs to be broadened or there needs to be more funding for unwanted pregnancies.

Where do you draw the line? Well, if the Klu Klux Klan wanted to take an ad saying that the white race was superior to all others, that ad should be rejected not so much because it is offensive but because there isn’t a shred of evidence to support what the Klan would be claiming is fact.

All of this gets into the two areas where you can’t win an argument: politics and religion. Every time I catch myself getting into a political argument—which I do every single Tuesday at the Red Auerbach lunch with Chris Wallace who might be less conservative than Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh but not by much—I say to myself, ‘why are you wasting your breath?’

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve argued with people on the issue of gun control and the one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is this: I have never changed one person’s mind nor has anyone ever changed my mind. On certain issues, probably most issues, we are all so ingrained in the way we think it is almost impossible to make any of us change. Why do you think the smallest percentage of voters in any election are those who are undecided? Most of the time about 90 percent of the electorate has made up its mind—at least in general elections—before a single dollar is spent on a campaign.

Think about it: How many of you switched from Obama to McCain or vice-versa after the conventions last year? Of course the reason so much money is spent on campaigns is that in a close election the 10 or 12 percent that are undecided will decide the election. That’s why The Supreme Court’s decision last week to do away with any limits on campaign financing for corporations is so dangerous. It may mean that corporate America’s dollars will make the difference in many close elections in the future. And don’t—as Wallace tried to claim today—tell me that union money will balance corporate money. That ship sailed years ago (Wallace even semi-conceded the point before the egg rolls had been served while still insisting I was an idiot).

Abortion is not an issue where anyone changes their mind. That’s why, even though I will defend the right of the pro-life group to buy the ad during The Super Bowl, I honestly believe they are wasting their money. Maybe—MAYBE—the ad might convince a few pregnant teen-agers to think twice about an abortion and maybe that is its purpose. But it certainly won’t change the politics of the abortion issue one tiny bit.

That being said, the pro-choice groups are playing right into the pro-life’s group’s hands by demanding that CBS reject the ad. Would anyone have been talking about the ad today if not for the demand that it be turned down? No. Everyone would have been trying to decide when Brett Favre was going to announce his next retirement or un-retirement. Instead, this is now a story and it will continue to be a story and, as a result, the ad will get about 50 times more attention than it would have if the pro-choice groups had kept their mouths shut. Sometimes the best way to win an argument is just to be quiet. (Okay, you can make the case that’s a lesson I’ve never learned)

I feel sorry for CBS on this one. If the network turns down the ad it will catch hell from the right. If it runs the ad it will catch hell from the left.

I have always taken the position that I wish athletes would leave religion out of sports. I don’t like it when athletes claim that God somehow played a role in a victory and I would rather not see them putting biblical passages on their eye black. That said, I think they have an absolute right to do it until and unless someone passes a rule that says NOTHING can be written on your eye black. Of course a very strong case can be made that if you can’t write on your eye black why should players be allowed to display tattoos that have writing on them? Good question.

There’s always been a part of me that wishes athletes would be more politically active. The problem with that is simple: About 95 percent of them care about one issue: money. Their only question is, “which candidate is going to lower my taxes the most?”

When I was writing “Living on the Black,” (which has nothing to do with eye black) a couple of years ago both main subjects, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, had been very active baseball union members. In fact, Glavine had been one of THE union leaders during the 1994-1995 strike.

He and Stan Kasten, then the president of the Braves, spent hours screaming at one another about baseball politics even though the two of them are now friends. When I was working on the book, Kasten said to me one day, “Why don’t you ask Tommy how he can be so pro-union, so pro-workers rights and so Republican all at the same time?”

I repeated the question to Glavine who smiled and said, “He makes a good point.”

Perhaps that’s true but the question didn’t change Glavine’s view of the world one bit. In fact, when he and his wife Chris adopted a baby last summer I got a note from Glavine: “The world’s newest Republican has arrived.”

Fortunately for me this was shortly after Arlen Specter had changed parties so I wrote back: “I guess that evens things up for Arlen Specter.”

And the debates—without resolution—roll on and on.

Note from FOTB Staff: We apologize for the downtime this morning....there was an issue with server bandwidth usage, something we obviously didn't pay close enough attention to (yes, we are taking the blame and not passing it off -- cough, cough). From what we understand, it is a good problem having to do with more readers coming to the site.  So, we'll pay more attention and thank you for continuing to visit John's blog!


Mike said...

John, you need to do a little more than "listened to the radio" research on this one. The controversy is CBS's policy, which up to now had been to reject any politically controversial ad, including rejecting a left leaning ad for the last Super Bowl. This isn't a first amendment issue, it's a disparate treatment issue.

Gunnar said...

If Planned Parenthood buys a $2.5million dollar rebuttal ad for pro-choice, the issue is done. Good topic. Focus on the Family already has received the value of their Tebow ad.

Anonymous said...

CBS refused to air and PETA ads in the past. Seems like they're caving in to the religious conservatives here.

Matt said...

I agree that athletes should leave religion out of the games. I have a friend who is convinced that every time an athlete scores points, or does anything they are being paid to do, and points to the sky to thank God they actually saying "I take back one thing I said about you." As far as the ad goes, if they want to pay 2.5 million for 30 sec I say let them go for it.

Bennettar said...

It is interesting to see comments like,"Seems like they're caving in to the religious conservatives here" (from Anonymous above) when decisions like this are made. It is highly unlikely that the religiously conservative stance of Focus on the Family is the reason that CBS is choosing run the ad. More likely, the $2.5 million check cleared and CBS needs to fill ad slots for the most-watched 3+ hours of commercials in this country.

As far as the CBS policy is concerned, it seems to me that they are within their rights as a business to alter their policy whenever they want and for whatever reason they want. They have to live with their decisions, but they have control of their own policy. Good topic, John. Looking forward to some more interesting comments...

Mike said...

CBS is not exactly free to alter their policy "for whatever reason they want". They have a license to broadcast on the public airwaves which brings certain restrictions and responsibilities with it while they are a private business, they may not make specific political content the reason for rejecting an ad, any more than they can accept all Democratic party ads but reject all Republican ads. It's either accept a category of ads, or reject a category of ads, as soon as you discriminate by the specific content, you are indeed running afoul of the 1st amendment. MoveOn had the money last year, and CBS cited their "no political ads" policy in rejecting their ad. If they haven't changed the "no politics" policy but are making an exception for the religious right, we do indeed have a problem here.

Paul said...


You're point about politically active athletes is an interesting one. Basically I agree with you on the pure fact that getting politically involved is a good thing and in theory it would be a positive for athletes to do so. However, I believe it would mean that more athletes would be like Kurt Schilling and express his or her political thoughts when I want to know why he threw a 3-2 changeup with two men on down by a two runs in the bottom of the eighth. It is the same with all non-political public figures. I don't really care about George Clooney or Ben Affleck's party support nor do I think they are any more politically enlightened than your average person living in the US. Athletes are not political experts, and like the everyday citizen, usually has no idea what they are talking about; at least not enough to interrupt the main reason I want to hear them speak which is to gain insight as to how they go about playing their sport. Using their status as media subjects to make political arguments means I often have to be subjected to their political opinions. I DON'T CARE! I care about as much about their political affiliations and leanings as I care about the affiliations and leanings of the 81 year old woman down the street. I want to learn from experts, and they are experts at their particular sport not in political topics.

I agree with Brad Pitt:
"You shouldn't speak until you know what you're talking about. That's why I get uncomfortable with interviews. Reporters ask me what I feel China should do about Tibet. Who cares what I think China should do? I'm a ******* actor! They hand me a script. I act. I'm here for entertainment. Basically, when you whittle everything away, I'm a grown man who puts on makeup."

I'm not saying athletes CAN'T offer knowledgeable opinions on politics, I'm just saying that my main reason for tuning in isn't to hear their opinions on politics and that is what we would get if as a group they became politically active. I most certainly don't want to hear them on ESPN talking this way. If Kurt Schilling or George Clooney went on a political discussion show, then fine. But not when being interviewed by FOX Sports for example. And in the case of Al Michaels, certainly not when one is broadcasting a game (where he discussed politics several times during a Monday night game a few years back).

Bennettar said...

@Mike - You make a good point - I over-generalized when I suggested that CBS can change their policy for whatever reason they want. I understand there are boundaries to what they can put on air as well certain measures of fairness when dealing with particular issues. I am not familiar with CBS's policy or its history but is it possible that their policy now allows for ads such as this one? I don't know the answer to that, but it seems plausible.

I have not seen Tebow's commercial and I am certainly not trying to change anyone's mind on the topic of abortion. It just seems premature to make any blanket assumptions on the situation when it's entirely possible that there were no pro-choice ads submitted and the policy could be different now than it was in the past.

Bill said...

Anonymous above - the one who wrote "CBS refused to air and PETA ads in the past. Seems like they're caving in to the religious conservatives here." --

I'd be willing to bet the house that the manner or way that the content in those commercials is what what rejected, not the premise or organization alone. Some things can be done tastefully, or distastefully, which is ultimately the call that CBS and others have to make. As mentioned above, CBS is probably restricted in doing certain things, including dismissing commercials by organization alone.

Anonymous said...

OK, here's the rejected ad

Still willing to bet the house, Bill? Is there something wrong with the "manner or content"?

Here's another banned commercial

Bill said...

Do you have the Tebow commercial? If so, I can compare and get a good read on this. Until then, I'll continue to live in my house that I bet.