Last week, conservative organization Focus on the Family announced that it planned to air a 30-second “life- and family-affirming” television ad during the Super Bowl on Feb. 7. The ad will feature 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam, who will “share one of their many positive personal stories.” Specific details about the ad haven’t been released, but the AP notes that it is “likely to be an anti-abortion message chronicling Pam Tebow’s 1987 pregnancy. After getting sick during a mission trip to the Philippines, she ignored a recommendation by doctors to abort her fifth child and gave birth to Tim.”
MediaDailyNews reports that CBS yesterday approved the Focus on the Family script:
CBS executives approved a script for a Super Bowl spot from evangelical group Focus on the Family, which suggests the ad will not carry a pro-life message — at least an overt one.
The network has a policy of prohibiting advocacy ads, even ones that carry an “implicit” endorsement for a side in a public debate. A CBS spokesman did say the network will review the video version of the spot before giving it the final green light, but does not anticipate any hurdles.
The networks and the NFL have repeatedly rejected advocacy ads — including by progressive organizations. In 2004, CBS rejected MoveOn.org’s 30-second ad about President Bush, which Salon called “a low-key attack on Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility that’s unlikely to make anyone very angry.” The network has said that it doesn’t accept spots where “substantial elements of the community (are) in opposition to one another.” Last year, NBC rejected a 30-second public service announcement about marriage equality. Anti-consumerist activist Kalle Lasn and PETA have also had their ads turned down under the “no advocacy” policy.
However, the policy is fuzzy enough that the networks have considerable discretion. As Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, explained:
The rules are exactly what the owner of the news medium wants them to be, and they are not rules, they are simply choices. For many news organizations, the rules are governed by such things as taste and accuracy. In the case of some, the question of taste slips over into finding the message disagreeable or believing that the audience would find that message disagreeable. The long and short of it is they don’t have to run any advertisement they don’t want to.
Indeed, the networks are also therefore able to run any ad they want — including ads that clearly advocate a position. Last year, ThinkProgress documented that NBC ran anti-smoking and anti-steroids ads, even though it rejected the marriage equality ad and a pro-life ad because it was supposedly banning all advocacy spots. In the past, CBS also approved “an anti-smoking spot, a public service announcement about AIDS, and a commercial from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy” during the Super Bowl.
So even though CBS accepted Focus on the Family’s ad and the network has a “no advocacy” policy, CBS may still allow the group to advocate a right-wing position.