My high school history teacher has a theory on football and the American psyche. As the game is all about the conquest of territory, football is the all-American sport. The rules of the game reflect the American frontier story, or perhaps serve, as Mr. Abrams believes, “as compensation for its evaporation.” Perhaps it is no coincidence that the year Frederick Jackson Turner wrote that there was no more Western federal territory open to settlement was the same year that Yale named its first official football coach, the legendary Walter Camp.
The link between football and American nationalism perhaps reached its height last week when CBS, the station sponsoring this Sunday’s Super Bowl, refused to air an anti-Bush advertisement produced by MoveOn.org, the online coalition builder for the Democratic party. The advertisement, “Child’s Pay,” is the brainchild of Charlie Fisher of Denver, Colorado who won MoveOn’s “Bush in 30 Seconds” ad contest last fall. Fisher’s commercial opens with a young boy washing dishes in the back room of a restaurant. That image is followed by a little blonde girl in a pink dress vacuuming the floors of a dimly-lit hotel and a boy no taller than 3 feet tossing a garbage bag into a dumpster that towers over his head. The words, “Guess who’s going to pay off President Bush’s $1 trillion deficit?” flashes across the screen. The 30-second spot closes with the image of a girl working in a grocery store whose fingers can barely reach the cash register at which she’s working.
When MoveOn.org announced it’s ad competition, they also announced that the winning ad would be aired during this year’s Super Bowl. Yet Mr. Fisher’s ad won’t be hitting the airwaves this Sunday. When I called CBS to express my concern with what I see as an act of censorship, the representative with whom I spoke claimed that the advertisement is “too controversial” to air. Yet the message of the ad is entirely accurate. In fact, according to an article in the New York Times on Tuesday, “the Congressional Budget Office predicted on Monday that the federal budget deficit would hit a record $477 billion this year and that accumulated deficits over the next decade would total $1.9 trillion.” Furthermore, if Congress extends the tax breaks that President Bush passed when he entered office, the total deficit over the decade will add up to more than $2 trillion. If anything, Mr. Fisher’s ad underestimated the debt that the current administration will leave for future generations. It seems like CBS has confused “controversy” with sheerly staggering, yet all too real, statistics.
Yet CBS’ history of soft-money donations to the Republican Party make it difficult to believe that the “controversy” of MoveOn’s ad is their sole reason for not airing it. Last June, Congress brought FCC reform to a halt when, by a one-vote margin, the Federal Communications Commission significantly reduced the limitations once placed on media conglomerates. Like other major networks, CBS was a loyal supporter of the Republican party, donating to the RNC in an attempt to bring a halt to FCC reform. The subsequent deregulation allowed single media giants that once reached more than a third of the nation’s viewers to be able to reach nearly half. Rules that once hindered newspapers from buying television and radio stations in the same city were overturned. In a time when only four companies reach the entire American population through the radio, media corporations, such as CBS, were given the free reigns to even further expand. What’s being aired, or perhaps more appropriately, what’s not being aired this Sunday is a frightening outcome of both the unchecked growth of media mergers and the government courting that takes place for such expansion to occur.
So this Sunday, the 800 million viewers worldwide tuning into “the All-American sport” will be shielded from “the controversy” of MoveOn.org and will instead watch uncontroversial ads from beer companies, Philip Morris, drug companies such as Pfizer, and the Bush White House itself. As Senator Durbin of Illinois said on the Senate floor yesterday, “Everyone with even short-term memory recalls that only a few years ago we were dealing with a budgetary surplus under the Clinton administration. Now we are deep in historic debt year after year after year during the Bush administration.” That the truth is now “controversial” is telling — so revealing that the 800 million people watching on Sunday night should be reminded of it.