There’s a minor flap going on right now about CBS’s refusal to air an anti-Bush ad during halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII. The ad, which was the winning entry in a contest sponsored by the radical antiwar organization MoveOn.org, is a 30-second spot criticizing “Bush’s $1 trillion deficit.” CBS cited a corporate policy against “advocacy advertising” in its decision, and therein lies the controversy.
Many folks, including Yale Daily News columnist Benita Singh (“The Super Bowl ad that wasn’t,” 1/29), see this as nothing less than the suppression of the truth. Maybe. (Although “$447 billion,” the deficit figure from the Congressional Budget Office cited by Singh for this year, is a bit less than “$1 trillion.” Also, budget figures are notoriously murky and hard to predict — remember our imminent doom-by-deficit at the end of the Reagan years? — but I digress.) Be that as it may, I wish folks who want to pillory CBS would keep in mind the distinction between “business” and “bias.” If nothing else, this would help keep their, and my, blood pressures down.
Remembering that CBS is a business — an organization which delivers a product in order to make a profit for its shareholders — would derail a lot of the conspiracy theorizing going on in the pages of the News and elsewhere. Yes, it’s true, CBS was not in favor of tighter Federal Communication Commission regulations, as Singh points out in great detail. But — remembering that CBS is a business, and remembering the definition of “a business” — which is more likely: (1) that CBS is refusing to air an anti-Bush ad on pure, malevolent, pro-Republican principle, or (2) that CBS feels that airing such a commercial would hurt its ratings, which would hurt its market share, which would hurt its profits, which would hurt its shareholders, which would violate the whole point of being a business in the first place. Having worked for a large corporation for six years before coming to grad school, I’m going to go with option (2). The network’s not in the bias business; its in the business business.
But if you wanted to find a network that is in the bias business, CBS would be a good place to start. In fact, “Bias” is the title of a recent bestseller by CBS insider Bernard Goldberg which details that network’s heavily left-wing tendencies in news coverage; Amazon has it if you’re interested. While you’re there, you might also want to pick up a copy of “Arrogance,” Goldberg’s followup book which expands on the themes from “Bias.” And, just for sake of completeness, you might want to look at the report prepared by the Media Research Center, a watchdog group, detailing Dan Rather’s 20-plus years of liberal cheerleading disguised as objective news reporting on the “CBS Evening News.” Check all that out, and then ask yourself: is CBS really going to squash an anti-Republican ad on general principles?
When it comes right down to it, all I ask, from the MoveOn supporters in this particular case and from liberals in general, is to please keep the definition of “a business” in mind when criticizing stuff like this, or CBS’s similar refusal to air an ad from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals advocating vegetarianism. I’m not asking you to paper over your principles, nor am I asking you to keep the whole “business vs. bias” distinction in mind out of some kind of loyalty to the Bush Administration or the Republican Party. In fact, I’m asking quite the opposite, and for opposite reasons. I think, quite frankly, that you give too much credit to CBS.
I’m asking you to be truly consistent to your principles here. Let CBS — heck, let corporations in general — be as evil and unscrupulous as your wildest imagination can make it. As a liberal, you probably grew up with the notion that large businesses are all pits of capitalist horror, and their CEOs are Satan’s interns (despite which, the folks who are paying for your education probably work for them, but that’s an issue for another time). These evil CEOs, who do dastardly things like block additional FCC regulations, would sell their mothers to the Taliban and ship ’em COD if they thought they could make a few bucks off the deal. Are these folks — profit-scroungers to the bone — really going to refuse to show an ad because of so petty a thing as principle? Hardly.
A little consistency, please. That’s all I ask.
Brian Donovan is a graduate student in the History Department.