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CBS Censorship At Super Bowl? Network Bars Progressive Ads

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    CBS refused to sell ad time to MoveOn and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals during the Super Bowl because the network claimed it did not accept advocacy advertising. Democracy Now! broadcasts the banned ad and a few others and hears from MoveOn’s campaign director.

    The New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers yesterday in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Millions of people around the country gathered to watch the game and see the halftime ads that feature some of the most expensive airtime of the year.

    But there were two ads that nobody got to see.

    CBS–which was broadcasting the Super Bowl–refused to sell ad time to two organizations: MoveOn and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals because the network claimed it did not accept advocacy advertising.

    MoveOn recently held a contest called “Bush in 30 Seconds” that asked for filmmakers to make a 30-second anti-Bush ad. More than 1100 videos were submitted. MoveOn planned to show the winning ad during the Super Bowl. PETA was planning to broadcast an ad that charged eating meat can cause impotence.

    The MoveOn winner was an 18-second piece called “Child’s Pay,” protesting the Bush administration’s creation of massive deficits while cutting taxes for the nation’s wealthiest people and institutions.

    More than 340,000 people filed complaints with CBS over the network’s decision not to run the ad. On Monday Senator Dick Durbin said the ban is “Exhibit A in the case against media concentration.” According to the publication, Broadcasting and Cable, Durbin charged that CBS was refusing to run an ad critical of Bush in return for the White House’s support for a higher media ownership cap that will allow CBS’s parent company Viacom to keep all of its stations. Durbin said “The CBS Eye has been closed to truth and to fairness.”

    • Eli Pariser, Campaign Director for the political action group,


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    AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now. For those watching on television around the country on Free Speech TV, channel 9415 of Dish Network or public access TV stations in the country, the music that our radio listeners were just listening to was actually the background of an ad that did not appear last night during the super bowl. It is an ad that was sponsored or created for a competition by the website Joining us to talk about it is Eli Pariser, co-founder of Welcome to Democracy Now.

    ELI PARISER: Thanks.

    AMY GOODMAN: For those who could not see this ad, describe what just played.

    ELI PARISER: It’s a very kind of emotionally resonant ad. It shows pictures of very young children doing hard work. They’re working in a factory assembly line, they’re vacuuming in a hotel hallway. The only words in the ad come almost at the end you don’t really know what’s going on. They say, guess who’s going to pay off President Bush’s $1 trillion deficit. Then it just cuts to another kid working at a supermarket checkout counter. So, I think one of the wonderful things about this ad is that it makes an issue, which is a very dry issue, the deficit, very compelling in an emotional kind of way.

    AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this contest, Bush and 30 seconds, that you held, and what happened last night, why CBS refused to air this ad? Were you actually going to be able to pay for it. The ads were more than $2 million a spot.

    ELI PARISER: Well actually, we were offered the chance to run it for $1.6 million. We were going to pay for it. We actually raised $900,000 from our members in a day before we had to turn it off, because CBS was saying, no, we won’t run this ad. Let me back up a little bit and talk about the contest. Bush in 30 seconds was an attempt to get beyond sort of the same old stuff that you usually see on — in political advertising, and engage some new talent and thinking about, what’s wrong with President Bush’s policies. So, we allowed anyone to submit a 30-second ad. Over 1,000 came in, and then people went on our website and rated the ads. This ad, which is called Child’s Play, was the winner. And so, you know, it’s such a good ad. It speaks to an American issue right now. So, we thought — let’s take it to the super bowl. The super bowl is kind of the premier venue for advertising right now. And CBS said no. We won’t take it. We don’t take ads which talk about controversial issues. If, Pfizer, the drug company, runs an ad that says, we help people in need get the medicine they need, that’s acceptable. But if we were to run an ad that said, you know — Pfizer actually is backing this Medicare bill which will stop Seniors from getting the medicine they need, that wouldn’t be allowed under this — under this CBS policy. It’s a deeply problematic policy. We were very, very unhappy that CBS censored us.

    AMY GOODMAN: Monday last week, Senator Dick Durbin said that the ban, CBS’s not allowing you to air this ad, is, quote, exhibit A in the case against media concentration. According to the Publication, Broadcasting and Cable, Durbin charged that CBS was refusing to run an ad critical of Bush in return for the White House’s support for a higher media ownership cap that allows CBS’s parent company, Viacom, to keep all of its stations. Durbin says that the CBS eye has been closed to truth and fairness.

    ELI PARISER: I think what’s interesting about this issue is that it’s very clearly of concern not just to groups like ours, but groups across the political spectrum, because what it amounts to is the censorship of any political speech. It used to be that you could go out on your town main street and protest. Most town mainstreets are a mall and the security guards can kick you out if they don’t like what you are saying. That’s what we see on TV is one of the last remaining venues where you can talk about important issues is being closed down. As the number of media companies Get fewer and fewer. The opportunities to have a reasonable conversation get fewer.

    AMY GOODMAN: But not everyone, Eli, said no you to.

    ELI PARISER: Well, that’s true. We are running the ad on CNN, and we’re going to be running it nationally and then actually going to take it to the battleground states where the election will be won or lost, and make sure that voters there understand, you know, what’s going on with the deficit.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you going to be running some of the other ads?

    ELI PARISER: Yeah. We will. I mean, what’s wonderful about this contest is it has brought in an amazing variety of content and, you know, certainly, well running these ads. They’re creative. It’s totally unlike the usual stuff.

    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to another one which is called, What Are We Teaching Our Children. [advertisement]

    CHILD: If elected, I’ll lie about weapons of mass destruction. As a pretext to invade another country.

    CHILD: I’ll call myself an environmentalist and gut Clean Air standards.

    CHILD: Our allies will go from respecting us to hating us, and I don’t care.

    CHILD: I will leave no child behind, unless they can’t afford it.

    CHILD: I promise to keep you in a state of fear and anxiety, so you never question what you do.

    CHILD: And if you do we’ll call you unpatriotic.

    CHILD: Bring ’em on.

    AMY GOODMAN: And that ad said, What Are We Teaching Our Children? Just before the-bring 'em on. These ads are produced by Yesterday I was watching Chris Matthews' program, and he had Tucker Carlson on, the conservative pundit. When asked about the ad, and CBS not airing it, he said that is a crackpot leftwing website, didn’t have the money to air it anyway, just got a lot of news coverage, which is probably what you want, instead of being able to pay. So, that wasn’t the case. You were able to pay.

    ELI PARISER: No, I have to say for the record, we’re not a crackpot liberal organization, but I think this is what the right resorts to when it gets scared. This contest brought out new creativity and new ideas. That’s very scary, so they resort to calling any names.

    AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what is. We are talking to Eli Pariser, co-founder of this website that has mobilized millions. I think it has instilled a lot of fear in some people.

    ELI PARISER: It’s instilled fear in some people. But actually what we are about is bringing hope back into the political process. We have 1.8 million members across the country. We help them take action on the important issues going on right now using the internet.

    AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean to be a member?

    ELI PARISER: We can go on our website, and sign up. We take all comers. We don’t charge an entry fee. We are providing a service, to help people impact the laws and rules that run our lives.

    AMY GOODMAN: You started as an anti-war Internet activist. You can describe what you did and How moveon started?

    ELI PARISER: I started a website after September 11 which is calling on President Bush and other world leaders to think about the long-time consequences of their actions and engage in multilateral way against terrorism. I just did in this my livingroom. I was just out of college. In the next two weeks, half a million people came onto my Website and signed up. And so — then they started sending me these emails saying, okay, what do we do next? I was thinking, you know, you tell me. That’s how I got involved in all of this Moveon had been around a couple of years. We joined forces. Those people were sort of the nucleus of our — anti-Iraq constituency.

    AMY GOODMAN: And anti-Iraq war constituency?

    ELI PARISER: Right.

    AMY GOODMAN: Now, Eli Pariser, what is your relationship, Moveon’s relationship with Al Gore. He has given two major addresses and both were sponsored by

    ELI PARISER: Well, Mr. Gore actually just called us up and he said that he thought what we were doing was really important. It was engaging new people and doing it in a new way. He wanted to work with us. What he has been doing is growing into a Statesman about the issues that he cares about. Everytime he gives a speech, we were able to reach millions of people through the media and is talking about issues that are not addressed very much. He talked about Iraq and the Environment and Civil Liberties. Because of the stature, you’re able to break through what is a blackout of what is coverage on a lot of the issues, especially Civil Liberties and the Environment.

    AMY GOODMAN: Does the fact that he has endorsed Howard Dean mean that has endorsed it. It’s known that Dean is known for his internet creativity.

    ELI PARISER: We have not endorsed any of the candidates because we actually asked our members should we do it, and did a primary back in June, and the result was that no one got beyond the mark where we would endorse them. So, we are helping people connect with whatever campaign they wish to connect with.

    AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to go to another ad right now from your Bush in 30 Seconds contest. This one is called, Imagine.


    SPEAKER: Imagine a world where corporations, leaders are in power.

    SPEAKER: Have them rewrite laws to increase profit.

    SPEAKER: Imagine a world where corporations start wars.

    SPEAKER: To create increased demand for their products.

    SPEAKER: Imagine a world where the news media, owned by these corporations only tells the public what they want them to know.

    SPEAKER: Imagine a President who listens to his people. Unbelievable it should be.

    AMY GOODMAN: And that ad ends with the word, “Think.”

    AMY GOODMAN: Eli Pariser thanks for joining us. If people want to find out more about the website,

    ELI PARISER: Go to the website. If you want to see the ads, it’s Bush in 30 seconds.

    AMY GOODMAN: Quick comment on the controversy over ads that were chosen as fine finalists in the competition having pictures or suggestions of going back to the Third Reich and Hitler.

    ELI PARISER: Those weren’t the finalists. They were rated poorly. This whole thing was essentially R.N.C. spin attention to distract the ads that got attention. These were not ads that we would endorse. It’s the way the democratic process works. You have comments that are in poor taste and a lot of really genius. And our members sorted — sorted the good from the bad, and that’s what we expected would happen.

    AMY GOODMAN: Eli Pariser, co-founder of You thought the controversy was interesting, in that one of the people running for Senate in the last race was Max Cleland, who had lost three limbs in the battlefield in Vietnam. The ads that ran against him had him morphing into Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden.

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