February 2, 2004

Students React to Commercial Controversy

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Beer and soda, but not vegetarianism. Anti-HIV and anti-drugs, but not anti-trillion dollar deficit. These were CBS’s editorial decisions for advertisements to be aired during the Super Bowl yesterday. The decisions have the affected organizations up in arms over issues central to the debate between editorial control and freedom of speech on public airwaves.

PETA, whose advertisement featured scantily clad women and the claim that meat may cause impotence, was rejected by CBS for touching upon “controversial issues of public importance” according to the PETA website. The broadcasting company also noted that the 30-second spot “raised significant taste concerns.”

PETA rebutted, saying that alcohol, anti-smoking, and fast-food chain advertisements were also advocacy pieces. In addition, PETA spokesperson Lisa Lange quipped, “We just want to show our jiggly women.”

Both PETA and MoveOn.org, whose “Bush in Thirty Seconds” spot was axed, questioned CBS’s sense of taste.

“The message of our ad is a simple statement of fact,” said Eli Pariser, campaign director of MoveOn.org. “Compare it with CBS’s controversial ads, like the violent 2001 Super Bowl ads, and [ours] hardly even registers on the controversy meter.”

Skeptics will have even more ammunition after Memphis-born pop star Justin Timberlake bared one of singer Janet Jackson’s breasts during the MTV/AOL sponsored half-time show. Many on campus, however, still feel that CBS was within their rights to bar advertisements they deemed inappropriate.

“I think CBS is clearly within their rights to make any editorial policy on advertisements,” said Matt Gewolb ’04. “It might not make any sense to us or we might disagree with it, but as a private corporation they are well within their legal rights.”

Clair Whittet ’04, president of the Cornell Coalition for Animal Defense, said in an e-mail to The Sun, that her feelings were more mixed on the issue. “On one hand, I think the CBS claim that they do not accept ‘advocacy advertising’ is untrue,” she said. “Supporting products is advocacy. CBS and all the other stations that we advocate that we all run out and buy beer, which isn’t particularly good for us, that we buy fast food, which definitely isn’t good for us.”

“Though PETA is a political group, they are trying to sell a product just as much as McDonalds or Budweiser is. They’re trying to sell memberships, or get people to donate,” she added. “I think that as long groups like PETA and MoveOn are willing to shell out the cash to play on the same field as big corporations selling their products during the Super Bowl, they should be given the same opportunity to do so.”

“From a more personal point of view, I’m not heartbroken that PETA didn’t get their ‘jiggly girls’ ad on TV. I think that if you’re going to advocate social awareness around an oppressed group of beings (animals), it is counter-productive to do that by further oppressing and objectifying another group (women),” Whittet said.

Paul Ibrahim ’06 said he felt the issue was fairly simple. “I think you need to respect CBS’ right to refuse running issue advocacy advertisements,” he said. “Republicans watch the Super Bowl, too, and the last thing CBS would want is to anger half of its audience on a day when ratings mean everything.”

“I almost wish that CBS decided to run the ad, however. The Super Bowl is a day when people from both the right and the left come together to drink and root for their teams,” he said. “A divisive ad can only backfire on the socialists of MoveOn.org. Even most democrats wouldn’t stomach these partisan attacks on a day where they come together with their fellow Americans to enjoy the game and forget about their troubles.”

Ibrahim also responded to charges that the White House-funded anti-drug spots were partisan. “It seems that only far-left loonies would complain about a federal initiative to protect kids from drugs,” he said. “They are so radical in their partisanship that they even attack the White House for doing something perceived as normal, or even necessary, by the vast majority of Americans.”

Archived article by Michael Morisy