Partisan Politics in CBS\’ Advertising Policies

February 19, 2004 at 8:57 pm
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Hey folks,

Thought I’d share an e-mail I just sent to the local and national offices of CBS after finding out that, under pressure, CBS has reversed its decision and will begin running the Bush administration’s controversial (and misleading) Medicare ads.

As is often the case, I first heard about this outrage through the Progress Report. Quality stuff, made fresh daily. If you’re not already signed up, I’d encourage you to do so.

— Lee

Partisan Politics in CBS’ Advertising Policies

As disapointed as I was when CBS caved into pressure from the right wing and other Reagan apologists and pulled “The Reagans” miniseries*; as outraged as I was (as an active member of MoveOn.Org) by the refusal to air “Child’s Play,” deeming it a spot that ran counter to CBS’ stated policy against airing ads that contain an “advocacy of viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance;” as shocked as I was to then see that CBS was airing the completely misleading and partisan Medicare prescription drug law ads… I finally thought there was some hope for fairness when CBS pulled that ad while awaiting a full General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation.

The GAO investigating an ad? Why on Earth would that be necessary? It’s simple: It’s trying to determine whether the ad is an improper and illegal expenditure of taxpayer monies for political purposes. It is. We, the taxpayers — a group of which you, dear reader, are a fellow member — paid for this ad. An ad that was, coincidentally no doubt, produced by Bush’s own campaign media firm. Guess what? They also do ads for the drug industry, which stands to benefit tremendously from this new Medicare law. They should — after all, they helped write it.

That hope for fairness has evaporated now that CBS has announced that it will lift its restriction on the inacurate and partisan election-year Medicare ads and allow them to run. Until this decision is reversed, or CBS’ airwaves opened up to a full and fair public debate, my family and I will avoid all CBS stations.

Shame on you, CBS.

Lee Thompson

* PS: Here’s an excerpt from an interesting article on CBS’ handling of “The Reagans” by the Columbia Journalism Review. I encourage you to read it in its entirety at

CBS made three mistakes in its handling of “The Reagans”:

Its first mistake was to produce an entertainment series that focused on President Reagan’s personal life while he is suffering from serious illness and being cared for by his wife. That’s called bad taste.

Its second mistake was to succumb to outside pressure by abruptly canceling the series and putting it on Showtime, its more restricted cable network. That’s called setting a terrible precedent.

CBS’s third mistake was to deny that it had caved in to outside pressure and claim it was a “moral call.” That’s called misleading.

By canceling “The Reagans,” CBS set a dangerous example for dealing with the pressures that invariably arise to kill controversial programs before they can be seen. The network’s weakness will only encourage future protesters from the left and right to demand that programs they don’t like be pulled. Such programs, especially news documentaries on tough issues, are already network television’s most endangered species. If “The Reagans” had not been a drama but a legitimate CBS News documentary, would CBS still have canceled it? Instead of running for cover and fobbing off “The Reagans” on Showtime, CBS should have run it, made television time available to give critics and supporters their say, and let the people decide for themselves.

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