In 2004, the United Church of Christ produced a television commercial promoting its inclusive approach to organized faith. The ad showed two nightclub-style bouncers guarding the rope line of a church as they denied entry to a gay male couple, several people of color, and a man in a wheelchair. By contrast, a white family of four had no problems getting through.
"Jesus didn't turn people away" was the ad's tagline, but CBS did, turning down the commercial which was intended for broadcast during that year's Super Bowl. The 30-second spot apparently violated the network's policy of "prohibiting advocacy ads, even ones that carry an 'implicit' endorsement for a side in a public debate."
Now, six years later, CBS has agreed to run an ad by the notoriously anti-reproductive rights, anti-gay organization Focus on the Family, featuring college football star and anti-choice crusader Tim Tebow.
The network's blatantly hypocritical decision has sparked intense controversy and brought new light to the shadowy world of corporate media policy governing political or issue-advocacy commercials.
These cable and broadcast outlets seem to make the argument that only certain entities can make certain political arguments against certain figures on certain issues during certain programs. It's difficult to follow -- and perhaps that is the point. Lack of specificity provides ample wiggle room.
We do, however, know for sure that these major networks don't respond well to criticism in the form of advertising. Last year alone, CNN rejected at least two commercials critical of its own network brass and Lou Dobbs, its former immigrant-bashing host.
Then, of course, there was Glenn Beck, who last year cost his network, Fox News, at least 80 advertisers after he called President Obama a "racist." Consequently, after filling the newly available ad time with commercials more commonly seen during a 2 a.m. rerun of Golden Girls, the conservative network was forced to respond to controversy surrounding Beck's promotion of gold investments on his program while he was also serving as a spokesman for gold investment companies that advertised during his broadcasts.
The murky subject of who can and cannot advertise could be further complicated by a recent Supreme Court decision on corporate political speech.
Karl Frisch is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog and research and information center based in Washington, D.C. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, or sign up to receive his columns by email.