Originally created 01/17/04

CBS rejects Super Bowl adds promoting vegetarianism, bashing Bush



LOS ANGELES -- CBS has rejected two Super Bowl advertisements touting vegetarianism and bashing President Bush because they violate its advocacy rules, the network said Friday.

The ad prepared by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asserts that meat-eating causes impotence, using two attractive women and an unlucky pizza deliveryman to make its point.

Meanwhile, the liberal online advocacy Web site MoveOn.org sought to place an ad that uses images of children working at adult jobs to criticize the federal budget deficit. The Super Bowl is traditionally the most-watched TV event of the year.

"We do not accept advertising on one side or the other of controversial public issues, partly because we don't think the debate ought to be controlled by people with deep pockets," said Martin Franks, CBS executive vice president.

CBS also covers these issues in a balanced way with its news department, Franks said.

The network's content decisions have been a hot topic since CBS canceled a miniseries about former President Reagan that conservatives said distorted his legacy.

Although MoveOn.org founder Wes Boyd said he had no evidence the ad was rejected because it was anti-Bush, "I worry that it's about ideology," he said.

Franks noted that CBS routinely rejects ads on both sides of controversial issues like abortion and gun control.

In a presidential election year, network airspace will soon be filled with pointed political messages. But CBS is required by law to accept ads for candidates and cannot change their message, Franks said.

PETA thought it had a winner with a commercial that used three winning components of advertising - sex, humor and animals, said Lisa Lange, the organization's spokeswoman.

Lange said CBS' policy is inconsistent, because she's seen ads condemning smoking and drunken driving on past Super Bowl telecasts.

"If you can find a respectable group that is for drug abuse or kids starting to smoke, then I would find that to be an intellectually rigorous argument," Franks said.

Some TV insiders believe organizations put forth ads they know will be rejected in the hope of attracting publicity, thereby attracting attention to their cause without having to pay for it.

But Boyd said his group had high hopes for placing its ad on the Feb. 1 Super Bowl broadcast. The ad will run on CNN starting the day of Bush's State of the Union message. The group said it had raised more than $875,000 from 21,000 donors to buy time for the ad, which won a contest among videographers.

"It seems to be there's a capricious approach as to what ads are taken and which are not," Boyd said.

Last year, MoveOn.org bought air time during the Super Bowl for an ad criticizing the buildup to the Iraq war with CBS' Washington affiliate, he said.

Similarly, after Fox rejected a pro-vegetarian Super Bowl ad two years ago, PETA bought air time for the same ad on Valentine's Day in five local markets, Lange said. One market, in Mobile, Ala., rejected it, she said.

"In a sense, everything is an advocacy ad," Lange said. "Every time you run a burger ad, you're advocating that people eat meat. And meat-eating is a controversial activity."