CBS collaborated with Focus on the Family on anti-choice Superbowl ad

I’m sure you’re well aware of the controversy over CBS’ decision to run an anti-choice during the Superbowl. After all, blogs are writing about it non-stop and women’s organizations from NOW to the Women’s Media Center are organizing against it. 

What you may not know, however, is that CBS has been working with Focus on the Family for months on creating the ad.

Dana Goldstein at The Daily Beast has the story:

“There were discussions about the specific wording of the spot,” said Gary Schneeberger, spokesperson for Focus on the Family. “And we came to a compromise. To an agreement.” Schneeberger declined to comment on exactly how CBS changed the ad’s message.

…”We’ve worked with [CBS] almost since the beginning,” Schneeberger added. “Our senior vice presidents talked to CBS executives throughout the process. It was a very cordial, very professional, fruitful relationship.”

CBS declined to comment on the details of its work with Focus on the Family on the Tebow ad, but said such cooperation is not unusual. Abortion rights advocates see it differently. If CBS did vet scripts for the ad, the cooperation is “appalling,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.

So not only is CBS running the ad, they’re helping anti-choicers refine their message and vet scripts?!  I wonder how many other of their advertisers get such personal attention.

Join the Conversation

  • theology_nerd

    I don’t quite understand why this is a negative thing (or why it’s even an issue.) Presumably, CBS was aware that an ad of this type could create some controversy and therefore decided to look at the script ahead of time and monitor the content. Now, you could argue that they should have offered the same services to the gay dating site and the UCC ad…but who’s to say that they didn’t (or that they wouldn’t in the future?)

  • Thomas

    My view is to take CBS entirely seriously and call their bluff. So next year, when GLAAD, NOW, the ACLU, NARAL, Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Fund and other cultural left orgs have an interest in issue ads for the Superbowl, they should just expect (that is, demand) that CBS will partner with them to get their ads produced and on the air. And if CBS doesn’t, they should report publicly on every step of the negotiations.

  • supremepizza

    Yeah, I agree. I think FOF would like people to think that CBS collaborated with them, but I what they call ‘collaboration’ is more likely just standard operating procedure. It sounds as if CBS shot down FOF’s 1st suggestion, FOF asked why, CBS told them, & FOF kept re-doing it until they got a thumbs up from CBS. This wasn’t some test where you only get one shot, CBS is in the ad business & its in their interests to work with people until an ad passes CBS’ standards.
    The only thing that bothers me is that CBS changed its policy on advocacy ads without telling anyone, but there’s still no smoking gun showing that this was some subversive attempt to undermine the pro-choice movement. IF we’re savvy we’ll have our own ad next year. In the last 2 years we’ve seen public sentiment move sharply pro-life for the 1st time in decades.

  • supremepizza

    Unfortunately, the networks rotate Super Bowl broadcasts, so CBS won’t broadcast for another 3 years. That said, I hope some org is savvy enough to try what you suggest. After all the hoopla this year, even if they weren’t successful they’d get a lot of free publicity.

  • callmesister

    I share theology_nerd’s confusion over why this collaboration is a negative thing, and I also don’t fully understand why the ad is causing such an uproar in the feminist community. I know this article was posted here yesterday and was labeled “anti-feminist”, but I think an objective reading of it is pretty illuminating:

  • Jrant

    I agree with theology_nerd. The impression I got from the news blurb is CBS wanted to soften the message, i.e. they prohibited “Abortion Stops A Beating Heart” type language and only allowed Tebow to describe her personal story. And I’m guessing this isn’t the only ad that CBS has “collaborated” on; with something as big as the Super Bowl (and considering CBS is STILL dealing with “wardrobe malfunction” fallout) they probably preview and edit EVERY ad. In fact, it would’ve been more surprising if they had just given Focus on the Family free reign to do whatever they wanted. If there was evidence that CBS was giving “ooh, here’s how you make the ad even more powerful” type advice, THAT would be news, but I don’t see any evidence of that.
    It’s troubling that CBS is allowing Focus on the Family to advertise while excluding other organizations. But it feels like the outrage and reaction is spiraling out of proportion to the problem.

  • Jessica

    Really? You think they offered to vet scripts and work with ManCrunch before they refused to accept their ad?

  • Marc

    Here’s a solution? Hate the ad? Tune out of the Super Bowl. Call it Black Out Sunday, or whatever you want, but you can listen to the game on the radio or the web. Hit CBS where it hurts, its pocketbook.
    CBS has more of a stake in the ratings than in being anti-choice. This will also serve as a lesson for all future networks that try to pull this shit.

  • Ubat

    I really don’t think CBS was willing to work with other ads considering how some were so easily dropped. I do think CBS is doing exactly what they want. Dropping ads that they think aren’t moral and personally supporting ads they strongly agree with. I wouldn’t be surprised if the only reason they’re working with FOTF is not for the comfort level of the audience, but to try and help make the ad a bit more convincing (I wanted to say brainwashing but that’s not quite the word I’m looking for either).

  • JLu

    The author of this article wants you to think that this is an advertisement for choice, when we all know it is definitely not about choice. All it is is an appropriation of the language of the pro-choice movement, without any nod to the irony of her actually having a choice. There’s some sort of belief in this article that there is an innocence to this commercial, that Tebow and his mother are simply just trying to tell a story. But we KNOW that’s not what the point of the commercial is and to pretend that there isn’t a terrible, hateful, completely anti-choice group behind this ad makes no sense.
    I think why people are so upset at CBS is that they have completely reversed policy without telling anyone and they decided this so long ago that they have been able to go round and round with FOF to get them to produce an ad that is anti-choice but that CBS still thinks will pass enough that they don’t have to take responsibility for the fact that they are finally allowing political ads during the Super Bowl. And the ad they are finally allowing is paid for by a group with a hateful track record (I know I am repeating but I feel like the money behind this commercial is not enough of the focus here – FOF hates gays, hates lesbians, hates feminists, hate evolution, hates lots of things under the guise of the Bible). Maybe they do this with beer companies and Go Daddy and we should be upset with that, too, but at least their policy for allowing misogynistic and overly-sexualized commercials has been firmly in place for decades now and isn’t a surprise.
    Let’s not forget that we are talking about the largest TV-viewing audience in America that they have handed over to FOF and to an anti-choice message. This is a big deal. Anytime FOF and the anti-choice movement feels like it has won a battle on such a major and public level, it is a big deal.

  • daveNYC

    The problem isn’t that they worked with Focus on the Family in order to get the ad made. It’s that they are making choices as to what ads they work to get put on air, and what ads they just say no to. If CBS had a department that worked with all comers to fit whatever message they were making into a package that CBS would air during the superbowl, then that’d be fine. The fact that they have pretty obviously chosen to not work to air messages from liberal/pro-choice/gay groups or companies is a problem.

  • supremepizza

    I don’t think CBS “offered” anything to FOF. I think FOF engaged CBS for comment & re-did the script until it passed CBS’ standards. FOF was persistent in getting feedback & had a lot of time to work with. I think Jrant’s description is pretty accurate of what happens. Everything in business is a negotiation.
    ManCrunch on the other hand had to overcome content objections & credit objections. And submitting it just 2 weeks ago I doubt that MC had either the interest, or certainly the time to re-do the ad. Moreover there’s no way they were willing to spend more than 7% of all their cash on 1 ad. It would’ve been the height of irresponsibility. This was just a savvy, if tried & true, strategy by MC to get free publicity. Happens every year.

  • katemoore

    Won’t do a thing. The set of people who care enough to do this is much, much smaller than the set of people who don’t care. That’s the problem with boycotts of major entities — it’s impossible to get anything close to enough participation for it to make an impact.

  • callmesister

    “Let’s not forget that we are talking about the largest TV-viewing audience in America that they have handed over to FOF and to an anti-choice message.”
    This is my exact point – the ad (as far as I understand it from reading the descriptions of it), gives the message of choice. Obviously we can’t ignore the group funding it, but this specific ad focuses on one woman’s decision (i.e. choice) to have her child. I think to say this is an anti-choice ad is to fundamentally misunderstand the message. It’s things like the current feminist response to this ad that make the feminist movement appear pro-abortion and not pro-choice. A true pro-choice individual would applaud and support this woman for making what was likely the most difficult decision she ever had to make.

  • JLu

    I just think we have to agree to disagree about this.
    “I think to say this is an anti-choice ad is to fundamentally misunderstand the message.”
    I think buying into this appropriated language is to miss the message. FOF and the Tebow family both are clearly anti-choice – that is not up for debate based on their public declarations. FOF is specifically using the language to choice to effectively package their anti-choice message. They don’t want us to believe that choice is necessary and important for women. They want us to believe that a woman has an abortion (i.e. that she doesn’t chose life), her heisman-winning, football star of a son may never be born.
    And it co-opting the language of choice works. Not only does it blind people to the fact that they aren’t talking about any kind of choice, but by making it appear that they are, it then allows them to say that to their critics, namely the “current feminist response”, are “pro-abortion and not pro-choice.” In fact, the ultimate, damning response to this whole thing is to then turn the tables on the feminist critics and state that they are way out of line because they just don’t get it: “A true pro-choice individual would applaud and support this woman for making what was likely the most difficult decision she ever had to make.”
    Of course I am thrilled that because she grew up in a country and was from a culture that had a feminist movement that pushed women to trust themselves and their bodies and to truly question the advice of doctors, she decided on her own what was best for her and her family and that is worked out for her. And on top of that, I am thrilled that she felt she had a choice and she was able to make that choice.
    But that doesn’t mean that I should see this as anything other than a plan by FOF to get their anti-choice message out there to a huge audience. Especially because if a group wanted to show the other side of choice, the one where a woman chooses an abortion, is glad that she did so, and goes on in life to have a heisman-winning, football-star of a son at a time in her life when it is right for her and her family, that message would NOT make it on air.

  • sophia b

    so..a company drops their ‘no political ads’ policy becuase of the recession (becuase they have fewer offeres for ads or something). Maybe they make this decision when they get an ad from a political organisation. But then they work with that organisation for a few months and never tell anyone in that time of their new policy? right…

  • Jrant

    “the current feminist response to this ad that make the feminist movement appear pro-abortion and not pro-choice.”
    Oh my goodness, yes. I’ve be struggling with how to express this idea succinctly. Thank you.
    Jenkins has no illusions about Focus on the Family’s political position; she absolutely knows the organization advocates legally preventing abortion. Jenkins is simply pointing out that NOW’s violent reaction to Tebow’s “I chose to have my baby” story gives the impression that NOW doesn’t view “I chose to have the baby” as a legitimate option. Yes, of course FotF’s goal is to end legal access to abortion, but “I chose to have the baby” isn’t an inherently anti-choice statement, and as long as the feminist response is “you shouldn’t be able to say that on television,” the opposition can frame the debate as “pro-baby vs pro-abortion.”
    I think you’re correct about co-opting the language of choice, Jessica, but I don’t think “you can’t say that” is the most effective response. Yes, the fact that CBS gave a platform to this group above all others is very problematic. But the debate isn’t forming as “feminists vs. CBS,” it’s forming as “feminists vs. Tebow.” Allowing ourselves to get baited into the “Tebow shouldn’t share her experiences” position significantly weakens our argument.

  • femme.

    Actually, Jessica is right. According to the owner of the site, ManCrunch did submit several appeals to CBS, offering to edit the content of their ad and asking what they can do to get it on the air for the SuperBowl. CBS ignored their appeals for collaboration or constructive criticism. So that means CBS avoided ManCrunch and assisted FOTF. This is a conscious, deliberate move and it is absolutely inexcusable.

  • cattrack2

    Is there any proof, or any basis for believing that CBS favors the pro-life position over the pro-choice message??? I’ve seen a lot of supposition, but I haven’t seen any evidence–ie, statements, policies, actions, history etc–suggesting CBS has decided to support pro-life messaging. All I’ve seen along these lines is pure conjecture, reading into CBS’ actions & change in policy whatever they want to believe about corporate America. In this it more than resembles a Rorschach test.
    It may be very well true that CBS–without any change in ownership or management–suddenly decided to push & support pro-life positions, but without any evidence its nothing more than an opinion. You might fault CBS for its poor execution in handling their change in policy on advocacy ads, but any other charge is just an unvalidated assertion.

  • JLu

    “”I chose to have the baby” isn’t an inherently anti-choice statement”
    No, without context, it isn’t anti-choice but the whole problem is that there is a specific context into which this specific statement fits this time. FOF is banking on people NOT talking about the context and not focusing attention on them and their political stances. Jenkins article is a perfect example of this. She props up this “pro-baby” vs “pro-abortion” positioning because she doesn’t question the overall context, just NOW’s response, which out of context makes them look like they are for only a single choice, abortion. She is rehashing exactly what FOF wants people to think in this debate: feminists look like they hate all babies, so here is an article where all I talk about is how much feminists look like they hate all babies.
    “and as long as the feminist response is “you shouldn’t be able to say that on television,” the opposition can frame the debate as “pro-baby vs pro-abortion.””
    And I am in complete agreement with the second part of this statement. I get that saying she shouldn’t be able to say that on TV moves the debate into an arena that pro-choice can’t win. It’s rhetorical genius on the part of the FOF. But what should the response be because just letting this slide as if it isn’t an affront to the pro-choice movement isn’t an option, at least not to me? How can we strengthen our argument in this case?

  • Jessica

    Just FYI, this is a different Jessica. (How weird, the system is not allowed to let folks sign up under the same commenting name as another person!) Jessica, to avoid confusion I’m going to change your username to JessicaL. If you want me to change to something else, please email me and let me know! Thx!

  • JLu

    CBS is supporting an anti-choice position by choosing to air a Focus on the Family ad. What evidence do you want? A signed affidavit of a CBS CEO admitting that they are blatantly anti-choice? What is the smoking gun in this case for you if it isn’t giving FOF, of all political organizations, air time during the most-watched program in America?
    I don’t think they are brainwashing us (I mean, I really, really, really hope they aren’t) and I don’t think that they are pushing an anti-choice agenda, but I do think by choosing to air this ad by a group whose history of anti-choice and hatred is obvious, they are taking a clear step toward the anti-choice side of this debate. Why doesn’t this commercial count as evidence?

  • Jrant

    Of course you’re right: in the larger context Tebow’s message, coming from Focus on the Family, IS meant to discourage women from having abortions as part of an anti-choice agenda. But I think feminists have to engage this situation on both levels: the “glad you had the freedom to make your own choice” level and the “what the hell, CBS” level. I think if we ignore the surface context, the “I chose to have a baby, isn’t that pro-choice?” message, then anti-choicers will have a lot of success casting pro-choicers as pro-abortion. Even if that’s the smaller of the two problems, I think we lose a lot by letting them define the terms.
    As far as “how do we strengthen our argument,” I think there’s a really great post on the community blog from RobinNWLC. I won’t waste space with gratuitous copy and pasting, but her message seems to boil down to “It’s awesome you got to make a choice. Now, I’ll assume you don’t want to deprive other women of the freedom to decide for themselves.” I think the poster does a good job of acknowledging, “ok keeping your baby is pro-choice” while maintaining a firm, “let’s not bullshit about this, don’t try to impose your agenda on the rest of us” line.

  • Jrant

    eh. There’s a significant difference between “OK we’ll take your money and let you run your ad” and “let us dedicate resources help you design a really effective ad.” Yes, providing tacit support to a cause by allowing them this kind of platform IS a serious problem, but Ubat’s suggestion that CBS is giving the Tebow ad preferential treatment above its other advertisers isn’t supported by what we know. I’m with cattrack on this.

  • lucierohan

    Does anyone else think it’s a *bit* juvenile to refer to the pro-life movement as the anti-choice movement? I’m not saying this because I care about hurting anyone’s feelings. I just think it opens a can of discourse-lowering worms to not allow the opposite side its PC title. I wouldn’t want them calling our side pro-abortion (I know some will say it’s because we’re NOT pro-abortion but, I mean, yeah we are, compared to the lifers). Besides, the debate is hot enough that everyone knows what each side, at least is a broad sense, stands for.
    Anyone feel me on this?

  • Liza

    I had wondered why it wasn’t gray.

  • adag87

    UCB Comedy has a fun parody ad up right now:

  • theology_nerd

    Absolutely. Believing that life starts before birth does not make a person “anti-choice” any more than believing that a woman should have the right to an abortion makes a person “anti-life”. It’s name-calling, pure and simple, and it’s just a meanspirited way of pigeon-holing people.

  • Auriane

    CBS – Crumbling dustBunnieS
    At least that’s what I always thought of whenever someone mentioned the network when I was a kid. As I grew older, I noticed my opinion of CBS never really changed. It always seemed to be the network of dottering old white dudes in unfashionable suits, and always reminded me of old dust right when the topic came up.
    Cable TV is often SO much better.

  • NellieBlyArmy

    Actually, I do call my side pro-abortion and their side anti-abortion. That’s what it is, that’s what it was originally called before this “pro-life” crap. “Pro-choice” was coined on the defensive in response to “pro-life.” I have no interest in playing their semantics game, so I stick with the original, accurate terms.
    And no, “pro-abortion” does not mean I advocate abortion in every case anymore than saying I’m “pro-cake” means I think people should eat nothing but cake for every meal. I have never met or read someone who claims that that’s what “pro-abortion” means who isn’t being deliberately obtuse.

  • lucierohan

    You’re right. I guess a more appropriate analogy would’ve been the pro-lifers calling pro-choicers “anti-life”. I actually use those titles (pro and anti abortion) too sometimes.
    Though I think the people who use the term “pro-abortion” most often are the ones trying to attack the pro-choice movement (in response to the last sentence of your comment).

  • NellieBlyArmy

    This was basically just triggered by this conversation, so if you read this and are all “Wha…?” the odds are good I’m not referring to you specifically. :)
    In regards to your original point – saying “anti-choice” is mean-spirited – I’m kind of torn. On the one hand, yes, we normally should respect the language chosen by a group and not use something pejorative. On the other hand, this particular group does that to us CONSTANTLY. As far as I can tell, it’s the anti-abortion side who always gets to pick the language. They come up with new, disingenuous rhetoric, we fall all over ourselves to let them have their way. They say “pro-life,” we say “Oh, okay. Well, um, we like choice? So there?” They say “partial birth abortion,” we say “But… Well, alright.” Maybe we SHOULD play by their rules. They made them.
    And they’re succeeding at it! They’re picking how our side frames the issue! I mean, now it’s to the point where people routinely say “Oh, I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion.” Look up-thread where people are afraid that someone might think we’re “pro-abortion instead of pro-choice,” like there’s actually a difference between the two. There’s just this vague sense that the word that bluntly acknowledges abortion is bad. The side that WANTS abortion now wants the word out of the debate! That can’t be good for the future of abortions.
    Because the pro-choice side is so busy being afraid of being called baby-killers, they now try really hard to distance themselves from the actual medical procedure and it often ends up coming out like “Abortions are horrible, awful things that no one should ever have to do. They’re terrible. If there’s any other option, no one should ever have one. But if women want them….” I say screw that. Good on safe abortions for existing. It’s fanTAStic that I can get one regardless of why. They give me options I wouldn’t have otherwise and make certain paths available that I may otherwise be denied access to. They’re fabulous. This is why I should probably never be the one vocally representing a pro-abortion group. :)
    So, to more directly address your actual original point, should we lower ourselves to their level and start saying things like “anti-choice”? I don’t know. Part of me says “Ew, no.” But the other part says “We have to take back part of the conversation some way, and at least ‘anti-choice’ is far more accurate than ‘anti-life’ or ‘baby killers’ or ‘irresponsible sluts,’ which I have heard them use frequently. Not to mention the obvious fiction that ‘pro-abortion’ means ‘every single fetus ever should be aborted.'” So I don’t know what we should do exactly, but I think re-embracing “pro-abortion” is a start. We have to be real participants in the cultural debate somehow, and this wishy-washy “oh let us wail to heavens that abortion is awful but we still want it?” thing isn’t working.