- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

Looking straight into the camera, the well-dressed woman in the political ad seems ready for a fight. Her adversary: Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
"He's the most anti-abortion governor in America," she is saying on CNN, "and supports a constitutional amendment that would take away our right to choose."
The ad, part of a $2.5 million campaign paid for by Planned Parenthood and airing until the Republican National Convention ends tomorrow, is also running on cable TV channels popular with women, such as Lifetime, E! and A&E.;
Even though founder Ted Turner has contributed millions to Planned Parenthood through the Turner Foundation, CNN says it accepts advocacy ads on a case-by-case basis and that a pro-life advertisement would be given the same consideration as any other issue-related ad.
However, no ads opposing abortion have been spotted lately on the Atlanta-based network. That's because networks are becoming increasingly selective about what types of ads and programs reach their viewers. Instead of a marketplace of ideas, some say television is now an oligarchy, where a few network executives determine which views get airtime.
In 1999 alone, NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox networks and some major newspapers rejected numerous commercials advocating "controversial" social issues. For instance:
In February, radio and television stations in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area rejected advertisements for Focus on the Family's "Love Won Out" conference aimed at persuading homosexuals to abandon that lifestyle with the help of a Christian faith.
In May, three District of Columbia television stations turned down several 60-second "coming out of homosexuality" ads. A coalition of 18 conservative groups would have paid the stations $250,000 for the ads as part of their "Truth in Love" campaign. But the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) pressured local CBS, Fox and ABC affiliates to reject the ads. Only the UPN affiliate, WDCA Channel 20, ran them.
WDCA is also the lone Washington-area station airing "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger's new television show, premiering in September. GLAAD and activists with the Web site www.StopDrLaura.com have pressured so many advertisers to pull away from the show and her radio program that last week she asked her listeners to support those sponsors who remain.
"We are hoping that her large radio listenership will come to television and improve ratings," Channel 20 spokeswoman Lisa Weir said. "She is very opinionated, but I don't know if it is hateful. She has a sharp tongue and says what's on her mind."
As for social-issue related advertisements, "If the representations in the ad are correct and they are not advocating hate or violence, then it will normally be aired," she said.
In June, the Public Education Project (PEP) tried to run an advertisement in New York promoting abortion rights, but its voice was swiftly rejected by all four major network affiliates. The rejected commercial depicted a trendy young woman trailed by three men reminiscent of the suit-wearing clones in the movie "The Matrix."
After the men confiscated her remote, chose her soda for her, and forced her to don a frumpy maternity dress instead of the beaded shirt she preferred, a female voice-over asks, "You wouldn't want some old guys in Washington making choices for you. Then why are you letting them make the most important choice of all?"
In July, the Christian Coalition of Florida's advertisement against partial-birth abortion was rejected by several of the state's major newspapers. The ad depicts medical drawings showing the stages of a partial-birth abortion, with the headline: "Help rescue those being led away to death! Supreme Court overturns partial-birth abortion ban."
Coalition spokeswoman Carolyn Kunkle said she was told the Orlando Sentinel found the ad "too graphic and too controversial."
"But the news business is in the business of controversy," she said. "This was simply a lack of backbone and cowardice on their part. This only further proves the existence of a liberal media bias."
Abortion opponents are irked when a group such as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League gets to air TV spots criticizing Mr. Bush's pro-life position. Laura Echevarria, director of public relations for the National Right to Life Committee, said that organization plans to start work soon on an ad campaign calling for a ban on partial-birth abortions. But, she said, they do not expect media outlets to welcome the ads.
"We have a long-standing history of difficulty in getting our message out through advertising," she said. "Our stuff is scrutinized far more heavily than, say, Planned Parenthood."
In 1997, USA Today rejected National Right To Life Committee ads featuring line drawings of partial-birth abortions, and only a few smaller, television stations accepted ads describing or giving statistics about the procedure.
"The reason we don't do as many TV ads is because you produce the ad and spend $100,000 developing it, and then you can't get them aired anywhere." Miss Echevarria said. "I think a lot of it has to do with the personal feelings of the people selecting the ads."
According to a 1997 national survey by Global Strategy Group Inc. on media choices, 64 percent of Americans get their news from television, while 27 percent get it from newspapers. So, if the issues don't make it to the airwaves and newsstands, 91 percent of Americans remain uninformed unless they resort to Web sites.
Some say media providers are filtering out informative advertisements just when these issues become controversial during an election year. "The media is doing the American public a disservice by only showing one side of the story," said Julie Neils, spokeswoman for Focus on the Family.
"The cultural mantra of tolerance and diversity is completely ignored when it comes to another viewpoint."
Harvey Dzodin, ABC's vice president of commercial standards, says the network does not discuss controversial issues of public importance in ads or public-service announcements. Nevertheless ABC and CBS did air "Life: What a beautiful choice" ads sponsored by the DeMoss Foundation.
ABC executive Julie Hoover explained the network only accepts issue ads that are very general in nature. ABC deems an issue controversial if it is national in scope, on the public agenda (in legislation or pending court action), or if activist groups are speaking out about it, she said.
"If it is a controversial issue of public importance, it will be discussed on our news programs," she said. "What we don't want are the people with deep pockets controlling what we see."
But just after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision allowing the Boy Scouts to bar homosexual scoutmasters last month, www.ABCNews.com abruptly canceled its invitation to Robert Knight, director of cultural studies with the Family Research Council, to appear on the Thursday, July 13, edition of the daily Sam Donaldson Internet program.
The station had invited Mr. Knight to debate Evan Wolfson, the attorney for the homosexual scoutmaster who brought the case to the Supreme Court.
"The limo was out front of the FRC when we got a call from the studio canceling my participation because Wolfson refused to go on with me, and insisted they have James Dale [the dismissed homosexual scoutmaster] on instead of me and ABC complied," Mr. Knight said.
Journalists are rewarded by some activist groups for paying attention to their issues. GLAAD, for instance, honors journalists and media outlets for positively portraying homosexuality.
For instance, Washington Post ombudsman E.R. Shipp appeared among the special guests at this year's GLAAD media awards ceremony May 13 in the District. JoAnn Wypijewski, a writer for Harper's magazine, and Providence (R.I.) Journal reporter Julie Goodman also got awards.
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said it would be inaccurate to say that people are violating standard ethical norms by accepting these awards, because there are not any established ethical norms for the field.
"It's a fairly common practice," he said. "But I do think that there is a risk that if you accept an award from the people you cover it makes you more vulnerable to conflicts of interest."

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