In Theory:

Discrimination or business?

February 06, 2010

The Super Bowl is this weekend. But the game won’t be played without a bit of controversy. CBS has rejected an ad from a gay dating website. While entirely commercial in nature, CBS argues, the spot “is not within the network’s broadcast standards for Super Bowl Sunday.” While CBS has rejected other ads (one featuring a man named Lola), the folks behind the dating site say it is “straight-up discrimination.” What do you think? Is it discrimination? Do you believe the ad’s two gay characters had entirely to do with the rejection (maybe because an ad for a heterosexual site wouldn’t have been rejected)?

Is CBS’ decision on the proposed 2010 Super Bowl advertisement “straight-up discrimination” or something else?

As I understand the facts, until this Super Bowl, CBS had a policy against advocacy advertisements. For a prior Super Bowl, CBS declined to show a United Church of Christ advertisement that dealt with gay couples attending church. For this year’s Super Bowl, CBS modified its standard and is now allowing advocacy advertisements, if they meet CBS’ standards. Presumably, CBS changed its position as a result of economic circumstances.


Recently, CBS agreed to air during the Super Bowl the Tim Tebow pro-life advertisement, a decision that has created its own set of controversies. Following that, CBS rejected a advertisement, stating, “After reviewing the ad — which is entirely commercial in nature — our Standards and Practices department decided not to accept this particular spot.” Interestingly, CBS said it did not consider the advertisement an advocacy advertisement. It did say that it was open to work with on an alternative submission.

Given the facts, raising the question of discrimination is appropriate. However, this does not mean that actual discrimination took place.

What is CBS’ standard for Super Bowl advertisements, and did it apply that standard uniformly?

Was the content of the advertisement appropriate for the Super Bowl audience, both as to substance and quality?

Does CBS have a history of bias against a particular group?

Did CBS fear public reaction to airing the advertisement more than a claim of discrimination?

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