This debate is taken from Communication Research and Theory Network
CRTNET Digest – 29 Jan 2004 to 2 Feb 2004 (#2004-17)
Date: Mon, 2 Feb 2004 12:35:22 -0500
From: Crtnet News
Subject: Disc: MoveOn #7950
Communication Research and Theory Network a service of the National Communication Association
CBS censorship (Irene Grau)
MoveOn politics (Sean Johnson Andrews)
Of interest #7941 (Emilie Falc)
Re: #7941 reply/question to Oehlke (Jin Brown)
Re: Of interest #7941 (Hugh Munro)
Re: Of interest #7941 (Sheilah McIntosh Coffey)
Move-on Ad (Maurice Charland)
RE: Of interest #7939 (Paul A. Pilger)
From: Irene Grau firstname.lastname@example.org
As one who has been following this event, Moveon.org (not .com) did not make any “rhetorical choice” to support and promote so-called hate filled spots. It made a choice to open up to individuals the opportunity to speak their minds, to demonstrate their creativity, and to allow others the opportunity to vote for their favorite ads. The rhetorical choice” made was to stand by their commitment to a democratic process and the American principle of freedom of expression. The hate filled ads that Paul mentions did not win, did not even make the final cut, and were promptly removed after the first round of voting. That they were inflammatory or in bad judgement is not the fault of Moveon.org. But just as folk are concerned about censorship on our “free” airwaves, Moveon.org would have been hypocritical not to give those particular ads the same chances of being seen and voted on as all the others.
As for Moveon.org’s actual rhetorical choices, co-founder Eli Parisi has done numerous interviews explaining their reasons for including the ad in the voting process AND apologizing for the offensive nature of the ad. It was not Moveon.org that made the ad, nor did they “promote” the ad; they merely gave it a fair public hearing along with all the other viewpoints and opinions. Is that not what we all want?
From: Sean Johnson Andrews email@example.com
For a “rhetscholar” Paul Oehlke seems to fairly uncritically accept what are only empty explanations for CBS rejecting this ad. It is evident what echo chamber he spends most of his time in when he thinks it completely logical to call an ad–submitted by an individual to MoveOn as part of this contest–making a comparison of Bush and Hitler “hate filled.” (the argument is only applicable when Bush is the person being compared, evidently http://www.fair.org/activism/hitler-ads.html) “Hate filled?” Only someone with an undying, passionate love for a political figure could claim that a fairly common, though usually irrational, logical leap employed all too often these days by a variety of agendas is “hate filled.” Is this an objective critical category? Shall we add it to our list of rhetorical tools: “slippery slope,” “bandwagon,” “hate-filled?” It seems like a difficult category to discern, but evidently if one employs such techniques it is understandable that they be disallowed from presenting their views in any forum where too many people might see it.
In our country at this moment, the concept of free speech seems to be only an empty rhetorical category. In this case, while Move On is at the center of a vast social movement, with a variety of views (yes, even if they aren’t all “conservative” or “republican” there are still differences among them) being represented and real public support evidenced by the primaries they’ve held, the variety of ads that came in for this contest, FOXNews and others in our punditocracy, have the platform to give a partial view of their activities. This platform is so able to present conjecture as fact that Oehlke feels justified in making a statement such as, “Indeed, Moveon.com’s inflammatory rhetorical choices made the CBS decision a ‘no-brainer.'” Of course MoveOn didn’t make the inflammatory rhetorical choices: a person who submitted an ad–which wouldn’t have won the contest anyway–to MoveOn for this contest made the rhetorical choic es; Move On, in the spirit of free speech, allowed the entry into the contest, evidently able to make a more courageous constitutional coice than CBS–even if they did remove it almost as soon as they got pressure from said echo chamber.
But I digress…In this case, saying that the deficit is a partisan issue–or that pointing out that our children will be paying for it is “inflammatory rhetoric”–is ridiculous. It’s almost $500 billion! Bush is supposed to be from the party that believes in fiscal responsibility; there are many Republicans that are angry about this as well. In the CBS response, they say that they will only air ads “based on how they believe such decisions serve the public interest in their communities.” How, please tell me, is an ad pointing out that there is a deficit not in the “public interest?” (And don’t ask the FCC chairman; he’s still waiting for the “Angel of the public interest” to visit him in sleep.)
The fact of the matter is that what has actually happened is that news/opinion programs aired on the television programs of some large corporations have taken it upon themselves, from their broadcast platforms of free speech, to present a cultural image of Move On as an “inflammatory” group. Another network, which, logically, rationally, “no problem here” owns all the rights and makes all the decisions about which ads get aired during one of the biggest television events of the year, now has to deal–not with the group itself, the people who support it, or its many activities over the past six years–but with a cultural image presented by these other news/opinion programs (and their tributaries in print, internet and the scores of evidently unemployed bloggers). It is ludicrus to propose that it is MoveOn’s fault that they (and their thousands of supportive citizens) are being shut out of the (formerly) publically owned airw aves where free speech happens simply because they allowed someone else to speak freely by entering a controversial ad into a contest which bunch of dittoheads decided was “inflammatory rhetoric.”
The irony is that this argument is basically saying that MoveOn got in “trouble” for letting a controversial ad on it’s site (i.e. allowing free speech in its own forum) and so we should understand if CBS doesn’t want to be tainted by accepting (uncontroversial) ads from them because then CBS could get in “trouble” if it allows free speech from them (i.e. not because of what they are saying, but because of who they are) in it’s forum–and, as we know, CBS has already been in “trouble” this year for its slanderous (or blasphemous, as the case may be) representation of Ronald Reagan, so of course they want to stay out of “trouble:” it is, from a perspective that reifies private corporate interests, a “no-brainer.” Hence, the ESPN argument seems amazingly relevant–except that the controversial figure at least got a chance to test the waters, to speak his mind, and, in his case, even get paid money (as opposed to having to raise funds from sup porters) to do so. And if it weren’t for the time he had to spend in re-hab, he would have been right back on theair broadcasting that view–and let’s face it, if you don’t have access to broadcasting, you don’t make it into the public forum in America.
I suppose that the new argument (maybe even a new 1st amendment) is that we all have free speech until we say something controversial that might lose the corporate mouthpieces of our culture some money–or, in this case, a few football fans who happen to be blissfully unaware of the growing deficit (inflammatory rhetoric, partisan, not a public interest issue, mind you) and would be so incredibly angry to find out about it at half time that they would reject all football (and other Reality TV) aired on CBS. The real issue, I suppose, is that we are ultimately left with the unfortunately correct argument, “It’s up to the corporate execs at CBS who gets to say anything on their network.” As is blatently clear, there is no public right to the airwaves (unless, as CBS notes, you are a political candidate or someone supporting a political candidate–a category which, curiously, MoveOn doesn’t fit into): the airwaves are now the property of corporate executives and corporate advertisers. I guess if we don’t like the decisions they make, we’ll just have to vote for someone else when they are up for re-election. Oh wait…all we can do is try to organize a publically visible (via what medium?) boycott of all the other excellent programming on CBS and hope that has an effect. Everything through the free market of monopoly media, right? Ah! isn’t utopia wonderful!
From: Emilie Falc firstname.lastname@example.org
In response to concerns about CBS refusing to air the MoveOn.org ad, this interesting debate questions how some fundamental American values including freedom of speech and capitalism can co-exist. Many Americans believe that we are really free to express ourselves–but this example clearly demonstrates that no decision is made “for purely business reasons” (Paul Oehlke) and that consumers are getting a conservative political position served up with their TV programming. This is similar to the critique that Shopping Malls have become politically muted when they ban flyers and create privately owned space verses the public spaces (sidewalks, parks, etc.) that are available in downtown shopping areas which allow freedom of expression.
One of the risky aspects of freedom of speech is that if you allow it, as MoveOn.org did for their ad contest, you will get many different perspectives, including the “hate filled rhetoric” Paul Oehlke mentioned. However, in the MoveOn.org sponsored contest, the Bush/Hitler comparison ad was rejected, not supported by the voters. I am not aware of other “hate filled political events” (Paul Oehlke) from MoveOn.org. If there are examples, I’d be interested in knowing what counts as such, as I am concerned, along with many others, about what some call the tone of negativity in politics today. MoveOn’s mission is, on the other hand, positively stated on their website: “MoveOn is working to bring ordinary people back into politics. With a system that today revolves around big money and big media, most citizens are left out. When it becomes clear that our “representatives” don’t represent the public, the foundations of democracy are in peril. MoveOn is a catalyst for a new kind of grassroots involvement, supporting busy but concerned citizens in finding their political voice. Our nationwide network of more than 1,700,000 online activists is one of the most effective and responsive outlets for democratic participation available today.” (moveon.org/about)
I’m glad Paul Oehlke brought up reasoning in his last post. He wrote, “Like it or not, alcohol and athletics have been historically tightly connected.” His argument that ads for beer are appropriate for football is based on a reasoning fallacy, reasoning by tradition (see Sprague and Stewart). Correct me if I’m wrong, but just because it’s been that way mean that it’s right. I run across this type of reasoning fallacy often with my students. I use the example that just because there was a long tradition of slavery that fueled the economy of this country, it doesn’t mean that it was right. Does anyone have any other examples of the reasoning by tradition fallacy that might useful in class discussion of logic?
From: Jin Brown email@example.com
I have read many of the MoveOn postings and seriously question the labeling of any of their material as “hate filled.” Perhaps Professor Oehlke could offer an example of something that goes beyond bias and exemplifies “hate filled” rhetoric.
From: Hugh Munro firstname.lastname@example.org
In response to Paul Oehlke’s defense of CBS’ rejection of MoveOn’s spot criticizing Pres. Bush’s deficit spending on an imperialistic war, I find Oelke’s arguments … unmoving. CBS acting “for purely business reasons” reminds that in the U$A today, PR and advertising are still the world’s ‘second oldest professions’. And since when was alcohol consumption “non-controversial”? Tell that to the victims of drunken driving, and to the families destroyed by over-indulgence in booze.
From: Sheilah McIntosh Coffey email@example.com
The post by Paul Oehlke appeared to be ill-informed re MoveOn.com. The site did not sponsor hate filled messages about Bush by comparing him to Hitler. They ran a contest requesting ads that get the truth out about George W. Bush in 30 seconds. Yes, two of the ads submitted did compare Bush to Hitler(I’m told, I did not see either). The MoveOn subscribers voted (what a concept) on the winners and neither of the Bush/Hitler pieces won. I would not have known about them if it had not been for the misinformation the RNC had circulated and continues to be circulated.
This is not the first time the network has declined an ad because they deemed it too controversial. A few years back an ad for a large gay ministries wanted to run an ad during the Super Bowl but it was declined because it was deemed too controversial. I cannot remember the name of the church.
From: Maurice Charland firstname.lastname@example.org
I agree that CBS should be called to task for refusing to run the Move On ad. However, the issue is not one of free speech, certainly not in terms of the first amendment. The issue is about the manner in which private institutions manage manage their share of public airwaves. In my view, CBS has a responsibility to promote political debate rather than curtail it. While it also has the responsibility to ensure that what is aired conforms to general standards of good taste, it should recognize that democracy thrives on controversy.
The irony, of course, is that television networks are quite happy to offer fare that is in bad taste, that panders, and that is morally questionable, because these do not generate controversy.
From: Paul A. Pilger email@example.com
CBS seems to have an excellent policy regarding airing political ads during the Super Bowl.
While viewers of the Super Bowl watch for entertainment, they do tend to get a little ornery. While reports of increased domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday are anecdotal and not supported by any study, what is not needed during the airing of the SuperBowl is another reason for viewers to get in each other’s face. I am a Republican, and will be the only Republican at a Super Bowl party of 20 devout to rabid Democrats. I am happy that I will not have to bite my tongue during a Super Bowl party when I see a political ad with which I disagree. Better yet, I am happy that I will not further upset the guy whose team is losing by letting him know that, not only does his team stink, but I think his political ideas do too. Anyone concerned about the negative effects of drinking alcohol during a football game should be cautious about further agitating the situation, which political ads would certainly do.
And CBS is censoring nothing.
Censorship is an act of government restraint of free speech, not a corporate decision to decline to air a commercial that won a contest conducted by a political activist group, in this case a very well organized, well-funded, media savvy group. Just like every other political organization, MoveOn.org has many, high-ratings opportunities for airing their ad, and, just like every other political organization, one of those times is not during the Super Bowl. That’s always been CBS’s position and it’s their position now. CBS’s policy treats everyone equally, and censors no one.
That CBS is running an anti-drug ad produced by the government is not a contradiction or hypocritical; the Super Bowl is the best time to run an ad which is in the public interest –the interest of the entire public– and an anti-drug ad is exactly that. People can be irresponsible when they drink, yes, which is not a reason to stop running beer ads. But if CBS wants to stop running beer ads, they may. There is no constitutional free speech right to have an ad aired, as demonstrated by the lack of hue and cry over violating the free speech rights of tobacco companies which cannot run television ads.
The idea that this is not a partisan issue is laughable. Political organizations often run important issue ads in a few major markets (New York, Washington DC, or Los Angeles) with the hope that national broadcast and cable news media will air their ad as part of a “news” story about the ad. This is a very effective strategy for getting a wider audience for the ad without having to pay for it and was a big part of MoveOn.org’s goal in holding the contest: media attention, media reporting, and media hype, all free of charge.
While CNN has covered the MoveOn.org contest winner, CNN has not gotten back to me on whether or not they actually aired any part of the ad during their news story. (American Family Voices did this successfully with anti-Bush ads; see Dan Altman’s July 10, 2002 NYT story for general information about that “secretive group”).
Yes, MoveOn.org would pay for the ad-time if CBS would agree to air their ad during the Super Bowl, but the idea is that there’s more going on here than a group making an ad and wanting to run it. MoveOn.org knows the rules and knew that CBS would not run their ad. They have pulled-off the converse of someone asking, “How often do you beat your wife?” Without provocation, MoveOn.org has asked, in effect,
“Did you just ask me ‘How often do I beat my wife?’
Why, that’s outrageous! I cannot believe I’ve been treated this way!”
At the moment, MoveOn.org is quite happy about not being able to air their ad during the Super Bowl, and for three good reasons: first, they will save a tremendous amount of money by not running the ad (though they are certainly well funded); second, they will –free of charge–garner much attention from national news organizations under the ruse of
“controversy” and “censorship”; third, the canard that MoveOn.org is being censored will help energize their members a bit, echoing accusations from Democrat activists and politicians that “the voices of opposition are being kept down by this administration,” as if CBS is being pressured by the RNC and as if the White House enjoys disproportionately good press from CBS.
If the shoe were on the other political foot and “MoveOn.org” and “George W. Bush” were replaced with “Rush Limbaugh” and “Bill Clinton,” Democrats would roll their eyes in righteous indignation at the charge that CBS was censoring Limbaugh.
But MoveOn.org has gotten their wish: a lot of people are talking about an ad that won’t run which criticizes a White House that MoveOn.org asserts is trying to limit free-speech, and all at no cost. It hardly gets any better than this.
This debate is taken from Communication Research and Theory Network