This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
For a lot of Super Bowl viewers, the game is just an excuse to watch the commercials – which often are more entertaining than the action on the field.
Advertisers spend millions of dollars to run ads during the Super Bowl, regularly one of the most-watched TV shows of the year. They gear up for months to present wacky plugs for everything from cars, beer and potato chips to soft drinks and job-search Web sites.
This year, however, one of the ads will tout something completely different: not having an abortion.
In a departure from the usual funny ads, CBS has accepted one from the conservative Focus on the Family organization that features former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother Pam. She has spoken in the past about how doctors in the Philippines recommended that she abort a troubled pregnancy, but that she decided not to. The baby survived, grew up and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy.
The implication seems to be: See why you shouldn’t have an abortion?
Although it’s unclear whether the abortion could have taken place anyway – it’s illegal in the Philippines, even to save the life of the mother – the unpreviewed ad sounds innocuous enough. But interest groups on the other end of the philosophical spectrum from Focus on the Family have gone ballistic, criticizing CBS for accepting what they call a “divisive” ad on a day when the country comes together to watch a sporting event.
Now that CBS has apparently relaxed its previous opposition to airing controversial advocacy ads, Focus on the Family’s critics are likely to come up with their own for next year’s game (this year’s commercial time is all sold). The pro-choice groups, for instance, could make their case for abortion rights. The gay and lesbian groups upset by Focus on the Family’s stance on homosexuality could advocate for their cause.
Accepting the Tebow ad puts CBS in a delicate position: If you accept one group’s advocacy ad, shouldn’t you also accept an ad espousing the opposite view? When the public airwaves are involved, after all, fairness does come into play.
CBS has opened what – unfortunately for Super Bowl fans – could be a flood of ads that aren’t much fun at all. For the network, that could mean reduced viewership. Someday we might look back on the 2010 Super Bowl as the year the fun went out of the big game and the commercials became yet another casualty of the culture wars.