The American Family Association recently attempted to place a full
page ad in USA Today protesting a CBS decision to bring raunchy radio
shock jock Howard Stern to network television.
Of course, we live in a free society, and I would no more attempt to
force USA Today to accept an ad than I would agree to accept all ad copy
in WorldNetDaily. Yet, USA Today's decision, and an increasing number
like them, deserve comment and criticism.
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Advocacy ads play an important role in a free society -- an
especially important role as U.S. mega-corporations such as Gannett,
swallow up the few remaining independent daily newspaper voices. When
newspapers reject ads representing responsible viewpoints, they do so at
great peril to our free and open national discourse.
A few years ago, before the Internet caught fire, my organization was
forced to take out full-page newspaper ads to tell the American people
about news stories being spiked by the government-media complex. While
most of those ads were accepted by papers such as The New York Times,
Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, a few (the Sacramento Bee and
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, come to mind) flat out rejected them. Others,
such as the Washington Post, required so much documentation as to the
veracity of the reports that I wondered why the paper's own news stories
were so frequently wrong.
Our ads caught the attention of the American people and, according to
the White House anyway, were responsible for elevating the Clinton
scandals to national prominence as far back as 1994. Imagine what
today's poll numbers would look like had it not been for a few intrepid
reporters, braving audits, smear campaigns and worse, shining lights in
the dark corners of this administration years ago. We wouldn't be
talking about impeachment or resignation, we'd be talking about a third
What's so controversial about the AFA ad? Why would USA Today refuse
to accept full payment for an ad that is neither irresponsible nor
libelous? Why does a paper that claims it is open to all viewpoints and
unbiased in its news coverage systematically exclude from its pages even
the paid opinions of a group that represents millions of Americans?
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You can see the ad for yourself on the organization's Website. The ad
attempts to predict what Stern could be expected to pull on a network
show: "Howard fondles a woman with new breast implants and watches a
stripper do her thing. Robin tells about a dream in which she performs
oral sex on Howard, and then he fantasizes about cutting off a woman's
arms during sex. After spanking a naked porno star, Howard has two women
on the show who can make noises with their genitals, and then discusses
how women can enjoy anal sex. A guest lights his genitals on fire. A
porn star describes how she had sex with 300 men for a single film.
Howard hold the finals of the World's Smallest Penis Contest, and later
interviews a guest who describes having sex with a dead body."
Too far out? Think again. Each one of these perverse antics has
already happened on Stern's live radio broadcasts
As a former corporate daily newspaper editor-in-chief myself, I think
the ad is provocative, as any advocacy ad should be, yet responsible. It
raises good questions not being raised in the news columns of USA Today.
You would think the paper would welcome the chance to stir some
controversy and get paid for it at the same time. After all, this is the
paper that regularly publishes diatribes by the likes of Julianne
Malveaux, gave a forum to the rantings of Camille Cosby and has run some
pretty far out screeds by its own news staff.
Is USA Today afraid to offend Howard Stern? The paper shouldn't
worry. He's a man incapable of shame or embarrassment. Or is CBS the
sacred cow? After all, the network is a much bigger advertiser year in
and year out than the American Family Association could ever hope to be.
More likely, the corporate suits at USA Today just don't like
Tupelo-based American Family Association. They'd like them to just go
away. They see them as hayseeds, troublemakers and, ironically, censors.
Well, look who's censoring whom?