Fundamentalists Target 2 Advertisers in Latest TV Boycott
A coalition of fundamentalist Christian leaders headed by the Rev. Donald Wildmon is organizing a one-year boycott of the Mennen Co. and Clorox Corp. for sponsoring television programs that the group claims contain “high incidents of sex, violence, profanity and anti-Christian stereotyping.”
But, anticipating the call for a boycott of two major prime-time advertisers, NBC executives warned this weekend of a “new McCarthyism” threatening network television and asked advertisers to stand up and resist threats from special-interest groups.
And the two companies singled out for the boycott both said Monday that they have always held the programs they sponsor to strict standards. Both insisted they would continue to avoid advertising on programs that they believe are offensive, but neither said it would change its advertising policies because of this threat.
In calling for the boycott, Christian Leaders for Responsible Television (CLeaR-TV) said that it asked some 500 companies that regularly advertise on network television not to sponsor certain programs, including “Knots Landing” and “Midnight Caller,” during the May sweeps period from April 27 through May 24. The group said that both Clorox and Mennen ignored its requests, despite CLeaR-TV’s announcement that it would call for a boycott of what it determined to be television’s two “dirtiest” sponsors.
“We hope that concerned Americans will join us in this boycott and in our efforts to preserve the quality of life we enjoy in this country,” said Billy Melvin, who serves as chairman of CLeaR-TV, in a news release.
Melvin’s secretary said that the list of objectionable shows also includes “Miami Vice,” “Tour of Duty,” “A Man Called Hawk” and “Dream Street.”
A spokesman for Clorox said that the company has always had “very stringent standards” for the shows it sponsors and that all programs it buys time on are prescreened by the company’s advertising agencies to make sure the program meets those standards.
“We are routinely notified by our advertising agencies if the screening report indicates a reason for not buying time,” said Clorox spokesman Fred Reicker from company headquarters in Oakland. “In the case of the shows in question, there was no indication that the shows did not meet our standards.”
Reicker said that Clorox would continue to follow the same standards in the future.
“The Mennen Co. has a longstanding policy of prescreening programs and frequently declines to sponsor programs that do not meet its standards,” Mennen said in a statement. “However, it seems that opinions differ in our great country with regard to what is appropriate viewing.
“We do not believe the Mennen Co. should act as a censor for CLeaR-TV or for any other group. We will, however, continue to avoid programs that we believe are offensive, and not in keeping with character of our 100-plus-year-old business. We believe the viewing public will understand the position we are taking and if at times we err, it is because we are only human and opinions can differ.”
In the past, Wildmon, who founded CLeaR-TV as a fundamentalist watchdog group in 1986, has objected to such shows as “ALF,” “Growing Pains,” “thirtysomething” and “Mighty Mouse” cartoons. He has also led boycotts against “The Last Temptation of Christ” and last March he asked consumers to boycott Pepsi until the company dropped pop star Madonna as its spokesman. Pepsi subsequently stopped airing commercials featuring Madonna.
Wildmon’s office referred all calls Monday to Melvin’s secretary.
Award-winning television producer Barney Rosenzweig said that Wildmon and other watchdog groups have every right to call for a commercial boycott, but he said he is upset that the networks and advertisers in the past have been so susceptible to “the least bit of pressure.”
“People who make the product should have the courage of their own convictions and either cave in or not depending on how they feel,” said Rosenzweig, who was the executive producer of the often controversial “Cagney & Lacey.” “When the advertiser or the network say, ‘I think what we’re doing is great, but because four people in Mississippi don’t like it we’ll stop,’ that’s dangerous. Then you end up with people saying, ‘We don’t want any shows that deal with abortion, no shows that deal with (race relations). It’s absolutely up to the network to stand up to these pressure groups. They (the networks) are all making money.”
Over the weekend, Brandon Tartikoff, NBC entertainment president, told TV writers that he would not turn NBC into “the PG network” because of pressure from special interest watchdog groups. He did express concern however that advertisers have been too quick to cave in.
“What you become concerned about is a sort of new McCarthyism where certain parties are out there speaking for what I think is a minority viewpoint in terms of what is acceptable network fare,” Tartikoff said. “What I fear is that they won’t stop with just an occasional movie of the week or misguided episode of a particular series. The next day, they’re going to be in our back yard on ‘Cheers’ or ‘L.A. Law’ and some of the programming that you want to be adventuresome.”
NBC president Robert Wright told the assembled writers that he will ask the network’s sponsors “to stand up on your own and determine whether or not you’re being overly sensitive.” NBC shows on CLeaR-TV’s most recent hit list include “Midnight Caller” and the canceled “Miami Vice.”
People for the American Way, the organization founded by television producer Norman Lear and former Texas Rep. Barbara Jordon, was quick to denounce Wildmon and the proposed boycott. The organization called on the American public to ignore the group’s proposals.
“Wildmon poses as someone who represents mainstream America, and that is simply not true,” said Arthur Kropp, president of the organization. “He is someone who thinks ‘ALF’ promotes child sex.
“What they are trying to do is intimidate the network and the sponsors, but he is not representing what the majority of people want. He’s setting out to chill other people’s freedom of expression. They are the thought police arriving on the scene. My hope is that the American public will simply choose to forget about him and that these corporations will draw the line and not cave in to the intimidation of a few extremists.”