CBS and Focus on the Family: Making Expensive Pro-Life Ads Together (While Laying Off Staff)

Amie Newman

Dana Goldstein's newest Daily Beast Column exposes the curious and comfortable relationship between CBS and Focus on the Family during the creation of the now famous Super Bowl ad. But while they were busy crafting the perfect multi-million dollar message together, Focus on the Family was laying off 75 staff members and cutting 200 more jobs?

In yet another layer to the Super Bowl ad story, Dana Goldstein notes today in her Daily Beast column, "The Making of CBS’ Pro-Life Ad", that CBS has been "working closely" with Focus on the Family on the $2.5 million, :30 spot’s script.

Goldstein spoke with Gary Schneeberger, spokesperson for Focus on the Family, who told her:

"There were discussions about the specific wording of the spot," said
Gary Schneeberger, spokesperson for Focus on the Family. "And we came
to a compromise. To an agreement." Schneeberger declined to comment on
exactly how CBS changed the ad’s message.

The ad, after having been reworked by CBS in conjunction with an intermediary who happens to be the former Senior VP for Focus on the Family,  Steve Maegdlin who now runs his own consulting firm, will reflect the influence of television executives, clearly concerned with creating a palatable message for Super Bowl viewers. The tag line now, will be "Celebrate family, celebrate life."

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And while Maegdlin told Goldstein that CBS did not offer "special treatment" to Focus on the Family, Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization of Women, called the partnership "appalling." CBS has repeatedly stated that it has changed its policy to allow
advocacy advertising, but many women’s health and rights advocates aren’t
buying it. Considering CBS has turned down a host of progressive
advertising spots over the last couple of years, this extremely cooperative relationship with Focus on the Family seems questionable. 

There is another interesting spark here. As I wrote yesterday, Focus on the Family is a multi-million dollar media empire. This is their raison d’etre – they exist to spread an extremist, conservative, anti-woman, anti-gay message. No more. No less. They do not provide direct care or services. However, Goldstein writes in her article that Super Bowl ads are sometimes purchased a year prior and that CBS executives had been working closely with Focus on the Family on this ad for months.  

Does this mean, as Jessica Arons pointed out in a comment on yesterday’s post, that while Focus on the Family was busy laying off 75 of their workers last year and eliminating 200 positions, they were funneling their money into a :30 second Super Bowl ad? Their layoffs and cuts happened in September of 2009 – it seems likely that they paid CBS with one hand to persuade American women that they know what’s best for us while laying off a chunk of their workforce with the other. According to MSNBC last year, Focus on the Family’s trusty spokesperson said (the same one who talked about how hunky dory the CBS partnership has been – the one where they paid almost $3 million for a :30 sec spot?):

"The cutbacks are necessary because projections show the group will fall
5 percent short of a $138 million budget for the fiscal year ending
this month, Schneeberger said."

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