ABC's selective gospel

Though it claims to shun religious ads altogether, the network ran one from a right-wing group, while rejecting one from a progressive church.

Published May 5, 2005 10:08PM (EDT)

The right-wing religious group Focus on the Family capitalized on the exhausting household mayhem of Monday's season finale of "Supernanny," the ABC reality show, by airing ads for parenting products that are available on its Focus on Your Child Web site. The site offers some generic parenting pointers, but as MediaMatters points out, it also peddles some controversial methodology. There are audiotapes explaining "the rationale behind the use of corporal punishment and how to administer it with love." And there is founder James Dobson's book, the original 1970 version of which advised parents that "minor pain can ... provide excellent motivation for the child." (A new edition of the book was released in '96, but since the War Room library doesn't yet contain a copy, we're not sure if that particular advice carried over.)

Curiously, Monday's ad for such "parenting advice from a faith-based perspective" didn't prove too controversial for ABC -- even though last year the network allegedly refused to air a gay-friendly ad from the United Church of Christ, on the grounds that "the network doesn't take advertising from religious groups."

It's hard to see how ABC figured that Focus on the Family doesn't qualify as a religious group -- as DailyKos points out, the Focus mission statement reads, "To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in disseminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible, and, specifically, to accomplish that objective by helping to preserve traditional values and the institution of the family."

The ad from the United Church of Christ that ABC rejected used the slogan "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we" -- perhaps a message directed at the religious right as much as the general public. ABC appears to be saying that it turns away all people who would advertise their religious agenda -- but clearly the network only selectively practices what it preaches.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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