Yes, a malfunction occurred — but it wasn’t the wardrobe

A strange convergence between national politics and CBS's coverage of the Super Bowl confronted New Mexicans last Sunday.

As our state approached its first Democratic caucus, in which most candidates decried the tightening noose of the USA PATRIOT ACT, unexpected and jarring issues of free speech and free expression appeared and didn't appear on our TV screens.

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's bodice ripper MTV half time show was, indeed, something of a shock to old fogies in the audience. But that sin of commission was charmingly stupid compared to the ominous sin of omission that made many Americans want to boycott CBS altogether.

CBS's refusal to run a 30 second ad about President Bush's mounting budget deficit from the grassroots organization MoveOn.org remote link left a shadow of hypocrisy on our TV screens that infuriated those who hold the First Amendment dear. And the double dealing this omission implies might well foreshadow a dismal election season of dirty tricks and sordid bullying.

MoveOn was willing to pay CBS what every advertiser pays for an ad of that length on Super Sunday — $1.6 million. With the vast sums of money it takes to run for office these days, all corporate free speech advocates who oppose campaign finance reform aggressively equate money with speech.

But MoveOn, a “progressive” opponent of the Bush administration, can't even pay good money for airtime on politically biased CBS.

And here's the hypocrisy. It's OK for a media giant to block the “money-talks” free speech of a political opponent, if it can get away with it by hiding behind a massive over-reaction to an almost comic on-stage slip-up that bared an under-covering over Janet Jackson's right breast. What is going on here?

No longer is free speech mainly for the rich. You'd think, what a relief. But no. If you disagree with the current power structure, you can have all the money in the world and still not say your piece in prime time.

But if you're selling sex pills on TV that bulge the coffers of moneybag pharmaceutical companies who contribute big bucks to the status quo in office, you can imply virtually anything you want. And I'm not talking about Janet Jackson's anatomy.

It's the same kind of hypocrisy that looks the other way when big publishers make millions on outrageous books that call liberals and democrats traitors, or even “the enemy within,” like Michael Savage has just done in his new book. And in the same breath give nodding approval to those who condemn dissent against the current President's policies as “hate speech.”

You have to wonder. Are these the kind of mind games that finally undermine a free society? I think they are. When the powers that be purposefully confuse dissent with disloyalty and libelous accusations with money-making free speech, you know the country you love is in deep moral and political trouble.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
February 3, 2004