An environmental action group founded by former vice president Al Gore is accusing ABC of censoring an advocacy ad the group paid to air on the network.
The Alliance for Climate Protection late Wednesday sent an e-mail blast to supporters with the ominous subject line, “ABC won’t air our ad.”
“Did you notice the ads after last night’s presidential debate? ABC had Chevron. CBS had Exxon. CNN had the coal lobby,” wrote Alliance CEO Cathy Zoi. “But you know what happened last week? ABC refused to run our Repower America ad — the ad that takes on this same oil and coal lobby.” The message sent readers to to a web page where they could send a form letter to the network.
The ad in question, which was aired by several other networks, is a 30-second spot that starts off with a call to “Repower America,” with images of a little girl, windmills and solar panels. Then music in the ad gets more intense, as the narrator’s voice asks, “So why are we still stuck on dirty and expensive energy?”
“Because Big Oil spends hundreds of millions of dollars to block clean energy,” it says. “Lobbyists, ads, even scandals, all to increase their profits, while America suffers.”
The Alliance had arranged to run the ad during the Sept. 26 airing of the news magazine 20/20, the same night of the first presidential debate. The group said it submitted the ad seven days before it was scheduled to run. According to representatives from the campaign, on Sept. 25 ABC sent an e-mail notifying them that the ad had been rejected. The network’s stated reason? The one frame of the ad showing the Capitol building violated the network’s guidelines.
“Per our Guidelines, national buildings may be used in advertising provided the depictions are incidental to the advertiser’s promotion of the product or service,” said the e-mail, which was provided to Grist by the Alliance. “Given the messages and themes of this commercial, the image of the Capital building is not incidental to this advertising. Please replace the image with one that is not of another national building or monument. Thank you.”
Alliance communications director Giselle Barry told Grist it should be clear that the image of the Capitol building is pertinent to an advertisement about the lobbying power the fossil fuels industry has in Washington, D.C.
Grist’s repeated requests for comment from ABC and Disney were not returned. Meanwhile, the Alliance said its letter-writing campaign had yielded more than 128,000 e-mails to the network within the first 24 hours of sending out their e-mail blast. The group is hoping that public pressure will convince the network to air the ad during tonight’s episode of 20/20.
“It’s the height of irony. [It’s] outrageous actually,” said Barry. “The reason why we put the email out yesterday is because the presidential debate coverage, not just on ABC but all of the networks, it was like ad after ad from oil and gas companies, Exxon, Chevron. It just makes no sense, it’s outrageous that they would air … ads about the benefits of fossil fuels, but not air our ad, which is the simple point of oil and coal companies spend millions of dollars on advertising.”
Barry said changing the ad would be expensive and time consuming, and they didn’t agree with the reasoning behind the request. “There’s just no reason,” said Barry.
Zoi sent a letter to Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney on behalf of the Alliance, protesting the decision.
“This advertisement simply points out that the massive spending by oil companies on advertising and lobbying is a primary reason our nation hasn’t switched to clean and renewable sources for our energy. The assertions that our ad makes are factual, common sense and are needed in the national debate about our energy future. Your viewers should not be denied the right to hear this point of view,” wrote Zoi.
“Your rejection is even more indefensible given the overwhelming number of misleading ads that the oil and coal industry have run on your network,” she continued. “This year alone, oil and coal companies and interests have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to convince the American people that they are focused on solving our energy and climate crises. On its face, these assertions by oil and coal defy all reason.”
Barry said the group did not receive a response from ABC. The “Repower America” ad ran on CBS, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, and MSNBC. ABC was the only one to reject the ad, according to the Alliance. The time spot purchased on ABC cost the group nearly $100,000, according to the Alliance. Instead of airing “Repower America,” ABC ran the group’s “Free Us” ad, which was already running on the network.
Here’s the ad that ABC rejected:
UPDATE: ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover talked to the Guardian about the ad: “All of our advertising is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and the context of this particular ad was determined not to be acceptable per our policy on controversial issue advertising.”