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Oh, for the simple days when beer-loving frogs sparked Super Bowl commercial controversy.
This year, politics is the prime between-downs blood sport – and Sarah Palin has inserted herself in the game.
CBS is getting flack from the National Organization for Women and other groups for agreeing to air what's expected to be an anti-abortion ad featuring college quarterback Tim Tebow’s mother talking about how she didn't heed doctors' advice to terminate her physically problematic pregnancy with him.
Enter Palin, who is slamming NOW and defending CBS for running the ad by the conservative religious group Focus on the Family (apparently all is forgiven from her interview debacle with CBS' Katie Couric, which revisited her "I-can-see-Russia" flub).
The presidential candidate-in-waiting may not be an expert in geography but she knows her way to the stage – and there few bigger than the Super Bowl.
“Messages like this empower women!” Palin wrote on her Facebook page last week. “This speaks to the strength and commitment and nurturing spirit within women. The message says everything positive and nothing negative about the power of women – and life.”
NOW President Terry O’Neill said Palin missed the point. “The goal of the Focus on the Family ad is not to empower women. It's to create a climate in which Roe v. Wade can be overturned,” O’Neill told Politico.
But Palin gets the point, at least when it comes to taking advantage of opportunity. She’s using the much-talked-about flap to play to her conservative, anti-abortion base – and possibly expand her support.
There’s hardly unanimity on whether the commercial should run. The New York Times, rarely on the same page as Palin, published an editorial backing CBS and chiding NOW and other opponents, writing that “would-be censors are on the wrong track.”
The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee knows it’s hard to argue against motherhood and free debate – even if the price of one side of the argument will run upward of $3 million for 30 seconds.
It’s significant that Palin has co-opted this issue by using Facebook, which Barack Obama showed can be a formidable political organizing tool, and from her new perch at Fox News. Both powerful platforms allow the former Alaska governor to market her message virtually unfettered, without having to face direct questions from the press.
The Tebow commercial also could be a harbinger of the future of political advertising – a future that likely will benefit Palin.
Expect a flood of advocacy commercials to be unleashed following the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that basically gives corporations carte blanche in running political ads – overturning part of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. Palin, who has no more use for John McCain, stands to ride that money-green ad wave, should she run for president.
CBS, meanwhile, is on the defensive. In 2004, the network turned down MoveOn.org's Super Bowl ad criticizing then-President Bush. CBS told The Times it will now “consider responsibly produced ads” that meet network standards
One ad that didn't make the Super Bowl cut: Mancrunch.com’s funny commercial in which two guys kiss while watching a football game on TV. The spot for the gay dating service isn’t an advocacy ad per se – it's silly to the point of being innocuous – but one could make an argument that there’s an element of political speech to it. The reaction to the refusal to air the ad certainly has been politicized, and again, the response has been divided.
If CBS had run that commercial, Palin might have found another opening to jump into the big game. Sitting on the sidelines, when there’s an opportunity to get exposure, isn’t her style.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.