NBC has rejected an advertisement that asks viewers to remember and thank U.S. troops during the holiday season because it refers to the sponsor's Web site, which the network said was too political.
(MSNBC.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
The ad is part of a seven-figure newspaper and television campaign by Freedom's Watch, a conservative group that supports administration policy in Iraq.
NBC said it declined the ad, not because of its message, but because it invites viewers to go to Freedom's Watch's Web site, which advocates support for the war. NBC has a policy against airing controversial issue ads.
"Anybody in the world who would look at this ad would come away with nothing other than 'we should be thankful for their service,'" Freedom's Watch president Bradley Blakeman said.
The ads are to run on CNN and Fox News Channel and are running in various newspapers. The New York Times ran a full-page Freedom's Watch ad Friday that said "Thank You!" and depicted a soldier reading a letter. The newspaper ad also contained the Web site address.
Alan Wurtzel, NBC's head of standards and practices, said the network decided not to run the Freedom's Watch ad because the group insisted that the spot contain the URL address of its Web site.
The group's home page links to another Freedom's Watch Web page that lists nonprofit organizations that are sending care packages to soldiers and that suggests other ways of expressing support.
It also contains a welcoming message that states: "For too long, conservatives have lacked a permanent political presence to do battle with the radical special interests groups and their left-wing allies in government."
"We have a policy that prohibits acceptance of advertising that deals with issues of public controversy," Wurtzel said. "This particular ad, in and of itself, is fine. It thanks the troops for their action overseas. We asked them to eliminate a URL address where a person is asked to contact elected officials and told not to cut and run on the war on terror."
NBC rejected a previous Freedom's Watch ad that addressed funding for the troops.
"It's a long-term policy, it goes back decades," Wurtzel said of NBC's stance of declining controversial issue advertising.
He suggested that Freedom's Watch did not alter the ad in order to force NBC to reject it and thus get media attention.
"Candidly, some folks have found that you get more attention when an ad is not accepted," he said.
Blakeman acknowledged that Freedom's Watch wants viewers of the ad to visit its Web site and said NBC's actions amounted to censorship.
Freedom's Watch has emerged as one of the best financed independent conservative groups in this election cycle.
Earlier this week, the Fox News Channel rejected a television commercial from a liberal group that featured actor Danny Glover denouncing what he said were U.S. acts of rendition, torture and detention. The spot, created for the Center for Constitutional Rights, showed pages being shredded while Glover says: "The Bush administration is destroying the Constitution."
Fox senior vice president for advertising Paul Rittenberg said the network asked the group to provide backup information — from news accounts or legal scholars — supporting Glover's claim that acts by the Bush administration threatened the Constitution.
"In this case, saying the president is destroying the Constitution frankly sounds like a claim that is fairly extreme," Rittenberg said. "Who else thinks this? Of course Danny Glover can say that, but does anyone else say that?"
The center's ad buy was a small fraction of the size of the Freedom's Watch buy, appearing on CNN and MSNBC, but only in Washington D.C.