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Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2001 / 3 Teves, 5762

Cal Thomas

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Consumer Reports

NBC: The National Boozecasting Company --
SOME estimates peg the number of alcoholics in the United States between 15 million and 30 million (7 to 15 percent of the population). NBC apparently views them and other problem drinkers -- and potential new drinkers -- as a lucrative advertising demographic.

Perhaps because it needs money to pay for Katie Couric's new multimillion-dollar contract, this once great network has decided to start accepting hard-liquor commercials.

The rationale for this shilling for swilling decision is that the "advertising environment'' is depressed. Maybe the ad agencies and network executives should drown their sorrows in booze instead of pouring the stuff on the rest of us.

NBC will require that the distillers run four months of "social responsibility'' commercials prior to uncorking the high-proof stuff. That's like running a condom ad just before "Friends.'' Liquor dulls one's sense of responsibility. The more one drinks, the less responsible one feels. When presented with an opportunity to have sex, the target audience of "Friends'' is not likely to stop and search for a condom, much less flee temptation.

NBC says it won't run liquor ads before 9 p.m. ET, but programming in the East is carried simultaneously an hour earlier in the CT zone. The later advertising hours are supposed to shield children, but it's drinking adults who need the shielding. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 30 percent of all traffic fatalities are alcohol-related. Surely this figure is bound to increase when liquor is advertised on television. Doesn't NBC care about social responsibility to the country, especially when so many of the those killed are the innocent victims of drunk drivers?

What else would NBC advertise if it felt it needed the money? How about prostitution, since that apparently is what NBC is engaged in as it sells airtime to the liquor industry. "Sex workers'' are going to ply their trade no matter what, so why shouldn't NBC get a piece of that action, so to speak? NBC might as well let gamblers advertise, too. Many local TV stations already carry ads for casinos, portraying them as "family-friendly.'' It's a short step to allowing viewers to wager through interactive TV. One can already gamble on the Internet. Why should television be prohibited from cashing in with at-home gambling?

Television gives permission for people to do things they might not otherwise do. People learn to reject authority, become disrespectful to parents and teachers, shoot-up schools, have sex outside of marriage and engage in other personally and socially corrupting behavior, at least in part, because of what they see others do on TV. This "entertainment'' is made to look glamorous and empowering, especially to sick minds looking to justify their existence through violence. NBC currently has a show about a police sex unit. Under the guise of a crime program, it presents thinly-veiled (as in see-through) voyeurism. If NBC went from R- to X-rated, more money would pour in.

Joseph Califano Jr., who directs the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, believes that the only way to keep the broadcast networks from advertising hard liquor is to prohibit it. He would like to see legislation banning liquor ads, as we already have for tobacco advertising. Kimberly Miller, a program manager for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told The Wall Street Journal that liquor ads on TV will only "increase the pressure on kids to drink.''

Califano notes that attempts to shield children from drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, have failed. "It's illegal for children to purchase cigarettes and alcohol and yet 3 million adolescents smoke, constituting a $1 billion-a-year market, and 12 million underage Americans drink, a $10 billion-a-year market,'' he commented. Advertising liquor on TV will encourage more youths to break the law.

We're always debating where to draw lines, or whether to draw them at all. Surely Congress can "just say no'' to booze ads on the public airways -- if members can refuse the liquor industry's money and do something that is right for the country.

JWR contributor Cal Thomas is the author of, among others, The Wit and Wisdom of Cal Thomas Comment by clicking here.

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