An Anti-Obama, Anti-Gay Marriage Ad on BET?

Blacks Are Split on Same-Sex Marriage, but a Network Can Refuse a Message of Intolerance

By Published on .

In the final days of the 2012 presidential campaign, Vibe is reporting that an anti-Obama ad is running on BET in markets including Cleveland and Seattle, sponsored by a super PAC called Pivot Point Washington. The ad says that Obama has cut aid to black colleges and black businesses and "his support of gay marriage is a slap in the face to people of faith." It then asks rhetorically, "How can I vote for someone who doesn't respect me?"

It is interesting that Black Entertainment Television chose to accept the ad, not just because it opposes the re-election of the first black president, but because BET is owned by Viacom, the media conglomerate that owns LOGO, the LGBT-themed network that offers such programming as "RuPaul's All Star Drag Race" and "1 Girl 5 Gays."

So why did BET run it?

Money couldn't have been the motivation. Pivot Point, which is based in Washington state, paid only $2,000 for the ad, according to its chairman, David Shemwell. In an interview with a local cable station, Shemwell stated that Pivot Point has raised $30,000, a figure that pales in comparison to the larger super PACs., which gets its data from the Federal Elections Commission, reports that Pivot Point has spent $3,000 in the presidential election, citing two payees, EZTVSpots and an individual. Based in Kent, Washington, EZTVSpots is a small shop that boasts both TV production and media placement. Among the clients listed on its website are an RV park and a tattoo removal shop. We're talking small potatoes.

BET had no legal obligation to run the ad. Broadcasters are obligated to run ads supported by candidates themselves, whether the ads are true or not. However, no such law exists for outside political groups. Broadcasters may decide to choose or reject a deceptive or outrageous ad. BET obviously felt that few of its viewers would find the commercial offensive.

We can speculate on why. Slate magazine reported that Shemwell spoke to a local pro-Romney black pastor, Rev. Wayne Perryman, author of the book "Whites, Blacks and Racist Democrats," in search of some ideas on how to best reach African Americans. "I started talking about jobs," he told Slate "and all the things that people have in common."

"You're not going to reach anyone that way," was the response. So Shemwell picked gay marriage as the message.

Recent data suggest that American blacks are sharply divided over this issue. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in May found that 59% of African Americans supported same-sex marriage after President Obama announced his support of it, an increase of 18% from just a short time before. However, the pollsters did acknowledge a small sample size. A likely more accurate study by the Pew Research Center found that 66% of blacks oppose gay marriage with about the same number agreeing that it is "morally wrong."

With same-sex-marriage referenda on the ballot this Election Day in four states -- Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington -- the stakes are high. This is particularly the case in Maryland, where one in four voters is black, and where TV commercials advocating same-sex marriage have been airing since the Olympics, and anti-marriage commercials began to air more recently.

The Pivot Point ad isn't alone in appealing to African Americans to vote in favor of their religious values. "God Said," a Texas-based organization that boasts Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, on its board, launched a million-dollar campaign hoping to convince at least a quarter of African Americans in key swing states to vote their "biblical principles." The message: "God said marriage is between one man and one woman." Voters are urged to prioritize "God's values and not their party's."

In all of these cases, marketers are creating ads that encourage divisiveness, intolerance and ignore basic civil rights. Yet outlets are airing them, though each could choose not to. The nonpartisan group Free Press is leading a campaign that calls on stations to reject political ads that are deceptive or promote injustice.

In a much publicized case in Des Moines earlier this year, ABC affiliate WOI decided at the last minute to pull an ad for Stephen Colbert's Americans for a Better Tomorrow, a real super PAC that is a parody, in which he told viewers to vote for "Rick Parry" instead of Rick Perry. NBC's WHO aired the ad for a reported $1,870.

BET chose not to take the high road. It's a shame. We have the power, through our ads, to effect change, for good or bad. We can make a difference by reflecting a vision of diversity and inclusion in our ads.

David Morse is president-CEO of New American Dimensions and the author of Multicultural Intelligence: Eight Make-or-Break Rules for Marketing to Race, Ethnicity, and Sexual Orientation.
Most Popular
In this article: