The cause of decency -- specifically, finding limits to what the entertainment world will do for the sake of ratings -- needs an advocate wherever it can be found. But it is a bit strange to see it coming from inside CBS, from "60 Minutes."
The other day, reporter Lesley Stahl was profiling the France family that operates the massive sports business of NASCAR racing, and she was outraged. Her primary moral objection was any lack of limits to who sponsors the cars. "A NASCAR race is a constant blur of corporate logos, hawking everything from beer to booze, soldiers to sex."
Stahl took it to chief executive Brian France. "You are unabashed in the hucksterism category," she charged. "Unabashed. Is there any company you would turn down? When France tried to respond that "Well, sure, I mean, we have limits," Stahl interjected. "You do? Could've fooled me ... What are your limits?" France said he wouldn't promote "things that would be distasteful." Stahl shot back: "You do Viagra, you do liquor ... Do you do Victoria's Secret?" France replied: "Not yet."
Here's where Stahl is right. Ads for Viagra or their competitors are distasteful on television. Until recently, ads for liquor were banned on television because they were seen as bad influences on children; ads for beer are plentiful and can certainly be distasteful, as in 2003's Miller Lite catfight between hot women in bikinis, wrestling in wet cement. Ads for negligees and bras have become evermore suggestive and, thus, distasteful for family television. I'm not sure what's distasteful about a car promoting the U.S. Army, but Stahl is putting that in the same category.
But here's where Stahl also looks rather ridiculous, never mind hypocritical. Stahl's employer CBS accepts Army ads. CBS runs ads for beer all the way through its weekend college and pro football games. CBS would run ads for liquor if they were more widely accepted, and surely will when they do. CBS runs bra ads -- and has broadcast an entire sleazy hour of the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show," an hour-long product placement full of negligee shots. What limits does CBS have? And are those limits any firmer than NASCAR's?