Is Free Speech just for Corporations?

The big brand-name corporations love advertising. They love it so much that they spend some $170 billion a year in our country to put all sorts of slicken and hokum on their products, and on their own public image.

But there is one kind of advertising that these self-aggrandizing outfits despise: ads that challenge their carefully-crafted images. A nonprofit doctor’s group recently got a blast of corporate wrath when it produced a TV commercial that dared to take on mighty McDonald’s. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was challenging the fast food behemoth to offer some menu choices healthier than its artery-clogging burgers.

The ad was a hoot. It featured the body of a deceased fat man lying on a cold slab at the morgue. He had a half-eaten burger in his hand, and McDonald’s golden arch logo was superimposed over his deathly white feet. Then, an epitaph for the burger-wolfing dead man appeared on the screen, declaring: “I was lovin’ it.”

But when the doctors sought to buy airtime on South Florida television stations–none of them loved it. They showed no sense of humor…and no sense of free speech. Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS, and others flat out refused to air the ad. One station initially okayed it, but then weaseled out by saying the commercial could run only if all references to McDonald’s were removed.

It seems the stations were afraid of being sued by the burger giant or were afraid that McDonald’s would pull its advertising from them. Indeed, its corporate headquarters sent a sharp shot across the bow of the stations, declaring that, “This commercial is outrageous, misleading and unfair to all consumers.”

Unfair to consumers? Most consumers would like to see the public airwaves opened up to the public, not just to big money corporations.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.