Conference call: CARB protests Comedy Central series JC

Earlier this morning, I joined a conference call staged by Citizens Against Religious Bigotry (CARB), which is protesting a decision by Comedy Central to air a new series titled JC, a satire of Jesus Christ and Christianity.  Speakers included:

  • Brent Bozell – Media Research Center president
  • Tony Perkins – Family Research Council president
  • Michael Medved – Nationally syndicated talk radio host
  • Bill Donohue – Catholic League president
  • Tim Winter – Parents Television Council president
  • Rabbi Daniel Lapin – The American Alliance of Jews and Christians

Bozell talked about a “glaring double standard” at Comedy Central.  The outlet refuses to air any satirical content that targets Islam, but has no problem airing criticisms of Christianity, Judaism, and other religions.  Bozell says JC is “designed to be offensive to Christians. … “We know they are jumping up and down with glee” at the publicity CARB has created, but they feel the need to speak out regardless. Eighty-three percent of Americans consider themselves Christian, “but you don’t have to be Christian to be offended” by anti-Christian bigotry, Bozell said.  No “decent” company will want to sponsor this show, and they plan to make that clear to their list of sponsors.

Medved spoke briefly on the double standard issue.  Should Christians get punished, Medved argued, for not being murderous lunatics?  After all, CC only backed down on South Park‘s episodes after threats of violence from adherents of Islam.  Even without the threats, Medved says that CC wouldn’t air an analogous series called The Big Mo because it would be perceived as mean and demeaning.   Neither would they air a series called The Greedy Goldbergs, for obvious reasons.  Why should they repeatedly air shows that attack Christianity?

Donahue offered a caveat to Medved’s remarks by quoting his frequent critics Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who said that Christians would get their way if they only followed the Muslim example.  “I don’t get involved in boycotts unless I think I can win,” Donahue said, citing his success against Wal-Mart.  He also took credit for the poor showing of The Golden Compass after he initiated a protest movement against the anti-religion movie.

Lapin hails some of CC’s programming, such as South Park, as transcending their sometimes-crude approaches to religious material.  He argued that Jews have a safe haven in America largely because of American’s Christian nature.  While satire is a powerful and useful weapon, CC makes themselves hypocrites when they shield one group from satirical review while promoting it against others.

Winter attacked Viacom’s product bundling as potentially illegal.  He criticized the practice of forcing cable providers to buy some channels to get others, such as Spike TV and Comedy Central.  Winter also slammed the show CC aired over the last couple of years, Drawn Together, as especially insulting to Jews and African-Americans.

Bozell says that CARB is not endorsing a boycott, although Donahue called for one.  Their intent was to reach out to the advertising community and make them aware of the anger over CC’s programming.  Individual member organizations may have their own boycotts, but that won’t be the position of the group as a whole.

Perkins says that CC may confuse the civility of Christians with passiveness, which would be a mistake.  The advertisers won’t make that same mistake, at least not for long.

Questions from the media:

  • Adam Sullivan, Townhall, to Medved: Is there a double standard in our culture over separation of church and state, and the skewering of faith on TV?  Medved says that’s not really a double standard, and that this is a “perfect free-market solution.”
  • Washington Post, to Bozell and Medved: Can this argument speak to how the double standard would be applied had CC allowed Mohammed to be depicted?  Bozell says it would have just been a single standard of hostility towards faith.  The entertainment industry used to treat faith with respect, but now it’s open season for disrespect to people of faith.  Medved said one could imagine a comparably offensive show involving Mohammed, but that no one would dedicate a show specifically denigrating the founder of a faith already treated with hostility; the same could be said about Jews as well.  But that shouldn’t mean that Christians are required to remain silent in the face of insult, and Christians rightly feel as though they have been under attack for decades.
  • Washington Times to Medved: Most of these shows are animated.  Are they aimed at proselytizing children?  Medved says it’s not a conspiracy, but it is a consensus.  The issue isn’t what Hollywood believes in their own lives; what matters is what goes up on the screen.
  • Voice of America to Bozell and Medved: What if CC scraps the JC show?  Will CARB continue work if other faiths get attacked, or saints, and so on?  Bozell says there is room for good-natured skewering of religion.  Don Rickles did it during his entire career.  Donahue notes that “nobody criticizes Mel Brooks,” but then Donahue ripped Bill Maher, Penn Jillette, and Sarah Silverman.
  • How confident is CARB that it can apply enough pressure to stop JC from going to air, and has it ever worked before?  Winter said that he’s hearing from the advertising community that there is skepticism about JC now.  Bozell says that Viacom pulled The Reagans from CBS before it aired after widespread criticism over its casting and potential content [it did air on Viacom outlet Showtime later].
  • Medved points out that CC has already set a standard that some things are off limits when it comes to satire of religious faith.  That standard is apparently when CC executives feel physically threatened, which Medved calls “pathetic.”  If CC has to impose limits, why not set them to the scale of offense given rather than the level of lunacy in the response?
  • CNN to Donahue: Aren’t you guys getting played by CC, attempting to get a free ride from the publicity?  Yes, Donahue says, but that’s not the point.  Donahue isn’t going to respond to every provocation, but when it’s on the scale of a Comedy Central and Viacom, he feels he needs to respond.
  • John Hawkins to Donahue: Have Christians turned the other cheek too often in these battles?  Donahue says “too many Catholics have become supine, as long as they’re getting their 401K”.
  • Has there been any successful contact with Comedy Central?  Donahue has gotten a response from Sumner Redstone, chief of Viacom, on other earlier protests; Redstone says he supports artistic freedom.
  • My question: Isn’t a push against advertisers a boycott, at least implicitly?  Bozell says no.  He just wants to make advertisers aware of the issue and of the offensive nature of the show.  Winter says the corporate officers are often unaware of the decisions made by their advertising groups, and when they’re made aware, they react accordingly.  Medved notes that advertising is intended to create goodwill and positive experiences, and this won’t be the case on a show like JC, and that corporate officers will realize it.

My analysis: This is an interesting coalition.  Bill Donahue seemed ready to go to war, but most of the rest of the people on this call tried to cast this issue in calmer ways.  They want to get people on the record as either supporting religious bigotry or opposing it.  On at least one point in their video on the website, to which they referred a couple of times, they missed the fact that the Jesus-craps-on-Bush moment of South Park was intended to support the position many of them made about double standards.  Otherwise, they appear prepared and ready to do battle in the field of public opinion.  Whether intentional or not, advertisers know that getting painted with brushes of both religious hostility and hypocrisy will mean having their names on lists for a long time to come.