I used to think that the devolution of the relationship between a television network and its advertisers would be rather slow and drawn out; not unlike a once-passionate marriage that gradually loses its heat. But I'm not so sure anymore. It just might end in a conflagration of betrayal, anger and recrimination, with one spouse screaming obscenities from the yard as the other throws clothing and personal items from the second floor window.
The antagonist in this psychodrama is Fox. In case you missed it, the network has decided to air a two part special with OJ Simpson entitled "If I Did It, Here's How It Happened" capping Sweeps Month, naturally. The "It" of course refers to the brutal murder of Simpson's wife and her friend a dozen years ago. And now the guy who designed the bottom of the barrel - Rupert Murdoch - is renovating the barrel, obviously deciding it wasn't nearly low enough. In a moment of hubris and tastelessness that borders on the surreal, Fox has decided that a wink-and-grin interview with a murderer is a perfectly acceptable vehicle for advertisers to support. Furthermore, those same advertisers will agree to set their own ad rates for the balance of the year based on this macabre little spectacle.
Kind of makes you think they're sitting around at Fox HQ asking, "I don't know... How stupid do YOU think they are?"
Murdoch's relationship with advertisers has been a complicated one all along. He brings home the cash - say what you will, but the man understands how to put people in front of the set - and occasionally does something genuinely good. But he's got an abusive streak as well. He pushes and pushes the boundaries of taste and acceptability, perhaps thinking - like the eternally philandering or violent spouse - that there's literally nothing a little wine and flowers won't fix. But even in the most dysfunctional relationship, there's a time when you call 911 and head for the shelter. And this is it.
Let's be very clear about what's happening here. The issue is domestic violence and murder. Rupert Murdoch and Fox are using it to spike ratings during November Sweeps. This is really not OK. In fact, it's about the most "not OK" thing one can imagine. Everyone at the network who has a part in this decision has blood on their hands. Everyone at the network who doesn't loudly protest this and offer their resignation if it goes forward has to question their own values and culpability.
Let's also be very clear about what the advertisers' reactions ought to be. Simply not buying time on this disgusting program isn't enough, because some bottom-feeder desperate for an audience will still give them the money. Make it clear to Fox that if this airs you'll pull your support from the network. Does this sound extreme? Come on now... you've caved in to right-wing, religious wing nuts when the stakes weren't nearly so high.
Nearly one-third of American women -- 31 percent -- report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Every year, domestic violence results in almost 100,000 days of hospitalizations, almost 30,000 emergency department visits, and almost 40,000 visits to a physician. Forty percent of teenage girls age 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. This is not entertainment.
Please forward this column to every advertiser you know. My dream scenario is that they will be immediately and permanently repelled. I hope it also makes them question the monster that they've enabled. No, not Rupert Murdoch, but rather the twisted "audience at all costs" universe in which he thrives. And I hope they begin to finally imagine a media world without Sweeps Month, a world where killing your wife and getting paid to do the play-by-play is just not OK.
Send your comments and questions directly to Doug Weaver