Committed to the First Amendment

Truth and consequences

Why push the networks to accept condom ads? The worldwide epidemic of AIDS and HIV, for one reason. Then there is the U.S. epidemic of all sexually transmitted diseases (13 million cases at last count). We'd mention teen pregnancy, but that would get us into the religious thicket of contraception. So let's just stick to STDs and disease control.

A just-released study found that the vast majority of viewers don't share several of the major networks' reluctance about condom advertising. Almost three-quarters approve of the ads. Still, three of the six networks refuse to carry them: ABC and the two youngest-skewing, UPN and The WB.

We advertise sex on TV, from lingerie to tight jeans to the promo for tomorrow's soap. (Never mind the programming that has people leaping in and out of bed with the alacrity of flying Wallendas.) And we advertise alcohol in abundance. Sometimes we advertise both, as in the beer commercial with the loud music in the apartment next door, and the bed vibrating as a result, and the buff twentysomething couple putting two and two together with the help of a pulsating beer-bottle cap tossed onto the bedspread. So why do networks that have no trouble conveying the recreational pleasures of the night before suddenly turn from the havens of Victoria's Secret to the bastions of Victorian sensibilities when it comes to ads that address the potential consequences of the morning after?

There are, for course, a lot of people who oppose condoms on religious grounds, and their views should be respected. But access to information about a legal product with potential widespread health benefits should not be restricted for fear of offending that group.

It has been almost 15 years since the networks began allowing their owned stations to air condom ads. At the time, we suggested it might be time to lift the ban on network condom ads as well. ABC, the first to allow its owned stations to carry the ads, still won't air them. The WB and UPN weren't around then, but they are aimed directly at the target population most in need of this information and should be in the vanguard on the issue.

We applaud CBS, NBC and Fox for allowing the ads and ask the rest to join them.

Remembering You

Archie Bunker was arguably the single most seminal character in TV history. He dropped like a bombshell onto CBS' Tuesday-night schedule. Only a few months before, the network's most recognizable Tuesday-night pater familias had been Jed Clampett. Now it was a loud-mouthed bigot who slung racial slurs like hash in a diner. It was up to Carroll O'Connor, who died last week of a heart attack, to make the character human and, yes, lovable, though clearly wrong-headed. A less capable actor in the role, and the sitcom probably would have been swept off the air in a storm of protest. Instead, it became the top show of its day and an important statement on the absurdity of prejudice.