NBC Rejects Ads for Dixie Chicks Documentary

The Dixie Chicks are the subject of a new political debate. NBC and the CW won't run ads for Shut Up and Sing, a new documentary about the group. The Dixie Chicks faced a radio boycott in 2003 after lead singer Natalie Maines expressed disfavor for President Bush.

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Shut Up and Sing, a new documentary about the Dixie Chicks, is, not surprisingly, stirring up controversy. The Weinstein Company, which is releasing the film, has condemned NBC and the new CW network for declining to air an ad for the movie. NPR's Kim Masters reports.

KIM MASTERS: Shut Up and Sing deals with matters familiar even to many who aren't fans of the Dixie Chicks: the controversy that erupted in March 2003, when singer Natalie Maines said during a concert that she was ashamed Mr. Bush is from Texas. The 30-second ad for the film, which opened yesterday in New York and Los Angeles, includes that quote, but begins with another from the president.

(Soundbite of movie "Shut Up and Sing")

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States and our allies are authorized to use force in Iraq.

ANNOUNCER: If you think we're living in a free society...

Ms. NATALIE MAINS (Singer, Dixie Chicks): We're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ANNOUNCER: Wait until you disagree with it.

Unidentified Woman: They had the hottest song and it died.

ANNOUNCER: The true story...

Unidentified Man #1: Move the fridge, Dixie Chicks.

ANNOUNCER: ...of a conspiracy...

MASTERS: On Thursday, the Weinstein Company, which is distributing the film, accused NBC and the CW of censoring the ads on political grounds. Documents from both networks appear to support that claim. A form from the NBC Advertising Standards Department bears a notation reading, We cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.

A similar form from the CW states more ambiguously that the network does not have appropriate programming in which to schedule the spot. The CW airs such shows as Veronica Mars and America's Next Top Model. In a statement, the CW said the Weinstein Company allegation is inaccurate, but declined to say whether it would in fact air the ad.

NBC said the spot violates its policy on ads that deal with issue of public controversy. In response to a query from NPR, NBC acknowledged that it had previously aired spots for Fahrenheit 911, a film by Michael Moore that was deeply critical of the Bush administration. The network did not explain the apparent inconsistency.

Professor KATHRYN MONTGOMERY (American University): The television networks do have a long history of making content decisions based on economic and political sensitivities.

MASTERS: Kathryn Montgomery, a professor of communication at American University, says the networks have every right to choose what ads they will air. But she notes that the broadcast networks also have major business before the federal government.

Prof. MONTGOMERY: From a sort of principle point of view, you would hope that they wouldn't make politically motivated decisions here. From a more kind of realistic perspective, it's not surprising that they do.

MASTERS: Andrew Schwartzman, of the Public Interest Media Access Project, agrees that the networks are within their rights, but he condemns such decisions.

Mr. ANDREW SCHWARTZMAN (Public Interest Media Access Project): It's immoral and it's irresponsible, but it's not illegal.

MASTERS: Both Schwartzman and Montgomery draw a distinction between the rejection of the Dixie Chicks ad and recent decisions by CNN and NPR, which have declined to run promotions for the new film Death of a President. That movie is a pseudo-documentary depicting the assassination of President Bush. Schwartzman points out that the Dixie Chicks film is based on widely known facts, while Death of a President is a work of fiction.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: It's more valid; that is, this was not political criticism of a sitting official. This was something that was really deemed to be a matter of bad taste.

MASTERS: The Weinstein Company says it is still hoping that NBC and the CW will reconsider and air the Shut Up and Sing spot. But, as Professor Kathryn Montgomery points out, splashes of controversy don't hurt either film.

Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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