by Paul Bond
The sports network was under assault for refusing to air a Christmas commercial for a children's hospital, allegedly because the spot was too religious.
After relentless attacks from the political right, ESPN on Thursday has had a change of heart about airing a Christmas commercial using "God" and "Jesus" in the audio.
Previously, ESPN had rejected the ad, reportedly due to the use of the two religious references, though the giant sports network owned by the Walt Disney Co. hadn't publicly acknowledged the specific reason for its rejection."We have again reviewed the ads submitted for the SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and have concluded that we will accept the original requested commercial," the network said in a statement. "It will run in Saturday's VCU at Northern Iowa basketball game on ESPNU. This decision is consistent with our practice of individual review of all ads under our commercial advocacy standards."
Instead, ESPN told reporters that, "As originally submitted, the spot did not meet our commercial advocacy standards. We have since been supplied with a different commercial, which will air on the 14th."
That statement, which was also at the ESPN website, included video of the new ad, but not the one that was originally rejected. Later on Thursday though, ESPN took down the second ad and put up the original one, complete with the words "God" and "Jesus," and that is the ad that will continue to run on television.
The original ad for Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, and the one that was initially rejected, included the line, "We celebrate the birth of Jesus and the season of giving, bringing hope to the many children, parents and families that we serve."
It also had the line: "Help us reveal God's healing presence this Christmas."
The new ad -- the one ESPN accepted -- did not contain those two lines.
ESPN's about-face on Thursday afternoon means the ad mentioning "Jesus" and "God" will run after all. ESPN changed its mind after stories that appeared at The Drudge Report and Breitbart.com put the issue front-and-center in conservative and religious circles.
Those stories were in part based on a Wednesday night report from the Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, who blasted both ESPN and the hospital, the former for waging "a war on Christmas" and the latter for not sufficiently standing up for itself, given that the hospital was refusing to talk publicly about its dispute with ESPN.
Others who were criticizing ESPN on Thursday included Glenn Beck's TheBlaze.com and MichelleMalkin's Twitchy.com, a website recently acquired by Salem Communications.
Also, Sarah Palin weighed in via her Facebook page, writing: "ESPN, you've come a long way, baby ... from your known wholesome, bold Americana 'persona' to now being afraid to support freedom and not being bold enough to allow acknowledgment of the 'Reason for the Season.' So disappointing."
ESPN's original decision to reject the ad was based on its guidelines stating that, "ESPN does not accept advertising that consists of, in whole or in part, political or religious advocacy or issue-oriented advertising."
Those guidelines, though, were also being picked apart by the political right on Thursday, given that ESPN often runs political ads, including one that recently promoted the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.