NASHVILLE, Tenn. NBC is sending a mixed message to Christians across the nation by planning to show an offensive Madonna concert in its entirety while requiring biblical messages to be edited out of the popular "VeggieTales" children's show, Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, said in a letter to an NBC executive Sept. 20.
A centerpiece of Madonna's global "Confessions" tour has been a stunt where she performs a song called "Live to Tell" while suspended on a giant cross wearing a crown of thorns, and NBC plans to air the concert in November. The mock crucifixion has drawn protests from church leaders in Rome and Moscow, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, NBC has started airing episodes of VeggieTales in its Saturday morning cartoon lineup but has asked that all references to biblical or evangelical messages be edited out.
"In 2004, the Parents Television Council released a study analyzing the treatment of religion on television and found that of all the networks, and by an overwhelming margin, NBC's treatment of religion was the worst," Bozell wrote to Bob Wright, vice president and executive officer of NBC Universal. "In fact, NBC had 9.5 negative treatments for every positive treatment."
Bozell said Madonna's mock crucifixion is the entertainer "doing her utmost to deliberately insult the Christian faith," and he noted that NBC executive Kevin Reilly said the broadcasting company "viewed it and didn't see it as being inappropriate."
"What he is saying, loudly and unequivocally, is that NBC's official position is that it is appropriate to insult Christians," Bozell wrote. "This attitude toward Christianity is inexcusable. It's also a shocking double standard."
Bozell recounted how NBC Nightly News producers opted not to show in full the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that offended Muslims worldwide in February because, they said, the message could be conveyed without showing the cartoons in their entirety.
"Why can't NBC apply this very standard with the Madonna concert?" Bozell asked. "NBC must surely know that this scene will offend hundreds of millions of Christians across the country. Why not cut that scene and air the rest of the concert?"
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, also wrote to NBC's Wright, asking that the crucifixion portion of Madonna's concert not be aired. He referenced the Muhammad cartoons as well.
"The same ethical principals which drove this decision should apply to Christians," Donohue wrote. "Therefore, in deference to Christian sensibilities, NBC should not air the entire Madonna concert. If it does air the 'mock crucifixion,' it will send a message to the 85 percent of the American population that is Christian that their sensibilities count less than Muslims. And that is not a decision that any responsible person or company can afford to make."
Reuters reported Sept. 19 that NBC executives were waiting for makers of Madonna's concert special to submit the production for review before deciding whether to air the mock crucifixion.
"We're awaiting the delivery of it, and once we've seen it in its entirety, we'll make a decision," an NBC spokeswoman told Reuters.
As for VeggieTales, the show's creator Phil Vischer said there was some initial miscommunication about what would have to be edited before the heavily Bible-centered cartoons could be broadcast on NBC, according to AgapePress.
"We can tell Bible stories," Vischer said, but "what we can't do is really turn to the audience and preach at them. What we can't do at the end is go to the computer and show a Bible verse, which clearly doesn't pass network standards."
Vischer said he sees the NBC broadcast as a way to introduce kids to VeggieTales if they've never seen it, and he doesn't think the editing compromises the Christian integrity of the programs' basic messages, according to AgapePress.
"We're doing the best we can," Vischer said. "If someone invites you to a dinner party and you get to talk there, you kind of have to live by the rules of the host."
At least a previously untapped audience of children will start to recognize VeggieTales products when they encounter them in major retail stores, Vischer said, which may lead to their parents purchasing the unedited versions which contain direct references to how the Bible applies to life.
"They'll bump into these VeggieTales videos, and they'll discover the whole story," Vischer said.
Terry Mattingly, a Scripps Howard columnist, noted a specific lesson Vischer has learned about what NBC will accept in a cartoon.
"In the script, Larry the Cucumber is convinced Samson must have gotten his extraordinary strength from his hairbrush," Mattingly wrote Sept. 20. "No, replies Bob the Tomato, the Bible says that Samson's strength came from God."
Vischer said that line was OK with NBC, but the line that had to be removed was the next one, in which Bob says, "And God can give us strength too."
"What God does in the past is OK as long as it stays in the past," Vischer told Mattingly. "But if you cross that line and say that God can affect your life in the present, then that's too much. That's reaching out to the audience and that's proselytizing or something. That's bad."
Mark Early, president of Prison Fellowship, said in his Sept. 20 BreakPoint commentary that NBC's decision to edit VeggieTales is characteristic but illogical.
"Is this the same network that tells parents that if they are offended by prime-time sex and profanity to just turn the channel or use a V-Chip?" Early said. "Is this the same network that will allow Madonna to sing a song from her tour the one she performs while suspended from a crucifix? Evidently, blasphemy and four-letter words are fine, but any positive mention of God is so offensive it has to be censored."
VeggieTales can be seen on NBC at 10 a.m. Eastern on Saturdays.