WASHINGTON (CNS) — There was plenty of glitz and glamour at the Grammy Awards Jan. 26.
What there wasn't any of was mention of controversy that boiled over just the week before at the Recording Academy's headquarters, when president and CEO Deborah Dugan was ousted from her job, which led her to file a federal discrimination complaint over accusations of sexual misconduct and vote-tampering by others in the academy's top echelons.
The awards ceremony, noted The Washington Post, went on "slowly and exhaustingly, for more than three hours, without anyone mentioning the elephant in the room."
It is just the latest example of self-censorship in television.
CBS signed a 10-year deal in 2016 to air the Grammys — for more than the $20 million annual broadcast fee CBS had been paying in the previous deal. It may be instructive to see who signed the contract for photographers: CBS chairman Les Moonves, who himself was sacked in 2018 after an internal review found much credible evidence of sexual harassment, and Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, who, after telling women who felt systematically excluded from the Grammys to "step up," was forced to step down.
It was hardly CBS' first brush with self-censorship. In its bid to keep alive the goose that lays the golden eggs, CBS has kowtowed to the Masters golf tournament for more than a half-century.
In 1966, CBS' Jack Whitaker had the temerity to refer to the swelling gallery at the 18th hole as a "mob." He was banished from the Masters for six years. Gary McCord joked about overactive greens during the 1994 tournament having been treated with bikini wax. After an approach shot started heading toward a water hazard, he said, "There are some body bags down there if that keeps going," a reference to past golfers with similarly errant shots.
Despite working for CBS through 2019, McCord never again did commentary for the Masters. CBS said tournament officials were not comfortable with his style.
In 1979, the Augusta National Golf Course gave CBS a list of 33 rules to follow in its broadcast. Included were "Never estimate the size of the gallery," "never refer to players' earnings," "never refer to Masters prize money," "do not guess at where a ball might be," "do not estimate the length of a putt," "never refer to the gallery or patrons as a mob or crowd," and "instead of identifying Lee Elder as the first black man to play in the Masters, say he is the first person of his race to play in the tournament."
This doesn't even take into account CBS' deafening silence over the years that Augusta National refused to admit women to membership.
Here's one lesson in media literacy: Follow the money. The more money that's involved, the less either side is going to risk starting or escalating a controversy.
There are notable exceptions to the rule. The Oscars almost always hires a comedian as host for their awards ceremonies, and those hosts are just as likely to throw some zingers at the awards process as they are at the nominees.
At NBC, it's hard to erase from memory the pained looks on the faces of "Today" anchors as they reported the immediate departure of one host, and later another, when they were swept off the air amid ongoing sex scandals. Readers of Ronan Farrow's book "Catch and Kill" might come to a different opinion, though, based on how NBC executives stonewalled his own investigation.
In 2017, the kneeling controversy at the start of the NFL season grew to such proportions that the league's four broadcast partners found it impossible to ignore, although as soon as the pregame hosts and the game announcers could sweep it all under the rug, they did.
The issue of society's influence on sports led to a considerable debate within — and sometimes on — Disney-owned ESPN, until the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader" adopted a stick-to-sports strategy amid a loss of subscribers as more cable TV viewers "cut the cord" in favor of streaming services.
It's always wise to evaluate what you're seeing and hearing when watching TV. It's just as wise to assess what you're not seeing and hearing during those same shows. Doing so will make you a better viewer.