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Even Paid Speech Isn't Free

When Clear Channel saw my "Songs of the Bushmen" ads, their tone changed from oleaginously friendly salesman to angry schoolmarm -- the art was "not acceptable," a curt email informed me.
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This post is not about me, or complaining about what happened to me. I'm doing fine. This post is just another snapshot of life in this nutty country.

You may have noticed the ad here in the HuffPo for my new record of songs about Bush administration members. The title is "Songs of the Bushmen," the cover art is a smiling GW with a bone through his nose (this exposition is necessary for the story to come). Neither HuffPo nor TVNewser, a blog covering, what else, TV news, had a problem with the ad.

But we also bought some ads on digital billboards, the kind that change messages every few seconds, in Chicago, and on digital screens in coffee shops and other retail establishments in LA and SF. The goal was to make that cover image kind of ubiquitous, as ubiquitous as it could be on a small marketing budget. The billboards were owned by Clear Channel, the good people behind Rush Limbaugh and other forms of bad radio, and those folks were ultra-eager to take our money and suggest that we spend more with them in other cities -- until they saw the artwork. At which point, the tone changed from oleaginously friendly salesman to angry schoolmarm -- the art was "not acceptable," a curt email informed us. There was no explanation for the grounds of unacceptability -- wrong kind of bone? -- just the loud sound of the only provider of digital billboards in Chicago slamming the door.

Meanwhile, out west, this hip little startup in San Francisco, DaNoo, was equally happy to sell us space on their digital screens. They were happy with the first week, in which just the art appeared, with no explanation. They even wanted to use our campaign as some sort of success story for their outfit. But suddenly, when the name of the record (and my name) appeared on the art, they pulled the plug. Their "venues" -- i.e., store owners -- had said some patrons had complained.

Let's review: GW Bush has an approval rating lower than Richard Nixon on his worst day in office. If a normal risk-averse corporation looked at those numbers, it would intuit that now, if ever, would be an okay time to let such ads be shown. And, yes, Clear Channel can easily qualify as, in Donald Rumsfeld's felicitous phrase, "dead-enders." But this hip little company, with digital screens in hip little places in hip little SF and LA?

Maybe this is just another application of what I'm pleased to call Shearer's Law -- the more people you seek to talk to, the less you can say to them.

To read more about this on HuffPost, Click here.