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NBC and 'SNL' targeted over Jesus skit. Do such ad boycotts work?

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Such calls for ad boycotts pop up regularly to punish a media outlet for airing or distributing content deemed offensive – and they come from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Last year, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was the target of a such an ad-pulling campaign after he smeared Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" after she testified before Congress in favor of making birth control broadly available through health insurance. Disney"Dr. Laura" Schlessinger's talk show, Glenn Beck's talk show, Rolling Stone, and a host of others have all been boycott targets.

Such campaigns seldom lead a media outlet to drop a show, nor is there evidence that they cause the content of such shows to become more tempered, say media analysts. What they often do achieve, however, is a spirited discussion about a particular issue or even about free speech rights – at least in America.

This campaign and others “are not so effective in their direct effort,” says Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. After all, he notes, Rush Limbaugh is still on the air, despite a massive sponsor defection at the time of the campaign. Rather, the role they play “is to become a catalyst for extremely important and ultimately influential cultural conversations about important topics.”

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