Conservative Phone Company Exploits Wedge Issues for Profit

The newest battle in the culture wars is being waged on the telephone lines. In a departure from the standard telemarketing calls aimed at selling long distance service, United American Technology has taken telemarketing to a whole new level.

The Oklahoma-based long distance carrier, which describes itself as a Christian conservative company, is seeking like-minded customers by bad-mouthing bigger rivals for their "sinful" behavior.

"Our base, which would be a conservative base, really does not like the same-sex marriage that has been pushed down our throat," UAT consultant Carl Thompson told ABC News.

UAT niche markets its service by railing against Internet pornography, homosexuality, and then criticizing competing phone companies it claims promote both.

Many major corporations -- ranging from huge hotel chains to telecommunications firms that carry cable television and Internet services -- have profited, in one form or another, from adult entertainment.

Likewise, many corporations have either contributed to politicians or organizations that support gay rights, or have implemented diversity programs. Both changes in corporate culture have rankled socially conservative organizations.

"Lots of marketers -- from these people to Pepsi -- are trying to create a reason to choose their commodity brand over another, and I guess the culture wars are as good a reason as any," said Bob Garfield, advertising critic for Advertising Age magazine.

Corporations are increasingly embracing political positions that cater to a specific clientele. The San Francisco-based Working Assets Long Distance, for instance, markets itself as a liberal long distance phone company and says it has raised more than $47 million for progressive causes.

Other corporations change policies because they smell potential profits. Coors Brewing Company, once a major supporter of conservative causes, even went so far as to employ someone to market specifically to gay and lesbian customers. Her name: Mary Cheney, the daughter of the vice president.

But some say UAT takes its politics too far. New York City comedian Eugene Mirman was so astonished by a UAT call he received, he recorded it. Mirman believes he was contacted -- as something of a joke -- because he donated $51 to the 1996 presidential campaign of Republican Alan Keyes.

"I got a phone call," Mirman said. "It was a recording and it said: 'Hi, I'm the mother of three, and I don't support gay marriage. If you don't support gay marriage press one.' I have something hooked up to my phone to record phone calls, and so I scrambled and found it ... Every time they would call, I would record it because it was crazy."

In one of the "crazy" exchanges he recorded, the telemarketer starts her sales pitch by asking about Mirman's stance on same-sex marriage:

UAT TELEMARKETER: OK. Eugene, did you press 1 to oppose same sex marriages?

MIRMAN: Oh, I pressed it, yes.

UAT: OK, that's great to hear. Now are you against same-sex marriages?

MIRMAN: Well I want to destroy it, yes.

UAT: OK, that's great to hear. And Eugene -

MIRMAN: With the fist of God, we will smash them!

UAT: Exactly. Uh, Mr. Mirman, our organization is dedicated to people such as yourself who want to stop same-sex marriages and to quit doing business with companies that promote and profit from the homosexual lifestyle.

MIRMAN: Some companies profit from homosexuality?

UAT: That's correct.

MIRMAN: By selling sex favors?

UAT: No. Such as AT&T, what they do ...

MIRMAN: AT&T sells sex favors?

UAT: No, no. What it is is they own the Hot Network, which is a hardcore pornography channel ... They also give millions of dollars to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance group.

(AT&T actually has sold its division that owned the Hot Network, but Thompson says that's immaterial since the company still makes money off phone sex calls.)

UAT: Porn Profiteers a Fair Target

Thompson says corporations profiting from pornography are a fair target for criticism.

"If big business wants to make money off of it -- and they make billions off of it -- we should be able to complain about what they're making money off of," he said. "So the way we've decided to do it is an aggressive, telemarketing program."

Thomson says the company, which has about 10 employees and approximately 20,000 subscribers, is signing up 2,000 new customers each month.

UAT also hopes to win clients who might oppose big long distance carriers that offer diversity seminars, as evidenced by another portion of the call Mirman recorded:

MIRMAN: So what about the others? What does Verizon do?

UAT: OK, Verizon. What they do is they train their employees to accept a gay and lesbian lifestyle.

MIRMAN: They try to turn their employees gay?!

UAT: No, no. They train their employees to accept it.

UAT also uses the proliferation of Internet pornography as another selling point to lure religious conservatives.

"Everything that comes on the super highway, that runs into your house, is carried by big business," said Thompson. "They're making millions and billions of dollars by sending this [pornography] into the homes. Most child molesters get caught up on these Internet sites."

In Mirman's taped phone call, the UAT telemarketer accused another phone company of "sponsoring" child pornography.

UAT: UAT, Mr. Mirman, is the only carrier that is taking an active stand against same-sex marriages and hardcore child pornography.

MIRMAN: I think all child pornography is hardcore ... It's all wrong. AT&T sponsors child pornography?

UAT: No, no. That's MCI.

MIRMAN: MCI sponsors hardcore child pornography?

UAT: Yes, they have a pedophile Web site for men who love boys. Uh, it's a Montreal-based Web site.

MIRMAN: Oh my God! Our Canadian pervert neighbors!

UAT: Mmm hmm.

MIRMAN: So MCI basically has a child pornography ring.

UAT: That's correct.

In response, MCI spokesman Peter Lucht issued a statement saying, "It is disappointing that this company would resort to spreading false statements to benefit its cause. One would hope that consumers would see right through them."

But it is the end of the taped telemarketing call that perhaps best summarizes how UAT, and companies with similar marketing ploys, are attempting to build a base.

MIRMAN: Basically God hates AT&T, MCI and Verizon.

UAT: (pause) Yes. And, Mr. Mirman, do you make a lot of long distance calls or just a few every month?

None of the other major long distance companies would comment on their new conservative competition.