Network television programs: Just say no

PROVIDENCE R.I. (U-Wire) — Sometime last year, I read that none of the 26 fall television shows had a minority playing a leading role. Apparently, ABC and NBC have been criticized the most. Several journalists, politicians and minority advocacy groups have responded by accusing the networks of being insensitive, narrow-minded, uncreative and even racist. Although the lack of minorities in these shows is probably not the result of a racist agenda, the absence of minorities in the lineup is surprising.
It is surprising that almost all the characters are white because many of the networks’ new shows are set in cities where, in real life, a large proportion of the population is considered a minority. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People threatened to boycott the shows and advertisers. I hope their attempt to convince Americans not to watch TV is successful. We would all benefit if we kept our TVs off. The networks’ failure to include minorities in the fall lineup is just one example among many that proves the networks today are no longer concerned with following traditional standards of acceptable behavior.
Networks no longer enlighten, inspire, inform or educate people. Instead, the networks’ new priority is to drive ratings and increase profit. As a result, the networks are producing shows that are degrading to our culture and our society. Perhaps the most damaging and horrible effect of the networks’ new priority has been the replacement of the information media with the entertainment media.
Last year, the Hoover Institution sponsored a conference called “Media Circus: The State of the Media.” At this conference, Robert Zelnick, the Media Fellow at the Hoover Institute, and James Risser, the director of the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University, discussed the state of the network news programs. Both men came to the conclusion that today’s entertainment media is causing journalism to decay and is a threat to our country.
Both Zelnick and Risser believe that network news organizations no longer have a sense of public responsibility. Zelnick said network news have become “massive generators of income, which means they’ve shifted from the evening news to prime-time magazine shows to audience mass-ratings contestants, and … the nature of the product has changed dramatically because of that.” Both men agreed that today the news is more entertainment than information, and, as a result, reporters and anchormen are no longer informers but entertainers.
Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel and Diane Sawyer have become entertainers and celebrities who compete with each other to capture our attention — not to inform or educate us but to shock and entertain us. Zelnick believes “the prime-time infotainment has influenced to some extent the coverage of your more solid news programs, your evening news and some of your morning news programs.”
Because the networks are more interested in entertaining than informing, they often sensationalize the news and even completely fabricate stories to capture your attention. Although many networks are owned by conservative corporations, liberal orthodox and pressure groups with narrow agendas direct the industry.
When liberal bias mixes with an obsession with sensationalism, we become the victims of irresponsible journalism. Attempting to promote a narrow agenda by shocking consumers, “Dateline NBC” secretly rigged a pickup truck with explosives to make it explode on cue during a test crash. In June 1998, CNN and Time Magazine reported that the CIA and the American military used nerve gas on American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam War. The story was so shocking that the Pentagon and the national press investigated the issue. What both the Pentagon and the press discovered was the completely unreliable sources and unsubstantial evidence behind the report. CNN was forced to retract the story.
When they are not intentionally lying, news providers are often trying their best to distort the truth. According to the Justice Department, the rates of violent crime — homicides, assaults and crimes committed with firearms — have been declining since 1994. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide rates in or around schools has also been declining.
However, Brokaw, Koppel, Sawyer and even your local evening news anchorman will do their best to convince you otherwise. Why? Because watching pictures of bleeding, crying kids is much more entertaining than listening to a talking head explain why violent crime rates are down. But that is what Brokaw, Koppel, Sawyer and the networks are there for — to sacrifice meaning and information for sensationalism and entertainment.
According to the Boston Globe, James T. Hamilton, director of the Duke University Program on Violence in the Media, “studied 60 TV stations in 20 American markets and found that one-third of the stories on local news were about crime.” Today, the networks are catering to the lowest common denominator and selling news that the public wants to watch.
Why are the networks producing such horrible shows? Robert Zelnick believes, “The shape of journalism today is a product of the times; it’s a product of the market; it’s a product of recent experience as to what sells, what makes money.” Risser and Zelnick believe that the news market today is so big that the news no longer controls the market. Instead, the market controls the news. They point out that 25 years ago, the news was published only twice each day.
As a result the networks not only felt less pressure to broadcast breaking news when there was none, but they also had time to check their sources and gain perspective. Today news is broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In an effort to compete, the networks feel pressure to broadcast new and exciting news even when there is none. And more often than not the networks’ idea of new and exciting news is stories that shock and entertain you.
When I watch the news I expect to be informed, educated and enlightened. Until the networks stop spreading misinformation my TV remains off.
Nicholas Krippendorf’s column originally appeared in Thursday’s Brown University paper, the Brown Daily Herald.