TV Too Easily Acquiescing to Government Intrusion

TV Too Easily Acquiescing to Government Intrusion
Posted by FoM on January 23, 2000 at 12:15:41 PT
By Charles Krauthammer, Syndicated Columnist
Source: Pioneer Planet
No one invokes the sanctity of the First Amendment more often and more passionately than the media. When music companies are criticized for purveying the most repulsive misogynistic rap lyrics, they hoist the First Amendment flag. When newspaper reporters who have given confidentiality pledges refuse to testify about their sources, the flag is run up again.
As it should be. For all its abuses, the First Amendment is perhaps the greatest of all bulwarks against the power of government. It turns out, however, that the TV networks are not quite the First Amendment purists they pretend to be. Dangle some cash in front of them, and they will let the White House drug czar vet their scripts.Salon magazine reported Jan. 13 that in return for being released from the obligation to show free anti-drug ads (and thus enabled to sell that ad time), the TV networks have allowed the White House to review prime-time programs to make sure they send the right anti-drug message.These networks are parts of some of the same media giants that make passionate protestations of their sovereign right to purvey syncopated CD incitement to rape and murder. They are quite willing, however, to accept government meddling in their prime-time shows if that makes them money.How much money? There's the howler. The six networks combined sold their First Amendment soul for a grand total of $25 million, about what Arnold Schwarzenegger gets for one movie. This for companies with combined revenues of about $5 billion.It reminds me of that immortal line in ``A Man for All Seasons'' in which Sir Thomas More, condemned to death on the false testimony of his protege Richard Rich, sees him newly wearing the insignia of attorney general of Wales. ``For Wales?'' More says. ``Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales!''In reality, this ad-money-for-script-vetting swap is a novel form of product placement. Product placement is the practice of taking a bundle of cash from Coke in return for having the hero swig some prominently onscreen.Disturbing as it is, gratuitously inserting a soda can or cereal box or muscle car into a scene for money is a trivial form of artistic corruption. However, inserting government-sponsored messages is not.Unlike Coke and Kellogg, government has the power to tax, audit, subpoena, imprison. We allow companies and individuals and groups to put all kinds of pressure on media-through advertising, boycotts, lobbying. But we balk when government, with such unique and abusable power, steps in. In a system where liberty is preserved by the separation and diffusion of power, we rightly refuse to grant government even more power through control of the content of free media.One reason is to prevent slightly Orwellian press releases of the kind issued by the White House drug office Jan. 14. It is headlined ``New Study Finds Little Depiction of Illicit Drugs on Network Prime Time Television: White House Drug Czar Pleased with Accurate Portrayals.'' He should be. He paid for it.No big deal, you say. This whole affair involves nothing more than promoting anti-drug messages on prime-time shows. What's so wrong with that?The big deal is not these particular ads, but the principle: government's hand in mass-media scriptwriting. If that is no big deal, what is to prevent government from doing it for other causes of its choosing?President Clinton and his spokesmen were asked whether the vetting of scripts might not be extended to equally worthy messages about ``gun control'' and ``youth violence'' (and why not to recycling, ethnic tolerance, charitable giving and the correct use of the fork?). The response was not encouraging.Press Secretary Joe Lockhart was defiant. They were ``looking for other ways to get the (anti-drug) message out that allows networks in a robust advertising environment to sell to other people where they can make more money,'' he said.Got a problem with that? Well, yes. Some find the practice corrupting. And when they asked Lockhart if it does not raise questions about deceptive government influence, he responded in perfect Clintonian fashion: ``As far as sort of theological questions for the entertainment industry,'' Lockhart said, ``I suggest you put the questions to the entertainment industry.''But of course. This is surely an airy abstraction for the likes of Thomas Aquinas, on retainer at DreamWorks. Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post. Distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group. Published: January 23, 2000 2000 PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press Salon Magazine Articles:Washington, 90210 - 1/21/2000 House Defends TV Drug-Ad Deal - 1/15/2000 Script Doctors - 1/13/2000 Money, How the White House Secretly Hooked TV-1/13/2000 
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on January 23, 2000 at 14:08:13 PT
From 'I cannot tell a lie' to 'I did not inhale'
I.F. Stone said that all governments are run by liars, and nobody should believe anything they say. Nobody with half a brain could possibly believe anything *this one* says.The FCC is supposed to be regulating the airwaves at *our* behest. But what do they do? They sell off chunks of the electromagnetic spectrum to major corporations on the proviso that these corporations make obligatory 'public service messages'. Which they very grudgingly do. After all, this cuts into *THEIR* time.('Their' time? I thought it was *ours*! Ah, but silly me, I'm not some rich fat cat producer, CEO or FCC bureaucrat; I'm just the citizen they are all supposed to be doing this *for*.) Time they could be using to make even more money. Is it any surprise that an abuse of such a wide open loop-hole takes place? And that the architects of this chicanery work for an adulterous, lying SOB who says he didn't inhale? What do you expect from such people?We hope for "Four-score, and seven years ago..." and we wind up with "I did not have sex with that woman!" I love the American political system. It proves the old dictum told to me by a British soldier once: "You know, Yank, the scum always rises to the top!"
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: