TV Should Lead Push To Reduce Violence

The TV business has to step up and become part of what should be a national, multipronged effort to stop killings like that in Newtown, Conn. And TV doesn’t have to wait around for the definitive answers that may never come. TV can act now -- It can stop airing so many shows that romanticize gun violence; it can quit scaring people with incessant stories of violent crime; and it can also lead the national debate on gun violence by mobilizing its journalists.

Twenty-seven killed, including 20 children. As President Obama said: “We have been through this too many times.”

By the end of this week, NAB President Gordon Smith, NCTA President Michael Powell and MPAA President Christopher Dodd have to sit down to figure out what they can do to help curb the gun violence like that in Newtown, Conn., that stunned the nation last Friday.

They have to pledge that the TV business is going to step up and become part of what should be a national, multipronged effort to stop such killing. (Dodd, a former Connecticut senator, should also rally the movie industry to the cause.)

Something is horribly wrong in America. These shootings are happening too often and are too similar to be shrugged off as random events. Much has been written about the possible causes and more will be written.

But TV doesn’t have to wait around for the definitive answers that may never come. TV can act now. What can it do?

It can stop airing so many shows that romanticize gun violence. More so on cable than broadcast these days, TV it still rife with people shooting and getting shot.


I get it. These shows are popular because they are thrilling and because they allow us to play out our own fantasies of getting justice or just getting even. Harmless? Maybe. Maybe not. Until we know for sure, the best course may be to dial it down.

TV can quit scaring people with incessant stories of violent crime. It’s no wonder millions of Americas buy guns and stick them in the nightstand drawer where they are just as likely to be used in accidental shootings, suicide or domestic violence as they are in personal defense.

(One of the great paradoxes in all this is that violent crime is going down as the spree killings go up.)

TV stations are especially guilty of the fear mongering. Because it’s easy and because viewers have a morbid fascination with it, local newscasts pack their rundowns with crime, the more sensational the better. They will even air crime stories from a half a continent away simply because they have good video from a security camera.

TV can also lead the national debate on gun violence by mobilizing its journalists. TV’s job shouldn’t end after it returns to regularly scheduled programming. National and local newsrooms should explore all the possible causes and all the possible solutions. How about a primetime documentary or two, and not on Friday or Saturday night?

The NRA should be put on the spot. Its effective advocacy has made it possible for any halfwit in the country to arm himself as if for war.

How about those point-of-view video games, which require the player to mow down the bad guys? Common sense says that that can’t be all good for the psyche.

And the TV reporters cannot shy away from questioning their own bosses. Many believe that TV is culpable, and all those critics have to do is scan the channels to show the mayhem that saturates the medium.

People want answers. Broadcasters are duty bound to seek them out.

At the very least, TV has to keep the conversation going, even if the politicians don’t. In July, in the wake of the Aurora theater shootings (12 dead), the debate over what could be done lasted all of three days.

TV is a powerful medium, reflecting and shaping our culture at the same time. Time and again, it has demonstrated that it can change the culture for the better. Here, it gets another chance.

Today, with many of the victims of Newtown still unburied, everybody is asking why, and many, including the president, are saying that it is time for action.

The TV industry can get out front on this issue, examining the impact of the programming it airs and leading the national debate.

If it does nothing on its own initiative, it may have to do it on the government’s. Over the weekend, on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman called for a national commission to examine the role of media in gun violence.

“The violence in the entertainment culture — particularly, with the extraordinary realism to video games, movies now, et cetera — does cause vulnerable young men to be more violent,” Lieberman told Chris Wallace. “Doesn’t make everybody more violent, but it’s a causative factor in some cases.”

Lieberman said that he doesn’t believe that legislation is necessarily the answer.  “In our society, you always try to do it voluntarily. But, I think we’ve come to a point where you’ve got to say, if not, maybe there’s some things we can do to tone it down.”

Headed for retirement next month, Lieberman doesn’t much matter anymore. But others on the Hill — and in the White House — do.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or [email protected]. You can read earlier columns here.

Comments (16)

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Michael Shapiro says:

December 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Thank you!!!! The only solution is a multi pronged one. I love Dexter but does it have to so graphic? Same with Walking Dead. Do we have to have crime procedurals that walk us through every step, put dark thoughts out there? How about the video games? Are these the cause? They’re part of the puzzle.

alicia farmer says:

December 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Harry – Excellent piece. Local stations should be ashamed. As you say they are especially guilty of fear mongering. How about reporting real news instead of chasing crime and mayhem? Silly me – that actually takes some work. and real investment.

Mike Liveright says:

December 17, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Thanks Harry. Excellent and thoughtful column. It is not just one problem, it’s what our culture is turning to as a whole. Picking just one segment is too easy and provides a false sense of accomplishment. We’ve seen too much of that already in how the mental health system responds to helping those at risk, whether they’re on the streets or in our schools. This is a discussion worth having in a calm, responsible manner without the usual invective that pervades what passes for debate these days.

Angie McClimon says:

December 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

It’s not just broadcast TV. Video games can also be a problem. I’m not talking about something as innocuous as “Centipede”, “Super Mario Brothers”, or “Asteriods”. The games that are realistic blood-and-guts are also to blame. But TV cannot do it all. Some shows like “Dexter” are on premium networks. I will always hold the position that parents are responsible for what their household watches, not the networks or the incredibly useless PTC, who has more bark than bite. People can talk a good talk but how do you know it’s not falling on deaf ears?

    spike spike says:

    December 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm


Jason Crundwell says:

December 17, 2012 at 4:13 pm

NRA as advocate for killing sprees? Idiotic. I expect better from you, Harry. If that stupid woman, the mother of the killer, had had her weapons locked up like any sane person would have, none of this happens. The guns weren’t sold to the killer; they were legally purchased by his mother. She paid for her stupidity with her life, but, sadly, it didn’t stop there.
Otherwise, I’m with you. TV, film and the video game business need to admit they might be part of the problem. Let’s dial it back. Damn-sure can’t hurt. But people need to start taking responsibility for their actions. Cars kill more people than guns do (domestically, at least). Should we ban them, too?

Jim Richter says:

December 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm

there is no reason for assault rifles to be available to anyone other than the military. People who choose to hunt for food do not use such guns. If it were not for the lunacy that is PETA we would not have black bears in suburban New jersey nor a moose crashing thru the windshield of a car on the Merritt Parkway. Man is at the top of the food chain and nature has up until now had a balance, a natural order
The framers of the Constitution lived in an age with muskets only capable of firing a single shot. The Right to Bear Arms existed during a time in history when Britain might well have returned, a time when people hunted for food. Not even the vision of Ben Franklin could have imagined this

    spike spike says:

    December 26, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    The “right to bear arms” still holds true as a citizenry without arms can be controlled by a government. Look at the countries abroad who evidently have no weapons to fight the cruddy government-controlled, innocent-wasting militias! I’m certain Ben would still be on the side of the “armed bearers of freedom” as the British might return with Piers Morgan!

Matthew Craft & David K. Randall says:

December 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Since TVNEWSCHECK is designed to focus on the business of local TV stations, let’s put aside video games and even streaming and cable content. The violence on local TV comes from two sources: prime time network content and local news. The former is an ironic byproduct of outmoded FCC regulations that inflict punishing fines on stations who even accidentally air foul language or a flash of nudity. By contrast, violence is just fine with the FCC. And while it’s far less common and graphic than cable or in theatres, there’s a lot more of it than sexuality or the F-word. But stations must take full responsibility when it comes to local news and the story selection, focus and marketing of same. What insight or information do Los Angeles residents get because their local TV anchors are reporting from in front of the Sandy Hook school in Connecticut? Zero. Not even when the anchor is a total pro like Chuck Henry. On the plus side, KNBC and others do indeed make viewers aware of local police precautions, advice from chilld development experts, etc. There are times when the quality of the public service needs to trump transient news ratings. The Newtown tragedies are such an occasion.

Kimberly Gari-Luff says:

December 17, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Yes, TV should take the lead.

Sad to say, I’ve had two friends murdered. Ironically, both were murdered by Communists, LCDR Albert Schaufelberger*, USN, by Salvadoran rebels and CT1 John H. Potts*, USN, by North Korea. Compare my life experience with the thousands of murders witnessed by people watching TV and it’s no contest.

Yes, TV should take the lead, but it won’t. The buck doesn’t stop here; it doesn’t stop anywhere. It doesn’t even slow down.


Kimberly Gari-Luff says:

December 17, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Say, all the line breaks I had in my post were deleted, making it rather difficult to read. Is that a bug or an undocumented feature?

Ellen Samrock says:

December 18, 2012 at 12:07 am

Very thoughtful piece. Compared to cable, I think broadcast television does a fairly responsible job of moderating the violence in dramatic shows (and news) but in the wake of this tragedy it can do more (and so can cable for that matter). I agree with Arthur Greenwald, the FCC has been hypocritical in what it determines as indecency, choosing to narrow its focus on content of a scatological nature while ignoring the equally if not more obscene acts of extreme violence. But it must be acknowledged that teens and young adults like Adam Lanza are far more influenced by violent video games, which are participatory and hence highly popular, then television, a passive medium they only occasionally watch. And, yes, legislation is the answer especially when it comes to banning assault weapons. These guns have only one function, to kill on a massive scale, and there is no reason in the world why a private citizen should have one (or two or three).

Dante Betteo says:

December 21, 2012 at 3:53 pm

So Instead of cop shows we will see more shows like the Voice and Amazing race. Looks like I will be watching more of ME TV

    Ellen Samrock says:

    December 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Or perhaps we can have cop shows that stress good plotting and character development instead of gratuitous violence.

spike spike says:

December 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Hmmm…The Voice does have some charm for some surprisingly gifted performers, in my view which I highly value, but as for reality shows (Amazing Race ad nauseum) yep, give me ME TV or SCETV!

Teri Keene says:

December 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Keep in mind MeTV does show some programming that was quite violent back in the day… “Hawaii-Five-O”, “Wild, Wild, West”, “Gunsmoke”, “The Rifleman”, etc… it’s like we’ve had this conversation before… when these shows were out.

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