CyberAlert -- 03/26/1997 -- TV Skips Over Religion

Copy of: MRC Alert: TV Skips Over Religion; Cronkite: U.S. Not a Democracy

1. A correction to yesterday's CyberAlert.

2. Bernard Shaw raises possibility of a "contradiction" between opposing the Dept. of Education and wanting to educate children.

3. The MRC releases two studies documenting how little attention religion receives in entertainment plots and in the news agenda.

4. Cronkite's Crockery of the Day: He wonders "whether we qualify as a democracy at all."

1) A correction to the March 25 CyberAlert. I cited a Prime Time Live story in which reporter John Quinones said of Mexican boys in San Diego who are pedophilia victims: "In California, the problem has been made only worse by the passage of Proposition 187..." I referred to Prop 187 as the "anti-quota" initiative passed in 1996. As a California CyberAlert reader pointed out, that's Prop 209. Prop 187 was a 1994 initiative which restricted aid and services to illegal aliens.

2) Favoring federal government spending and federal regulation equals caring about an issue, CNN's Bernard Shaw implied on Tuesday's Inside Politics. Announcing the decision of Republican Congressman Jim Bunning to seek the Kentucky Senate seat of retiring Senator Wendell Ford, Bernard Shaw reported on the March 25 show:
"Bunning says he wants to be in the Senate because that would put him in a better position to clean up the environment and educate children. He says he sees no contradiction between this aim and the fact he's voted to eliminate the Education Department and cut funding for the EPA."

3) On Tuesday the Media Research Center released studies on how religion is dealt with in prime time entertainment shows and on network news. Thanks to the quick work of the MRC online manager, Joe Alfonsi, both can be read in full on the MRC Web site: Below is an overview of what they found.
-- "Faith in a Box: Entertainment Television on Religion, 1993-1996," was put together by Tom Johnson and released in a conference call with reporters Tuesday conducted by Mark Honig of the MRC's Parents Television Council:
Nine of ten Americans believe in God, and a recent TV Guide poll found that more than two-thirds of respondents want to see more spiritual content on television. Given that Hollywood claims to reflect reality, and that we are a highly religious nation, it's appropriate to ask how realistically prime time TV portrays matters of faith.
The short answer: Not very. Religion is a scarce commodity in prime time TV, appearing about once every four hours. Even though depictions of religion last year were, overall, positive, prime time has too often presented distorted, unfair views of both clergy and laity.
The total number of religious depictions jumped to 436 in 1996. There has been a near-fourfold increase in this category over four years. Simple expressions of faith, such as prayer, were dealt with positively by almost a 10 to 1 margin in 1996. Faith has been handled quite favorably all four years.
In 1996, the depiction of lay people was overwhelmingly negative, by a margin of almost 4-1. Believers were portrayed negatively 67.9 percent of depictions. Devout criminals were prevalent. On the January 31 Law and Order, a man explains why he killed two twelve-year-old boys: "This one looked at filthy magazines [and] he was wearing an image of St. Justin. It wasn't just lust. It was sacrilege. Justin was a martyr to Our Lord. [The other boy] stole, defiling Our Lord. He had to be destroyed." On the April 12 Nash Bridges (CBS), a bomb threat to the mayor is accompanied by words from Revelation. Other programs portraying the religious as crazy or violent included the January 15 NBC movie Justice for Annie, the January 22 Nowhere Man (UPN), the September 10 Fox movie Dark Angel, and the October 12 Walker, Texas Ranger (CBS).
There were slightly more positive than negative depictions of the clergy last year -- not encouraging figures given the exceptionally high esteem in which real-life clergy are held. Past clerical portrayals have been highly negative ('93 and '95) and close to balanced ('94).
CBS, which boasts the faith-friendly Touched By an Angel and Promised Land, was far in front among the networks last year with 172 total portrayals. Among full-time networks, ABC trailed badly with 55. CBS aired the most instances in 1995 as well; NBC led in '93 and '94. ABC also finished a distant last in '95.
-- "Faith in a Box: The Network News Portrait of Religion, 1993-1996," was produced by the MRC's Tim Graham and released at a Tuesday press conference conducted by MRC Chairman Brent Bozell:
For the last four years, the Media Research Center has conducted an annual survey of the quantity and quality of religion news coverage by the national television networks. Surveys show virtually all Americans believe in God, and 60 percent attend religious services at least once a month. But the landscape remains surprisingly unchanged: the networks continue to fail in significantly breaking the one-percent barrier of total news content in their religion coverage, neglecting people and issues of faith in their everyday reporting. Among the highlights of this year's study:
In the last four years, from 1993 through 1996, the networks have aired an estimated 72,000 evening news stories, and an estimated 104,000 morning show segments. But only 955 of those 72,000 evening news stories (roughly 1.3 percent) were devoted to religion; and only 830 of those 104,000 morning news segments (roughly 0. 8 percent) covered religion.
In 1996, the number of network news treatments of religion increased, but only slightly: 269 evening stories, 258 morning stories, and 19 magazine segments -- barely more than one percent of total coverage. Over a four-year period, the networks averaged 239 evening news stories per year, 208 morning news segments a year, and only 15 features per year on all their magazine programs.
The dearth of TV religion coverage did not result from a lack of interesting religion news events and feature ideas of 1996. Whether it's annual events, like the $1.2 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, or noteworthy new developments, like the new scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution theory or the new State Department panel on oppression of religious people abroad, the networks have shown little imagination or interest in religion stories.
Again, the full text and graphs for both studies can be viewed from the MRC Web site:

4) Today's Cronkite Crockery of the Day, another quote found by MRC intern Brian Schmisek in Cronkite's book, A Reporter's Life. Today's quote comes from page 178:
"This vaunted democracy, beacon to the world, has the lowest voter participation of any major nation. The number of eligible voters who actually go to the polls has dropped below 50 percent. Thus, the majority electing our office-holders may be less than a quarter of our eligible population. That raises a question as to whether we qualify as a democracy at all."
At least the one-quarter who vote represent a greater diversity of views than Cronkite's profession.

-- Brent Baker