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CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
| February 12, 1997 (Vol. Two; No. 16) |


MRC Alert: Clinton Contradiction Not News; Swearing & Sex OK for Kids

1.  Mike McCurry confirms that coffees were meant to raise money, thus contradicting Clinton's assurances. But only CNN reports it.

2.  The first in-depth study is released comparing the new ratings on prime time entertainment shows to their reality. "Ass," "bastard," "suck" and "son of a bitch" fine for children.

3.  ABC's Peter Jennings calls others "self-appointed guardians." And a Food Lion reminder.

1) Clinton fundraising update. The February 11 CyberAlert noted that none of the broadcast network evening shows Monday night picked up a Boston Globe story which reported that a top Democratic official admitted the White House coffees were meant to raise money from attendees.

It turns out that White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry was asked about it during his daily news briefing on Monday. McCurry's answer contradicted an earlier comment from President Clinton, but that still didn't generate a mention on ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News either Monday or Tuesday night.

CNN did find it newsworthy, however. On Tuesday night's (February 11) The World Today Wolf Blitzer contrasted Clinton's campaign finance rhetoric to his record. Blitzer began by noting that on Tuesday Clinton took the high road by making a public commitment to campaign finance reform. Blitzer then announced:

"But critics claim he's also taking the low road. Sources close to Republican Senator Fred Thompson say he's worried the White House is trying to limit his hearings into fundraising by getting Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and other Democrats to attack his motives..."

After a soundbite from Daschle denying the charge, Blitzer continued: "Still, having the President push reform diverts attention from his money raising headaches. The latest in The Boston Globe. Former Democratic Chairman Don Fowler acknowledging that shortly after those controversial White House coffees with Mr. Clinton, the DNC hit up some participants for donations. The White House confirmed the blunted mission."

Mike McCurry on Monday: "I think the President would have wondered why he was doing all those coffees if they hadn't had some follow up."

Blitzer: "That's not how Mr. Clinton described meetings last month."

Clinton at press conference: "I think the President should keep in touch with people, I think he should listen to people. I never learn very much when I'm talking and I normally learn something when I'm listening. So I think they are good."

Blitzer: "How good were those coffees? The Boston Globe says the 358 individuals or companies represented contributed $27 million to the Democrats in '95 and '96..."

2) At a press conference Tuesday in Washington, DC, the Parents Television Council (PTC), the Media Research Center's Hollywood project, released a Ratings Reality Check study titled: "A TV Ratings Report Card: F for Failure."

Tuesday night's ABC World News Tonight and CNN's The World Today carried very positive stories relaying our findings. CNN anchor Natalie Allen warned: "Parents take note. This next story contains graphic scenes. It's the kind of material your child can watch during prime time, but without the stern warning. That is fueling some angry complaints among the earliest reviews of TV's new ratings system." Jeanne Meserve's story opened with violence and sex scenes in shows rated TV-PG before summarizing the PTC's conclusions.

ABC's Peter Jennings explained the newly installed ratings system, then announced: "In Washington today a conservative media monitoring group has taken exception, and very quickly."

Reporter Barry Serafin ran a soundbite of PTC Chairman L. Brent Bozell: "The age-based ratings system on television today is hopelessly confusing, inconsistent, contradictory and meaningless."

Serafin picked up: "Bozell says his Media Research Center monitored 150 hours of television over two weeks in January. The report's main quarrel is with prime time programs rated PG, a widely used rating meaning some material may be unsuitable for younger children. The report says 52 percent of PG programs viewed contained obscenities like this."

Clip from NBC's ER: "Two days is all that I asked for -- son of a bitch."
Serafin: "Some, the report says, are barely disguised."

Clip from ABC's Life's Work: "That drilling's driving me out of my f*****g mind." [noise from a drill drowns out the obvious word after the f sound]
Serafin: "The group says 55 percent contain sexual references or innuendo."
Clip from CBS's Pearl: "I wanted to flunk her brains out, but when it came time I just, I went soft."

Entertainment division Senior Writer Tom Johnson collated the data and wrote the PTC study which determined:
"The new, age-based ratings system for television is a failure. There is no inter-network consistency in the ratings. Worse, there is not even intra-network consistency. In short, the age-based system, which the television industry promised would help inform and assist parents in choosing appropriate shows for their children, is making such a determination more confusing than ever before. These are the conclusions of a Parents Television Council content analysis of two weeks -- 150 hours -- of prime time television on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN, and WB."

Among the report's findings based up an analysis of all entertainment shows aired from January 3 through 16:

-- The six networks aired 150 hours of entertainment programming over the two weeks. Ninety-two hours (61.3 percent) were rated TV-PG; thirty-one hours (20.7 percent) were rated TV-14; twenty-seven hours (18 percent) were rated TV-G.

-- The G rating does not necessarily indicate a safe haven for children of all ages. Shows with vulgarities and sexual references have garnered a G rating.

-- The PG rating -- given to more than three-fifths of programming -- is hopelessly vague, applied with abandon to shows containing sexual material and vulgar language and shows containing neither.

-- Obscenities appeared almost as often in PG shows as in those rated TV-14. Fifty-two percent of PG shows contained such words as "ass," "bastard," "son of a bitch," and "suck." One PG episode, of ABC's Life's Work, included two obvious uses of "f---ing" that were drowned out by the sound of a power drill. Sixty-eight percent of TV-14 shows included similar vulgarities. Overall, there were 189 incidences of vulgar language, an average of 1.26 per hour. In TV-PG shows viewers heard 1.48 obscenities per hour.

-- Programs usually were rated TV-14 for violence, rough language, or other sophisticated themes, yet some PG shows contained more violence than TV-14 offerings. In fact, while slightly more TV-14 than TV-PG shows contained sexual references, PG shows included more sexual references per hour: 0.88 in TV-PG shows compared to 0.74 in TV-14 programs.

-- TV-M, indicating a show meant for adults, was not applied at all, thus declaring that everything during prime time was suitable for youngsters. Later this month, NBC will apply TV-M to Schindler's List, meaning that the network thinks sexually oriented PG sitcoms like Friends and Men Behaving Badly are appropriate for children, but this Oscar-winning film isn't.

Entertainment analysts Christine Brookhart and Alice Lynn O'Steen as well as interns Kristina Sewell and Jessica Bearor performed the research for the study, watching dozens of hours of shows to document their content so that could be compared to their rating.

Thanks to the quick work of the MRC's Joe Alfonsi, our newly installed online manager, you can read the entire 12 page report and accompanying graphs on our Web site.

In the full report Tom Johnson explains the background of the ratings, defines what each rating should mean, provides numerous illustrative examples of obscenities and sexual themes in shows rated TV-PG as well as how TV-14 shows are often no worse than TV-PG shows, and concludes with recommendations on how the system should be changed.

3) Just after Barry Serafin's World News Tonight piece on the Parents Television Council ratings study, Peter Jennings led into the next story: "Well, that at least is the case made by the self-appointed guardians of children's interests. How well does the ratings system actually work in the home? To get an idea, ABC's Erin Hayes went to a key source: 12 and 13-year-olds."

Sort of like ABC making itself the self-appointed guardians of food safety in grocery stores? A reminder: Tonight's (Wednesday, February 12) Prime Time Live and ViewPoint ("after your late local news," as they say) will focus on PTL's 1992 undercover piece on Food Lion and the jury decision last month in favor of Food Lion.

  -- Brent Baker





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