On violence, close look demands reversing field

MEDIA WATCH

May 25, 1999|By Milton Kent

One of the many valuable lessons my parents have taught my siblings and me over the years is to be adult enough to apologize when you are wrong.

And so today, I offer a sincere and public apology to a colleague.

For a while now, I've thought that a fellow media scribe, Phil Mushnick, who toils nobly for the New York Post, was seriously off base as he railed about the media's role in the violence that pervades our culture.

Just yesterday, for instance, reading his "Equal Time" column online, I shook my head as his salute to NBC for a weekend tribute to the recently retired Joe Dumars wandered off into a rant on recent NBC shows that glorified sex and violence.

But, then, I read about the accidental death of professional wrestler Owen Hart on Sunday night during a pay-per-view show in Kansas City, Mo. Then I popped in a tape of tomorrow night's HBO "Real Sports" show (7: 30 p.m.)

The first segment was devoted to two NHL players, St. Louis' Tony Twist and Stu Grimson, who owe their hockey existences not to their ability to put the puck in the net but to their roles as enforcers. The second segment was a piece on the riot that broke out in East Lansing, Mich., in March when the Michigan State men's basketball team reached the Final Four.

And, then, I went back to read a passage from Mushnick's column.

"TV has helped desensitize kids to sex and violence the same way it has helped eliminate fundamental basketball skills," Mushnick wrote.

While we all may not agree with how sex is dealt with, surely we can come to an understanding that we have to do better with the violent images that come streaming from the media.

And this isn't just about television, though it gets a good chunk of the blame because of its easy accessibility and the power of the visual image. None of us who works in this industry -- whether it's in television, radio or publishing -- can wash the blood off our hands from our involvement in making this world more uncivilized.

In fairness to all involved, Hart's death, unlike a lot of the cartoonish behavior that takes place during wrestling shows, was an accident, and was not shown to the home audience.

But, even without videotape of the accident, still photos of Hart's body being taken out of the Kemper Arena ring were on the air during yesterday's morning news shows, and will likely make someone's newspaper today -- a double-pronged assault on our sensibilities.

This is not an easy opinion to arrive at, particularly for a media writer. The First Amendment is the bedrock of what we do and what this column is about. Regular readers know that it takes something extraordinary for me to support anything that strikes at the freedom of the press.

However, in case you haven't noticed, we've been living in rather extraordinary times of late. The images of children running from two shooters in a high school in Colorado barely begin to fade before copycat shootings and bomb threats reinforce them.

And sports -- allegedly our refuge from the horrors of the day -- only serve as a mirror. Bench-clearing brawls, Karl Malone's elbows and car crashes are daily staples of the sports news shows and are delivered ad nauseam and without apology.

The usually cited excuses that come from our end stem from the three-headed desire to serve the public's right to know, its interest in learning about these matters and protecting our own competitive hides, so that the paper down the street or the other television or radio station doesn't have a picture or clip that we didn't.

That's where you, the reader/viewer, come in. You have to hold up your end of the bargain. When you see an offensive clip of two hockey goons fighting shown either locally or nationally, you must call the offending outlet and say, "Enough." Likewise, if the local newspaper, yes, even The Sun, runs a picture of a bloody football player, you have to either call or fire off a letter of protest.

But while many of you rail at the unavailability of good choices to watch and read, others of you flock to schlock. Case in point: Two weeks ago, during the first weekend of the NBA playoffs, USA's ratings for the weekly Monday night World Wrestling Federation show were four times that of the playoffs. That's why Turner has been airing Monday basketball games on TBS the last couple of weeks rather than TNT; so that it can get its wrestling show on, to feed the public's bloodlust.

It's not going to be easy, and sports is, admittedly, a tiny part of the problem, but it's a good place to start, so that none of us has to apologize later.

Hooray for Hollywood

Our West Coast spies tell us that Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson will be taping a cameo appearance tomorrow for an episode of the HBO sitcom "Arli$$," during the team's stay in Anaheim.

It's pretty obvious that Erickson isn't being invited for his pitching, based on his 1999 numbers.

Pub Date: 5/25/99

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