A Noxious Influence

THROUGHOUT this land, people and gov­ernment agencies have become greatly alarmed by the ever-increasing number and violence of crimes committed by persons under twenty-one years of age.

District Attorney, Richmond County, New York City

THROUGHOUT this land, people and gov­ernment agencies have become greatly alarmed by the ever-increasing number and violence of crimes committed by persons under twenty-one years of age. The gravity of the situation has been dramatized by the recent series of brutal murders committed by juveniles and youths in the city of New York. We are startled by the opinion shared by many of our colleagues who expect that the problem will worsen before showing signs of improvement. Numerous expert studies have been com­pleted and others are still in progress to as­certain the causes of delinquency. Most research­ers conclude, and I think we can agree, that this social disease infecting perhaps 3 per cent of our youthful population is not the result of any sole or exclusive cause. It is rather the product of numerous causes and influences, the effectiveness of any one of which, to a larger degree, depends upon the basic personality char­acteristics, the mental health, background, and environment of each individual.

I am not the first, nor am I likely to be the last, to suggest that the medium of television may be a material environmental factor at work in our society bearing on the shape of the human personality.

There are very few persons in the United States who do not have an opportunity to watch television. Statistics recently released by the Television Bureau of Advertising indicate that today there are 44,500,000 television homes and 49,300,000 television sets; 4,400,000 homes with two or more sets. Ninety-eight per cent of American homes are within range of television transmitting stations; five hours and five min­utes of each day are spent viewing television in the average household.

We might well acknowledge at the outset the immense contribution of the television indus­try as a whole to the enhancement of our leisure and to the stimulation of our intellect. Many hours of wholesome entertainment daily brighten the TV screen, and the great public figures and sports personalities of our time vie with one another for an invitation into our living rooms.

In the great democratic tradition of our free enterprise system, the industry very properly is motivated largely by the profit incentive, and must, of course, be mindful of the interests of its stockholders. The source of its income is exclusively the revenue obtained from private advertising sponsors whose primary objective is the sale of their products. But the networks do not sell the sponsor's wares over the counter. They apply for and obtain the franchise of government for the use of a limited number of channels in the ether lying within the public domain. Networks will not dispute that with the employment of the public domain for private gain must go a concomitant responsi­bility.

It is popular knowledge that competition for sponsors among the networks is extremely keen, and that popularity of programing is a deci­sive factor in the competitive struggle. The superiority of one network over the others, in the sponsor's mind, is measured by a system of ratings that are scientifically devised by organi­zations specializing in the analysis of public opinion. These ratings are based upon the ac­ceptability of particular programs to the tele­viewer, so that the choice of material reflects, in large measure, the preferences of the viewing public. Unfortunately, however, it would ap­pear that programs portraying life as a cheap commodity and concentrating on sadistic and brutal violence are those most desired.

The minds of the young may well be com­pared to sponges in their ability to absorb thoughts and ideas. Best retained are those themes which are most frequently repeated and which stimulate and appeal to the fertile and immature imaginations of the young. Therefore, continuous viewing by impressionable juveniles of programs glorifying violence, suggesting that crime pays under certain circumstances, poking fun and ridicule at the police and law en­forcement agencies generally, is bound to Rave a lasting subversive effect upon a considerable number of our immature population.

In any city or community it is impossible to ascertain the exact number of children who are predisposed by a combination of other factors to antisocial or delinquent patterns of behavior. Estimates indicate, however, that the number is comparatively large. The realistic dramatiza­tions portrayed on television enable young peo­ple to become expert in the techniques of com­mitting crimes and in the avoidance of detec­tion.

We recognize that most children are hero wor­shipers continuously endeavoring to emulate their "heroes." No apprehension is felt when the hero is an outstanding athlete or the em­bodiment of good citizenship. However, child psychiatrists believe that children, in general, tend to identify themselves with or make them­selves feel like either the "good guy" or the "bad

guy." Should a child choose to identify himself as the "bad guy," the numerous models of hos­tile behavior he can find on television provide him with a prototype more vicious than the one he might devise for himself in an outbreak of antisocial behavior. He will thus bring into play all the aggressive hostility and brutality which he saw his "hero" display on the tele­vision screen.

In some homes television has become the substitute for parental guidance and attentive-ness. Too many parents have abdicated their authority over their children to the television set. They selfishly encourage their children to spend hour after hour glued to the TV set solely for the purpose of relieving themselves of the responsibility for personally supervising them, in order that they, the parents, might devote more time to satisfying their own desires. Such parents have been heard to justify their acts by stating that they, at least, know that their children are off the streets while watch­ing television. The unfortunate aspect of such parental misguidance is that these parents are not in the least concerned about the type of program their children are viewing. More im­portant, they do not trouble to check on the desirability or undesirability of the particular program as it may affect the personality and conduct of their children.

Psychiatrists inform us that children are as­sisted in forming their social attitudes via close, affectionate, and constant contact with their par­ents or other adults responsible for their care. Some parents continuously encourage the use of television as a substitute for their own atten­tion and care. The substitution of a machine for a parent tends to produce children who have fewer warm responses, and who are con­sistently more subject to antisocial behavior as they reach adolescence. In this area parents cannot justifiably shift their responsibilities to the networks.

According to a recent survey in a large city in the United States, the television programs for the week, up to the hour of 9:00 p.m., showed 161 murders, 60 justifiable homicides, 190 at­tempted murders, 83 robberies, 18 kidnapings, 24 conspiracies to commit murder, 21 jail breaks, 7 attempted lynchings, 6 dynamitings, 11 extor­tions, 2 arsons, and 2 incidents of human tor­ture. I believe that certain television programs have triggered the commission of crimes by juveniles, and in support of this opinion I submit to you the following crimes where the juveniles them­selves have stated that they saw the crime of which they were accused first depicted on tele­vision. Some of these incidents took place in my own Richmond County. Others occurred in different counties and States. In a case involving the crime of arson the juvenile stated that his method of starting the fire was first observed by him on television. In another case a juve­nile admitted that the method of concealing his features while committing the crime was wit­nessed on television. In the larceny of automo­biles youngsters have admitted that the method of starting the car without an ignition key was first observed on television. Devices for black­mail and extortion, as well as the use of gloves to eliminate incriminating fingerprints, were also learned on television. I am sure that these cited instances could be multiplied many times.

In conclusion, therefore, I think we can agree that television, because of its popularity and its ability to influence public opinion and human behavior, constitutes one of the most powerful forces in America today. I do not wish to be understood as favoring government cen­sorship. However, with such tremendous power must go great responsibility, and the realization that the desire for profit should not be the sole goal of the various networks.

I believe that the report of the Committee of Religious Leaders of the City of New York to Mayor Wagner correctly describes the responsi­bility of the networks in this regard. The report, in part, says: "This industry, however, must recognize its responsibility in maintaining and advancing the moral climate of our community. It cannot forsake its obligation of morals and of good taste. Its purpose is not merely to pre­sent as a mirror of life the moral attitude of our age, with its emphasis on sordidness and vio­lence. Its dedication to art and entertainment places squarely on its shoulders the responsibil­ity for the raising of cultural and moral stand­ards. It should, above all, refrain from glorify­ing wrongdoing and the wrongdoer.

Parents must not neglect their children by abdicating their responsibility to guide and di­rect them along the avenues of good citizenship. The public must ever be aware of the great potential of television as an influence on young-people. When the situation demands, we as law-enforcement officials and as responsible par­ents should not shrink from protesting to the networks, to the sponsors, and to all those associated with the television industry, demand­ing that the programs presented be consistent with the best interest of our community and society. This need not mean that all program­ing must be leveled to the innocent eye and mind of the juvenile viewer. Mindful of the requirements of good taste, the viewing habits of young people in terms of hours of exposure, and with a greater degree of awareness and responsibility on the part of parents, it is reason­able to anticipate that the malignant influence of present-day television can be eliminated, and that the television industry can serve as a powerful ally in our struggle to solve one of the most challenging problems of our age.

The minds of most Americans are exercised today concerning the happenings on television programs. The claim of many people, not the least Christian people, over rigged quiz programs is intensified by the knowledge of the far-reaching influence of the illuminated screen. The characters of children and youth are being molded by what they see and hear over this impressive medium. Yet men in prominent places are concerned about other things than cor­rupted quiz shows appearing on TV.

Dr. W. John Cannon, assistant professor of pas­toral theology of Potomac University, was present at the Hotel Statler Hilton in New York City when District Attorney Braisted gave this revealing address. Dr. Cannon was impressed that these valu­able facts should be made known to all our minis­ters, and Mr. Braisted graciously gave him his address that it might be shared with others in a larger way. Dr. Cannon says: "I feel that every Adventist minister should read this material. I com­mend to your thoughtful consideration this state­ment made to such a body of men as those present at the International Chief of Police Convention. There is one question to be posed. 'What are we going to do about it?' "—Editors.


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District Attorney, Richmond County, New York City

April 1960

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