ABC anchorman Peter Jennings recently hosted a special telling us "How to Get Fat Without Really Trying." The primary point was to encourage the public to view fatty foods as a public health threat on the order of cigarette smoking, and to encourage the viewpoint that government had better play a greater role as the national food police.
I'm sure many parents of young children caught one of the storylines within the special: Children are being pressured by advertisers into overeating, overdrinking and obesity. Jennings warned: "The average American child sees 10,000 food advertisements a year on television alone. Most of those advertisements are for fast food, sugar-coated cereal, soft drinks and candy, and other foods dense in fat and calories … They're not advertising fruits and vegetables on television."
One of ABC's villains in this piece was a man named Paul Kurnit, who makes his living by teaching advertisers how to appeal to kids. Jennings prodded him about his seeming lack of social responsibility. "When you're putting together an advertising campaign, do you care if it's healthy or not?" Jennings demanded to know. "Have you played a role in making less-healthy products appealing to children, thereby increasing their desire for those products?"
So ABC News is aligning itself firmly in the camp of those who believe television can influence impressionable young minds, and not always for their own good. Bully. Now I suggest there's another fascinating special that Peter should put together. Let's talk about the television shows in between the commercials that take up three times as much airtime. More specifically, let's talk about how ABC is putting eyeballs in front of the tube with its own messages for children, messages filled with sexual innuendoes, violence and grisly crime talk.
And let's be fair by putting ABC boss Michael Eisner on the hot seat to ask him those pointed questions put to the food industry. Do you care if your TV shows are healthy or not? Have you played a role in making less-healthy behaviors appealing to children, thereby increasing their desires for those behaviors? Eisner's interview could be matched with a few choice ABC programs: