Arts, Media, and Entertainment

Prime-Time Fairness

    Yesterday, I told you about an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that looked at the stem cell issue in a fair and balanced manner. It stands in marked contrast to the one-sided way that another NBC series, ER, took advantage of a guest appearance by actor Don Cheadle to propagandize. And this isn't the only instance of Law & Order's bucking liberal orthodoxy. In some ways, this isn't surprising for a series that tells stories about the evil people do to one another. Police and prosecutors don't have the luxury of indulging a naïve view of human nature or the liberal utopian worldview that produces it. In a recent episode, titled "The Ring," the district attorneys have to decide whether reading a suspect's e-mail would violate his privacy. They discuss the issue with their boss, the Manhattan DA, played by Fred Thompson -- yes, the former senator from Tennessee. The DA not only rejects the privacy concerns, but he also adds that Roe v. Wade, that found a "right to privacy" in the Constitution, was incorrectly decided. He then asks his shocked subordinates what they think about that. They tell him that he's letting his religious beliefs influence his legal position. In reply, he holds up a copy of the Constitution and challenges them to find any mention of a right to privacy. As he puts it, just because the Court says it's there, doesn't make it so -- wow. An episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent treated the abortion issue with similar fairness. In "The Third Horseman," an abortion doctor is shot and killed. But just as pro-lifers start to groan, thinking we're going to be smeared, they learn that the prosecutor is pro-life. The show ends up correctly depicting the killer as representing only an extremist fringe of the pro-life movement. In "Silence," an episode of Law & Order: SVU, viewers are told that the recent scandals involving sexual misconduct by Catholic priests have nothing to do with celibacy. A character points out that, in most of the cases, the issue wasn't pedophilia -- sexual attraction to children -- but rather homosexual attraction to teenage boys -- wow, again. I don't know who is writing these scripts, but I hope they keep it up. In these instances and others, viewers are getting a fairer presentation of the issues during prime-time drama than they get on the nightly news. This is especially important since popular culture increasingly shapes Americans' attitudes and beliefs. If what we've seen recently is any indication, Fred Thompson the actor may have more impact than Fred Thompson the senator. In my opinion, these are but signs of a growing lack of confidence in liberal orthodoxy itself. For more than three decades, this worldview has gone unchallenged. Nobody thought about presenting both sides of a hot-button issue, because only the "progressive" side made sense. But the social and cultural wreckage, the moral chaos created by the unthinking adoption of that worldview, has caused people to rethink what they believe. And this rethinking is going on in the entertainment world as well. Of course, television is still, as former FCC chairman Newton Minnow famously called it, a "vast wasteland." But even the most barren wasteland is capable of producing the occasional flower. For further information: BreakPoint commentary no. 021202, "Art Imitates Life: Law & Order and Stem Cells." Find out more about NBC's Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
  1. John Sommerville, How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society (InterVarsity, 1999).
Peter Kreeft, How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis (InterVarsity, 2002).


Chuck Colson


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