IS TV THE WHIPPING BOY?
Other mass media have the same faults but escape criticism
By Rod Serling
This article, tenth in TV Guide's "Television As I See It" series, appeared June 18, 1960
There seems to be a propensity in our time to lump current social evils into a large glob so that both identification and assault can be handled in a simple, single process. Hence, the television industry has been made the target of a national skeet-shoot and is being held accountable for everything from payola to what appears to be a lapse in national morality.
That TV should take its proportionate share of blame is altogether proper and deserving. That it should occupy a place of such questionable virtue all by itself is yet another question. There appear to be some vulnerable co-defendants who seem to escape the wrath of the Parent-Teacher Association, religious groups and Federal investigating committees. These are newspapers and national magazines that gleefully join the chorus of national disapproval as if there were no such things as glass houses and people with stones.
Last October the front pages of a large newspaper syndicate ran headlines, "Flynn Love Letters Bared." Almost one half of these front pages were devoted to a sensational account of a misguided 17-year-old girl and a lately deceased movie idol. In the corner of these front pages was a two-inch box news story with small headline which told rather succinctly that George C. Marshall, a former general of the Army, Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize winner, had died.
That story took four lines to recount. Had television the temerity to expose several million readers of newsprint (including a lot of bright teenagers who know how to read) to this kind of bottom-of-the-barrel, transom-peeping journalism, there would have been a hue and cry raised over the land sufficient to shake any and all foundations. In this case, however, we were dealing with newspapers, whose responsibilities and ethics appear impervious to judgment or criticism.
These same newspapers, it is interesting to note, showed considerable verve in condemning television for everything from defunct quiz shows to unpalatable deodorant ads. National news magazines have taken up the cudgel from time to time with comparable alacrity and identical fervor; from the pinnacles of each of their own private Mount Olympuses, they continually shoot down bolts of righteous wrath.
It remains a fact that there has never been so much as a whisper from the PTA or the Legion of Decency or anyone else suggesting that these same deodorant ads can be found in full-page color in most of these same magazines and newspapers. Nor has there been even a parenthetical comment on the fact that the death of an American statesman might prove of more historic consequence than the affairs of an aging Don Juan.
Newspapers and magazines continue to run inordinate coverage of sex and violence, highly suspect advertising, not to mention overt editorial slanting that is not confined to their editorial pages. And once again we see that strange phenomenon of a sacrosanct condition in which television can get stuck up on nails while the daily press goes on a daily garbage-strewn pathway of amber journalism, unchallenged and unjudged.
Television rates a public paste in the mouth for many of its faults, but if the American public is intent on doing some analytical soul-searching in the areas of mass communication, let newspapers and magazines stand in line for their legitimate share of culpability. When you talk morality, decency, taste and ethics, there can be no double standard! What is sauce for the television goose should be the same sauce for newspaper and magazine ganders.
Rod Serling, one of TV's most honored writers, is executive producer and narrator of CBS's The Twilight Zone.
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