A cleric vs. a broadcaster; Should sponsors be boycotted to clean up TV?
Mater: Now we're all critics of television; and it's what we do with that criticism that separates Mr. Wildmon's position from me, from you, and from the real majority of the people. And we at CBS see in Mr. Wildman's coalition, perhaps the greatest assault on intellectual freedom that we have witnessed in this country in many years. And I say that not to be dramatic but rather because I believe that the efforts of the coalition are only half a step removed from book burning.
Mr. Wildmon's coalition comes to us with a self-assured aura of religious respectability, and that sets it apart from groups of other concerned citizens. Some people look upon this coalition as the voice of all God-fearing America. And it is not.
And our problem is not that Mr. Wildmon objects to some or all broadcasts on television; nor is it a problem that he is vocal about his objections. But I am troubled -- troubled as a broadcaster, as a journalist, as a concerned citizen. Troubled when the coalition seeks to serve as a filter of the national television programming, as a national arbiter of taste, as the ones to make the choice for all of us.
Mr. Wildmon recognizes that viewing recommendations won't work -- that a democratic system of choices will not serve the coalition's purposes. Therefore , he seeks to eliminate everyone's freedom of choice. And there is something decidedly immoral in that approach. And such efforts are not containable.
Mr. Wildmon started with prime-time entertainment programming -- to which he and the coalition objected. But a recent mailing of his objects to the airing of two CBS news broadcasts. And I ask where will it all end.
Wildmon: To be perfectly honest with you, it's not individual programs because they change from week to week, that is a concern of mine or I think of other people in the country.What really concerns us is the value system being depicted in those programs. Precisely, a value system that says violence is a legitimate way to achieve one's goals in life. A value system that says violence is a legitimate means to resolve conflict. A value system that says sex is something to snigger at or that you participate with with anyone other than your own spouse. A value system that says, instead of intelligence, profanity is the way to enforce what everyone has to say. Basic values is not individual programs per se.
Reporter: I would like to know -- one, what is your value system, and two, why should your value system replace the value system that is now on television?
Wildmon: Well, obviously we're in a democracy here. And we know that. And somebody's going to get elected to president. And if you believe in the person that's running for that office in a democracy then you get out and work for that. You believe in it. You believe it's best for the country. I think that the Judeo-Christian, biblical if you will, although I'd rather use that particular term, value system has proven itself throughout history to be far superior to one of hedonism or selfish materialism or anything of that nature. I simply believe that this country made itself great on basic integrity on values as marital fidelity.
Somebody's value system is going to be in dominant control. I think I have as much right to work for that which I honestly believe in my heart to be right as those on the other side. And try to do it in a democratic process. We're not saying -- have never said -- we reflect society. All we're saying is these are the things we're concerned about.
Mater: I think the best description of the differences of opinion between say , CBS and the coalition would be to use "Dallas" as an example. Last season "Dallas" averaged a 55 share. It means that every Friday night or any given Friday night 55 percent of the television sets in use were tuned to "Dallas." Now Mr. Wildmon does not like "Dallas." Who shall prevail" Should it be the 55 percent that represents the majority of the viewers on Friday night or shall it be Mr. Wildmon, who objects to that program? And I submit that we should be responsive to that audience. That's really where we come from.
Wildmon: If not "Dallas," per se, it's a lot of the values that we object to. If I object to those values of immorality or greed or lust or whatever, do not I have a right of moral conscience to refrain from supporting those companies that help promote that?
Mater: My only problem with that approach is that it sounds fine, but what it boils down to is that by your saying that by your nonsupport you hope -- implicity -- you hope that the advertiser will withdraw from "Dallas" because there will be, if you will, an exodus of advertisers and therefore "Dallas" either will change or be removed. And in so doing you're ignoring the majority.
Wildmon: No. Certainly there are enough people there who appreciate the program to keep it on the air, and you won't remove it.
Mater: You know, Mr. Wildmon, I think there are products that you don't buy and I don't buy -- on an individual basis. Obviously you can't quarrel with that. I think that when it's a concerted, organized effort with basically a stated purpose as you've made very clear here -- to change the face of television -- that's when you and I come apart.
Reporter: Why isn't it sufficient for your coalition to say this is a terrible show, don't watch it? So that people who do want to watch it have a choice to watch.
Wildmon: It is a possibility that we may have a turn-off campaign in the future. . . . Even though this is the me generation, narcissism is still not something to be coveted. We're part of society. What you do in New Jersey affects me in Mississippi. You know we're not just a group of individuals across the country. So, if you teach that child that the way to get ahead in life is to take a gun and go get what he wants. I have to pay taxes to support prisons and institutions like that -- so we're society and I always thought it was the goal of society for society to encourage its individuals to be the best that they can be, to achieve the most they can achieve, rather than wallowing in the field.
Turning it off is like sitting in your kitchen eating with your family and having a man standing outside the window exposing himself. Don't worry about it -- pull the shades down.
Mater: Well, to begin with, I have no quarrel with a preacher who preaches or the teacher who teaches that any program shouldn't be watched for any reason. And if Mr. Wildmon and his colleagues indeed were to announce every Sunday that these are the programs not to be watched, that wouldn't bother me. Whether it would be effective or not is another issue. What bothers me is that the ultimate purpose or the stated purpose of Mr. wildmon's coalition and some other groups is really a deprivation of rights. In other words, it's a decision that we don't like program X, whatever it happens to be. Whether its "Dallas," or "Fallen Angel," or anything else, and therefore no one will have the opportunity to watch it. And that's what bothers me.
Wildmon: It is our firm belief that the networks can show anything they want to show; that the advertisers can sponsor anything they want to sponsor; that the viewer can view anything he wants to view and only the networks or the local stations tell that viewer what choices he has available to him and that the consumer can spend his money where he wants to.
Mater: It's not a question of whether I personally or somebody at CBS personally likes or dislikes a program, but rather whether the public will like the program. CBS is not an eleemosynary organization. Let's clear the air of that. We're looking for a large audience quite obviously.
Mr. Wildmon is a minister and has a stated set of values. I am a broadcaster and don't and I'm not sure quite how --
Wildmon: I think that is the problem. . . .
Mater: It is our firm belief that social mores do change and they change quite literally on a daily basis to some degree, and rather than have a set of standards listed, you will do this, you may not do that and so on and so forth, we don't do it. We judge frankly based on input from affiliates, the letters that we receive, sessions such as this, the columns that you people write; but we don't set ourselves up with a set of standards of this is what we are going to project in programming.
It may sound simplistic, but basically we're talking about entertaining and informing and that's exactly what it amounts to, and to come up with a set of biblical standards, or other standards, saying that this is what we're going to do -- we don't feel that it is either the duty, the responsibility, or indeed within the province of the broadcaster to, if you will, educate the American people.
Wildmon: If in essence there is no support, or very little support, minimal support for the things we believe in and hope for, and dream for, then . . . we won't have a n impact on television.