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Full text of "Mass media and violence; a report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence"

MASS MEDIA 




, 



A STAFF REPORT 
NOT A REPORT 
OF THE 
COMMISSION 



A STAFF REPOFRT TO THE -NATIONAL 
COMMISSION ON THE CAUSES AND 
PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE 
PREPARED BY 

Robert K. Baker & Dr. Sandra J. Ball 









^ 




The White House 

June 10, 1968 
EXECUTIVE ORDER #11412 

ESTABLISHING A NATIONAL COMMISSION ON 
THE CAUSES AND PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE 

By virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, it 
is ordered as follows: 

SECTION 1. Establishment- of the Commission, (a) There is hereby 
established a National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence 
(hereinafter referred to as the "Commission"), 
(b) The Commission shall be composed of: 
Dr. Milton Eisenhower, Chairman 

Congressman Hale Boggs Senator Roman Hniska 

Archbishop Terence J. Cooke Albert E. Jenner, Jr. 

Ambassador Patricia Harris Congressman William M. McCuIloch 

Senator Philip A. Hart *Dr. W. Walter Menninger 

Judge A. Leon Higginbotham 'Judge Ernest William McFarland 

EricHoffer *Leon Jaworski 

SECTION 2. Functions of the Commission. The Commission shall 
investigate and make recommendations with respect to: 

(a) The causes and prevention of lawless acts of violence in our society, 
including assassination, murder and assault, 

(b) The causes and prevention of disrespect for law and order, of 
disrespect for public officials, and of violent disruptions of public order by 
individuals and groups; and 

(c) Such other matters as the President may place before the Commis- 
sion. 

SECTION 4. Staff of the Commission. 

SECTION 5 . Cooperation by Executive Departments and Agencies. 
(a) The Commission, acting through its Chairman, is authorized to 
request from any executive department or agency any information and 
assistance deemed necessary to carry out its functions under this Order. Each 
department or agency is directed, to the extent permitted by law and within 
the limits of available funds, to furnish information and assistance to the 
Commission. 

SECTION 6. Report and Termination. The Commission shall present its 
report and recommendations as soon as practicable, but not later than one 
year from the date of this Order. The Commission shall terminate thirty days 
following the submission of its final report or one year from the date of this 
Order, whichever is earlier. 

S/Lyndon B. Johnson 
*Added by an Executive Order June 21 , 1968 



The White House 

May 23, 1969 
EXECUTIVE ORDER #11469 

EXTENDING THE LIFE OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION 
ON THE CAUSES AND PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE 

By virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, 
Executive Order No. 1 1412 of June 10, 1968, entitled "Establishing a National 
Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence," is hereby amended 
by substituting for the last sentence thereof the following: "The Commission 
shall terminate thrity days following the submission of its final report or on 
December 10, 1969, whichever is earlier." 

S/ Richard Nixon 



MASS MEDIA 

AND 
VIOLENCE 



VOL. IX 



A Report to the 

National Commission on 

the- Causes and Prevention of 

Violence 



by 

Robert K. Baker 
Sandra J. Ball 



November 1969 



Official editions of publications of the National Commission on the Causes 
and Prevention of Violence may be freely used, duplicated or published, in 
whole or in part, except to the extent that, where expressly noted in the 
publications, they contain copyrighted materials reprinted by permission of 
the copyright holders. Photographs may have been copyrighted by the 
owners, and permission to reproduce may be required. 



Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 72-604084 



For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office 
Washington, D.C. 20402 - Price $2.50 



STATEMENT ON THE STAFF STUDIES 



The Commission was directed to "go as far as man's 
knowledge takes" it in searching for the causes of violence 
and the means of prevention. These studies are reports to 
the Commission by independent scholars and lawyers who 
have served as directors of our staff task forces and study 
teams; they are not reports by the Commission itself. Pub- 
lication of any of the reports should not be taken to imply 
endorsement of their contents by the Commission, or by 
any member of the Commission's staff, including the Execu- 
tive Director and other staff officers, not directly responsi- 
ble for the preparation of the particular report. Both the 
credit and the responsibility for the reports lie in each case 
with the directors of the task forces and study teams. The 
Commission is making the reports available at this time as 
works of scholarship to be judged on their merits, so that 
the Commission as well as the public may have the benefit 
of both the reports and informed criticism and comment on 
their contents. 




Dr. Milton S. Eisenhower, Chairman 



From the collection of the 

z n 
z _ m 

o Prelinger 

i a 

v Uibrary 



San Francisco, California 
2006 



TASK FORCE ON MASS MEDIA AND VIOLENCE 

Co-Directors 
Robert K . Baker Sandra J . Ball 

General Counsel Research Associate 

David L. Lange F. Clifton Berry, Jr. 

Special Counsel Research Assistants 

Phillip Tone Deborah N. Cutler 

Carolyn M. McClelland 
Linda J. Schacht 

Office Staff Editors 

Jewel I. Boyd Anthony F. Abell 

Jean C. Peterson Paul L. Briand, Jr. 

Steffen W. Graae 

Staff Consultants 

Leonard Berkowitz Jack Haskins 

Monica Blumenthal Jay Jensen 

Leo Bogart Harry Kalven 

William R. Catton, Jr. Otto N. Larsen 

Peter Clarke Jack Lyle 

I. William Cole Eleanor Maccoby 

Seymour Feshbach Marsha O'Bannon 

George Gerbner William L. Rivers 

Bradley Greenberg Arline H. Sakuma 

Richard Goranson Alberta E. Siegal 

Commission Staff Officers 

Lloyd N. Cutler, Executive Director* 

Thomas D. ^n, Deputy Director* 

James F. Short, Jr., Marvin E. Wolfgang, Co-Directors of Research 

James S. Campbell, General Counsel 

William G. McDonald, Administrative Officer 

Ronald A. Wolk, Special Assistant to the Chairman 

National Commission of the Causes and Prevention of Violence 
Dr. Milton S. Eisenhower, Chairman 

*The Executive Director and the Deputy Director did not participate in the work of the 
Media Task Force. 



iv 



PREFACE 



When a government commission undertakes to evaluate any aspect of 
media performance, it is properly a delicate inquiry in a society which prizes 
free expression. There is no room for polemics when media performance is 
called into question, for the ultimate issue may become whether free 
expression is feasible. There was, however, no point during our investigation 
when the resolution of this issue was in serious doubt. 

We are not sufficiently arrogant to essay an answer to all of the questions 
subsumed under the title of this volume. Particularly in the news area, 
there are few answers and many questions of judgment. While we have 
attempted to provide the kind of information and analysis relevant to these 
judgments, we can suggest neither that our list of considerations is complete 
nor that any rigid formula will be satisfactory for all occasions. In the context 
of our concern with the media and violence, however, while continuing to 
believe fully in the concept of free expression, it is clear that the 
media -including their educational and professional organizations-have 
shown an apalling lack of concern about the effects of particular media 
practices and little interest in research to determine how, under any 
reasonable standard, they might do better. 

From the outset many people asserted, sometimes quite vituperatively, 
that it was not only improper but unconstitutional for a governmental body 
even to study the media. We reject this position. Government, as any other 
group in our society, is as entitled to speak out on all issues and this includes 
commenting on media performance. If the government's statements are to 
rise above the level of diatribes or platitudes, they must be based on research 
and reasoned deliberation of the issues. This is what we have attempted to 
accomplish. This Commission has no sanctions to impose, and we do not 
believe that studies of this kind have any chilling effect upon the exercise of 
First Amendment rights. Indeed, uninformed comment by government 
officials is more likely to chill, if only because the irrational tends to be 
frightening. 

A new era in communications is very near. Technological developments, 
presently being adopted, make possible twenty broadband channels to each 
home. If competing forms of communication do not develop simultaneously, 
plenary control over access to such a system by one or two, even three 
corporations is unacceptable in a society which values free expression. If the 
ultimate in concentration of media control ever arrives, there is no reason to 



believe that government control would not be better. At least the government 

is apt to be more responsive than a self-perpetuating corporate management 

with such tremendous power. Today we are moving in that direction and one 

I thing seems clear: the policies of the First Amendment can no longer be 

I! secured simply by keeping the government out. 

Part I of the Task Force Report begins with a summary of the 
philosophical and historical antecedents which underlie our First Amendment 
tradition. It then proceeds to discuss the development, structure, and 
functions of the contemporary media. This overview of the media is essential 
not only to an understanding of what the media are today, but also to an 
intelligent formulation of what they might be tomorrow. 

Part II of the report, addressed to the news media, does not focus on the 
pathology of American journalism. There are, to be sure, a number of 
well-documented cases of news suppression, and the occasional rudeness, 
pomposity, and simplemindedness of some newsmen is well known. There is 
little those outside the professional and news organizations can do to improve 
manners, and there is no point in admonishing against what even the least 
principled members of the profession recognize is wrong. 

We have tried to address problems which we regard as inherent in what 
are relatively broadly accepted practices and values of American journalism. 
But, just as the general quality of American journalism cannot be assessed by 
examining only The New York Times, The Louisville Courier Journal, The 
Bend Oregon Bulletin, or the network news department, our report will not 
be equally applicable to all news organizations. 

Our analysis is not value-free. Although there is a place in American 
journalism for advocacy, the major news media view themselves as a source of 
unbiased information. It is this news function on which we focus our 
concern. We strongly endorse the view that the journalist reporting hard news 
is obligated not to take sides on the many issues which confront and 
sometimes divide our society. The continued viability of the First 
Amendment depends mostly on a credible presentation of the kind of 
information which will enable our citizens to discharge their democratic 
responsibilities and to provide the news in a format likely to produce the 
minimum amount of audience distortion during assimilation. This is the 
journalist's most important obligation. Similarly, news values and practices 
which consistently distort information in a direction likely to exacerbate 
intergroup tensions which the tendency to equate news with emotional 
impact clearly does are a liability to a society which should be committed to 
the orderly resolution of their differences. 

In a speech to the Overseas Press Club, William Wirtz observed that 
criticism of the press by anyone even remotely associated with government is 
a notably unrewarding occupation. In part this is no doubt due to the belief 
of some journalists that, as Mr. Wirtz went on to describe, "an essential 
balance against the power of government to corrupt absolutely is the power 
of the press to be critical beyond criticism." Throughout this report we have 
offered our views on the many issues which confront American newsmen and 
suggested the ways in which journalists' values and practices should be 



changed. As our comments are not equally applicable to all news 
organizations, our solutions will not be equally persuasive to all newsmen, 
publishers, and broadcasters. As we will repeat in the conclusion of the News 
Section of this report, we can only recommend their implementation where 
they are found both applicable and persuasive. The government can no more 
legislate good journalism than it can legislate good manners. More important 
than the adoption of specific suggestions is that each news organization make 
an independent determination of the efficacy of its own policies and 
practices. There will never be agreement among the many news organizations 
or other institutions, including the government. Yet, such diversity is what 
the First Amendment is all about, and that is the great strength of American 
journalism. 

Public concern for violence in entertainment television programming has 
been with us since at least 1954. This is the focus of Part III of our Report. 

From 1954 to the present day, the networks and the National Association 
of Broadcasters the trade association representing a majority of local 
commercial stations have answered public concern with three principal 
arguments: 

First, they have asserted that there is no conclusive evidence that violence 
on television causes viewers to behave violently. Even a nodding acquaintance 
with the research literature on the causes of violent behavior teaches that 
violent behavior is usually the result of interacting social forces of which 
television program content may be one. It is unlikely that anyone can show, 
except in the unusual cases, that television or any other single factor is 
anything more than a contributing cause among the nexus of forces which act 
on the human personality. Surely there are other factors which contribute to I 
violent behavior, some of them undoubtedly more important than television. 
Others, such as weak parental influence or bad schools, may increase the 
potential of television to do harm. Just as important is the implicit suggestion 
in the industry response that before any action is taken to reduce the amount 
or kind of violence to which our children are exposed, the harmful 
relationship must be conclusively demonstrated. Again, any familiarity with 
research on human behavior teaches that such propositions are rarely, if ever, 
capable of proof of the kind we have come to expect in determining the guilt 
of an accused felon. The decision must rest, as do other business decisions 
made by the industry and decisions in other areas of social policy, on the 
basis of the weight of the evidence and the potential risk of harm. 

The second principal response has been that the industry will sponsor the 
research to determine the relationship between viewing violence and violent 
behavior. It is sufficient to note that although such promises were made first 
in 1954 and continued through 1964, by October 1967 the amount of 
research sponsored by the industry on this issue was so small as to be 
insignificant and that which was supported by the industry was, from the 
outset, clearly undertaken as a defensive move. By the time of our first set of 
hearings, the industry had shifted to the position that the reason they had 
undertaken no research is that it was not a researchable problem. Yet, within 
a matter of weeks after the second set of hearings in December, the networks 



had met and agreed to promote new research, and NBC had authorized the 
expenditure of $500,000 over the next five years. 

The third major response of the industry over the years has been that they 
are going to reduce the amount of violence on television. Such promises were 
made in hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 
1954, 1961 , and 1963. Some studies in the files of the subcommittee indicate 
that the quantity of violent programs increased as much as 300 percent 
between 1954 and 1961 . In 1961 , the networks told the subcommittee that it 
takes eighteen months to two years to effect program changes capable of 
reducing violence. Two years later another set of hearings discovered that, 
with the exception of CBS, there had been no statistically significant 
reduction in the amount of violence. 

After the tragic assassinations in the spring of 1968, there was much 
publicity in the trade and regular press about how the networks were 
reducing violence on television. Content analysis contracted by the Media 
Task Force indicate there was no such reduction by October 1968. 

As before Senator Dodd's subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, in 
testifying "before the Commission, the industry again asked for more time. We 
hope they will put it to better use than they have in the past. 



viii 



Acknowledgments 



The Media Task Force Report is the product of a group effort. While it is 
impossible to identify separately individual contributions, it is both necessary 
and desirable to identify major areas of responsibility, major contributors, 
and those to whom we are most heavily indebted for both their time and 
patience. 

The most difficult task was faced by our consultants who were asked to 
set aside the many pressing demands on their time to prepare under 
impossible deadlines papers on which to base this report. Without their 
generous cooperation no report would have been feasible. 

Our requests for information and access to personnel placed the greatest 
burden on the three commercial television networks. Each cooperated fully 
and promptly in assisting us to secure the information and material we 
needed. Special thanks is owed to Elmer Lower of ABC News and Richard 
Wald of NBC News for informally discussing news practices with us early in 
the formulation of this study. Similarly, special thanks is owed to the lawyers 
for the respective networks, Robert Evans and Ralph Goldberg at CBS, 
Corydon Dunham at NBC and Mark Roth at ABC, for handling our requests 
for information and tapes of entertainment programming promptly and 
efficiently. Aid was also received from Jack Valenti and Edward Cooper of 
the Motion Picture Association of America and from Douglas Anello of the 
National Association of Broadcasters. 

In December of 1968 we invited about 50 journalists and six or seven 
representatives with minority perspectives to Washington for a three-day 
conference and we appreciate their insights to the news profession and how it 
works. 

With regard to the news section of our report, three individuals must be 
singled out for extraordinary contributions: Ben H. Bagdikian of the Rand 
Corporation, Norman Isaacs of the Louisville Courier- Journal, and William L. 
Rivers of the Stanford School of Communication. Where their contribution is 
taken from a published source it is footnoted, but our borrowing from their 
unpublished work and oral comments is quite extensive in several chapters. 
Moreover, they frequently provided important leads to other source 
materials. 

It is somewhat easier to assign final responsibility for analysis and con- 
clusions within the Media Task Force staff. David Lange wrote Part I, 
"An Historical Perspective," on the basis of papers submitted by 
consultants. 



Part II, "The News Media," was written by Robert K. Baker. Significant 
portions of this section drew heavily on staff papers prepared by F. Clifton 
Berry, Jr., Steffen W. Graae, and David Lange. In addition, Linda J. 
Schacht made several essential research contributions to the formulation 
of the news section. 

Part III on "Television Entertainment and Violence" was under the 
direction of Sandra J. Ball. Assisting her on research were Carolyn McClel- 
land, Linda J. Schacht, and Deborah Cutler. 

As one might expect, the weaknesses and fallacies of the report must 
be credited to the Co-Director responsible for the relevant section Robert 
K. Baker for "The News Media" and Sandra J. Ball for "Television Enter- 
tainment and Violence." 

RKB 

Bangkok, Thailand 
20 November, 1969 



I would like particularly to thank the social scientists who participated 
directly and indirectly in Part HI. Their ideas, and counsel contained in 
papers submitted to the Media Task Force or in conversation were invaluable. 
In this respect, I am particularly indebted to Dr. Arline H. Sakuma. 



S.J.B. 



CONTENTS 

Page 
Preface viii 

Acknowledgments xiii 

PART I: AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE 

Chapter 1 -The Printed Medium 1 

*J A. History of the American Press 3 

v^ 1 . England 3 

v 2. Early America 6 

7 3. Philosophical Antecedents 7 

- 4. The Philosophy As Law 11 

^ 5 . The Historical Role of the Press 15 

"' 6. Sensationalism 18 

- Chapter 2 From Medium To Media 25 

/ A. Newspapers 25 

^/ B. Magazines 25 

/ C. Movies 26 

^D. Radio 27 

^ E. Television 28 

^ ' F. The Media in Contemporary American Life _ . 29 

1. Media Con tent: A Brief Overview . 29 

2. The Media and the Professionals 30 

PART II: THE NEWS MEDIA 
^/Chapter 3 Functions and Credibility 33 

^ A. Functions of the News Media 36 

v B. Credibility of the News Media 37 

J C. The Importance of Being Credible 39 

J D. Credibility and Audience Bias 40 



Page 

Chapter 4 Intergroup Communication .............. 43 

A. Communication Between Blacks and Whites: 

A Case Study ...................... 44 

1 . Nineteenth Century Coverage of Blacks ......... 46 

2. The Twentieth Century: The First Fifty Years ..... 47 

3. Progress in Black Coverage: The 1950's ......... 49 

B. Communication Between Blacks and Whites ....... 52 

1. The Need for a Black Perspective ............ 52 

2. There Can Be Progress ................... 54 

3. The Black Community and the White Press ....... 56 

4. Integrated Newsrooms ................... 58 

5. What Facts Are Significant? ............... 61 

Chapter 5 The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media . 67 
A. Access: The News Media Audience ............. 69 



Access: The Newsman's Perspective ............ 72 

* C. Access: News Media Structure and Competitive Practices 78 

1. The News Business ..................... 78 

2. News Media Concentration ................ 82 

3. Acquisition of Suburban Newspapers .......... 84 

4. Syndicated Features .................... 85 

, 5. Joint Publishing Agreements ............... 85 

^ D. Access: Coverage of Protest ................. 87 

1 . Influence of Media Presence ............... 89 

2. Media Incitement to Violence .............. 91 

3. Coverage of Demonstrations ............... 93 

Chapter 6 Coverage of Civil Disorders ............. 1 03 

A. Watts ............................. 105 

B. The 1967 Disturbances ................... 106 

C. 1968 ............................. Ill 

D. Reporting Civil Disorders ................. 113 

Chapter 7 Journalism Education ................ 121 

A. The Curricula ........................ 124 

B. Continuing Education Programs ............. 129 

Chapter 8 Media Practices and Values ............. 135 

A. The Newsman's Concept of News ............ 137 

J B. Objective Versus Interpretive Reporting ......... 143 

Chapter 9 Conclusions and Recommendation ......... 151 

A. Action By Government .................. 156 

B. Action By the News Media ................ 159 



Page 
APPENDICES 

Appendix II-A How the Mass Media Work in America 

By Leo Bogart 165 

^/A. The Mass Media Experience 165 

/B. The Economics of Media 169 

Operating the Media 172 

The Influence of Advertisers 176 

\/'E. Media: Model or Mirror? 179 

/Appendix II-B Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 

ByJackLyle 187 

/A. Mass Media As Institutions 187 

>/ 1 . The Information Function 187 

a. Implications for Democratic Society 188 

* 2. The Entertainment Function 190 

/3. The Information Entertainment Mix 190 

^4. Leader or Reflector of Society? 191 

B. Survey of General Media Content and Audience .... 192 
1. Books 192 

'2. Libraries 194 

3. The Book Public 194 

4. Magazines 196 

5. Comic Books 199 

6. Newspapers 200 

7. The Underground Press 203 

8. Movies 204 

9. Radio 205 

10. Phonograph Recordings 206 

11. Television 206 

12. Education Television 209 

C. Different Patterns of Media Selection and Use 210 

1. Demographic and Ecological Factors 210 

2. Sociopsychological Factors 212 

D. Some Problems Related to the Mass Media's Nature . . 214 

Appendix II-C Media Codes, Guidelines, and Policies for News 

Coverage 217 

A. Need for Guidelines 217 

1 . Characteristics of Guidelines 218 

2. Effectiveness of Guidelines 219 

3. Operation of Guidelines 219 

B. Specific Media Guidelines 219 

1. The Networks 219 



xiii 



Page 

2. Television Stations 222 

3. Radio 223 

4. Newspapers 224 

5. Wire Services 224 

Appendix II-D The Canons of Journalism 225 

Appendix II-E Code of Broadcast News Ethics 227 

Appendix II-F Broadcast Guidelines for Coverage of Civil 

Disorders 229 

A. Guidelines 230 

Appendix II-G Employment Data 233 

PART III: TELEVISION ENTERTAINMENT AND 

VIOLENCE 235 

Chapter 1 0-Posing the Problem of Effects 237 

Present Approach 240 

A. Menu and Diet Communicator Intent versus Audience 

Use 241 

B. What is the Message? Medium or Content as the Basis 

For Social Learning 242 

C. Stimulating versus Cathartic Effects of Media Violence 242 

D. Mass Media Effects on Norms, Attitudes, and Values . 245 

Chapter 1 1 Mass Media as Producers of Effects: An Overview of 
Research Trends 247 

A. Decline and Fall of the "Hypodermic "Image 247 

B. Contemporary Assumptions and Theoretical Views . . 249 

C. Contemporary Classification of Effects 252 

D. Mass Media Incompletely Exonerated 253 

Chapter 12-The Effects of Media Violence on Social 

Learning . . 261 

A. The Media, the Senses, and Information Transmission . 261 

B. Fidelity, Vividness, Credibility, and Authenticity . . . 266 

C. Media Content and Social Learning 270 

D. Conclusions 279 

Chapter 13 Value Modification by Mass Media 285 

A. Acquisition of Values 286 

B. Crime and Violence 290 

C. Family and Sex 293 

D. Occupational Values 294 



Page 

E. Gratification Deferment 295 

F. "Sleeper" Effects 296 

Chapter 14 Mass Media as Activators of Latent Tendencies . 301 

A. Changing Behavior Without Changing Values 302 

B. Communication and Social Contagion 304 

C. Identities, Reference Groups, Information, and Action 306 

Chapter 15-The Television World of Violence 311 

A. Dimensions of Violence in Television Drama: Summary 3 1 3 

1. Challenge and Difficulties 313 

2. Accomplishments 314 

B. ABird's-Eye View of the Results 314 

1 . The Extent of Violence 315 

2. The Nature of Violence 315 

3. The People of Violence 316 

4. The World of Violence 316 

C. Dimensions of Violence 317 

1 . The Extent of Violence 318 

a. Prevalence 318 

b. Significance to the Story 318 

c. Rates of Violent Episodes and Acts 319 

d. The "Seriousness" of Violence 319 

2. The Nature of Violence 320 

a. Means and Personal Aspects 320 

b. Group Aspects 321 

c. Witnesses to Violence 321 

d. Physical Consequences 322 

e. "Good" vs. "Bad" and "Winner" vs. "Loser" ... 322 

3. The People of Violence 322 

a. "Violents," Killers, and their Victims 323 

b. Males and Females 323 

c. Age and Marriage 323 

d. Forces of Law and of Lawlessness 324 

e. Outcome: "Happies" and "Unhappies" 324 

4. The World of Violence 325 

a. Time of Action 325 

b. Places and People 325 

c. Law and Its Enforcement . 326 

D. The World of Television Entertainment: 1967 and 1968 327 

1. Extent of Violent Programs 327 

2. The Incidence of Violence for Different Types 

of Programs 328 

a. Programs with a Comedy Tone 328 



XV 



Page 

b. Crime-Western Action-Adventure Style Programs . 329 

c. Programs with a Cartoon Format 329 

3. Do Television Audiences Get What They Want? ... 330 

a. Manifold Functions of Television 331 

b. Habitual Nature of Television Viewing 331 

c. The TV Public's Choices 331 

d. The Public's Views on TV Violence 332 

e. Summary 333 

4. Messages for Violence Contained in TV Entertainment 
Programming 333 

5. Research Implications 336 

E. Summary 338 

Chapter 16-The Actual World of Violence 341 

A. Norms for Violence 341 

1 . Survey of Adult and Teenage Americans 342 

2. Norms for Violence: Adult and Teenage Americans 342 

a. Description of Findings 342 

b. Norms for the Use of Violence by Policemen . . . 344 

c. An Overview of Adult and Teenage Norms for 
Violence 347 

d. Adult and Teenage Norms for Violence: 
Comparison and Summary 350 

3. Black and Non-Black Comparisons 351 

4. The Approvers of Violence: Low-Level Violence . . 351 

5. The Approvers of Violence: High-Level Violence . . 352 

6. Summary ' 353 

B. Actual Experience with Violence: Adults and Teens . . 354 

C. The "Violents" in the Actual World of Violence .... 357 

D. The Context of Violence 358 

E. Summary 358 

Chapter 17 The Two Worlds of Violence: Television and Reality 
Reality 363 

A. The Two Worlds of Violence: A Comparison 363 

B. The Relationship of the Two Worlds of Violence .... 364 

1 . Users of TV for Entertainment 364 

2. The Approvers of Television Violence 365 

3. Persons with a Strong Preference for Media 

Violence 365 

C. Limitations of Demographic Comparison and Survey 

Data 366 

D. Implications of Demographic Comparisons 367 

1. Adult and Teen Differences . 368 



Page 

2. Identification and Learning 368 

3. Socialization of the Non-Violents 368 

Chapter 18 Discussions and Conclusions 371 

A. The Nature of Mass Communication 371 

1. The Unique Properties of Television 373 

2. The Organization and Institutional Role of the 

Mass Media 373 

B. Orientation to the Study of the Effects of Mass 

Media Presentations 374 

C. Conclusions: Effects of Mass Media Portrayals of 
Violence 375 

1. General Conclusions 375 

a. Short-Run Effects 376 

b. Long-Run Effects 376 

2. Television and Violence 378 

Chapter 19 Recommendations 381 

A. Effects and Effects Research 381 

B. General Recommendations 383 

C. A Center for Media Study 384 

1. Earlier Proposals 385 

2. The Task Force Proposal 386 

3. Tasks for the Center 388 

a. The Analysis and Evaluation of Media Standards . 388 

b. Collection of Data Concerning the Media 388 

c. The Monitoring and Evaluation of Media 
Performance 388 

d. The Evaluation of Media Grievance Machinery . . 389 

e. Analysis of the Institutional and Economic 
Structure, Trends within, and Practices of 

the Media 389 

f. Analysis of Media Employment Practices 389 

g. The Evaluation of the Effectiveness of 
Government Agencies Charged with Media-Related 
Responsibilities 389 

h. Development of Standards and Programs for 

Ameliorating Community-Press Relations 389 

i. The Conduct or Funding of Journalism Training 

in Areas of Critical Social Significance 389 

j. The Stimulation of Public Interest Coverage 

Through Grants and Awards 390 

k, Long-Term Study of the Social Effects of Media 

Entertainment and News Practices . , 390 



Page 

1. The Conduct and Funding of Research 390 

4. Powers 390 

a. Authority to Publicize Findings and Conclusions . 391 

b. Authority to Request Data and Reports Through 
Government Agencies 391 

5. Summary . 391 

6. The Boards 392 

a. General 392 

b. Governing Board 392 

c. Media Advisory Board 392 

d. Research Board 393 

Appendix III-A A Review of Recent Literature on Psychological 
Effects of Media Portrayals of Violence 
By Richard E. Goranson 395 

A. The Issues 395 

B. The Relevance of Psychological Research 396 

1 . The Definition of Aggression 396 

a. Harm Intent Measures 396 

b. Response Form Measures 396 

2. Individual Differences 397 

3. The Generality of Research Findings 397 

a. The Representativeness of the Subjects 397 

b. The Representativeness of the Research Setting . . 397 

C. Learning Aggression Through Observation 398 

1 . Conditions Affecting the Learning of Aggressive 
Behavior Through Observation 398 

a. Acquisition 398 

b. Retention 399 

2. Post-Observational Conditions Affecting the 
Performance of Aggressive Behavior 400 

a. The Similarity Factor 400 

b. The Effects of Observed Rewards or Punishments 

to the Aggressor 401 

c. Effects of the Social Context 403 

d. Other Factors 403 

D. Emotional Effects 404 

1 . The Blunting of Emotional Responses 404 

a. The Habituation of Emotional Responses to 
Observed Violence 404 

b. Some Possible Implications of Emotional 
Habituation 405 

E. The Inhibition and Facilitation of Impulsive Aggression 406 
1 . The Inhibition of Impulsive Aggression 407 



Page 

2. The Facilitation of Impulsive Aggression 407 

a. The Cue Properties of Available Targets 407 

b. The General State of Arousal of the Aggressor . .. 408 

F. Summary 409 

1 . Learning Effects 409 

2. Emotional Effects 410 

3. Impulsive Aggression 410 

G. Bibliography 411 

Appendix III-B Outline of Research Required on Effects 

By William R. Cation, Jr 415 

A. Need for Long-Term Studies 416 

B. Experimental Studies 417 

C. Epidemiological Studies 419 

D. Mixed Studies 421 

Appendix III-C The Content and Context of Violence in the 
Mass Media 

By Bradley S. Greenberg 423 

A. Introduction 423 

B. Magazines, Comic Books, and Paperbacks . 426 

C. Newspapers 430 

D. Television 436 

E. Correlates of Exposure to Violent Content 442 

1 . Among Young People 442 

2. Among Adults 443 

3. Some Reasons for Violent Content in the Mass Media 443 

4. What Makes for Interesting Drama 444 

5. How Society Has Changed 446 

F What We Can Expect From Television 449 

Appendix III-D The Catharsis Effect: Two Opposing Views 

By Richard E. Goranson 453 

A. Research on the Original Catharsis Formulation .... 453 

B. Research on a Revised Catharsis Formulation 456 

C. The Status of the Symbolic Aggression Catharsis 
Hypothesis 458 

Appendix III-E- The Catharsis Effect: Research and Another View 

By Seymour Feshbach 461 

A. Hypotheses 461 

B. Methods 463 

1. Subjects 463 

2. Sample Size 464 

3. Procedure . . 464 



Page 

4. The Television Programs 466 

5. Measures 467 

C. Discussion and Conclusion 467 

Appendix III-F The Worldview Presented by Mass Media 

By William R. Catton, Jr 473 

A. Anomie 473 

B. Dominance of Television 476 

C. Degradation of Values 477 

D. Undermining Directive Language 482 

Appendix III-G- Conscience Formation and the Mass Media 

By Monica D. Blumenthal 487 

Appendix III-H The Effects of Violence in the Printed Media 

By Jack B, Haskins 493 

A. Background 493 

B. Summary of Evidence 494 

1 . Evidence Regarding Violence Content in Print Media . 494 

2. Evidence Regarding Audiences and Exposure to 
Violence in the Print Media 496 

C. Evidence Regarding Effects of Violence in Print Media 498 

D. Conclusions 499 

1. Violent Content in the Print Media 499 

2. Audiences for and Exposure to Violence in the Print 
Media 500 

3. The Effects of Violence in the Print Media 501 

Appendix III-I Sampling Procedures Used in the Harris Poll 503 
Appendix III-J Content Analysis Procedures and Results ..519 

A. The Recording Instrument As a Whole 519 

1. Recording Unit 519 

2. Recording Procedure 519 

B. The Recording Instrument for Major Characters .... 524 

1. Recording Unit 524 

2. Recording Procedure 524 

3. Variables and Categories 526 

4. Reliability of Variables 529 

5. Current Form of Primary Data 530 

C. The Recording Instrument for Violent Episodes .... 534 

1. Recording Unit 534 

2. Recording Procedure 534 

3. Variables and Categories 537 

4. Reliability of Variables 538 



XX 



Page 

D. The Recording Instrument for Violent Encounters and 

Acts and Their Justification 539 

1. Recording Unit 539 

2. Recording Procedure 541 

3. Variables and Categories 542 

4. Reliability of Variables 548 

5. Current Form of Primary Data 548 

Appendix III-K The Views, Standards, and Practices of 
The Television Industry 

By Robert K. Baker and the Media Task Force Staff . . 593 

A. The Television Industry's View of the Research on 
Effects of Violent Portrayals 593 

B. Industry Standards and Practices on the Portrayal 

of Violence 599 

1. Enforcement of the NAB Code 599 

2. Enforcement of Network Standards 601 

a. American Broadcasting Company 602 

b. National Broadcasting Company 604 

c. Columbia Broadcasting Company 607 

C. Conclusion . . .613 



XXI 



Witnesses 
October 16,17,1969 

Bradley Greenberg, Department of Communication, Michigan State 

University. 
Joseph T. Klapper, Director, Office of Social Research, Columbia 

Broadcasting Systems, Inc. 
Leonard Berkowitz, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin at 

Madison. 
Percy Tannenbaum, Annenberg School of Communication, University of 

Pennsylvania. 
George Gerbner, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication, 

University of Pennsylvania. 
Otto N. Larsen, Department of Sociology, University of Washington at 

Seattle. 
Alfred R. Schneider, Vice President and Assistant to the Executive Vice 

President, American Broadcasting Company. 

Robert D. Kasmire, Vice President, National Broadcasting Company. 
Leo Bogart, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Bureau of 

Advertising of the American Newspaper Publishers Association. 

December 18, 19, and 20, 1969 

Robert MacNeil, British Broadcasting Company. 

Ben. * H. Bagdikian, Journalist and Press Critic, currently at the Rand 

Corporation. 
Norman E. Isaacs, Executive Editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal and the 

Louisville Times. 

John F. Dille, Jr., President of the Communicana Group. 
Jack Valenti, President, Motion Picture Association of America. 
The Honorable Rosel Hyde, Chairman of the Federal Communications 

Commission. 

Dr. Lawrence Kubie, Psychiatrist. 

The Honorable Nicholas Johnson, Federal Communications Commission. 
James Casey, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Illinois. 
Thomas A. Foran, United States Attorney for the Northern District of 

Illinois. 

Leonard H. Goldenson, President, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. 
Elmer W. Lower, President of ABC News. 
Frank Stanton, President, Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. 
Richard S. Salant, President of CBS News. 

Julian Goodman, President of National Broadcasting Company, Inc. 
Reuven Frank, President of NBC News. 



XXII 



Chapter 1 
THE PRINTED MEDIUM 



The mass media in the United States are a blend of journalism and 
showmanship, information and entertainment, and professional altruism and 
marketplace opportunism. These are obviously qualities which, if not entirely 
antithetical, at least cannot be relied upon to coexist in perfect harmony. 
When they clash, the discord is important, for, if one thing is clear about the 
American media, it is that they touch our lives in ways far too intimate and 
complex to ignore . 

Traditionally, of course, the media, and more particularly the news media, 
have given us our perceptions of the world around us. It is one of our richer, 
if less solidly grounded, beliefs that the media provide a "marketplace" in 
which one man's ideas and opinions can be compared with or joined to those 
of another. We expect the media to take an active role in the processes of 
government through criticism, through interpretation, even through the 
advocacy of action, and we encourage all these functions by according to the 
press as an institution essentially the same freedom of speech that we enjoy as 
individuals. 

Beyond all this, however, we have become a nation of the entertained, and 
it is the mejiia, for the most part, who provide our entertainment. Indeed, our 
appetites for entertainment, far more than our quest for knowledge, have 
brought the media from the economic position represented by the individual 
printer of two centuries ago to the status of a major business industry. In the 
process, the media themselves have changed in ways that invite attention. 

The media today pervade our culture to a degree unmatched by any other 
social institution. From the tens of thousands of available titles, theoretically, 
an adult can choose from among some 1,750 daily newspapers; 578 Sunday 
papers; more than 8,000 weekly newspapers; more than 22,000 periodicals, 
including nearly 150 magazines of "general editorial" content; or from among 
tens of thousands of new books put out by the nation's more than 1 ,700 
publishing houses. 1 Listeners with radios can choose from among more than 
4,200 AM and 2,200 FM radio stations, and those with phonographs can 
select from the 35,000 phonograph records, including 10,000 new releases 
ihe market provides annually. For those who prefer to watch, there are some 
840 television stations and more than 13,700 motion picture theatres and 



2 Mass Media and Violence 

/ Some media are available to nearly everyone, and nearly everyone makes 

/ some use of them. Most (95 percent) American homes include at least one TV 

set; nearly all (99 percent) own at least one radio. In a typical weekday, 82 

/ percent of adults watch television; the average time invested is more than two 

I hours. Two-thirds of America's adults listen to the radio, on the average more 

I than an hour a day. More than nine out of every ten adults read a magazine 

I sometime during the month and approximately three-fourths of the adult 

population read one or more newspapers on a typical weekday. Although 

i movie-going is less universal, a third of the adult population sees at least one 

\ film in a typical month. 

\ If these figures indicate that the media do indeed play an important role in 
the lives of American adults, it is no less true that the nation's children are 
heavily exposed to media influences for better or worse. In particular, young 
people spend even more time with television than do their elders. Substantial 
evidence indicates that children from low-income families children in the 
ghettos, for example spend even more time watching television than do their 
counterparts in more priviledged classes. One study found that while middle 
class teenagers watch television on Sunday for an average of four hours; black 
teenagers, however, devoted six hours to their sets. 2 For most of these 
children, as for most Americans generally, television provides more than 
entertainment: it also provides Americans with the single most important and 
credible source of news about the world around them.^ 

Statistics as to media use vary, to be sure, and we have included here a 

composite of figures cited in several sources. Nonetheless, from any 

standpoint, the media clearly play an important, and perhaps critical, role in 

I daily American living. The media, and television in particular, have gradually 

! assumed more and more of the role formerly occupied by schools, churches, 

and family groups in providing a nation with its values, its goals, and its 

1 standards of conduct. 

It becomes a matter of no small importance, then, to inquire into the 
content and effects of the media with regard to violence. It is equally 
important to know what forces shape the media. On the one hand, the media 
are a multi-billion dollar business, which makes them susceptible to the 
competitive pressures that influence all major business enterprises. With the 
exception of motion pictures and books, the media are sustained by 
advertising revenues. In the typical case, therefore, the pressures of 
competition become an urgent, literal, life-or-death need to attract audiences 
sufficiently large to earn the advertising revenues necessary to sustain them. 
Where advertisements do not provide the source of income, direct sales to 
consumers do, and the urgent need for mass acceptability remains much the 
same. These pressures do not insure that the public interest will always be 
served. 

In the past these pressures have led to the familiar excesses of newspaper 
circulation wars in which sex, violence, and sensationalism have been served 
up in generous portions by publishers hungry for audiences. Today, they 
contribute to the selection of television programming aimed for the most part 
at the broadest possible audiences. Because media entertainment more than 
media information can attract audiences, these pressures also explain the 
growing influence of entertainment values-the "show-business ethic," as it 



The Printed Medium 3 

has been called upon the whole spectrum of media content. 

In short, any study of the relationship between violence and the media 
must take into account the conflicting nature of the media as institutions. 

We must, on the one hand, appreciate the heritage of free expression that 
has come to us in large part because of the struggle of the press against 
censorship and regulation. No clearer evidence can sustain the high value 
Americans place upon a free press than the fact that the press is the only 
private institution specifically protected by the Constitution. All media today 
directly descend from the American press and they have naturally come to 
share in the hard-won freedom of the press. 

Yet, as we have said, the media today comprise institutions far different 
from the press of two centuries ago. The forms have changed. Circulation has 
increased beyond anything then dreamed of. Competitive pressures have 
increased and in response the media have learned from sheer necessity the art 
of manipulating vast audiences for economic gain. In the process of this 
growth and change, the ability of any single man to gain access to the 
"marketplace of ideas" has become all but extinct. 

Clearly, then, the media merit study by anyone who would know more 
about the structure of American society. But when violence becomes the 
issue, the study is obligatory. For much of what we know of violence in all its 
forms we understand as observers and students of the mass media, not as 
participants. 

A. History of the American Press* 

The way to get at the nature of an institution, as of 
anything else that is alive, is to see how it has grown. 

-A. G. Keller 
1 . England 

When, in 1476, William Caxton established his printing press at 
Westminster and began to publish books and pamphlets, he brought to 
England a craft already well established on the Continent. The impact was 
enormous. Knowledge of the world beyond the experience of the individual 
was no longer limited by the occasional tales of travelling minstrels or 
messengers from afar. Knowledge was no longer the exclusive province of the 
few who could afford the one or two hand-lettered manuscripts that one 
artisan could produce in an entire year. In unprecedented numbers, people 
could now question, doubt, criticize, explore, suggest, persuade, and teach. In 1 
short, development of the press brought the power to manipulate the 
environment and affect people's thoughts well beyond the range of the 
human voice. By 1620, Francis Bacon could regard its "force, effects and 
consequences," on a par with gunpowder and the compass for having 
"changed the appearance and state of the world." 4 In retrospect, his claim 



*Much of the material in this portion of this report is from a paper, "Historical 
Development of the Media in American Life," prepared for the Task Force by Dr. Jay W. 
Jensen, head of the department of journalism, and Dr. Theodore Peterson, dean, College 
of Communications, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. 



4 Mass Media and Violence 

was no hyperbole. Printing in fact did play an impressive part in shaping 
intellectual life and in the diffusion of culture, in the development of the 
nation -state and the rise of capitalism, and in transforming the nature of 
religion and politics. 

From the ranks of anonymous artisans and minstrels, printing elevated 
men of letters to personages famous in their own lifetimes and sometimes 
long after their deaths. By standardizing language, printing fostered the 
development of national literatures. Although it did not immediately 
revolutionize scientific thought, printing led ultimately to the dissemination 
of scientific ideas and to the formation of a scientific community. The press 
provided the means for spreading scientific thought across national borders. 

Equally significant was printing's contribution to growth in the spirit of 
rationality. As Herbert Muller has observed, "In thought generally it both 
fortified and supplemented the classifical tradition of rationalism by more 
empirical sense, or concern with fact. Accordingly, it had much to do with 
the revolutionary developments to come, notably the rise of science and of 
democracy." 5 

Printing undoubtedly did contribute to the rise of democracy. Early 
empires, although essentially loose confederations, extended over vast 
expanses of territory. Printing aided centralization of political allegiances by 
spreading common beliefs, common values, and common goals over wide 
geographic areas. 

In religion, too, printing served both as a force for maintaining the 
established order and as a force for change. But change dominated. Printing 
broke the Church's monopoly over knowledge. Although he berated printers 
for their money-mindedness, Martin Luther called printing "God's highest 
act of Grace." 

Established institutions became threatened. Andrew Fletcher, the Scot 
patriot, recognized the importance of controlling communication when he 
noted in 1704, "I believe that if a man were permitted the right to write all 
the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation." The 
phenomenon was also recognized by established authorities on the Continent 
and in England. They responded with attempts to control the source of the 
threat. Although all had some effect, none could either silence or control the 
press completely. The tension between the government and the press has been 
as old as the press itself. 

The struggle for press freedom in England became a part of the larger 
struggle of the people to achieve a responsive constitutional government. 
Since that slow movement of power from crown to nobility to people had 
profound implications for the extent and kinds of repression, one needs a 
grasp of its broad outlines to understand the development of freedom of the 
press in England. 

When the infant printing industry started to develop, the Tudors Henry 
VII, Henry VIII, Edward, Mary, Elizabeth I sat on the throne. Though 
generally popular for bringing stability after the sanguinary civil wars of 
feudal times, the Tudors, both powerful and arbitrary, governed efficiently in 
an era of national expansion, consolidation, and the revival of classical 
learning, an era when challenge to the wealth and power of the Catholic 
Church was inevitable. 



The Printed Medium 5 

As printing developed, the King, rather than put it under the jurisdiction 
of courts or Parliament, assumed control as an inherent royal prerogative. He 
had unlimited authority to regulate and to control. So long as printing 
remained a mere adjunct of letters, however, neither King not Parliament 
showed much interest in interfering with it. But as the number of books 
increased, and particularly as their authors engaged in religious and political 
controversy, the Tudors concentrated control of the press in the hands of the 
King and his council. This system of controls established by the tight-ruling 
Tudors set the pattern for succeeding periods. 

One of the earliest control devices was the grant of patents of monopoly 
to printers. In exchange for good behavior, printers were given permits to 
publish selected categories of books, such as school books, religious books, 
law books, histories, and plays. The system was so effective it flourished for 
two centuries, reaching its culmination in the monopolistic Stationers 
Company, an exclusive organization of privileged printers chartered by the 
Crown to admit and expel members to the printing trades, to penalize 
offending printers, and to regulate the press in the interest of the Crown. 

From patents, the Tudors moved to a second type of control licensing. 
Although licensing took various forms, its essential purpose remained the 
same: to require the printer to submit manuscripts for Oificial review and 
approval prior to publication. 

The most comprehensive regulation of the Tudor period evolved from 
Elizabeth's Star Chamber decree. Promulgated in 1586, it remained in effect 
until 1637. The decree limited the number of printers, apprentices, and 
presses, gave the Stationers Company power of search and seizure, and 
required the licensing of all books. Law books were licensed by the justices, 
and all others by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of London. 
Administration and enforcement became the responsibility of the Stationers 
Company and of ecclesiastical officials. 

The early Stuarts made the courts and Parliament the instruments for 
controlling discussion. The gradually eroding power of the monarch made an 
efficient new means for controlling thought and discussion necessary. In this 
setting, the law of seditious libel developed to deal more effectively with 
ideas that challenged the existing order. The old law of treason, which had 
been adequate to put down armed rebellion, was too cumbersome to invoke 
against controversial pamphleteers. The Star Chamber provided precedent for 
subsequent prosecutions of seditious libel by laying down four propositions 
in 1606: (1) Libel against an ordinary person was a criminal offense; (2) libel 
against a deceased person was an offense; (3) the prosecution could be either 
in court or before the Star Chamber; and (4) truth was no defense. By 
implication, a fifth soon emerged: It was as criminal to publish libelous or 
seditious material as to create it. 

During the Puritan Revolution and the Cromwellian interregnum, the press 
was, at times, almost entirely free, and at times under restrictions nearly as 
stringent as those of Elizabeth's reign. The powerful Stationers Company was 
undermined, and the Star Chamber's enforcement powers were abolished. 

With the Restoration in 1660, the Stuarts shared power to control the 
press with Parliament. Charles II, late in his reign, ended the Crown's long 
alliance with the Stationers Company. Under William of Orange, after the 



6 Mass Media and Violence 

Bloodless Revolution, restrictions on the press reached a low point. Licensing 
became too cumbersome and ineffective a method under a two-party system 
of Parliamentary governmeiit and it was allowed to lapse. Only seditious libel 
and a ban on reporting the activities of Parliament remained. 

Although government control of the press had not disappeared by the 
18th century, new techniques seemed necessary. The propertied middle class 
recognized the crude, direct methods of the Tudors as anachronistic, and 
those means of control gradually vanished. In their place emerged the more 
subtle but no less effective control by taxation, by subsidy, and by 
prosecution under due process. 

Usually, taxation and subsidy worked in tandem. Taxes aimed at 
eliminating marginal publications and undermining the financial health of the 
survivors in order to make them susceptible to subsidy. Meanwhile, however, 
political leaders, political parties, and the government itself secretly paid 
writers and editors to give them editorial support. 

By the American Revolution, England had come a long way. It was, in the 
judgment of H.J.Muller,the freest country in Europe, with the most vigorous 
press, the most open debate and the most influential public opinion. 6 

2. Early America 

During this same period, the American press had begun to grow. Its nature 
and practices heavily influenced by its English and continental forebears, the 
early colonial press repeated the struggle of the British press for 
independence. As in England, the press was viewed as a threat to both church 
and state; the authorities responded with licensing, direct censorship, sedition 
laws, legislative privilege, and patronage. As in England, the efforts met with 
only partial success, for powerful newspapers started to grow in the principal 
American cities. 

After the mid-1 7th century, the demand for information in the growing 
Colonies exceeded the supply provided by gossip in the coffeehouse, letters 
from abroad, and packets of English newspapers delivered by accommodating 
sea captains. The growth of periodicals, however, was retarded by the firm 
control exercised by church authorities, colonial governors and their 
councils, because these authorities, like their English counterparts, regarded a 
controlled press as useful and a free press as dangerous. 

Philadelphia was two years old in 1685 when William Bradford set up his 
printing shop there. His first publication, an almanac, was censored in 
advance and he was warned not to print without a license. In 1690. Bradford 
has trouble again. This time the authorities seized his press and subjected him 
to trial, the first in the Colonies with freedom of the press at issue. He was 
jailed for seditious libel. That same year, Benjamin Harris published the first 
newspaper in America, Publick Occurrences. It did not survive the first day. 
The first issue carried an account of the French and Indian wars that could be 
construed as critical of colonial policy; therefore, the governor and council of 
Massachusetts invqked their licensing power to shop further publication. 

Licensing survived in the Colonies at least through 1722, when Andrew 
Bradford, son of William, was brought before the authorities for offensive 
publications. The younger Bradford, after making abject apologies, was 



The Printed Medium 7 

ordered not "to publish anything relating to or concerning the Affairs of this 
Government, or the Government of any other of his Majesty's Colonies" 
without prior permission.^ 

A more sophisticated remedy for controlling the press soon found official 
favor and eventually displaced licensing as the preferred control. The law of 
seditious libel was accepted in the Colonies, even by libertarians, until the end 
of the 18th century. 

The 18th century libertarians believed that the press would be free if there 
were no prior censorship, if the defendant could plead truth as a defense to a 
charge of seditious libel, and if juries rather than judges would resolve the 
issue of whether the material was libelous. Such powers for the jury secured 
in England by Fox's Libel Act of 1792, took longer to gain acceptance in 
America. 

Courts served as the forum for some seditious libel prosecutions. Truth as 
a defense emerged as the principal issue. John Peter Zenger was charged with 
sedition for publishing articles criticizing New York's Governor Cosby in 
1735. The jury accepted his defense of truth and concluded the material was 
not seditious. He was acquitted. The verdict, as popular as Governor Cosby 
was unpopular, however, had no practical effect in New York or elsewhere in 
the Colonies. Over 60 years later, a Jeffersonian chief justice of New York 
still contended that truth served as no defense to a charge of seditious libel. 
Although the Zenger case is sometimes taken as a milestone in the march to 
freedom of the press, it was little more than an incident that received an 
inordinate amount of publicity. 

The courts may have been a threat and a deterrent to colonial publishers, 
but, as in England in the 18th century, the legislature zealously and 
effectively restricted the press. The popularly elected colonial assemblies, 
which needed no jury to indict or to convict, used their power to punish 
"breaches of parliamentary privilege" to try individuals for spoken or written 
words that had angered their members. Turning to the House of Commons 
for precedent, the assemblies punished as seditious almost any utterance that 
they thought questioned their authority, conduct, or reputation. 

Despite these controls, the press managed a slow growth in the 18th 
century. In the first quarter, five newspapers began in Colonial seaports 
which were centers of commercial, cultural, and political activity. By 
midcentury, the Colonies had more than a dozen papers. More important 
than their number, though, they had changed from weak, inconsequential 
organs with circulations of a few hundred into significant propaganda voices 
with circulations as high as 3,000. As the conflict between Tories and Patriots 
deepened, the papers grew rapidly in number and in circulation. Publishing, 
even without political subsidy, became a profitable business. The publisher, 
with his access to an important tool for molding public opinion, became a 
significant public figure, and the press started to play an important role in the 
process of social change. 

3. Philosophical Antecedents 

The constructive role of the press in the growth of this nation would not 
have been possible without a strong philosophy of free expression. But that 



8 Mass Media and Violence 

philosophy developed even more slowly than the press. Most colonists simply 
did not comprehend the utility of a doctrine that allowed freedom to express 
views and opinions different from their own and they accepted with little 
opposition the early controls that the government imposed on the press. 

Most of the early English libertarians offered only limited or self-serving 
defenses of free expression. John Milton's Areopagitica, written in 1644, is 
often quoted as a classic defense of press freedom. In fact, however, Milton 
regarded freedom of the press as no more than the abolition of licensing, and 
he proposed to deny freedom to anyone who questioned the fundamental 
political and religious order. The freedom he wanted was for those of his own 
persuasion or with "neighboring differences." 

Other libertarians John Locke and Roger Williams, for example- 
conceived freedom of the press as the abolition of prior censorship and of 
licensing. The Levellers, who in the 1640's were at the forefront of the 
libertarian movement in England, shared this limited view; many of them 
would return to prosecution for sedition, according to historian Leonard W. 
Levy, and even John Lilburne on occasion favored the enforcement of the 
licensing procedure so long as he was exempt. 

Although well reasoned and comprehensive statements about free 
expression seemed rare, Americans could read one early in the 18th century 
in Cato's Letters, which went through a half-dozen editions in book form 
between 1733 and 1755, and were widely and extensively printed in the 
colonial papers. "Cato," the pseudonym of Whig journalists Thomas Gordon 
and John Trenchard, wrote three-quarters of a century after Milton and the 
Levellers, and had a broader concept of free expression. He contended that 
the government shoufd conduct itself in the interests of the people; that the 
people had the responsibility of making sure that the public business was 
transacted in their interest; and that only a free press could subject the 
government to public scrutiny. He conceded the necessary of some: laws to 
curb seditious utterances, provided they were reasonable and rarely imposed. 
But, he believed, truth should be a defense against seditious libel. In short, 
Cato was that rare creature, a libertarian who would tolerate opinions that 
offended him. 8 For the most part, however, from Cato's time until the end of 
the 18th century, there was no genuinely original philosophical writing about 
free expression in the Colonies. 

When the American tradition of a free press did begin to emerge, it came 
from the bitter interaction of contending interests, each working for its 
self-interest; first in the controversy over the adoption of a Bill of Rights, 
later in the furor over the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. As it turned out, 
the tradition went far beyond the conventional thinking of the 18th century, 
and it had respectable philosophical arguments to sustain it. 

Persuasive evidence supports the view that the framers of the Constitution 
were not quite the practicing libertarians that conventional history has 
sometimes painted them. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 
met with the press excluded, and not one of them protested the rule of 
secrecy. Some 55 years ago, Charles Beard, in An Economic Interpretation of 
the Constitution, 9 wrote that the Constitution owed far less to abstract 
concern about rights than to the self-interest of the men who drafted it. More 
recently, Professor Levy, in his Legacy of Suppression, has cogently 



The Printed Medium 9 

developed the thesis that the generation that adopted the Constitution, the 
Bill of Rights, and the various state constitutions, did not believe in a broad 
scope for freedom of expression, especially in political matters. The Bill of 
Rights, he concluded, was more the chance product of expediency than the 
happy product of principle. 10 

The Bill of Rights resulted from the contest between the Federalists, who 
favored a strong national government, and the Antifederalists, who preferred 
a league of more or less independent states. One view held that, since the 
national government had only enumerated powers, it had no authority to 
regulate the press. The Anti-federalists, however, regarded the Bill of Rights 
as essential in order to protect the state's interests. It would prevent the 
central government from imposing any restrictions on speech and the press, 
and it would reserve the power to regulate the press to the states. 1 1 

In 1798, war with France was imminent. The Federalists in power passed 
the Alien and Sedition Acts to deport troublesome aliens and curb seditious 
utterances. One of the four measures provided punishments of up to two 
years in prison and a fine of $2,000 for writing, printing, or uttering any 
"false, scandalous and malicious" statement against the government of 
Congress "with intent to defame ... or to bring them . . . into contempt or 
disrepute." The act embodied the principles for which libertarians had 
fought: criminal intent had to be demonstrated, truth was a defense, and the 
jury decided whether the words were libelous. 1 2 

When the act was used to intimidate printers and publishers, when juries 
were quick to convict, the Republicans saw it as a Federalist attempt to 
create a one-party press and one-party government. Their attack on the 
sedition laws broke with the conventional doctrines of free expression. 

There were many contributors to the attack, but one of the most eloquent 
and philosophical was Tunis Wortman, a New York lawyer. Calm, persuasive, 
free from polemics, Wortman urged that governments exist to protect the 
liberties of their citizens, that the citizen has the right to dissolve the 
government, and that free expression is indispensable to the preservation of 
the citizen's rights. He rejected criminal libel as incompatible with a 
democratic society, and asked, in effect, "Of what use is liberty of doing that 
for which I am punishable afterwards?" 1 3 

Most commonly associated with the classical libertarian view, however, are 
John Milton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Stuart Mill. They argued 
eloquently, and their reputations have overshadowed others who wrote with 
no less brilliance or intellectual vigor. Separately, none of the three expressed 
a comprehensive philosophy; but together, their writings embody a set of 
unified principles. 

Although Milton is invariably cited as an early champion of free 
expression, he in fact scarcely qualifies as a libertarian by modern standards. 
His conception of freedom of the press was narrow: it was an end to 
licensing, and no more. Once an offensive work was published, the 
government could punish, and for Milton the categories of offensive works 
were many. Milton's main contribution to the classical tradition was his idea 
of the self-righting process in which truth emerges from the unfettered 
competition of ideas in the marketplace. Coming before the widespread 
acceptance of the natural rights doctrine, he also provided a religious base for 



10 Mass Media and Violence 

free expression. He saw freedom of expression as God's will; man could not 
be virtuous without it. 14 

Jefferson, on the othei hand, regarded free expression as one of man's 
inalienable natural rights; a child of the Enlightenment, he accepted its 
optimistic assumptions. He saw man as essentially good unless corrupted by 
ignorance or bad institutions, and he put strong faith in man's rationality and 
perfectability. Like I ocke, Jefferson believed that men entered into 
governments of their own volition to protect their natural rights and that, 
therefore, the best government had only a light hand on its citizens. But to be 
capable of self-government, the individual citizen had to be educated and 
well-informed. Although individuals might be mistaken in their application of 
reason, the majority would invariably reach sound decisions. Thus social 
change would result from unrestricted discussion. 

The press, Jefferson believed, had r important part to play in making 
government function effectively. Besides promoting the grand search for 
ultimate truth, it could perform such utilitarian tasks as enlightening the 
citizenry, expediting the political process, and safeguarding personal liberties. 
To Jefferson, the press remained the best means of "enlightening the mind of 
man, and improving him as a rational, moral and social being." It was the 
channel for providing the citizen with the facts and opinions needed for 
self-government, and the watchdog to sound a warning when individual rights 
were threatened. 1 5 

While Jefferson's defense of free expression was only partially posited on 
its political utility, John Stuart Mill rested his entire case on individual and 
social utility, rejecting any claim to free expression as a natural right. For 
Mill, the good society was one in which an individual was free to think and 
act as he chose. He feared most a tyranny of the majority. In his view, each 
individual must accord to others the same wide latitutde of freedom he 
claimed for himself. 

Mill's defense of free expression centered on four propositions: first, as 
opinion is silenced, truth may be silenced as well; second, even a wrong 
opinion may contain an element of truth necessary to discovery of the whole 
truth; third, even if the commonly accepted opinion is the whole truth, 
people will hold it not as rational belief but as a prejudice if they have not 
had to defend it ; fourth,, the commonly held opinion loses its vitality and its 
effect on character and conduct if it is not contested. 1 6 

With Mill, Americans arrived at a multi-faceted libertarian philosophy of 
freedom of expression and freedom of the press. It rested on a concept of 
negative liberty freedom from any external restraint. Under this libertarian 
view, the press should be free to publish without prior restraint and without 
affirmative responsibility. Men needed this wide latitude of freedom in their 
quest for truth, to bring about social change through the peaceable means of 
discussion, conversion, and consensus, and to check the excesses of 
government. 

The people need not fear the vast freedom granted the press, according to 
classical libertarian theory, for free expression carried built-in safeguards. 
Most men, as moral beings, would use their freedom responsibly. For every 
man who abused his freedom, there were many others to expose or correct 
him. And the greatest safeguard of all was the preeminent good sense of the 



The Printed Medium 1 1 

majority, which would arrive at sound judgment if the channels of 
communication were left unrestricted. In short, the press would function as a 
vast marketplace of ideas. 

The tradition did condone libel laws, which provided recourse in the 
courts for defamation. It did condone obscenity laws, although what 
constituted obscenity was a perennial matter of dispute. And it did condone 
mild sedition laws. But even with those limitations, the theory offered 
unprecedented freedom to speak and to write. 

4. The Philosophy as Law* 

The legal structure of free speech and press has grown as slowly as the 
philosophy of free expression. England's well-known scholar of jurisprudence, 
William Blackstone, supposed that freedom of the press meant simply no 
prior censorship. But Blackstone and other legal scholars who followed him 
found no fault with the idea of imposing sanctions for "abuse" of that 
freedom. As we have seen, even some philosophers were willing to accept this 
concept. Early state court decisions in the United States, as well as many 
later state constitutions, reflected the principle that the press was "free" but 
responsible for abuses of the freedom. 

The adoption of the first amendment itself did little to affect these early 
interpretations of the legal content of free speech and press. The first 
amendment was resolved as a compromise during the hectic negotiations 
between Federalists and Antifederalists. The language of the amendment 
reflects this compromise in its vagueness: 

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, 
or prohibiting free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, 
or press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to 
petition government for a redress of grievances. 

Attempts to construe the language literally in order to resolve specific 
controversies almost certainly result in failure. Nowhere does the amendment 
define either free speech or freedom of the press. This understanding does not 
ignore whatever sense of direction or policy the language suggests, one cannot 
read the amendment without taking into account the "gloss" which the 
circumstances of its enactment provided, and the subsequent judicial 
interpretations in the context of specific controversies. 

To a surprising degree, the gloss is recent; much of it, immediate. Not until 
1919, in Schenck v. United States, 11 did the U.S. Supreme Court begin 
seriously to define the legal boundaries of freedom of expression in the 
United States. Even more starting is the fact that more than half of the cases 
which legal scholars might agree deserve particular study have been decided 
within the past fifteen years. In short, despite the age of the first amendment, 
the precise content of freedom of speech and press under the amendment has 
only recently begun to be defined. 

The emerging definitions are not entirely clear. But the obscenity cases 



*Much of the discussion in this section is based upon a paper prepared for the Media 
Task Force by Professor Harry Kalven of the University of Chicago Law School. The 
conclusions suggested here are the responsibility of the Task Force, however, and do not 
necessarily represent Professor Kalven's conclusions. 



12 Mass Media and Violence 

make it relatively clear that ideas and speech may not be suppressed merely 
because they are heretical or contrary to the prevailing moral climate. It also 
seems clear that the doctrine of seditious libel, once the great instrument for 
controlling freedom of expression in England and the Colonies, can find no 
room in contemporary American life. Finally, it seems clear that freedom of 
speech and press means more than freedom from prior censorship. Indeed, 
prior censorship itself may not always be forbidden; instead, the relevant 
question asks the extent to which expression, including speech and press, is 
protected at all stages of publication. 

Some aspects of speech and press yield to regulation; for example, the 
right to regulate matters which do not affect what is said, but rather when, 
where, and how it is said. The regulatory powers of the Federal 
Communications Commission provide an excellent example, both because 
they illustrate an important, practical application of this principle and 
because they illustrate the difficulties inherent in deciding when regulation of 
speech "traffic" becomes unacceptable regulation of speech content. The 
FCC, on the one hand, must observe the first amendment's prohibition 
against Congressional abridgement of freedom of the press and, more 
specifically, the prohibition against censorship imposed by sectio.i 326 of the 
Communications Act of 1934. At the same time, the act requires broadcasters 
to employ their franchise in the "public interest, convenience and necessity." 
Rather clearly, whether broadcasters serve the public interest depends at least 
partly upon what is said. 

When does permissible regulation become impermissible abridgement? 
That has occupied most of the attention of courts that have considered the 
limits of the first amendment. A number of tests have been suggested for 
determining the validity of efforts to control the content of publications; but 
no single, integrated theory of first amendment freedoms has been stated in 
any case. 

The theory that has enjoyed perhaps the longest run in the courts and the 
widest popular understanding is the so-called "clear and present danger" 
test. It stems from an opinion written by Mr. Justice Holmes in the U.S. 
Supreme Court's 1919 decision in Schenck v. United States. Schenck widely 
disseminated literature condemning World War I and its supposed Wall Street 
sponsors, and he urged draftees to resist induction. He and his comrades were 
charged with having violated the Espionage Act. The Supreme Court affirmed 
their conviction and sentence. Holmes wrote: 

We admit that in many places and in ordinary times the defendants 
in saying all that was said in the circular would have been within their 
constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the 
circumstances in which it is done . . . The most stringent protection of 
free speech should not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater, 
and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction 
against uttering words that may have all the effect of force . . . The 
question in every case is whether the words used are used in such 
circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present 
danger that they will bring about the substantive evils Congress has a 
right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. 1 8 



The Printed Medium 13 

The clear and present danger test amounts to a rule that the content of 
speech will not be subject to government regulation unless what one says or 
writes may contribute immediately and proximately to the occurrence of 
some activity which itself is subject to government regulation. The test, 
obviously, does not lend itself to certainty. Instead, it requires an individual 
assessment of a questioned utterance in the context of a given situation. 

Whether the clear and present danger test remains a valid prescription for 
determining the amenability of content to regulation is itself uncertain. In 
cases before the Supreme Court dealing with the Smith Act, which aimed at 
Communists in the early years of the last decade, a majority of the justices 
appeared to find the Holmes formula unmanageably vague. In particular, it 
seemed inadequate to measure publications that, although involving 
substantial issues conceivably affected in some important way by the 
utterance in question, do not present a clear cause-and-effect relationship. 
Similarly, the Holmes formula, it would seem, has little evident applicability 
to the regulation of violence as it appears in media content. 

Yet in our concern with violence and the media, two highly significant 
lessons do appear in the first amendment cases. First, the courts will probably 
not draw any substantial distinction between news or information and 
entertainment content in the media. The point may appear somewhat 
surprising at first, because entertainment, as we know it popularly in the 
media, is commonly believed not to result in substantial contributions to 
truth or knowledge. Yet important ideas can clothe themselves in fiction or 
other forms of entertainment as surely as in the evening newscast or editorial 
page. Because we cannot readily draw a line between the worthwhile and 
unworth while, a rule that generally accords to all communications, the 
protection of the first amendment, without an effort to distinguish between 
entertainment and nonentertainment content, would undoubtedly be 
desirable. 

The second lesson, however, teaches that, although neither entertainment 
nor news may be regulated generally, possibly one or the other or both may 
be subject to minimal restraints that may have a direct or indirect bearing 
upon violence in the society. To the extent that the advocacy of violence may 
be regulated in individuals under the clear and present danger or some other 
test, the media will necessarily feel the restraint, if only indirectly. Beyond 
that, an analogy between violence and obscenity can conceivably provide a 
rationale for regulating violence in the media. 

In the most general terms, obscenity now yields to regulation when the 
questionable matter appeals primarily to the reader's prurient interest, 
patently offends, has utterly no redeeming social value, or it is disseminated 
with the cynical attitude of the panderer. It is fashionable to speak of these 
elements as defining "hard-core" obscenity or pornography. There is also 
evidence in recent cases indicating that the Supreme Court may be willing to 
permit a somewhat more stringent regulation in the dissemination of material 
to minors. 

Conceivably, as Professor Kalven suggests, an area of "hard core violence" 
might be established within which the first amendment might permit 
regulation of media content. He is quick to point out, however, that the 
analogy between violence and obscenity strains belief, and the obscenity cases 



14 Mass Media and Violence 

themselves have been less than satisfactory. In particular, the concept of 
obscenity carries with it our traditional acceptance of prurience as a topic 
subject to regulation. From the stocks to public whippings to The Scarlet 
Letter, we know about sex and dark urges, and we readily understand efforts 
to regulate here, whether or not we agree with them. Not so with violence. 
Much of our culture accepts violence as a normal occurrence without real 
definition or without much thought about the forms of violence; to try to 
separate unacceptable violence from the acceptable would require initially an 
exploration into concepts hitherto largely ignored, and likely to be of little 
use. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has considered the regulation of violence only 
once in 1948, in Winters v.New York. 19 In that case, a statute purporting 
to regulate printed matter "devoted to the publication and principally made 
up of criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures 
or stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust or crime" was overturned by six 
members of the Court after three arguments. The majority opinion rested 
upon the vagueness of the statute; it did not reach the underlying issues. Yet 
the writer of the opinion tried at some pains to avoid suggesting that no such 
statute could succeed. At the beginning of his opinion, Justice Reed wrote: 

We recognize the importance of the exercise of a state's police power to 
minimize all incentives to crime, particularly in the field of sanguinary 
or salacious publications with their stimulation of juvenile 
delinquency. 20 

And again at the conclusion he stated: 

To say that a state may not punish by such a vague statute carries no 
implication that it may not punish circulation of objectionable printed 
matter, assuming that it is not protected by the principles of the First 
Amendment, by the use of apt words to describe the prohibited 
publi cations. 2 1 

Since 1947, when it decided Winters, the Court has considered numerous 
obscenity cases but no other case directly involving violence as a principal 
issue. And so the amenability of violence in media content to regulation 
remains a matter for speculation. Within this area for speculation a few 
general predictions may be advanced. 

First, it seems clear, any effort to control the appearance of violence in 
media content should be supported by clear evidence of its effects upon the 
audience. If, indeed, a balance can be struck against first amendment 
protection and in favor of regulation, the need for that balance will almost 
certainly help determine the success or failure of the proposal to regulate. 
Second, the proposal itself will demand clear, specific, arid precise 
draftsmanship, both in the subject matter of the regulation, as well as in the 
end to be realized. The Winters case makes it clear that nothing less can 
suffice. Third, greater regulation on behalf of children than adults can 
probably the sustained under the first amendment. 

These are, as we have said, speculations. They are not blueprints for 



The Printed Medium 15 

action. Indeed, as our conclusions and recommendations will point out, what 
we have learned to date about the relationship between the media and 
violence makes the case for legislative "solutions" less than clear. There is 
virtually no evidence to support any legislative action regulating the content 
of violence in news reporting, with the possible exception of information 
likely to aid rioters during periods of civil disorder. And on this latter point, 
the drafting difficulties are apt to be so great as to make constitutional 
regulation impossible. 

The speculations here do suggest the outlines of some possible ways in 
which the philosophy of free expression, hard won after three centuries of 
conflict and not yet fully defined after two centuries of protection under the 
first amendment, might be reconciled at some future date with this country's 
concern for the effects of the constant barrage of violence in the 
entertainment media. This is particularly true with regard to regulation aimed 
at limiting access by children without parental consent. 

5 . The Historical Role of the Press* 

The emergence of the press as an institution essentially free from 
government interference or regulation yet possessed of powerful means for 
influencing the society in which it functions has resulted inevitably in an 
important role for the press in the process of social change within this 
country. We have explored the struggle of the press to gain its freedom. We 
turn now to an examination of the ways in which the press has contributed to 
the development of a nation while gaining its own independence. To 
understand the role the press might take in the resolution of today's divisive 
issues, we must know what role it has played in past crises. 

The press has never been a monolith. At no point in its history could we 
say that all the elements of the American press promoted this change or 
anchored that stability. When one newspaper has advocated an action, many 
others have opposed it. Trends and centers of gravity exist, but no concerted 
action. The press has distinctively changed even as it has served as an 
instrument of change. 

The attitudes of the American press of the Revolutionary period are 
significant. To oppose the tax controls imposed by the Stamp Act, some 
editors suspended publication, which aroused citizens who had come to 
depend upon them. Others published without the stamp, or without a title or 
masthead to identify them as newspapers. Several issued wild satires among 
them, skull and crossbone decorations on the Stamp Act itself. 

Of course, not all the editors and pamphleteers of the Revolutionary 
period wanted war, or even separation from England. But as the Colonies 
moved closer to war with England, the "radical" editors, who had been quite 
the weakest group, gathered numbers and strength. When the Revolutionary 
War began, many Whigs who had argued for the middle course were drawn 
into the ranks of the radicals. 



*The material in this section and the next is from a paper prepared for the Task Force 
by Prof. William L. Rivers of the department of communications, Stanford University, 
Stanford, Calif. 



16 Mass Media and Violence 

Revolutionary newspapers went to 40 thousand homes and were widely 
distributed among friends and neighbors. In all, considering the level of 
literacy and the makeshift communications facilities, Revolutionary 
sentiment was widely dispersed by the press of the period. It became an 
effective lesson in the power of the press, a lesson not lost on others who 
understood the use of power. So convinced was General Washington of its 
value, he issued a plea to patriot women asking them to save all available 
material for conversion into paper for printing. 

The relationship between the press and the government, however, has not 
always been warm, as the initial efforts by authorities to control the press 
have made clear. From the first, officials have had to adapt to the anomaly of 
an information system that is of, but not in, the government, which 
produced a natural struggle between the press and government. The "strong 
Presidents," revered by many historians and political scientists Washington, 
Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, and Franklin 
Roosevelt understood and used the press most adroitly. Much of the history 
of American government pivots on the use of the press as an instrument of 
political power. Our founding fathers, eminently practical, knew how to use 
the press. The stern figure of George Washington becomes less austere when 
viewed through the prism of his worried statement to Alexander Hamilton 
regarding the farewell address: 

The doubt that occurs at first view is the length of it for a News 
Paper publication .... All the columns of a large Gazette would 
scarcely, I conceive, contain the present draught. 22 

Nowhere did this pragmatism find clearer expression than in the 
establishment of the "party press" newspapers and journals that served as the 
official organs of polemics and politics. Both Jefferson and Washington had 
revealed their usefulness while Jefferson served in Washington's cabinet. 
Alexander Hamilton, Washington's chief lieutenant, established The Gazette 
of the United States to trumpet the cause of Washington's Federalists. Eager 
to develop an editorial voice for anti-Federalism, Jefferson enlisted Philip 
Freneau, a talented poet-journalist who had become famous as "The Poet of 
the Revolution" to act as paid "translator" in Jefferson's office and also to 
publish a party newspaper. 

Freneau moved to Philadelphia and established The National Gazette, 
which soon became the loudest anti-Federalist voice. It also became President 
Washington's strongest critic. The President protested the attacks as "outrages 
on common decency," and he questioned Jefferson closely regarding 
Freneau's reason for coming to Philadelphia. He had simply lost his 
translating clerk, Jefferson replied, and had hired Freneau to replace him. "I 
cannot recollect," Jefferson told Washington, "whether it was at the same 
time, or afterwards, that I was told he had a thought of setting up a 
newspaper . . . . " 2 3 

When Jefferson was elected President, he found that none of the 
Washington and New York newspapers had sent reporters to chronicle the 
move of the Capital from Philadelphia to Washington. He persuaded a young 
printer named Samuel Harrison Smith to set up shop on the mudflats of the 



The Printed Medium 17 

Potomac, luring him with printing-contract patronage. Smith's National 
Intelligencer was the preeminent newspaper for more than a decade, and 
served Jefferson well. 24 

When Andrew Jackson became President, he established The Washington 
Globe. Its editor, Amos Kendall, was so significant a member of the famed 
"Kitchen Cabinet" that a Congressman of the time declared, "He was the 
President's thinking machine, his writing machine aye, and his lying 
machine." Jackson was not content, however, to have a single organ grinding 
his tune. At one point, fifty-seven journalists were reported to have been on 
the government payroll. 2 5 

The party press began to wane after Jackson, but the period continued to 
be far from tranquil. American newspapers, which had always aimed at the 
highly literate, now began to direct their appeal to the masses. Other editors 
had tried to establish "penny papers," but none succeeded until Benjamin H. 
Day brought out his New York Sun in 1833. Before the Sun, editors had been 
charging six to ten dollars a year in advance for subscriptions more than 
many a skilled worker could earn in a week. Day's Sun was not only 
inexpensive, it emphasized local news and, at least initially, gave special play 
to human interest, crime, and violence. The Sun soon had a circulation of 
8,000. 

The Sun and the other penny papers were certainly sensational, and they 
are often remembered chiefly for that quality. But perhaps they deserve a 
better memory. Beyond sensationalism, they achieved what more sober 
journals had largely failed to do: they appealed to the common man and 
helped to make him literate. More important, they made him believe that he, 
too, had a voice in the leading affairs of his time, for they mixed in with the 
sensationalism readable reports on domestic and foreign government. 

During this same period of Jacksonian Democracy, the abolitionists began 
the fierce agitation that marked three decades. Though not the first time that 
the press had embarked upon crusade and counter-crusade, it set the stage for 
the press to assume the on-going roles of accuser and champion which they 
could still fill today. 

The party press had all but died in I860, when the Government Printing 
Office was established, thus cutting off many of the lucrative printing 
contracts that Washington papers had enjoyed. The party press declined, too, 
because of the growth of Washington bureaus of the strong New York 
newspapers. A President or a Congressional leader could benefit only 
moderately from establishing a party organ when alert reporters for James 
Gorden Bennet's New York Herald or Horace Greeley's New York Tribune 
were covering Washington more ably than any Washington newspaper. By this 
time, the Associated Press started to distribute dispassionate reports to a 
variety of papers, ushering in the period of "objective reporting." Thus began 
an era of independence that shaped a concept of self that the press has never 
relinquished. 

From the end of the Civil War to the end of the 19th century, power was 
atomized in the world of the American press. Editors discovered that their 
influence did not depend on party affiliation. Instead of seeking support from 
party leaders, they sought to build their own centers of strength among 
readers. 



18 Mass Media and Violence 

It resulted in a series of experiments somewhat like the "penny press" era 
of the early 19th century. The difference was that America itself was 
changing radically during the latter part of the century. Arthur M. 
Schlesinger's Rise of the City, 1878-1898, analyzes the exploding 
urbanization of the period. During the decade from 1880 to 1890, more than 
five million immigrants came to the United States, and nearly four million in 
the next decade. 26 

The press changed to meet the new conditions of American life. The 
number of newspapers increased from 850 in 1880 to 1,967 in 1900. More 
important, whereas ten percent of all adults subscribed in 1880, twenty-six 
percent did in 1900. This change came about, not only because of increased 
educational opportunities and because of revolution in printing technology, 
but especially because of the promotion of a new journalism of the common 
man. Led by Joseph Pulitzer and pushed too far by William Randolph Hearst 
(whose contests with Pulitzer brought on yellow journalism), metropolitan 
newspapers invited the immigrants into the American community with 
splashy crusades and stunts. Himself an immigrant, Pulitzer set forth his 
essential aims in a signed statement in the first issue of his New York World: 

There is room in this great and growing city for a journal that is not 
only cheap but bright, not only bright but large, not only large but 
truly Democratic dedicated to the cause of the people rather than that 
of the purse potentates devoted more to the news of the New than the 
Old World that will expose all fraud and sham, fight all public evils and 
abuses that will serve and battle for the people with earnest 
sincerity. 27 

Pulitzer allowed Hearst to push him too far into sensationalism, and Hearst 
carried journalism into outrageous fiction. Other editors similarly exceeded 
rational bounds. That they were also deeply involved in affairs of great 
moment is generally agreed upon by historians of the period. A few argue, for 
example, that Hearst promoted the Spanish-American War with relentless 
propaganda. He sent a famous illustrator, Frederic Remington to Cuba. 
Remington cabled: "Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will 
be no war. Wish to return." Hearst responded: "Please remain. You furnish 
the pictures and I'll furnish the war." 2 8 

6. Sensationalism 

To the early American journalist, "news" was primarily something on 
which to base editorial opinion. He felt no obligation to inform the public 
about matters which did not support his view. As Robert Park has suggested: 
"He refused to take the responsibility of letting his readers learn about things 
that he knew ought not to have happened." 29 Some straight, factual 
reporting appeared, but it was primarily limited to noncontroversial subjects. 
Horace Greeley best described the range when he advised a friend about to 
start a country paper: 

[The] subject of deepest interest to a human being is himself; next to 
that, he is most concerned about his neighbors. ... Do not let a new 



The Printed Medium 19 

church be organized, or a new member be added to one already 
existing, a farm be sold, a new house be raised, a mill be set in motion, 
a store be opened, nor anything of interest to a dozen families occur, 
without having the fact duly though briefly chronicled in your 
columns. 30 

A combination of circumstances led to the reporting of facts, untainted by 
opinion, as news: The breakdown of the relationship between the press and 
political parties; the development of large Washington staffs by the New York 
papers; the growth of urban populations and the consequent inability of the 
press to build circulation by covering each barn raising; the development of 
advertising support; the invention of the steam press; the growth of the 
Associated Press and its need to serve editors of all political hues; and the 
attempts to expand circulation by appealing to the semiliterate, with 
emphasis on sex and violence, preferably in combination. 

When the first penny press was established by Benjamin Day on Sept. 3, 
1833, he recognized that, if he was to expand circulation, he would have to 
appeal to the semiliterate, non-newspaper reader. And this meant emphasis 
upon emotion for its own sake sensationalism. 

Mr. Day put very little emphasis on editorial opinion; his focus was on 
local happenings and violence. Six months after the New York Sun was 
founded, it reached a circulation of 8,000, nearly twice that of its nearest 
rival. Once the Sun's new readers had the habit of reading newspapers, the 
Sun began to offer more significant information. Simultaneously, the recently 
franchised laboring class showed more interest in the operations of 
government. 

Day's format was similar to that of other penny papers founded during the 
1830's. James Gordon Bennett's New York Morning Herald concentrated on 
crime news. During the 1830's, a total of 35 penny papers were founded in 
New York. None survived except the Sun and the Herald. Nevertheless, in 
other cities penny papers succeeded with similar formats and news policies a 
great deal of local news, human interest stories, and substantial doses of 
entertainment. 

During the 1850's, however, the trend was away from this kind of 
sensationalism. The New York Tribune., founded in 1841 by Horace Greeley, 
typified this tiend. The Tribune sold for a penny, but rather than make 
unabashed appeals to emotionalism, the Tribune reported facts and serious 
discussions of the issues of the day. It could rival its competitors when it 
came to sensational crime stories, but this was not its main appeal. The 
Tribune was read by all classes farmers, the workingman, educators, and 
politicians. Greeley had raised the press of the masses from the vulgar level of 
sensationalism to a force for stimulating thought. More important, the 
Tribune was a financial success. 

Greeley's assistant, Charles Dana, eventually took over the New York Sun. 
By this time, even the Sun and Herald were offering more substantial 
material. The increasing literacy and interest of their readers required it. 

As late as 1889, even in the large cities, a good deal of emphasis was still 
placed on brief accounts of events of interest primarily to the individuals 
involved. It was also about this time that Charles Dana discovered that, by 



20 Mass Media and Violence 

making literature out of the news, circulation could be greatly enhanced. But 
the appeal was limited. Manton Marble, editor of theTVew York World before 
its takeover by Joseph Pulitzer, said there were not 18,000 people in New 
York to whom a well-conducted newspaper could appeal. 

As in 1833, this left a large, semi-literate group ripe to be tapped. This 
time it was Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst who employed 
sensationalism to expand circulation by appealing to large masses of 
theretofore non-newspaper readers. 

In the past, the function of disseminating information had been 
overshadowed by efforts to entertain; but the yellow journalism that now 
began in the 1890's went well beyond any reasonable standard. Edwin Emery 
has described it thusly: 

It seized upon the techniques of writing, illustrating, -and printing which 
were the prize of the new journalism and turned them to perverted 
uses. It made the high drama of life a cheap melodrama, and it twisted 
the facts of each day into whatever form seemed best suited to produce 
sales for the hallowing news boy. Worst of all, instead of giving its 
readers effective leadership, it offered a palliative of sin, sex, and 
violence. The process was begun by Joseph Pulitzer in the mid-1880's, 
but when the young William Randolph Hearst entered the New York 
market he was able to put Pulitzer to shame when it came to appealing 
to the emotions of the public. 3 1 

Typical of these practices were the headlines carried in the New York Journal 
in the fall of 1896, a period during which its circulation jumped by 125,000 
in a single month: 

"Real American Monsters and Dragons" over a story of the 
discovery of fossil remains by an archeological expedition. "A 
Marvelous New Way of Giving Medicine: Wonderful Results From 
Merely Holding Tubes of Drugs Near Entranced Patients" a headline 
which horrifieH medical researchers. "Henry James New Novel of 
Immorality and Crime; The Surprising Plunge of the Great Novelist in 
the Field of Sensational Fiction" the journals way of announcing the 
publication of The Other House. Other headlines included: "The 
Mysterious Murder of Bessie Little," "One Mad Blow Kills Child," 
"What Made Him a Burglar? A Story of Real Life in New York by 
Edgar Saltus," "Startling Confession of a Wholesale Murderer Who Begs 
to be Hanged." 32 

In the election of 1900, Hearst opposed McKinlev's campaign for the 
Presidency. And the opposition did not cease after McKimey and Theodore 
Roosevelt won the election. In April 1901, in an editorial in the New York 
Journal, he declared "if bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only 
by killing, then the killing must be done." Two months before that, a 
quatrain had appeared in the Journal which read: 

The bullet that pierced Goeble's breast, 

Cannot be found in all the West. 



The Printed Medium 21 

Good reason, it is speeding here 
To stretch McKinley on his bier. 33 

Goelbe, the governor of Kentucky, had recently been shot. In 
September 1901, President McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist. 
Shortly thereafter, Hearst's Journal changed its name to the American. 

The last round of sensationalism began with birth of the Illustrated Daily 
News on June 26, 1919. In the next 6 years, together with two other 
tabloids, it would build a combined circulation of a million and a half readers 
who were attracted to the tabloid-style format and the extensive use of 
photography. Again the target of the sensational newspapers was the 
theretofore non-reading public. The circulation balance of the existing dailies 
was not unduly affected. The Illustrated Daily News' initial circulation of 
200,000 the first month dropped to 26,000 the second month. At this point, 
it was discovered that its appeal was not among the readers of the New York 
Times, but among the immigrant and poorly educated American-born 
population. Its publishers made sure that it was placed on news stands where 
only foreign language newspapers were sold. Pictures sold the paper. 34 

The second of the three newspapers was William Randolph Hearst's 
tabloid, the Daily Mirror. The third was the Daily Graphic. The Mirror 
originally challenged the News on relatively straight, journalistic standaids, 
but the Graphic was as lurid and sensational as possible. The Graphic made a 
practice of writing first person stories, signed by persons in the news, which 
were in turn headlined, "I Know Who Killed My Brother," "He beat Me-I 
Love Him," or "For 36 Hours I Lived Another Woman's Love Life." 35 

For those who think that today's press at times goes to excess, consider 
the following paragraphs from Edwin Emery's The Press in America: 

Climax year of the war of the tabloids was 1926. First the Broadway 
producer, Earl Carroll, gave a party at which a nude dancing girl sat in a 
bathtub full of champagne. Before the furor had died down, the 
tabloids discovered a wealthy real estate man, Edward Browning, and 
his 15-year-old shopgirl bride. This was "hot" romance indeed and the 
pair became Daddy and Peaches to all of America. The Graphic 
portrayed them frolicking on a bed with Daddy saying "Woof! Woof! 
I'm a Goof!" Gauvreau decided to thrill his shopgirl audience with the 
details of Peaches' intimate diary, but at that point the law stepped in. 

Next into the spotlight stepped wealthy socialite Kip Rhinelander, 
who charged in court that his bride of a few months had Negro blood, a 
fact he had not known at the time of the marriage. The 
sensational-hungry reporters balked at the climax of the trial when the 
judge ousted them before the attractive Mrs. Rhinelander was partially 
disrobed to prove a point for the defense. But Gauvreau hastily posed a 
bare-backed chorus girl among some of his reporters, pasted likenesses 
of court participants in place of the reporters' faces, and hit the street 
with a sell-out edition. The Graphic said in small type that its 
sensational picture was a "composograph" but most of its readers 
assumed that it was the real thing. 

Meanwhile the desperate editors of the Mirror had dug up a 
four-year-old murder story in New Jersey. In 1922 a New Brunswick, 



22 Mass Media and Violence 

New Jersey, minister named Edward Hall and his choirsinger 
sweetheart, Eleanor Mills, were found dead, apparently suicides. The 
Minor succeeded in having the minister's widow brought to trial and 
for months the New Jersey town became one of the most important 
filing points for press associations and big newspapers in America. One 
witness became "the pig woman" to the 200 reporters at the trial. 
Unfortunately for the Mirror, Mrs. Hall was acquitted and sued the 
paper for libel. 

While the Hall-Mills story was running, Gertrude Ederle swam the 
English Channel to become America's heroine for a day. In late August 
of 1926 former President Charles Eliot of Harvard, and "the Sheik" of 
motion pictures, Rudolph Valentino died. The Daily News gave 
Valentino six pages of space and Eliot one paragraph, thereby setting 
off more irate complaints from serious-minded folk. But "Valentino 
Dies With Smile as Lips Touch Priest's Crucifix" and "Rudy Leaped 
from Rags to World Hero" were tabloid copy, and the death of an 
educator was not. In most of the press, too, Valentino rated the most 
attention. 

A second sensational murder trial was drummed up in the spring of 
1926. A corset salesman named Judd 'Gray and his sweetheart, Mrs. 
Ruth Snyder, had collaborated in disposing of the unwanted Mr. 
Snyder. When it came time for Mrs. Snyder's execution in the electric 
chair at Sing Sing the Graphic blared to its readers: 

"Don't fail to read tomorrow's Graphic. An installment that thrills 
and stuns! A story that fairly pierces the heart and reveals Ruth 
Snyder's last thoughts on earth; that pulses the blood as it discloses her 
final letters. Think of it! A woman's final thoughts just before she is 
clutched in the deadly snare that sears and burns and FRIES AND 
KILLS! Her very last words! Exclusively in tomorrow's Graphic." 

It was the photography-minded News which had the last word, 
however. The Graphic might have its "confession" but the News 
proposed to take its readers inside the execution chamber. Pictures 
were forbidden, but a photographer, Tom Howard, strapped a tiny 
camera to his ankle and took his picture just after the current was 
turned. The News put the gruesome shot on its front page, sold 
250,000 extra copies, and then had to run off 750,000 additional pages 
later. 36 

Sensationalism began a general decline in 1926. After 1930, the Mirror 
was never profitable. The Graphic went out of business in 1932. The 
newspapers of the 1930's devoted more space to politics and economics and 
foreign affairs; yet they maintained their yen for crime, violence, and sex. In 
the late 1930's and early 1940's interpretive reporting, which began during 
World War I, became more widely accepted. It provided perspective and 
background for news of important human activities that were far from 
sensational. The "why" received some recognition as, now more than ever 
before, people needed to understand the events, due in part to the complex 
social legislation introduced during the Roosevelt administration. 



The Printed Medium 23 

REFERENCES 

1. The figures cited in this paragraph and the next are based upon statistics appearing 
prepared for the Task Force by Dr. Leo Bogart, excutive vice president of the 
Bureau of Advertising, American Newspaper Publishers Association, and Prof. Jack 
Lyle of the Department of Journalism, University of California at Los Angles. Both 
Dr. Bogart's paper, "How the Mass Media Work in America," and Professor Lyle's 
paper, "Contemporary Functions of the Media," appear in the Appendix. 

2. Testimony of Dr. Bradley Greenberg Before the NCCPV, Oct. 16, 1968. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, Aphorism 129. 

5. Herbert J. Muller, Freedom in the Western World (New York: Harper & Row, 
1963), p. 192. 

6. Ibid., p. 313. 

7. Levy, Freedom of Speech and Press in Early American History (Harper & Row, Inc., 
Torchbook ed. 1963). p. 50. 

8. Ibid., pp. 119-120. 

9. Charles A. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (New York: 
Macmillan Co., 1913). p. 

10. Leonard W. Levy, Legacy of Suppression, (Cambridge, Belknap Press, 1960). 

11. Levy, op. cit., Footnote 5, pp. 274-275. 

12. Frank Luther Mitt. American Journalism, 1690-1960 (New York: The Macmillan 

Co., 3d ed., 1962), p. 148. 

13. Levy, op. cit., Footnote 5, pp. 283-289. 

14. John Milton, Areopagitica (New York Crofts; Classics, 1967). See also Peterson, 
Jenson, and Rivers, Mass Media and Modern Society, (New York: Holt, Rinehart & 
Winston, 1965), pp. 89-91, and Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm, Four theories of 
the Press (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956), pp. 46-47. 

15. Thomas Jefferson, Life & Selected Writings, ed. by A. Koch & W. Peden (New York: 
The Modern Library, 1944). See also Peterson et al., Mass Media, pp. 95-97; and 
Siebert et al., Four Theories, pp. 45-46. 

16. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Crofts Classics, 1947. See also Peterson et 
al., Mass Media, pp. 98-98; and Siebert et al., Four Theories, pp. 45-46. 

17. 249 U.S. 47. 

18. 249 U.S. at 52 (1919). 

19. 333 U.S. 507. 

20. Ibid., p. 510. 

21. Ibid.,p.52Q. 

22. James E. Pollard, The Presidents and the Press (New York: The Macmillan Co., 
1947), p. 23. 

23. Ibid., p. 12. 

24. Douglass Cater, The Fourth Branch of Government (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 
1959), p. 76. 

25. Ibid., p.77. 

26. Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Rise of the City, 1878-1898 (New York: The Macmillan 
Co., 1933). 

27. New York World, May 11, 1883. 

28. Mott,op. cit., p. 529. 

29. Robert E. Park, "The Natural History of the Newspaper," in M<m Communications, 
Wilbur Schramm, Ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964), p. 12. 

30. Ibid., p. 18. 

31. Edwin Emery, The Press and America: Aninter pretative History of Journalism 
(New York: Prentice-Hall, 2d ed., 1965), pp. 514-516. 

32. Ibid., pp. 424-524. 

33. Ibid., 

34. Ibid., 

35. Ibid., pp. 627-628. 

36. Ibid., p. 



Chapter 2 
FROM MEDIUM TO MEDIA 



By the end of the 19th century, both the nation and the press had 
changed drastically from the 18th century environment that had contributed 
and shaped their values. A colony of Englishmen was becoming a nation of 
immigrants. The press stood at the threshold of revolutionary new technology 
that would change the medium of the printed, the spoken, and the seen. And 
in the meantime, a new status for the press loomed on the economic horizon. 

A. Newspapers 

Lincoln Steffens took a long look at newspaper journalism across the 
United States in 1897 and shared his findings with the readers of Scribner's 
magazine. Talking shop the previous spring, the executive heads of twoscore 
great newspapers had spoken of their properties as factories, he reported, and 
had likened the management of their editorial departments to that of 
department stores. "Journalism today is a business," he wrote, somewhat in 
awe at his discovery. 

Indeed, with the beginning of the new century, journalism had become a 
very big business. The personal journals of colonial days and the party organs 
of the first half of the 19th century had fallen far behind. Education, 
industrialization, mass production of newspapers all had combined with 
shrewd editorial judgment to turn the craft of journalism into a business. 
Pulitzer's World, which he had bought for $346,000 in 1883, was deemed to 
be worth $10 million little more than a decade later, and it employed 1,300 
people. 1 Many other newspapers, especially those that promoted themselves 
as "people's champions," similarly grew large. Circulations in the hundreds of 
thousands became common. 

B. Magazines 

As the 20th century began, magazines, too, started to become giants. 
Although Andrew Bradford had published the first American magazine in 
1741 (a few days before Benjamin Franklin had founded the second), for 
more than a century the magazines suffered from small circulation, from too 
little advertising, and from limited editorial vision. Not until the 1890's were 

25 



26 Mass Media and Violence 

S. S. McClure, Frank Munsey, and Cyrus H. K. Curtis able to bring magazine 
content into harmony with the tastes and interests of the great middle class. 
Munsey put Munsey 's Magazine on sale at ten cents in 1893, and Curtis began 
to sell his Saturday Evening Post at five cents a short time later. Both began 
to teach other magazine publishers what they had learned from newspapers: 
By appealing to the masses, they could sell their publications at less than cost, 
draw huge lists of readers, and lure advertising dollars. Shortly after the turn 
of the century, the Ladies Home Journal became the first magazine to reach a 
circulation of one million. Edward W. Bok, the editor, built circulation by 
giving women readers practical advice on running a home and on rearing a 
family, by trying to elevate their standards in art and architecture, and by 
crusading against public drinking cups and patent medicines. 

This was the period, too, when the muckrakers Lincoln Steffens, Ida 
Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, and the others were exerting a stunning impact 
on government with their exposes. 

Newspapers and magazines have not been static in the decades since the 
1890's and early 1900's, but many of the ingredients that went into the 
success of the newspapers and magazines of that period are staples today. 

C. Movies 

Even as newspapers and magazines were sprinkling their columns with 
entertaining items, a medium that was almost entirely entertainment was 
beginning in the cities the nickelodeon, forerunner of the giant film 
industry. It was born at a time when the democratic movement was fullblown 
and urbanization had brought the multitudes to the cities. Motion pictures 
had wide audience appeal from the start. Originally little more than 
peepshows in the penny arcades of the 1890's, the early movies offered 
vaudeville bits, slapstick routines, and jerky scenes of boxing matches. 2 

The movies went from the penny arcades to vaudeville shows, then 
traveling carnivals and amusement parks. The first movie with a solid story 
line, Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery, was a distinct success in a 
Pittsburgh theater that featured only movies. Within a year, five thousand 
other small theaters were built. Most of these nickelodeons were in the largest 
cities, especially those with high concentrations of foreign born. Film was a 
form of entertainment that even recent arrivals could afford and enjoy. 
Admission was usually five cents. 

In these early days, movies had not become respectable enough for the 
upper classes. The movies had trouble developing at first when so many who 
sponsored film making believed that long features would only bore audiences. 
D.W. Griffith was impatient to make full-length movies, but his backers 
would allow him to go no further than two reels (about twenty minutes' 
playing time). Then Adolph Zukor, an independent operator, imported a 
four-reel French Play, Queen Elizabeth, starring Sarah Bernhardt in the title 
role. It played before a fashionable audience in New York in 1912, and Zukor 
became convinced that audiences could enjoy a full evening's entertainment 
at the movies. He began to produce long films. Griffith then broke away from 
his cautious backers to film The Birth of a Nation, which opened at the 
Liberty Theater in New York in March 1915, with an admission charge of 



From Medium to Media 27 

two dollars. But a step from this success came the burgeoning of film-making 
companies, especially when theaters moved from laboring-class districts into 
middle-class neighborhoods. First, novelty brought new audiences, then the 
big production converted them to move going. Paul Rotha, a film producer 
and critic, has written: 

During this period, therefore, from about L912 until 1920, the very 
marvelling of the general public, watching every new film with mouth 
agape, was sufficient for the studios to become established on a 
practical basis capable of mass production. 3 

By the time that novelty had gone, the studios had built the "star" 
system, and names like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, 
Francis X. Bushman, and Beverly Bayne attracted movie-goers across the 
nation. 

As the industry grew, the costs of production went up as well. The star 
system, which did so much to attract audiences, made the stars valuable 
properties. Their high salaries and the necessity for established studios 
rocketed the costs of moviemaking. The motion picture became 
institutionalized. Studios chose locations other than the rooftops and city 
streets that had served the early shoestring operations. Artificial lighting 
replaced the sun. Scripts replaced the improvisations of directors and 
cameramen. Equipment became refined and therefore more expensive. 
Producers needed more and more money to complete feature films. And to 
bring the greatest return on their money, moviemakers tried to turn out a 
product that would attract the widest possible public. Like newspapers but 
in a much shorter time span movies became big business. 

D. Radio 

The business of radio began as inauspiciously as had the motion picture 
industry. Broadcasting had been a free-for-all in its earliest days. No effective 
regulation prevailed: government power was limited to a 1912 act concerned 
only with radio telegraphy. Eventually government regulation came at the 
request of the industry itself, and as protection for an instrument of 
communication that pioneer broadcasters thought would be useful primarily 
in the dissemination of culture. Many thought that owners of receiving 
sets would have to support radio by paying an annual license fee. They only 
profit would come from the sale of sets and other radio equipment. David 
Sarnoff of the Radio Corporation of America argued at the time that radio 
deserved an endowment "similar to that enjoyed by libraries, museums, and 
educational institutions." He believed, Gleason Archer wrote in Big Business 
and Radio, that "philanthropists would eventually come to the rescue of a 
hard-pressed industry." 4 

Almost all the pioneers rejected the notion that advertising would support 
radio. Herbert Hoover, who was then Secretary of Commerce, declared at the 
First Annual Radio Conference in Washington: "It is inconceivable that so 
great a possibility for service ... be drowned in advertising matters." Even : 
Printer's Ink, the advertising trade weekly, stated in 1922 that radiof 



s 28 Mass Media and Violence 

advertising would be offensive: "The family circle is not a public place, and 
advertising has no business intruding there unless it is invited." Radio 
Broadcasting magazine complained about advertising that had begun to 
invade radio: 

Concerts are seasoned here and there with a dash of advertising 
paprika. You can't miss it; every little classic number has a slogan all its 
own, if it is only the mention of the name and the shrill address, and 
the phone number of the music house which arranged the program. 
More of this sort of thing may be expected. And once the avalanche 
gets a good start, nothing short of an Act of Congress or a repetition of 
Noah's excitement will suffice to stop it. 5 

The rise of radio as a major disseminator of news and entertainment had 
begun with the broadcasting of the 1920 presidential election by KDKA. It 
took on major impetus when sponsored programs were broadcast 
experimentally on WEAF in 1922. Three million radio sets were available to 
listeners by the time of the 1924 presidential election. By then, 556 
broadcasting stations were on the air, and the Radio Corp. of America was 
growing rapidly. 

Throughout the early years, despite the growth of advertising, radio sets 
and equipment sales formed by far the most lucrative aspect of broadcasting. 
Then the Radio Corp. of America formed a broadcasting subsidiary, the 
National Broadcasting Co., in 1925. The following year, another network 
began, first as the Judson Radio Program Corp., then as United Independent 
Broadcasters. It finally began its broadcasting operations in 1927 and changed 
its name to the Columbia Broadcasting System. With 19 stations in its Red 
and Blue Networks in 1926, NBC had 48 by the end of 1927; CBS had 16 in 
1927 and 28 in the following year. Thus, little more than three decades after 
Guglielmo Marconi had succeeded in transmitting a message by wireless across 
his father's Bolognese estate, the vast structure of broadcasting was taking 
shape. In 1934, powerful independent stations that had been seeking 
advertising together formed the Mutual Broadcasting System. 

Meanwhile, Congress had finally recognized the confusion over the use and 
allocation of wavelengths and had passed the Radio Act of 1927. That act 
was followed by the Communications Act of 1934, which created the Federal 
Communications Commission to regulate broadcasting in "the public interest, 
convenience, and necessity." Congress gave the FCC the power to license 
broadcasting stations, to assign wavelengths, and to suspend or revoke the 
licenses of stations not serving the public interest. 

By 1934, radio had firmly established itself as an advertising medium. The 
star system became readily adaptable to the increasingly popular 
entertainment programs and broadcasting executives quickly exploited it. 

E. Television 

In a sense, television has no history. Radio provided for television a 
station structure, a network structure, an advertising support structure, even a 
time structure that divided programs into 15-minute, half-hour, and hour 



From Medium to Media 29 

segments. Given these facts, the novelty and visual impact of the new 
medium, and the growing leisure time, television became established without 
having to struggle. Television took over the motion picture-radio star system; 
and specialization, which had grown slowly in the newspaper world and only 
a little faster in movies and radio, was almost instantaneous in television. 
Even government control was ready made in the FCC. 

In essence, then, television provided for itself only the technical 
competence that allowed telecasting. It became a primitive reality in the 
1920's and so near refinement by 1938 that David Sarnoff announced that 
home television "is now technically feasible." World War II interrupted 
television development; but by January, 1948, the nation had 102,000 
television sets two-thirds of them in New York. By April, the number of sets 
had more than doubled. T^n years later, four out of five American homes had 
television sets. As television operations demanded more and more of the 
national networks' time, attention, and money, national radio began to 
wither. Soon, national broadcasting, except for brief news reports and 
scattershot programs, became telecasting, and radio stations began to find 
their reason for being in local broadcasting. Television had won the day. s 

F. The Media in Contemporary American Life 

In the final sections of this background inquiry, we will consider the 
content of the media so that we may better understand the role that violence 
occupies and the role of the media operators, in particular, the journalist or 
communications professional. 

1. Media Content: A Brief Overview 

The American mass media provide something for nearly everyone at one 
time or another. But the usual appeal is to the broadest possible audience. 
The result, for the most part, is a fairly predictable blend of information and 
entertainment, distinguished chiefly by its efforts neither to demand nor 
offend. 

Typically, the broadcast media prefer entertainment while the print media 
favor news and information. Newspapers, on the other hand, devote from as 
little as six percent to as much as twenty-five percent of their news and 
editorial space to "popular amusements." The rest of their content appears to 
be slightly more serious. 6 Obviously, however, television can offer serious 
programs containing hard information, while newspapers often afford light 
entertainment. 

Television network entertainment programming tends to run in cycles, and 
TV news programs emphasize the photogenic. Radio stations, once the source 
of numerous dramatic programs long since eclipsed by television, now tend to 
offer music, news, and sports and, more recently, "open-mike" 
programs with an occasional leftover transcription of "Boston Blackie." 
Newspapers, too, provide a familiar format with "hard" news of the world, 
national, and local events blended with lighter, brighter features, sports, and 
business coverage and, of course, the ubiquitous comics. More recently, a 
so-called "underground press" has begun to flourish in larger cities across the 



30 Mass Media and Violence 

country. Previously a protest organ, it now shows increasing signs of falling 
into the "establishment" patterns which its editorials and, for that matter, its 
news items, rail against; and underground news syndicates provide features in 
much the way AP and DPI do. Magazines, books, and motion pictures provide 
perhaps the greatest variety of content; among these media, there is almost 
literally something for everyone. 

No reasonably literate American today is apt to be unaware of these 
general outlines of media content. But for those who wish to go beyond the 
level of common knowledge to a seriously sophisticated understanding of 
media content, the way is not easy. Many studies have been conducted to 
determine the content of relatively isolated examples of the media or to 
determine the content within a specific area of concern. Some advertising and 
marketing enterprises perform continuing analyses for specific 
purposes generally to assist media buyers in selecting vehicles for advertising 
purposes. These and similarly limited sources provide some useful data, but 
the data are limited by the scope of the researcher's interest and absence of 
general availability. 

Americans use their media in a variety of ways and for enormous amounts 
of time. As we have seen, 95 percent of American homes have at least one TV 
set, and during a typical weekday, 82 percent of adults watch television for 
an average of more than two hours. Those in lower-income homes watch 
more TV than those with a higher income. Bogart reports, for example, that 
the "average" person in a home with less than $5,000 income occupies 
himself with television for 2 hours 27 minutes daily; viewers in homes over 
$10,000 income watch television about 1 hour 45 minutes. 7 

2. The Media and the Professionals 

As Bogart and others have suggested, 8 the media owners and operators 
offer one of the most direct means of resolving the problems posed by 
violence in media content. 

The media require the diverse talents of many types of men. At the top of 
the media structure, the owners and managers of the major media businesses, 
the newspaper publishers, broadcast station operators, and network 
presidents or vice presidents, for example, are often little distinguishable from 
their counterparts in other business organizations. Yet they are the men who 
establish the basic policies of their enterprises, and typically represent most 
of the good as well as bad in American business. Motivated by the prospect of 
profit, at least as much as by the opportunities for public service, they have 
brought the media into the poorest American home as well as the richest. But 
they have largely produced media designed more to sell products than to 
enlighten or to inform. 

The media owners and managers may establish basic policy, including 
policy as to content, but others must translate policy into action. Throughout 
the middle levels of the media, the media "gatekeepers" perform these 
functions. The gatekeepers' role is most critical, for they ultimately decide 
what is published or broadcast. Newspaper editors and broadcasting news 
directors decide what events to cover, what stories and photos or newsreel 
footage to run, how to report the selected stories, and where to place the 



From Medium to Media 31 

story in the context of the day's or week's events. In much the same way, 
producers, program directors and feature editors determine the media's 
entertainment content. 

To fulfill these functions, the media need a diversity of talent and a talent 
for diversity. Few major business enterprises tolerate as wide a range of 
colorful personalities as the metropolitan daily newspaper, for example. Yet 
the gatekeepers tend almost inevitably to reflect the values of the American 
middle class, from which most of them have come and which sustains their 
professional status. Numerous studies of the gatekeepers demonstrate that 
much of what we read or see or hear in the media reflects the gatekeepers' 
own background. Thus, the media tend to offer all Americans black or 
white, rich or poor the kind of fare that a white, middle-cjass background 
finds acceptable. Although much that is worthwhile exists in the middle-class 
background, those who do not share this background must often see an 
inviting but unattainable life, with consequent frustration and alienation. 

The professional status of the media operators, although often asserted 
and generally acknowledged, remains dubious. For many, the question of 
professional status is relatively unimportant. Television entertainment 
program producers, it would seem, probably spend little time wondering 
about the matter; their business, as they see it, is essentially show business. 
But the journalist's claim to professionalism is a different proposition; 
traditionally, they have regarded themselves as professionals and they 
jealously guard their privileges, though not always their obligations. 

Despite their incalculable influence upon the lives of most Americans, and 
despite the claims of the press to professional status, the gatekeepers and 
other journalists subject themselves to few, if any, professional standards that 
are not self-imposed and self-enforced. Journalists are not licensed, of course; 
the history of the press's struggle with censors suggests that licensing would 
unacceptable, even without the first amendment. Although a number of 
professional associations and societies have promulgated codes of ethics, the 
codes are usually vague and general and are rarely, if ever, enforced against 
violators. Compliance is voluntary. For the same reasons that prevent 
licensing, no state board is empowered to bar journalists from practice on 
grounds of failure to adhere to even the barest minimum professional 
standards. 

In a profession without readily enforceable codes of ethics and without 
standards for admission to practice or for disbarment, the professional 
education of its practitioners is of more than ordinary importance. Yet the 
would-be journalist or other media operators must meet no minimum 
educational level. Whether the press today realizes the professional 
importance of journalism education and continuing education programs for 
practicing journalists remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is this* The 
press must base its claim to professionalism upon something firmer than 
outworn tradition and blind reliance on the first amendment. The journalism 
and communications schools can do much to provide that support. 

Meanwhile, however, the media and the gatekeepers are subject to little in 
the way of organized, continuing evaluation and criticism. Although 
professional organizations sponsor some exercises in self-examination, those 
efforts tend to produce few substantial changes. Rare is the case, for example, 



32 Mass Media and Violence 

in which a journalist is subjected to punishment or to other sanction for 
transgressions. Are there no transgressors, or does one who sews his own hair 
shirt make sure that it fits loosely? 

When a threat of criticism from outside the media appears, media 
operators can be counted on, in the main, to meet the threat with portentous 
warnings against the undoing of our free press, coupled with promises of 
increased attention to self-regulation. 

No one would deny that the first amendment should not be subverted. 
Ironically, however, the media themselves may ultimately bring about their 
undoing and, in the process, the undoing of much that makes sense in the 
philosophy of free expression. 

Increasingly, the people have been asking, directly and through their 
government, if the media have not abused their freedom. If the media 
continue to put off a serious answer to that question if they block even the 
means to find an answer possibly those critics who believe that they know 
the answer without need for further inquiry and who are prepared to take 
drastic "corrective" action may prevail. To avoid that possibility, the media 
themselves may be required to take equally drastic steps to restore their right 
to the people's confidence. 

The challenge is, in a real sense then, to the professionalism of the media; 
the job is for the professionals. Their success or failure in' meeting the 
challenge looms as an important test as to how long freedom of expression 
remains feasible in our society. 

REFERENCES 

1 . Edwin Emery, The Press and America: An Interpretative History of Journalism (New 
York: Prentice-Hall, 2d. ed., 1965), p. 98. 

2. Theodore Peterson, Jay W. Jensen, and William Rivers, The Mass Media and Modern 
society (New York: Holt, Rinchart & Winston, 1965), p. 49. 

3. Ibid., pp. 50-51. 

4. Ibid., p. 27. 

5. Ibid., p. 55. 

6. Lyle, Appendix II B 

7. Bogart, Appendix II A 

8. Ibid. 



Chapter 3 
FUNCTIONS AND CREDIBILITY 



Those who make peaceful revolution impossible 

will make violent revolution inevitable. 

John F. Kennedy 

All social progress is laid 

to discontent. 

Abraham Lincoln 

Conflict is part of the crucible of change. It may yield progress or 
repression. But conflict is not a state of social equilibrium. Whether conflict is 
resolved by violence or cooperation will depend in part upon the actors' 
perceptions of the world about them. ^Providing an ac^uiat^^ejcrjtionj3f 1 
that world is the media's most important responsibility. Conflict may be 1 
rSoTv^^nor^ennit, in^eTeT3rc^ntlict7therFlTTl5o1ntshort of the use of 
force that would be to the mutual advantage of the participants and society. 
Violence takes its toll on the victor, the vanquished, and the nation. 

Conflict cannot be resolved rationally unless each participant has an 
accurate perception of the intentions and goals of others. Mutual trust must 
exist. Confidence must exist in the desire of each person to reach a 
nonviolent and mutually satisfactory accommodation of divergent interests. 
And a rough equivalency must exist in the conflicting groups' perceptions of 
reality. The media cannot make the unwilling seek mutual accommodation, 
but they can make an extremist of the moderate. Regardless of their 
performance, the media will never be able to assure the non-violent resolution 
of conflict, but they can assure the violent resolution of conflict. 

In our increasingly complex and urban society, interdependence has 
increased greatly and the need for cooperation between various groups has 
grown in direct proportion. The rate of change has grown geometricaDy and 
the requirement for information about this changing environment has 
expanded in a similar progression. At the same time, the individual's capacity 
to acquire knowledge through personal experience has increased only 
marginally, if at all. Similarly, his ability to communicate with others 
informally has increased only slightly, and is totally inadequate. Rational and 
non-violent readjustment to a changing society requires accurate information 
about our shifting environment. 

The news media are the central institutions in the process of intergroup \ 
communication in this country. While face-to-face communication has an ) 

33 



34 Mass Media and Violence 

[ important role in intergroup communication and may serve a mediating role 
I in the process of persuasion, to the extent that the news media are regarded 
V as credible, they are the primary source of information. 

Never before have the American news media been so defensive while being 
so successful. Today, more information is disseminated faster and more 
accurately than ever before. The standards of reporting and the sense of 
responsibility have improved measurably since the beginning of this century. 
But the changes in American society have been more than measurable; they 
have been radical. The issues, more numerous and complex, require greater 
sophistication and time to report adequately. The need for more and 
different kinds of information has mushroomed. The broadening of the 
political base and the growth of direct citizen participation in politics and 
institutional decisionmaking require not so much a larger flow of words as a 
more sophisticated treatment of information. 

An apparent unwillingness by the journalism profession to analyze its 
utility in a rapidly evolving democratic society has resulted in a sometimes 
blind adherence to values developed in the latter half of the 19th century. 
Old practices have been abandoned only when the most contorted 
rationalizations have been unable to provide any support. Energy has been 
wasted on mischievous attempts to justify practices of the past and to explain 
why they are serviceable for the present. Little attention has been given to 
what will be needed in the next two decades. 

When the layman inquires about today's practices, he is frequently told 
that "news is what I say it is and journalism is best left to journalists." This 
kind of arrogance does not lead to understanding between the public and the 
news media. If the media cannot communicate their own problems to the 
American people, there is little hope that they can function as a medium of 
communication among the several groups in society. 

Have the media failed to achieve perfection or to perform the impossible? 
Walter Lippman has written: 

As social truth is organized today, the press is not constituted to 
furnish from one edition to the next the amount of knowledge which 
the democratic theory of public opinion demands .... When we expect 
it to supply such a body of truth, we employ a misleading standard of 
judgment. We misunderstand the limited nature of news, the illimitable 
complexity of society; we over-estimate our own endurance, public 
spirit, and all-round competence. We suppose an appetite for 
uninteresting truths which is not discovered by any honest analysis of 
our own tastes . . . Unconsciously the theory sets up the single reader as 
theoretically incompetent, and puts upon the press the burden of 
accomplishing whatever representative government, industrial 
organization, and diplomacy have failed to accomplish. Acting upon 
everybody for thirty minutes in twenty -four hours, the press is asked to 
create a mystical force called "public opinion" that wih 1 take up the 
slack in public institutions. 1 

To suggest that the media cannot compensate for the defects of other 
institutions is quite different from urging that all is well. 

The journalists do not have principal roles in making the news and have 



Functions and Credibility 35 

only limited power to determine what will be read, watched, or believed. But 
they do have the power to determine the relative availability, and 
non-availability, of millions of daily transactions, their mode of presentation, 
and the context in which they will be cast. While this view suggests that the 
responsibility for disaffection with the media should not be placed entirely 
on the profession and their employers, it also suggests that they stand in the 
best position to do something about it. 

The inadequacy of traditional journalistic values is clearest in the case of 
television. It has not yet defined its role in the news communication system. 
A desire to be first with the news, linked with the logistical problems of 
providing pictures and action, plus an inherited show-business ethic, have 
imposed serious limitations on the medium. The heavy reliance of a majority 
of Americans for their news on a medium that is unwilling or unequipped to 
provide no more information than the front page of a newspaper has resulted 
in additional stress. The limited number of channels, television's relatively 
greater impact, and a preoccupation with pictures substantially increase the 
burdens of the medium. Finally, the requirement that television serve a truly 
mass audience and that it be licensed and subject to regulation by a 
Congressional agency has made it both more timid and more responsible than 
other media. ^ 

Although the development and growth of radio and television news have 
generated some thought among the print media about their changing role, 
reorientation has been painful and slow. 

As a result of changes in technology, financial and political organization, 
the educational level of the public and its shifting information needs, the 
forces of dislocation continue to operate on the news media. Technological 
developments could, within the next two decades, radically reconstitute the 
media. 

The news media have vigorously urged the government to recognize the 
people's right to know. Harold Cross, a newspaper attorney, has summed up 
the argument: 

Public business is the public's business. The people have a right to 
know. Freedom of information is their just heritage. Without that the 
citizens of a democracy have but changed their Kings. 2 

Lately, a similar argument has been used to meet a perceived threat of 
government intervention. Said Walter Cronkite: 

When we fight for freedom of the press, we're not fighting for our 
rights to do something, we're fighting for the people's right to know. 
That's what freedom of the press is. It's not license to the press. It's 
freedom of the people to know. How do they think they're going to 
know? By putting television news or newspapers or any other news 
source under government control? 3 

The press vigorously asserts its right to the access to government information 
and defends the first amendment on the ground that the people have a right 
to know. Rightly so. But if the people have a right to know, somebody has 
the obligation to inform them: an obligation to provide the accurate 



36 Mass Media and Violence 

information necessary to rational decision-making and a rational response to a 
changing environment. That obligation devolves upon the news media. 

A. Functions of the News Media 
Again Walter Lippman has said it best: 

If the country is to be governed with the consent of the governed, 
then the government must arrive at opinions about what their governors 
want them to consent to. How do they do this? They do it by hearing 
the radio and reading in the newspapers what the corps of 
correspondents tell them is going on in Washington and in the country 
at large and in the world. Here we perform an essential service ... we 
do what every sovereign citizen is supposed to do, but has not the time 
or the interest to do for himself. This is our job. It is no mean calling, 
and we have a right to be proud of it and to be glad that it is our 
y-\ work. 4 

/ The purpose of communicating news should be to reduce uncertainty and 
/ to increase the probability that the audience will respond to conflict and 
I change in a rational manner. 

Harold D. Lasswell suggested the media have three functions: 

("(1) Surveillance of the environment, disclosing threats and 
opportunities affecting the value position of the community and the 
component parts within it; (2) correlation of the components of society 
in making a response to the environment; and (3) transmission of the 
social inheritance." 5 

TDo WQ/ow ^r* 

These are primary functions of the ews media today. 

Surveillance of the environment describes the collection and distribution 
of information about events both inside and outside a particular society. 
Roughly, it corresponds to what is popularly called "news." Correlation of 
the components of society to respond to the environment includes news 
analysis, news interpretation and editorials, and prescriptions for collective 
response to changing events in the environment. Transmission of culture 
includes messages designed to communicate the attitudes, norms, and values 
of the past and the information which is an integral part of these traditions. 
This third category is the educational function of the media. 

In 1947, the Commission for a Free and Responsible Press set forth five 
goals for the press so it could discharge its obligation to provide the 
information the public has the right to know: 

f 1 . A truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day's events in 

/ a context which gives them meaning. 
/ 2. A forum for the exchange of comment and criticism. 
/ 3. A means of projecting the opinions and attitudes of the groups in the 

( society to one another. 

i 4. A method of presenting and clarifying the goals and values of society. 
\ 5. Full access to the day's intelligence. 6 



Is 



Functions and Credibility 37 

Although most of these suggestions drew on recommendations or ideas 
generated by editors and publishers, the media greeted the Commission's 
report with hostility and it received a rather general denunciation in columns 
and editorials and at professional meetings. 

Perhaps most important to the non-violent resolution of social conflict are 
two much more specific objectives: 1) The news media should accurately 
communicate information between various conflicting groups within society 
and the circumstances surrounding the conflict; and 2) they must make the 
"marketplace of ideas," a fundamental rationale for the first amendment, a 
reality. 

The news media cannot perform their important functions unless they' 
have the public's confidence. Any decline in the credibility of formal 
channels of communication will invariably result in the development of 
informal channels of communication. Under conditions of mild stress, such 
channels may serve moderately well to provide accurate intelligence on the 
surrounding environment, but it is impossible for such informal channels to 
serve the needs of the people in a democratic society as effectively as a free 
and responsible news media. Moreover, during periods of great stress, 
complete reliance on informal channels of communication can result, and has 
resulted, in a completed breakdown of social norms, and has produced 
irrational responses. The credibility of the media is a function of the 
perceptions of its audience, not "truthfulness" in some abstract, Olympian 
sense. The basic issue of media credibility today is whether the media are 
presenting a biased or distorted picture of the world through selective 
reporting, rather than a concern for fabrication of facts. Nevertheless, if the 
audience does not believe that the media are providing all relevant facts, it 
will rely on informal channels of communication and its own imagination to 
supply the perceived omissions, creating a substantial potential for distortion. 

It therefore matters little whether the news media have favored one 
particular point of view over another. What does matter is the effect of media 
practices and values on the public's perception of the media's credibility, on 
the public's perception of reality, and the manner in which these practices 
and values might be changed to facilitate more effective communication of 
the information the public has a right to know. In some instances, an 
allegation of bias will be the result of deviation from some abstract concept 
of "truth;" as frequently, however, it will be the result of the media's failure 
to tell its audience what it would like to hear. 

B. Credibility of the News Media 

A crisis in confidence exists today between the American people and their 
news media. The magnitude of the problem is open to debate; its existence is 
not. Concern ranges from a high-level official at the New York Times, who 
believes that readers see the editorial policy of the Times controlling the 
content of news, to a western newspaper editor, committed to improving race 
relations, who believes his paper's standing and credibility in the white 
community have declined as a result of his commitment. It extends from the 
network news commentators, who hypothesize the public chose not to 
believe the scenes of disorder broadcast during the 1 968 Democratic National 



38 Mass Media and Violence 

Convention in Chicago, to the general manager of a midwestern metropolitan 
television station who has run over one hundred five -minute spots dealing 
with race relations and speculates that his station has alienated a significant 
part of its white audience. 

The concern is not totally unfounded. In a recent issue of the 
International Press Institute Bulletin it was reported: 

In the United States, where journalists have long enjoyed a special 
position compared with colleagues elsewhere, a disquieting 
development has been noted. . . . Newspapers, it appeared in surveys, 
were no longer trusted by their readers, who felt that they lie, 

manufacture news and sensationalize what they do report For the 

press of America and elsewhere, its own communication problem of 
reestablishing the trust of the readers may prove harder to solve than 
the technical and economic problems which beset it. 7 

There is evidence that the news media have been developing a credibility 
problem, at least since the early 1960's. One study of a medium-sized 
California city found that respondents discounted, on the average, a third of 
what they read in the newspapers and a fifth of what they saw on television. 8 
A 1963 study-two years before the Watts riots-showed that, among Los 
Angeles Negroes, only 32 percent felt the metropolitan dailies would give a* 
black candidate coverage equal to that given a white opponent; only 25 
percent felt Negro churches and organizations had a chance equal to that of 
white organizations of getting publicity in the daily press; and 54 percent felt 
the daily press was not fair in treatment of race relations issues. 9 

Yet there is little hard evidence of any widespread public belief that the 
facts provided by the media are false. The primary objection seems to be that 
the news media either omit important facts or slant the presentation of the 
facts they do report. In Chicago, for example, the evidence suggests that the 
objection was to the media's failure to provide adequate coverage of the 
provocations by the demonstrators toward the police, and some objection to 
network personnel who were perceived as critical of the police. 10 

For example, a survey in a large midwestern city conducted while the 
events of Chicago were still fresh in the public conscience found that among 
viewers interested in civil disorders: "Foremost, viewers desire more 'honest' 
coverage." Approximately 49 percent of the Negroes and 41 percent of the 
whites believed that television stations are hiding the "truth" in their 
coverage of rioting; 

they desire that the coverage of rioting be more candid and the "truth" 
be told. In terms of specifics, one-half (52 percent) of the whites and 
one-third (36 percent) of Negroes request more "balanced" or "fair" 
news coverage. ... In addition, some viewers maintain that stations are 
unfair in their coverage of riot situations because they focus solely on 
the sensational rather than balance it with the mundane. Thus, both 
Negroes and whites believe that stations should de-emphasize the 
sensational aspects of riot coverage or, in some cases, eliminate it 
entirely. 1 1 



Functions and Credibility 39 

C. The Importance of Being Credible 

When the public does not believe the information they receive from the 
news media or think the media are omitting important facts, there will be 
increased reliance on less formal sources for information. Ordinarily, this 
means they ask their friends and neighbors, or worse, they supply the 
information from their own imaginations. The consequences of such a 
breakdown of formal channels of communication can be very serious. 

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for example, the credibility of 
the media was seriously questioned by a large number of Americans, because, 
in part, they did not trust the source of much of the pertinent 
information the Roosevelt administration and because, in part, of the 
adoption of wartime censorship. 

In their pioneer study of rumor, Allport and Postman analyzed more than 
1,000 rumors from all parts of the country during World War II. Of these, 
almost 67 percent were categorized as "hostility (wedge-driving) rumors." 
These included such "news" as the Jews were evading the draft in massive 
numbers, American minority groups were impairing the war effort, and Negro 
servicemen were saving ice picks in preparation for revolt against the white 
community after their return home. Another 25 percent of the rumors were 
classified as "fear (bogy) rumors," e.g., the government is not telling the 
truth about the destruction of our fleet at Pearl Harbor or, in another 
instance, a collier was accidentally sunk near Cape Cod Canal and New 
Englanders believed that an American ship filled with Army nurses had been 
torpedoed, killing thousands of nurses. * 2 

Similarly, almost any after-action report on the recent civil disorders will 
confirm that rumors run rampant during periods of great stress and almost 
invariably involve gross exaggerations. The direction of the exaggeration 
depends upon the community in which the rumors circulate. In the black 
community, for instance, rumors prevail about extreme police brutality or 
about camps like the concentration camps in Germany during World War II. 
In the white community, it is not uncommon to hear that Negroes are arming 
themselves to invade the white section of town. 

The direction of distortion of information received through informal 
communication is almost invariably toward the group's preconceptions. In 
one series of experiments reported by Allport and Postman, they first showed 
one of twenty subjects a picture of people in a subway car. One person in the 
group was black and the rest were white. There appeared to be some dispute 
among them. A white man held a razor in his hand. The subject of the 
experiment viewed the picture and was asked to describe it to the next 
person; the second, to repeat the description to the third, and so on. In over 
half the experiments using white subjects, the final version had the Negro 
(instead of the white man) brandishing the razor. Among the possible 
explanations for this distortion, all were related to the subject's 
preconceptions about blacks: 

Whether this ominous distortion reflects hatred and fear of Negroes we 
cannot definitely say. In some cases, these deeper emotions may be the 
assimilative factor at work. And yet the distortion may occur even in 
subjects who have no anti-Negro bias. It is an unthinking cultural 



40 Mass Media and Violence 

stereotype that the Negro is hot tempered and addicted to the use of 
razors as weapons. The rumor, though mischievous, may reflect chiefly 
an assimilation of the story to verbal-cliches and conventional 
expectation. 13 

S A review of the literature on rumor indicates that at least two conditions 
/ are prerequisite to their circulation: an event that generates anxiety an 
/ event about which people feel some need to know and a state of ambiguity 
I concerning the facts surrounding than event. 14 The extreme case for these 

two conditions is a major event, such as the assassination of prominent public 
figure, and non-coverage by any of the news media. These conditions can also 
exist where the event is reported and anxiety aroused but the message is 
characterized by a high degree of uncertainty. Such uncertainty can result 
either from the omission of significant facts or the lack of credibility of the 
communicating medium. Under these circumstances, the message recipient 
has considerable latitude to supply the missing information from his own 
imagination or adopt the speculations of others he receives through informal 
channels of communication. Such informal communications are popularly 
referred taas rumor. 

At the very least, rumors tend to reinforce present positions, and in most 
cases the recipient will move further toward one of the attitudinal extremes 
than if he had received the kind of full and fair account of significant facts a 
skilled journalist can provide. 

In an era that demands the subjugation of our emotional attitudes about 
race, either a decline in credibility of the media or the failure of the media to 
meet the demand for information on issues of race relations will solidify 
rather than dissolve prejudice. The same is true in varying degrees on other 
issues, depending upon the strength of audience predispositions. 

.,-- A full and credible presentation of the news also serves the interests of the 

/ news organization. The eventual impact of increasing polarization will reduce 
the media's ability to hold a mass audience. Through the process of selective 
exposure, people will tend to listen to those voices that agree with their 
special point of view. 1 5 Where the society is highly polarized, it will become 
increasingly difficult for the media to communicate effectively except by 
tailoring their presentation to the predisposition of particular audiences. What 
will develop is a series of media, each appealing to a small section on the 
continuum with strongly held and relatively homogeneous views. Under such 
circumstances, intergroup communication substantially decreases. 

D. Credibility and Audience Bias 

Accusations that the news media are biased are frequently the result of 
strong political, attitudinal, or behavioral convictions. Many of the same 
charges of bias, for example, are raised against the media from both extremes 
of the political spectrum. The charges made by the conservatives at the 1 964 
Republican convention, for instance, remind many observers of those made 
by liberal Democrats throughout the years. 1 6 

A 1960 study showed a much greater perception of political bias in the 
Dallas News among Catholic priests than among Baptist ministers. More 
significant, it found that, among all clergy, the perception of political bias 



Functions and Credibility 41 

increased if the individual thought the paper unfair to his religious group. 1 7 
If the reader gives the newspaper low marks for accuracy or fairness on one 
subject, he is likely to apply it to others. 1 ' 

Further, experimental studies on attitude change also suggest this situation 
is general. Hovland and Sherif reported that respondents tended to distort the 
location of other points of view as a function of their own position on the 
continuum. Thus, those at either extreme tend to shift the midpoint toward 
themselves, thereby exaggerating the extremity of other positions as well as 
putting the objective neutral position "on the other side." 19 A member of 
the John Birch society, for example, may perceive former Chief Justice Earl 
Warren as a Communist, while students on the far left may regard Hubert 
Humphrey as an arch-conservative at best and a Fascist at worst. Clearly, 
strongly committed persons at either end of the spectrum will regard a 
newspaper that follows an objective and neutral course as biased and lacking 
in credibility. 

The news media are inevitably bound by this paradox. Traditionally, they 
have attempted to extricate themselves by distinguishing between "news" and 
"editorial comment." More recently, a third category, "news analysis," has 
been added. Newsmen are increasingly recognizing that some degree of 
interpretation inheres in the very act of reporting, regardless of the medium. 
At a minimum, interpretation results from individual differences in physical 
perception and social and cultural background. 

The news media will not be able to meet the communications needs of the 
country in the coming decades until they acknowledge at least to 
themselves that the old distinction between "news" and "editorial 
comment" is inadequate. 

REFERENCES 



Quoted by Robert E. Park, "The Natural History of the Newspaper," in Mass 
Communications, Wilbur Schramm, Ed), (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1960), 
p. 13. 

2. Harold Cross, The People's Right to Know (New York: Columbia University Press, 
1956), p. xiii. 

3. Walter Cronkite, "The Whole World is Watching," Public Broadcast Laboratory, 
Broadcast Dec. 22, 1968, script p. 56. 

4. Walter Lippmann, "The Job of the Washington Correspondent," Atlantic, January, 
1960, p. 49. 

5. Harold D. Lasswell, "The Structure and Function of Communication in Society," in 
Schramm, op. cit., footnote 1, p. 130. 

6. Robert M. Hutchins, Chairman, A Free and Responsible Press, Commission on 
Freedom of the Press (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), pp. 20-21. 

7. International Press Institute Bulletin, January 1969, p. 4. See also Norman Isaacs, 
"The New Credibility Gap- Readers vs. The Press," American Society of Newspaper 
Editors Bulletin, February 1969, p. 1. 

8. Jack Lyle, The News in Megalopolis (San Francisco: Chandler, 1967), pp. 39-42. 

9. Ibid., p. 171. 

10. Thomas Whiteside, "Corridor of Mirrors: The Television Editorial Process, Chicago," 
Columbia Journalism Review (Winter 1968/69), p. 35-54. 

Commenting on his involvement in the events in Chicago, Walter Cronkite said, 
"I am ashamed of having become emotionally involved, if we are talking about 
on-air involvement, when our own man was beat up before our eyes on the floor of 
the convention. I became indignant, said there were a bunch of thugs out there I 



42 Mass Media and Violence 

think on the floor. I shouldn't have. I think that's wrong." Broadcast Dec. 22, 1968, 
8:30 p.m. edt, by the Public Broadcast Laboratory, script p. 43. 

11. The Survey was commissioned by WFBM-TV at the direction of Eldon Campbell 
shortly after the assassination of Senator Kennedy and was performed by Frank N. 
Magid Associates. We appreciate the generosity and cooperation of Messrs. Campbell 
and Magid in making it available to us and discussing it with us. Unfortunately it was 
not completed in time for us to make more extensive use of it. pp. 1 30-1 31. 

12 Gordon Allport and Leo Postman, The Psychology of Rumor, (New York: Holt, 
Rinehart & Winston, 1947). 

13. Gordon Allport and Leo Postman, "The Basic Psychology of Rumor," in The 
?? Process and Effects of Mass Communication (Wilbur Schramm, Ed.) (Urbana: 

University of Illinois Press, 1955), p. 153. 

14. Tamotsu Shibutani, Improvised News: A Sociological Study of Rumor 
(Bobbs-Merrill 1966). 

15. Lazarsfeld, Berelson, Gaudet, The People's Choice, New York: Columbia University 
Press, (1948);Cartwright, "Some Principles of Mass Persuasion: Selected Findings of 
Research on the Sale of United States War Bonds," Human Relations, II (1949), pp. 
253-67; Starr & Hughes, "Report on an Educational Campaign: The Cincinnati Plan 
for the United Nations," American Journal of Sociology (1950), pp. 389-400; 
Cannel & MacDonald, "The Impact of Health News on Attitudes and Behavior," 
Journalism Quarterly (1956), pp. 315-23. 

16. Lyle, op. cit., footnote 8, p. 171. 

17. Ibid., pp. 44-45. 

18. James E. Brinton, et al. The Newspaper and Its Public, (Stanford University, 
Institute for Communications Research, undated). 

19. Carl Hovland and Muzafer Sherif, Social Judgment (New Haven: Yale University, 
Press, 1961). 



Chapter 4 
INTERGROUP COMMUNICATION 



You can't write a terribly exciting story 

about a boring football game. What . . . that 

again has nothing to do with ideology; it's 

simply that the newspapers this one 

included hold up a mirror to the world. 

If what they see is a boring picture, I'm afraid 

that what the readers get is a boring story 

quite often. 

Clifton Daniel, Former Managing Editor, 
New York Times 

So long as the news media rely on the mirror of society theory of 
journalism as their main defense, their critics will have a monopoly on both 
facts and logic. Fortunately, some journalists have rejected the mirror theory. 
Bill Moyers, publisher ofNewsday, has said: 

For a long time, there's been a myth about journalism, a myth 
shared by people who read us and view us, and a myth shared by those 
of us who are in the profession. That myth has been that newspapers 
are sort of, simply, mirrors of the world, as someone has said, that we 
simply reflect what is happening .... I think part of the cure for this 
exaggerated myth is simply if journalism admits that objectivity's a 
myth; we will diffuse the great expectations people have which we can 
never fulfill, and that is that we can look down from Olympus and tell 
people, "what is true." 

Once the fetish for objectivity is set aside, journalists should begin to 
examine their craft in terms of the information requirements of a democratic 
society. Even if objectivity is a myth, fair and balanced surveillance are goals 
worth pursuing. 

Accuracy, balance, and fairness are important in the resolution of conflict 
for several related reasons. Most important is that individual and collective 
responses to a changing environment, regardless of how carefully thought out, 
will be irrational if based on misinformation. All irrational responses do not 
necessarily fail, but success with them is purely coincidental. Failure not only 
breeds frustration, it also generates mistrust among groups. To the extent that 

43 



44 Mass Media and Violence 

the synthetic world of news does not square with the experience of large 
numbers of citizens, the credibility of the news media will be impaired. As a 
result, increased reliance on informal channels of communication will prevail. 
Finally, unbalanced surveillance will produce disparity in the perception of 
important underlying facts among the several groups in conflict in our 
society. Disagreements more easily resolve when the views of the underlying 
facts are approximately the same. Nowhere is the importance of the mass 
media in intergroup communication more apparent than between blacks and 
whites. 

A. Communication Between Blacks and Whites: A Case Study 

We believe that the greatest single need 

in America today is for communication 

between blacks and whites. 

-NBC News, "Summer 1967: 

What We Learned." 

A communication gap stretches wide between the black and white 
communities. Insulated from each other geographically, socially, and 
politically, they have primarily the mass media as a medium of intergroup 
communication. The news media did not request this job, but when the need 
for communication became critical, they were the one institution in society 
equipped to do the most about it. 

By the middle 1960's, the gap had not been bridged. For example, a 1967 
survey by the Louis Harris organization on the causes of Negro rioting is 
shown in table 1 . 

Table l.-The understanding gap: Causes of Negro noting 

Cause Whites' Belief Negroes' Belief 

(percent) (percent) 

Outside agitation 45 10 

Police brutality 8 49 

Joblessness 34 67 

Inadequate housing 39 68 

Inadequate education 46 61 



Forty -five percent of whites, but only 10 percent of Negroes, consider 
"outside agitation" a major cause of riots. What do the whites know that 
Negroes don't? How can two groups of people, living in the same country, in 
the same cities, have such different pictures of reality? Do the Negroes, 
conversely, know something that the white community does not? 

If blacks and whites cannot agree even on the basic facts underlying the 
racial crisis in this country, there is little likelihood that we will be able to 
make any significant progress toward a joint resolution of the American 
dilemma, and any resolution unilaterally imposed will most probably be 
violent. 



Intergioup Communication 45 

The Louis Harris poll makes clear the great disparity between the black 
and white man's view of the racial crisis. Take the issue of police brutality, 
for example. A bureau chief of one of the national news magazines had beer 
assigned to Chicago several years prior to the convention disorders. While 
there, he had heard complaints from ghetto residents about police brutality; 
his practice, typically, was to dismiss them as imagined slights or, at worst, 
verbal abuse. He never paid much attention. Later he returned to Chicago for 
the Democratic national convention. After his experiences this time and those 
of the reporters under him, he was solidly convinced that there was such a 
thing as police brutality in Chicago. One thing seems clear: the failure of the 
press to report on police brutality is one factor that contributes to the notion 
by whites that it is not a major factor in Negro discontent. The failure to 
report in this case was mainly the product of ignorance and indifference. 

The Kerner Report emphasized that this country is rapidly moving toward 
two societies. Just as important is the fact that America has always been two 
societies, one black and one white, separate and unequal. The pervasiveness of 
segregation, both North and South, has resulted in very little candid two-way 
communication between blacks and whites. Until the early 1960's, the 
personal experience of most whites with Negroes was largely in the Negroes' 
rendering of menial services to the white community. The remainder of any 
communication was through the media. 

The CBS documentary, "Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed," * has 
brilliantly documented the manner in which blacks were portrayed in motion 
pictures and radio. An analysis of 100 motion pictures involving Negro 
characters, made during the 1940's, found that in 75 cases the portrayal 
was a disparaging stereotype. In only 12 cases was the Negro favorably 
presented as an individual human being. 2 Large-circulation magazines were 
indifferent toward the Negro. While there were exceptions among the journals 
of opinion and magazines with a cause, "During the 1930's both Collier's and 
the Saturday Evening Post ran a number of fiction pieces about the Negro, all 
of them in a quaint dialect that today seems almost incomprehensible. Roark 
Bradford wrote of the Widow Duck and Uncle Charlie and life at Little Bee 
Bend Plantation, and Octavus Roy Cohen chronicled the misadventures of his 
most endurable character, Florian Slappey. But their characters were 
stereotypes, and the life of the Negro wasn't really like that, even then." 3 
Until the late fifties, most news coverage of blacks was limited to Negroes 
involved in crime, sports, or entertainment. 

Until recently, what most white Americans knew about blacks was that 
some of them were pretty good athletes, they had lots of rhythm, a lot of 
them were criminals possibly by instinct and they could be very good 
entertainers. Many Americans, to be sure, had either met or heard of people 
like Ralph Bunche, but the mere fact that such Negroes were regarded as 
exceptions, of course, proves the rule. Southern whites, some quite sincerely, 
were convinced that their Negroes were happy; and the only way trouble 
could come would be through outside agitation. 

Omitting the black press, no medium of communication was reporting the 
Negro struggle for equality. Were this owing solely to ignorance, perhaps it 
could be ignored. The great paradox however, is that when Gunner Myrdal 
was writing his now-classic "American Dilemma" 25 years ago, one of his 
most important sources of information about the state of race relations was 



46 Mass Media and Violence 

Southern newspaper reporters they knew the story but could not write it. 4 
This fact can only be attributed to the parochial attitudes, ignorance, and, in 
some cases, venality of Southern publishers. 

Typically, publishers both North and South have been allies of the black 
man only when he was in conflict with elements outside the publishers' own 
community. The strong editorial views exchanged between Northern and 
Southern newspapers prior to the Civil War, for example, is well known. 

1 . Nineteenth Century Coverage of Blacks 

The Northern papers criticized the South for not reporting slave 
insurrections, thus allowing many of their readers to continue in their illusion 
that the Negro was content with slavery. The Northern papers played up the 
Carolina slave revolts of the 1 800's with sensational stories of destruction and 
havoc, but North Carolina papers practically ignored them. Although the 
Northern papers probably overplayed the extent of the revolts, they had at 
least acknowledged their existence. 

On Jan. 31, 1831, William Lloyd Garrison brought out the first issue of 
the Liberator, a four-page paper entirely devoted to the abolition of slavery. 
Garrison had total dedication: 

He who oppugns the public liberty overthrows his own . . . There is no 
safety where there is no strength; no strength without union; no union 
without justice; no justice where faith and truth are wanting. The right 
to be free is a truth planted in the hearts of men . . . 6 

Garrison was the prototype of the combatant editor. Although there were 
other abolitionists, he was so vehement and self-righteous that he made as 
many enemies in the North as he made in the South. It was a prosperous 
time, and many Northerners who had no stake in slavery wanted to preserve 
their comfort by compromising the differences between North and South. 
Garrison wrote: 

These are your men of "caution" and "prudence" and "judiciousness." 
Sir, I have learned to hate those words. Whenever we attempt to imitate 
the Great Exemplar, and press the truth of God in all its plainness upon 
the conscience, why, we are imprudent; because, forsooth, a great 
excitement will ensue. Sir, slavery will not be overthrown without 
excitement a most tremendous excitement. 7 

Garrison was opposed not only by many of the leading newspapers of the 
day, but also by Postmaster General Amos Kendall, who argued that each 
issue of the Liberator circulated in a Southern state was a threat to the public 
peace, and therefore allowed southern committees to remove the Liberator 
from the mails. Even the state of Massachusetts conspired against the 
Liberator, which was published in Boston; officials tried to forbid its export. 

Not until 1850 did American opinion shaped in part by the pressure of 
world opinion begin to square with the views of the abolitionist. By then, 
many abolitionists had suffered physically at the hands of mobs. One, Elijah 
Lovejoy, had been killed by a mob in Alton, 111. Such action helped to make 



Intergroup Communication 47 

abolitionists of the greatest editors. By 1854, Horace Greeley of the New 
York Tribune was publishing editorial attacks on slavery that were so 
vehement that his critics accused him of brutality. Samual Bowles of the 
Springfield Republican, William Cullen Bryant of the New York Evening 
Post, Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune all thundered against slavery. 

Greeley's New York Tribune responded to the Emancipation Proclamation 
with the headline "GOD BLESS ABRAHAM LINCOLN." But the Natchez, 
Mississippi, Courier editorialized ''A monkey with his tail off is a monkey 
still." In 1865, the Jackson, Mississippi Daily News urged, "We must keep the 
ex-slave in a position of inferiority. We must pass such laws as will make him 
feel his inferiority." The Chicago Tribune answered; "We tell the white men 
of Mississippi that the men of the North will convert the State of Mississippi 
into a frog pond before they will allow any such laws to disgrace one foot of 
soil in which the bones of our soldiers sleep and over which the flag of 
freedom waves." 8 

After Reconstruction, Jim Crow began to sweep the South. In 1898, the 
Charleston, S. C.,News and Courier, satirized: 

As we have got on fairly well for a third of a century, we can probably 
get on as well hereafter without [Jim Crow] .... If there must be Jim 
Crow cars on the street railways .... And if there are to be Jim Crow 
cars, moreover there should be Jim Crow waiting saloons at all stations, 
and Jim Crow eating houses. There should be Jim Crow sections of the 
jury box and a separate Jim Crow dock and witness stand in every 
court and a Jim Crow Bible for colored witnesses to kiss. 9 

But satire became reality: 8 years later the same paper was urging that "only 
mass deportation could solve as grave a problem as the presence of 
Negroes." 10 

During the 19th century, discrimination was not limited to the Southern 
press. Over a hundred years ago, Willie A. Hodges, a Negro, sought to have his 
opinions published in Benjamin Day's New York Sun, Hodges was told that 
the Sun did not shine for black men. This provided the impetus for the birth 
of the Rams Horn in January 1847, one of the earliest of approximately 
3,000 Negro newspapers that have been published in this country, and that 
have kept alive the hopes and strengthened the discontent of the Black 
community. 1 1 

2. The Twentieth Century: The First Fifty Years 

Until the mid-fifties, the Northern press almost completely ignored blacks 
and black protest, but not without notable exceptions: The Sweet trial in 
Detroit in 1926; the successful campaign to bar Judge John J. Parker's 
confirmation to the U. S. Supreme Court; the Scottsboro trials in the early 
1930's. Yet, in 1944,Gunnar Myrdal concluded: 

"No feasible widening of the reporting of Negro activities in the white 
press will substitute for the Negro press. What happens to Negroes will 
continue to have relatively low 'news value' to white people, and even 
the most well-meaning editor will have to stop far short of what 
Negroes demand if he wants to satisfy his white public . . . Whether or 
not this forecast of an increasing circulation for Negro papers comes 
true, the Negro press is of tremendous importance." 1 2 



48 Mass Media and Violence 

Another exception, at least for a time, was the Montgomery, Ala., 
Advertiser. When the Klan was run out of Alabama during the 1920's, it was 
in part the result of the efforts of the Advertiser's publisher, Grover Hall. Hall 
had castigated and ridiculed the nightriders and met their threats by wearing 
his pistol to the office. He mobilized community opinion against the Klan by 
emphasizing the threat of such organizations to lawful government. 

Although during the Scottsboro trials Hall did characterize the nine 
defendants as "beasts" and "apes," after the court testimony in the third trial 
proved that the boys had been framed, he changed his editorial position, went 
to a Negro meeting, and then publicly apologized for his earlier remarks. 1 3 

When the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, 
Hall's son had assumed control of the paper. Shortly after the desegregation 
decision, the younger Hall took an editorial position opposing the White 
Citizen's Council describing them as "manicured Ku Klux Klansmen." That 
was until an address by Senator James 0. Eastland drew a crowd of 15,000 
active or potential Citizen's Council members to a meeting in Montgomery. 
Then the Advertiser did an about face. Even small meetings of the Council 
began to be front-page news. The White Citizen's Council frequently 
dominated the "letters to the editor" column. When Martin Luther King, Jr., 
addressed 12,000 people in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New 
York, the story was given three paragraphs and placed at the bottom of one 
of five stories appearing in that issue on the White Citizen's Council. 1 4 

Asked about this shift in policy by Ted Poston, a reporter for the New 
York Post, Hall responded: 

"Well, what the hell would Jimmy Wechsler [editor of the New York 
Post] have done in a small community like this when most of the 
important people in town had joined the White Citizens Council and 
when it had mustered a fifteen-thousand membership." 1 5 

At least two other Southern newspapers have made a serious effort toward 
balance in reporting race relations over the years: The Greenville, Miss. .Delta 
Democrat, under the direction of Hodding Carter III, and prior to that under 
his father; and the Atlanta Constitution, whose policies were largely the result 
of the influence of its publisher, the late Ralph McGill, and its former 
managing editor, Eugene Patterson, now in the same position at The 
Washington Post Whether the Constitution will continue its traditionally 
balanced approach after the departure of these two fine journalists remains to 
be seen. 

The Southern press was not the only medium subject to outside pressures. 
During both World Wars, evidence abounded of official concern about the 
exposure of Negroes in the press and reports of the mistreatment of Negro 
troops. Threats of clamping special censorship on the Crisis, the Messenger, 
the Chicago Defender were made by Attorney General Mitchell Palmer during 
World War I. In some Mississippi cities, whole shipments of the Defender were 
confiscated or destroyed. 1 6 

Yet ignoring black Americans was not totally the result of antiblack 
attitudes by media personnel. Poor people do not make news, black or white. 
The American press has traditionally been aristocratic, not democratic, and 
an important factor in determining newsworthiness of any story is 



Intergroup Communication 49 

prominence. American society simply did not produce many prominent 
Negroes or black institutions. The American press discriminated against the 
poor, both black and white. 1 7 

Nevertheless, the performance of the Southern press up through the earlier 
fifties won no medals from integrationists, North or South. Southern 
newspapers and Southern radio and TV stations carried very little news about 
Negroes and gave scant or little attention to news involving racial issues. 
Negroes were not referred to as "Mr." or "Mrs." There was, in fact, no 
effective communication between the white and Negro communities on any 
level in the mass media. 1 8 

Hodding Carter has summarized the performance of the Southern press: 

The obvious errors, the obvious omissions, the obvious commissions by 
the Southern press are monumental. In the past it has been said that the 
church is the most segregated aspect of contemporary American life. I 
could say that for years the Southern press was as segregated as the 
church ever dreamed of being. 1 9 

3. Progress in Black Coverage: The 1950s 

The first consistent progress toward balance in the coverage of race 
relations began a short time after the Supreme Court's 1954 decision to strike 
down the doctrine of "separate but equal." That decision gave the Negro 
struggle for equality legitimacy within the white community, and its potential 
impact was enormous; but it did not assure broad-based coverage by the 
white media. 

On Dec. 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, formerly an officer of the local 
NAACP, boarded a bus on Cleveland Avenue, in Montgomery, Alabama. A 
short time later, a white man boarded the bus and the driver ordered Mrs. 
Parks to get up and give the white man her seat. Mrs. Parks said, "No." She 
was arrested. The news spread quickly through the Negro community. Within 
24 hours, there was a mass gathering. It was decided that the following 
Monday, Negroes 75 percent of Montgomery's bus riders would walk to 
work. The clergymen would spread the word from their pulpits on Sunday 
morning. A young Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accepted 
responsibility for circulating printed notices to Montgomery's 50,000 Negro 
residents. 20 

The bus boycotts, the freedom rides, the sit-ins, the parades, and the 
picketing that followed this incident caught the attention of Northern 
newsmen. These events were unusual, they represented conflict, they had a 
potentially wide impact, there was action, and the response of the official and 
nonofficial white South sometimes provided violence. In short, these 
reactions fitted almost any reporter's definition of "news." Most important, 
they provided material uniquely suited to the new medium, television. 

If only the leaders such as Dr. King had simply called a press conference, 
briefed the reporters present, and instructed them to go out and report on the 
deplorable state of race relations in America! If they had, of course, very few 
if any, of the white media would have written the story; in many instances, 
they could not because they did not know how. Even if they had, few people 
in the white community would have read it. And if whites had read it, few 
would have perceived the urgency of the situation. Some still don't. The 



50 Mass Media and Violence 

Negro community not only had to get the attention of the white media, they 
also had to get the attention of the white audience. 

The campaign of sit-ins, parades, and picketing at least provided some 
news coverage of black problems. White Americans, for the first time, were 
learning that blacks existed as humans, not chattels, and were unhappy about 
something. Whites also learned that the Negro proposed to do something 
about his discontent. 

Northern audiences responded and, although blind to their own more 
subtle forms of discrimination, they sympathized with the plight of the 
Southern Negro. The manifestations of racism in the South were infinitely 
less subtle than those in the North. Separate public facilities, separate schools, 
separate restaurants, the sometimes blatant police brutality which surfaced 
for the television cameras during non-violent demonstrations all were 
practices that Northern audiences found easy to deplore. The television 
media, presented with action, brought the human aspect of the story to the 
American home with unprecedented impact and directness. 

The national television networks also brought the message to the South. 
Little wonder, therefore, that many white southerners became irritated and 
upset. For the first time in their lives, they saw Southern Negroes asserting 
their rights on national television. Initially, many refused to believe it. They 
wondered where the networks found these unbelievable Negroes. Threaten 
men's cherished illusions, and frequently they become angry and respond 
with disbelief sometimes with violence. 

The Southern news media were not quick to change old habits. In 1961, 
the American Broadcasting Co. released a documentary titled "Walk in My 
Shoes," The story suggested that white people take a long hard look at what 
it meant to be black. Only one of the five ABC affiliates in the state of 
Florida carried the program. 2 1 

During the riots in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 , the Birmingham News 
devoted most of its prime space to the bloody riots in Cyprus. The disorders 
in Birmingham were given only a brief space at the bottom of page four to 
make passing mention without many details, of course of the local rioting 
then going on between Birmingham's Negroes and Bull Connor, with his 
police dogs and fire hoses." 22 

When Medgar Evers was murdered, the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion Ledger 
discovered that the accused killer had been taken as a very young child to 
California for a brief period. Most of the rest of his life had been spent in the 
Mississippi Delta. The newspaper headline said "CALIFORNIAN ARRESTED 
IN EVERS CASE." 23 

Unbalanced coverage in the South was not always the result of unfettered 
choice. In many instances, it was to avoid the consequences of perceived 
economic threats and of community opinion. William B. Monroe, Jr. former 
chief of NBC News in Washington, D.C., tells of his experience when he was 
chief editorial writer for the New Orleans Item. The newspaper had been 
liberal enough to support Adlai Stevenson; but when it received a letter to the 
editor on a racial subject from a Negro man, it did not print it. The Negro had 
been an electrician in the Navy during World War II; when he returned to 
New Orleans, the white electricians union would not admit him. The letter 
"was couched in entirely reasonable language, but its viewpoint was that of 
resentment against discrimination. The newspaper did not publish the man's 



Inteigroup Communication 51 

letter because the opposition newspaper was already using the Item 's relative 
liberalism as a sales tool with advertisers, and the publisher felt that the Item 
could not afford a too pro-Negro image." 24 The problem had been made 
particularity acute for Southern newspapers because the target of many civil 
rights demonstrations became what could ordinarily be relied upon as one of 
the more liberal allies of the press by Southern standards the business 
community. Outside of voting, one of the chief problems was segregated 
business facilities. In Greenville, Miss., the Delta Democrat covered the 
boycott of a local shop and give it extensive publicity. The next day, the 
owner met his friends from the newspaper in the coffee shop as they did 
every day, and screamed "Why are you doing this to me?" 

Northern reporters who covered the civil rights movement in the South 
were frequently harassed. Richard Valeriani was clubbed on the back of the 
head at the courthouse in Marion, Alabama, while working for NBC. The 
Haleyville Alabamian editorialized that Mr. Valeriani was a "propagandist" 
and a "carpetbagger" and suggested that much of the racial demonstrating 
was the result of collusion between Negroes and television photographers. 
Under these circumstances, the newspaper felt, it was too much to expect 
southerners to be friendly and hospitable. The editorial was reprinted with 
approval in Jackson, Mississippi. 2S 

Karl Fleming, Newsweek's Los Angeles Bureau chief, relates a similar 
experience in which he and Claude Sitton, now National Affairs Editor for 
the New York Times, were involved shortly after the slaying of three young 
civil rights workers in Mississippi. They had gone to the courthouse to 
question the sheriff and his deputy. When they left, they were approached by 
some of the local residents, "who proceeded to tell us in no uncertain terms 
that if we didn't get the hell out of town, they were going to kill us. Their 
Negroes were really happy; they ate a lot of watermelon and picked cotton 
and everything was fine until we damn Yankee newspapermen came around 
to stir up trouble." 26 That night some men came to their motel accompanied 
by a half-gallon of corn whiskey and two, double-barreled, 10-gauge shotguns. 
Sitton and Fleming were convinced to spend the night in another town. 2 

Many Southern reporters, however, sympathized with Northern brethren. 
Ted Poston, a black reporter for the New York Post, has observed: 



Nowhere else have I met a more knowledgeable, decent, and frustrated 
group of newspapermen than those with whom I worked down South. I 
can say truthfully that I owe my life to several of these men. Without 
their warnings and assistance, I could have been lynched on any of 
three occasions when I was chased out of town by mobs the last one 
led by three sheriffs deputies. 28 



Today, the number of Southern publishers and broadcasters who 
consciously engage in distortion of the news is diminishing, but a hard core 
will always not allow their readers and viewers "to know what ought not to 
have happened." Yet the problem of unconscious distortion, of viewing the 
news from a perspective that makes unbalanced surveillance inevitable, is 
substantial and will continue: 



52 Mass Media and Violence 

... A North Carolina publisher . . . complained to United Press 
International: "As a new subscriber to U.P.I., I am beginning to realize 
why newspapers are so loaded with nothing but racial news centered 
around such people as Martin Luther King. In trying to get some items 
worthy of reading last night, I found long and constant harangues 
coming over the wire about this questionable person during his visit 
with an even more questionable organization in North Carolina." 
Checking up, a U.P.I. executive discovered that only one story on 
Martin Luther King had been dispatched that night, that it reported 
that King was entering a retreat of the Southern Christian Leadership 
Council, and that the story was only 150 words long. 29 

B. Communication Between Blacks and Whites 

In October 1963, Turner Catledge of the New York Times noted the 
disparity in coverage between North and South: 

We've had open season on the south here now for some time, and it 
seems to me that, especially when you read the editorial pages in the 
North some people are too much concerned about what's going on 
somewhere else and too little concerned about what's going on right at 
their own door . . . There seems to be a disposition, especially on our 
editorial pages, to demand that the southerners accept some sort of an 
emotional change in this matter, which they're not going to do. 
Integration is coming to the south. It's coming very slowly, but it's not 
wanted. Is it wanted any more in Minnesota or in New York? I think 
this is the question our readers are entitled to have us explore. 30 

The expansion of coverage of the black community by the Northern press, 
conceived in crisis, remains crisis-oriented. Almost all publishers and 
broadcast owners, most editors, and the majority of reporters do not know 
their black communities well enough to perform the function of surveillance 
on any basis other than traditional news values and practices. These, 
unfortunately, are not adequate. 

1 . The Need for a Black Perspective 

When a story breaks in the black community, the white news media are 
sufficiently competent at reporting how many people were hurt, how much 
property was damaged, the number of police used, who said what. Most are 
not, however, very competent at doing the kind of analysis necessary to place 
the event in context and give it significance. 

Until recently, and the exceptions remain few, the news organizations have 
not regularly covered the black community. Few news "beats" existed in the 
ghetto. 31 The reporters did not know its aspirations. Today, enough 
reporters, both North and South, are capable, qualified, and willing to learn 
the skills necessary to provide adequate coverage. Too few publishers and 
broadcast owners, however, are willing to let them do it. 

The essential requirement for any individual or organization to function as 
a medium of communication between two groups as diverse as blacks and 
whites is an understanding of both communities. The reporter must see 
problems from the perspective of both groups and he must be able to speak in 



Intergroup Communication 53 

terms that both will understand. The only way the white media can hope to 
understand the black community is by becoming involved in the black 
community. This involvement includes hiring blacks in professional positions. 
Most of the intergroup communication in this country has been from the 
white community to the black community; very little has been in the other 
direction. The white community cannot listen unless someone carries the 
message, a message based on understanding the black man. 

Unfortunately, the evidence suggests, not many editors care to acquire the 
basic knowledge necessary to survey the black community adequately. 
Approximately 500 newspaper editors were present in 1965 when Floyd 
McKissick, then director of CORE, offered to have each editor's local CORE 
chapter take the editor on a personal insider's tour of the ghetto in their city. 
Six months later, Norman Isaacs of the Louisville Courier-Journal asked Mr. 
McKissick how many had accepted the offer. "Two" he answered; the 
Louisville Courier-Journal and the Oakland Tribune. 

Had these editors gone into the ghettos, they might have begun to learn 
the answers to some of the questions put by Benjamin Holman, formerly with 
the Justice Department's Community Relations Service and now with NBC 
news: 

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be seven years old, and black, 
in a slum school? Have you ever tried to find out how a young, 
unskilled Negro husband tries to provide for his family? Have you ever 
thought about the aspirations of a Negro teenager? Do you know what 
soul food is? What do you know about the myriad of block clubs and 
organizations in the ghetto community? What really goes on in ghetto 
pool rooms? Do attitudes of Negro youngsters about sex differ from 
those of whites? What is the meaning of the ritual of those store- front 
churches? What does a young Negro father tell his son about being 
Black in America? Why are there seemingly so many taverns in Negro 
neighborhoods? What are the latest in-group jokes in the ghetto? There 
is a fascinating world of humor, pathos, aspirations, frustrations, toil, 
heartbreak, violence, and joy right under your nose. 

The news organization that does not know the answers to these questions 
cannot possibly do a balanced job of surveillance. 

It is not the editor or publisher who writes the story, some may argue, and 
accordingly it does not really matter whether he knows the black community. 
He does, however, set the standards and policies that determine the allocation 
of reporting resources, the amount of time or space alloted, the style in which 
material shall be prepared, the policies toward coverage of the black 
community, and the system of rewards and punishments. During the 1930's 
and 1940's. even white reporters in the South could have done a better job of 
covering the Negro community. 

It the publisher, broadcaster, or editor refuses to know his community 
beyond what he can learn at the country club or his wife can relate from her 
bridge club, then he must rely on reporters who are willing to accept the 
responsibility; and in turn, must relinquish some of the control he has 
traditionally exercised. To trust the reporter's discretion was done long ago in 
some news organizations for foreign correspondents and more recently for 



54 Mass Media and Violence 

the Washington correspondents. The news executive who neither learns nor 
delegates his authority, infringes the people's right to know. He denies them 
important information. He contributes to simplistic, inaccurate, and 
stereotyped illusions of the reality of the black community and, worse, he 
impairs his credibility and allows a condition to persist that promotes rumors. 

2. There Can Be Progress 

Progress is being made by those who seek to know their community and 
are concerned. In Connecticut, for example, several of the media have begun 
to establish lists of black leaders in each community, in order to learn the 
organizational structure of the community, to know who has influence, how 
many followers they have, and what their goals are. From this approach 
comes an appreciation of the spectrum of views in the black community. 

Just as important, again in Connecticut, some of the news organizations 
are not only finding out who the leaders and organizations are, but they are also 
establishing personal communication with them. One television station assigns 
reporters to cover these organizations on a regular basis. Such a policy can 
involve something as simple as calling the organization every week or two and 
inquiring what they are doing, what plans they have, what programs they are 
thinking about adopting, or what shifts in policy have occurred, and in 
discussing current events. To make sure that the reporters are doing their job 
and to assist management, the news director of the station can require the 
reporters to file weekly reports on the coverage of their "beats." 

White media operators make much of the fact that they cannot find out 
who speaks for the black community. No one speaks for it, no more than 
anyone speaks for the white community. George Wallace, John Lindsay, 
Ronald Reagan, Edward Kennedy, James Eastland, John Gardner, Richard 
Nixon, or Ralph Nader: none speaks for the white community; each speaks 
for his own constituency, and that constituency may shift depending on the 
issue. So it is with the black community. A range of organizations and leaders 
has varying influence and shifting constituencies. Only by meeting with the 
black leaders and the black organizations can the media begin to get an 
accurate notion of how important each is to the black community, how many 
followers or adherents they have, what views they have on a variety of 
problems, and how they would react to fast-breaking news stories. Armed 
with this kind of knowledge, the white media can begin to put fast-breaking 
stories involving blacks in perspective. To achieve balance, they will not have 
to go to the nearest street corner and ask whomever happens along for the 
view of the black community. Nor will they have to rely on traditional news 
standards which usually dictate a selection of the most vocal spokesman. 
They will know who are the leaders. 

There is another advantage to knowing the black community. People both 
within and without the media have pointed out that some news media, 
usually classified as liberal, are overly timid about criticizing black leaders or 
about taking an editorial position opposed to a program of a black 
organization. As one observer put it: "If a white man came in and proposed 
that the Government do so and so, the news organization would say it was 
ridiculous. But let a black man propose it and they take it seriously." 



Intergroup Communication 55 

It is not necessary to embrace the doctrines of Stokely Carmichael, 
Malcolm X, or other advocates of black power to conclude that they were 
never able to get their views across to the vast majority of white people. It is 
sufficient to simply read some of their books 34 or speeches. 

On an issue such as black power, the major responsibility for distortion 
rests with the media. The issue, relatively new, was one in which the media 
can be most effective. With Malcolm X or the Nation of Islam, the public had 
little or no actual experience, a condition where media influence is greatest. 
And, because whites were barred from Muslim meetings, no white could learn 
information that might contradict what the media reported. Here is an 
example in which approximately the same conditions existed: 

Tiring of his routine on Saturdays during the football season, a New 
York sports writer began writing fictitious stories about the spectacular 
exploits of Sammy Chang, a whirlwind halfback for Plainfield New 
Jersey Tech. There is no Plainfield Tech. Chang does not exist. But the 
writer had presented the fictitious facts so vividly that in the balloting 
for the Little All America team, Chang received the greatest number of 
votes. 35 

Most of the distortion is not the result of any conscious effort on the part 
of the media to give black power a bad name. The major causes, rather, are 
the media's indifference toward and lack of perspective on the black 
community, the resultant relatively greater dominance of the media's 
traditional high value on conflict, and the inadequacy of objective formula 
reporting. 

Life magazine, for example, has editorially committed itself to integration, 
and it has great sympathy for the Negro cause. In a study of all integration 
crisis photographs that appeared in Life during 1962 and 1963, 36 however, 
more than half of those photographs show violence rather than passive 
resistance; in addition, more than ten percent of these photographs portrayed 
Black Muslims. Ebony, roughly the black press equivalent of Life, during the 
same period, showed violence in only twenty percent of its photographs and 
only one percent were of Black Muslims. 

Similarly, what has the press done to distinguish between rejecting black 
inferiority and a philosophy of white hate? If the Negro is to reject the 
notion that white is right, that straight hair, thin lips, and light skin are 
inherently more beautiful than knappy hair, wide lips, and black skin, he is 
being taught to admire whites less. This, however, is something quite different 
from teaching that whites are to be hated. Similarly, it is impossible to 
explain to the black man the reason he has been cast in a subordinate position 
for three hundred years, without recounting the offenses of the white 
community against him. Finally, there are a good many blacks who believe 
that today's institutions do not meet the needs of the nation or of the black 
community. These institutions were built and are operated by whites. It does 
not follow, however, that to advocate radical changes in these white 
institutions necessarily betrays a racist position. Many white students today 
advocate the same. The Crime Commission recommended radical changes in 
the institutions that administer criminal justice. The Kerner Commission 
recommended radical changes in white institutions. Many prominent white 
politicians have advocated radical change in white institutions. No one has 



56 Mass Media and Violence 

suggested these men are racists, however, even though they attack white 
institutions. 

3. The Black Community and the White Press 

Much of the antipathy of militant blacks toward the white news media 
centers on the unwillingness of the press to explore the nature of black power 
in depth. In reporting on the advocates of black pride or black power, the 
news organizations have shown a greater willingness to accept the radical 
statements and simply to repeat them than to explore their significance and 
to place them in proper perspective. Karl Fleming, Los Angeles Bureau Chief 
for Newsweek, has said: 

The advocates of Black Power and the treatment they have received 
by the press are undoubtedly one of the factors behind this situation. 
Perhaps no better example can be put forth than the way we've treated 
Stokely Carmichael. Let me make it clear that this is no polemical 
defense of Carmichael; I know him and I know how erratic he can be at 
times. He is sort of a hysterical Barry Goldwater, but the difference is 
that the press was almost uniformly defensive of Goldwater. They 
would go to interminable lengths to give him a second chance, going 
back and saying Well, did you really mean this, Senator, or would you 
like to clarify this? Exactly the reverse is true of Carmichael. The press 
has uniformly, and I think deliberately, set out to distort what this guy 
was trying to say about Black Power. 3 7 

The press functions not only to survey, but also to criticize, and 
responsible criticism has understanding as its prerequisite. If the media do not 
first make the effort to understand the black community, they cannot 
intelligently criticize it. If they do not criticize, they are abdicating another 
of their obligations to the people. But criticism without understanding 
becomes a hit-or-miss proposition and leads to black animosity toward the 
media and a consequent drying up of news sources. Yet, much of the sting 
from critical editorials lessens if the subject of the editorial believes he has 
had at least a fair opportunity to be understood. 

Similarly, the media cannot do an adequate in-depth report without 
understanding. Consider the following account of the Nation of Islam's first 
major encounter with the news media. In the spring of 1959, Louis Lomax 
asked Malcolm X whether the Nation of Islam, of which he was then one of 
the leaders, would cooperate in being filmed as a television documentary 
program for the Mike Wallace show, known for featuring controversial 
subjects. Late that year the program was broadcast. 

The documentary began with a recording of a play presented by the Black 
Muslims. Titled, The Trial, it depicts the white man being tried by the rest of 
the world for crimes against blacks. The prosecutor's summation characterizes 
the nature of the charges: 

I charge the white man with being the greatest liar on earth. I charge 
the white man with being the greatest drunkard on earth. I charge the 
white man with being the greatest swine-eater on earth. Yet the Bible 
forbids it. I charge the white man with being the greatest gambler on 
earth. I charge the white man, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, with 



Intergroup Communication 57 

being the greatest murderer on earth. I charge the white man with being 
the greatest peacebreaker on earth. I charge the white man with being 
the greatest adulterer on earth. I charge the white man with being the 
greatest deceiver on earth. I charge the white man with being the 
greatest trouble-maker on earth. So therefore, ladies and gentlemen of 
the jury, I ask you, bring back a verdict of guilty as charged. 

The jury brought in a verdict of guilty and the applause of the audience 
was so thunderous it drowned out the judge's voice as he sentenced the white 
man to death. 32 

Commenting on this broadcast in his autobiography, Malcolm X said: 

"The Hate That Hate Produced"-the title-was edited tightly into a 
kaleidoscope of "shocker" images . . . Mr. Muhammad, me, and others 
speaking . . . strong-looking, set-faced black men, our Fruit of 
Islam . . . white-scarved, white-gowned Muslim sisters of all 
ages . . . Muslims in our restaurants, and other businesses . . . Muslims 
and other black people entering and leaving our mosques . . . 

Every phrase was edited to increase the shock mood. As the 
producers intended, I think people sat just about limp when the 
program went off. 

In a way, the public reaction was like what happened back in the 
1930's when Orson Welles frightened America with a radio program 
describing, as though it was actually happening, an invasion by "men 
from Mars." 

No one jumped from any windows, but in New York City there was 
an instant avalanche of public reaction. It's my personal opinion that 
the "Hate . . . Hate . . ." title was primarily responsible for the reaction. 
Hundreds of thousand of New Yorkers, black and white were 
exclaiming "Did you hear it? Did you see it? Preaching hate of white 
people!" 33 

Contrast the treatment of Carmichael with Douglass Cater's observation on 
the coverage of Congress: 

Members of the press often apply a deliberate censorship. One 
neophyte reporter who unwittingly quoted in print a rash remark 
revealing bigotry on the part of a leading Congressman told me he was 
afterward chastised by several of his press colleagues for his 
indiscretion. 38 



Under such circumstances, alienation of many black militants should 
surprise no one. More and more, as a result, newsmen are being barred from 
the meetings of black organizations and blacks are refusing to be news 
sources. During the first week of the news program, Martin Agronsky's 
"Washington," WTOP-TV sought a filmed interview with students at Howard 
Law School who had recently been involved in a protest movement. The 
students refused to take part in filmed interviews because the station would 
have an opportunity to edit their remarks. They agreed, however, to appear at 
the studio that evening for a live broadcast and did. Other Negro 
organizations have permitted only black newsmen to be present at meetings, 



58 Mass Media and Violence 

presumably because they then have an even chance of having the proceedings 
fairly reported. 

Nevertheless, some of the blacks' objections to the media are imagined 
slights. In view of the history of past transgressions and the lack of 
understanding on the part of many blacks about how the media work, any 
mistreatment is apt to be regarded as evidence of discrimination. 

But the impact of the imagined slights can be reduced if the media initiate, 
and the black community responds to, a closer association between the 
reporters and their black news sources. Many organizations, both political and 
private, exploit the news media to achieve their particular ends. More white 
organizations than black know how to prepare and distribute a press release, 
know whom to contact if they have a story they want told, know how to 
present a story to the news organization, know what deadlines must be met, 
and know the terms on which they can deal with the news media. Because of 
the heritage of segregation and the past practice of the white press to ignore 
blacks, however, this kind of public relations capability has not developed in 
the black community to the same extent that it has in the white community. 
Yet the media rely on such efforts by non-media organizations. Black coverage 
deserves the same advantages. 

At least two things can be done. First, there must be a conscious 
recognition of this condition by the media. To achieve balanced surveillance, 
they must compensate for this lack of public relations know-how among 
black organizations in their own community by inviting representatives of the 
organizations to attend seminars designed to instruct them in the methods of 
obtaining publicity: Whom do you call when you have something you think is 
newsworthy? How do you present if? How far in advance must the particular 
media organization be notified? What kinds of things make news? 

At the same seminar, the media should advise the Negroes candidly about 
the problems of the news organization. The media should: (1) explain why 
only a small part of the information or material gathered can be printed or 
broadcast each day; (2) invite them to inquire about reports which they 
believe treated them unfairly and be prepared to offer explanations; (3) 
indicate that they cannot promise everything reported about the Negroes will 
be good, but that they will make a sincere effort to be fair; (4) instruct them 
in the methods by which they can provide information to the media without 
fear of being quoted, e.g., background briefings, off-the-record statements, 
not for direct-attribution statements. In short, the media should instruct 
Negroes in the methods of using the media to that extent necessary to place 
them on an equal footing with other organizations and news sources in the 
community. 

Such an approach would help establish an integrated perspective on 
society. Integrated employment in news organizations would also help. 

4. Integrated Newsrooms 

Most city rooms and broadcast studios a decade ago were almost totally 
white, and it has caused apprehension on the part of the Negro community. 
In the mid-1950's, it was very difficult to find a black face in the American 
press corps. Progress did not begin until the approach of the sixties, although 
the motive was more a desire for integration by progressive editors than a 



Intergroup Communication 59 

desire to develop pipelines into the Negro community. Blacks were hired as 
reporters, not as black reporters. 39 

By 1964, not much progress had been achieved. The American Newspaper 
Guild could name only 45 Negroes working as reporters, copyreaders, or 
deskmen on metropolitan daily newspapers in the United States. At best, not 
more than 100 Negroes had such jobs, yet the U. S. Bureau of Census 
estimated 50,000 jobs of the kind described. 40 

In 1967, the Kerner Commission found that fewer than five percent of the 
news editorial employees in the United States were Negroes. Fewer than one 
percent of the editors and supervisors were Negroes, and most of those 
worked for Negro-owned organizations. A poll in 1968, sponsored by 
Columbia University and B'nai B'rith, found that Negroes who represent 
over 1 1 percent of the nation's population constitute 4.2 percent of all news 
media editorial employees. The highest percentage of Negro employees were 
reported by magazines an average of 5.1 percent, and the lowest by radio 
and television stations and network respondents 2.7 percent. 

C. Sumner Stone, the first Negro television news commentator, began in 
1965 with a daily news-analysis program. Today, according to a. Newsweek 
survey: "The 5 to 7 p.m. time slot hardly looks like an NAACP convention, 
but nearly every metropolitan area outside the South is kept informed by at 
least one Negro newsman." 4 

The major networks declined to give their statistics to the Columbia study 
group; but their replies to the Violence Commission showed their 
employment of Negroes to be considerably higher than this 2.7 percent figure 
for industry, generally. 42 The employment by the three commercial 
networks is: 

Professional Nonprofessional 

Negroes (percent) non-white (percent 3.9) 

ABC 3.9 10.2 

CBS 4.5 15.7 

NBC 4.0 8.6 

Many of the non-white professionals have been hired during the last year. For 
example, of the 29 professional Negroes employed by NBC in both their 
network radio and TV news operations, seventeen have been hired within the 
last year, 25 within the last two years only four have been with the network 
for more than two years. 

In addition, the networks have made an effort to improve the number of 
their representatives from minority groups. NBC has a news-writing program 
in which twelve nonwhites have been enrolled, and has made a commitment 
to train a total of 21 minority group members at a total cost of $127,551 
annually. ABC's professional and technical trainee programs for Negroes 
began on July 1, 1968, with four Negroes enrolled by September 1968. The 
unions primarily involved in television work AFTRA, SAG, Writer's Guild, 
and Director's Guild have stated their complete willingness to cooperate. 
CBS initiated its first training program last year. 

Several individual stations surveyed by the Mass Media Task Force of the 
Violence Commission have either started special training programs for 



60 Mass Media and Violence 

Negroes or have emphasized Negro recruitment for regular employment or 
management training programs. These efforts include WLWT's (Cincinnati) 
training program for "hard-core" unemployed, KFMB's (San Diego) 
on-the-job training program for minority group members, and its junior year 
internship for a student from Hampton Institute in Virginia. 

A number of stations have cooperated with local schools and universities 
by offering use of staff and equipment for Radio-TV courses. WSAV-TV 
(Savannah) took the initiative in requesting the state Department of 
Education to establish Radio-TV vocational training programs and offered to 
donate $100,000 in equipment to encourage the program. Two stations, 
KAKE-TV (both Wichita), cooperate in an explorer scout TV training 
program in which young men produce, sell time, and air six variety programs. 
Twenty -nine Negro employees work at WRC-TV and radio, an NBC owned 
and operated station in Washington, D.C., and contrary to the findings of the 
survey reported in the Columbia Journalism Review, a number of stations 
employ seven to twenty Negroes with a number of these in editorial 
positions. 

However, stations in two cities with high concentrations of 
minorities Mexican-Americans in San Diego and Negroes in 
Savannah showed practically no representation from these groups among 
their station personnel. In Savannah, WTOC-TV employed one Negro, 
WSAV-TV four. In San Diego, the record was a little better; two stations, 
KOGO-TV and KEBS-TV, employed one Mexican- American each; KFMB-TV 
had two, and KCST-TV kept no records. By contrast, television and radio 
stations in Washington, D.C. reported high employment of minority group 
members, including Spanish-Americans and Orientals. 

The Columbia University survey of the news media showed that 
newspapers reporting in their nationwide survey had an average of 4.7 percent 
Negro editorial employees. The Washington Post, one of the Commission's 
survey papers, listed the largest proportion of Negro employees among 
newspapers: 388 Negroes, including 50 editorial employees, out of a total of 
1850 employees 20.9 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, the 
Evening Tribune of San Diego and the Cincinnati Enquirer each reported only 
one professional Negro on its staff. 

One constant theme expressed by the journalists is that the media do not 
need journalists on welfare to cover poverty, segregationists to cover the 
Klan, policemen to cover the police beat, or black journalists to cover black 
news. Some news organizations, such as the ABC network, have integrated 
crews and refuse to cover an event if being black is a prerequisite for 
admission. What these journalists suggest is that the media need educated, 
sophisticated, imaginative, and aware journalists to cover the whole of 
society. 

But this does not mean that there is no need to make a special effort to 
recruit Negroes and members of other minority groups. It should be done 
because it is right, and also because it is beneficial to the news organization, 
which will then be better able to achieve perspective on their community if 
they are in daily contact with peers who are black. In the process of 
associating on the job with members of the black community, news staffs will 
become more sensitive to minority issues and take one more step toward 
balanced reporting. Like many Americans traveling to Southeast Asia who 



Intergroup Communication 61 

cannot distinguish between Vietnamese, Thais, Chinese, and Cambodians, 
many white American newsmen cannot distinguish between the various 
shades of militancy and philosophy of the blacks. Only by prolonged 
association can they begin to achieve the necessary skill and insight. 

Moreover, the very presence of black reporters in a news organization 
helps allay the antipathy of some blacks toward the media. This aversion is 
approaching serious proportions. Recently Karl Fleming observed: 

Personally, I feel a kind of despair because I see the day coming 
when it may become impossible for the white press and for me as an 
agent thereof to cover this story. The last time around was bad enough. 
But I think this hostility has reached the point where in some places 
and certainly in some organizations, it has become absolutely 
impossible for a white reporter to even get in and find out what's going 
on. 43 

Greater use may have to be made of black reporters to cover some black 
stories than their numbers would dictate. But it is an undesirable practice. 
The sooner the news media succeed in gaining the perspective required to 
cover the ghetto the way they do the rest of the community, and the sooner 
they establish the same close relationship with their black news sources as 
they have with white institutions, the sooner the reporter's color will not 
matter. The media cannot complain about restrictions on white reporters 
until they have developed reporters capable of covering the black community 
as well as they do the white community. 

Reporting black news should not be the only assignment of the black 
reporter, however. Equally important is to have him cover events in which 
whites or mixed groups are involved. If the black reporter's perspective is 
limited only to those experiences gained in the black community, the 
reporting he produces is just as likely to be distorted as that of the white 
reporter ignorant of the black community. 

In one respect black reporters are probably clearly more qualified to serve 
as a conduit for intergroup communication than their white counterparts. 
The essential requirement of the reporter who is to serve this function is 
familiarity with both communities. Blacks are more knowledgeable about the 
white community than whites are about the black community. 



5. What Facts Are Significant? 

Beyond integrating their news staffs and their perspective on the 
community, news organizations can do much individually or collectively to 
expand their awareness of the communication needs of the community they 
serve. The first step would be to study the communication gap between the 
various groups in the community. Useful lessons can be drawn from a study, 
such as recently commissioned by WFBM-TV in Indianapolis, Indiana. 44 
Taking a representative sample of 400 Negro and 400 white households, the 
survey explored a wide range of subjects and issues: the social and economic 
characteristics of the black and white communities, black militancy; the 
relative concern with the quality of municipal services, neighborhood 



62 Mass Media and Violence 

conditions, housing, employment, education, police relations; attitudes 
toward civil rights and civil unrest; and finally, the role of television in the 
community. Not surprisingly, white and black perceptions of the same issues 
differed widely in several instances. 

In another example noted earlier, the Louis Harris survey found that 49 
percent of Negroes and only eight percent of whites thought police brutality 
was a significant factor in Negro rioting. The two groups obviously have 
somewhat different perceptions of the problem probably because, until 
relatively recently, the white press largely ignored instances of police 
brutality. This suggests why, on the one hand, the white community does not 
see police brutality as significant, and why, on the other hand because many 
of the targets of police brutality have been Negroes and the vehicle for 
communicating such "news" within the black community has been word of 
mouth the black community will tend to exaggerate the extent and ferocity 
of police brutality. The solution to this disparity in perception is for the 
media to cover, regularly and systematically, incidents that may involve 
police misconduct in the black community. This approach will increase the 
awareness of the white community, and, as the media become credible with 
the black community, it will provide through formal channels of 
communication a more accurate portrayal of the extent of the problem, and 
thus displace rumors as the main source of information. 

Consider also the following example of what can be done with a straight 
news story reported by Martin Hay den, editor-in-chief of the Detroit News: 

. . . [A] few years ago, a police sergeant in the traffic division was 
murdered by a Negro at one of the exit ramps of the Edsel Ford 
Expressway. This occurred during one of those summer periods of 
tension, and thoughtful community leaders were severely troubled by 
the possibility of racial explosion. Two exacerbating factors were at 
work on the community. On the one hand, there was a conviction 
among too many whites that a largely "criminal" Negro population was 
carrying its war against the police to the point where all Negroes 
condoned Negro lawlessness and where no Negro would cooperate with 
police efforts to catch a Negro ciminal. At the opposite pole, there was 
the too general opinion among Negroes that brutality was the rule of 
the Detroit Police Department, that any Negro in police hands was 
lucky to emerge alive and whole. The tragic death of the police sergeant 
was to disprove both points. 

The officer had chased a reckless driver up the ramp from the 
expressway. As he was being questioned, the driver suddenly lunged at 
the officer, pulled his service revolver from its holster, knocked the 
policeman down with one shot, shot him several more times as he lay 
on the ground, and then fled. 

Officers answering radio calls in the largely Negro neighborhood 
found an abundance of Negro witnesses, who described the killer and 
gave the license number of his car. Within an hour, officers were at the 
killer's house. At the door, they were met by the killer's wife, whose 
initial question was, "Is the policeman dead?" The police found the 
dead officer's service revolver under the killer's bed. 



Intergroup Communication 63 

Here was a "cop killer" caught immediately after the event by the 
dead officer's friends and colleagues. In another era, he might have been 
taken away in a morgue wagon, his peremptory execution masked by a 
claim that he resisted arrest. But it didn't happen. He was delivered to 
the station unmarked, and at no time thereafter was there any defense 
claim that he was mistreated. 

All these details were reported in the following morning's 

newspaper. The key facts that Negro witnesses brought about the 

quick arrest and that all the civil rights of the accused were protected 

by the arresting officers stood as editorial contradiction of the 

preachments of racial extremists, both white and black. 45 

The Detroit News has also tried to deal with Negro concern over police 

brutality by reporting the number of cases in which police officers have killed 

people: Three in 1962; four in 1963; six in 1964; and, at that time, eight in 

1965-six of the men killed were white and two were Negroes. 46 Addressing 

themselves to the concern of the white community and their frequent 

indictment of Negroes as criminals and fear that the streets are unsafe, the 

Detroit News emphasized other statistics: 

. . . that most crimes are non racial that is, Negroes commit crimes 
against Negroes, and whites against whites and that an even greater 
percentage of killings result from family quarrels or arguments, usually 
drunken, between people who know each other. We point out that such 
crimes are beyond preventive action by the police and could not be 
averted if there were an officer on permanent station in every block. 47 

Another major concern of many middle-class whites is that the integration 
of their neighborhood will have a depressing effect on home property values; 
this concern intensifies when a black attempts to move into a white 
neighborhood. At least three newspapers around the country have assigned 
reporters to do an in-depth investigation of the effect of integration on 
property values. Juanita Green of the Miami Herald went to the county 
records to find out what had happened to the price level of homes in newly 
integrated neighborhoods. She found that they had either remained stable or 
risen. 48 Such reporting won't make the bigot welcome a newly arrived black 
neighbor, but the elimination of such myths should make it easier for some 
and force others to confront their own consciences. 

For newspapers and broadcasting, as for other segments of society, it 
was clear that, however the racial crisis would be handled, it would not 
be unbiased. In fact, because the mass media catch the society in A 
magnified and concentrated form, the editor who bemuses himself with 
the notion he is unbiased can only contribute to the confusion. If we 
have learned nothing else in the last ten years, certainly we have seen 
that the man who says, "I treat everybody alike, regardless of race, 
creed, or color, on a first-come, first-serve basis," is either a fool or a 
knave. The differences between people and what we do about 
them are what this racial crisis is all about. 49 

Reporting which values and those facts which dispel illusions contrasts 



64 Mass Media and Violence 

radically with the "we are-mirrors-of-society" theory of journalism. It is a 
conscious selection of the information that enables the people to function 
more knowledgeably and more rationally in discharging their obligations as 
citizens in a democracy. 

REFERENCES 



l."Of Black America: CBS News Special" Broadcast Tuesday, July 2, 1968, 10-11 
p.m., e.d.t. 

2. Gordon Allport, The Nature of Prejudice. (Cambridge, Mass: Wesley Pub. Co., 1954) 

3. Theodore Peterson, "Magazine Content: The Nude in 'Jubilee' and Other Pleasures," 
Speech at School of Journalism, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, April 16, 
1968, p. 4. 

4. Ralph McGill, The Black American and the Press, Jack Lyle, ed. (Los Angeles: Ward 
Ritchie Press: 1968), p. 29. 

5. George P. Hunt, Managing Editor of Life, 'The Racial Crisis and the News Media: 
An Overview," in Race and The News Media Paul L. Fisher and Ralph Lowenstein, 
ed., (New York: Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1067), p. 12. 

6. Wendell Philips Garrison and Francis Jackson Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison: The 
Story of His Life Told by His Children, Vol. 1 (New York: The Century Co., 1885), 
p. 200. 

7. Vernon L. Parrington, "The Romantic Revolution in America," Main Currents in 
American Thought, II (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co. 1927), p. 356. 

8. George P. Hunt, op. cit. footnote 5, p. 13. 

9. Ibid, pp. 13-14. 

10. Ibid, p. 14. 

11. Armistead S. Pride, in Lyleop.c/Y. footnote 4 pp.3-4. 

12. Henry Lee Moon, "Beyond Objectivity: The Fighting Press," in Fisher and 
Lowenstein, op. cit. footnote 5 pp.137. 

13. Ted Poston, 'The American Negro and Newspaper Myths," Ibid. p. 65. 

14. Ibid. pp. 64-65. 

15. Ibid. p. 66. 

16. Moon, op. cit. footnote 12, pp. 135-36. 

17. Lyle, op. cit. footnote 4, p. xii-xiv. 

18. William B. Monroe, Jr. "Television: The Chosen Instrument of the Revolution," in 
Lyle, op. cit. footnote 5, p. 85. 

19. Hodding Carter, in Lyle, op. cit. footnote 4, p. 38. 

20. Louis E. Lomax, The Negro Revolt (New York: Signet, 1963), pp. 92-93. 

21. Joseph L. Brechner, "Were Broadcasters Color Blind," in Lyle, op. cit. footnote 5, 
p. 99. 

22. Poston, op. cit., footnote 13, p. 66. 

23. Carter, op. cit. footnote 19, p. 49. 

24. Monroe, op. cit. footnote 18, p. 84. 

25. Ibid. p. 86. 

26. Karl Fleming, in Lyle, op. cit. footnote 4, p. 30. 

27. Ibid. 

28. Poston, op. cit. footnote 13, pp. 66-67. 

29. William Rivers and Wilbur Schramm, Responsibility in Mass Communication, rev. 
ed. (New York: Harper and Row), p. 185. 

30. Quoted by Hunt, op. cit. footnote 5, p. 15. 

31. New York city ghetto News science project. 32. 

32. Lomax, op. cit. footnote 20, pp. 181-182. 

33. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: The Grove Press, 1964) pp. 236-238. 

34. Ibid; Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of 
Liberation in America (New York: Vintage Books 1967). 

35. Rivers and Schramm, op. cit. footnote 29, p. 149. 



Intergroup Communication 55 

36. Leslie Sargent, Wiley Carr, and Elizabeth McDonald, "Significant Coverage of 
Integration by Minority Group Magazines," Journal of Human Relations, Vol. 14, 
No. 4 (Fourth Quarter, 1965). 

37. Fleming op. cit. footnote 4, p. 31. 

38. Douglass Cater, The Fourth Branch of Government (New York: Vintage Books, 
1959) p. 55. The passages which follow indicate that the self-censorship may cover a 
range of subjects: "Senators have been seen to stagger drunkenly onto the Senate 
floor and deliver unintelligible harangues without creating* a ripple in the press. 
Considering the great glare of publicity that beats down on Congress, the 
unillumined corners are the more curious. 

This protectionism even covers some of the collective activities of Congress. 
Year in and year out minor frauds on the public understanding are committed 
without being duly noted by the press. Each year, for example, the House 
Appropriation Committee or one of its subcommittees virtuously makes deep cuts 
in appropriations bills for funds already contractually obligated. Each year this 
action is duly rewarded by newspaper accounts that the Committee has 'slashed' the 
budget by such and such an amount. And later each year the Committee quietly 
restores the cut in its 'supplemental' appropriations. Yet, one reporter told me, 
though tempted he wouldn't dare lead his story with the fact that the congressmen 
have made this cut with the full expectation, as in former years, of restoring it later 
in the Session when the public isn't looking.' pp. 55-56. 

39. Martin S. Hayden, Editor in Chief, The Detroit News, "A View From Detroit," The 
Media and the Cities (Charles N. Daly, Ed.) (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 
1968), p. 64. 

40. Fisher and Lowenstein, op. cit., footnote 5, p. 8. 

41. Quoted by Woody Klein, 'The New Revolution: A Postscript," in Fisher and 
Lowenstein, op. cit. footnote 5, p. 158. 

42. Additional data are provided in Appendix II-G 

43. Fleming in Lyle, op. cit., footnote 4. 

44. Preliminary survey report sponsored by WFBM-TV Indianapolis, and performed by 
Frank Magjd and Associates. 

45. Hayden, op. cit. footnote 39, pp. 28-29. 46. 

46. Ibid. p. 31. 47. 

47. Ibid. 

48. See testimony of Norman Isaacs at NCCPV hearings, Dec. 18, 1968, transcript, p. 
184. 

49. Lawrence S. Fanning, "The Media: Observer or Participant?" in Fisher and 
Lowenstein, op. cit. footnote 5, pp. 107-108. 



Chapter 5 

THE MARKETPLACE MYTH: 
ACCESS TO THE MASS MEDIA 



To give the news impartially, without 

fear or favor, regardless of any party, 

sect or interest involved. 

Credo of New York Times, 
August 19, 1896 

The First Amendment presupposes that right 

conclusions are more likely to be gathered 

out of a multitude of tongues than through 

any kind of authoritative selection. To 

many this is, and always will be, folly; but 

we have staked upon it our all. 

-Judge Learned Hand, 

United States v. Associated Press, 

52 F. Supp. 362 (S.D. N.Y.) (1943) 

It is the purpose of the First Amendment to 

preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas 

in which truth will ultimately prevail, 

rather than to countenance monopolization 

of that market, whether it be by the Government 

itself or a private licensee. 

-Mr. Justice White, 

Red Lion Broadcasting Co. Inc., 

v. Federal Communications 

Commission, 89S. Ct. 1794 

(1969). 

Unbalanced and inaccurate surveillance of minority groups is not 
solely the product of the nation's segregationist heritage. Negroes, 
Mexican- Americans, Japanese, Chinese- Americans, and Indians have more 
difficulty securing media access than white Americans; yet another barrier 
exists, this one more from an ideological than from a racist heritage. The 

67 



68 Mass Media and Violence 

outstanding characteristics of ideas that have difficulty gaining access are that 
they are new, that their proponents lack prominence by traditional media 
standards, and that they threaten the values of the social group to which the 
broadcaster or publisher belongs. In the last fifteen years, substantial progress 
has been made toward providing more coverage of the activities demon- 
strations and protests of minority groups and marginal progress in coverage 
of their ideas. What is needed, however, is more attention to minority views 
and less attention to the physical dramatization of conflicting ideas. 

Much of the American first amendment tradition and philosophy is 
founded, as we have seen, on the 18th century libertarian's assumption of 
how the press would function in the search for truth and reason. A press 
unfettered by government, the libertarian believed, would create a 
marketplace of ideas similar to the classical economist's marketplace for 
goods and services. This kind of marketplace, the theory ran, would produce 
truth in much the same way Adam Smith's classical economics market 
assured the optimum allocation of goods and services. So long as men were 
reasonable, and a majority honest, the speculations and abuses of the few 
would be more than offset by the majority. Truth, justice, and a rational 
world would inevitably emerge. 

Like Adam Smith's marketplace for products, however, certain conditions 
must be met before the marketplace of ideas can function according to 
theory. In Smith's marketplace, there had to be a sufficient number of sellers 
and purchasers that none could affect price; as a corollary, Smith's theory 
abhors monopolies or conspiracies in restraint of trade. Similarly, one of the 
underlying assumptions of a smoothly functioning marketplace of ideas is the 
equal opportunity to take ideas to the public. No control should prevail over 
access to the marketplace. The government has dealt with monopolization of 
goods and services through the antitrust laws. There is some evidence the 
courts are moving toward a theory of the first amendment that will allow the 
government to act to prevent monopolization in the distribution of ideas. 
Whether the government acts and how much it does will depend largely on 
how serious the problem becomes. 

In 1790, The United States had a total of eight daily newspapers and 83 
weeklies. When the Constitution was adopted, 97 percent of the population 
lived in places so small that they were not even called towns. Of the 
remaining three percent, most lived in towns whose populations were under 
25,000 most only a few thousand. Under these conditions, the individual 
could make his opinions known by giving a speech on Sunday outside the 
local church or by getting a printer to put up a broadside and by posting it in 
taverns and in other public gathering spots around town. With relative ease he 
could have an impact. 

Today, unless the individual has access to formal channels of 
communication, it is almost impossible for him to have an impact. His ability 
to communicate widely is extremely limited. As a minimum, an effective 
marketplace requires access on approximately equal terms by all those with 
messages. Long ago, perhaps, a newspaper might have been started with 
relatively little capital by one whose views were strong enough to demand 
that they be aired. Even today, it is probably possible to blanket a city the 
size of Washington, D.C., with a four-page broadside for about $1,500. 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 69 

Sometimes, television, radio, and newspaper advertising space can be 
purchased to carry a non-commercial message. These are communication 
outlets, but obviously they are not available to all; for many, they would be 
less than adequate. 

Access to the American public for the message bearer is limited by both 
mechanical and human constraints. Present mechanical limitations of the 
media make it impossible for more than a fraction of the potential 
communications to be carried to society at large. Existing newspapers, 
magazines, radio and television stations, and other media in this country 
could not possibly simultaneously accommodate the individual views of the 
125 million Americans over the age of eighteen. Obviously, there is neither 
sufficient space nor time. 

Mechanical limitations lead to human limitations. Because the media 
cannot carry all of the messages, someone must select and reject. The process 
of selection thus becomes a limitation of critical importance, and the media 
owners and gatekeepers are the first barriers to media access. 

Under the traditional view of the first amendment, the role of the 
gatekeeper and the right of the owner to choose, are plenary. It makes no 
difference whether the choice is representative or honest, or whether it meets 
the public's requirements for information. 

The nation's broadcasters, publishers, and editors decide who shall have 
the opportunity to be heard an understandable and pragmatically necessary 
process. But, with the present structure of the communication business, it 
results in a marketplace far different from the 18th century concept of a 
marketplace for ideas. The ultimate barrier to communication is, of course, 
the audience. The significance of that barrier depends in part on how media 
operators choose to present the news. That the media print or broadcast a 
message does not guarantee that the audience will pay attention or will retain 
the message. Yet here, too, the media have some control. 

A. Access: The News Media Audience 

Although the audience is at the end of the communication process, its 
role as a barrier to new ideas is more conveniently discussed first because 
audience characteristics that impede communication are also operative, in 
varying degrees, on newsmen. 

There has always been a tendency among journalists to regard the bulk of 
their audience as not very bright. 3 This makes it relatively easy to excuse 
themselves of all responsibility when the message is garbled. In theory, the 
journalist is a professional and the audience is his client. In fact, most 
newsmen know very little about their audience except that it includes their 
editors and publishers, their friends and neighbors, and their peers. Moreover, 
few seem to have any serious desire to learn much about their larger audience. 
If they devoted more attention to the needs of their real clients, the public, it 
would become clear that to an important degree journalists must share 
responsibility when messages don't get through. 

Audiences tend to expose themselves to media messages that support their | 
predispositions. A study by Wilbur Schramm and Richard Carter, for 
example, found that Republicans are approximately twice as likely as 



70 Mass Media and Violence 

Democrats to watch a Republican-sponsored telecast. While those opposed 
to a particular view have a tendency to avoid such material, the great bulk of 
what passes for "news" in the modern media is not labeled pro-Republican, 
pro-Democrat, nor is it attached to any other ideology. The opportunity for 
selection is far less in the case of news. Moreover, in such media as radio and 
television, which are linear and fugitive, the opportunity for selective 
exposure on hard news programs is practically nil. If a viewer watches the 
news and two-thirds of Americans regard television as their most important 
news source it is difficult for him to avoid a particular segment; his choice is 
limited to turning the set off. Regular viewers of news programs can be 
expected, therefore, to receive exposure to almost everything that is 
broadcast. The decision whether or not to watch a particular documentary 
program is more likely to be made on the basis of the issue, than on the point 
of view presented. Again, the opportunity for selective exposure is very low. 
In contrast to television hard news programs, a newspaper story is regarded 
as highly successful if it is read by 30 percent of the audience. Newspaper 
stories presented without any predictable slant, however, cannot be sorted on 
the basis of the reader's predispositions. Selection, like the documentary, will 
be subject oriented. On the editorial page, when the reader is familiar with 
the publisher's position on various issues, selective exposure will be operative. 

The second characteristic that may distort the media's message is selective 
perception. Some people go to incredible lengths to assimilate information in 
a manner that supports their personal prejudices. 6 A group of subjects shown 
a subway poster portraying a Caucasian, a Negro, and an Oriental, and 
labeled, "It Takes All Kinds of People to Make a City Run," will tend to 
interpret the poster to fit their attitudes on racial equality. Those believing in 
equality tend to see the poster as a strong appeal for racial tolerance; those 
not supporting equality more frequently interpreted the poster as suggesting a 
city needs Negro garbage men, maids, and Chinese laundries. To prejudiced 
subjects, it is obvious that by performing these functions, members of these 
minority groups could be good citizens. 

It does not follow, of course, that it is pointless to report facts that do not 
support public preconceptions. That, in any given instance, part of the 
audience may misinterpret the message only suggests that the media cannot 
change attitudes instantly. A member of the National Mobilization 
Committee has stated; that the amazing aspect of the audience response to 
television coverage of the Chicago disorders at the Democratic convention 
was not that 70 percent of the American people were sympathetic toward the 
police; rather it was that 20 percent thought the police were wrong. Changing 
attitudes to conform with changes in reality is a slower process that some 
believe, but the news media must continue to report reality, regardless of how 
comfortably it fits audience illusions or desires. Every idea begins as a 
minority point of view. 

Like selective exposure and perception, selective retention is also governed 
by audience predispositions. 7 In one instance, shortly after President 
Kennedy was elected, two groups of college students were asked to read an 
article favorable to the President-elect. The pro-Kennedy students learned the 
material sooner than the anti-Kennedy students. 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 71 

A third characteristic of audience communication behavior suggesting 
limitations on the ability of the media to change opinions was well 
documented for the first time during an investigation of voting behavior in 
the 1940 election. 8 Many voters who had changed their positions indicated 
the change was primarily influenced by other people, not the mass media. 
An attempt was made to identify such people and they were labeled "opinion 
leaders." 9 Additional studies, involving drug buying by doctors 10 and 
adaption of new agricultural techniques, 1 1 have been made on the interplay 
between media, opinion leaders, and their followers. Many of these studies 
also found that opinion leaders paid far more attention to the mass media I 
than did their followers. People who are not influenced directly by the media 
are influenced by those who are. A second consideration, which indicates that 
this phenomenon is not as limiting a factor as some seem to believe, 12 is that 
in most of the studies, relatively immediate action was sought on the issue 
involved. Under such circumstances, the role of opinion leaders will be 
substantially greater. 1 3 This finding is consistent with Shibutani's conclusion 
that rumors are more carefully scrutinized when immediate action is 
required. 1 4 The implication is that, where no immediate action is required, as 
in the vast majority of news reports, the cause-and-effect relationship is more 
likely to be direct and, concomitantly, the mediating role of opinion leaders 
is less. 1 5 It also suggests that laboratory experiments that require immediate 
action e.g., answering questions would tend to have an inherent bias toward 
findings that the influence of the media is less than it would be in a more 
natural setting. 

Another relevant fact is that there are not merely two classes of 
people those who support a particular point of view and those who oppose 
it. Ordinarily, on any issue, opinion ranges from strong supporters to strong 
opponents, and somewhere in the middle are those who have not made up 
their minds. Evidence also exists that the processes of selective exposure, "ft 
perception, and retention do not operate on "new" issues. 1 6 Thus, the media I) 
have more effect on whether to deploy ABM's than on the desirability of 
prohibition legislation. 

Similarly, media messages are more likely to influence audience opinions 
on such issues as student disorders where people have few preconceptions 
than they are on such issues as national elections, where audiences already 
may have developed strong opinions. To be sure, audiences may have some 
general predispositions about young people, about how an educational 
institution should be run, and about the role of faculty, administration, and 
students in the decisionmaking process. But on a new issue, these broader 
attitudes may conflict. For example, a person could believe that university 
faculties and administrators are eggheads in an ivory tower who do not 
prepare young people to function in the outside world, and the same person 
could simultaneously believe that law, order, and property are sacred values. 
If, on the one hand, the information presented in the media emphasizes the 
students' desire for courses more closely related to their needs after 
graduation e.g., at Howard Law School recently, students thought that more 
emphasis should be put on poverty law than international law then the 
reader or viewer might very well sympathize with the students. If, however, 
the emphasis is placed upon conflict, violence, and destruction of property, 



72 Mass Media and Violence 

an individual holding these conflicting views might oppose the students 
because, even when there is some small mention in the news account of the 
inadequacy of the curriculum, he would be opposed to violence. Among 
audience members who rank order and obedience to the law high in their 
system of values, media emphasis on the disruptive and unlawful aspects of 
dissent impedes the communication of minority views. In addition, at least 
one study suggests that messages that produce a high level of anxiety as 
messages with a high quantum of violence are apt to do tend to 
communicate less effectively. 17 Messages that disturb the audience and offer 
no solution may be ignored altogether. 

Neither the studies referred to in this chapter, nor, indeed, all the audience 
studies available are likely to provide complete answers to the question of 
how the journalist can overcome audience bias and get his message through 
the way he intended it. Most of these studies are unrelated to this issue. They 
were attempts to study voting behavior, or the effectiveness of propaganda, 
or training films, etc. There is, however, remarkably little evidence that 
practicing journalists are even interested in what information is available. At 
the least, schools of communication and journalism, as the repository of 
intellectual talent, could contribute by exploring the problem more fully and 
preparing a generation of journalists who regard distorting audience 
characteristics as a barrier to the effective communication that can be 
lowered through the reasoned application of research findings. 

B. Access: The Newsman 's Perspective 

The ability to present news objectively and to 

interpret it realistically is not a native 

instinct in the human species; it is a product of 

culture which comes with the knowledge of the past 

and acute awareness of how deceptive is our 

normal observation and how wishful our thinking. 

Walter Lippmann 

The audience is neither the first nor the most important barrier to access. 
The newsman's perspective is relevant in at least two respects. First, to the 
extent that it is responsible for not reporting or biased reporting of the events 
that frequently give rise to dissent, it creates the need for access. Second, it is 
an obstacle to the presentation of views by those who are unhappy with the 
status quo, and when dissidents do secure media coverage, it is only a partial 
cure because the technique for gaining access (demonstrations and other 
forms of protest) is frequently emphasized at the expense of the ideas for 
which access is sought. 

Consider the following accounts of the same event: 

STUDENT PICKETS 
MARCH IN CAPITAL 

Washington (AP) Students picketing for peace marched four abreast in 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 73 

spring-like weather to Arlington National Cemetery Saturday, demonstrating 
their hopes for disarmament and an end to nuclear testing. 

STUDENT MARCH ON CAPITAL 
TINGED BY BEARDED BEATNICKS 

By Robert E. Baskin, Washington Bureau of the News. Washington Left- 
wing student peace marchers with a definite beatnik tinge marched through 
the streets of the capital Saturday on a pilgrimage to the Tomb of the 
Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. 

The first story was written by the Associated Press, the second by Robert E. 
Baskin, Washington bureau chief of the Dallas News. 1 9 In each case, it appears 
the reporters were simply holding up Clifton Daniel's mirror. 

Selective exposure, perception, and retention not only affect the audience; 
they also affect the newsman. Like their audience, journalists bring their own 
set of preconceptions to their craft, preconceptions produced by their 
environment, their position in the community, their business relationships, 
and the requirement that they earn a profit. The biases are both conscious 
and unconscious. In both cases, however, the remedies are the same: 
acknowledge the problem exists and, through a combination of conscious 
effort, changed perspective, and new institutional arrangements, work toward 
the elimination of systematic distortion. 

A gatekeeper is any person who is so situated in the news gathering and] 
disseminating process that he has control over the content and form of the I 
news. Although the term has been applied to news sources, in this chapter itf 
is used exclusively to refer to media personnel. 

One of the earliest gatekeeper studies was performed by David Manning 
White and reported in 1950. 20 It was the examination of the editor of a 
newspaper with about 30,000 circulation in a midwestern community of 
about 100,000 population, whose job was to select material from the wire 
services for the front page. During the week analyzed, Mr. Gates (a 
pseudonymn) used approximately 10 percent of the 12,400 column inches 
received from the three wire services. 

The 56 phrases he used in justifying rejection of material divided into two 
main categories: the story was unworthy of being reported (423 rejections), 
and the selection from many reports of the same event (910 rejections). 

One rejected story had the notation, "he's too red." Another was marked, 
"Never use this"; it dealt with Townsend Plan, which Mr. Gates felt was of 
doubtful desirability. Another story was marked, "don't care for suicides." 

One story on the trial of Cardinal Mindzenty was rejected with the 
notation "propaganda," it dealt with this statement by Samuel Cardinal 
Striech: 

It is very unfortunate that our news agencies are not giving their 
sources of information in their day by day reports on the trial of 
Cardinal Mindzenty. It should be made clear that restrictions have been 
made on a few American correspondents who have been present at the 
trial. 20a 



74 Mass Media and Violence 

Mr. Gates, of course, had no way of knowing whether the story was true or 
false, but apparently resented the obvious implications of the quote, and 
decided his readers should not have the opportunity to exercise their 
independent judgment. The story was also rejected when received from the 
other two wire services. 

These were isolated instances, but they do indicate this particular editor 
had some definite opinions on what news was fit to print based on something 
other than a neutral standard. In sum, approximately 16 pieces were rejected 
as "propaganda," the remainder were apparently rejected for reasons 
unrelated to content. Gates was found to be conservative both in his politics 
and his style. He consistently avoided sensationalism and insinuations. 
Professor White summarized: 

It is a well-known fact in individual psychology that people tend to 
perceive as true only those happenings which fit into their own beliefs 
concerning what is likely to happen. It begins to appear (if Mr. Gates is 
a fair representative of his class) that in his position as "gatekeeper" 
the newspaper editor sees to it (even though he may never be 
consciously aware of it) that the community shall hear as a fact only 
those events which the newsman, as a representative of his culture, 
believes to be true. 20b 

Louis Donohew approached the effect of publisher's opinions on news 
content from a different direction. 21 He attempted to measure publishers' 
attitudes, their perceptions of community opinion, and objective data on 
community conditions, on the content of the newspaper. He chose to 
examine Medicare, a subject of some salience in 1962, when it was debated 
before the Congress. He examined the issue during January, May, June, and 
July of 1962 in all the afternoon newspapers that subscribed to Associated 
Press in the State of Kentucky. 

Beginning with the hypothesis that publishers would follow the journalist's 
credo that the publishers' opinions should be on the editorial page but not in 
the news columns, 22 Donohew examined the ratio of favorable to 
unfavorable paragraphs on Medicare carried by each paper, the total number 
of paragraphs on the issue, and the display of the Medicare stories both on 
page one and in other sections of the newspaper. If the hypothesis that the 
publishers' attitudes, perceptions of community opinion, or the actual 
economic conditions within the community had no effect upon the play of 
the story, then there would only be random correlations between the 
coverage and these three factors. At least two of these factors, it was found, 
were strongly correlated to the treatment of the story at a level well beyond 
coincidence. 

The greatest single factor operating in the process of news selection was 
the publishers' attitudes toward Medicare. The publishers' perceptions of 
community opinion, e.g., how the community would have voted on the issue, 
were not significantly related to the coverage. In those communities that 
would apparently be in the greatest need of Medicare, the publishers seemed 
to be opposed to it. Newspapers that were more favorable to Medicare in 
most instances had publishers who favored Medicare and they usually 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 75 

supported it editorially. Generally, these were the papers with relatively 
greater circulation. They tended to serve urban communities with larger white 
collar populations, with fewer people receiving old age assistance, and with 
fewer people in the $3,000 or less income bracket, but with more doctors per 
thousand population. The contrary was found in papers that were less 
favorable to Medicare. Little or no relationship existed between coverage by 
the papers and the percentage of readers over the age of 65, the percentage of 
the vote given John F. Kennedy, the level of unemployment, or the level of 
education. 

Systematic exclusion was approached from a third direction by Professor 
Warren Breed. 2 3 He compared the content of newspapers with community 
studies, by examining a book of cartoons rejected by popular publications 
and by interviewing newsmen. 

The subject matter from the community studies was selected on the basis 
of Professor Breed's opinion of material that might be suppressed. Typically, 
Professor Breed's study shows that the media have a tendency not to report 
such items as: elite individuals or groups, usually business, gaining advantage 
in a privileged manner; negative aspects of religion, such as lack of piety or 
respect, by parishioners, discontent shown by the clergy, or "human 
weakness" in church relationships; doctors acting in a selfish, rather than a 
professional, fashion; national or community pride or integrity in question; 
shortcomings in mothers, judges, or other institutions which middle-class 
white society regards highly. 

The power and class of favored individuals do not provide a complete 
explanation, however, because mothers, overseas GI's, members of churches, 
and unknown soldiers are not normally regarded as elite groups. The 
dominant cultural patterns and values also provide protection from media 
exposure. Values such as capitalism, the home, religion, health, justice, the 
nation, and the community, also receive favored treatment. Similarly, the 
media's reluctance to discuss social class or social inequality, as the antithesis 
of the American creed, indicates another bias favoring established values. 

News may also be given play more or less depending upon its position in 
the newspaper. The front page is the prime time of daily newspapers. During 
the 1952 presidential campaign, Richard M. Nixon was charged with 
accepting $18,235 from some 76 California supporters. A study by Arthur 
Rowse indicates that many Republican papers placed the story on the back 
burner: 

Any review of the way thirteen evening papers displayed the Nixon 
story makes it clear that editors were in no hurry to get the news into 
the paper. They were even less enthusiastic about getting it onto the 
front page. Of the thirteen evening papers studied, only four put the 
story on the front page at the first opportunity on Thursday 
afternoon . . . The four papers using the report on the front page 
included only one pro-Eisenhower paper, the Chicago Daily News, 
which spotted the newsworthiness of Peter Edson's column and played 
it up with a three-column headline on the first page . . . Three other 
evening papers used the story the first day but buried it inside the 
paper. . . . Five evening papers apparently did not use the Nixon story 



76 Mass Media and Violence 

in their editions of record until the next day . . . One paper, the New 
York Journal American, could not find room on the front page for the 
story until Sunday, the fourth day the news was available. 

Of the eighteen morning papers studied all pro-Eisenhower on their 
editorial pages only eight allowed the Nixon affair on the front page of 
their Friday editions of record. Of the remaining ten morning papers, 
seven used the story somewhere in their editions of record on Friday. 
But three omitted it entirely from the issues studied. 24 

Relations with the business community and the process of 
self-examination indicate a somewhat more conscious form of distortion. Ben 
Bagdikian has described it thus: 

[Newspapers] are part of a Geneva Convention of Newspaper Warfare 
which provides that whatever else the parties may do, they shall not 
escalate their competition to the point where they shall first, expose 
each other's errors and omissions; second, write about the other's front 
office problems even if these affect the public welfare; and third, never 
disturb the business establishment. 2 5 

In 1966, the Bell-McClure syndicate offered serialization of Ralph Nader's 
book, Unsafe at Any Speed, to over 700 newspapers. None of them 
accepted. 26 

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger and News jointly owned newspapers in 
Jackson, Mississippi, were brought before the U.S. District Court on charges 
alleging violation of the federal laws barring overtime pay. A permanent 
injunction was issued barring continuation of the offending practices. 
Reporters from the Jackson papers were ordered to stay away from the court 
and they did. Not a single word appeared in any of the Jackson papers. 27 

Reporters Hank Messick and Jim Savage, of the Boston Herald, were told 
to stop inquiries concerning complicated stock transactions in Universal 
Marion Corporation in which Joseph Linsey had an interest. Mr. Linsey, a 
well-known Boston businessman and philanthropist, was president of a 
company that owned stock in the Herald-Traveler Corporation. Mr. Messick 
was subsequently dismissed and Mr. Savage quit after his request for 
"permission" from the Herald to interview Mr. Linsey was ignored. 28 

Frequently, distortion is the product of sloth and indifference. Provided 
the opportunity to get something for nothing, many newspapers take it. One 
editorial from the Industrial News Review in Portland, Oregon, was published 
in 59 newspapers. Distributed during the reign of Latin Dictator Trujillo, it 
began: "Today the Dominican Republic is a bulwark of strength against 
communism and has been widely cited as one of the cleanest, healthiest, 
happiest countries on the globe. The guiding spirit of this transformation has 
been Generalissimo Trujillo." The Miami Herald editorialized, "Somehow 
dahlias, daisies, pine trees, and 65 weather are not the picture that most 
people visualize when they think of the Dominican Republic, but yet this is 
what . .. ." And two weeks later in the Hartford Courant, "somehow dahlias, 
daisies, pine trees and 65 weather," etc. This editorial was supplied free of 
charge and was published in 59 newspapers with apparent disregard of 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 77 

whether it was based on truth or the Dominican Government's public 
relations program. 29 

Consider also the following coincidence: 30 

Secretary of Interior Udall has become a symbol of the Kennedy 
Administration arrogance coupled with overriding, zealous activity to 
run roughshod over private interests and spread Government control. 
He is a prime example of the danger of bestowing too much power on 
Government agencies .... 
-July 17, 1963, Republican 
Congressional Committee 

Secretary of Interior Stewart L. Udall has become the symbol of the 
New Frontier Administration arrogance coupled with overriding, 
zealous activity to run roughshod over private interests and speed 
Government control of our lives and properties. He is a prime example 
of the danger of handling too much power .... 

-July 22, 1963, Item in 

Delaware State News. 

William Allen White, former editor of the Kansas Emporia Gazette, 
expressed the problem this way: 

If he is a smart go -getting-up -and -coming publisher in a town of 
100,000 to 1,000,000 people, the publisher associates on terms of 
equality with the bankers, the merchant princes, the manufacturers and 
the investment brokers. His friends unconsciously color his opinion. If 
he lives with them on any kind of social terms in the City club, he must 
more or less merge his views into the common views of the other 
capitalists. The publisher is not bought like a chattel. Indeed, he is 
often able to buy those who are suspected of buying him. But he takes 
the color of his social environment. 

He is pretty generally against organized labor. He is too often found 
opposing the government control of public utilities. He instinctively 
fears any regulation of the stock exchange. The right to strike seems to 
the rich publisher and his Chamber of Commerce friends to be sheer 
anarchy. It is inevitable that the managing editor and the editorial 
writers who want to hold their jobs take their professional views and 
get their professional slant from their boss, the man who signs the 
payroll check. 

So it often happens, alas too often, that a newspaper publisher, 
reflecting this unconscious class arrogance of the consciously rich, 
thinks he is printing news when he is doctoring it innocently enough. 
He thinks he is purveying the truth when much that he offers seems 
poison to hundreds of thousands of his readers who don't move in his 
social and economic stratosphere . . . 

The worst of it is that, bad as he is, the crookedest, rich, property 
minded publisher is vastly better than he would be if he was operating 
under a government -controlled press. For on seven sides out of ten, 



Mass Media and Violence 

the most prejudiced, unscrupulous publisher is fair and his columns in 
those areas are reasonably dependable. 31 

While this may overstate the case, if it is intended to apply to all 
publishers, it is still certainly true of too many today. 

To the extent there is a trend, it appears that the direct influence of 
publishers in altering reporters' stories is declining. In the 1930's, Leo Rosten 
provided a questionnaire to be filled out anonymously by Washington 
correspondents. Among the statements on the questionnaire was "My orders 
are to be objective, but I know how my paper wants stories played." To this, 
more than 60 percent of the correspondents answered, "yes," indicating they 
felt some pressure to slant their dispatches in a manner consistent with their 
publisher's leanings. Another statement said "In my experience I have had 
stories played down, cut or killed for policy reasons." To this, slightly more 
than 55 percent wrote, "yes." 

When the same questions were asked in the early 1960's, less than ten 
percent replied "yes, my orders are to be objective, but I know how my boss 
wants. stories played," and only slightly over seven percent replied that stories 
had been killed, or played down for policy reasons. 32 Similarly, for hard 
network news programs and national newsmagazines, the evidence suggests 
that outside influence by advertisers or non-news network executives is 
practically nil. 

While these findings on Washington correspondents may provide some 
comfort, the absence of pervasive publisher .influence on Washington 
correspondents does not necessarily mean their brethren in other parts of 
the country fare as well. The Washington correspondents are, as a group, 
amongst the most able professionals in journalism. Their distance from the 
home office makes control more difficult, and their generally high level of 
competence gives them somewhat more independence than reporters of lesser 
recognized talent. 

C. Access: News Media Structure and Competitive Practices 

By the mid-20th century, the structure of the news media as we know it 
today was largely formed and is the structure with which we must begin our 
concern. The news .media are represented by a multitude of individual 
examples, but with very few exceptions the major news media share common 
characteristics imposed by their common economic and business orientation. 

Two characteristics stand out. First, many news media are sensitive to 
their need for large audiences to a degree individual members of their 
audience may find difficult to comprehend. Second, the media tend toward 
concentration of ownership, influence, and control, as do other major 
businesses. 

1 . The News Business 

,- Much of the news media's close to neurotic response to criticism is owing 
/ to what Ben Bagdikian has described as the "built-in schizophrenia" of 
I American journalism. The news media "have to be godless, profit-making 
\ corporations and, at the same time, be selfless community institutions 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 79 

devoted to the unbiased education of the public." This inner conflict of J 
American journalism, cannot be ignored. ff 

The news media with the largest audiences radio, television, newspapers, 
magazines depend upon advertising revenues. The sums involved are large. ^ 
Radio and television advertisers paid more than $3.2 billion in 1967 to 
present their products to the American public. 3 * Newspaper publishers 
receivSTmbre than $5 billion from their advertisers, and magazine publishers' 
advertising income equaled $1.3 billion. The media's advertising revenues 
have consistently represented 3.5 percent of consumer expenditures in the 
United States. 34 

Although the sums paid for advertising are high, the number of businesses 
that contributes these sums is relatively small. In 1967, 100 advertisers 
contributed 30 percent of all money spent on national advertising and 80 
percent of the expenditure for national TV advertising. More than a fourth of 
TV advertising dollars was spent by the ten largest advertisers. This 
concentration in media spending by advertisers is matched by concentration 
in advertising-agency billings: 30 percent of total 1967 agency billings, and 46 
percent of TV billings were placed by only ten agencies. 

No one denies that the media are generally very profitable, although 
exactly how profitable is a source of some dispute. Most consistently decline 
to disclose their finances. Federal Communications Commission data indicate 
that 1967 earnings before taxes for radio were approximately $80.8 million 
on revenues of $907.3 million. 36 Television earned pre-tax prof its of $414.6 
million on revenues of $2.3 billion. 3 7 Profits on television station operations 
average approximately 30 percent of gross revenues and about 16 percent for 
the three national networks. 38 The networks and their fifteen owned and 
operated stations earned $55.8 million on revenues of $953.3 million in 
1967, down from earnings of $78.7 million on revenues of $903.9 million in 
1966. 39 Earnings for fifteen network owned and operated stations were 39.6 
percent of revenues. 

Pre-tax earnings in 1967 of the TV networks and their fifteen owned and 
operated stations were $160.1 million on assets of $147.3 million, almost 109 
percent return on book value of assets. 40 

The newspaper business, simply in terms of physical production of papers, 
is larger than most of the manufacturing industries in the nation's economy. 
The economic value of its production is greater than that of the drug industry 
or the meat products industry, and roughly equivalent to that of the 
petroleum refining industry. 41 Since World War II, the newspaper industry 
has grown substantially. The number of employees increased from less than 
250,000 in 1946 to more than 350,000 in 1966, a rate of growth far greater 
than that of all manufacturing industries. Daily newspaper circulation now 
stands at more than 61.5 million compared to less than 51 million in 1946. 
Newspaper advertising revenues have increased about 400 percent since 1946. 
Although between 1950 and 1966 newspapers' share of total advertising has 
declined from 66.3 to 49.1 percent because of the growth of television, they 
continue to be the single largest advertising medium. This preeminent 
position of the newspapers in advertising is largely owing to their 61 percent 
share of the expenditures by local advertisers for local media. 

Other indications of the growth of the newspaper industry since World 



80 Mass Media and Violence 

War II include an increase in the average number of pages in daily newspapers 
from 22 to 53, the increase in newsprint consumption from 3.5 to 9 million 
tons per year, and the increase in annual capital expenditures from $80 
million to over $169 million. 

Like television, the print media rank among the more profitable businesses 
in the United States. The print media, overall, earn about 18 percent on gross 
revenues. 42 Estimates for the average earnings of medium-sized and larger 
daily newspapers range up to 30 percent. 

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the media are frequently 
accused of paying too much attention to their advertisers and too little 
attention to the public who, if journalists are professionals, should be 
regarded as their clients. 

Criticism of direct advertising pressures upon publishers is one of the most 
durable. It is personified in the snivelling publisher who kills the story of a 
department store owner's divorce under threat of losing the store's substantial 
advertising revenues. Evidence to prove that assertion is, however, in very 
short supply. Newsmen asked about it replied that a news operation is most 
vulnerable to advertising pressure when it is economically weak and, 
correspondingly, it is most able to resist pressure when it is strong. In a 
one-newspaper town, advertisers may be more subject to newspaper pressures 
than vice versa. In at least one instance, a daily newspaper published a list of 
companies whose news releases should not be printed because they do not 
advertise in the paper. 43 This, of course, is as objectionable as exercise of 
influence in the other direction. 

j On television news programs, direct influence by advertisers is essentially 
j nonexistent. The case is somewhat different for documentaries. Here it 
j appears primarily in terms of the choice of subjects for documentaries. 

Documentaries, however, are the most crucial part of the television 
journalism, because they provide the mass audience with the only kind 
of programming about vital issues in depth. There is abundant evidence 
that despite protestations about plenty of hard-hitting documentaries, 
the networks consistently shy away from subjects which will be 
unpopular, either by failing to attract large ratings and thus sponsor 
interest, or by alienating some section of the community. 44 

There are also exceptions among newspapers. On the afternoon of March 
29, 1968, word was received at the copy desks of both afternoon Chicago 
papers that under no circumstances was the word "Carson's" to appear in the 
banner headline of the next edition. That was the afternoon of a large fire in 
a store owned by Carson Pirie Scott & Co. The explanation by the Chicago 
Journalism Review: 

Carson's is a big advertiser, and somebody in their advertising 
department might not like seeing the name of his institution in the bad 
company of other words like "fire," "ablaze," or "holocaust." Of 
course, maybe nobody cared particularly either, since it was a fact, and 
not even the advertising department could do anything about that. 
Newspapers, however, weren't about to take a chance on the latter. 45 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 81 

The report goes on to suggest that much of the coverage featuring clothes 
and fashion, travel, and business news is designed to keep advertisers 
happy good news on these subjects deserves to be printed. "In contrast, 
Operation Breadbasket's boycott of A & P Food Stores was pointedly ignored 
by the downtown dailies until young blacks tore through a North Side A & 

p 46 

A similar motivation has been ascribed to the Boston Globe and the 
Boston Traveler decisions to print misleading weather information during the 
Easter shopping period. 47 

More important than the influence of particular advertisers is the effect of 
policies adopted to maximize profits. With high fixed costs, there is pressure 
to maintain the maximum possible audience. 

For the print and electronic media, the cost of production has little 
correlation to circulation. If a newspaper or news magazine goes to the 
expense of gathering the news and selling and preparing the advertising 
messages to support it, the incremental cost of extra press runs is relatively 
low. The equipment is already there, and newsprint and ink costs for a 
medium-sized newspaper typically are about 26 to 28 percent of total 
expenses. For larger newspapers it is considerably lower. The pressure is 
greater for television. It costs television no more to produce a program whether 
30 or 30 million people watch. Yet, the single most important measure of 
revenues will be the projected cost per thousand television households 
delivered. If enough viewers are delivered for the network to break even, 
additional viewers produce additional revenues at no additional cost. It is for 
this reason that the pressures on the news media to attract and maintain 
audience may seem quite out of proportion to small shifts in ratings or 
circulation. Although network news officials insist that a few points change in 
the ratings are not important to them, an examination of the emphasis placed 
on news program ratings in the trade press and institutional advertisements in 
magazines like Broadcasting strongly suggests otherwise. 48 

The accusation has frequently been made that the news media cater to the f 
lowest common denominator in public taste. Vej^fe^cjitjcs^^ \ 

we know have undertaken to explain how news^ executives jietermine what J 
appealsj:o the lowest comjnpji^norninator. It is simply one ofthose cliches 
that have gained acceptance among those ^vho think the media should meet 
their particular standards. Certainly, if "lowest common denominator" means 
that the media appeal solely to the uneducated, they are wrong. Were this so, 
the majority of educated Americans would turn to smaller circulation 
media as many ofthose at the top of the educated spectrum have done. 

More likely, the effect is for the media to present material of the broadest \ 
possible appeal, necessarily aiming at middle America. It is also true that the 
same high premium is placed on not offending any significant segment of the 
audience. 49 It is this requirement that makes it more difficult for new ideas / 
to gain access and limits reporting on those conditions which give rise to/ 
much of today's dissent. 

The need not to offend is greatest for national news media and those with 
large circulation in metropolitan areas. To limit audience alienation, large 
circulation media prefer to report ideas or factual stories that are either 
inoffensive or on which there is relatively broad agreement or wide 



82 Mass Media and Violence 

acceptance. When they must report controversial ideas or offensive facts, they 
prefer to speak through the person of a recognized figure a government 
official, prominent businessman, or recognized expert. Although exceptions 
are made for news commentators, like Eric Sevareid, who have sufficient 
national stature to entitle them to broadcast such opinions, in the main 

| television rarely covers new ideas until they are talked about by people of 

^recognized importance. 

Although preference is given to action to attract large audience, the 
networks seek to avoid offending. Both practices are apparent from the 
following description of Vietnam coverage by Robert MacNeil: 

At CBS, Vietnam hands used the expression, "shooting bloody" to 
describe the filming they had to do to get on the air. It was not that 
they were ordered to shoot only war scenes, but when they shot a 
political story or the progress of the pacification program as well as war 
scenes, it would be the action film which the program producers 
selected. Night after night for two years, American families have seen 
badly wounded Americans, sacks of dead Americans being loaded for 
shipment home, sprawled heaps of small, dead Vietnamese bodies. 
There are those who believe that this portrayal of horror has sickened 
Americans and turned many against the war, which has seemed 
increasingly pointless. Yet the horror has been heavily edited, and that 

may also have had a political impact The grisly truth has been 

shown in the screening rooms of the network news departments. There 
would be close-up footage, with sound, of a young soldier, whose leg 
has been shot away a moment before, screaming obscenities at the 
medics, pleading with them in desperation to stop his agony. 50 

Avoidance of the controversial is not the result of a directive or other 
overt expression of policy. As with other newsroom taboos, journalists soon 
learn what is and what is not acceptable through newsroom gossip and 
observation. When particular kinds of items are consistently rejected, no one 
has to tell them they are wasting their time turning in more. 5 1 

2. News Media Concentration 

The second aspect of the news business that inhibits a marketplace of ideas 
is concentration of control, cross-ownership within the same market, and the 
\ relative homogeneity of perspective among news media owners. 

At the close of 1968, there were 671 commercial and 169 educational 
television stations. 52 Of the commercial stations, all but a handful were 
affiliated with or owned by one of the three commercial networks. Each of 
the three national networks owns five VHP stations in major markets and 
together are affiliated with 542 stations-CBS, 192; NBC, 200; and ABC, 
ISO. 53 One hundred and forty of the non-commercial stations are affiliated 
with the National Educational Television network. 

Many of the nation's commercial radio outlets are tied together by 
network ownership or affiliation. CBS owns and operates seven AM FM 
stations and is affiliated with 244 other stations and, in addition, operates the 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 83 

CBS Pacific network with 2 1 affiliates. ABC also owns six AM-FM stations 
and, operating four separate networks, has some 900 affiliates. Of the 
remaining approximately 4,700 commercial radio stations serving the 
country, 696 are affiliated with one of the 44 smaller networks. 54 

Those commercial TV and radio stations that are network affiliates receive 
network news programs and, in addition, as of 1966, Associated Press 
serviced 2,600 domestic radio and 324 television stations; the UPI service 
went to 3,078 broadcasters, 320 radio-TV stations. 55 

The prominence of chain ownership in both radio and television has 
increased steadily. In 1939, 39 chains owned 109 AM radio stations or 14.3 
percent of all AM radio. In 1967, 373 chains owned 1,297 AM stations or 
31.4 percent of the total. The pattern is similar in television. In 1956, 81 
chains owned 203 TV stations or 45.8 percent. In 1967, chain ownership had 
grown until 147 chains owned 459 stations or 73.6 percent. 56 Although the 
number of commercial television outlets between 1956 and 1967 increased 
from 443 to 623, the number of station owners remained constant, 321. 

Newspapers have no exact counterpart to the three broadcasting 
networks, but the major wire services and news and feature syndicates 
perform much the same function. The older of the two major wire 
services Associated Press provides news and features to more than 1,200 
member daily and weekly newspapers. United Press International serves 
nearly as many newspaper subscribers. 

[O] nly 16.4 percent of the dailies receive a service other than AP or 
UPI. And most of these are large dailies which also receive both AP and 
UPL The New York Times Service has one hundred subscribers, the 
Chicago Daily News more than seventy. None of the other 
approximately forty-five supplemental news agencies serve as many as 
sixty dailies. The only foreign news service received by more than one 
or two newspapers is Reuters, with forty-one subscribers. 

Obviously, large segments of the population rely on AP or UPI for 
their picture of the world. Their newspapers and their broadcasting 
stations subscribe to no alternate source of non-local news. 57 



Beyond these common sources of news and feature content, there is a 
tendency toward ownership of the nation's newspapers by fewer and fewer 
publishers. In 1910, over 600 cities had competing daily newspapers; by 
1965, there were only 43 cities with fully competitive dailies. 58 JnJ7 
percent^f jailjai^s^!apO]aarkets, only one owner is represented^ ^JThgjO 
Iarges_t^d^jiescapture39pe^ In fflS^oSy 62 

of tlie^ore^trTaTrXbOU"7Ia^ ownedEyTs chains . 6 * Today , 

more than half (59 percent) of the total daily newspaper circulation belongs 
to 871 dailies owned by 157 chains, and one group alone accounts for 6 
percent of the total. 62 One witness before the Senate Antitrust and 
Monopoly Subcommittee in 1968 projected that at the present rate of 
expansion all the daily newspapers would be chain owned within twenty 
years and all Sunday papers within thirteen years. 63 Nearly two-fifths of the 
chain-owned papers are owned by twenty chains, and more than one-fourth 



84 Mass Media and Violence 

are owned by twelve chains. Nineteen of the 25 largest newspapers in the 
country are chain owned. 

The trend toward one-newspaper cities has made the problem of 
cross-ownership of media within the same market more acute. In the fall of 
1968, there were 55 cities in which there was ownership or control of a 
television station by a monopoly newspaper, plus six more cities in which the 
newspapers were operating under a joint publishing agreement and one or 
both of the papers owned a television station. In 23 of the 55 cities, the 
monopoly newspaper controlled the only television station in the city. In 78 
cities, the only daily newspaper owned or controlled the only AM radio 
station. Overall newspaper ownership of radio and TV stations did not 
significantly increase during the 1960's, and most of the TV-newspaper 
combinations resulted from acquisitions that occurred some years ago. In 
view of the increasing number of single-daily cities, however, any additional 
newspaper acquisitions of television or AM radio facilities should be closely 
examined. 

3. Acquisition of Suburban Newspapers 

One of the most important competitive developments in the newspaper 
field has been the rise of the suburban, or "community." daily. This growth is 
a countertrend operating against the increasing number of single-newspaper 
cities. Between 1945 and 1962, for example, the weekday circulation of 
suburban dailies in the 10 largest metropolitan areas rose from 2.8 million to 
5 million, an increase of 80 percent, while the circulation of metropolitan 
dailies rose only 2 percent, from 16.2 million to 16.5 million. 64 Just as 
suburban merchants are taking business from the downtown merchants, 
suburban newspapers are effectively competing for circulation growth that 
might otherwise go the downtown papers by default. 

The city dailies are responding, of course. Many have adopted zoned or 
regional editions, in which separate sections are added to the downtown 
papers that are distributed in particular suburban areas. These separate 
sections carry local news and advertising sold to local merchants at a rate 
substantially less than that for advertising appearing in the paper's total 
circulation sections. Zoned editions are evidently the most effective 
competitive weapon available to the downtown daily facing major suburban 
competition short of acquisition of the suburban competitor. 

As the suburban papers grow and thrive, metropolitan papers will 
increasingly be tempted to meet this new competition by the easiest 
means acquisition. By acquiring its suburban competitors, a downtown 
paper can take advantage of suburban growth without the expense and 
trouble of zoned editions and without improving its own product to provide 
comprehensive, in-depth, area-wide news coverage. It can promote the "two 
newspapers on every doorstep" concept without sacrificing advertising 
revenues and with each of the commonly owned papers freed from the 
urgency of sharpening its performance, and it can institute combined 
advertising rates that will effectively forestall the entry of new competition. 
Should the trend to downtown-suburban mergers continue to develop, 
another source of new voices in the community would be cut off. 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 85 

Within the last two years, the Justice Department has won two cases which 
suggest that such a trend can be prevented under the antitrust laws. One case 
involved the acquisition of the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram by the 
downtown Los Angeles Times. The acquisition took place in 1964, involved 
the purchase by the largest daily newspaper in Southern California, or, to put 
it another way, the acquisition by the only remaining Los Angeles morning 
daily of the largest morning daily newspaper within 75 miles of Los Angeles. 
The District Court found that the acquisition violated the Clayton Act, and 
has ordered divestiture of the Sun in order to restore it as an independent 
competitive force. The decision is on appeal by the defendant, but if 
affirmed, it will be an important roadblock against the trend toward 
concentration of the newspaper market in Southern California. The decision 
will also provide a valuable precedent applicable to other situations where a 
trend toward acquisition of suburban competitors may be developing. 

4. Syndicated Features 

Another problem area closely related to the competitive struggle between 
metropolitan dailies and the emerging suburban competitors is "syndicated 
features." Major newspaper syndicates acquire copyrighted materials, such as 
columns, comics, and crosswords, and they engage in the business of licensing 
newspapers to publish these features. Over the years a practice has developed 
whereby unduly broad exclusive territorial rights to the features have been 
sold to the metropolitan papers. 65 The effect of this practice has been, of 
course, to deprive many non-metropolitan newspapers of the opportunity to 
purchase and publish many popular features. Sometimes the area of 
exclusivity extends out for more than a hundred miles around the city in 
which the large daily publishes, and thus includes wide areas in which the 
metropolitan daily is not even a significant competitive force. Sometimes 
newspapers will even buy features they do not publish, simply to keep them 
out of the hands of their competitors. Numerous complaints have been 
received by the Department of Justice, which has had negotiations with some 
of the major syndicates to determine if the problem can be alleviated through 
a consent settlement. 

On Sept. 14, 1966, the Department of Justice secured a consent decree 
from the World-Journal-Tribune. The defendant agreed to waive exclusive 
right to publication in the New York city area of nineteen features formerly 
appearing in the three merged papers, The Herald Tribune, World- Telegram & 
Sun, and Journal-American. 6 6 

Like distributors of syndicated features, both Associated Press and United 
Press International have a long history of business practices which 
substantially increase barriers to entry by newcomers and discriminate against 
smaller news organizations. 67 

5. Joint Publishing Agreements 

In approximately two dozen cities there have emerged some quite 
recently arrangements under which newspaper publishers combine their 
production facilities and commercial functions but retain separate ownership 



86 Mass Media and Violence 

and separate control of news and editorial departments. Most such 
arrangements have the following characteristics: Establishment of a third 
corporation to manage and operate the business functions of both newspapers 
(sometimes one newspaper acts as the managing partner); composing, 
stereotyping, and printing the newspapers of both parties in a single plant; 
consolidation of advertising and circulation departments; allocation of the 
morning field to one newspaper and the evening field to the other (this often 
includes the shutting down of one or more newspapers); allocation of the 
Sunday field to one newspaper or the other; pooling of profits by the parties 
to the agreement; and the establishment of either forced or optional 
combination advertising rates. Sometimes the parties technically reserve to 
themselves the right to fix their advertising rates independently, but this 
reservation is a mere formality when profit pooling is involved. 

Profit pooling is the most offensive feature of these joint arrangements 
because it necessarily removes much of the incentive for either party to the 
agreement to try to increase its circulation at the expense of the other. 
Marked increases in advertising rates have been observed shortly after some of 
these arrangements were put into effect. Nor can continuation of commercial 
competition between the papers be expected when the advertising and 
circulation departments are not kept separate in fact as well as in form. 
Arrangements whereby competing newspapers simply pool manufacturing 
and distributing functions is not necessarily undesirable or illegal. An 
arrangement of this kind can make possible savings in plant, equipment, and 
labor costs; insistence on inefficiency is not one of the objectives of current 
antitrust laws. But profit pooling and price fixing are designed to improve 
profits, not by eliminating inefficiency, but by eliminating all commercial 
competition between the papers, and to that extent are probably unlawful 
under current antitrust decisions. 

It was on this basis that the Department of Justice challenged the legality 
of a joint publishing agreement between the Arizona Daily Star and the 
Tucson Daily Citizen as a per se violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. 
The agreement, in effect since 1940, provided for profit pooling, agreement 
on advertising rates, and allocation of markets. Also involved in that case was 
a challenge to the 1966 acquisition of the Star by the Citizen on the grounds 
that it violated Section 7 of the Clayton Act. At the time suit was brought 
these two papers were the only daily newspapers published in Tucson, 
Arizona. The district judge in that proceeding has already indicated that he 
regards certain aspects of the operating agreement unlawful, although no final 
decree has been entered (July 4, 1969). 

Related is a bill now in the hearing phase before the Senate Antitrust and 
Monopoly Subcommittee. Originally introduced as the "failing newspaper 
act" it has been relabeled the "newspaper preservation act." Hearings were 
suspended at the end of June 1969, pending the disposition of the Tucson 
newspaper litigation. The objective of the bill would exempt from the 
antitrust laws mergers and joint newspaper operating agreements involving 
one or more "failing newspapers" which are defined to include any paper 
that "appears unlikely to remain or become a financially sound publication." 
This is a radical extension of the traditional antitrust exemption provided for 
failing companies. In addition to unduly relaxing the failing company defense 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 87 

already available to merging companies, the bill would legalize the 
profit-pooling and price-fixing features of joint publishing agreements. The 
bill has been strongly opposed by many suburban dailies on the ground that 
such an exemption would place them at a severe competitive disadvantage. 

While there is a definite trend toward concentration of the control of news 
sources, recently there is a good deal of evidence that the government has 
taken an active interest in stopping this trend and possibly reversing it. Until 
recently, in the whole history of the antitrust laws the Justice Department 
has filed only about a dozen cases in the newspaper field. 68 In part this was 
no doubt owing to the recognition that there may not always be an exact 
correlation between maintaining advertising competition and promoting the 
social values inherent in a multiplicity of voices. In recent years there has 
been some refinement of antitrust doctrine and a sharpening of the tools of 
analysis that have provided new confidence. In 1967, the Department 
challenged the attempted acquisition of the American Broadcasting Co. by 
International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. (ITT). Among the grounds 
urged for disallowing the merger were that ITT was a potential entrant into 
broadcasting and CATV, and that ITT was an important source of the 
technology and engineering skills needed to multiply channels for mass 
communication. More recently the department took a position before the 
FCC opposing cross-ownership. 

On Jan. 30, 1963, the Federal Communications Commission made clear it 
was opposed to combined broadcasting-newspaper advertising rates a 
practice that makes entry of new media and survival of old media more 
difficult. On June 21 , 1965, the Commission adopted a proposed rule making 
an interim policy that would have prevented chain ownership of more than 
three (two VHF) television stations in any of the top 50 markets, but the 
Commission has already made exception to this guideline on at least four 
occasions. This year the Commission launched a broad investigation of 
broadcast ownership that will include cross-ownership, chain ownership, and 
ownership by diversified corporations. 

While we would not oppose government efforts at de-concentration, as a 
practical matter the administrative and political problems that would have to 
be overcome make substantial progress unlikely. With the exception of 
ownership of television stations by newspapers in the same market, the 
limited government resources available would be better directed toward 
preventing additional concentration, eliminating competitive practices, and 
planning for the future development, particularly of CATV, along lines most 
conductive to providing a marketplace for ideas. 

D. Access: Coverage of Protest 

The increased frequency of boycotts, sit-ins, picketing, parades, and 
large-group protest meetings has generated public and governmental concern 
over the news media's and particularly television's coverage of these events. 
In the late 1950's and early sixties, many southerners believed that if the 
media would not cover these events, they would not happen. Today many in 
the North share that view. Some Americans thought such events were one 
continuous dramatic production staged for and sometimes by the television 



88 Mass Media and Violence 

networks. Criticism has ranged from claims that the media distort the events 
they report to bald assertions that they incite riots simply by their presence. 

At one time, a demonstration, a boycott, a sit-in, or any other form of 
confrontation, even when non-violent, almost guaranteed coverage by the 
news media. Today, the greater number of non-violent demonstrations have 
reduced their efficacy as a technique for access, but still appeal to traditional 
news values and provide the action desired by television. 

Apparent to any observer of the American scene for the past fifteen years 
is that this technique for gaining access is used by those who have not been 
admitted through traditional channels. General Motors, the President of the 
United States, or the Chamber of Commerce do not need a parade or physical 
confrontation to attract media attention. Dissenters have the problem of 
attracting not only media attention, but also public attention. The 
non-violent demonstration is a press conference for those who cannot 
otherwise command the attention of the media and its public. Although 
demonstrations would probably occur infrequently if the media did not cover 
them, press conferences would also occur less frequently if the media did not 
cover them. Those who object to nonviolent demonstrations may object to 
the format of the press conference, just as often they disagree with the 
message. 

The criticism that "media coverage of conflict causes conflict" proceeds 
from an inaccurate assumption: that media coverage is both a necessary and 
sufficient condition for conflict. It is neither. The causes lie elsewhere, in 
social conditions and tensions. 

One of the earliest accusations that television was the cause of violent 
eruptions in the process of social change is that of former New Orleans Mayor 
deLesseps Morrison. Integration of New Orleans schools was less than 
peaceful. At first he attempted to place the responsibility on Leander Perez, 
political boss of an adjoining parish. When that met with little success he 
labeled television the primary villain. Blaming television was an afterthought; 
the real cause of violence was his own neutrality toward the Supreme Court's 
desegregation order, the unlawful posture of the governor, the Louisiana state 
legislature's policy of massive resistance and refusal to support the local 
school board, and the neutrality of civic leaders. 69 Where government and 
civic leaders are willing to cooperate in securing orderly social change, it seems 
clear that the press can be of assistance without seriously damaging its 
traditional standards of journalism. 70 

The immediate effect of non-coverage of protest would probably be less 
protest; for those who subscribe to the ostrich theory of journalism, this may 
be the short-term answer. But protest is an attempt to communicate, to tell 
the public that the social machine is in trouble. 

America continually readjusts its intergroup relations in the pursuit of 
certain fundamental democratic values. Readjustment, however, can generate 
severe tension. As de Tocqueville has said: 

Only a consummate statecraft can enable a king to save this throne 
when after a long spell of oppressive rule he sets to improving the lot of 
his subjects. Patiently endured so long as it seemed beyond redress, a 
grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of improving 
it crosses men's minds. For the mere fact that certain abuses have been 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 89 

remedied draws attention to the others and they now appear more 
galling; people may suffer less but their sensibility is exacerbated. 

The alternative to continuous readjustment is massive repression, which 
would produce a society neither dynamic nor democratic. Without media 
attention, the tensions of change could not be identified, much less alleviated. 

Media performance is subject to criticism on at lea v st two grounds. As 
suggested earlier, to the extent the media have not focused on the conditions 
underlying much of today's protest they have reduced the likelihood that 
these problems would be met before growing to such serious proportions. 
Even here, however, the failure of the media performance cannot be regarded 
as the only cause. Some of these conditions were covered but were largely 
ignored. The second criticism is that the news media slight the causes of 
protest at the expense of reporting the manifestations of discontent, physical 
confrontation. 

If there were systematic balanced surveillance of the community, the need 
for demonstrations as vehicles for communication would not be so great. If 
the news media did not place such a high value on conflict and action, the 
character of protest might be quite different. If the public and its government 
had attended to the problems which beset them today, our society would not 
be in such a state of upheaval. 

1. Influence of Media Presence 

One commentator has said, "Nothing, but nothing, ever happens the same 
way it was after you put a TV or movie camera on it! The fundamental 
problem is that TV reporters are so conspicuous that, without intending to, 
they can't help but influence their own coverage." 71 To the extent his 
presence is obtrusive, no reasonable and honest newsman can deny that his 
presence has an effect on the event he is covering. Another has observed, 

"A newspaper reporter equipped with pencil and pad subtly 
influences the event he is covering; a still photographer with his cameras 
dangling about his neck may change it more. And a television camera 
crew, with their lights and large equipment, can transform the event 
into an entirely different scene. So much so, in fact, that it is 
questionable if TV is capable of reporting the news objectively." 72 

Reporting the news objectively, in this sense, means reporting it as it would 
have happened if the newsman were not present. There is little doubt that his 
presence has an effect on the behavior of protestors. Consider the following 
description of television coverage of a picket line : 

By now it was something after 8 p.m. and the television crews 
needed something to show on the 10 o'clock news . . . 

Up came the three-man television crew: a camera man with a 
hand-held camera, a sound man and light man. Very discreet in the 
dark. 

"May as well get it." 

You could sense the disappointment in his voice, because pictorially 
it wasn't much of a demonstration. 

The light-man held up his 30-volt frezzi and laid a four-foot beam of 



90 Mass Media and Violence 

light across one section of the picket line. Instantly the marchers' heads 
snapped up, their eyes flashed. They threw up their arms in the 
clenched Communist fist. Some made a V with their fingers, and they 
held up their banners for the cameras . . , 73 

Obviously, it was not the same event once the cameras were on. 

As on other decisions regarding coverage, it is important to apply neutral 
journalistic principles in deciding whether to cover an event. What many 
critics of protest coverage do not acknowledge is that others stage events for 
the benefit of the press. Yet, was the distortion any greater than the "unreal" 
hearing which followed the circulation of this memorandum to a 
congressional committee: 

1. Decide what you want the newspapers to hit hardest and then 
shape each hearing so that the main point becomes the vortex of the 
testimony. Once that vortex is reached, adjourn .... 

4. Do not permit distractions to occur, such as extraneous fusses 
with would-be witnesses, which might provide news that would bury 
the testimony which you want featured. 

5. Do not space hearing more than 24 or 48 hours apart when on a 
controversial subject. This gives the opposition too much opportunity 
to make all kinds of counter-charges and replies by issuing statements to 
the newspapers. 

6. Don't ever be afraid to recess a hearing even for five minutes, so 
that you can keep the proceedings completely in control so far as 
creating news is concerned. 

7. And this is most important: don't let the hearings or the evidence 
ever descend to the plane of a personal fight between the Committee 
Chairman and the head of the agency being investigated. The high plane 
of a duly authorized Committee of the House of Representatives 
examining the operations of an Agency of the Executive Branch for 
constructive purposes should be maintained at all costs. 74 

The congressional hearing undoubtedly would have been a different event if it 
would have been held at all, were it not for the anticipated presence of the 
media. Nor is the staging of congressional hearings new. The above 
memorandum was circulated in 1943 by the counsel of a House committee 
investigating the Federal Communications Commission. 

Publicity is frequently the end product and not the sideline of the 
committee's work. In some of the more notable probes, the final 
committee conclusions have been a matter of scant importance. After 
two particularly sensational ones of recent years the MacArthur 
dismissal inquiry and the Army-McCarthy hearings the chairman 
sought to dispense with the formality of a report altogether, each 
making vague assertions that the public had "the facts" and could form 
its own judgments. The responsibility to come up with remedial 
legislation is often forgotten in the shuffle. 75 



Committee hearings are not the only activities of government officials 
that are staged or doctored. It is only necessary to recall one of the more 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 91 

recent episodes in which Senator Edward Kennedy's Subcommittee on Indian 
Education set off on a tour of Alaska, only to have some Republican 
members bolt the excursion on the charge that the trip was "a stage-managed 
scenario" to boost Kennedy's presidential prospects. There was apparently no 
objection that the tour was frankly designed to generate publicity to improve 
the educational and anti-poverty programs for Eskimos and Indians. 76 
Similarly, President Johnson's interview with White House correspondents 
was edited under the supervision of administration aides. "CBS and ABC both 
protested to White House officials but were told that the remarks the 
President was concerned about were matters of security. When pressed, they 
admitted they meant the President considered them politically sensitive." 77 
Only CBS advised viewers that the interview had been edited under White 
House supervision. Estimates of total federal expenditures on public relations 
and public information run as high as $400 million annually. 78 

The argument persists that demonstrators holding up clenched fists differ 
from Congressional hearings contrived to focus on a particular point or other 
public information activities of the government. The demonstrators know 
what they are doing; they consciously conduct themselves before the camera. 
If they hold up clenched fists they want to communicate this message to the 
public. Most of them, however, have some additional message. Although 
demonstration and confrontation are vehicles for access, something else rides 
in the vehicles. The media go to a demonstration, make the demonstration 
the story, but they ignore the message. In doing so they are performing about 
as well as if they had reported that the President held a press conference, but 
forgot to tell the public what the President said. 

2. Media Incitement to Violence 

With respect to the possibility that the presence of the media may incite 
demonstrators to real violence, rather than threats of violence or hostile 
gestures, the solution does not lie in prohibiting coverage. If the conduct pro- 
moted by the media's presence is socially undesirable and not constitutionally 
protected, a law can prohibit such conduct. Where conduct is unlawful, arrest 
the demonstrator. But denying all demonstrators access simply because some 
of them may engage in unlawful activity prescribes too broad a remedy for an 
otherwise narrow problem, and clearly would be unconstitutional. Most 
demonstrators do not engage in unlawful violence simply to get on camera; 
less extreme conduct usually suffices. Denying coverage to all demonstrators 
attempts to discourage indirectly that which cannot be prohibited directly: 
infringing dissident's first amendment rights. However unwise the hostile 
message from the disaffected may be, the conditions under the first 
amendment that justify the limitation of speech, including symbolic speech, 
are few. That the message is unwise is not one of them. 

Protestors usually have little to gain in the way of access to the media by 
engaging in unlawful or violent behavior. Indeed, the more violent their 
behavior, the more likely the media will focus on that to the exclusion of the 
views for which access is sought. Moreover, the revulsion of most Americans 
to violence means that regardless of the soundness of their view, when the 
message comes across mixed with lawless behavior audience acceptance is 
substantially reduced. The dignified 1963 March on Washington, D.C., was a 
much more effective vehicle for communicating views than the performance 



92 Mass Media and Violence 

of the New York Yippie contingent at the 1968 Democratic National 
Convention. 

Nevertheless, protestors do engage in unlawful or violent behavior for 
several reasons: 

1. Sometimes the grievances of demonstrators include police 
brutality. To bring the excesses of the police into public view, they may 
seek to provoke them when television cameras were present. 

2. The demonstrators may wish to illustrate the depth of their 
conviction in the Tightness of their cause by risking jail sentences or 
other punitive action. 

3. The demonstrators regard the law they are violating as 
unconstitutional and seek a court test. 

4. Frequently, there is a large group that supports the goals of the 
demonstrators, but is not willing to engage in the extreme tactics they 
adopt. Under such circumstances, the more radical members seek to 
generate a confrontation with the police for the purpose of surfacing 
the "venality" of the "establishment" and thereby convince those on 
the fringe that any means necessary should be adopted to secure shared 
objectives. 

5. The demonstrators may seek to generate such a massive official 
overresponse as to force a breakdown in the administration of criminal 
justice and thereby illustrate how corrupt is the entire system. 

As a case in point, the report of the Violence Commission's Chicago Task 
Force, Rights in Conflict, abundantly reveals many complex motivations for 
unlawful or violent behavior. 

The provocation may be mild or severe, lawful or unlawful. The response 
of the authorities to the 1963 march in Selma, for example, was an 
overresponse by the police, for they were provoked by demonstrators who 
wished only to peaceably exercise their first amendment rights. Television 
coverage, because of its revelation of this truth, undoubtedly contributed to 
the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. 

The overresponse of the police in Chicago during the Democratic National 
Convention discloses a reaction to severe verbal provocation, threats 
of extreme violence, and, in some instances, physical assault and other 
conduct by demonstrators. Yet the police responded with more force than 
was necessary to enforce the law. Many newsmen were surprised, therefore, 
that the majority of the public sympathized with the police. 

So long as the media continue to cover demonstrations, some 
demonstrators will continue to provoke the police. To this extent, coverage 
may contribute to the level of violence. But the incentive is the same whether 
the television cameras are present or not. The objective is overreaction by 
police, and publicity will be achieved through the print media and informal 
channels if television is not present. 

Media coverage, then, does provide some incentive to violence; but it also 
provides a disincentive. 

First, as suggested earlier, nobody, including demonstrators, wants to have 
his unlawful acts recorded on camera. Secondly, the presence of the media 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 93 

also tends to have a restraining influence on the use of violence by the 
authorities. During the late fifties and early sixties, Justice Department 
lawyers encouraged media coverage of civil rights demonstrations in the belief 
that it restrained the police. 79 Former Attorney General Nicholas 
Katzenbach has acknowledged the constructive role of television coverage: 

The bitter segregationists' view of [the civil rights movement] is that 
the demonstrators are following the cameras, not vice versa. To them, it 
is the Northern press and the television networks which seem to be the 
motive force in the civil rights movement. This idea apparently 
motivated many of the toughs during the 1961 freedom rides in Selma 
and elsewhere. Almost their first moves were against the cameras. 

Yet news coverage has been a powerful deterrent to racial violence in 
the South. For every assault on newsmen, many more incidents have 
been defused by their presence. Reporters and cameras, particularly the 
network-television cameras, which symbolize the national focus on 
Southern violence, have had a tempering as well as instructional 
effect. 80 

In Chicago, many officers removed their badges to avoid identification and 
frequently smashed cameras to destroy evidence of their misconduct. They 
did not want the public to know what had happened. 

Media coverage thus reduces the immediate violence that results from 
overresponse by the police. But police violence has a fallout effect that may 
promote more extreme confrontations or even induce a shift to covert tactics, 
because they are less risky than public confrontations. When non-violent 
demonstrations become impractical because of personal risk, the disaffected 
can do nothing or they can resort to more extreme tactics. While many will 
certainly be deterred by massive applications of police force, others may very 
well decide to go underground. 

3. Coverage of Demonstrations 

Another source of tension between the news media and the police during 
demonstrations was highlighted by the Walker Report: "The police are never 
enthusiastic about the presence of newsmen in large crowd 
situations . . . ." 8 * Conflict between the police, who want to maintain or 
restore order, and reporters, who wish to provide full coverage of a volatile 
event, does arise as it did in Chicago. Mayor Daley and the Chicago police 
accused the media of interfering with the maintenance of order. Newsmen, in 
turn, complained of excessive restrictions on their coverage. That there is 
some truth to both complaints makes the problem no easier to resolve. 

It does suggest that, where a demonstration is anticipated, the press and 
the police should discuss their competing interests in advance. TV should 
certainly arrange to avoid blinding officers with kleig lights and flashbulbs. It 
does not follow, however, that such conduct by some members of the press 
justifies indiscriminate retaliation by police. The police should also keep in 
mind that, as in Chicago, not everyone with a camera or strobe unit 
represents the press. Many protest organizations have their own cameramen 
and some persons were impersonating television network newsmen in 



94 Mass Media and Violence 

Chicago. Nothing, it is clear now, pleased some demonstrators more than 
indiscriminate police violence toward the news media. 

If a member of the press refuses to obey a lawful police order to cease 
interfering with or to stop obstructing police efforts at crowd control, he is 
properly subject to arrest. Under no circumstances, however, can police 
justify the confiscation of film, notes, or audio tapes. Nor is there any excuse 
for the destruction of equipment, or the use of force against a reporter unless 
he is resisting arrest. This problem has confronted reporters for a long time. If 
the present Federal Civil Rights Act proves inadequate, consideration ought 
to be given to enacting the necessary amendments. Police violence of the kind 
in Chicago clearly generates a threat to the gathering of news for transmission 
in interstate commerce, and it impairs the most fundamental of an 
American's civil rights his first amendment right to know. 

Unless the police intend to engage in improper conduct, it is also in their 
best interest to have reporters present. Consider the following incident: 



In Chicago some time ago, the Negro comedian Dick Gregory 
complained, a few days after he had been arrested in a demonstration, 
that the police were brutal in making the arrest. WMAQ in Chicago 
carried Gregory's statement and then, without comment, reran the film 
showing Gregory being arrested. The film did not bear out Gregory's 
accusation of brutal treatment, and the Chicago police were grateful 
that the station was able to show exactly what had happened. 82 

Large demonstrations normally require a permit by demonstrators and 
pre-planning by both demonstrators and police. The press, if it decides to 
cover the event, ought to pre-plan and consult with both the demonstrators 
and the police. Under such circumstances, if all parties conduct themselves 
reasonably, the problem lessens in accommodating the desire of the 
demonstrators for coverage, the obligation of the police to maintain public 
safety, and the right of the press to provide adequate coverage. The police 
and the demonstrators can help enormously by negotiating a permit 
agreement far enough in advance to permit planning by the media. 
Authorities occasionally delay issue of a permit as long as possible on the 
theory that it will discourage people from participating, but this is 
reprehensible and, if chaos results, the authorities must accept responsibility 
for the consequences. 

Generally, the presence of the media improves the behavior of those 
present. Most demonstrations involve important political and social issues. 
Each side seeks adherents. However attractive violence may be to the few, it 
has little appeal to the vast majority of Americans. In Chicago, the various 
groups of demonstrators attempted to give dissidents a choice. They tried to 
warn protestors when a particular line of activity might lead to arrest or 
violence, and they tried to instruct those who did not wish to participate to 
avoid these activities. This policy shows that some dissident groups recognize 
that, if demonstrations are to be successful tomorrow, they cannot lead 
inevitably to bloody confrontation today; otherwise, the protestors cannot 
attract people to their movement, people who, while strongly supporting the 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 95 

objectives, either fear or have no appetite for violence. They need such broad 
support for their success. 

The news media can take additional steps to offset whatever incentive they 
may provide for violence, first by balanced coverage of the confrontation. At 
least four elements require balanced treatment: 

1 . The purpose of the demonstration. What is the nature of the 
grievance? Why are the demonstrators there? 

2. The events leading up to the demonstration. Have other remedies 
been sought, such as administrative relief or negotiations, either on the 
grievances or on the right to demonstrate? If so, what has been the 
response of the objects (city officials, university officials, etc.) of the 
demonstration? 

3. The demonstration. How many people were present? How did 
they conduct themselves? Do not focus only on the most extreme 
conduct or dress. 

4. What provocations, if any, were directed toward the police? Why 
were the demonstrators trying to provoke the police? Did the police use 
more force than was necessary to maintain order? Were there any 
extenuating circumstances, such as physical exhaustion or security for a 
presidential candidate? 



The first element is important because particular grievances frequently 
cause demonstrations. As suggested earlier, failure to cover the grievance 
compares to announcing that there has been a presidential press conference 
but neglecting to relay what the President said. Moreover, if the demon- 
stration forms part of the strategy of confrontation designed basically 
to provoke police then the public has a right to know about it. Similarly, if 
the purpose is to get arrested and to convey to the public the depth of a 
dissident conviction, the public should know that. Also, knowledge of the 
purpose of demonstrations will aid the news organization in deciding whether 
to cover the event at all and, if so, the amount of resources to allocate to the 
coverage. It will help them avoid groups whose only purpose is to get on 
camera. 

Information on the second element tells the public whether the group 
involved has been reasonable in attempting to resolve its grievances. If it has 
not, the public will undoubtedly have little sympathy for them. If it has, the 
public will probably conclude that its action was justified and place 
responsibility for the consequences of the demonstration with those who 
could meet the grievances. Such coverage will provide an incentive to the 
aggrieved to pursue less drastic remedies, as well as give similar incentive to 
responsible officials to take reasonable steps to remedy the grievances. 

The third element provides the public with a representative portrayal of 
the kind of people involved, the number who felt sufficiently strong about 
the grievances to appear, and the dignity with which they conducted 
themselves. If all the coverage of demonstrators focuses only on the most 
extreme behavior, no incentive remains for dignified and orderly conduct. 



96 Mass Media and Violence 

The fourth element determines the justification for the official response 
and which party to the confrontation ought to be held responsible for any 
violence that resulted. Such coverage provides incentives to demonstrators to 
avoid extreme provocations and to the police to avoid the use of excessive 
force. 

The issue of provocation presents a special problem. Many provocations 
are obscenities, not appropriate for either broadcast or for print media. Some 
people have suggested that the media have an obligation to disseminate the 
language of provocation anyway. Among those who once subscribed to this 
theory, at least in reporting on the Walker Report, was Norman Isaacs of the 
Louisville Courier-Journal. But the response from his readers was so 
overwhelmingly negative that he decided not to do it again. The problem 
remains, however, and the solution is to describe in abstract terms the nature 
and severity of the provocations. 

Television has acute problems in providing balanced coverage of this kind 
for at least three reasons. First, television communicates in two modes, audio 
and visual. Certain kinds of visual portrayals can have an impact out of 
proportion to the accompanying verbal statements. Where pictures become 
available of" some elements, and are especially dramatic, extra effort is needed 
to balance them with commentary. Under some circumstances, it may be 
impossible to present certain picture sequences and retain balance; then, 
perhaps, the sequence ought to be eliminated or softened. Second, certain 
segments of the audience are less receptive to verbal than visual messages. Eric 
Sevareid is worth a thousand pictures only for those who understand him. 
When commentary is accompanied by very dramatic film clips, it is especially 
difficult to provide balance. 

The second characteristic that makes balanced television reporting difficult 
applies to almost any kind of story. With only 30 minutes to cover all the 
news, network television can provide little more than a headline service. 
There is a similar bias in this direction because of television's visual 
presentation. As Walter Scott, NBC board chairman has said: "Because 
television is a visual medium, it may scant the background and significance of 
events to focus on the outward appearance the comings and goings of 
j statesmen instead of the issue that confronts them." 83 The network news 
departments and those of many local stations do as well as they can in the 
( time available. The necessity of expanding the evening network 
news broadcasts from 30 minutes to an hour is plain. The format of that hour 
should be altered from the present formula to a mixture of hard news and 
news magazine presentations a cross between "Walter Cronkite" and "60 
Minutes" on CBS, "Huntley-Brinkley" and "First Tuesday" on NBC, in the 
style of "Martin Agronsky's Washington" on WTOP-TV in Washington, D.C. 

The third reason television coverage tends to be less well balanced than 
other media is that the entertainment ethic is somewhat stronger in television 
and, accordingly, action scenes tend to dominate. 

We do not suggest the abandonment of action sequences. In some 
instances, film, by far the most effective means of communicating the 
forceful, human aspects of a story, is a good attention getter. But once 
television has the audience's attention, it should also provide the audience 
with valuable information. 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 97 

* # * * 

The media can reduce confrontations and demonstrations by giving more 
balanced coverage to the community, by opening traditional access channels 
to those with new, different, and minority views. Such changes in media 
performance will not eliminate protest altogether because other reasons exist. 
In many universities, for example, the dissenting students have control of the 
one medium of mass communication in their community, the school 
newspaper, which usually favors the dissidents both in the quality and 
quantity of its coverage. If one seeks to lay the whole explanation for 
s confrontation on inadequate media access, he must somehow find a plausible 
explanation for the university phenomenon. 

Where media attention is a positive incentive to demonstrate, it is also a 
remedial phenomenon that compensates for imbalanced surveillance. The 
solution, then, is not to ignore demonstrations, but to correct the conditions 
which, if they did not give them birth, were at least the midwife. Once done, 
to the extent demonstrations are an access problem they will diminish. 
Similarly, the standard for determining whether an event will be covered 
should place more emphasis on the nature of the grievance, the number of 
people affected, the severity of the grievance, and less emphasis should be 
placed on the willingness of the aggrieved to engage in violence and the 
likelihood that they will. 



REFERENCES 



1. Walter Gieber, "Attributes of a Reporter's Role" (San Francisco State College: 
unpublished mimeo), p. 27. 

2. Wilbur Schramm, ed., Mass Communications, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 
1954), p. 195. 

3. John Hohenberg, The News Media; A Journalist Looks at His Profession (Holt, 
Rinehart & Winston, 1968), pp. 294-297. 

4. Paul F. Lazarfield, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet. The People's Choice (New 
York: Columbia University Press, 1948); Shirley A. Star and Helen McGill Hughes, 
"Report of an Educational Campaign: The Cincinnati Plan for the United Nations," 
American Journal of Sociology (1950) pp. 389-400; Charles F. Cannell and James 
C. MacDonald. "The Impact of Health News on Attitudes and Behavior," Journalism 
Quarterly (1956), pp. 315-323; Dorwin Cartwright, "Some Principles of Mass 
Persuasion: Selected Findings of Research on the Sale of United States War Bonds," 
Human Relations (1949), pp. 253-267. 

5. Wilbur Schramm and Richard F. Carter, "Effectiveness of a Political Telethon," 
Public Opinion Quarterly (1959), pp. 121-126. 

6. Daniel M. Wilner, "Attitude as a Determinant of Perception in the Mass Media of 
Communication: Reaction to the Motion Picture, 'Home of the Brave,' " (University 
of California, Los Angeles Library unpublished PhD dissertation, 1951); Gordon 
Allport and Leo J. Postman "The Basic Psychology of Rumor," Transactions of the 

New York Academy of Sciences, Series II (1945), pp. 61-81; Eunice Cooper and 
Marie Jahoda "The Evasion of Propaganda," Journal of Psychology (1947). p. 1525; 
Patricia L. Kendall and Katherine M. Wolf, The Personification of Prejudice as a 
Device in Educational Propaganda (New York: Bureau of Applied Social Research, 



98 Mass Media and Violence 

Columbia University, 1946); Herbert H. Hyman, and Paul B. Sheatsley, "Some 
Reasons Why Information Campaigns Fail," Public Opinion Quarterly (1947), pp. 
412-423; Patricia L. Kendall and Katherine M. Wolf. "The Analysis of Deviant 
Cases in Communications Research," in Communications Research, Paul F. 
Lazarsfeld and Frank N. Stanton, eds., (New York: Harper & Bros., 1949). 

7. Herbert H. Hyman and Paul B. Sheatsley, "Some Reasons Why Information 
Campaigns Fail," Public Opinion Quarterly (1947), pp. 412-423; Claire Simmerman 
and Raymond A. Bauer. "The Effect of an Audience Upon What is Remembered," 
Public Opinion Quarterly (1956), pp. 238-248; Virginia Seeleman, "The Influence 
of Attitude upon the Remembering of Pictorial Material, "Archives of Psychology, No. 
258 (1941); Jerome M. Levine and Gardner Murphy, "The Learning and Forgetting 
of Controversial Material," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (1943), pp. 
507-517. 

8. Lazarfeld,ef 0/., op. cit. footnote 4. 

9. Melvin L. DeFleur and Otto N. Larsen, The Flow of Information (New York: Harper 
& Bros., 1958); Elihu Katz, "The Two-step Flow of Communication: An 
Up-to-Date Report on an Hypothesis," Public Opinion Quarterly (1957), pp. 
61-78; Robert K. Merton, "Patterns of Influence: A Study of Interpersonal 
Influence and Communications Behavior in a Local Community," in 
Communications Research 1948-49, Paul F. Lazerfeld and Frank Stanton, eds., 
(New York: Harper & Bros., 1949); Elihu Katz, and Paul Lazarfeld, Personal 
Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications 
(Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1955). 

10. James Coleman, Herbert Menzel, and Elihu Katz, "Social Processes in Physicians' 
Adoption of a New Drug," Journal of Chronic Diseases (1958), pp. 1-19. 

11. James H. Copp, Maurice L. Sill, and Emory J. Brown, "The Function of Information 
Sources in the Farm Practice Adoption Process," Rural Sociology (1958), pp. 
146-157; Bryce Ryan and Neal Gross, "The Diffusion of Hybrid Seed Corn in Two 
Iowa Communities," Rural Sociology (1943), pp. 15-24; North Central and Rural 
Sociological Subcommittee, Social Factors in the Adoption of Farm Practices 
(Ames, Iowa: Iowa State College, 1959); Paul C. Marsh and Lee Coleman, "Group 
Influences and Agricultural Innovations: Some Tentative Findings and Hypotheses," 
American Journal of Sociology (1956), pp. 61; George M. Beal, Joe M. Bohlen, and 
Everett M. Rogers, "Validity of the Concept of Stages in the Adoption Process," 
Rural Sociology (1957), pp. 166-168. 

12. Joseph Klapper, The Effects of Mass Communication (New York: The Free Press, 
1960), p. 252. 

13. Ithiel deSola Poole, "The Mass Media and Their Interpersonal Social Functions in 
the Process of Modernization," in Communication and Political Development 
(Lucien Pye, Ed.) (Princeton University Press, 1963) Chapter 14; Tamotsu 
Shibutani, Improvised News (Bobbs, Merrill 1966). 

14. Shibutani, op. cit., footnote 13. 

15. Ibid. 

16. A. D. Annis and N.'C. Meier, "The Induction of Opinion through Suggestions by 
Means of Planted Content," Journal of Social Psychology (1934), pp. 65-81; Martin 
F. Herz, "Some Psychological "Lessons from Leaflet Propaganda in World War II," 
Public Opinion Quarterly, pp. 471-486; Arnold M. Rose, "The Use of Propaganda to 
Reduce Prejudice," International Journal of Opinion and Attitude Research (1948), 
pp. 220-229; Carl I. Hovland, "Effects of the Mass Media and Communication," in 
Handbook of Social Psychology Sindzey Gardner, ed. (Cambridge, Mass,: 
Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1954), pp. 1062-1103; Irving J. Janis and Seymour 
Feshbach. "Effects of Fear- Arousing Communications," Journal of Abnormal and 
Social Psychology (1953), pp. 78-92; Carl Hovland and Wallace Mandeli, "Is There a 
Law of Primacy in Per suasion?" A merican Psychologist (1952), p. 538. 

17. Irving, L., Janis and Seymour Feshbach, "Effects of Fear Arousing 
Communication," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 195 3), pp. 78-92. 

18. Roy Popkin, The Environmental Services Administration (New York: Frederick A. 
Praeger, 1967), p. 186. 

19. William L. Rivers, The Opinion Makers (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965), p. 180. 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 99 

20. Journalism Quarterly (1950), pp. 383-390. 

For other studies dealing with various aspects of gatekeeper performance, see: 
Walter Gieber, "Across the Desk," Journalism Quarterly (Fall 1956), pp. 423-32; 
Walter Gieber and Walter Johnson, "The City Hall Beat," Journalism Quarterly 
(1961), pp. 289-97; Walter Gieber, "Private versus Public Role of the Newsman," 
paper presented to Association for Education in Journalism, 1963; Walter Gieber, 
"The City Desk: A Model of News Decisions," a paper presented to the Association 
for Education in Journalism, 1964; Walter Gieber, "Role Playing Among 
Reporters," paper presented to Association for Education 1965. Walter Gieber, "A 
City Editor Selects the News," paper presented to American Sociological 
Association, 1961; Ithiel de Sola Poole and Irwin Shulman, "Newsmen's Fantasies, 
Audiences and News Writing," Public Opinion Quarterly (1959), pp. 145-58; Leo 
Rosten, The Washington Correspondents, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1937); 
Robert P. Judd, "The Newspaper Reporter in a Suburban City," Journalism 
Quarterly (1961), pp. 35-42; Dan D. Nimmo, Newsgathering in Washington, (New 
York: Atherton Press, 1964); Roy E. Carter, "Newspaper Gatekeepers and the 
Sources of News," Public Opinion Quarterly (1958), pp. 133-44; Jack M. McLeod 
and Searle E. Hawley, Jr., "Professionalization Among Newsmen," Journalism 
Quarterly (1964), pp. 529-37; Alex S. Edelstein and J. Blaine Schulz, "The Weekly 
Newspaper's Leadership Role as Seen by Community Leaders," Journalism 
Quarterly (1963), pp. 565-74; Merrill A. Samuelson, "A Standardized Test to 
Measure Job Satisfaction in the Newsroom," Journalism Quarterly (1962), pp. 
286-91; Douglass Cater, The Fourth Branch of Government (Boston: Houghton 
Mifflin, 1959); William L. Rivers, The Opinion Makers (Boston: Beacon, 1965); 
Walter Gieber, Gatekeepers of News of Civil Rights and Liberties (Berkeley: 
Department of Journalism, University of California). 

20aJbid. 

2QbJbid. 

21. Lewis Donohew, "Newspaper Gatekeepers and Forces in the News Channel," Public 
Opinion Quarterly (1967), pp. 61-68. 

22. Canon 5, The Canons of Journalism, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 
Appendix II-D. 

23. Warren Breed, "Mass Communications and Socio-cultural Integration," Social Forces 
(1958), pp. 109-116. 

24. Arthur E. Rowse, Slanted News (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), p. 124. 

25. Ben H. Bagdikian, quoted in Failing Newspaper Act, Hearings before the 
Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly of the Committee on Judiciary, U.S. 
Senate, July 12-26, 1967, part I, p. 311. 

26. Ibid., p. 395. 

27. "Ethics and the Press: Conflicts of Interest, Pressures Still Distort Some Papers 
Converage," The Wall Street Journal July 25, 1967; reprinted in Failing Newspaper 
Act, op. cit., footnote 25, p. 440. 

2S. Ibid., p. 439. 

29. William L. Rivers, Failing Newspaper Hearings, op. cit., footnote 25, p. 397. 

30. William L. Rivers, The Opinion Makers, op. cit., footnote 19, p. 197. 

31. William Allen White, "Publishers Menace Their Own Freedom," quoted in George L. 
Bird, et at., The Press and Society (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1951), pp. 74-75. 

32. William Rivers, op. cit., footnote 19, pp. 175-178. 

33. "AM-FM Broadcast Financial Data, 1967" FCC Public Notice 27306, Feb. 7, 
1969-B. 

34. Some of the factual material in this section is drawn from Dr. Bogart's paper for the 
Task Force (reprinted as Appendix II-A). The conclusions are those of the Task 
Force and do not necessarily reflect Dr. Bogart's views. 

35. Ibid. 

36. FCC Public Notice, op. cit., footnote 33. 

37. "TV Broadcast Financial Data," FCC Public Notice 26097, Dec. 31, 1967. 

38. Bogart, op. cit., footnote 34. 

39. "TV Broadcast Financial Data, 1966," FCC Public Notice 5317, Aug. 25, 1967. 

40. Ibid. The 1967 earnings may be atypical; earnings in 1966 were $186.8 million on 



100 Mass Media and Violence 

assets of $126 million, a 148% return on book value of assets. 

41. John G. Udell, The Growth of the American Daily Newspaper; An Economic 
Analysis (Madison: Bureau of Business Research and Service, School of Commerce, 
University of Wisconsin, 1965). 

42. Bogart, op. cit., footnote 34. 

43. Brian McNamara, Failing Newspaper Hearings, op. cit., footnote 27, p. 419. 

44. Testimony of Robert MacNail before the NCCPV, Dec. 18, 1968, transcript, p. 21. 
Howard K. Smith had such an experience on a "News and Comment" program on 
the political obituary of Richard Nixon. The show included a 2-minute interview 
with Alger Hiss. "/T/ here was a prompt rush for the door by several sponsors of 
other ABC programs, apparently on the theory that breaking a contract is better 
business than staying in the vicinity of adult reportage. At the end of the season, 
Smith's own sponsor deserted him. But the starkest display of apologetic journalism 
came from two of the ABC stations that refused to broadcast the program, then 
blacked out references to it in the next day's news reports." 

45. "Giving Readers the Business," Chicago Journalism Review, October 1968, p. 3. 

46. Ibid. 

47. William L. Rivers, Failing Newspaper Hearings, op. cit., footnote 29, pp. 394-395. 

48. See also, "The Whole World is Watching," Public Broadcast Laboratory Broadcast, 
Dec. 22, 1968, at 8: 30 'p.m., script p. 18. 

49. There is some research on this point, most of it quite old: See, discussion and 
sources cited in Klapper, op. cit., footnote 12, pp. 38-43. One or two additional 
studies will be published in the next year. 

50. Robert NacNeil, "The News on TV and How It Is Unmade," Harpers, May 1968, p. 
75. 

51. Testimony of Robert MacNeil, NCCPV Hearings, Dec. 18, 1968, transcript p. 21. 

52. 1969 Broadcasting Yearbook, p. 11. 

53. Ibid. pp. E8-E15. 

54. Ibid. pp. E8-E-18. 

55. Bryce Rucker, The First Freedom (Southern Illinois University Press, 1968, p. 67. 

56. Ibid. pp. 189-194. 

57. Ibid. p. 68. 

58. Bogart, op. cit., footnote 3. 

59. Ibid. 

60. Ibid. 

61. Rucker, op. cit., footnote 55, p. 20. 

62. Bogart, op. cit., footnote 34; Rucker, op. cit., footnote 25, p. 282. 

63. Rucker, Failing Newspaper Hearings, op. cit., footnote 25, p. 281. 

64. Kenneth R. Byerly, "Newspaper Battle in Suburbia: Goliath vs. David," 
Media/Scope (August 1964), pp. 58-66. 

65. Loyal B. Phillips, former president and publisher of fate Evening Independent of St. 
Petersburg, Fla., testified: "In many cases the dominant newspaper holds exclusive 
contracts on the best editorial columns, women's features, comics, etc ... In some 
instances the metropolitan dailies control publishing rights on syndicated features 
for smaller nearby cities, thus preventing publication in small city . newspapers. 
Sometimes the dominant newspapers tie up syndicated features without using 
them." Testimony before the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Committee on the 
Judiciary Hearings on Concentration of Ownership in News Media, Mar. 14, 1963. 
The Transcript is in the office of Chairman Emanual Celler. "The Philadelphia 
Evening Bulletin pays $250 a week for Drew Pearson on the condition that Pearson 
will not be sold to any other paper in Pennsylvania, in Delaware, and in part of New 
Jersey." William Rivers, Failing Newspaper Hearings, op. cit., footnote 25, p. 395. 
For a discussion of the role of synicated features in the economics of newspaper 
publishing see Rucker, op. cit., footnote 55, pp. 60-79. 

66. United States V. World- Journal-Tribune, Inc., Civ. 66-2967 (S.D.N.Y.). 

67. The most recent recap of this history is in Rucker, op. cit., footnote 55, pp. 60-79. 

68. United States V. Chattanooga News-Free Press Co, Crim. 7978 (E.D. Tenn: 1940) 
United States V. Lorain Journal Company, Civ. 26823 (N.D. Ohio: 1949) aff d 342 
U.S. 143 (1951); United States V. The Nams -field Journal company, Civ. 28235 



The Marketplace Myth: Access to the Mass Media 101 

(N.D. Ohio: 1951); United States V. The Kansas City Star Co. (Crim. 18444): 240 
F. 2d 643 (8th civ. 1957) cert, denied 354 U.S. 923 (19 ); United States V. The 
Kansas City Star Co., (Civ 7989; United States V. Witchita Eagle Publishing Co., 
Inc., Civ. W 1876 (D. Kansas): (1959); United States V. Times Picayune Publishing 
Company, Civ. 1797 (E.D. La.: 1950) rev'd 345 U.S. 594 (19 ); United States V. 
Harte-Hanks Newspapers, Inc. Crim 15393 (N.D. Tex). See 170F. Supp. 227 (N.D. 
Tex,, 1959); United States V. The Lima News, Civ. 64-178 (W.D. Ohio: 1964); 
United States V. Lindsay -Schaub Newspapers, Inc. Civ. 6748D (E.D. 111.: 1967). 

69. See Robert L. Grain, "Desegregation in New Orleans," Part III on The Politics of 
School Desegration (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 235-322. 

70. William R. Carmack, "Media Role in Aiding Social Change," American Journal of 
Ortho-psychiatry, (1959), p. 539; Stewart E. Perry, "The Conflict for the News 
Editor in Desegregation Disturbances: A Case Study in an American Social Process," 
Psychiatry (1963), pp. 352-367. In each of these cases there was a commitment by 
the community elite to avoid violence. Over a two-year period prior to integration in 
New Orleans, WDSU-TV repeatedly stated editorially that Southern cities that 
accepted integration peacefully had better future prospects and that "beating up 
freedom riders and calling on the empty legal doctrine of inter-position [which the 
Louisiana legislature did] were not the tactics of sane or reasonable people." William 
B. Monroe, Jr., "Television: The Chosen Instrument of the Revolution," Race and 
the News Media Paul L. Fisher & Ralph Lowenstein ed., (Anti-Defamation League of 
B'nai B'rith, 1967), pp. 85-86. 

71. Richard Salant, quoted in George N. Gordon and Irving A. Falk, TV Covers the 
Action, (New York: Julian Messner, 1968), p. 166. 

72. Sophy Burnham, "Telling It Like It Isn't," New York Times Magazine, Sept. 16, 
1968, p. 13. 

73. Ibid. p.14. 

74. Douglass Cater, The Fourth Branch of Government (New York: Vintage Books, 
1959), pp. 58-59. 

IS. Ibid. pp. 59-60. 

76. Time, Apr. 18, 1969, pp. 22-23. 

77. Robert NacNeil, The People Machine (New York: Harper & Row, 1968, pp. 
315-316. 

78. William L. Rivers and Wilbur Schramm, Responsibility in Mass Communication 
(New York: Harper & Row, 1969), p. 97. 

79. Lawrence Fanning, Race and the News Media, p. 1 10. 

80. Quoted by Monroe, Jr. op. cit. t footnote 70, p. 88. 

81. Daniel Walker, Rights in Conflict, A Report to the National Commission on the 
Causes and Prevention of Violence (New York: Bantam, 1968), p. 303-304. 

82. Monroe, jr. op. cit., footnote 70, pp. 91-92. 

83. Quoted by MacNeil, op. cit., footnote 50, p. 75. 



Chapter 6 
COVERAGE OF CIVIL DISORDERS 



In contrast to demonstrations, coverage of civil disorders raises slightly 
more difficult and serious issues. Some police officials believe that coverage 
of civil disorders in other cities encourages violence in their jurisdictions and, 
once a disturbance has begun, local coverage contributes to the size of the 
crowd and escalation of violence. In the spring of 1968, the executive 
director of the International Association of Police Chiefs, Quinn Tamm, 
stated, "If destructive and fatal riots occur in American cities this year, a 
major share of the blame must fall upon the shoulders of sensational 
'journalists' and overnight pundits of the press who are assiduously stoking 
the fires of unrest." 

Some evidence supports this view. Morris Janowitz has written that it is 
"... impossible to rule out the contention that detailed coverage of riots had 
an effect on potential rioters" and on the public at large. In addition to the 
instance where the presence of the camera has led rioters or police to play to 
the television audience and thereby exacerbate tensions and aggressive 
behavior, the more important feature is the impact of rioting on the wider 
audience: 

Again we are dealing with a process of social learning, especially for 
potential participants. Rioting is based on contagion, the process by 
which the mood and attitudes of those who are actually caught up in 
the riot are disseminated to a larger audience on the basis of direct 
contact. Television images serve to spread the contagion pattern 
throughout urban areas and the nation. Large audiences see the details 
of riots, the manner in which people participate in them, and especially 
the ferment associated with looting and obtaining commodities which 
was so much at the heart of riot behavior. Television presents detailed 
information about the tactics of participation and the gratifications 
that were derived . . . The media disseminate symbols of identification 
used by the rioters and their rationalizations. The mass media serve to 
reenforce and spread a feeling of consciousness among those who 
participate or sympathize with extremist actions, regardless of the 



103 



104 Mass Media and Violence 

actions' origins. In particular, television offers them a mass audience far 
beyond their most optimistic aspirations. 1 

Prior to the disorder in Watts in 1965, the American news media had little 
recent experience in covering the civil disorders which have plagued the 
nation since. Media personnel made errors of judgment, as did others 
involved in these civil disorders. The judiciary, for example, was not equipped 
to handle the large number of arrests and arraignments required in Watts in 
1965, Detroit in 1967, or Washington, D.C., and Chicago in 1968. Detention 
facilities were inadequate. The police were trained to act as individuals or 
groups of two and three. This training was clearly inadequate to deal with the 
massive disturbance which required a well disciplined force acting in unison in 
groups of 20 or more. The National Guard's performance in Detroit made it 
clear that special training and rules of conduct were necessary if they were to 
function efficiently and not contribute to racial tension. It was not until after 
the Kerner Commission recommended special training for Guard troops and 
the Attorney General and the International Association of Police Chiefs 
sponsored a conference at Airlie House in December 1967 for law 
enforcement officials from major cities that substantial progress began. 
Although the slow response of other organizations directly charged with 
maintaining the peace in our cities does not justify the errors of media 
performance, it does suggest that the media have a good deal of company. 
Moreover, it contains another important lesson: because an organization 
makes mistakes in the course of a civil disorder whether it be the police or 
the news media it does not necessarily follow that their role should be 
abolished. The mistakes should not be repeated and the salutary activities 
should be continued. 

The most important function the news media serve during periods of civil 
disorder is communication of accurate information. Almost invariably, if a 
modicum of journalistic responsibility is exercised, the information relayed 
by the news media will be more conservative than the rumors that would 
circulate in its absence. When suggesting non-coverage, most critics overlook 
the possibility that the information that will dominate is more likely to 
escalate violence than media coverage. 

The media, however, cannot cover events in any manner they please, nor 
is their past performance flawless. The decision to bar media coverage is a 
dangerous one, and the substitution of governmental news sources is 
undesirable. Although the latter alternative might provide information that 
most white adults believe, in many communities the majority of young blacks 
and important segments of the young white population would not. 

Only four media practices perhaps more accurately malpractices make 
the desirability of coverage a close question. The first is media dissemination 
of rumors. The second is live coverage that informs potential looters and 
arsonists of the deployment of police or otherwise aids them in evading 
apprehension. Third is coverage that is apt to draw people to the scenes of a 
disorder when police seek to disperse the crowd. Last is the coverage of violent 
or other events likely to have a high emotional impact on the viewer without 
providing perspective a practice defended by the television newsman on the 
ground that pictures do not lie. Some news organizations engaged in all four 
of these practices in the coverage of the 1965 Watts disorder. 



Coverage of Civil Disorders 105 

A. Watts 

John McCone, chairman of the commission which investigated the Watts 
disorder, concluded that any investigation of the news media coverage would 
be counter-productive; he believed that even if news coverage did contribute 
to the disturbance, the Commission had more to lose by criticizing than it 
could possibly gain through making suggestions that might persuade the 
media to modify their practices. 2 The McCone Commission's observation on 
the media were limited to three very mild paragraphs. The one specific 
comment was on coverage of a meeting of community leaders called to 
determine what might be done to quell the rioting started the night before. 
The television media were present. The meeting became a public forum where 
complaints from members of the Watts community were aired. Among the 
complaints were charges of police harassment, use of poverty funds to pay 
high salaries to city bureaucrats, and that Mayor Yorty, elected in 1960 with 
strong support from the black community, had ignored their problems. 

The mother of the man whose arrest had sparked the disorders was 
present. She had also been arrested. Addressing the group, she said, "I am the 
woman who was arrested last night . . . But I'm not here to talk about that. 
I'm here to ask you, please, to help me and to help others in this community 
to calm the situation down so that we will not have a riot tonight." Voices in 
the audience endorsed her plea. 

At that point, a young man about 16 years old seized the microphone: 
"It's like this, the way the policemens treat you round here, I'm going to tell 
you something. It ain't going to be lovely tonight whether you like it or not!" 
Those present showed their disapproval with whistles and jeers. He 
continued: 

I was down on Avalon last night, and we the Negro people have got 
completely fed up! They not going to fight down here no more. You 
know where they going to fight? They're after the Whiteys! They going 
to congregate. They don't care! They going out to Inglewood, Playa del 
Rey, and everywhere else the white man supposed to stay. They going 
to do the white man in tonight. And I'm going to you you ..." 

There was no question that the meeting was newsworthy. It is even possible 
that the young man's statement was newsworthy. It is doubtful, however, 
that the people who broadcast it had any notion of whether this young man 
had a following, whether there was any truth to what he said, or whether he 
was representing only himself and trying to steal a little air time. 

One of the moderates at the meeting who saw the telecast responded: 
"Man, how come you come here stooging us like that? The white man ain't 
interested in nothing. Look to me like he want us to riot!" Another said: 
"Sure, baby! If that's the way they want to read it, that's the way we'll write 
the book!" 3 

Television told it the way it wasn't. This kind of coverage invites 
overresponse by the white community. It generates resentment in the black 
community. The Los Angeles performance should set to rest forever the myth 
that the camera cannot lie. What was reported was true, but the message 
received was probably 99 percent false. The news media must show more 
concern for the accuracy of the message received. It is not enough that the 



106 Mass Media and Violence 

message sent is literally true. Showing the most dramatic aspect of the 
unusual can distort the message as much as false statements. By focusing only 
on the statement of the boy, a small slice of a significant event, the media 
misled and angered parts of their audience. 

The second objection to the coverage of the Watts disorder, even more 
serious, was the indiscriminate dissemination of rumor. The most valuable 
function the media can serve in periods of high stress is to provide accurate 
information. When the media disseminate every available rumor, however, a 
good case can be made for eliminating coverage. Consider the following 
descriptions of media reporting on Watts: 

Chief Parker's office resembled the locker room of a team that has 
just won the world series. A television crew with live cameras was 
parked there permanently. Up to 20 reporters, filling the air with 
smoke and babble, were in constant attendance, moving out only to file 
stories and meet deadlines. Every report, every rumor that came in was 
immediately relayed raw and without qualification . . . 

Television and radio faithfully transmitted each of these reports 
without evaluation, and the listener, who was in no position to make 
any judgment, and who never learned that the ominous snipers 
downtown were a couple of drunks or that the location of the men seen 
loading shotguns was that of the Hollywood police station, assumed the 
worst and made it a banner weekend for gunshop owners, with sales up 
more than 250 per cent. 

Chief Parker told the press he continued to believe the rioting was 
unorganized, but that "I will say that other elements moved into it." 
The Los Angeles Times "interpreted" this as "Parker Hints Muslims 
Took Part in Rioting." 4 

This kind of reporting leaves the media with almost no useful function to 
serve during periods of civil crisis. 

The third lesson from Watts teaches that live coverage can provide 
information to would-be looters and arsonists about the deployment of police 
and troops, and thereby assist them in evading apprehension. During the 
Watts disorders, live television coverage came via helicopter. While such 
coverage may have provided fast and accurate information to the public and 
to the police about the scale of the disorders, it also may have had a harmful 
effect. 5 At the Poughkeepsie Conference, sponsored by the Kerner 
Commission, representatives from the television industry agreed that live 
television coverage of Watts also inflamed the issue. Network news executives, 
as a result, expressed doubts that television would ever again present live 
coverage of a civil disorder. 6 

B. The 1967 Disturbances 

In his charge to the Kerner Commission, President Johnson expressly 
requested they investigate "What effect do the mass media have on riots?" 
The Commission reached three conclusions: 

First, that despite instances of sensationalism, inaccuracies, and 



Coverage of Civil Disorders 107 

distortions, newspapers, radio, and television, on the whole, made a real 
effort to give a balanced, factual account of the 1967 disorders. 

Second, that despite this effort, the portrayal of the violence that 
occurred last summer failed to reflect accurately its scale and character. 
The overall effect was, we believe, an exaggeration of both mood and 
event. 

Third, and ultimately most important, we believe that the media 
have thus far failed to report adequately on the causes and 
consequences of civil disorders and the underlying problems of race 
relations. 7 

Many media representatives interpreted the report as having vindicated 
their performance. If measured against the more extreme allegations made 
against the media prior to the report's release, such may be the case, but it 
cannot be concluded from the report and the studies on which it was based 
that all the media learned their lessons in Watts. 

The Commission found that the main causes of the imbalance that did 
occur were: 

[A] significant imbalance between what actually happened in our 
cities and what the newspaper, radio, and television coverage of the 
riots told us happened ... We found that the disorders, as serious as 
they were, were less destructive, less widespread, and less of a 
black-white confrontation than most people believed . . . 

[D] espite the overall statistical picture, there were instances of gross 
flaws in presenting news of the 1967 riots. Some newspapers printed 
scare headlines unsupported by the mild stories that followed. All 
media reported rumors that had no basis in fact. Some newsmen staged 
riot events for the cameras . . . 

[T]he press obtained much factual information about the scale of 
the disorders property damage, personal injury, and deaths from local 
officials, who often were inexperienced in dealing with civil disorders 
and not always able to sort out fact from rumor in the confusion . . . 

[T]he coverage of the disorders particularly on television tended 
to define the events as black-white confrontations. In fact, almost all of 
the deaths, injuries, and property damage occurred in the all-Negro 
neighborhoods, and thus the disorders were not "race riots" as the term 

[T] he main failure of the media last summer was that the totality of 
its coverage was not as representative as it should have been to be 
accurate. We believe that to live up to their own professed standards, 
the media simply must exercise a higher degree of care and a greater 
level of sophistication than they have shown in this area higher, 
perhaps, than the level ordinarily acceptable with other stories. 8 

The Kerner Commission's finding that television c6verage of the disorders 
was generally calm is predicated on the assumption that the number of 
sequences is the relevant standard of measurement. Of the 955 sequences 
from local and national television analyzed, 27.4 percent were classified as 
emotional, 51.7 percent were found to be calm. These findings supported the 
conclusion that coverage was relatively calm. Yet the quantity of emotional 



108 Mass Media and Violence 

versus calm material tells very little about the effect of the material broadcast 
on viewers. At the Democratic National Convention, CBS news devoted a 
total of 38 hours and 3 minutes to coverage of the convention, but only 32 
minutes and 20 seconds, or 1 .4 percent, were devoted to film or tape 
coverage of the demonstrations. On the NBC network, out of a total of 19 
hours and 37 minutes of its overall convention coverage, approximately 13 
minutes and 49 seconds were devoted to film or tape coverage of disorders 
involving demonstrations and police. 8 If all convention activities that might 
have been stimulated by the disorders were included in the CBS count, e.g., 
the speech by Senator Ribicoff, the total amount of time devoted to 
disorders, both calm and emotional, figures at less than 4 percent. But in view 
of the letters and phone calls received by the networks and the FCC, this 
material had a tremendous impact. 

The research of Benjamin D. Singer on persons arrested during the 1967 
Detroit riots also suggests that the emotional sequences tend to dominate. 
When asked, "What were most people doing in these riots [seen on 
television] ," 46 percent remembered property being destroyed or looted, 28 
percent perceived whites committing aggression against Negroes, 14 percent 
reported that they had seen fighting in a general sense, and 9 percent reported 
Negroes fighting against law enforcement officials and soldiers. 1 c 

As Martin S. Hayden, editor and chief of the Detroit News, has observed: 

Even though the Commission's own content analysis indicates that 
emotional, violent scenes were a minor proportion of the entire 
coverage, it remains obvious that one picture of angry blacks smashing 
stores, or policemen blazing away at a building, has an impact greater 
by far than a dozen portrayals of civic leaders urging calm or expressing 
concern, and another dozen dispassionate discussions of the underlying 
causes. 1 1 

A second conclusion, that the coverage was generally factual and balanced, 
is also suspect. To have reached the conclusion that coverage was factual and 
balanced, it would have been necessary to examine not only the content of 
the television materials broadcast, but also to have observers on the scene of 
the disorder to record what they saw. This was the approach taken in 
assessing the accuracy of the coverage of a MacArthur Day parade back in 
1952. 12 Although not 'perfect, in the absence of having such observers, the 
observations of ghetto residents are the next best standard for comparison. 
They concluded overwhelmingly a consistent exaggeration and 
unrepresentative coverage. 

Interviews with 567 Negroes in seven cities indicated that consistently 
they felt that local and national news media greatly exaggerated the rioting in 
the cities. Those interviewed thought that the news media focused on: 
(1) the amount of damage done by rioters; (2) how rampant damage was; 
(3) the amount of looting done; (4) how many persons were arrested; 
(5) the presence of guns or other weapons used by rioters. They also 
indicated that other crucial and widespread incidents were either never 
reported or, if reported, not adequately. Negroes interviewed said that 
sensationalism, the result of quoting uninformed sources rather than seeking 
out reliable sources of information, was geared to widen misunderstanding 
between Negroes and whites. 



Coverage of Civil Disorders 109 

Ghetto residents felt that the news media placed no emphasis on the 
amount of police brutality or the number of deaths inflicted by police, -state 
troopers and federal troops; on the attempts at riot control by members of 
the Negro community or outsiders and that such attempts were discouraged 
by the authorities. The local news media, Negroes contended, sympathized 
with and were in complete accord with city officials and police action in 
controlling the rioting. 

Persons interviewed in ghetto areas suggested that network coverage 
"overplayed" and exaggerated, but that local newscasts had more balance and 
accuracy. Field researchers reported a high degree of hostility toward 
television among ghetto residents particularly Negro teenagers based on 
what they felt was a pronounced discrepancy between what they saw 
happening in the riots and what they saw on television. 

The Kerner Commission study concluded that newspaper coverage, like 
television coverage, was generally calm, factual, and restrained, not emotional 
or inflammatory. Of the total of 3,045 riot-related articles, 502 (16.5 
percent) focused primarily on legislation that should be sought and planning 
that should be done to prevent or control future riots. Approximately 45.8 
percent focused upon the action of the disorders: defiance and mob action; 
police brutality; fire bombing, arson; Negro attack against enforcement 
agents; sniping; looting, vandalism; harm to property or persons; general 
disorder; and enforcement, containment or control. The newspaper analyst 
got less of an impression than the television analyst of the riots as a 
confrontation between whites and Negroes. 

Newspapers tended to characterize the disorder as national, rather than 
local phenomena, especially when the rioting was in the newspaper's 
hometown-a view that squares with the Chamber of Commerce perspective 
of local newspapers to downplay difficulties in their community and focus 
upon problems of other communities. In addition, by portraying the 
disorders as national rather than local phenomena, the implication persisted 
that no special fault lay with local residents. 

During the actual disorders, the newspapers in each city studied tended to 
emphasize the news of racial problems elsewhere. At least 40 percent of all 
stories originated from other than local sources. Newspapers gave almost as 
much headline coverage to riots in other cities as they did to the riot in their 
own cities. In part, this may be the result of exaggerated wire-service stories. 

Martin Hay den, has suggested 

"an almost mathematical relationship between the level of exaggeration 
and the distance of news transmission. Detroiters following their 
newspapers and local TV and radio stations had no illusions: the 
situation was bad. Anyone trying to follow the story from California 
got a different mixture of fact and fiction suggesting the whole city was 
'gone.' Take my word for it; Detroit is still there." 1 3 

Much of the responsibility, he says, can be traced to the wire service: 

The problem began with press association transmission .... On the 

second day of the riot UPI reported: 

Detroit-National Guard tanks rumbled through blazing, riot-torn 

Negro neighborhoods where gunfire left dead and wounded in the 

streets and entire blocks of buildings ablaze. 



1 10 Mass Media and Violence 

Our managing editor called to complain that nobody could find 
UPI's tanks. The press association responded with proof: a photograph 
of tanks in a school yard where they stayed parked for another day 
while media in other cities still had them "rumbling" through Detroit's 
streets. 

On the Friday of the riot week the trouble essentially was over. The 
Detroit News front page featured a think piece on snipers and who they 
might have been. Our page one picture was of two national guardsmen 
watching a shapely girl sashaying down the street. But UPI that 
morning reported: 

Jumpy police and national guardsmen, using tanks and machine 
guns, waged war early today with savage snipers, the hard-core 
remnants of a riot which wracked Detroit with the worst racial violence 
in modern U.S. History. 

A third example came over UPI wires on July 28: 

Chicago More than 200 people have been killed in the Detroit 
rioting but the news media have intentionally withheld the story from 
the public, according to Negro entertainer and civil rights activist Dick 
Gregory. 

Ten paragraphs said Gregory had "proof of the charge. The UPI 
staff in Detroit knew it was hokum. But we still are trying to live the 
story down. There remain people convinced that somebody achieved 
the remarkable and disposed of hundreds of bodies. 14 

Reports like these clarify why some newspaper editors felt that the disorders 
in other cities were more newsworthy. 

As in Watts, the Kerner Commission learned that the media did pass on 
rumors: 

In Detroit, a radio station broadcast a rumor, based on a telephone 
tip, that Negroes planned to invade suburbia one night later; if plans 
existed, they never materialized. 

In Cincinnati, several outlets ran a story about white youths arrested 
for possessing a bazooka; only a few reports mentioned that the 
weapon was inoperable. 

In Tampa, a newspaper repeatedly indulged in speculation about 
impending trouble. When the state attorney ruled the fatal shooting of 
a Negro youth justifiable homicide, the paper's news columns reported: 
"There were fears today thatthe ruling would stir new race problems for 
Tampa tonight." The day before, the paper quoted one "top lawman" 
as telling reporters "he now fears that Negro residents in the Central 
Avenue project and in the West Tampa trouble spots feel they are in 
competition and trying to see which can cause the most unrest which 
area can become the center of attraction." 

A West Coast newspaper put out an edition headlined: "Rioting 
Erupts in Washington, D.C. Negroes Hurl Bottles, Rocks at Police Near 
White House." The story did not support the headline. It reported what 
was actually the fact: that a number of teenage Negroes broke store 



Coverage of Civil Disorders 111 

windows and threw bottles and stones at police and firemen near 
downtown Washington, a mile or more from the White House. On the 
other hand, the same paper did not report unfounded local rumors of 
sniping when other news media did. 1 5 

Not without some justification, therefore, have some law enforcement 
officials doubted the efficacy of media coverage. Yet these examples are 
considerably weaker than those of rumors disseminated by the media during 
Watts. 

C 1968 

This Commission did not conduct any factual investigation of the 
disorders that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Quite 
early, the Media Task Force considered contracting a content analysis similar 
to that sponsored by the Kerner Commission. After discussing the matter 
with research organizations, and after evaluating the utility of a content 
analysis without having had observers on the scene, the Task Force concluded 
that the possible results could not justify the expenditure. 

The various fact-finding Task Forces in Chicago, Miami, Cleveland, and 
San Franciso were requested to evaluate the role of the media, but time 
limitations made comprehensive evaluation almost impossible. With regard to 
Chicago, it might have been feasible to have undertaken such a study using 
the substantial outtakes from both NBC and CBS as a gauge. CBS however, 
refused to entertain any inquiry into its "news judgment," and NBC, while 
not flatly refusing, expressed strong reservations. 

From the Chicago, Miami, Cleveland, and San Francisco reports, from 
interviews with representatives of the news media, and from other sources, 
both public and private, we have concluded, not surprisingly, that some news 
organizations have made substantial progress toward responsible coverage of 
disorders while others, unfortunately, have made little or none. 

The mayor of the District of Columbia, Walter Washington, said, toward 
the end of the April 1968 disorders: 

I must say at this point never in my public life have I seen a more 
responsive press and a more responsive media. I should say for the 
citizens of this city that I am appreciative for the press, radio and TV 
that have reported, and reported accurately, and reported well and fast, 
so that you could keep abreast and be assured of the condition as it 
advanced and progressed. 

But a study conducted by the Lemberg Center at Brandeis University also 
indicates that coverage of urban violence needs improvement. The analysis of 
press reactions to 25 alleged sniping incidents in 24 cities during July and 
August of 1968 illustrates the effects of the newsman's pursuit of conflict 
upon news judgment. 

The Lemberg Center study concluded that the disorders of July 23-26, 
1968, in Cleveland, involving pitched gun battles between black nationalists 
and police, shaped press interpretations of subsequent sniping incidents in 
other cities. The Cleveland Press and the New York Times both characterized 



1 12 Mass Media and Violence 

the Cleveland disorder as an organized plot against the police. Subsequent 
reports of sniping in other cities supported the view that a new phase in the 
course of racial conflict had begun, and this view became widespread. On 
August 3, 1968 the New York Times said in an editorial: 

. . . The pattern in 1967 has not proven to be the pattern of 1968. 
Instead of violence almost haphazardly exploding, it has sometimes 
been deliberately planned. And while the 1967 disorders served to rip 
away false facades of racial progress and expose rusting junkyards of 
broken promises, the 1968 disorders also reveal a festering militancy 
that prompts some to resort to open warfare. 1 6 

Again, on Sept. 13, 1968, Time took note of an "ominous trend" in the 
country: 

Violence as a form of Negro protest appears to be changing from the 
spontaneous combustion of a mob to the premeditated shoot-outs of 
the farout few. Many battles have started with well planned sniping at 
police. 1 7 

The Brandeis study of these 25 incidents does not support this view. In 20 
of the 25 disorders, there was no evidence of planning. Seventeen were traced 
to unplanned incidents, frequently related to police action. Of the other five 
incidents, only in Cleveland was there any significant evidence of planning, 
and even that is in doubt. 1 8 

Analysis of newspaper clippings and interviews with police officials from 
each of the 24 cities led to the following conclusions: 

1 . The overwhelming number of disorders surveyed failed to display 
conclusive evidence of a new type of racial violence based on 
conspiracy and guerilla tactics. 

1 Initial versus later reports of sniping showed many discrepancies 
concerning the amount of sniping. These discrepancies included a 
downward revision of early sniping figures, particularly where the 
following items were concerned: the number of snipers involved, the 
number of shots fired, and the number of policemen involved as targets. 

3. The press at both the local and national level was inclined 
toward imprecise, distorted, inaccurate reporting. In some instances, 
the press revealed a tendency to needlessly sensationalize the news. 

These findings lead to the conclusion that sniping reports have 
generally been exaggerated and that recent suggestions of a new 'trend' 
of racial violence based upon the events of last summer are highly 
questionable. 

The Lemberg criticism of both the local and national press the wire 
services, individual newspapers, and the national news magazines sharpens to 
a few salient observations: early press reports were inaccurate and distorted; 
too little attention was given to the immediate causes of the disturbances; 
and, in the aftermath, few attempts (with the notable exception of the New 
York Time's on the Cleveland disorders) were made to verify previous 



Coverage of Civil Disorders 113 

statements or to assess the tensions and grievances rooted in the community. 
Failing on all these fronts, the national press, in particular, was overzealous in 
its reports of a "trend" based on limited and unconfirmed evidence. 

D. Reporting Civil Disorders 

The Kerner Commission made several recommendations to improve media 
performance during civil disorders. The Media Task Force endorses each of 
them. 

Much of what should be done requires only good judgment and planning. 
Local media should contact their law enforcement agencies, and receive 
briefings at least twice a year on the prospects for violent disorders and 
whenever a planned event has a potential for violence. At such a briefing, 
they should be advised of the plans the police have made for dealing with 
emergencies and their reasons for the planned response. When violence erupts, 
the police should be prepared to establish channels of communication with 
the news media to assure the rapid and efficient flow of information. 

The need for such a system was apparent in Detroit: 

At a time of rioting, rumors are rampant and tend to grow as 
exhaustion sets in. Tensions rise and incidents tend to be exaggerated 
by overreaction. These rumors can have serious effects. 

Authoritative sources of information must be identified quickly, 
developed on a priority basis and maintained, with full reliance placed 
on them. Regular news conferences must be held by senior civilian and 
military officials; if they are not, the press will follow the sensational 
reports and fan the rumors. Members of the press, as feasible, should be 
permitted to accompany senior officials on tours of the riot areas, and 
to share in their evaluations in order to provide the facts to the public 
quickly and authoritatively. Regular formal contact with the press 
should be augmented by frequent background briefings for community 
leaders because rumors flourish at all levels. 19 

Conflict will naturally arise between the objectives of the news media and 
the objectives of the police. The newsmen want to report as fully as possible; 
the police want to prevent escalation of the disorder and to restore the peace. 
Yet the police and press have common interests. Full, fast, and accurate 
reporting can make a contribution to restoring order. On balance, the effects 
of coverage of civil disorders are positive; but the news organizations can take 
steps to reduce even further the negative effects of their reporting, and in 
important measure, their success depends upon the full cooperation of local 
officials. 

Prior liaison by the media should not be limited to the police. If the news 
organization has followed the Task Force suggestions made earlier to establish 
communication with Negro and with other dissident organizations in the 
community, they will also tap these news sources. But development of these 
sources must be made prior to the disturbance; without them, there can be no 
balanced coverage. 

Advance contact with rumor centers is also important. During the April 



1 14 Mass Media and Violence 

1968 disorders, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and several other cities 
established rumor centers, which consisted of a battery of telephones manned 
by persons provided with the latest information. Through regular reports 
from such a rumor center, the media can be in a much better position to 
determine the most frequent rumors and thereby be better able to perform 
their important function of destroying rumors. 

Collectively, and within their own organizations, the news media can 
accomplish much before the disorder starts. Indeed, how much they do may 
determine whether it starts at all or, if it does, how much it grows. 

The most controversial and difficult issue for radio and television centers 
on the delay of news. Where the news event is of a kind likely to symbolize 
past injustices to any significant group in the community, there is a danger 
that such an event may trigger a large-scale disorder. 20 Moreover, once a 
crowd has begun to gather at the scene of such an event, immediate broadcast 
of the event and its precise location is likely to draw additional persons to the 
area and add to crowd-control problems of the police, thereby contributing 
to the likelihood of a violent outbreak and its severity if it does occur. 
Consider the following example from this Commission's Miami Task Force 
report: 

[During the early minutes of the riot in Miami] , as at all times before 
and after, the activities of the news media were unrestricted in the area 
of the disturbances. They used their own discretion in determining 
where to go and what to do. The fact that the disturbances were taking 
place was aired promptly on two radio stations serving primarily black 
community. One newscaster made a telephone call to one of the 
stations from the scene, and his report came "live" on the air in the 
midst of a popular rock-n-roll show. This medium, perhaps more than 
any other was responsible for quickly spreading the word and attracting 
more people to the scene with concomitant problems. 2 1 

No two events are exactly the same. The solution necessarily rests in the 
competence and good judgment of newsmen and media executives, but recent 
experience does suggest some of the considerations to be weighed in deciding 
how soon to report inflammatory incidents and how to report them without 
contributing to already overburdened police officials and, in some cases, to 
alleviate tension. 

Once it is decided that the incident is potentially inflammatory or may 
attract a crowd to the scene, most of the newsmen with whom we have 
discussed the problem suggest a delay of a least 30 minutes to confirm the 
story, make sure the facts are clear, and to avoid exaggeration. Under 
particular circumstances it may require a delay of an hour or longer. Media 
transmittal of unconfirmed reports, emotional or unbalanced accounts, and 
visual portrayals of violence without perspective can do at least as much 
damage as news delay. Where community- wide guidelines are in effect, it is 
best to designate one journalist representative to determine the length of the 
embargo. Such centralization eliminates the competitive pressures that tend 
to undermine this policy. A complete embargo beyond one hour, and 
preferably beyond 30 minutes, probably cannot be justified. 2 2 

There are at least three reasons for this: (1) failure to make any report 



Coverage of Civil Disorders 1 15 

will result in the spread of unchallenged rumors; (2) additional delay will 
impair the credibility of the media, perhaps not for that particular incident 
but for future incidents; (3) persons who might otherwise travel through the 
area must be advised to avoid it. 

News of the 1943 Detroit race riot was censored because of the war. Yet, 
Negroes in rural Mississippi, 700 miles away, received news of the event one 
day later from Pullman car porters on the Illinois Central Railroad. 2 3 

In June 1967, a Negro male was found dead in his cell at the Onondaga 
County Public Safety Building in Syracuse, N.Y. Word spread throughout the 
city that he had been shot. Onondaga County Sheriff Patrick Corbitt initiated 
a tour of the cell area and presented a statement to five Negro clergymen 
concerning the incident. The spokesman for the Negro ministers as well as the 
county coroner appeared on television. They reported that the cause of death 
was definitely not external injury. Some local officials believed that these 
immediate steps to broadcast the findings reduced the possibility of trouble. 

In Washington, D.C., the shooting of a woman near 14th and U Streets by 
a white police officer resulted in a minor disturbance. All the ingredients for a 
disorder were present. Rumors had already started to the effect that a child 
and two women, one of them pregnant, had been shot and killed by a white 
policeman. One department spokesman, present at the scene, stated that it 
took about 1.2 seconds for the rumor to run from 14th and U Streets to 14th 
and Columbia Road and back, a distance of several blocks. This same officer 
reported that on-the-spot coverage of the incident by black journalists 
resulted in the quick dissemination of accurate information which calmed 
residents in the area. Three important factors worked together: restraint, a 
credible medium, and police/media cooperation. 

If any doubt persists that news of an incident will travel throughout the 
community regardless of whether it is reported, recall that the Kerner 
Commission survey found that during the Detroit riot, where the news 
embargo extended well beyond an hour, 74 percent of the ghetto residents 
interviewed learned of the disorder through word of mouth. As a general rule, 
communications through such channels will be a gross exaggeration of any 
injustice that may have occurred, or even a complete fabrication. In Watts, 
for example, the arrest of an intoxicated driver drew a crowd. A woman 
wearing a barber's smock was also arrested for assaulting an officer. But, the 
totally false rumor was soon circulating that she was pregnant and had been 
roughly abused by the police. 

The city of Chicago has a city-wide code which provides that news of a 
disturbance shall not be broadcast until the police have it under control. The 
difficulty with such a rule is that it may be hours, perhaps even days, before 
the police achieve such control. In the meantime, the public needs to know 
what is happening. In Detroit, for example, the first person killed, a woman, 
was shot while driving through the riot area. If she had listened to the radio 
or had watched TV at mid-morning of that day, she did not have a chance to 
learn of the riot because Detroit stations kept it off the air for hours at the 
request of Negro leadeers. 

The dilemma of meeting the public's need to know and rumor suppression 
without contributing to the size of the crowd can be resolved by restrained 
reporting until the police have the situation under control or until the 
information is no longer likely to contribute to the^ disorder. The most 



1 16 Mass Media and Violence 

important piece of information to withhold is the precise location of the 
disturbance. At the same time, the media can advise people to avoid the 
general area. If the police have planned adequately, they should be able to 
advise the media of routes to avoid and to suggest alternative routes for 
people who normally use the affected streets. 

In cases where some delay is necessary, it is absolutely essential that the 
media take more than usual steps to report fully at a later date. 

Many journalists believe that the basic requirements for good 
reporting intelligence, judgment, lack of bias, responsibility, restraint, and 
balance provide adequate standards for meeting any challenge. Certainly no 
set of government or industry guidelines can adequately replace these 
long-standing fundamentals of good journalism. Others in the news media 
believe, however, that coverage of disorders requires elaboration of these 
principles in the form of specific rules. We concur. During periods of stress, 
general principles are not self-executing. The guidelines adopted by many 
news organizations acknowledge that the problems of covering violence in an 
unstable, often racially troubled, social environment make more specific rules 
of behavior necessary .- 

In reporting both incidents that may grow to disorders and the disorders 
themselves, the media can make additional preparations within their own 
organizations. They can issue instructions to their staff along the lines of the 
guidelines discussed in Appendix II-C. 

Some TV stations, for example, have already made the decision not tc 
cover riots with live mobile television units. Rather than send conspicuous 
shoulder-braced sound cameras to a riot, they can plan to send the much 
smaller, hand-held silent cameras, plus a man with a tape recorder to pick up 
random sound. Similarly, they can use black and white instead of color film, 
which requires more light; in this way, they can reduce the need for 
crowd-attracting lights and apparatus. They should plan, in advance, the 
deployment of manpower within the news organization, what the process for 
assimilation shall be, and who shall exercise responsibility at each stage. 

A neighborhood fight should not be called a riot. A disturbance should not 
be designated racial without confirmation. Accuracy should have priority 
over speed. The story, particularly its violent aspects, should be kept in 
perspective. Known visible facts should be reported in a calm, matter-of-fact 
manner. Lights should not be used if they heighten tension. If it becomes 
apparent that the media's presence attracts a crowd or causes extremists to 
act for the cameras, the lens should be capped and the crew withdrawn. No 
information, including police contingency plans that might aid rioters in 
evading apprehension by the police should be disseminated; reporting without 
specific details or delayed reporting can usually avoid this problem. 

During the course of the coverage of disorders, news decisions will have to 
be made. In the local newsroom of a radio or television station, different men 
may be putting bulletins on the air, assigning TV cameramen, reviewing and 
editing film and scripts, and producing, in coordination with the newscasters, 
television and radio news programs: all these people should check their major 
decisions with the news director. 

If, for example, the police radio carries a report of a National Guardsman 
being shot, it is tempting to put this on the air, because it has the surface 
authenticity of a police report. Many of these reports are based on rumors 



Coverage of Civil Disorders 117 

and are simply requests for confirmation by a police officer. The story is 
skimpy; no details substantiate it. During the tension of a riot, the police can 
act hastily and carelessly. Moreover, the day is past when everything the 
police say should be broadcast as "truth." The report must be confirmed. 

This event supposedly happened in Cleveland: There was a police report 
that a National Guardsman was shot. The wire services picked it up and 
several radio stations put it on the air. But at least one news director decided 
to keep it off the air until one of his men could go to the scene and check it. 
It turned out that a Guardsman had simply fallen off a jeep and lain in the 
streets a few seconds after his fall. Nobody had been shot. 

In the case of a disturbance in Washington, D.C., a report came in from a 
newsman on the scene that a mob was smashing windows one mile from the 
White House. The editor canceled out the reference to the White House as 
irrelevant and alarmist. The general location of the disturbance was reported, 
but not the exact corner. Specific instructions for avoiding the area were 
given to motorists. 

For another possible case, a film clip comes in showing several young 
people looting a clothing store. A policeman is standing by, watching. Does it 
go on the air? Yes, if the event can be put in perspective. During the April 
1968 disorders in Washington, such scenes appeared on the air. Many people 
objected to the showing of the clip. These scenes, they thought, gave 
potential looters the impression that the police did nothing. Others objected 
to the laxity of the police. One responsible news director has suggested that it 
is sufficient to point out that there was only one policeman present, and he 
would leave it to the audience to infer that the officer was not being 
cowardly or cynical, but was just using good judgment. 

Is this adequate? A number of studies suggest that simply displaying the 
facts frequently results in a lost message. 24 The reporter should expressly 
state the reasons, or the probable reasons why the police are doing nothing. 
For example, where the looters outnumber the policemen, they probably 
cannot be apprehended without the application of deadly force ; this could 
endanger the lives of the officers and would contribute to the tension in the 
community. The large-scale application of deadly force to prevent crimes 
against property, particularly against teenaged looters, as many of them were 
in Washington, D.C., may escalate the response of the extremists in the black 
community. 

Another film clip comes in showing policemen swinging their batons at 
rioters. Does it go on the air? Again yes, but only if it can be put in 
perspective. News media face no more difficult task than to decide when a 
scene of violence should be broadcast and how it should be cast. At least one 
news director suggests that it is sufficient to broadcast such material as long 
as the newscaster does not make "purple" statements such as, "he swung 
viciously," or they "cracked skulls." He says, "let the film tell the story." 

The film cannot tell the story. It represents a very small slice of the 
disorder. It does not tell why the police were cracking skulls; whether they 
were attacked by the mob; whether the mob had been ordered to disperse 
and refused to do so; whether they were trying to rescue an officer or another 
threatened person; or whether they had just lost their senses and, for no 
apparent reason, decided to beat up some people. Just showing the film clip 
openly invites every viewer to supply his own reason why, and it will be the 



1 18 Mass Media and Violence 

viewer's preconceptions about rioters or police that will determine what story 
he receives not the film. Just showing the film may be the easy way out of a 
difficult decision for the reporter, but just showing the film is not enough. 

The reporting of riots often takes on the color of the policeman's 
viewpoint because the reporter usually goes into the riot area with the police 
and he normally sticks by them. If he is being shot at by the same sniper who 
is shooting at the police, the reporter identifies and sympathizes with the 
police. But he is not the police department's public relations office. If he 
witnesses police misconduct, he should report it. When the police perform 
well under extreme provocation, long hours, and accompanying tension, he 
should report that too. 

The reporter can offset this tendency to tell the story from the official 
viewpoint by being especially alert to evidence of black assistance in crowd 
control and in cooling the situation. The Kerner Commission found the media 
somewhat remiss in reporting the good work done by ghetto residents. 



With a few exceptions such as the Washington Post, the Media Task 
Force's five-city survey turned up little evidence of newspaper guidelines for 
the coverage of violent events. 25 Also, the failure of 50 percent of the radio 
stations to respond to the Task Force's questionnaire suggests limited 
adoption of guidelines, except at the national level. 

All news organizations should give serious consideration to codifying 
guidelines parallel to those already promulgated by the major networks, by 
the Washington Post, and by other news organizations. Although no set of 
guidelines will cover all eventualities, the more specific they are, and the more 
they are discussed within the news organization, the greater the probability 
that the reporter or correspondent under stress will adhere to them. 

Most of the initiative for developing guidelines should come from 
individual news organizations. Journalism is a diverse, loosely knii, pluralistic 
institution, and should remain so. Few critical journals and no strong 
professional organizations prescribe rules of conduct or levy sanctions. Little 
leadership comes from the schools of journalism. Professional organizations, 
such as Sigma Delta Chi and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 
have considered riot coverage and related issues, but have not exercised strong 
leadership. 

Electronic journalism, fortunately, does. The National Association of 
Broadcasters (NAB) and the Radio-Television News Directors Association 
(RTNDA) have both promulgated codes of ethics and standards for news 
broadcasting and, together with network news policies, have provided 
touchstones for news reporting. Standards for reporting violence for the 
networks and the NAB and RTNDA are similar in focus to avoid 
inflammatory or morbid or sensational reporting with the networks being 
the most specific. 

Over the last year or so, seminars and discussion groups have discussed riot 
coverage and surveillance of the ghetto; these have undoubtedly heightened 
the awareness of participants to special needs and problems. Such activities 
should continue and should be initiated by national, state and local 
professional organizations, and by schools of journalism. 



Coverage of Civil Disorders 1 19 

The potential for leadership in the RTNDA is underscored by the activities 
of its northern California chapter. After discussing the sensitive role of the 
broadcaster in civil disorders, the chapter designated a committee to 
recommend suggested guidelines. In setting out these policy guides, the 
RTNDA committee observed that the majority of news directors in the region 
felt that such a set of guidelines was necessary in this one area of coverage 
because, among other reasons, 

"an instance of widespread civil disobedience, particularly one involving 
racial strife, is entirely unique from any other kind of story in that its 
coverage could affect the direction of its development and intensity, its 
duration and outcome and therefore demands exception 
treatment ..." 

This particular set of guidelines was endorsed by the chapter membership 
and submitted to station managements and law enforcement officials. Judging 
from the returns from the Task Force's inquiry into San Diego, the 
circulation of the guidelines in Northern California influenced the adoption 
of similar guidelines by many radio and television stations in that State. The 
entire RTNDA and the American Society of Newspaper Editors would do 
well to consider undertaking similar action nationwide. 

REFERENCES 

1. Cited in Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Gurr, the History of Violence in 
America, Report submitted to the National Commission on the Causes and 
Prevention of Violence, (New York: Bantam Books, 1969). p. 440. 

2. Williams L. Rivers and Wilbur Schramm, Responsibility in Mass Communication 
(New York: Harper and Row, 1969), p. 175. 

3. Robert Conot, Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness (New York: Bantam Books, 
1967), pp. 154-155. 

4. Ibid. p. 151. 

5. William B. Monroe, Jr., "Television: The Chosen Instrument of the Revolution," in 
Race and the News Media, Paul L. Fisher and Ralph L. Lowenstein, eds. (New 
York: Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1967), p. 92. 

6. Report of The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, (Washington, 
D.C.: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., March 1968), pp. 205-206. 

7. Ibid., p. 201. 

8. Ibid., pp. 202-203. 

9. Letter written at the direction of the Federal Communications Commission by Ben 
F. Waple, Secretary, to ABC, CGS, and NBC, Feb. 28, 1969, p. 2. footnote 1. 

10. Benjamin D. Singer, "Journalism and the Kerner Report: The Report's Critique of 
Television," Columbia Journalism Review, Fall 1968, p. 57. ("I don't know" 
responses were eliminated in computing these figures.) 

11. Martin S. Hayden, "A View From Detroit," in The Media and the Cities, Charles U. 
Daly, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 60. 

12. Kurt Lang and Gladys Engel Lang, Politics & Television (Chicago: Quadrangle 
Books, 1968), pp. 36-78. 

13. Hayden, op. cit., footnote 11, p. 58. 

14. Ibid. p. 57-59. 

15. Kerner Commission, op. cit., footnote 6, p. 202. 

16. Sniping Incidents: A New Pattern of Violence? (Waltham, Mass.: Lemberg Center 
for the Study of Violence, Brandeis University, February, 1969). 

17. Ibid. 

18. Louis H. Masotti and Jerome R. Corsi, Shoot Out in Cleveland; A Staff Report to 
the NCCPV, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., May 1969), Passim 

19. Final Report of Cyrus R. Vance, Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense 
Concerning the Detroit Riots, July 23 through August 2, 1967 (August 1967). 



120 Mass Media and Violence 

20. Louis B. Schwartz and Stephen R. Goldstein, "Demonstrations, Picketing, Riots," 
Police Guidance Manuals: A Philadelphia Model (Philadelphia: University of 
Pennsylvania, 1968), pp. 24-28; FBI, op. cit., footnote 1, p. 17. 

21. Miami Report, The Report of the Study Team on Civil Disturbances in Miami, 
Florida during the week of August 5, 1968, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Print. 
Off., 1969), p. 11. 

22. A "brief voluntary moratorium" on reporting the news was one of the two 
characteristics common to the community wide broadcast codes that the Justice 
Department's Community Relations Service evaluated for the Kerner Commission in 
1967. The specific period of delay, the CRS pointed out, was seldom more than 30 
minutes- sufficiently long to assure accuracy and balance. 

23. Ben H. Bagdikian, "Editorial Responsibility in Times of Urban Disorder," The 
Media and the Cities, Charles U. Daly, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 
1968), p. 17. 

24. Wallace Mandell and Carl I. Hoveland, "Is There a Law of Primacy in Persuasion?" 
American Psychologist (1952), p. 538; Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Personal 
Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications (New 
York: The Free Press, 1955). 

25. See Appendix II-C. 



Chapter 7 
JOURNALISM EDUCATION* 

The only place where one can learn 

to be a journalist is in 

a great newspaper 

- Frederic Hudson, New 
York Herald, Circa 1870. 

Young men writing in the great newspapers 

were as a rule profoundly ignorant 

of the simplest history or philosophy . 

- Andrew Dickson White, 
president, Cornell 
University, 1868. 

In the half-century following the Civil War, journalism education moved, 
haltingly, onto the American college campus. Its establishment as a 
college-level program was accompanied by a debate as to whether there 
should be collegiate preparation for the practice of journalism. From the 
vantage point of 1969, the resolution of the debate was never really in doubt. 

During this same period America was transforming its system of higher 
education into a mass producer of the specialists required by a developing 
industrial nation. The professions, and would-be professions, were being 
legitimized by higher education, and it was not possible to ignore journalism. 

There were those who regarded professional training as unnecessary. 
Journalists like Frederic Hudson of the New York Herald argued in the 
1870's that a training school of journalism could not be made "very 
serviceable." He asked: "Who are to be the teachers? The only place one can 
learn to be a good journalist is in a great newspaper office . . . College training 
is good in its way, but something more is needed for journalism." 1 Many of 
today's journalists agree. 

Sentiments such as Hudson's did not prevent the incorporation of 
journalism instruction into the universities. But the accompanying debate 
probably tended to obscure a more significant issue: the relationship of two 
important American institutions, the university and the press. 



This chapter is based almost entirely on a paper prepared for the Media Task Force 
by Professor I. W. Cole of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern 
University. 

121 



122 Mass Media and Violence 

Because this issue was not resolved, journalism education, like Alexander 
Pope's Man, has existed on an "isthmus of a middle state." At one extreme, 
journalism education has been expected to function as a service to the 
press-as-business by recruiting employees and providing them with basic 
training that is, functioning as a sort of campus extention of the personnel 
departments of the mass media. At the other extreme, journalism education 
has been expected to improve the press-as-a-social instrument-that is, serve 
the society by changing the press. 

An educator of the period, Andrew Dickson White, was concerned with 
improving the press as a social instrument. Inaugurated as president of Cornell 
in 1868, he proposed to establish "departments for the instruction especially 
of those who intend entering public life through the newspaper or the 
forum." He believed that young men serving the great newspapers were, "as a 
rule profoundly ignorant of the simplest history or philosophy." 2 

Generally, the issue was resolved in favor of the universities serving the 
press as business. To a large extent, this still is the pervading influence, 
considerably refined, in present-day journalism programs. As a result, the 
journalism program is likely to reflect the needs of the press as perceived by 
the press; it makes journalism education a circular process, in which current 
newsroom practices are observed and emulated in the classroom. 

In fairness to both the university and the press it should be noted that the 
issues are not as black and white as this summary would make them appear. 
More thoughtful leaders in both campus and newsrooms have sought 
diligently to resolve the ambivalence and ambiguity which has hampered both 
education for journalism and the practice of journalism. There are universities 
which, perhaps subliminally, view their journalism programs as being a form 
of public relations with the state press. There are many others that perceive a 
more significant fuction. Conversely there are employers of journalism 
graduates who regard journalism education as simply an extension of the 
firm's personnel department. But there are many others who are impatient 
with journalism schools for producing too many young men and women well 
drilled in yesterday's practices rather than prepared to devise tomorrow's 
solutions. 

All professional and specialized programs in higher education have faced 
similar problems in this respect. In his examination of journalism and liberal 
education, Paul L. Dressel states: 

... it should be observed that much of the early education in this 
country in all professional callings was narrowly technical. Most 
curricula in that day and indeed up to very recent times emphasized 
handbook information artd rule-of-thumb procedures while neglecting 
basic theory and generalized knowledge useful in the infinitely varied 
circumstances of everyday practice .... 

The most advanced views today assume that if it is to be fully 
effective in preparing graduates for the complicated demands of 
contemporary life, professional education must have not a single goal 
but rather three comprehensive objectives. First, because of its very 
nature, it must obviously inculcate the corpus of knowledge, the 
complement of skills, and the traits of personality and character which 
constitute the distinctive features of a particular craft .... 



Journalism Education 123 

A second purpose, and one of rising importance, is concerned with 
the general education which all those who attend an institution of 
higher education must have if they are to understand, and to live 
competently in, an increasingly complex democratic society .... 

Furthermore, an educational institution can hardly absolve itself of a 
third responsibility-that of assisting the student in gaining 
self-understanding, a moral grounding, and a consistent view of the 
world. 3 

The limitations of a system of journalism education oriented to serving the 
press as business are serious and the advantages few. To the extent that those 
newsroom practices that appear to be the most sound are selected for 
emulation, this approach can lead to evolutionary changes in the press, and 
this indeed has been an important function of journalism education. Yet the 
disadvantages far outweigh this very tenuous contribution. 

Journalist Eugene Methvin, for example, writing in The New Leader, 
reports that some members of his profession are concerned that modern 
journalism may be caught in the "tradition trap." He writes: 



Science Writer Blair Justice surveyed popular college journalism 
textbooks and found that the definition of newsworthiness has 
progressed little beyond the precepts developed intuitively by city 
editors in the days of the Hearst-Pulitzer street circulation wars. The 
canons of "reader psychology" generally taught place unvarying 
emphasis on the theme that "conflict and violence are news." They 
have been in an agrarian America just emerging from a century of 
isolation, but are they in the century of the two world wars and Fourth 
of July weekend highway massacres? 

To test the impact of this training, Justice sent questionnaires to 
journalism students at six universities before and after their first 
journalism courses, and to journeymen editors and reporters. He 
submitted 20 headlines, 10 suggesting nonconflict or even harmony. 
Respondents were asked to rank the headlines in two ways: (1) where 
they would place the stories as daily newspaper editors; (2) how much 
personal interest they had in the news involved. 

The results were startling: After exposure to journalism textbook 
"reader psychology," the student significantly upgraded the play they 
would give conflict and violence. The practicing journalists showed a 
similar bias. All showed a great gap between personal and news 
judgment, playing up stories, in which they had little interest, burying 
others they found personally appealing. 4 

Perhaps more serious than the passing of outmoded traditions is the failure 
to perform the critical role of continuous review of the efficacy of present 
practices and to instill in journalists a tradition of self-criticism. Schools of 
journalism have, from time to time, been encouraged to institutionalize a 
continuing critique of the press. There is little evidence of much response. Jay 
W. Jensen, chairman of the department of journalism of Illinois, has outlined 
the role: 



124 Mass Media and Violence 

Existing knowledge of the mass media their character, behavior and 
effects should be constantly subjected to scrutiny and criticism. 
Indeed, even the methods by which such knowledge is attained should 
be continuously criticized. This is commonplace in other units of the 
university. 

Likewise, the values (legal, moral and cultural) underpinning the 
mass media their policy, content and objectives; the rationale of their 
existence, the milieu of norms, imperatives and sanctions in which they 
operate should be continuously examined and appraised. 

Finally, the institution's arrangements which comprise the order of 
mass communications their effectiveness, utility, propriety, and so 
on also should be the object of continuous criticism. 

For the school of journalism to do otherwise would be to abandon 
its proper role as a unit of the university, and therefore to abandon its 
responsibilities to its students, to society, and to its profession. The 
primary reason for its existence, as for higher education in general, is 
not to be found in the cultural heritage it transmits to students. This 
function is also performed by other agencies in society. The ultimate 
justification for the journalism school, as for the university, lies rather 
in its critical function, in its continuous critique of knowledge, values 
and institutions. 

The school of journalism imparts knowledge, but it should impart 
that knowledge critically. If it fails in this respect, it has no reason for 
existence, except perhaps that of relieving industry of the burden of 
apprenticeship training. It is not enough that, in preparing students for 
careers, the school of journalism promotes critical consideration of 
those principles and techniques necessary to technical arrangements 
underlying and impinging upon those careers. For only thus may 
students be expected to pass from college into their period of technical 
apprenticeship with their critical faculties already honed and practiced 
in connecting fact with theory, values with action, ideals with reality, 
and the demands of life with its possibilities. 5 

The need to develop a tradition of criticism within journalism schools is 
more important than for other disciplines. Government review and criticism is 
feared undesirable, and, because of the first amendment, the threat of 
government action as a device for making private institutions responsive is 
nonexistent. Finally, the press, the critical agency for most other institutions 
in our society, has shown great timidity toward self-criticism. 



A. The Curricula 

Today there are 55 institutions offering accredited programs in journalism. 
Almost an equal number of other institutions offer programs with similar 
objectives, most of which have not sought accreditation. 

In earlier days, journalism programs were for those who wished to be 
newspaper men. As radio and then television became part of the mass 
communications system, the journalism curricula in many universities were 
changed to reflect the emergence of the new media. Sometimes, but not 



Journalism Education 125 

always, the name of the unit offering the instruction changed from 
"journalism" to "communications." 

The place of the journalism unit within the university hierarchy varies 
considerably from institution to institution. Thus, at one state university 
there is a department of journalism headed by a chairman, while at another 
there is a college of communications headed by a dean. The differences are 
more than semantic, however, and in the two examples cited there are 
substantial differences in the scope of the divisions and the responsibilities of 
their administrators. 

In general, the typical journalism program concentrates on students who 
are candidates for a 4-year bachelor's degree. Three of the accredited schools 
depart from this pattern. Columbia University's School of Journalism offers a 
1-year graduate program; Northwestern bases its curriculum on a 5-year 
program leading to a terminal professional Master's degree. The University of 
Michigan has recently eliminated professional instruction for undergraduate 
students, offering instead a 2-year program leading to a Master's degree. 

In the typical four-year journalism program, about three-fourths of the 
course work offered for the bachelor's degree is taken in departments other 
than journalism. Usually, but not always, the bulk of the student's 
non-journalism program is drawn from social science and humanities 
departments. 

The one-fourth of the total course work in subjects offered through the 
school of journalism is divided roughly into two parts: part of the journalism 
subject matter is devoted to journalism techniques, and the other part to 
courses emphasizing the social role of journalism. Even this sort of 
classification is crude; a course in reporting would fall into the journalism 
techniques category, yet can include excellent instruction, for example, in 
government and politics through reading and reporting assignments given to 
students. 

The journalism schools themselves have contributed to some confusion by 
suggesting an unrealistic dichotomy between specialized courses in journalism 
and those courses offered by the traditional liberal arts departments. The 
schools point to their restrictions which prevent the student from taking 
excessive numbers of the journalism course offerings, and to the requirement 
that he take a substantial number of nonjournalism courses, as examples of 
the "liberal" nature of the typical journalism curriculum. Up to a point this is 
true, but to the extent that it has encouraged the belief that journalism 
courses are narrowly vocational, and nonjournalism courses are more nearly 
broad and general, the case has been overstated. As the late Virgil M. 
Rancher, while president of the State University of Iowa, noted in a 1953 
address: 

We forget that it is possible to become liberally educated by the 
teaching and study of professional or specialized subjects in a liberal 
manner . . . 

While in general I would support the proposition that there are some 
things which every liberally educated man should know, I fear that we 
have been led into error sometimes by believing that the study of 
certain subject matter inevitably results in a liberal education. It is 
nearer the truth to say that there is no subject matter, worthy of a 



126 Mass Media and Violence 

place in the curriculum of a modern Land-Grant college or state 
university, which cannot be taught either as a professional specialty or 
as a liberal subject. 6 

From this dichotomy between "journalism" and "non-journalism" 
segments of the journalism curriculum has arisen a division of labor. The 
journalism school concerns itself either primarily or solely with the 
journalism course offerings from which one-quarter of the student's 
undergraduate program is chosen. Typically, the journalism faculty resists 
encroachment by other faculties on this part of the curriculum. Conversely, 
the journalism school frequently plays little or no role in the formulation of 
courses to be offered elsewhere in the institution, courses from which 
journalism students choose three-fourths of their undergraduate programs. To 
a great extent, such a situation is an understandable by-product of the 
administrative structure of universities. Dressel comments, however, that the 
division of labor need not be as absolute as he observed it to be: 

. . . there is no real attempt, such as could rather readily be made with 
the small group of journalism students at any particular stage, to 
inventory their general background in the liberal arts courses and to 
build on this in the development of some of the journalism courses. 
Professional [journalism] faculty members . . . seem to know very little 
about what is being done in the liberal arts courses and make very little 
attempt to relate their courses to these. 7 

Since 1960, when Dressel's comment was published, there has been 
evidence of increasing efforts on the part of individual journalism schools to 
bring about better integration between the Journalism and non-journalism 
segments of the student's curriculum. Despite this, what Dressel describes as 
"the tendency to see journalism courses as discrete courses," 8 and to see 
journalism as discrete from liberal arts remains very much a feature of 
journalism education. 

What effect does the dichotomy between journalism and non-journalism 
courses have? 

First, the ability of the journalism school to incorporate into its 
curriculum courses pertinent to contemporary social problems is in large part 
dependent on the course offerings of other departments of the 
institution actions over which the typical journalism school has little or no 
influence. If, through the actions of other departments, such courses are 
available, at least two other factors determine whether these .courses are 
incorporated. The journalism faculty may, through student advising or 
through curriculum requirements, encourage or discourage enrollment in such 
courses by journalism majors. The faculties of the departments offering such 
courses through prerequisites established for enrollment in the courses, make 
it possible or impossible for journalism students to include the courses in 
their program of study. 

Second, in that one-fourth of the journalism student's program is offered 
by the journalism school, considerable freedom to reflect the changing social 
environment is possible. The instructor in a course in public affairs reporting, 
for example, may assign his student to report on problems of race, 



Journalism Education 127 

government, education, and similar subjects germane to the changing milieu. 
In many journalism schools such changes in emphasis would be possible 
without formal changes in course offerings. The principal limiting factor in 
most instances would be the imagination and competency of the instructor. 
An additional limiting factor, though probably a less important one, would be 
the physical location of the university of which a particular journalism school 
is a part, with urban locations offering more close-at-hand resources for 
student reports than rural locations. 

Without detailed study of the academic transcripts of recent journalism 
graduates, it is not possible to determine the extent to which journalism 
schools are making use of courses offered by other departments which center 
on contemporary social problems. Traditionally, journalism school curricula, 
insofar as the non-journalism segment is concerned, are highly permissive. It 
seems fair to assume that if such courses are offered in institutions with 
journalism curricula, the journalism schools are erecting no barriers for 
journalism students. Further, most journalism schools have long encouraged 
students to take course work in the social sciences, and it is in the social 
sciences that many courses dealing with current social problems are found. 

A 1967 study by Ray E. Hiebert, head of the University of Maryland 
Department of Journalism, found that a number of journalism schools that 
did not offer specific courses in urban affairs require their students to enroll 
in such courses in other departments. Surveying 130 institutions and receiving 
83 responses, Hiebert found: 

A distressingly large number of schools [one-fourth of those 
responding] indicated that they had no courses in urban affairs 
reporting, required their students to take no courses in other 
departments that touched on the subject, and had no plans for 
developing a program in this area. Many of these schools are situated in 
rural settings, which may be the reason for their aloof position. 

While new programs are being developed and there are hopes and 
plans in the works, the survey has shown that perhaps not enough is 
being done especially in view of the great magnitude of the urban 
problems today. 9 

The obvious question is why the journalism school response has been less than 
adequate. 

James W. Carey, in a thoughtful paper circulated informally in the summer 
of 1968, suggests that in part this inadequacy is owing to the dichotomy 
between journalism and non-journalism courses. This practice is attacked by 
Carey: 

One might counter that what I am recommending starts to take the 
journalism curriculum into the domains of history and the social 
sciences. That is precisely what I am recommending. With the increasing 
professionalization of the social sciences- that is, in the training of 
professional sociologists in Sociology I-they becomes less and less 
relevant in organization and content to the needs of the journalist.. 
This means, in part, encouraging the offering of certain kinds of 
courses, stepping in to create and staff courses where they are otherwise 



128 Mass Media and Violence 

unavailable, filling interstices in the curriculum by the redefinition of 
the objectives of journalism courses. . . .* 

While not proceeding as far, nor necessarily in the manner advocated by 
Carey, a number of journalism schools are seeking to fill gaps in the 
journalism curriculum through the introduction of new or modified courses. 

Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism has brought to its 
students lecturers from other departments of the university. The Columbia 
journalism faculty has for many years used New York City as a laboratory for 
its reporting instruction, and more recently has placed increased emphasis on 
urban study and research undertaken by each student during his final weeks 
in the school's program. 

Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism also has, over the 
years, capitalized on its urban setting to use Chicago and suburbs as 
laboratories for student reporting assignments. In its master's degree program, 
in addition to traditional journalism courses, the school offers seminars on 
urban problems, the U.S. legal system, urban education, science and 
technology, politics and government, and the urban economy. These 
substantive seminars are taught by Medill faculty members with appropriate 
qualifications, and by members of other departments, such as education, 
business, and political science. 

In 1965 Medill added a Washington, D.C., program, in recognition of the 
growing intercourse between the federal government and urban centers. 
Under this program, 1 5 graduate students each quarter study and report from 
Washington, under the direction of resident Medill faculty members. 
Recipients of the news stories produced are newspapers in smaller cities, 
which receive articles on actions in Washington which have local impact. 

Other schools of journalism have taken steps in the direction of placing 
more emphasis on current social problems, or are in the process of so doing. 
For example, the University of Texas has introduced a new course, politics 
and the press, primarily for journalism students. In addition, in a public 
affairs reporting course a $20,000 grant helps to finance journalism student 
studies of problems of politics, transportation, taxation, and the like, while 
some advanced journalism students also undertake summer internships in 
governmental offices. The School of Communications cosponsors, on 
educational television, weekly programs for Americans of Mexican descent, 
and programs dealing with low-income areas of Austin and the residents of 
those areas. University of Illinois journalism students undertook the 
preparation of detailed reports on problems of state government in Illinois, 
and made the finished product available to Illinois newspapers for 
publication. At the University of Nebraska, a course in in-depth reporting of 
significant issues has been a feature of the journalism curriculum for a 
number of years, with substantial attention in the course going to problems 
and possibilities of community growth. 

In all the institutions from which the above examples have been drawn, 
and in many others not mentioned, there are expressions of intent to 
undertake additional activities aimed at providing journalism majors with 
greater exposure to the major forces at work in society. Most of the 
journalism administrators interviewed in an informal telephone survey by I. 
W. Cole were inclined to be self-critical, and critical of journalism education 



Journalism Education 129 

in general, for moving too slowly in this respect. But on balance, the sum of 
the activities in the schools sampled showed evidence of progress toward 
deeper exposure of at least some students to important social change. 

More progress is needed. James W. Carey, in the paper discussed above, 
asserts that a new journalism is emerging in the United States, offering 
opportunities for what he describes as a "golden age" of journalism 
education: The opportunity now exists, perhaps for the first time, to make 
journalism schools significant, vital, and prestigious elements within 
universities; and, more importantly, for such schools to become important 
contributors to the political and social life of the country. This opportunity 
has been created in part, he believes, by the emergence of students with: 

...both the ability and the muscle to move from the campus into 
positions normally reserved for mature writers. More students seem to 
think that journalism really counts; that journalism is where the action 
is; that in journalism one cannot only describe the circulatory system of 
this fibrillating society but also create the intellectual perceptions upon 
which we will come to terms with the modern world... They do not 
avoid journalism schools, as is too frequently assumed, because [the 
schools] are too professional, but because they are not professional 
enough. [Such students] do not avoid journalism schools because such 
schools teach 'techniques' but because such schools teach the wrong 
kind of techniques and needlessly divorce the techniques of that presen- 
tation from the substance of what is presented. 11 

B. Continuing Education Programs 

In August 1968, John L. Hulteng of the University of Oregon School of 
Journalism inventoried the continuing education programs offered during the 
1967-68 academic year by all journalism schools and departments listed in 
Editor & Publisher Yearbook. Of the 82 institutions that responded, 47 
reported no programs. From the remaining 35 respondents, Hulteng compiled 
a list of 64 continuing education programs for journalists. 1 2 

Some of the programs listed had been offered for the first time during the 
1967-68 academic year; others had been in operation for as many as 17 years. 
Such programs, particularly in state universities, are a natural outgrowth of 
the concept of service to the institution's constituencies. 

Hulteng's survey was directed to those higher institutions with some sort 
of identifiable journalism program. It is in these institutions that most 
continuing education programs are found. Some continuing education 
programs for journalists, however, are conducted by institutions without 
journalism schools. The most prestigious such program in the nation is 
Harvard University's Nieman Fellowships, which since its founding in 1937, 
has offered carefully selected journalists an opportunity to become 
students-at-large in the university. 

The continuing education programs in journalism are, understandably, a 
mixed lot. Some are concerned with the most basic skills and techniques of 
highly specialized journalistic tasks; others with broad and sweeping social 
issues. Some last for a single day; others, including the Harvard program, for 
an academic year. Many seek to advance the public relations of institutions 



130 Mass Media and Violence 

offering the programs, but probably most of these are not offered primarily 
for public relations purposes. 

The programs cannot be regarded as a substitute for in-residence collegiate 
training, but at their best they offer the most effective means of helping the 
practicing journalist adapt to changing demands, provided, that is, that the 
profession is willing to participate. 

When the Nieman grant was offered to Harvard University, President 
James Bryant Conant asked 10 publishers if the underlying assumptions of 
the program- a broad educational experience for working newsmen-were 
valid; all 10 said no. 

'The publishers doubted the value of a pure academic experience, 
compared to shorter training in specific techniques ... In the course of 
a re-examination of the program in 1964 President Nathan Pusey of 
Harvard asked 300 publishers if they thought the program should be 
continued; they all said yes." 1 

Just as an increasing number of the operators of the media have become 
more involved in, and more sophisticated concerning, journalism degree 
programs, they are increasingly interested in university programs that offer 
mid-career educational opportunities for their staff members. And while many 
of the service programs offered by journalism schools draw solely on the 
journalism faculty for instruction, an increasing number embrace the 
resources of the whole university. In an address to the annual convention of 
the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1959, I. W. Cole urged the 
editors to think of the journalism school "not as an entity in itself, but as a 
door to a large and complex educational institution with tremendous 
resources ... we at the Medill School of Journalism offered recently a short 
course in crime analysis and reporting. We would have experienced great 
difficulty in this undertaking had it not been possible for us to mount this 
program in cooperation with our School of Law." 1 

While the interest in continuing education programs for journalists is 
present, it remains to be determined how firm the "market" for such 
programs will be. Herbert Brucker, past president of the American Society of 
Newspsper Editors who is director of the Professional Journalism 
Fellowships, Stanford University, poses the question this way: 

The pattern has already been set by [the American Press Insitute] at 
Columbia. This, also mid-career education, differs from the others in 
two ways. In the first place, it is devoted exclusively to journalism 
itself. In the second place, it is short and therefore relatively cheap. 
Enlightened publishers support API by contributing to its overhead, 
and generally they pay their share of the running expenses for each 
staff man they send to a seminar. They are willing to do so because 
they have learned through experience that in return they get back a 
better city editor, or circulation manager, or political reporter or 
whatever the man or the woman may be. 

The question now is whether owners and publishers see that their 
survival depends on more than just vocational journalistic proficiency. 
In a real sense it depends also on an understanding of the contemporary 



Journalism Education 131 

world, on the part of their editiorial staffs, that is as deep and as broad 
as possible. 

So there you have it: will newspaper owners, publishers and editors 
support the new mid-career, re-education programs with endowment 
funds and current-expense funds? 1 5 

What Brucker refers to as the new programs are ones which were either 
created or received substantial impetus from foundation funds,with the Ford 
Foundation in the role of the most substantial contributor: 

1. Medill School of Journalism: $1,092,000 for 3-month seminars 
for midcareer newspaper men as well as shorter sessions which also 
include editors, publishers, and broadcasting executives. 

2. Harvard: Expansion of the Nieman program with a $1.2 million 
grant. 

3. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism: $1.6 
million for further development of the graduate school. 

4. American Political Science Association program that brings 
selected members of the press and young political scientists to 
Washington for a year of work on staffs of members of 
Congress-$750,000. 

5. Southern Regional Education Board: $700,000 for a variety of 
study and seminar programs for newsmen from the South in six 
regional universities. 

6. Stanford University: $975,000 for a Nieman-like program for 
experienced journalists. 

7. Six Major Urban Reporting Projects: $6.3 million since 1965. 16 

The Southern Regional Education Board program has since been given a 
new status which promises to obtain for it continuing support from the 
Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. It is also interesting to note the 
variety of subject matter and the variety of institutions that have been a part 
of the SREB program. Much of the emphasis in the SREB program has been 
on seminars of 3 to 5 days' duration, for groups of no more than 25 
journalists, with subject matter ranging from urban problems to international 
affairs. In addition, a limited number of individual fellowships for one or two 
semesters of study at Duke, Emory, Vanderbilt, the University of North 
Carolina, the University of Texas, or the University of Virginia have been 
offered. 

While the Ford Foundation journalism grant program has provided the 
most massive approach to encouraging mid-career education for journalists, 
the Russell Sage Foundation has also made significant contributions. With a 
Sage grant, the School of Journalism of the University of Wisconsin, for 
example, offers opportunities for newsmen from newspapers and television to 
attend a 2 -semester program in the social sciences. 

Faced with internal and external pressures to continually upgrade staff and 
undertake more complex reporting tasks, some questions have been raised as 
to the ability of the mass media as businesses to support the mass media as 
social institutions. The lead article in the January issue of the American 
Society of Newspaper Editors Bulletin proposes grants to permit individual 
newspapers to do more "serious probing into community, social, political, 
racial and economic problems." 1 7 This would seem to further underscore a 



132 Mass Media and Violence 

fundamental question concerning the future of the nondegree programs for 
newsmen: once the input of funds, particularly funds on the order of those 
granted by the Ford Foundation, are gone, how many mid-career programs 
for journalists will be able to survive? 



It is insufficient for the journalist merely to learn the presently applied 
technical skills necessary to his craft and receive exposure to non-journalism 
courses dealing with contemporary problems. The skills of today will not be 
good enough tomorrow. And, although many of today's problems will be 
with us for a long time, there will be new ones. 

The journalism student, as other student professionals, must acquire those 
skills and perspective that will enable him continually to adapt his 
professional values and practices to the changing needs of the society he is 
trained to serve. Within the journalism school the degree candidate should 
have an opportunity to learn communication theory, what is known about 
the effectiveness of different forms of presenting the message, and a sufficient 
acquaintance with the methods of research to allow him to stay abreast of 
developments long after he has left the university. His courses in other 
departments must also be adapted to meet his special needs. A course in 
sociology for sociologists, for example, is not what the future journalist 
requires. He needs general instruction in the principles of sociology, a broad 
background in the discipline, but most important, a sufficient understanding 
of what sociologists can and cannot provide after he has left the university. 
He needs to learn how to adapt their work to the needs of journalism. It is 
the same with other departments. 

Journalism educators on many campuses faced or still face questions 
concerning their academic legitimacy. While acceptance both on the campus 
and in the newsroom has been sufficient for the journalism schools to feel far 
more secure than they would have two decades ago, the memory of less 
happy times seems to linger. 

Perhaps these factors contribute to the willingness of journalism educators 
to plead guilty to a variety of offenses, real and imaginary, or to be 
excessively aggressive in defending journalism schools against valid criticisms. 

It would be difficult to maintain that journalism schools as a whole have 
shown great imagination or agility in reacting rapidly in a time of great social 
change. The fact that the same can be said of many other parts of the society 
hardly constitutes an excuse. At the same time, society's period of troubles 
has already proven for some journalism schools a time of opportunity. At the 
University of Iowa, a new journalism curriculum, reported to be experimental 
and innovative, is in the making. At a number of schools, including the 
University of Texas, Columbia, and the University of Michigan, efforts to 
bring more Negro journalists into the white mass media are in the planning or 
execution stages. A recent Ford Foundation grant to the American 
University, affiliated with the Washington Journalism Center, also has as its 
objective a special program to bring more minority group members into 
journalism. Much more, however, needs to be done. 

In the history of journalism education, the 1960's may prove to be 
significant as the decade during which closer and more effective working 
relationships between the press and the university were developed. The 



Journalism and Education 133 

mid-career education programs for journalists are likely to have an effect not 
only on the students, but also on the teachers, and, typically, these new 
programs involve teachers from all parts of the campus. If newsmen are 
discovering that academicians have answers to some social questions, it is not 
too much to hope that some of the academicians will discover from newsmen 
that the faculty members have not always been addressing themselves to the 
right questions. 

How rapidly the partnership between press and university will grow is 
more difficult to predict. The journalism schools which seek to develop new 
techniques will be competing for development funds during a period when 
higher institutions face growing fiscal problems. The print and broadcast 
media seeking to upgrade and 'develop their news staff will increasingly find 
themselves in competition with other employers seeking essentially the same 
talented manpower. 

Increased financial support for journalism education from the mass media 
undoubtedly will be required on a substantial scale, but it would be 
unrealistic to believe that this single source of outside support will be 
sufficient. Those which recognize that their existence within higher education 
must be based on service to the society, not simply on service to the press will 
do well. Those segments of the press that will be capable of benefiting from 
the activities of such schools will be those which recognize the validity of that 
position. Whep that stage has been reached, it may be that the support for 
improving communications within the society will be increasingly shared by 
the society at large. 



REFERENCES 

1. Charles F. Wingate, Views and Interviews on Journalism (New York: F. B. 
Patterson, 1875), pp. 195-196, as quoted in Albert A. Sutton, Education for 
Journalism (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1945) p. 9. 

2. John S. Brubacher and Willis Rudy, Higher Education in Transition (New York: 
Harper & Bros., 1958), p. 160. 

3. Paul L. Dressel, Liberal Education and Journalism (New York: Teachers College, 
Columbia Universtiy Press, 1960), pp. 6-7. 

4. The New Leader, Jan. 15, 1968, p. 7. 

5. Jay W. Jensen, "A Method and a Perspective for Criticism of the Mass Media," 
Journalism Quarterly (Spring 1960), pp. 261-262. 

6. Virgil M. Hancher, "Liberal Education in Professional Curricula," Proceedings of the 
Sixty-Seventh Annual Convention of the American Association of Land-Grant 
Colleges and State Universities, Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 10-12, 1953 (Washington, 
D.C.: The Association, 1953), pp. 45-51 as quoted in Dressel, op. cit. footnote 3, p. 
16. 

7. Dressel, op. cit. footnote 3, p. 97. 

8. Ibid,p.9S. 

9. Ray E. Hiebert, "National Survey Shows Inadequate Effort by Schools to Prepare 
Their Students for Covering Urban Affairs," Journalism Educator (Summer 1968), 
p. 15. 

10. "Comments of James W. Carey Following a Visit to the Iowa School of 
Journalism," p. 33. 

11. Ibid, p. 5. 

12. John L. Hulteng, "An Inventory of Continuing Education Programs Offered by 
Schools and Departments of Journalism," (Hulteng submitted the Inventory in 
August 1968, on behalf of the Association for Education in Journalism Committee 
on Professional Freedom and Responsibility, of which he was chairman.) 



134 Mass Media and Violence 

13. The Newsman's Scope, p. 13 (Published in September 1958, this brochure is one of 
a series of booklets on activities supported by the Ford Foundation.) 

14. I. W. Cole, address to 1959 Convention, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 
Washington, D.C., as published in the Convention Proceedings. 

15. Herbert Brucker, "Mid-Career Reeducation Programs" The Bulletin of the 
American Society of Newspaper Editors, (September 1968), pp. 12-13. 

16. The Newsman's Scope, op. cit. footnote 13, pp. 3-6. 

17. Bob Holmes, "Foundation Grants to Cover the News?," The Bulletin of the 
American Society of Newspaper Editors (January 1969), pp. 1-3, 11. 



Chapter 8 
MEDIA PRACTICES AND VALUES 



Relevant to each of the foregoing subjects intergroup communication, 
access to the media, and coverage of civil disorders are the practices and 
values of the news media that pervade all reporting. The mechanics of 
assembling a newspaper or television program affect both the content and 
mode of presentation. The newsman's concept of news introduces a factor 
into his normal process of selective exposure, perception, and retention which 
does not afflict the nonjournalist. And the inverted pyramid style of 
reporting news, favored by many newspapers and the wire services, impairs 
the fidelity of the message and the likelihood that the viewer's perception of 
the event will be accurate. 

News gathering and dissemination are essentially bureaucratic and 
contribute to news distortion. A news account is handled by a succession of 
gatekeepers who have an opportunity to evaluate, to change, to interpret, and 
to garble the message. 

The structure of news organizations is hierarchical. When the values of \ 
superiors conflict with those of subordinates, the superior's values will j 
prevail. In some news organizations the dominant values and policies are 
those of the publisher or owner; in others, such as newspapers in the 
Newhouse chain, considerable latitude prevails for editors within the simple 
command make money. 

The^ first stage in the gathering of news is the allocation of resources. 
Assignments are made on the basis of wire^service roundups, telephone tips, 
press releases, announcements of press conferences and hearings, by 
monitoring police and fire department wireless communications, and from 
hunch. In fact, if a reporter is not assigned to cover an event, for most 
Americans it does not exist. 

When an event is powerful or exciting, i.e., has high "news" value, the 
newsman is pressed for time and the probability of some distortion 
approaches certainity. Take, for example, a fast-breaking news story moved 
by one of the wire services. The Associated Press and United Press 
International both try to break the story first, hoping thereby to increase the 
likelihood that subscribers to both services will use their story. 

The reporter at the scene may be able to report a hundred separate facts 
about the event, but his first transmission is a 1 -paragraph flash. Which facts 

135 



136 Mass Media and Violence 

does he choose? The first transmission on the wire is followed by a number of 
paragraphs on unrelated news stories until the wire service has assimilated 
enough information to sent additional paragraphs. This sequence is repeated 
until the story loses its "news" value or until all available facts and angles are 
exhausted. 

The radio or television newscaster, taking the first bulletin off the wire, 
must decide whether to read the bulletin paragraph over the air. If he does, 
the listener forms his initial perception of the event on the basis of that 
bulletin. If the bulletin is inaccurate or misleading, and the listener doesn't 
hear a later, corrected broadcast, or if the radio station does not broadcast 
explanatory material later, he is left with an inaccurate recollection of the 
event. Garbling may subsequently be corrected by the listener if he sees a full 
television news broadcast, a complete newspaper story, or a magazine article 
that records the event fully and accurately and places it in perspective. Which 
version of the story he accepts, however, may depend upon the extent to 
which it fits his preconceptions, rather than the fact that it was broadcast 
later and, accordingly, should be more accurate. The incorrect facts, as first 
heard, may stick in his mind. 

The same wire story, fed to a newspaper, is picked off the wire by an 
editor. Having more copy from the wire services and his reporters than he 
could possibly print, he too must decide whether the item will be included 
and if so, how much. His next decision is whether it will run on the front 
page or on the inside pages of the newspaper. Again, with a fast-breaking 
story, it may begin as a bulletin in an early edition and, accompanied by 
supplemental stories, grow into a larger front page story in a later edition. 
The editor must piece together the subsequent parts of the story which come 
over the wire intermittently. 

In every case, a headline is written, compressing the essence of the story 
into even fewer words. If the bulletin is inaccurate, or, if the copywriter on 
the rim of the paper's copy desk garbles the meaning in the headline, an 
additional source of distortion creeps in. 

Even if all information were passed by the gatekeepers with perfect 
fidelity, the limitations of time and space would still affect the audience's 
perception of its environment. A newsroom is inundated with a flood of 
competing information. Every news organization must select from the flood 
those driblets that will be allowed to surface for public view. A metropolitan 
newsroom, for instance, may have a half-dozen teletype machines, two 
newsphoto receivers, radio receivers on police and fire frequencies, dozens of 
press releases, hundreds of telephone tips from which to choose in a single 
day, and to these, add the product of the paper's own news staff. Then 
galvanize the organization with an impending deadline. Compress the output 
into a finite amount of space column inches for a newspaper or minutes and 
seconds for a television news program and the result is a package of 
information, selected, synthesized, honed in the greatest of haste on the basis 
of decisions automatically made. Clearly to produce an accurate portrayal of 
the environment, or to provide knowledge in a form that has more than 
perfunctory significance, are most difficult tasks for newsmen. 

An example from the wartime experiences of a long-time wire service 
newsman illustrates the point. He went to London early in 1943, at a time 
when the wire services, AP and UP, transmitted a daily roundup of strikes at 



Media Practices and Values 137 

war plants around the United States. Americans, he said, understood that the 
wire services did a daily roundup, but the practice caused the English to 
misunderstand the state of America's labor relations. London newspapers 
played about six paragraphs total of U.S. domestic news on their front pages, 
and five of those six paragraphs were devoted to the AP or UP roundup of 
strikes at war plants. The impression of the British audience was one of 
widespread labor unrest in the United States. A similar result ensues from 
wire service roundups of civil disorder or campus protest. 

In any event, the disjointed nature of news, resulting from the mechanics 
of the news system, may prevent an audience from ever knowing the 
significance of events. Tonight's 2-minute television news story about a riot in 
a distant city may not be followed tomorrow by a 10-minute story on the 
underlying causes, simply because the news director will have other stories 
with higher "news" values to show his audience. The disjointed riot story 
rides off into the limbo of the audience's memory, to reappear only when 
stimulated by another disjointed but related story. Yet the impression it first 
made colors, perhaps irrevocably, the audience's future opinion. 

Each of these decisions involves what journalists call "news judgment." 
While a great many studies have been done on the selective processes of 
audiences, remarkably few have been done on the selective processes of 
journalists. Part of the reason for this anomaly is that many media members 
believe it is nobody's business but their own. 

Nevertheless, it is possible to extrapolate from audience studies and apply 
them to journalists. While this can provide some insights into news judgment, 
important differences distinguish professional journalists from their 
audiences. One of the most significant is that a journalist is a trained listener, 
observer, reader, and writer. He has developed skills that aid him in selecting 
from a multitude of facts, opinions, and events, and in finding those items he 
calls "news." He is trained to present his findings in a clear, concise, and 
orderly manner. All journalists, it does not follow, are sagacious, able, 
extraordinarily perceptive unbiased, and excellent writers many of them are 
not; but such is their goal and they devote much time and energy to 
developing these skills. 

Another significant difference is that, in addition to the preconceptions \ 
each individual carries around with him, the journalist is looking at events in a 
peculiar way. He is trying to determine whether an event is "news" and which 
facts about the event make it "news." In other words, he is actively seeking 
something called "news," and his preoccupation with certain kinds of events 
and facts is apt to have a distorting effect that does not work on the 
non-journalist observer. What, indeed, is news? 



A. The Newsman 's Concept of News 

News, in the most literal sense, is what you read in newspapers and news 
magazines, what you see and hear on television, and hear on the radio. While 
the definition is accurate, it is not very useful. 

Several years ago, a political scientist decided that, in order to understand 
the operations of the federal government, it would be necessary to learn 
about political journalism. The nation's capital has as perceptive, articulate, 






138 Mass Media and Violence 

and brilliant a collection of American journalists as can be found anywhere; 
yet, none of them was able to define news. And the few who offered succinct 
definitions did not agree. 1 News has been defined as the unusual, the 
significant; it is change, anything that interests the audience, drama, conflict, 
violence; it is "what I say it is." 2 The ambiguity among journalists about 
news is understandable. The occasions on which they must exercise their 
news judgment do not allow for reflection and the journalism schools have 
made few efforts to examine the normative question, what ought to be news.. 

Generally, what most contemporary newsmen mean by news is an event 
that happened within the last 24 hours and will attract reader interest. An 
event quite old, recently discovered, can be news if it can be related to a 
current issue of high saliency. This was demonstrated in the fall of 1968, 
during the hearings on the circumstances and possible deception surrounding 
the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Similarly, "trend" stories may or may 
not qualify as news. As James Reston has suggested, if the story of a 
developing trend is published before anyone notices it, it is a hard news story; 
if it is published after it has become a topic of discussion, it is soft. The 
criteria for determining reader interest are conflict or violence, firstness, 
novelty, human interest, impact, saliency, and, for some, proximity. 

Conflict and violence as well as sex gained prominence in American 
journalism as devices for expanding readership among non-newspaper readers. 
These are the lessons taught by the periods of sensationalism in the 1830's, 
the 1890's, and the late 1920's. History also teaches that, once people begin 
to read newspapers, they begin to become interested in more substantial fare. 
Certainly the level of sensationalism practiced in the past is little in evidence 
today, yet the tradition subtle and much refined persists. 3 

This tradition sometimes provides reporters with exciting hallucinations. 
In 1967, Ted Post on of the New York Post said there had hardly been a single 
year since he left the South that the New York dailies, his included, had not 
provided at least one season of Negro scare stories "that aroused such 
intra-community tensions that bloodshed could well have resulted. One paper 
may pick up a legitimate and dramatic story of racial conflict, and then the 
season is on. A competitor will seek a 4 new angle' on the story, only to be 
topped by a third or fourth rival, and pretty soon the whole city will seem to 
be fighting the Civil War all over again." 4 He cited some examples: 

. . . Months before the rioting of July, 1964, broke out in Harlem and 
in Brooklyn's Bedford-S.tuyvesant section, the annual scare season had 
been opened and from a rather unexpected source. The staid New 
York Times ... It proclaimed that it had uncovered the existence of a 
sinister Harlem organization composed of Negro teen-agers and 
pre-teen-agers who had pledged to maim or murder every white person 
found in Harlem. Then it cited four recent isolated and unsolved 
slayings of white persons during apparent holdup attempts and 
credited them all to the new organization the Blood Brothers. 

Every responsible social, civic, youth, and antidelinquency agency in 
harlem not only denounced but disproved the preposterous story. But 
the Times continued to pursue it, with its competitors panting in its 
path and with the Blood Brothers' membership growing from 30 to 
400 and then dropping to 90 in successive editions. 



Media Practices and Values 139 

In Queens, a white student who wanted to quit college read of the 
Blood Brothers and got a big idea. He slashed himself with razor blades 
and told the police that he had been assaulted by two Negroes who 
called him "white man" (obviously Blood Brothers). The story got a big 
play in all the local dailies and made a big hit with every body except 
the police. They called the student in for questioning, and he broke 
down and confessed to the hoax. 

All the papers seemed willing to drop the story except the New York 
Journal-American. In "news" stories that really should have run in the 
editorial column, the Journal-American intimated that the only "hoax" 
in the case was the youth's confession. Didn't everyone know the Blood 
Brothers were around? 

The Times buried the Blood Brothers as abruptly as it had created 
them, but the scare returned in the form of stories about a group of 
youthful assassins called the Five Percenters, said to believe that 95 
percent of all Negroes are either cattle of Uncle Toms and that only the 
remaining 5 percent are courageous enough to try to kill all white 
people and Negro policemen. 

This new group was publicized editorially by the New York Herald 
Tribune . . . The Times denounced the Five Percenter scare, compared 
it with the Blood Brother myth, which it said was quite properly 
protested by Negro leaders. The Times didn't seem to recall where the 
blood Brothers were born. 5 

David Brinkley has said, ". . . placidity is not news. News is the unusual 
and the unexpected. If an airplane departs on time, arrives on time, it isn't 
news. If it crashes, regrettably, it is. I don't-I don't understand that 
complaint at all. Never have." 6 

News is the unusual, the extraordinary ; it is something that doesn't happen 
every day. The media have no need to report each airliner that arrives safely; 
it is not a matter of general public interest. The objection, however, is not 
that the media focus upon the unusual; rather it is that they focus on the 
unusual aspects of the unusual, and this narrower focus means the most 
dramatic or violent aspect of the unusual. Recall, for example, the coverage 
of the meeting at Watts, devoted to discussing grievances and what could be 
done to calm a tense racial situation. The media focused on the extremist 
statements of one 16-year-old boy. 7 This was not a representative portrayal 
of a legitimate news event. 

The unrepresentative portrayal of the unusual has been called 
"highlighting." The problem is generic and consists of giving the highlights of 
an event rather than the event itself. Moreover, there is a kind of highlight 
spiral. The assignment editor assigns the reporter to cover the most exciting 
or unusual events. The reporter, who wants to get his story in the paper or on 
the air and knows that space and time are short and that he is in competition 
with other reporters, then reports the most exciting or unusual aspects of that 
event. His product then goes to an editor who may cut it to include only the 
most exciting of the exciting. Finally, there is the executive editor (or 
producer in TV) who may kill the piece if it lacks the "news values" of 
competing products, or will institute a re-edit to cut out the less exciting 
parts. 



140 Mass Media and Violence 

This brief summary exaggerates the nature of the spiral to some extent. 
Some activities, like the public acts of the President, are covered whether 
they are exciting or not; on some days competitive pressures are weaker than 
others; and editors must consider the morale of their reporters and cannot 
always cut as ruthlessly as they would sometimes like to do. The difficulty of 
portraying the unusual in a representative fashion is particularly exacerbated 
for television because of the fee system. The correspondent may receive $25 
to $150 for each time he appears on television, in addition to his base salary. 
This provides an incentive not only to make the most of whatever assignment 
he receives, but once he has secured sufficiently dramatic footage to get on to 
the next one and not waste time doing the kind of digging necessary to 
provide perspective. 8 

Attracting audiences requires conflict and drama. Conflict, to be sure, is 
important and should be reported, because change in our society frequently 
emerges from conflict. Some news organizations have, however, a capacity for 
manufacturing drama where none exists or to overdramatize the dramatic. In 
addition, the press has a tendency to focus on the conflict rather than the 
change that may or does emerge from it. Here is a description of some news 
coverage of the San Francisco Conference called to draft the United Nations 
Charter: 



. . . This gathering necessarily followed a course governed by protocol; 
it involved proposal and counter proposal, preparation of texts, 
amendments and revisions, and eventual agreement by compromise. 

On many days during the weeks the Conference was in session there 
was nothing to report. But the reporters had to sent in their stories. 
Somehow there had to be news. The result on the lower levels was a 
series of personal items modeled after the Hollywood fan magazine and 
on the higher levels a distorted account of what took place. Because 
drama and tension were demanded by the editorial desks back home, 
drama and tension were manufactured at San Francisco. Hence calm 
was turned into the calm-before-the-storm. Silence became the 
silence-of-impending-conflict. The passage of time became a portentous 
period of delay. So completely was the task of manufacturing suspense 
performed that, when, after some weeks an acceptable charter was 
signed, the effect on newspaper readers was one of incredulous 
surprise. 9 



In a similar vein, Lawrence Laurent, television critic for The Washington 
Post, observed President Nixon's third television 10 news conference dealing 
with foreign affairs: 

The lack of conflict [in the press conference] that TV commentators 
often equate with "news" left reporters on all networks with little to 
say. The result was that the TV reporters were frequently reduced to 
the role of a radio announcer, describing endlessly those things that any 
interested viewer could see for himself. 1 1 

Several months later the New York Times observed: 



Media Practices and Values 141 

Editorialists, columnists and others who for months have had little 
better to do than write about the serenity of the White House and the 
cool competence of its principal occupant have suddenly come alive 
with dark hints that the Administration is suffering as Newsweek 
asserted last week, "a leadership crisis of disturbing proportions." 1 2 

Frequently, too, the media will distort events in the direction of audience I" 
expectations, often formed from predictions the media itself makes. A study/ 
by Kurt and Gladys Lang found that television coverage of Douglas 
MacArthur's homecoming parade in Chicago was characterized prior to its 
occurrence as one of the most exceptional events in history. TV portrayed 
the support of the crowd as unanimous and stronger than it was and avoided 
direct comment on the political issues involved. 

The study was conducted with monitors that described what they saw on 
television and compared these descriptions with those of 3 1 observers on the 
scene. Here are the descriptions of the same event, first, as reported by the 
network monitors: 

The scene at 2:50 P.M. at State and Jackson was described by the \ 
announcer as the "most enthusiastic crowd EVER in our city .... You 
can feel the tenseness in the air ... you can hear the crowd roar." The 
crowd was described by the commentator as pushing out into the street 
with the police trying to keep it in order, while the camera was still 
focusing on MacArthur and his party .The final picture was of a bobbing 
mass of heads as the camera took in the entire view of State Street 
northward. To the monitor, this mass of people appeared to be pushing 
and going nowhere. And then, with the remark, "The whole city 
appears to be marching down State Street behind General Mac Arhtur," 
holding the picture just long enough for the impression to sink in, the 
picture was suddenly blacked out. 

Here is the report of a second monitor: 

... the last buildup on TV covering the "crowd" (cut off as it was 
abruptly at 3:00 P.M.) gave me the impression that the crowd was 
pressing and straining so hard that it was going to be hard to control. I 
first thought, "I'm glad I'm not in that," and "I hope nobody gets 
crushed." 

Here is the description of the same events by an observer on the scene: 

[As MacArthur passed] everybody strained but few could get a really 
good glimpse of him. A few seconds after he had passed most people 
merely turned around to shrug and to address their neighbors with such 
phrases: "That's all." "That was it." "Gee, he looks just like he does in 
the movies." "What'll we do now." Mostly teen-agers and others with 
no specific plans flocked into the street after MacArthur but very soon 
got tired of following as there was no place to go and nothing to do. 
Some cars were caught in the crowd, a matter which, to the crowd, 
seemed amusing. 1 3 



142 Mass Media and Violence 

The role of conflict as a news value and the manner in which it leads to 
exaggeration from passage through numerous gatekeepers was illustrated by 
an experience of President Kennedy. During a 2-hour background briefing for 
35 correspondents, President Kennedy stated: 

Well, I think we are more aware, probably, that we are going to incur at 
intervals people's displeasures. This is sort of a revolving cycle. At least 
I think the U.S. ought to be more aware of it, and I think too often in 
the past we have defined our leadership as an attempt to be rather well 
regarded in these countries [the Atlantic Alliance] . The fact is, you 
can't possibly carry out any policy without causing major 
frictions .... So I think what we have to do is be ready to accept a 
good deal more expressions of newspaper and governmental opposition 
to the United States in order to get something done than we perhaps 
have been willing to do in the past. I don't expect that the United 
States will be more loved, but I would hope that we could get more 
done. 14 

This was an important statement. The United States was likely to be less 
concerned with criticism from friendly governments. The President intended 
to move toward a firmer leadership role in the Atlantic Alliance. An 
Associated Press reporter strengthened the statement: 

President Kennedy intends to follow up his Cuban success by exerting 
stronger leadership over the West's Cold War policies even at the risk 
of offending sensitive allies. 

Correspondents not present could use either the AP story or the milder UPI 
report. The French and German news agencies used the AP story ..The Times 
of London, known for its characteristic understatement, was about to use the 
UPI report when a correspondent for the BBC provided a copy of the AP 
story. The story in The Times was headlined, "TOUGH LEADERSHIP 
RESOLUTION BY PRESIDENT KENNEDY." A typical sentence in the story 
ran, "The President has made known that he will pace the foreign stage like a 
young lion . . ." The Paris-based, French newspaper, Le Monde, used the 
foil owing headline: 

PRESIDENT KENNEDY HAS DECIDED TO DIRECT THE 
WESTERN ALLIANCE WITHOUT WORRYING ABOUT 
OBJECTIONS OF THE ALLIES. 

As the news was passed, the President's statement became stronger and the 
conflict greater. 

Focusing on conflict is not always the cause of distortion, sometimes it is 
merely a preoccupation with the unusual or slighting of the ordinary. Some 
leaders of the anti-war movement believe that the media have placed too much 
emphasis on the unusual aspects of the movement and not enough on its 
substance. The parades of the anti-war movement are unusual; the 
significance of the growing discontent of Americans from all backgrounds 
with the war in Vietnam is unquestioned. But a great many different kinds of 



Media Practices and Values 143 

Americans oppose the war; opposition ranges from the responsible to the 
fanatical. Some who oppose the war may properly be described as hippies or 
anarchists. They wear colorful clothes, use extreme language, and reject many 
accepted social and moral standards. The complaint has been made widely, in 
some instances legitimately, that during a parade or demonstration television 
tends to focus on the most "unusual" participants. If this is all that is shown, 
and it is simultaneously reported that there were 50,000 people participating 
in the parade, the viewer is likely to assume that all present were of the type 
portrayed on television, which does not square with reality. Many viewers 
may be misled about the nature of war protest. In fact, there are a great many 
people in this country who are, in every other aspect, within the 
"mainstream" of American thought but oppose the war and, nevertheless, 
participate in these demonstrations. 

Consider another reported example: during the civil disorders at San 
Francisco State College, shortly after Dr. Hayakawa took over as 
acting-president, the entire nation saw pictures of him atop a sound truck 
ripping out wires. The car was surrounded, apparently by hostile students. 
The television newscast gave the impression that the entire university was in 
turmoil. If the viewer read the Los Angeles Times account the next day, he 
learned that the event on television represented only one episode that lasted 
eight or ten minutes. The rest of the day, Dr. Hawakaya was in his office 
receiving groups of students seeking to restore order on campus. The same 
day, 16,000 students attended class and did not participate in the 
disturbance. A few words by the television commentator would have 
provided the perspective necessary to communicate a representative portrayal 
of what had happened at San Francisco State College that day. Those words 
were missing. 

B. Objective Versus Interpretive Reporting 

Many of these complaints against today's journalism can be traced to the 
traditional belief that news is vaguely understood as the unfolding, 
event-oriented story, and the objective reporter's job is to tell the facts as he 
observed them about who did what, when, where, how, and why. Arguably, 
there is nothing wrong with that formula except that, regrettably, the 
"why" if it is there at all is last and often lost on the composing room 
floor. 

Formula ordering of facts does not help much either. News reports are 
usually written in what is termed the "inverted pyramid" style. The formula 
takes its name from the rule that all the essential drama and facts must be 
compressed into the first one or two sentences of the story. Additional facts 
are arranged in descending order of importance. 

There are several reasons for this formula. Once the writer is accustomed 
to it, facts fit rapidly into place. According to the folklore, readers may not 
read the entire story unless their attention is attracted immediately. Headlines 
are usually written by copy editors seated at the rim of the copy desk; their 
time is limited and they expect to write the headlines on the basis of the first 
two paragraphs. Perhaps the most important reason is that the article can be 
cut radically by dropping paragraphs from the end of the story on short 
notice as composing room needs may dictate. 



144 Mass Media and Violence 

Although the reasons for the style are easily understood, it does not 
encourage reflective writing. It reinforces the tendency to present drama at 
the expense of balance and to emphasize objectively verifiable facts who said 
what, how many were injured, and how much property was destroyed at the 
expense of why the event took place, its significance, and what should be 
done. 

Formula writing also multiplies the opportunity for distortion. Consider 
the following example, nominated by the Columbia Journalism Review as the 
best lead from the 1968 Democratic Convention. The UPI dispatch reported: 

Chicago Police and National Guardsmen battled thousands of antiwar 
protestors with clubs, rifle butts and tear gas in the heart of this 
convention city tonight. Hubert Humphrey was among those gassed. 

The "gassing" of the Vice President was described in greater detail in the 
fourth and fifth paragraphs: 

Humphrey, awaiting his expected nomination at the International 
Amphitheater five miles away, had left his windows open on his 25th 
floof suite in the Hilton and taken a shower to freshen up. 

An upward draft wafted the tear gas into the suite and when 
Humphrey emerged he began coughing and sneezing. 1 5 

If the subsequent paragraphs had been cut in the composing room, the story 
would have been factually correct, but grossly inaccurate in the impression it 
left. 

The inverted pyramid is, of course, not the only possible style. The 
chronological account has its place in news columns as well as in suspended 
interest stories. These take longer to fashion, but they generally heighten the 
dramatic qualities of the story without undue emphasis on conflict. They are 
more comprehensible than news presented in the standard format. 

The suspended interest format (1) does not lend itself to indiscriminate 
shortening through elimination of later paragraphs; (2) requires the headline 
reader to read the entire story; and (3) requires more time to write. It is still 
limited by the recital of more or less objectively verifiable facts. And little by 
way of background or interpretation of the significance of the event is involved. 

To a great extent these rigid standards for news reporting were adopted to 
stop editorializing in the news columns characteristic of an earlier era. In 
addition, the wire services, which served clients with a broad range of political 
views, could avoid offending any significant segment by reporting only 
observable facts and avoiding any attempt to provide perspective. The 
inadequacy of this approach became apparent in a limited way shortly after 
the beginning of World War I. The American people had little understanding 
of the events in Europe. No doubt this was in part due to the absence of prior 
comprehensive coverage of Europe. The growth of interpretive reporting 
continued during the twenties, but was limited to foreign correspondents. 
With the New Deal, it became apparent that traditional formula reporting on 
the new complex social legislation would leave the reader totally confused. 
Interpretive reporting was extended by larger newspapers to coverage of the 
nation's politics. 



Media Practices and Values 145 

In 1938, Sidney Kobre, a veteran Baltimore reporter, wrote in the 
Journalism Quarterly : 

What are the next steps in American journalism if the newspapers are 
to be made an effective, up-to-date social institution? Certain lines of 
development can be pursued. 

The materials with which the newspaper deals are fundamentally of 
a psychological, economic and sociological character. It is an 
oversimplification to handle this material as if it were ordinary routine 
stuff. All aspects of human life are being methodically investigated, 
instead of being viewed in the usual "common-sense" traditional 
manner. The human body is a complicated and intricate nervous and 
physical system. When it breaks down only trained men can rehabilitate 
it. The stuff of which news is made is just as highly complicated 
because it relates to human behavior. Only specialized reporters with 
eyes sharpened in the social sciences can handle and interpret the facts 
intelligibly. 

The expert has been quietly emerging up to now from university 
halls and entering every field affecting industry and politics. Why not 
journalism? 16 

Although there is a growing agreement on the efficacy of interpretive 
reporting, there is substantial disagreement on what it means. Some suggest 
that interpretation is nothing more than backgrounding, providing the 
antecedent facts to place the day's events in perspective. Others refer to it as 
"in-depth" reporting. Edwin Canham, Editor of the Christian Science 
Monitor, has said "Background, surrounding circumstances, prior events, 
motivation all are part of the real and basic news. This kind of interpretation 
is the best kind of reporting." Jeffrey Pond of the New York Times has 
made the case in favor in interpretive reporting: 

For example, a person has been tabbed as the mayor's choice for a 
job. I think you have to interpret the facts in this situation. It is not 
enough to say he is simply the mayor's choice. That does not tell 
anyone anything. He could be the mayor's choice because he will be an 
easy man to handle; he could be the man the mayor honestly regards as 
most competent for the job ; the selection could be a political payoff; it 
could be a step to another job; it could be a way to get him out of the 
way for someone else. The reporter who simply says "X" is being 
considered is really betraying the reader's confidence; the average 
reader is not intimate enough with the situation. The reporter has got 
to tell that average reader what really is happening and why. 1 7 

The critics of interpretive reporting claim that it opens the door to slanted 
news. In response to such criticism, Lester Markel of theAfew York Times has 
written: 

There are, as I see it, three approaches to dealing with the news; 
first, the basic facts; second, the interpretation of these facts; third, the 
comment on them. Thus: 



146 Mass Media and Violence 

What Mr. Khrushchev says about Mr. Kennedy is spot news. 

Why Mr. Khrushchev says these things is interpretation. 

Whether Mr. Khrushchev should have said these things and what we 
should do about him is opinion. 

It is crucial that the difference between interpretation and opinion 
be fully recognized. Interpretation is an objective appraisal, based on 
background, knowledge of a situation, and analysis of primary and 
related facts. Editorial opinion, on the other hand, is a subjective 
judgment; it is a definite taking of sides; it is likely to be 
exhortation . . 1 8 



The test is whether, after reading the story, you know where the reporter 
stands. 19 

Knowledge and background of the situation are absolutely essential to 
effective interpretive reporting. While interpretive reporting is still largely 
limited to foreign affairs and politics in Washington, D. C., it is being used 
increasingly to report other domestic news. The need for interpretive 
reporting of the civil rights movement, life in the ghetto, black power, and 
the student revolt should be clear. 

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Eric Blanchard has described the 
reporting of the Poor People's Campaign in Washington as "so pedestrian, so 
police-blotter superficial that the New Yorker envisioned newsmen asking 
Martin Luther King, Jr., which mountain he had visited and which night it 
was that he had first started having his dream." 20 

Blanchard continues with a disturbing description of the coverage of the 
May 29 march on the Supreme Court: 

That day perhaps more than at any other time during the campaign 
the poor acted as the bloc they wanted to be. Negroes, with their 
catalog of economic needs, marched in support of Indians. The Indians 
were seeking "justice" from the Court, which two days before had 
ruled, in their eyes, against Indians by asserting that the State of 
Washington had a right to regulate net fishing (not just by Indians, as a 
matter of fact, but by everyone). Despite a 114-year-old treaty, the 
Indians are running a distant third to canners and sportsmen in taking 
fish from the waters of Puget Sound and its tributaries. Interested less 
in legal niceties than in food, the Indians decided on a direct-action 
approach to the Supreme, Court. Several windows in the building were 
smashed; a distressed young woman hauled down the American flag. 

But almost unanimously newspapers chose to emphasize the disorder 
almost to the exclusion of background on the Indians' problems . . . the 
fairest account of the day that I saw was in the Baltimore Sun, which 
subordinated the windows and the flag to the bottom of the front-page 
matter, while the fishing rights were cited twice on page one. 

The net impact of newspaper treatment of the demonstration was 
almost totally negative (presumably reinforcing the attitudes of those 
who believe that the poor are criminals and eroding the positions of 
others who aren't sure yet). Reporters were careful to write only that 
"windows were broken," but their circumspection was spoiled by 



Media Practices and Values 147 

"active" headlines. The papers got a good bag from that day. The 
problem was they were loaded for rabbits, and that's what they got. 2 1 

* * * 

Commercial media must attract the attention of the audience if they are to 
maintain the necessary financial support and to communicate with the public. 
Moreover, using reader interest as one criterion for determining what is news 
is both socially desirable as well as economically necessary. If the media do 
not report those matters that interest the reader they will turn to other 
sources for the desired information. 

The difficulty with too many news organizations is that they have a 
tendency to do nothing more than attract the audience's attention; once they 
have the public's attention, they should go on to tell them something. A 
recent example of failure to go beyond attracting public attention is the 
report on page one of the Washington Star about an ex-convict and his wife 
who wanted to see their children, kidnapped a Texas Highway Patrolman, led 
them on a 90-mile-an-hour chase across East Texas, only to have the husband 
shot on entering the house where he was told he could spend 10 or 15 
minutes with his children. 22 There was no explanation of why it was 
necessary to kidnap the officer, and there was no indication of why he could 
not see his children. All that was reported were the facts of the kidnapping, 
the chase, and the manner in which Texas authorities handled the chase and 
eventually killed the man. The next day the Washington Post ran a 7- by 
5 -inch picture on the front page with a similar story inside. 23 Perhaps the 
public has simply been trained to regard such items as "news." Yet, one can 
hardly suggest that it had any apparent significance, particularly page one 
significance. 

Contrast this with the coverage by several newspapers of a senseless murder 
by a frustrated and deranged inventor who killed a secretary at the American 
Physical Society in New York. The basic facts were reported, but the New 
York Times went beyond the action. The killer had been a former mental 
patient and they discussed the state and federal veterans release system for 
mental patients. The New York World-Telegram and Sun listed eleven other 
cases involving crime by mental patients who had been released from 
institutions; editorialized on the inadequate release standards for mental 
patients from veterans hospitals; reported that the Mattewan Hospital, where 
the killer had been confined, had only four psychiatrists for 1,700 patients; 
and carried a story by the UP science editor who said that the public's 
indifference was to blame for such tragedies. 24 

Critics have suggested that the news media should put more emphasis on 
"good news." The profession has categorically rejected this suggestion. They 
have an obligation, they insist, to report events which involve conflict, the 
threat of violence, or actual violence. 

Reporting on the real conditions of life undoubtedly contributes to the 
level of anxiety in this country. From data on radio and news listening among 
New Yorkers, Mendelsohn developed the point that today's citizen lives in a 
state of anxiety created by real conditions. This, he reported, leads to "an 
almost desperate sense of urgency regarding 'the news."' In its extreme form, 
such anxiety can cause some persons to reject their responsibilities as 



148 Mass Media and Violence 

members of a democratic society and avoid the information of media content 
altogether. 2 5 

In a 1962 study in Los Angeles, a correlation was found between not 
reading newspapers, not watching television news, and not listening to radio 
news. Some people almost totally ignore the news. 26 Professor Lyle often 
encounters respondents in field surveys who say they consciously avoid the 
news "because it upsets me." 

The media have properly rejected the suggestion that they report "good" 
news simply because it is good. It apparently has not occurred to very many 
newsmen, however, that events should not go unreported simply because they 
involve a non-violent resolution of conflict. One function of the media is to 
aid in coordinating society's response to change. They can fulfill this function 
in part by telling the public how conflicts are resolved nonviolently and by 
giving such resolutions the same prominence they give the violent 
manifestations of conflict. 

For the overwhelming majority of Americans, information about 
important social issues must come from the mass media. Giving only the 
objective observable facts leaves too much to the reader's preconceptions. 
The action must be set in context, the public must be given a representative 
view of events and an explanation of their significance. 

The news should provide a sensitive instrument reading on vital, but 
remote, parts of our social machinery that the citizen cannot personally see 
or hear, like a human early warning system. The news system must examine 
itself to see if it is reporting things that really mean much anymore; or 
whether it selects "news" because it seemed interesting or profitable or easy 
in the past. It should do this because the social machinery can be destroyed 
by archaic, obsolete, or false readings. The task is easy for the formula 
reporter or editor or technician, who receives a set of traditional news values 
for what is news. For those newsmen who are serious about relaying what 
something means to men's lives, however, the job is very hard. It requires 
knowledge of society at a level of education and sophistication previously 
unknown to the general run of the news trade. 

REFERENCES 

1. William L. Rivers, The Mass Media (New York: Harper & Row, 1964) p. 74. 

2. Others have also struggled with the question "What is news?": See Robert E. Park, 
"News as a Form of Knowledge," Society (Glencoe: The Free Press, 1955), pp. 
71-78; Helen M. Hughes, News and the Human Interest Story (Chicago: University 
of Chicago Press, 1940) pp. xii ff.; Curtis D. MacDougall, Interpretative Reporting 
(New York: MacMillan, 1957), p. 52; Walter Gieber, "News is What Newspapermen 
Make it" in People, Society, and Mass Communications Lewis A. Dexter and David 
M. White eds. (New York: Free Press, 1964), pp. 173-180. 

The head of NBC news, Reuven Frank, prefers to rely on tradition and the 
newsman's intelligence: "There are no objective criteria by which to judge what 
news is. There is only an accumulated body of tradition and personal intelligence of 
a man who, in full possession of that tradition, makes it operative. It's news because 
we covered it. We covered it because we thought it would be news. If it turns out to 
be what we expected, it's news. If it isn't what we expect-it's not news." Reuven 
Frank, "TV Journalism: A Dialogue," in The Progress In Television A. William Blum 
and Roger Manveu eds. (New York: Focac Press, 1967), p. 117. Reprinted from 
Television Quarterly, Fall, 1962. 



Media Practices and Values 149 

3. See Part I, Chapter 1, section on Sensationalism. 

4. Ted Poston, "The American Negro and Newspaper Myths," in Race and the News 
Media Paul L. Fisher & Ralph L. Lowenstein, eds. (New York: Anti-Defamation 
League of B'nai B'rith, 1967), p. 67. 

5. Ibid., pp. 68-69. 

6. "The Whole World is Watching," Broadcast by the Public Broadcast Laboratory, 
Dec. 22, 1968, script p. 12. 

7. See Part II, Chapter 6, section on the Watts disorders. 

8. "With some recent exceptions, network newsmen make their money from fees paid 
on top of a basic salary. Reporters contributing to television news shows receive 
fees ranging from $25 to $150 for each item used on a program containing 
commercials. A man may spend three or four days quietly digging for facts to 
support a story, only to find himself receiving a fee of $50 if his story is used-or 
nothing if the story does not pan out. His colleague, meanwhile, may use the same 
amount of time rushing to snatch an interview here and put together a few 
superficial facts there, may place ten separate pieces on the air, and may as a result 
pocket $500. Obviously the system discourages methodical pursuit of information. 
The object is to get each story on the air and move on to something else." Robert. 
McNeil, "The News on TV and HowJlIsJInMade," Harper's, Oct. 1968^p. 74. 

9. Commission on Freedom of the Press, A Free and Responsible Press, Robert 
Hutchins, Chairman (Chicago: University of 111. Press), pp. 56-57. 

10. Broadcast live on the three networks at 9 p.m. est, Mar. 4, 1969. 

11. Lawrence Laurent, "Two Looks at Nixon's TV Report," The Washington Post, 
March 1969. 

12. Robert E. Sample, Jr., "Nixon's Leadership: The Focus is Still Far From Clear," 
New York Times, July 13, 1969, p. E-l. 

13. Kurt Lang & Gladys Engel Lang, Politics & Television (Chicago: Quadrangle Books), 
pp. 49-50. 

14. William L. Rivers, The Opinionmakers, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965), p. 51 ff. 

15. Columbia Journalism Review, Fall 1968, p. 9. 

16. Sidney Kobre, "The Social Sciences and the Newspaper," Journalism Quarterly 
(1938), p. 288. 

17. Quoted in William L. Rivers, The Mass Media, op. cit. footnote 172, pp. 180-181. 

18. Ibid., p. 181. 

19. For a well-articulated discussion and defense of interpretative reporting see "H.R. 
Jolliffe, A Semantic Slant on 'Objectivity' vs. 'Interpretation,'" Journalism 
Quarterly, pp. 189-193. 

20. Eric Blanchard, "The Poor People and the 'White Press'" Columbia Journalism 
Review (November 1968), p. 61. 

21. Ibid. 

22. Washington Star, May 1, 1969, p. 1. 

23. The Washington Post, May 3, 1969, pp. 1, A- 12. 

24. Sidney Kobre and Juanita Parkes, "The Newspapers Cover a Murder Case," 
Journalism Quarterly (1954), pp. 311-318. 

25. Harold Mendelsohn, "Socio-Psychological Perspectives on the Mass Media and Public 
Anxiety," Journalism Quarterly (1963), p. 511. 

26. Lyle Wilcox, Eds., "A Community Daily in a Changing Metropolitan Press 
Environment" (Los Angeles: UCLA Department of Journalism), p. 27. 



Chapter 9 
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 



Few American institutions are as free from responsible and systematic 
analysis as the American press. The press, which performs the role of reporter 
and critic for other institutions, has been reluctant to undertake self -analysis. 
Yet the products of equally few American institutions are as readily visible as 
that of the press. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to hear the press 
accused when the society fails to meet individual expectations. Frequently 
the accusations are ill-considered, in part because of the absence of reliable 
information. 

Many accusations have been hurled against the news media for their real 
and imagined contribution to violence. "The press reports violence because 
violence sells the press," critics assert. 'The press encourages violence because 
the violent seek the publicity the press provides." These are typical 
accusations and perhaps the most common charges that the news media fail 
to do enough or do too much about violence in our society. 

The news media can play a significant role in lessening the potential for 
violence by functioning as a faithful conduit for intergroup communication, 
providing a true marketplace of ideas, providing full access to the day's 
intelligence, and reducing the incentive to confrontation that sometimes 
erupts in violence. That is a subtle and uncertain mission. 

The traditional relationship between violence and the press is a matter of 
journalism history. Violence has had a prominent role in the press, and, at 
least since the time of Benjamin Day and the "penny press," violence has had 
some economic importance as well. Long ago, publishers learned that they 
could expand their readership among heretofore non-newspaper readers by 
openly marshalling the most exaggerated and detailed reports of violence and 
sex. Today there are very few new markets and the rate of literacy is high. 

It is undoubtedly true that some groups have learned to use violence and 
the press to exploit their goals. They have learned that the media generally 
can be counted on to give violent behavior a prominent role in the day's 
news. The result is that when they seek publicity for their grievances, conflict 
and possibly violence may be one of the techniques used in the fairly certain 
knowledge that the press will make sure "the whole world is watching." 

Although there is truth in this charge, it is probably a good deal less than 
seems to be popularly believed. First, violence is not necessary to gain media 



151 



152 Mass Media and Violence 

attention. In the case of television particularly, any kind of physical action or 
dramatization of conflict will usually suffice. Second, groups who engage in 
violence are apt to have their message lost because of the media tendency to 
focus on the violence to the exclusion of the message. Third, the use of 
violence, as is frequently the case in university confrontations, is a political 
instrument used to provoke the police and thereby radicalize large numbers 
of students who are sympathetic to new left goals, but ordinarily reject new 
left tactics. 

Today, the press is less dependent upon violent content upon titillation 
in general than it may ever have been. The hard fact is that violence is not 
primarily what the news media have to offer today. For those who suppose 
that it is, that may be because it is what they have come to expect or 
choose to see and read. 

Beyond that, it is the function of the news media, as the Commission on a 
Free and Responsible Press has put it, to provide "full access to the day's 
intelligence." Unless we propose to emulate the ostrich, we must 
expect indeed, the public has a right to demand that the press will report 
the day's intelligence including that which is violent. As with other events, 
when there is violence, the public has a right to know it. 

We make these points forcefully because we wish to set to one side the 
querulous contentions of those who see in the press the source of most that is 
evil and who argue particularly that the press ought to "accentuate the 
positive and eliminate the negative." That may be a good formula for 
songwriting in troubled times; as a prescription for news content it is fatuous. 

Yet, the media have contributed to the widespread use of confrontation as 
an instrument of social change by their failure to report adequately the 
conditions underlying current protest, by the proposals for solution of 
pressing social problems, and by their action-oriented coverage of conflict. 

The contention that the news media are subject to manipulation by the 
demonstrators is only partly accurate. It has happened and will again. It is 
significant, we repeat, not only as an incentive to violence but, perhaps more 
important, for what it suggests about weaknesses of the news media which 
touch upon the areas that concern us. More often than not, those who object 
to coverage of this kind would object equally to the cure, admission of the 
disaffected through traditional channels. 

The press does provide a marketplace for ideas, but it is not of the sort 
commonly supposed. The increased level of violence in the country today is 
partially owing to the sluggish response of our institutions to social change; 
but the press shares in this sluggishness, and an important part of its 
inadequacy is the inability of new and different voices to gain routine and 
peaceful access to the centralized news media. 

Professor Jerome Barren has proposed one solution in the Harvard Law 
Review. 1 He urges that the first amendment requires a nondiscriminatory 
right of access to the media for socially important ideas with legislative, 
judicial, and administrative remedies. It is romantic to think in the 1960's, 
writes Barren, that it is possible to guarantee a free marketplace of ideas 
simply by keeping the government away from the press. We agree. But can 
the courts and legislatures do a better job? We doubt it, for it is equally 
romantic to think that if the courts and legislatures were granted the power 



Conclusions and Recommendations 153 

to force publicity for certain ideas, they would act to protect the weak and 
unorthodox. 

One problem in ending mass discrimination in the South, from the 17th 
century to the present, for example, has been the exclusion of the black 
communities and the poor whites for that matter from routine access to the 
mass media. Anything from them that upset the racial or economic status 
quo was censored or viciously attacked. And the judicial and legislative 
officials in the region were frequently more vindictive than the news media. 
When some newspapers and broadcasters broke this conspiracy of silence, 
they were harassed by law enforcement and legislative agencies. To illustrate, 
Gene Wirgess, Hazel Brannon Smith, P. D. East and others expressed 
nonconforming thoughts and suffered from the response of local courts and 
state governments. 

On the national level, the evidence is equally discouraging. What the most 
powerful committees of Congress regard as the proper range of political and 
social ideas indicates what would happen if they were able to legislate 
information into the news system. Moreover, to the extent members of 
Congress believe that certain ideas have not received sufficient public 
attention in the media, they control one of the surest means of access for 
those ideas, congressional hearings. High government officials who seek to 
increase the range of debate need only speak. 

The Federal Communications Commission has statutory power to force 
broadcasters to study the needs of their communities, to produce 
programming to meet these needs; further, it has the power to force a 
balanced treatment of issues and a fair treatment of individuals. A study of 
the FCC's use of this power, however, does not provide much hope. The 
natural history of all regulatory agencies serves as a model for power of 
government over ideas. Agencies like the FCC, specifically created to protect 
the public interest against private interest, were given powerful weapons to do 
it. In almost every case, within a few years they had either handed these 
weapons over to private interest or allowed them to atrophy through lack of 
use. They became, not guardians of the public interest, as the FCC should be, 
but service agencies for the industries involved. At the FCC this is no doubt in 
part owing to inadequate congressional appropriations. 2 

Judicial and legislative officials have a vested interest in the news. Senator 
Fannin's address to the Senate objecting to the use of funds appropriated for 
the Office of Economic Opportunity to support community-action 
newsletters is a recent example. Among the messages he objected to were 
these on the strike at San Francisco State College: 

The only reason the strike was called was as a last resort to bring out 
into the open [the student's] grievances and the present injustices and 
irrelevancies on the campus of a school which belongs to this 
community .... The basic truth of the strike is the freedom of 
self-determination of students in their education versus the present 
misuse of the schools by irrelevant and outside political forces such as 
the office of the Governor, State superintendent of schools, trustees 
and such boards of directors who are totally alien to the needs and 
desires of black and third world students. The activities and grievances 
of the students deserve the sympathy of the local community. 



154 Mass Media and Violence 

He raised objections to other items in the newsletters. One item urged that 
there was little difference between being in jail and life in the ghetto, and 
closed with the suggestion that the reader join in the fight for "identity, 
equality, not civil rights but human rights." Another item predicted that civil 
war was "almost inevitable" unless white Americans face the fact that they 
have a responsibility to see that "all children have some guarantees decent 
economic income, housing, education, and health insurance that exist for 
their own children." 

Government officials or media operators are not inherently wicked. It is 
something much worse. Each is convinced that he possesses the truth. In the 
case of government officials and present broadcasters and publishers, it is 
probably very nearly the same truth. 

Mass media openings today are in short supply, no matter who the message 
bearer, and these openings are made to collect huge audiences. On this basis, it 
costs too much to broadcast minority views, or at least, unrich minority 
views. A mass press also demands that the person who gets such an opening 
must not only appeal to an undifferentiated mass audience, but also avoid 
seriously offending any significant segment of that audience. If minority 
views were aired regularly on prime time, it would cease to be prime time. It 
may be quicker and more practical to get judicial, legislative or public policy 
action to increase the number of public channels rather than to force entry 
on existing channels. This process is already happening in a small way: CATV 
has continued to grow, the Office of Economic Opportunity has in the past 
supported community newsletters, and there are over 100 underground 
newspapers with more than a million circulation and an underground wire 
service. 

On the broader level, no technical reason exists to prevent each 
community from having 20 television and several hundred voice or data 
channels, which would leave plenty of time and space for minority views at 
extremely small cost. In addition, such a communications system could be 
used to revitalize local politics, culture, and community interaction. In the 
city of Los Angeles, for example, if a group wants a public discussion of 
problems relating to the Santa Monica School Board, they must broadcast 
over a radio transmitter that covers 4,000 square miles. Similarly, it is 
technically feasible to construct a cable system that would allow a 
congressman to reach only those homes in the district from which he is to be 
elected. The cost of campaigning via television could be considerably reduced. 

Finally, the Federal Communications Commission can make an important 
contribution to upgrading the performance of broadcast media without 
becoming involved in news content. 

Section 309(a) of the Communications Act requires that they make a 
determination whether the licensee has operated in the public interest. While 
there are many objections by broadcasters today to any suggestion that the 
FCC become involved in determining program mix, it is clear that such 
objections would have been quite surprising to the Congressmen who first 
passed the statute and the broadcasting industry which on initial passage not 
only agreed, but volunteered that public service programming was one of 
their most important activities. In Congressional testimony which led to 
passage, the National Association of Broadcasters said, in part: 



Conclusions and Recommendations 155 

It is the manifest duty of the licensing authority in passing upon 
applications for licenses or the renewal thereof, to determine whether 
or not the applicant is rendering or can render adequate public service. 
Such service necessarily includes broadcasting of a considerable 
proportion of programs devoted to education, religion, labor, 
agricultural, and similar activities concerned with human betterment. 

Broadcasting magazine editorialized in 1934: 

[The Commission] cannot censor programs. But it can consider the 
merit of programs in passing upon applications of stations for renewal 
of their licenses, just as it did in deleting the stations operated by 
Brinkley, Baker and Shuler. 3 

Much later the Supreme Court made it relatively clear that simply meeting 
the technical requirements for broadcast is not sufficient: 

[A] n important element of public interest and convenience affecting 
the issue of a license is the ability of the licensee to render the best 
practicable service to the community reached by his broadcast .... The 
Commission's licensing function cannot be discouraged, therefore, 
merely by finding that there are no technological objections to the 
granting of a license. 4 

The public interest standard is inchoate and requires, as all such standards 
do, the articulation of content by the agency charged with its enforcement. 
From time to time, the FCC has made some efforts to develop programing 
standards. 5 Yet, the recent failure of a Commission majority to endorse the 
development of guidelines indicates they do not accept the public interest 
standard as a part of their Congressional mandate . 6 

Any institutional arrangement for mass media is bound to have its defects, 
and many of the critics of commercial broadcasting seem to overlook the fact 
that any alternative will have different, perhaps more serious, defects. One 
important way in which the government can act positively to broaden the 
range of ideas in the marketplace is by providing adequate support to the 
present best alternative to commercial news service, the Public Broadcast 
Corporation. 

Another proposal is to provide support for some continuing and 
systematic analysis of press performance. Although the news media may be 
sluggish, they are not immovable. If, 30 years ago, anyone had announced 
that most daily editors should think twice before using anything a police 
official said about a crime, he would have been hooted down as a radical 
against a free press; yet that is exactly what is beginning to happen in 
newsrooms today. 7 If anyone had told most network executives ten years ago 
that he run on prime time a TV series on the problems of people who live 
with cockroaches, he would have dismissed the idea as crazy. The lack of 
outside analysis and interaction with the public has left the whole system to 
drift with forces that are not clearly seen from within. 

New journalistic forms are needed. After events are reported, something 
more is required opinions, analysis, solutions. These opinions do not always 



156 Mass Media and Violence 

come from the proverbial pillars of the community; frequently they will 
come from new voices which, at the present, have a very hard time getting 
into the media unless they appeal to traditional news values by creating 
conflict or violence. When, in the past, there were many different newspapers 
in one place, it might have been left to each one to give its personal analysis 
and it was assumed this would cover the field. But, today, we do not have this 
kind of multiple voice anymore. It should become habitual editorial policy to 
display fairly and clearly the opinions, analyses, and solutions offered by a 
wide variety of people, expert and non-expert, covering the spectrum, 
regardless of the proprietor's personal position. 

Too many news organizations fear social ideas and social action. As a 
result, they stimulate, dissatisfy and arouse anxiety only to fall silent or limit 
themselves to irrelevant cliches when thoughtful solutions are required. 
Alternative solutions to our most urgent social problems, based on the work 
of our most imaginative social thinkers, and written with the clarity that only 
a good journalist can produce, ought to be standard practice. 

America can look forward to change the only certainty. This will require 
not only information about events, violent and non -violent, but ideas about 
what to do about these events. It is a new kind of journalism. It may start, as 
in the past, with the fair or objective description of physical happenings, but 
now it must go beyond to a fair portrayal of alternative solutions. The last 
generation of reporters concentrated on reporting objective physical 
happenings telling the reader what he saw with his own eyes and heard with 
his own ears. The next generation must concentrate on describing what 
somebody else thinks. 

A. Action by Government 

Although the government's role in the communication of news is properly 
restricted, it is becoming increasingly evident that the policies of the first 
amendment cannot fully be realized simply by keeping the government out. 
Specifically we recommend: 

A. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting be provided with a 
budget for news and public affairs programming comparable to that of 
tne television networks. The three networks spent about $150 million 
for such programs last year. We believe that approximately $40 to $50 
million should be provided to the CPB for news and public affairs. The 
corporation should focus on providing those services which commercial 
broadcasting cannot or will not perform. 

This will require great restraint on the part of the government. We 
believe such restraint can be partially assured by requiring that all 
communications between government officials and the corporation 
relating to news content be a matter of public record, and that all 
hearings be open to the public. 

B. The Justice Department and the Federal Communications 
Commission should scrutinize carefully all mergers, license applications, 
and license transfers which would result in greater concentration of 
media ownership. While generally we do not believe that it is feasible to 



Conclusions and Recommendations 157 

significantly deconcentrate the industry, we do believe that, except in 
cases of above average performance, license renewals by television 
stations affiliated with a newspaper in the same community should be 
granted only on the condition that the station or newspaper is sold 
within the next 3 years. The traditional failing company exception 
would, of course, also apply. 

C. Perhaps most important is that the government must stay 
abreast of new technological developments in the communications 
industry and be prepared to assure that further concentration of 
control does not occur. This is particularly important -with respect to 
CATV. Control of access to the 20 or more channels of such a system 
by a single corporation is unacceptable. If CATV is to be made a 
common carrier, conditions for access provide one of the most difficult 
policy problems confronting the government. In addition, the technical 
specifications e.g., whether there will be an opportunity for selection 
through information retrieval and the allocation of the channels for 
various purposes are of crucial importance. Toward this end we would 
endorse the recommendation of the Telecommunications Task Force 
for the establishment of an executive level department for 
Communications planning with authority to appear in regulatory 
proceedings involving these issues. 8 

D. There is a good deal of confusion, particularly among practicing 
broadcast journalists, about what the fairness doctrine requires. We 
believe that the most the fairness doctrine should require is that the 
licensee give a representative portrayal of the arguments of various sides 
of an issue. If the arguments for a particular result are overwhelming, 
the broadcaster ought not be forced to pretend it is a close question so 
long as he provides a representative portrayal of opposing views. The 
belief that balance, regardless of the merits, is required seems to have 
had a dampening effect on willingness of many broadcast news 
organizations to treat controversial subjects. We recommend the FCC 
clarify this ambiguity and resolve it along the lines indicated. 

E. Each year the Federal Communications Commission must pass on 
approximately 2,500 broadcast license renewal applications. With this 
kind of case load, in addition to its other many chores, it is impossible 
for the Commission to give individual consideration to each application. 
Yet the Commission is obliged to determine that each renewal will serve 
the "public interest, convenience and necessity." If the Commission is 
to effectively discharge its mandate, it must develop at least broad 
guidelines for such determinations in order that its staff can bring to the 
Commission's attention those cases that raise serious questions. 

Although we do not endorse any specific set of standards we do believe 
that the recent dissenting opinion of Commissioners Cox and Johnson 
articulate the proper direction of such guidelines. 9 They include: 

(1) The percentage and number of hours of news programing; (2) 
The percentage and number of hours of public affairs programing; (3) 



158 Mass Media and Violence 

Percentage oi network news programs cleared; (4) Local and regional 
news as a percentage of total news programing; (5) Amount of locally 
originated prime time programing; and (6) Number of news employees. 

Although these standards are relatively objective measures, it is clear that 
they would not be the sole guide of whether or not to renew the license. 
They do provide guides for determining which license renewal applications 
ought to be brought to the attention of the full Commission. 

In addition to the kind of criteria articulated in the above dissenting 
opinion we would recommend the exploration of an additional standard. 

The percentage or amount of time devoted to news and public affairs is 
only one measure of public service. Equally important as the time devoted is 
the quality of programing. Although we cannot accept involvement of the 
FCC in making judgments whether a news and public affairs programing is 
good or bad, it does seem appropriate for the Commission to examine the 
expenditures on this kind of programing. The correlation between cost and 
quality is hardly precise, but it is an appropriate index for consideration so 
long as its infirmities are recognized. Finally, it is clear that expenditures on 
news and public affairs programing ought not be evaluated in the abstract. 
The adequacy of such expenditures should be judged against the profitability 
of the station as a percentage of depreciated capital investment, or, in the 
case of stations which have been transferred since commencing operations, 
depreciated value of the purchase price. With regard to stations subsequently 
subject to sale, no readjustment of the depreciated value of assets would be 
allowed except the capitalized cost of securing the transfer. 

This report has focused very little on the pathology of American 
journalism. There are, to be sure, a number of well-documented cases of news 
suppression and the rudeness and pomposity of some newsmen is well known. 
There is little those outside the profession or news organizations can do to 
improve manners and there is little point in admonishing against what even 
the least principled members of the profession recognize is wrong. 

Recent governmental concern with "staged" events does require, however, 
that we briefly address this problem. Characteristic of the kind of response 
generated by the television coverage of the disorders at the Chicago 
convention is H.R. 9566,, now pending in the House of Representatives 
Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. If enacted, the bill would 
make it unlawful "for any person, with intent to deceive the listening or 
viewing public, to broadcast a news program which has been falsified in whole 
or in part." The penalty is a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment 
for not more than 1 year, or both. 

No one, of course, can endorse the broadcast of a news program that has 
been falsified with intent to deceive the listening or viewing public. Yet there 
are great dangers in such legislation to the kind of journalism we seek to 
promote. 

Perhaps the most serious adverse effect would be to make even smaller the 
marketplace of ideas and reduce coverage of important social problems. 
Prosecution under this bill will require a jury verdict on the factual questions 
of whether the news was "falsified" and also whether it was done with 
"intent to deceive." Passing over the problem of determining whether a news 
event has been falsified, it is quite clear that the question of intent will be 



Conclusions and Recommendations 159 

resolved by circumstantial evidence. The most important aspect of this 
circumstantial evidence will be how much of a falsification was involved. As 
our earlier discussion of audience distortion concludes, whether the jury 
regards the portrayal as false and if so, whether there was intent to deceive 
will turn in large measure on their political convictions. An important 
determinant of the guilt of the defendant in each case then will turn on the 
political views of the jury. Such a law is intolerable in a society that values 
free speech. 

Moreover, aside from its dubious constitutionality, we believe that such 
legislation is unnecessary. There is almost no evidence at the present time to 
suggest that the conduct this bill seeks to proscribe occurs with anything but 
the rarest frequency. The events which gave rise to this legislation, the 
incidents of staging reported in Rights in Conflict, 10 would hardly qualify. 
First, there is insufficient evidence to identify the parties involved and 
establish that they participated in a staged event to support a criminal 
conviction. Second, the Media Task Force staff viewed all of the material 
broadcast on the three networks and none portrayed any events even 
remotely resembling the events described in the Rights in Conflict. Third, the 
Task Force staff viewed the out-takes (film not broadcast) and there was no 
evidence that they were filmed by any network crew. Fourth, the Federal 
Communications Commission has made it clear that it will investigate charges 
of staging and falsifying news broadcast where there is any extrinsic evidence 
to support the charge. 

There is no demonstrated need for such legislation, its effect on broadcast 
news practices would clearly be negative, and to the extent a problem does 
exist, the FCC is capable of handling it under present law. 

B. Action by the News Media 

This report has explored the role of the media in the resolution of social 
conflict. We offer our recommendations for the consideration of those who 
have traditionally been accorded responsibility for acting in the areas upon 
which recommendations touch. They should be given no special significance 
or weight beyond whatever persuasive force they may have. Specifically, the 
fact that the report was funded by the government entitles our 
recommendations to no special weight. It is against this setting that our 
suggestions are made: 

F. Journalists should reexamine the degree to which existing news 
judgments incorporate obsolete standards, including a tendency to 
report violence because it is sensational, rather than because it is 
significant. Moreover, in reporting conflict, the press should develop a 
special sensitivity to the danger of overstating the degree of conflict. 

G. Beyond reexamining existing standards for reporting violence, 
newsmen should reconsider the contemporary utility of well-established 
news-gathering practices. Perhaps most important is that interpretive 
news stories-which can be written with time for calm reflection and 
balanced judgment be allocated more resources and be given greater 



160 Mass Media and Violence 

prominence. For newspapers, this means running such stories regularly 
on page 1. For network television, this requires expansion- of the 
existing time slot for the evening news to 1 hour and changing to a 
mixed hard news/news magazine format. A similar change in format is 
desirable for local news. If necessary, this should be done at the 
expense of documentaries. 

H. We strongly recommend that the news media examine carefully 
the problems posed when equivalent access to the media is denied. In 
this connection, we particularly recommend: 

(1) That the media hire and train increased numbers of newsmen 
from minority groups. 

(2) That the media provide the kind of regular surveillance of 
minority group activities which it applies to other segments of the 
community. 

(3) That the media provide information to local groups about 
preparing press releases and, more generally securing access to the 
media through traditional channels short of demonstration, 
confrontation and violence. 

(4) The use of ghetto ''stringers." 

(5) Inclusion of members of minority groups in day-to-day news, 
such as births, deaths, weddings, business promotions, opening of 
new businesses, and social functions. 

(6) More background and in-depth stories on social issues and 
particularly those stories dealing with facets of the American scene 
with which the majority of the audience have little actual 
experience. 

I. There is a need for greater interaction between the news media 
and the community and for responsible criticism of media performance. 
There are a number of ways in which this can be brought about: 

(1) News organizations should establish and publicize the existence 
of grievance machinery or internal appeal boards to hear the 
complaints of persons who feel that their viewpoint has been 
unfairly excluded from the press or that the press coverage of an 
event in which they were involved is inaccurate. Such a program has 
worked well at the Louisville Courier-Journal 

(2) News organizations should encourage local press councils to 
provide a continuing exchange of views between the news media 
personnel and representative members of the community. 

(3) Journalism schools should ingrain in their students a tradition of 
continuous reexamination and self-criticism through, inter alia, the 
establishment of journalism reviews and programs designed to 
prepare the student to apply new findings in communications theory 
to the practical problem's of communicating the news. 

(4) The establishment in other major metropolitan areas of 
publications like the Chicago Journalism Review which provide a 



Conclusions and Recommendations 161 

forum for public debate on news media performance. 
(5) News organizations should freely criticize other news 
organizations and report on their performance the same as they 
would any other institution in our society. 

J. Journalists should continue their efforts to upgrade their 
profession at a personal or individual level. We endorse the mid-career 
training programs offered at some universities and urge that more 
media owners and operators, particularly television, make time and 
funds available to their newsmen to take advantage of these programs. 

K. We recommend that every news medium establish a code or 
other form of guideline to be followed in the coverage of riots or other 
events involving group violence. Although we do not propose to 
recommend specific guidelines, we suggest that at least some effort be 
made to establish advance contacts with the police and with various 
dissident groups in the community before violence erupts. We also 
recommend the establishment of rumor-clearance centers and close 
liaison between these centers and the press. In the case of reporting 
incidents likely to spark group violence, we recommend a minimum 
delay of 30 minutes in broadcasting the news, perhaps longer delays in 
giving the precise location of potentially explosive crowds, and very 
careful and restrained reporting until the police have the situation 
under control. 

L. We recommend that news organizations resist those critics who 
would have them deny coverage to protest. The news media can reduce 
substantially whatever incentive they provide for violence by providing 
balanced treatment of at least four aspects of demonstrations: 

(1) The purpose of the demonstration. What is the nature of the 
grievance? Why are the demonstrators there? 

(2) The events leading up to the demonstration. Have other 
remedies been sought; if so, what has been the response of those 
addressed? 

(3) The demonstration. How many people were present? How did 
they conduct themselves? Do not focus only on the most extreme 
conduct or dress. 

(4) The provocations, if any, and the official response. Why were 
the demonstrators trying to provoke the police? Did the police use 
more force than necessary to maintain order? Were there any 
extenuating circumstances, such as physical exhaustion or personal 
security of political candidates? 

The standard for determining whether an event will be covered should 
place more emphasis on the nature of the grievance, the number of 
people affected, the severity of the grievance and less emphasis on the 
willingness of the aggrieved to engage in violence or the likelihood that 
they will. 



162 Mass Media and Violence 

Several times in this report it has been suggested that the news media 
ought to report that which is significant items that mean something to men's 
lives. We have offered no concise definition of "significant" nor rigid 
guidelines to determine what is and what is not significant. We agree with one 
journalist who responded to such a suggestion that not many newsmen he 
knew made an effort to report the insignificant: There is, however, a middle 
ground and that is where many perhaps a friajority of newsmen stand 
today. 

For too long, the press has been victim to what journalist Eugene Methvin 
has described as a "tradition trap." News is what newsmen say it is, we are 
told, but for too many newsmen the news is really what an earlier generation 
of editors and newsmen have said it was a generation whose values were 
formulated on the basis of many conditions that no longer exist. 

In a speech to the Overseas Press Club, Willard Wirtz observed that 
criticism of the press by anyone even remotely associated with government is 
a notably unrewarding occupation. In part, this is no doubt owing to what he 
went on to describe as the belief of some journalists that "an essential balance 
against the power of government to corrupt absolutely is the power of the 
press to be critical beyond criticism." 11 We cannot agree. Throughout this 
report we have offered our views on what is and what is not significant and 
the ways in which journalists' values and practices should be changed. 
Obviously, our comments are not equally applicable to all news organizations 
nor will our solutions be persuasive to all newsmen. We can only recommend 
their implementation where they are found both applicable and persuasive. 
The government can no more legislate good journalism than it can legislate 
good manners. More important than the adoption of specific suggestions is 
that each news organization make an independent determination of what is 
significant. There will never be agreement among the many news 
organizations or other institutions, including the government. Yet, such 
diversity is what the first amendment is all about and is the strength of 
American journalism. 



REFERENCES 

1. Jerome A. Barren, "Access to the Press-A New First Amendment Right," Harvard 
Law Review (June 1967), p. 1641. 

2. This and other ideas in this chapter are taken from a speech before 
mmmmmmmmmm, Dec. 13, 1%8, by Ben Bagdikian. 

3. Broadcasting, Jan. 15, 1934. "The cases cited were those of John R. Brinkley 
(renewal denied, 1930), who used his station KFKB' Milford, Kansas, to promote 
goat-gland rejuvenation operations; Dr. Norman Baker (renewal denied, 1931), who 
used his kTNT, Muscatine, Iowa, to promote a cancer 'cure' and assail the medical 
profession; and Rev. Robert P. Shuler (renewal denied, 1931), who used his KGEF, 
Los Angeles, for attacks on religious and other groups. In each case the commission 
action was based on program content." Eric Barnouw, The Golden Web (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 29, footnote 4. 

4. National Broadcasting Company, Inc. v. United States, 319 U.S. 190, 216 (1943). 

5. See Public Service Responsibility of Broadcast Licensees, Report by the Federal 
Communications Commission, Mar. 7, 1946; Programming Policy, 20 Pike and 
Fisher Radio Regulations 1901 (1960); Ascertainment of Community Needs by 
Broadcast Applicants, FCC Public Notice, 19880, Aug. 22, 1968 



Conclusions and Recommendations 163 

6. See Renewal of Standard Broadcast and Television Licenses, 11 F.C.C. 2d 809 
(1968); License Renewals, 10 Pike and Fisher Radio Reg. 2d 944 (1967); Renewal 
of Standard Broadcast Station Licenses, 7 F.C.C. 2d 122 (1967); N.Y.-N.J. 
Licenses Renewed, F.C.C. Public Notice, May 29, 1969. 

7. Bagdikian speech, op. cit. Footnote 2. 

8. Final Report, President's Task Force on Communications Policy, (Washington, D.C., 
mimeo: Dec. 7, 1968). 

9. N.Y.-N.J. Licenses Renewed, FCC Public Notice, May 29, 1969, dissenting 
opinion. 

10. Daniel Walker, Rights in Conflict, A Staff Report to the National Commission on 
the Causes and Prevention of Violence (New York: Bantam Books, 1968). 

1 1. Remarks of Willard W. Wirtz, Secretary of Labor, before the Overseas Press Club of 
America, New York, Feb. 27, 1967. 



Appendix II-B 

CONTEMPORARY FUNCTIONS 
OF THE MASS MEDIA 

By Jack Lyle* 
A. Mass Media as Institutions 

The mass media are society's institutionalized channels of communication. 
Like all institutions, they must have a raison d'etre which is functional for the 
society. They must fill an existing need or a need that is created and, unless 
they are responsive to changing conditions within the society and the 
complex of interrelated institutions serving it, they may cease to be 
functional and will disappear. 

Some of the dislocations that have occurred and are still occurring within 
the mass media as a result of changes in technology and in financial and 
political organization have been outlined in earlier chapters of this Task Force 
report. Our question here is: what are the functions of the mass media in 
contemporary American society and how do these relate to the members of 
our society, both as individuals and as members of groups within that 
society? 

Basically, we communicate to exchange information in an attempt to 
reduce the uncertainty of the world about us and thereby increase our 
chances of survival. To paraphrase Harold D. Lasswell, 1 communication 
serves to: (1) provide a survey of our environment, (2) coordinate the 
society's collective response to the environment, and (3) achieve transfer of 
the society's culture from one generation to the next. The mass media came 
into being to perform these tasks as a specialization. 

But from the beginning the content of the media has included items 
obviously aimed more at titillating rather than informing trie public. Thus the 
media have developed a second category of functions, that of entertaining the 
public. The balance of these two functions between media and within each 
medium has been a frequent cause of concern both to the professional staffs 
of the media and to critics and others concerned with public affairs. 

1 . The Information Function 

"What we don't know won't hurt us" is perhaps one of the most false of 
adages. To survive, individually or grouped into societies, we need continuing 



Associate Professor of Journalism, University of California, Los Angeles. 

187 



188 Mass Media and Violence 

inputs of information both on changes in the physical environment and on 
the activities of other individuals and societies. The work of Allport and 
Postman 2 during World War II documented the uneasiness which people feel 
in situations where they lack information and where the normal 
communication media do not (or cannot) keep them sufficiently informed to 
allay such uneasiness. People then seek alternate sources of information and 
in such situations rumors flourish. These situations become more severe if the 
public loses faith in either the media or official spokesmen. 

In recent decades the ability of one society to change the environment of 
another has been geographically expanded, thus extending the boundaries of 
our "critical" environment. As this has taken place, we have become 
increasingly dependent upon others, particularly the mass media, to provide 
us with a survey of a larger proportion of the environment relative to what we 
can personally observe. But concomitant with this has been an expansion of 
the ability of one society to communicate directly with members of another 
(or conversely, a diminution of the ability of one society to be kept 
psychologically isolated from others) through the modern mass media's 
potential for broad and rapid dissemination of information. 



a. Implications for Democratic Society 

Americans have perhaps a heavier responsibility in this regard than the 
citizens of any other society today, perhaps of any society in history. As 
citizens of a representative democracy, we have the responsibility to maintain 
a level of knowledge of conditions and events so that we can fulfill our role in 
making the system work. Democracy demands full dissemination of 
information together with free discussion, in contrast to those societies 
governed by elite individuals or groups. The extraordinary position of the 
United States in world politics today makes the entire world our critical 
environment. It is not surprising that such a situation produces great tension 
for individuals and the society as a whole. 

Much has appeared in the media in recent years about a "credibility gap" 
between the Executive branch of government and the public (particularly as 
represented by media reporters). The justification of these charges is beyond 
the scope of this discussion, but remembering the work of Allport and 
Postman, the implications of the situation are quite obvious. What makes the 
situation far more serious is the fact that the major news media also are 
finding that a credibility gap exists between at least some members of their 
audiences and themselves. 

Economic conditions have pressured the general media toward bigness and 
consolidation. This has produced within some segments of the public a 
perception of increasing uniformity and blandness in media content which 
these people feel reflects manipulation of the media by the agencies or 
persons in control. The truth or falseness of this perception is beside the 
point here, for the perception does constitute the "reality" on which these 
individuals base their assessment of and reaction to the media and the media's 
role in today's society. Having such a perception, it is understandable that 
these persons feel the "free and open marketplace of ideas" on which a 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 189 

democracy is predicated is diminishing. An increasing number of grouos now 
feel the necessity to launch their own periodicals to present their side of the 
argument. Sizeable numbers of individuals, as individuals and as members of 
groups, express skepticism regarding the nation's regular news media. For 
example, one study has shown that among a sampling in a medium-sized 
California city the respondents discounted, on the average, a third of what 
they read in the newspapers and a fifth of what they heard on television 
newscasts. 3 

This type of outlook is frequently a result of strong political convictions 
(or strong convictions on any salient attitudinal or behaviorial continuum), 
and it is interesting to note that many of the same charges of bias are raised 
against the media by those at both extremes of the political spectrum. The 
charges, for example, made against the media by conservatives at the 1964 
Republican Convention are very reminiscent of those made by liberal 
Democrats through the years. 4 The charges are also frequently heard among 
other strongly committed persons, whether they be "hippies", southern 
segregationists, or Black Panthers. 

A 1963 study two years before the Watts riots showed that from a 
sampling of Los Angeles Negroes only 32 percent felt the metropolitan dailies 
would give a black candidate treatment equal to that given a white opponent, 
only 25 percent felt Negro churches and organizations had a chance equal to 
white organizations for getting publicity in the daily press, and 54 percent 
felt that the daily press was not fair in its treatment of race relation issues. 5 A 
1960 study showed a much greater perception of political bias in the Dallas 
Morning News among Roman Catholic priests as compared to Baptist 
ministers, but perhaps more significant was the finding that among all 
clergymen the perception of political bias increased if the individual felt the 
paper was unfair to his own religious group. 6 

This latter fact underlines a conclusion drawn from a series of reader 
attitude studies; that the unfavorable attitudes toward the newspapers (and 
possibly the other news media) by the public are general. 7 From this it may 
also be concluded that if people find fault with a newspaper on some specific 
count, they tend to lower their estimation of the rest of the paper's 
performance in general. Hovland and Sherif 8 reported that their respondents 
tended to distort the location of other points of view as a function of the 
location of their own position on the continuum. Thus, those at either 
extreme are likely to ascribe the middle position to themselves and exaggerate 
the extremity of other positions, while putting the objective neutral position 
"on the other side" in their perception. We can accordingly see that a 
newspaper _that attempts to follow a neutral_course might be construed as 
biased by strongly committed persons. 

While many blame distrust of the media on media consolidations, it seems 
equally plausible to postulate that the situation offers strong evidence of 
uneasiness within our society. The relationship between this uneasiness and 
the media-audience trust situation is undoubtedly circular. Perhaps this is 
most graphically illustrated in the matter of race relations. If, prior to a riot, 
the media report smoldering conditions, after the riot some persons will 
accuse them of sparking the violence; if they ignore the conditions, others 
will blame them for having failed to warn society of the threat. 9 



190 Mass Media and Violence 

Knowledge has been called power, but there are stresses that can result 
from "knowing too much." From data on radio news listening among New 
Yorkers, Mendelsohn 1 developed the point that today's citizen lives in an 
age of anxiety based on real conditions. This, he reported, leads to "an almost 
desperate sense of urgency regarding 'the news.'" In its extreme forms, this 
anxiety can lead some persons to reject their responsibility as participants in a 
democratic society and to avoid the informational aspects of media content. 
In a 1962 audience and reader study in Los Angeles, a correlation was found 
between not reading the newspaper, not watching television news, and not 
listening to radio news, thereby showing that there are persons who almost 
totally ignore the informational media. 1 1 It has not been an uncommon 
experience of the author to encounter respondents in field surveys who state 
that they consciously avoid the news "because it just upsets me." 

2. The Entertainment Function 

With considerable insight, Cooley described early 20th century American 
newspaper content as "organized gossip." 12 Gossip does usually contain 
information that has pertinence for the listener, but it also contains details 
(factual or otherwise) that are included primarily to enhance the interest of 
the story itself. It is not surprising that professional reporters have long 
recognized that it is not sufficient in most cases to relate only the critical 
facts; effort must be expended to make the story interesting as well as 
important to the audience. (The ego requirements of the reporter are also a 
factor. It is certainly possible, even among professionals as well as gossips, to 
let the desire to attract and maintain attention cause the reporter to distort 
his presentation. This has obvious detrimental consequences for his success in 
fulfilling his obligation to report accurately.) 

Another factor, however, is the balance of activities competing for the 
individual's time. In recent years the amount of leisure time available to the 
average American has been steadily growing. And as the time available for 
activities of one's own choosing has increased, so has the relative affluence to 
make possible a broader range of choices. This has created opportunities for 
people and agencies with ideas for providing leisure activity. 

3 . The Information-Entertainment Mix 

All of the mass media can be and are used to provide entertainment as well 
as information and many have sought to benefit from the new opportunities 
offered by increased leisure time. Each medium has distinct advantages and 
disadvantages in various areas which have been demonstrated by empirical 
research. 13 The audio-visual have been described as having dominantly 
entertainment advantages, and the printed media as having predominantly 
informational advantages. But let us hasten to reaffirm that such a division of 
functions is anything but complete. Furthermore, as we shall show in later 
sections of this report, individuals differ in their personal orientation to ana 
use of the various media. A basic point, however, remains that within any 
mass medium the information function generally is intentionally intertwined 
with some degree of entertainment. As Mendelsohn inferred from his New 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 191 

York study, without such content to provide relief from the tension 
produced by factual reports of important events, anxiety levels might rise to 
an intolerable level and drive more persons to totally avoid the news. 

The problem is to establish a proper balance between information and 
entertainment. Again, because of individual differences, there is no universal 
"proper" balance. Because these are mass media, the tendency generally is to 
attempt an optimal balance from the standpoint of the majority. This 
inevitably leaves a minority irritated. 

4. Leader or Reflector of Society? 

An examination of the social comment on contemporary society over the 
decades shows that whatever mass medium was predominant at the time was 
frequently accused of undermining the existing society and its values. This 
situation realistically reflects the potency of the media to influence, but it 
also reflects the fact that the extent to which the mass media are expected to 
assume leading roles in correlating society's action and in molding its culture 
remains unresolved. Too frequently the critics confuse manifestations of 
conditions and problems with the conditions and problems themselves. As 
was stated earlier, the media are institutions of society and as such reflect 
how the members of the society choose to use them. 

As we have already seen, within the area of the information function, 
various factions raise charges of systematic bias in the media's performance. 
In the area of entertainment, some critics charge that the media are debasing 
values and cultural levels. A debate on the validity of these charges is not 
appropriate here; our point is that the charges themselves demonstrate what is 
perhaps a basic tension within a social organization here, a democracy that 
requires that its citizens permit and listen to opposing points of view and to 
be tolerant of them. Such behavior guarantees maximum freedom for society 
as a whole, but inevitably imposes some restrictions upon each individual. 
And, recalling the work of Hovland and Sherif, we should not be surprised 
that those who are most critical, who feel most oppressed, are frequently 
among the most doctrinaire and intolerant of other viewpoints. 

As societal institutions, the mass media are inevitably involved in this 
problem. The news media have traditionally attempted to solve it by a 
distinction between "news" and "editorial comment." Increasingly it is being 
recognized that some degree of interpretation is inherent in the very act of 
reporting, regardless of the medium, and that interpretation inevitably 
reflects individual differences of physical perception and sociopsychological 
background. Furthermore, selective interpretation is exercised by each 
individual member of the audience and readership. Thus in situations where 
the society is highly polarized on one or several issues, it becomes 
increasingly difficult for the media to communicate effectively to all. The 
reactions to the television confrontations of John F. Kennedy and Richard 
Nixon in 1960 are an obvious example of how such selective perception and 
interpretation can operate within even a highly controlled format. 14 

As for entertainment functions, many if not most of those who deplore 
the quality of American television and what they perceive as its failure to 
raise national cultural levels are also among the strongest critics of the type of 



192 Mass Media and Violence 

Kulturpolitik reflected by boards of censorship and "official" art. The 
all-important question is: who is to make the decision as to what is "good" 
and in what direction society should move? This is a continuing source of 
tension within a democracy, and as institutions within a democratic society 
the media are inevitably a focal point of this tension. 

B. Survey of General Media Content and Audience 

In this section we will look at the broad outline of mass media content 
together with some measure of the media available to and their general use by 
the American public. Table B-l presents the levels of use reported in a 1967 
study of residents of a small city in the Midwest and provides a useful point 
of reference for this discussion. 1 5 

Following the discussion of the individual media we shall discuss some 
different patterns of media use which have been documented. 

1 . Books 

Despite the alarms expressed about the possibility that television might 
have devastating effects upon book reading, book publishing is still a 
flourishing industry. Both dollar sales receipts and the number of new books 
published have shown a general upward trend during the past decade, 
although there have been year-to-year fluctuations in the latter category. In 
1967, 28,762 new books were published in this country, of which 22,887 
were new titles and 5,875 were new editions. 1 6 

The importance of books as a medium for furnishing specialized 
information is shown by the data contained in Table B-2. Of the total number 
of books published, fiction, biography, and juveniles accounted for only 23 
percent, the arts for 14 percent, sports, recreation, and travel for 6 percent, 
while 57 percent of the titles were in areas of specialized interests or 
reference. 

This is not to deny that books continue to play an important 
entertainment role in American society. The role of books has actually been 
expanded in the postwar years through the continued growth of paperback or 
"soft cover" publishing. Although their lower price means that they account 
for only 6 percent of the total dollar income of the publishing business 
(textbooks account for 51 percent, professional books for 10 percent, 
juveniles for 6.3 percent, book clubs for 9 percent, and trade books for 7.3 
percent,) over 310 million copies were sold in 1966 and there were 42,500 
titles in print in soft-cover editions. 1 7 

Although much of the consumption of paperbacks is for escape reading 
(Ian Fleming's "James Bond" adventures have sold a total of over 36 million 
copies and You Only Live Twice had a first printing of 2.7 million), some of 
the biggest sellers have been hard information books (Dr. Spock's Pocket 
Book of Baby and Child Care had sold over 16 million copies by 1965) and 
books of literary and historical merit (Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, over 6 
million copies, and Baldwin's Another Country, over 2.25 million). 
Accordingly, the major publishing houses have found that quality books may 
not attract a large readership in expensive cloth editions but will bring 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 193 

Table B-l -Typical Media Use in a Small City 

Sample Size 206 

Percent 
TV Time "Yesterday"': 

None 40.8 

Under 4 hours 41.7 

4 hours or more 17.1 

Radio Time "Yesterday": 

None 29.1 

Under 2 hours 39.2 

2 hours or more 31.6 

Read Newspaper Daily 77.2 

Read a Magazine "Yesterday" 52.9 

Attended Movie Within Past Month 29.6 

Phonograph Listening "Yesterday": 

None 62.6 

Under 1 hour 9.2 

1 hour or more 14.0 

(Remainder do not own a 
phonograph.) 

Table B-2 -Books published in 1967 

New New 

Category Title Edition Total 

Fiction 1,981 1,099 3,080 

Biography 783 261 1,044 

Juveniles 2,390 321 2,711 

Art 844 221 1,065 

Literature 1,172 553 1,725 

Music 165 52 217 

Poetry/Drama 739 237 976 l 

Sports/Recreation 391 110 501 

Travel 769 321 1,090 

Agriculture 218 69 287 

Business 509 118 627 

Education 781 124 905 

General Works 426 128 554 

History 1,015 472 1,487 

Home Economics 203 53 256 

Language 382 182 564 

Law 392 135 527 

Medicine 935 254 1,189 

Philosophy/Psychology 633 230 863 

Religion 1,502 362 1,864 

Science 1,835 532 2,367 

Sociology/Economics 2,761 850 1,232 

Technical 1,051 201 1,232 

Total 21,887 6,875 28,762 

Source: The Bowker Annual of Library and Book Trade Information 1968, p. 61. 



194 Mass Media and Violence 

multimillion-dollar sales in lower priced soft-cover editions whose price range 
is from 95 cents to $2.95. 18 

In recent years advances in technology and marketing practices have made 
it possible for books to become a much more contemporary medium, in that 
they now capitalize quickly on important events. Thus we have seen the 
appearance of "new books," such as the variety of titles appearing within 
weeks of the assassination of President Kennedy, and within a matter of days 
following the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and the murders of Dr. Martin Luther 
King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. 

One problem faced by the book industry and the public is that the 
sheer number of titles makes it impossible for most bookstores to stock more 
than a small fraction of the total number of books in print, and proper 
display of even the books stocked also presents severe difficulties. The latter 
situation is perhaps most acute for paperbacks, because many paperback sales 
are a result of casual browsing by bookstore patrons. Personal checks of 
paperback displays at newsstands in various locations revealed a wide variety 
of titles. Escape content westerns and crime, science, and erotic 
fiction predominated in most cases, but there were also books on current 
affairs, good fiction, and history, as well as standard literary works. 

2. Libraries 

Not all book reading is a result of book sales, for, of course, books may 
also be obtained from a library. The importance of libraries as a 
communication channel is shown by the fact that 19 cities have libraries 
containing more than a million volumes, and that libraries in 65 cities 
circulate more than a million volumes per year. Seven libraries circulate more 
than 5 million. 19 

Most libraries find that their staff and space are pressed by growing 
operations and few are able to make systematic analysis of their patronage. 
The Los Angeles City Public Library, one of the nation's largest, keeps no 
regular detailed information on circulation on a city wide basis. However, 
library officials did collect and provide some statistics from several branches 
that were selected to reflect a socioeconomic cross section of the city, as 
shown in Table B-3. Because no firm relationship exists between branches and 
their "market area," and because these circulation figures are not related to 
number of users, interpretation of such figures from a sociological point of 
view is risky. However, at least two interesting observations might be pointed 
out. The first is that adult patronage relative to total circulation is 
considerably lower in poorer neighborhoods, particularly where Negroes 
predominate. The second is that nonfiction generally constititutes the larger 
share of adult books circulated, as it also does in the case of book sales 
(although not nearly to the same degree), while fiction is very predominant in 
child circulation. 

3. The Book Public 

Despite the fairly sizeable figures cited above, it must be admitted that 
book reading is not a common activity among the majority of the population. 
The sale and circulation of books, even more than that of magazines and 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 



195 










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of community 


San Vincente (upper cla 


Hawthorne (industrial) 


Culver City (industrial) 


Holly Park (industrial) 


Woodcrest (welfare-mid 


Lennox (transient) . . . 


1 

1 
1 


North Enterprise (Negrc 



196 Mass Media and Violence 

newspapers, suffers from the fact that the general level of reading skill is low. 
(One researcher has estimated that 60 percent of adult Americans have only 
limited reading skill. 20 ) A national survey found that book reading 
"yesterday" was reported by only 5.8 percent of college -educated 
respondents and by only 0.9 percent of those with less than a high school 
education. 21 Indeed, according to Los Angeles Times Book Editor Robert 
Kirsch, book dealers estimate that their total trade is accounted for by no 
more than 11 percent of the nation's population. And in the question of 
public taste, no definitive information is available: such indices as "best seller 
lists" are based only on sales at selected book outlets, and accordingly are not 
an accurate measure of total sales. 

It is perhaps worth noting that while television has often been considered a 
threat to book reading, some librarians report they find indications that it 
may actually stimulate reading. 22 

4. Magazines 

The number of magazines published in the United States is astounding. 
The Ayer Directory' 12 lists over 22,500 periodicals (not including 
newspapers). However, only 147 titles are listed in the "General Editorial" 
category, which includes current news, fiction, literary, and illustrated 
publications. Of these, 12 are primarily for children, 17 are comic groups, 49 
are for men (including 18 adventure/detective/western types), 13 are movie 
magazines, and 41 are youth publications. There is a wide variety of 
categories, including many titles for women's interests and 21 categories 
under sports. But the great bulk of publications consists of those directed at 
special trade, technical, and class interest groups. 

Of what might be considered general circulation magazines which have 
audited circulation, 52 had an average per issue circulation of one million or 
more in 1967 (table B-4). 24 It is worth noting that in the post-World War II 
years several Negro magazines have been started and have achieved 
considerable success. Best known is the largest, Ebony, with an audited 
circulation of just under a million. The same publishing firm also issues a 
weekly Negro news magazine, Jet, whose circulation is over 350,000, and a 
monthly service magazine for Negro women, Tan, with 122,000 circulation. 

The content of magazines varies in both subject matter and quality. 
Perhaps the most straightforward way to deal with the topic of magazine 
content is to state that at the average newsstand the American of whatever 
age is offered an opportunity to indulge whatever his fancy of the moment 
might be: high-quality fiction and essays on contemporary affairs as well as 
violence and sex of every description. With a little searching he can obtain 
magazines that range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the obscene to 
those that reflect nearly every political or philosophical viewpoint. 

The number of titles available at a large newsstand makes it very difficult 
to make a comprehensive systematic survey of the magazines. The following 
is an admittedly cursory and subjective review of a sampling from some of the 
more exotic offerings at a large newsstand in the suburban San Fernando 
Valley section of Los Angeles, and is presented to give a general idea of the 
more extreme types of trash that are readily available to the public. 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 



197 



Table B-4. Magazines with ABC circulation of 
one million or more in 1967 

(Source: World Almanac 1968, p. 161) 
[in millions] 



General 

17 '.2 Reader's Digest 
7.7 Look 
1 A Life 

6.7 Saturday Evening Post 

Women 

&.6McCaU's 

7.5 Family Circle 

7.1 Woman's Day 

7.0 Better Homes & Gardens 

6.2 Ladies Home Journal 

5 .8 Good Housekeeping 

4.3 Redbook 

3.4 American Home 

2. 2 True Story 

1 .3 Glamor 

1 .3 House & Garden 
1 .0 House Beautiful 

Men 

3. 9 Play boy 

2.5 True 

1 .4 Argosy 
1 .0 Esquire 

Sports 

1 .4 Outdoor Life 
\ A Field & Stream 
1 .3 Sports Afield 
1 .2 Sports Illustrated 

Scholastic 

2.0 Senior Scholastic 
1 .8 /wra'or Scholastic 



News 
3.5 77rae 



1.5 t/.S. News & World Report 
1.1 Newstime 

Farm 

3 .0 Farm Journal 
1 .3 Successful Farming 
1 .3 Progressive Farmer 
1.1 Grif 

Juvenile 



1 .8 Scouting 
1 .4 Seventeen 

1. American Girl 

Religion/Fraternal 

2.5 American Legion 

I A Elks 

1.3 KFW 

1.1 Presbyterian Life 

Miscellaneous 

U3 TV Guide 

5 .0 National Geographic 

2. Q Parents 

1 .5 Popular Mechanics 

1 .5 Workbasket 

1 .4 Photoplay 

1 .4 Popular Science 

1 .4 Mechanics Illustrated 

1.1 Columbia 

1. Holiday 



198 Mass Media and Violence 

Single Girl (50 cents), Exciting Confessions (25 cents), and Real Secrets 
(35 cents) are published by three different companies. Despite the lurid titles 
displayed on their colorful slick covers "Save a Bad Girl for Me," "We Had 
More Than Fun That Night Our Beach Party Turned into a Bare Party," "I 
Learned the True Meaning of Sex Making Love to a Stranger" the stories are 
surprisingly wordy and almost always end on a strongly moralistic note. Less 
moralistic and more explicit are the stories in Action for Men (40 cents) and 
Man's World (50 cents), where, for example, 'The Girl Who Played Virgin" 
gives her virginity to her "uncle" on her wedding night and the victims of 
"The Mantrappers" are subjected to the nymphomaniacal lust of a female 
military horde. 

Mixing sex and violence are the "crime" or "detective" magazines which 
suggest that the stories are actual cases. It might be noted, however, that of 
the two examined, Confidential Detective (35 cents) and Detective Cases (50 
cents), one featured a number of foreign cases, and in both the accompanying 
photographs suggested that many of the stories took place some years ago. 
With titles such as 'The Hippie Orgy and the Bludgeoned Nude Beauty," 
"Twisted Sex Provided a Pervert's Alibi," "The Oversexed Butcher Who 
Bathed in Blood," "Hit Her with a Jack-handle, Crush Her with a Rock," the 
stories in general are fairly explicit in describing what kind of violence was 
committed, how it was done, and to what effect. 

"Girlie magazines" have long been familiar on newsstand racks, but other 
erotic publications are also common now. Some seem to be directed at 
homosexual males, others at lesbians. RAM ($3.50), for example, is simply a 
54-page collection of full-page photos of nude males, with a focus upon the 
genital area. Salute ($3) states that its aim is "to illuminate the conviction 
that the unclothed human body is worthy of respect and deserving of 
increased acceptance in our culture." It mixes editorial matter ("Go-Go Guys 
of the Golden Gate," "Why I Model Naked") with front and back shots of 
nude males, singly and in groups. The issue examined was dedicated to the 
premise that "Youth will be served," and of the 69 photographs 
approximately half featured subjects who appeared to be in their midteens. 
The color cover of Sapho ($3) shows a photo of a bare-breasted, black-booted 
blonde flaying two nude companions who are trussed up in harnesses 
suspended from the rafters.. The stories, illustrated with posed photos and 
drawings, include "Torture Chamber," "Leather Whipper," "Bobby-sox 
Spanker," and other items depicting sadistic/masochistic lesbianism. 

(Unreleased) Dynamic Films ($2) is "for mature adults ... a pictorial 
representation of phases and mores of our contemporary society," although 
its "editorial content is not to be construed as descriptive or to condone any 
action." It is heterosexual in its approach, but also features a heavy emphasis 
on sadistic sex, particularly the kidnapping of men for sexual purposes by 
groups of females. In "Under the Dum-Dum Tree" a "baddie gets it from 
three chicks"; in "The Bellboy Caper" the bellboy expected a tip, but was 
stripped for action instead, while in "Acid" a bearded hippie is shown 
kidnaped, stripped, chained, flogged, bitten, and force-fed by a motorcycle 
gang chick and a hairdresser who "is downright mean and likes to kick the 
hell out of men before beddy bye time . . ." The editorial attacks local 
censorship of erotic films, arguing "In an age when the viewing of violent 
murders, fictional or unreal, on television or in the 'legitimate' movie houses 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 199 

[is permitted] , it seems incongruous that there should be such bias shown 
toward sex and the portrayal of it on film (sic) . . . Must sex be 
forced underground with dope and gambling, while war, violence, deceit, 
avarice and general debauchery remain on the surface for all to view as being 
acceptable, even to our children?" This general type of magazine is marked 
"adults only" and issues are either stapled or sealed in clear plastic envelopes 
to prevent their contents from being inspected prior to purchase. 

As for the magazine readership, a great deal is known about the readers of 
the larger general-circulation periodicals they tend to be better educated, 
white-collar, professional people. But with regard to those' who might be 
termed marginal (or worse) within the general social mores, we have little 
more than speculation. In a study of children, it was found that the reading 
of pulp magazines did decline with the advent of television and that these 
children fit into a general pattern of immediate gratification use of the mass 
media. 25 But the very nature of the content of such magazines makes their 
readers reluctant in many cases to admit that they do indeed read them. 
Circulation figures are also difficult to obtain and often are not reliable. 
Furthermore, sales figures have drawbacks as a measure of magazine 
readership, for magazines often have a "life span" of weeks, months, or even 
years and during this time they may be passed from hand-to-hand, from 
family to family. The data in Table B 1 shows that of the respondents, 
two-thirds stated they had read a magazine of some sort within the past week. 

5. Comic Books 

Perhaps for most adults, the mention of comic books evokes an image of 
animal characters popularized by Disney and others, together with 
"Superman," "Batman," and their fellow superhuman fighters against evil. 
However, these represent only a few of the general types found today within 
the comic book selection on most large newsstands. In gathering a sample for 
informal inspection for this paper, two dozen were selected from well over 
100 titles on display (the practice of stocking several issues of the same series 
concurrently makes it difficult to establish an exact count). Most are 32-page 
issues that sell for 12 cents, but there are also "giant" 80-page "classics" 
series that sell for 25 cents. 

The Ayer Directory lists 13 comic book publishing firms, each publishing a 
number of series. In addition, there are "illustrated magazines," such as 
Creepy and Eerie, which sell for 40 cents and more. Where circulation figures 
are provided in the directory, they are for the publisher's entire group rather 
than by individual title. Only seven publishers provided circulation 
information, and their total combined monthly circulation was 30.7 million. 

Comic book reading appears to peak among children between the ages of 
12 and 15. A study of San Francisco school children showed the median 
number of comic books read per month as 4.5 for boys and 3.3 for girls at 
the eighth-grade level, while at the sixth-grade level the figures were 3.3 and 
1.4 respectively. In five Rocky Mountain towns reported medians were 8.5 
for boys and 4.7 for girls in the sixth grade (eighth-graders were not studied). 
By the end of high school, reading has been discontinued by most students 
(in San Francisco, the median at the 12th grade was 0.9 for boys and 0.07 for 
girls). 26 Despite this decline with age, it is well known that there is an adult 



200 Mass Media and Violence 

readership of comic books. The Armed Forces, for example, have capitalized 
on this by using the comic book format in some of their educational 
programs. Several comics publishers include in their group a series on the 
"true romance true confessions" theme, such as Career Girl Romances, I 
Love You, Just Married, Teenage Love, and Secret Hearts. 

The major categories of comic books appear to be: (1) the kiddie comics, 
such as the Disney characters "Tom and Jerry," etc.; (2) the action comics 
which break down into three subtypes of (a] Superman, Captain Marvel, 
Space Adventures, etc., (b) war comics such zsFightin' Marines, G.L Combat, 
etc., and (c) the westerns such as Bat Lash, Outlaws of the West, etc.; (3) the 
teen scene set such as Archie, Binky, Sooter, etc.; and (4) the adult-aimed 
romance series mentioned earlier. 

The action group are a glorification of superhuman violence in which, to 
use the words of "Stretcho" of the Fantastic Four, "every force for evil must 
fight a counter-force for good." There is seemingly an inexhaustible supply of 
evil forces and, in a large number of cases, the fight between good and evil is 
never quite brought to a resolution, although these books do include a certain 
amount of moralizing. "Iron Man" closes one sequence with the following 
speech: "Sometimes I grow overconfident in my super-powered armor! I 
must always remember President Johnson's favorite motto, 'Let us reason 
together'; for a man's brain is still his most potent weapon!" The 
ail-American "Teen Titans" are forced in one sequence to work with 
"Starfire," a Russian teen superhero who sums up their mutual experience, 
"... all men, regardless of their belief, must learn to live together! For when 
your ideologies and mine have long since turned to dust, man must still 
survive!" 

One of the newest series is Brother Power, The Geek, whose leading 
character is a tailor's dummy which has been given life and superpower by a 
bolt of lightning and who both protects the hippies of San Francisco and 
exhorts them to be productive contributors to society. Issue number 2 
projects an exceedingly ambivalent picture of the hippies in what appears to 
be an attempt to use the hippie image to attract young readers in order to 
preach against the general hippie ethos. 



6. Newspapers 

The term "newspaper" covers a wide variety of publications. The Ayer 
Directory lists over 10,000 entries under this title. However, we generally use 
the term to describe the some 1,760 daily general-circulation publications 
whose function is to provide a record of current events. Although we think of 
news coverage as the raison d'etre of the daily press, this is actually only one 
of its activities. In an early media study, Berelson analyzed the responses of 
New Yorkers when he asked them what they missed during a period when the 
presses were shut down because of a strike. From these he concluded that the 
daily paper not only provided information about public affairs, but also that, 
through its advertising, it was an aid in shopping, +hat it gave its readers a 
feeling of prestige and facilitated business and social contacts, and finally 
that, as a source of entertainment, it was a welcome respite from the chores 
of the day. 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 201 

If we look systematically at the content of any newspaper it becomes 
obvious that the staff tacitly, if not explicitly, recognizes these functions. In 
post-World-War-II years advertising's share of space has steadily increased, and 
today it is not uncommon for it to fill up 70 percent of a paper. Of the 
remaining 30 percent, "hard news" seldom occupies more than one-third of 
the paper (or 10 percent of total space). One study of Sunday editions 
showed that while the average number of pages had increased from 118 in 
1939 to 193 in 1959, the space allocated to news had actually decreased. The 
growth of special sections, particularly those devoted to leisure activities, 
together with increased advertising was blamed for this decrease. 28 It should 
be noted, however, that advertising is an important attraction for the papers 
and that it plays an important part in a paper's role as "a tool for daily 
living." 

Table B-5 points up the fact that there is considerable variation from paper 
to paper in the balance of "hard news" and entertainment-type content 
provided, and that even within the same paper quite different emphases may 
be given from day to day, and from edition to edition within the same day. 
For example, even the comparatively staid Los Angeles Times changes to a 
sensational makeup featuring the more sensational news of the day for its 
street editions. Such a treatment is almost standard for street editions because 
of the fact that they must catch the eye of the passersby and literally shock 
them into buying the paper. It will be noticed in Table B-5 that the last four 
categories, which constitute the more sensational/entertainment types, 
account for over a third of the news and editorial space in five of the eight 
papers. 

Most children are introduced to the newspaper through the comic pages 
and readership of the comics remains high through the adult years. 29 Most 
papers include a wide variety of comics, ranging from "soap opera" types 
such as "Mary Worth" and "Gasoline Alley," to kiddie strips such as "Donald 
Duck," to satirical strips such as "Lu" Abner" and 'Togo," to strips of violent 
action. Indeed, the general level of mayhem maintained over the decades in 
one of the most popular of all strips, "Dick Tracy," would be hard to match 
even in comic books. Nor are the comics free from political and ideological 
propagandizing, as evidenced by the conservatism espoused by "Little Orphan 
Annie" and the liberalism of "Pogo." 

In earlier decades, when even small cities had competing dailies, individual 
newspapers frequently developed by design or by chance a pattern of 
content that appealed to specific audiences. Today, however, only 3 percent 
of the nation's cities have competing dailies under separate ownership. As 
newspaper consolidations have decreased the variety of daily papers available 
to the urban public, the survivors have been faced with the task of trying to 
provide coverage to fit the needs of the public at large. At the same time the 
population growth and increased organizational complexity of society have 
made the job of reporting news more difficult. In trying to serve the broad 
needs of the community, it is inevitable that some individuals and groups will 
feel slighted and will consider the coverage as biased. The fact that the daily 
press has been neither able nor inclined to provide adequate coverage of the 
problems of ethnic communities has led to the establishment of periodicals 
that focus on these groups. A variety of such papers will be found in most 
larger cities, some in foreign languages, others in English, others bilingual. 



202 



Mass Media and Violence 



Table B-5 -Division of news and editorial space 

by 8 Midwestern dailies* 

[In percent] 



News category 


1 


2 


3 


Paper 

4 5 


6 


7 


8 


War/defense 


15 


20 


19 


26 


22 


22 


26 


25 


Economic activity 


11 


21 


14 


12 


8 


15 


12 


12 


Education/ 
classical arts 


15 


5 


12 


13 


12 


10 


12 


9 


Public health/ 
welfare 


4 


3 


2 


7 


3 


3 


4 


5 


Science/invention 


1 


1 


3 


3 


2 


1 


2 


2 


Public moral 
problems 


1 


1 


2 


1 


2 


1 


2 


2 


Crime 


3 


6 


5 


3 


4 


4 


7 


6 


Accidents/disasters 


4 


10 


6 


3 


3 


2 


5 


6 


Popular amusements 


25 


6 


12 


10 


21 


17 


10 


9 


Human interest 


16 


14 


14 


9 


15 


13 


13 


11 



*From Guido H. Stempel III. "Content Patterns of Small and Metropolitan Dailies," 
Journalism Quarterly, 39, 89 (1962). 



Because black citizens have been the victims of severe and prolonged 
segregation in the American community, it is not surprising that the Negro 
press is particularly widespread. The 1968 Editor and Publisher Yearbook 30 
lists 148 Negro newspapers publishing in 102 cities in 34 states and the 
District of Columbia. These include two dailies (in Atlanta and Chicago), each 
with 30,000 circulation, six biweeklies with a combined circulation of 
117,000, and 140 weeklies whose circulation totals 1,508,500. And this list is 
not complete. 

The Negro press has a long history that dates back to before the Civil War. 
These papers have been frequently criticized by black militants and 
sociologists alike as being dysfunctional for the advancement of Negro rights 
and Negro living conditions. 31 As recently as 1963 it was asserted that the 
black press was declining, at least partly as a result of advances in the 
integration of black Americans into the general stream of American life. 32 
However, with the burgeoning of the black power and black pride 
movements, there has been some evidence of a new militancy and life in 
Negro papers, as manifested either through change of editorial tone in older 
papers or the establishment of new publications. 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 203 

7. The Underground Press 

Despite the relative decline in general daily newspapers in the post- 1930 
decades, a considerable number of new papers have continued to appear. In 
several ways, these papers are reminiscent of the publications that were the 
forerunners of today's press: they are unabashedly journals of opinion, 
crusading to defend and advance particular points of view. Their content is 
directed not to the general public but to the "believers." Furthermore (and as 
a result of this situation), they are generally small, financially pressed, and 
must be published spasmodically on uncertain schedules. However, a few of 
them have grown into relatively fat and prosperous publications. 

Among these, much public interest and attention has been focused upon 
the self-labelled "underground press," which serves primarily to express the 
frustrations of groups within the society particularly among the young who 
question aspects of established values and institutions.* Such papers have 
appeared in most of the larger urban centers and, although they cling to the 
"underground" label, they are sold openly and at least some have qualified 
for and use second class mailing permits. 

There are certain parallels between the "underground press," which is 
generally oriented to the "new left," and the publications of the radical right. 
These shared characteristics distinguish both groups from the mainstream of 
ethnic-minority publications. The latter were (and are) seldom intended to be 
the sole information source for their readers, and they generally sought to 
promote the assimilation of their readers into the national society while 
maintaining ethnic traditions in harmonious relationship to the larger society. 
But in many papers of both right and left, and in the publications of some of 
the more militant Negro groups, there is both active rejection of the existing 
society and a concerted attempt to discredit the general information media. 
In this respect, they are symptomatic of the centrifugal conditions within our 
contemporary society. 

The first reaction of those members of the general public who may come 
in contact with a copy of an "underground" paper is probably shock at the 
frequency with which sexual words, figures of speech, and pictures are used. 
News stories and features are frequently written in the earthiest language with 
little regard for grammatical niceities. It is difficult not to suspect that some 
readers of such papers as the Los Angeles Free Press , the Berkeley Barb , or 
The East Village Other buy the paper primarily for the titillation found in the 
sex section of the classified ads. And it is somewhat depressing to note that in 
the smaller, weaker papers the bulk of the advertising is devoted to promoting 
erotic books and products. 

An informal survey of twelve such papers available at The Free Press 
Bookstore in Westwood (near the Los Angeles campus of the University of 
California) shows a wide variation in content and treatment, from the highly 
esoteric printed psychedelia of Oracle (including articles such as "Unique 



*In the Editorial Writing section of the 1967 "High School Journalism Day" at UCLA, 
about half of the participants stated that "underground," i.e., unsanctioned, paper had 
been published on their campuses. Many implied that the staffs of the official school 
paper had been involved in the clandestine enterprise because they were repudiating 
what they thought was overly strict supervision of the official paper by school 
authorities. 



204 Mass Media and Violence 

vocal abilities of certain Tibetan Lamas") to what are, in effect, 
"community" papers containing articles with news announcements and 
features of special interest to the hippie element and even to militant 
crusaders such as Movement and the Barb. Many of the papers do concentrate 
on exposing what the staff perceives to be discrimination against and 
persecution of minorities within the society generally, but more particularly, 
discrimination against "their own." Thus they are reminiscent of the 
turn-of-the-century "Muckrakers." The quality of writing varies, even within 
the same paper, and may range from well-written and researched articles of 
high journalistic merit to blatantly propagandistic and emotional essays and 
to what seems to be little more than "dirty word exercises." 

As was previously stated, many of these papers operate on an exceedingly 
informal and financially precarious basis, which in part is a reflection of the 
attitudes of their audience. It is an ironic fact that if a paper reaches a point 
of financial stability, it is likely to be accused of having surrendered to the 
"Establishment" ethos of materialism. This charge has been raised by other 
papers against the Los Angeles Free Press, but its editor, Art Kunin, states 
that only by becoming economically sound can such papers be assured of 
continued ability to present their viewpoints, and that conformity to 
"Establishment" business practices need not be accompanied by acceptance 
of "Establishment" social practice and principles. 33 

Circulation figures for these publications are difficult to ascertain, because 
they do not participate in the usual inventories of periodicals, such as the 
Ayer Directory. A study of the four major underground papers in the Los 
Angeles area that reported claimed individual circulations as high as 68,000 
and combined circulations of 166,000. The same study showed that the 
Underground Press Syndicate has 39 member papers in 23 cities in 12 states 
and the District of Columbia (plus five Canadian and English members). 34 

8. Movies 

Of all the mass media, the movies felt perhaps most strongly the impact of 
television's competition. There were cities in the nation whose movie theaters 
did not close their doors in the years immediately following television's local 
debut. And while the number of feature films released in the United States 
has actually increased in the post-television years, the nature of these films 
has changed. For example, in 1945, 93 percent of all films released(377) were 
produced in this country. In the following years American production 
declined while foreign imports increased, and in 1958 American productions 
were in the minority for the first time. This trend continued until the early 
1960's, with American film production falling to as low as 28 percent of the 
total. However, in recent years there has been an upturn, and by 1967 
American films accounted for 39 percent of the 462 new features. 35 

The variation in the availability of movie features is pronounced as one 
moves from urban areas to smaller cities and towns. It is only in the largest 
cities that the public has access to all or most of the total output. Thus it is 
very difficult to establish any conception of the "average" motion picture 
content available for the American public. Although there is no systematic 
content analysis to support this contention, most observers feel that movies 
have become increasingly "adult" in recent years, and certainly American 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 205 

studios now put great emphasis on the "spectacle" pictures. These trends 
have been related to increased ticket prices. First-run picture tickets in the 
cities generally cost $2.50 to $3 and the price is still rising. These factors 
make it difficult to think of movies today as "family entertainment," 
although there are some productions obviously aimed at child and family 
group viewing. Some indication that movies are not primarily intended to be 
a family activity is shown by an inspection of the films offered in any major 
city. For example, the Los Angeles Times "Calendar" section of October 6, 
1968 listed 48 major engagement films currently showing in the city. Of 
these, 13 were recommended for "adults only" (most containing explicit 
erotic scenes and/or exceptional violence), 27 for "mature audiences" 
(including teenagers), and only eight for "families." These eight included 
"Camelot," "Paper Lion," "The Secret War of Harry Frig," "The Two of 
Us," "2001 a Space Odyssey," "War and Peace" (Russian production), and 
the new wide-screen print of "Gone With the Wind." 

Various minority interests are catered to by selected movie houses in most 
larger cities. Just as in literature, it is often difficult to determine where the 
line should be drawn between art and pornography. Most cities do have movie 
houses advertising "a warehouse of wild and wooly adult entertainment," 
"male film festival," "for unshockable adults." Such films can claim little in 
the way of redeeming artictic value. With regard to ethnic minorities, 
imported films have provided attractive fare for most ethnic groups. The one 
segment of the population that has not had film fare of its own is the largest 
minority group, the Negroes. 

Weekly attendance at the movies averages 45 million. 36 The Michigan 
study on which Table B-l was based reported that only 7 percent of the 
respondents had attended a movie during the previous week. 3 7 Post-television 
period studies on teenagers have reported that the median monthly movie 
attendance by teenagers in a large city was about 1 .5 and just over twice 
monthly for teenagers in several smaller cities and towns. 38 

9. Radio 

As with the movies, radio was seriously hurt by the advent of television 
and has survived only in a drastically revised form. Yet the number of radios 
in the country continues to increase, particularly the number of transistorized 
portables and car radios, for radio is truly the medium that goes wherever we 
go. It is no longer so much an entertainment medium as a companion or 
background to our activities. Several studies have documented that most 
radio listening today is a "secondary activity." 39 It emits a continuous 
stream of music and chatter to accompany other activities, whether it be 
doing homework or housework or fighting traffic on the freeway. In 1966, 
there were 262 million radios in the United States and of these 64 million 
were car radios. 40 The 1968 Broadcasting Yearbook gives a national estimate 
of 147 minutes of radio listening per day by those who some time during the 
day use television. In fact, the report states that the percentage of adults who 
listened to the radio each day in comparison with those who watched 
television was 75 percent and 66 percent, respectively. 41 

While the most prevalent type of programming today is some variation of 
the music/chatter format, "all-talk" programming is appearing in some urban 



206 Mass Media and Violence 

areas, and several cities now have "all -news" stations. One of the most 
interesting types of programs is the "open-line" format, in which is broadcast 
the telephone conversation between the program host and the listeners who 
call in. These programs provide an opportunity for persons of diverse outlook 
to express their opinions publicly. 

The abundance of radio stations relative to television outlets, particularly 
with the expansion of Frequency Modulation (FM) broadcasting, coupled 
with comparatively low production and operating costs, has made it possible 
for many radio stations to establish a format for specific-interest groups 
rather than for the general mass audience. This has included specialization not 
only in music categories, but also for ethnic groups. Most larger cities have at 
least one station which seeks to appeal to the Negro public. There is also a 
scattering of stations operated by public agencies and private foundations 
which attempt to provide intellectual and cultural fare for an acknowledgedly 
small audience. 

10. Phonograph Recordings 

The phonograph has become an increasingly important mass medium in 
recent years. Today there are over 48 million phonographs in this country, 
and the number has increased 33 percent in the last 5 years. 42 The 
development of compact, transistorized disk-and tape-playing machines has 
increased the flexibility of the medium and, indeed, phonographs are 
beginning to pose a challenge to radio as a car-carried medium. Table B-l 
shows that about a fourth of that sample of adults had listened to records the 
day before being interviewed. 

Phonograph recordings might be thought of as the "books" of the 
electronic media, in terms both of flexibility offerred and of selection of 
content and time of use. The variety of titles, as with books, is immense. The 
Schwann Catalogue 43 recently stated that there were approximately 35,000 
titles currently on the market. During a single year over 7,000 "singles" and 
3,500 long-play titles may be released. 44 The biggest sales have always been 
in popular music, but in recent years the youth market has become 
increasingly important to the record industry. Reflecting this is the fact that 
the long-time champion of record sales, Ring Crosby, has now been 
supplanted by "The Beatles," whose records sold over 210 million copies in 
only 4 years. 45 

Songs have been used in many cultures not only to entertain, but to 
inform and propagandize as well. This is true in the United States today, as 
careful listening to the lyrics of many of the widely played records will reveal. 
However, there are other phonograph recordings that are much more 
explicitly designed for this purpose. The "Spoken and Miscellaneous" section 
of the Schwann Catalog contains not only a long list of humor records, of 
which many contain social commentary, but also a wide variety of recorded 
propaganda and information, from "Bipartisan Treason" and "The Case 
Against Flouridation" to the "Quotations of Mao Tse-Tung" and 'Two Fists 
of Communism." 

1 1 . Television 

Although it is the newest of the mass media, television holds undisputed 
mastery of the field. The amount of time spent watching television relative to 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 207 

that spent with other media and leisure activities will vary, but television is 
the medium that receives the largest share of the public's free time. According 
to the 1968 World Almanac, 94 percent of American homes today have 
television and 25 percent have two or more sets. A 1967 Roper survey 
reported that the average time spent by adult Americans watching television 
each weekday was about 2 3/4 hours. 46 Of the 66 percent of adults who do 
watch some television on a given day, the 1968 Broadcasting Yearbook 
estimates an average daily viewing time of just over 31/2 hours. 47 The 
Nielsen National TV Rating report for the second half of January 1968 
estimated that the average daily operating hours per set varied from a low of 
4.8 hours in midsummer to a high of 6.8 hours in January. In January, the 
estimated percentage of households watching television rose from 55 percent 
at 6 p.m. to a high of 68 percent in the 8-10 p.m. "prime-time" period, after 
which is gradually declined. But 22 percent of the households were estimated 
as still watching at midnight. About a fifth of the households had their sets 
on by 10 a.m. and by midday the figure rose to one-third. 

A leading show, such as "Here's Lucy," may be viewed by over 40 million 
persons, and NBC's "Saturday Night Movie" may have an audience equal to 
two-thirds of the total paid attendance for all the nation's movie houses 
during the entire week. The President's "State of the Union" address in 
January 1968 was estimated to have had an audience of over 52 million 
viewers. Although the late afternoon hours on weekdays are generally 
thought of as the "children's hours" on television, the largest number of 
children are actually watching in the early evening hours. For example, 14 
evening shows had a larger number of 2-to 5-year-olds watching than did any 
daytime program in the same Nielsen report, and these evening programs 
ranged from "The Avengers" and "Batman" to "The Beverly Hillbillies" and 
"Disney's Wonderful World of Color." Furthermore, according to the Nielsen 
projections, children continue to be watching by the millions up to as late as 
1 1 p.m. on weekdays. Over 5 million children under the age of 12 and almost 
6.4 million 12 -to- 17 -year-olds were still watching between 10:30 and 1 1 p.m. 
on one Monday in the period covered. Returning to the "children's hours," 
programming in this period frequently consists of little more than a parade of 
old movie cartoons interspersed with toy and cereal commercials. 

The content of television varies from community to community, reflecting 
both the number of channels available and the programs selected by the local 
network affiliates for broadcasting. The major input, of course, comes from 
the three major networks, and this is particularly true in the prime evening 
hours. During the day, affiliated stations have more freedom to fill their 
schedule at their own discretion. However, a large portion of daytime 
programming by these stations and of all programming by nonaffiliated 
stations is filled with reruns of old network series and movies. 

Table B-6 shows a breakdown of the 35 hours of evening programming 
(6-11 p.m.) provided each week by each of the three network-owned 
and-operated stations in Los Angeles during their normal schedule for the 
1968 fall season (which includes the actual network schedule plus locally 
supplied materials in several periods, primarily between 6 and 7 p.m., when 
no network service may be provided). 

It is interesting to note the prominent place given to movies even during 
prime-time network programming. Actually, in terms of total program 



208 Mass Media and Violence 

Table B-6.~ Breakdown of fall season programming between 6-11 p.m. 
on network-owned stations in Los Angeles for a typical week 

[In hours and minutes} 

Category ABC CBS NBC 

News 0:00* 9:00 8:30 

Information 0:00 2:00 0:30 

Adventure 2:00 1:00 1:00 

Mystery/detective 7:30 2:00 3:30 

Western 2:30 3:00 4:30 

Situation comedy 4:00 6:00 2:30 

Serial drama 1:00 0:00 0:00 

Family variety/ family adventure 0:00 2:00 2:30 

Variety 4:30 6:00 5:00 

Movies 12:30 12:30 4:0 

Quiz/games 1:00 0:00 0:30 

Unspecified film 0:00 0:00 0:30 

*The ABC station schedules its early evening news hour at 5 p.m. and its late evening 
news at 11 p.m. 



schedules of all stations, most communities are provided with a larger number 
of movies each week on television than in their local movie theaters. To cite 
an extreme example, in a single week the seven VHP stations in Los Angeles 
showed five musical, 15 science fiction, 18 western, 18 comedy, 29 detective, 
and 73 dramatic films, for a total of 158 different full-length feature films. In 
former years the films shown on television tended to be older features, but 
today this has been somewhat modified. Of this 158, 33 were made in the 
1960's and nine were less than 3 years old. Among the films were not only 
all-time classics (as well as potboilers), but art films of critical acclaim. The 
importance of films is shown by ratings cited earlier, which reported that 
feature films had the largest average audience of all program categories. Both 
type of film and audience are broken down in Table B-7. 

There are numerous "specials" on each network during each season. For 
the fall of 1968, ABC scheduled 17, CBS 20, and NBC 34. These included a 
wide variety of content, from sports and musicals to public affairs, 
documentaries, and children's features. 

The relative scarcity of avilable television channels and the medium's high 
operating costs generally have made it the most "mass" of all the media. The 
gradual expansion into UHF still has not provided much specialization 
although there are a few Spanish-language stations operating. An all-Negro 
station was attempted in Los Angeles in the early 1960's, but due to a 
number of factors (a UHF allocation and an attempt to have all-black 
programming for which there were no sources except local production, were 
important handicaps) it survived only about half a year. (It would be 
interesting to know whether or not, with a wider distribution of UHF- 
receiving sets and the new spirit of black pride now evident, such a station 
could survive today.) However, in recent months the networks and some local 
stations have presented programming that focuses on Negro problems and 
features Negro entertainment. 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 209 

Table B-7.- Average audience estimates according to 
Nielsen 's second report for January 1 968 

Average percent of TV 
Evening: Households 

General drama: 

30 minutes length 19.7 

60 minutes length 16.3 

Suspense/mystery: 

30 minutes length 18.1 

60 minutes length 17.0 

Situation comedy 19.6 

Western 18.1 

Adventure 18.0 

Science fiction 17.0 

Variety 20.4 

Feature films 21.2 

Dinner-hour news 12.5 

Daytime: 

Serials 9.9 

Situation comedy 8.6 

Quiz 8.0 

News 6.7 

Weekend: 

Children 7.3 

Sports 7.1 



12. Educational Television 

One type of "minority" station that has appeared in many communities is 
the noncommercial "educational" station. There are now over 140 such 
stations in operation, the majority being affiliated with the National 
Educational Television (NET) organization, which facilitates the exchange of 
programs between stations and the supply of a few special productions. The 
programming of these stations is varied, with heavy emphasis placed on public 
affairs discussions, programs of practical information and a few of formal 
instructional content, and the arts. During the day on weekdays, many 
transmit instructional programs for the local school systems. 

These stations supply a highly contrasting alternate choice to the viewing 
public. However, many of their programs deal with highly specific subject 
matter and appeal primarily to a limited audience of those interested in that 
particular subject. It is therefore not surprising that the audience of these 
stations at any given hour is generally too small to be reflected in the major 
audience measurement services, but there are a few programs which have won 
sizeable audiences both locally and nationally through NET distribution. Over 
the course of a week most of these stations that operate on a VHP frequency 
will attract the attention of 10 to 25 percent of the households in their area 
at least once. 48 



210 Mass Media and Violence 

C. Different Patterns of Media Selection and Use 

The discussion of educational television with its limited, specialized 
audience serves to bring into focus the fact that the mass media do not have a 
single mass audience. Individuals do differ both in their choice of media and 
in their selection of content within each medium. Some of these differences 
reflect differences in the practical needs of the individual. Thus the person 
who owns stocks is more likely to read the financial section of the newspaper 
than one who does not. Other differences reflect differences in the means 
available to individuals. Thus low-income families may have to rely upon the 
"free" entertainment of television rather than upon entertainment, such as 
the movies, that carries an admission price. Still other differences reflect 
social and psychological factors that vary not only from individual to 
individual, but the balance of which may vary within the same individual 
from time to time. Thus as children mature they begin to seek information 
and content that conform to their sex role expectations. Or the person who is 
troubled or physically fatigued may seek "escape" content from the media, 
whereas under normal conditions he might reject the same content as puerile 
and seek instead more informational, edifying content. 

The overall situation is further complicated by the fact that the same 
content may have different value for the various individuals who do give it 
their attention. For example, a psychiatrist working with institutionalized 
disturbed children might say that these children were upset, not by television 
shows that were heavy in violence, but by those situation-comedy shows that 
portrayed happy families. Thus Dr. Benjamin Spock is quoted as deploring 
the sadism in Disney's feature film, "Snow White," and another writer 
reported hysterical reactions to Pinocchio being swallowed by the whale in 
the Disney feature film of the same name. 49 

Although the situation is complex, there are some patterns that have been 
traced out in empirical research and that provide some insights into the 
relationship between the media and the public. The following paragraphs are 
only a brief survey of some of these relationships. 

1 . Demographic and Ecological Factors 

Choice of media and of content within media has been found to differ in 
systematic relationship to a variety of demographic and ecological factors. For 
example, one study of media behavior in children reported relationships 
between sex, religious affiliation, and social class, and whether or not the child 
was primarily oriented to "pictorial media" (boys, Catholics, and blue-collar 
workers' children were more apt to be so oriented than their opposites). 5 
One of the earliest qualitative audience analysis studies documented the 
importance of age, sex, and socioeconomic status on the choice of newspaper 
content. (The reading of "hard" news comes in the late teens, whereas comics 
reading peaks early, remains at a plateau, and gradually declines with age; 
blue collar readers tend to read sensational and entertainment content at the 
expense of "hard" news; the reading of society and sports news is sex-related, 
as one would expect, etc.) 5 * 

One of the best indications of a person's orientation to media use is his 
socioeconomic status, usually measured by type of occupation, income, and 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 211 

education (singly or in combination). The Michigan study of audience 
behavior included comparison of poor whites and poor blacks with the 
general population. The results are summarized in Table B-8. Similar patterns 
have been reported by other studies. Generally speaking, those in the lower 
socioeconomic categories are more likely to be heavy users of pictorial media, 
particularly television, while those in the upper socioeconomic categories use 
a wider range of media. Poor blacks are even more extreme in this respect 
than poor whites. This television-orientation is further reflected in the 
preference of television over the newspaper for news by these latter groups. 
Accordingly, it is not surprising that both the "CBS Evening News" with 
Walter Cronkite and NBC's "Huntley-Brinkley Report" draw a larger 
proportion of blue-collar than white-collar viewers. 5 2 

Because of a combination of pressures, those who have had relatively more 
education and are in white-collar or professional occupations need and desire 
more information from the media than is the case among the lower income, 
blue-collar groups. The differences in media use between the groups partly 
reflect differing levels of competition for the individual's time. Unemployed 
people, for example, have more free time than those with jobs, but they also 
obviously have fewer means to avail themselves of a wide range of activities. 

The professional has the financial resources to exercise a wide range of 
options. He also is under pressures that require him to participate in a wide 
variety of activities, not only civic and social, but professional as well "to 
keep up with his field." Within the limits of present technology, this type of 
professional information is still most efficiently provided by the printed 
media, so that the professional man must maintain a high level of literacy. A 
result of this is that the act of reading is less demanding for him than for the 
blue-collar worker, so that it probably has for him an intrinsic pleasure value 
in itself. One study has documented that the orientation toward all the media 
increases with education, but also that the demands connected with 
education preempt time that otherwise might be spent with the media. Use of 
other media further preempts the time that the educated man might like to 
spend watching television. 53 

Turning again to the question of choice of news sources, the pattern 
shown in Table B-8 has been reported in many studies together with the 
further finding that the level of trust placed in the different media also 
differs. For example, studies in Los Angeles showed that the poor, and 
particularly the Negro poor, were much more suspicious of the newspaper 
(including Negro papers) than they were of television, whereas white-collar 
workers were moderate in their trust of television. 54 A variety of other 
factors have also been found to be related to different patterns of media 
usage, some of which seem to be a reflection of changing patterns in 
American living. For example, interest in community news in comparison 
with interest in metropolitan area, national, and international news has been 
found to be lower among more mobile families (and in some metropolitan 
areas 20 percent or more in Los Angeles 25 percent of the families change 
residence within a calendar year), among apartment dwellers, and among 
those who commute to other areas for work or shopping. These factors also 
appear to be related to the selection of media in a number of complex ways, 
even to predicating the choice of competing daily newspapers. 5 5 

Studies have also documented differences in interest in and selection of 



212 Mass Media and Violence 

Table B-8. -Differences in media use patterns 

according to income and race* 

[In percent] 

General Poor Whites Poor Blacks 

Population (150) (131) 
TV time "yesterday" : 

None 40.8 22.7 25.2 

Under 4 hours 41.7 25.3 19.8 

4 hours or more 17.1 52.0 55.0 

Radio time "yesterday": 

None 29.1 40.0 36.7 

Under 2 hours 39.2 32.7 25.9 

2 hours or more 31.6 26.0 35.9 

Read newspaper daily 77.2 69.4 58.8 

Read a magazine "yesterday" 52.9 38.3 38.2 

Attended movie within past month . . . 29.6 12.0 16.0 

Do not own phonograph 13.6 29.3 16.0 

Phonograph listening "yesterday": 

None 62.6 24.7 13.0 

Under 1 hour 9.2 33.3 48.1 

1 hour or more 14.0 12.7 22.9 

Medium preferred for world news: 

Television 34.9 65.3 65.6 

Radio 25.7 12.0 19.8 

Newspaper 31.5 18.0 10.7 

People 4.4 4.7 3.1 

Medium preferred for local news: 

Television 20.4 32.7 26.7 

Radio 31.0 34.0 32.1 

Newspaper 40.3 25.3 18.3 

People ,,6.8 6.7 21.4 

*From Bradley S. Greenberg and Brenda Dervin, Communication Among the Poor 
(East Lansing: Michigan State-University Press, 1967-1968). 

media content, particularly news. Crime news has been found to be of greater 
interest not only to the poor in comparison with the middle class, but also to 
city dwellers in comparison to suburbanites. 56 The fact that the Nielsen 
Television Index Market Section Audiences Report provides a breakdown of 
individual program audiences by such factors as size of family, size of 
community, and section of the nation, as well as a variety of socioeconomic 
indicators, reflects that the composition of the audience does vary from 
program to program. 

2. Sociopsychological Factors 

There is some evidence that lower income groups are more concerned with 
seeking immediate solutions and pleasures, whereas higher income groups are 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 213 

frequently willing to undergo intermediate discomforture and to expend 
effort if by so doing they see the possibility of a greater ultimate reward. 57 
This is felt to constitute a difference in the mores of socioeconomic groups 
that extends into many types of behavior, including media use. 

Data to support this generalization has been reported in a number of 
studies. For example, white-collar-working parents have been found to have 
"guilt feelings" about watching television and permitting their children to do 
the same. 58 Some authors have hypothesized that certain media the 
pictorial media and television in particular have a greater potential for 
providing "immediate" gratification, while other media such as books and 
magazines are more efficient for providing the type of detailed information 
frequently required for "deferred" gratification. Such studies as those of 
Schramm et al 5 9 have graphically demonstrated the importance of parental 
example and guidance in influencing the child's acquisition of values and their 
application to media behavior. Another study presented evidence suggesting 
that blue-collar workers who do not conform to their class mores concerning 
media viewing (i.e., they are high users of print and low users of television) 
exhibit other behavior and attitudes suggesting that they are striving for 
upward mobility. 60 Intelligence is another factor that has been found to be 
strongly related to media orientation, with the more intelligent persons more 
frequently selecting media and content that offer deferred gratification than 
is the case with those of average and lower intelligence. 61 These factors are 
frequently interrelated, but each has been found to operate independently as 
well as in combination with others in influencing media usage. 

There are also other factors that may intervene. The media are at times 
used to enhance the image we wish to project to others. It will be recalled 
that Berelson's study showed that many of the respondents indicated that 
social prestige was a factor in their reading of the newspaper. Emotional 
factors have also been shown to be an important variable. Again, Berelson's 
study showed that some newspaper reading was predicated on combating 
"anomie" or loneliness. Another early study reported that radio soap operas 
often served a similar purpose in combating isolation for housewives. 62 
Children's use of comics was found to vary similarly, with lonely children 
using them for fantasy while other children put the story content to creative 
uses, such as providing ideas for play activity. 63 

Still another factor which has been found to be important in influencing 
the amount of use of media for fantasy is the degree of personal stress or 
tension felt by a person at a given time. One adult study reports that 
"escape" television viewing increased among adults when they were under 
high stress. 64 Surveys of child and teen media use have found that children 
who reported conflict with their parents and/or peer groups showed increased 
media use for fantasy. Such media use was also found to accompany high 
scores on antisocial aggression scales. 65 

It should be pointed out that, in these studies, use of the media as a means 
of escape from social isolation and/or personal tension is higher among 
white-collar working families. This is inevitable because the normative use of 
immediate-reward media is so high among blue-collar workers that it leaves 
little room for them to use increases of such behavior to relieve personal 
stress. The general fact remains, however, that people are likely to take their 
problems to the media, and in extreme cases it appears that the gratification 



2 14 Mass Media and Violence 

found therein may lead to a circular situation resulting in "addiction" to this 
"mechanical friend." The question of the extent to which this may also lead 
them to active antisocial behavior, e.g., violence, is a question that will be 
treated in later sections of this Task Force's report. 

D. Some Problems Related to the Mass Media's Nature 

One frequently hears complaints from a wide variety of sources about 
today's "mass society." Population growth and increasing population density 
create a multitude of tensions within our society, and being institutions 
within that society it is inescapable that the media are intertwined with these 
tensions and complaints. Given the existing economic and technological 
conditions, the general media must seek large audiences to survive. At the 
same time, technology has extended the immediate accessibility of content to 
everyone. This accessibility has its dysfunctional aspects. Much of the great 
artistic heritage of our culture contains elements of violence and sex. 
Recognizing this, society has generally sought to provide some safeguards 
regarding the use of such content. Thus, for example, various types of 
literature are introduced to children at what is considered an appropriate 
period in their maturation. It is significant that many collections of Bible 
stories for children omit a considerable number of details contained in the 
original. 

As the media grow both in the bulk of their content and the ease with 
which people may generally gain access to that content, such controls are 
increasingly difficult to maintain. Furthermore, these same characteristics of 
universal accessibility mean that the persons responsible for the media do not 
have the means to guarantee that their content reaches those for whom it was 
intended and that it does not become accessible to those for whom it might 
be harmful. This creates great strains within all the media. Some critics, for 
example, complain that television is generally puerile and that more adult 
cultural fare should be presented. Yet if the programmers attempted to 
provide more adult fare, they would then hear complaints from others that 
they were perverting youth. One can argue that the media can never be made 
totally "safe," simply because content which is harmless or actively beneficial 
for the vast majority of the population may trigger violently harmful 
reactions in some few members of the audience. 

In conclusion, let us return to a consideration of the media's role as 
institutions of communication within society and the impact of the increasing 
mass use of the media on the functions they are supposed to perform. 

The massiveness of the audience is a particular problem for news media, 
for as the size and diversity of a given medium's audience increase, so do the 
difficulties of communicating effectively to all segments of the audience. 
This, then, makes it increasingly difficult to maintain a high level of 
satisfaction and trust among the members of a society that places a high value 
upon individual rights and identity. The media today can transmit more 
information to more people more quickly than ever before. In doing this they 
can help to reduce anxiety within the public. However, there is also the less 
happy possibility that they can be used, inadvertently or intentionally, to 
increase anxiety. As institutions, the media consist of professional staffs 
made up of fallible human beings who are using a potent technology under an 



Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media 2 15 

implicit mandate of the society. Just how potent that technology is has still 
not been determined, but as the technology is developed and improved its 
ability to effect good and evil becomes stronger, more immediate, and 
far-reaching. But in the final analysis, technology is only the tool; it is the 
members of society who must determine the manner of its use. 

REFERENCES 

Harold D. Lasswell, The Structure and Functions of Communication in Society, 
Institute for Religion and Social Studies of New York City (1948). 

2. Gordon W. Allport and Leo J. Postman, "The Basic Psychology of Rumor," in 
Wilbur Schramm, Process and Effects of Mass Communication (Urbana: University 
of Illinois Press, 1955). 

3. Richard F. Carter and Bradley S. Greenberg, "Newspaper or Television: Which Do 
You Believe? "Journalism Quarterly, 42, 29 (1965). 

4. See, for example, pp. 39-42 in Jack Lyle, The News in Megalopolis (San Francisco: 
Chandler, 1967). 

5. Ibid. p. 171. 

6. Ibid. p. 44-45. 

7. See James E. Brinton et al., The Newspaper and Its Public (Stanford: Institute for 
Communication Research (undated)). 

8. See Muzafer Sherif and Carol I. Hovland, Social Judgement (New Haven: Yale 
University Press, 1961). 

9. See, for example, pp. 29-30 in Jack Lyle, The Black American and the Press (Los 
Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1968). 

10. Harold Mendelsohn, "Socio-Psychological Perspectives on the Mass Media and 
Public Anxiety," Journalism Quarterly, 40, 511 (1963). 

11. Jack Lyle and Walter Wilcox (editors), A Community Daily in a Changing 
Metropolitan Press Environment (Los Angeles: UCLA Department of Journalism). 
(See p. 27.) 

12. Charles H. Cooley, Social Organization (Glencoe: Free Press, 1956). 

13. See, for example, Joseph T. Klapper, The Effects of Mass Communication (Glencoe: 
Free Press, 1960). 

14. Several studies illustrating this phenomenon are contained in The Great Debates 
edited by Sidney Kraus (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1962). 

15. Bradley S. Greenberg and Brenda Dervin, Communication Among the Poor (in three 
volumes) (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967-68). 

16. These figures and those in Table 2 are from The Bowker Annual of Library and 
Book Trade Information 1968 (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1968). 

17. World Almanac 1968 (New York: Newspaper Enterprise Association, 1967). 

18. Figures in this paragraph are from Charles A. Madison, Book Publishing in America 
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966). See pp. 547-56. 

19. World Almanac 1968, op. cit., footnote 17. 

20. Philip Converse, "Information Flow and Stability of Partisan Attitudes," Public 
Opinion Quarterly, 26, 592 (1962). 

21. News Research Bulletin (of the American Newspaper Publishers Association), No. 2, 
dated Feb. 7, 1968. 

22. See, for example, Frances L. Spain and Margaret C. Scoggins, "They Still Read 
Books," in The Eighth Art (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962). 

23. 1968 Ay er Directory (Philadelphia: N.W. Ayer and Son, 1968). 

24. World Almanac 1968, op. cit., footnote 17. 

25. Wilbur Schramm, Jack Lyle, and Edwin B. Parker, Television in the Lives of Our 
Children (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961). See p. 101. 

26. Ibid. p. 261. 

27. Bernard Berelson, "What 'Missing the Newspaper' Means," in Paul F. Lazarsfeld and 
Frank Stanton, Communication Research 1948-1 949 (New York: Harper, 1949). 

28. William A. Hacten, "The Changing U. S. Sunday Newspaper," Journalism Quarterly, 
38,281 (1961). 

29. Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. cit., footnote 25, pp. 247-248. 



216 Mass Media and Violence 

30. 1968 Editor and Publisher Yearbook (New York: The Editor and Publisher Co., 
Inc., 1968). See pp. 316-317. 

31. See, for example, Franlin Frazier, Black Bourgeoisie (Glencoe: Free Press, 1957). 

32. See, for example, "Negro Press: Victim of Negro Progress," on p. 50 of the Aug. 26, 
1963, issue of Newsweek. 

33. Quoted in Gaye S. Smith, "The Underground Press in Los Angeles," unpublished 
report for the Department of Journalism, UCLA (1968). 

34. Ibid. 

35. The Film Daily Yearbook of Motion Pictures (New York: The Film Daily, 1968). 

36. Popular Photography , June 1967. 

37. Greenberg and Dervin, op. cit., footnote 15. 

38. Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. cit., footnote 25 pp. 252- 253 

39. For example, see converse, op. cit., footnote 20 and Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. 
cit., footnote 25, pp. 243, 251. 

40. World Almanac, op. cit., footnote 17. 

41. 1968 Broadcasting Yearbook (New York: Broadcasting Publications, Inc., 1968). 
See pp. 22-24. 

42. World Almanac, op. cit., footnote 17. 

43. "Preface," Schwann Catalog Dec. 1968, p. 4. 

44. Billboard International Buyer's Guide, Aug. 6, 1966. 

45. World Almanac, op. cit., footnote 17. 

46. Burns W. Roper, Emerging Profiles of Television and Other Mass Media: Public 
Attitudes 1959-1967 (New York: Television Information Office, 1967). 

47. Broadcasting Yearbook, op. cit., footnote 41. 

48. Wilbur Schramm, Jack Lyle, and Ithiel de Sola Pool, The People Look at 
Educational Television (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963). See p. 50. 

49. Carey McWilliams, The California Revolution (New York: The Grossman Publisher, 
Inc., 1968). Seep. 137. 

50. Lotte Bailyn, "Mass Media and Children: A Study of Exposure Habits and Cognitive 
Effects," Psychological Monographs, 73, 1 (1959). 

51. Wilbur Schramm and David M. White, "Age, Education, Economic Status: Factors in 
Newspaper Reading," Journalism Quarterly, 26, 149 (1959). 

52. See, for example, the March 1968 Nielsen Television Index Report. 

53. Merrill Samuelson, Richard F. Cater, and Lee Ruggels, "Education, Available Time, 
and Use of Mass Media," Journalism Quarterly, 40,491 (1963). 

54. See Chapters 8 and 9 in The News in Megalopis, op. cit., footnote 4. 

55. Ibid., Chapters. 

56. Roy E. Carter Jr. and Peter Clarke, "Suburbanites, City Residents, and Local News," 
Journalism Quarterly, 40, 548 (1963). 

57. See, for example, Ken Geiger and Robert Sokol, "Social Norms in Television 
Watching," American Sociol., 65, 174 (1959). Also see Chapter 6 in Schramm, Lyle, 
and Parker, op. cit., footnote 25. 

58. Gary Steiner, The People Look at Television (New York: Knopf, 1963). 

59. Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. cit., footnote 25, pp. 47-48. 

60. Jack Lyle, "Educational Television and Social Mobility," unpublished paper read to 
Association for Education in Journalism convention,. 1962. 

61. Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. cit., footnote 25, p. 105. 

62. Herta Herzog, "Motivations and Gratifications of Daily Serial Listeners," in Paul 
Lazarsfeld and Frank Stanton, Radio Research, 1942-1943 (New York: Duell, Sloan 
and Pearce, 1944). 

63. Katherine M. Wolfe and Marjorie Fiske, "Why They Read Comics," in Lazarsfeld 
and Stan ton, Communication Research, 1948-1949, op. cit. 

64. L. I. Pearlin, "Social and Personal Stress and Escape Television Viewing," Public 
Opinion Quarterly, 23, 255 (1959). 

65. See Chapter 7 of Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. cit., footnote 5. 



Appendix II-C 

MEDIA CODES, GUIDELINES, AND 
POLICIES FOR NEWS COVERAGE 

A. Need for Guidelines 

The need for guidelines is recognized especially by the television medium, 
which advertises its presence at the scene of violence with cameras, lights, 
and, sometimes, special mobile trucks, in order to make a vivid, instantaneous 
transmission of the event. This presence can serve as a catalyst for those 
involved in the violence to create "incidents" specifically for the camera, and 
the ability to transmit instantaneously makes balanced coverage inherently 
more difficult. 

Concerning these problems, Dr. Frank Stanton, president of CBS, has said: 

Like no other medium in history, television catches the flavor, the 
immediacy, the excitement, the tension and the confusion, too, of the 
moment. This is the great strength of television, but also, in a way, its 
weakness. 

The problems related to the news media's coverage of 
insurrections . . . while they can never be wholly eradicated . . . can be 
minimized by the use of responsible and intelligent guidelines. Setting 
up such guidelines . . . seems to us to be our responsibility and 
obligation as journalists and editors and we cannot delegate this to 
anyone else. 

The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, in March 1968, 
urged news organizations to discuss among themselves the special problems of 
covering riots and to "formulate and disseminate directives based on the 
discussions." The Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Department of 
Justice has also encouraged the news media to discuss with city and police 
officials the promulgation of community-wide guidelines for covering racial 
disturbances; but it does not recommend or endorse any specific set of 
guidelines. Rather, it believes, as did the Kerner Commission, that discussions 
on this subject within the news organizations are as important as the 
establishment of formal guidelines. 

Many news editors and their staffs seem willing to rethink and redefine 
their procedures for reporting disorders; but they always jealously safeguard 
their rights, citing the freedom of the press, the right of the public to know 
and make its own decisions, and the responsibility of the "fourth estate" to 
report fully, fairly, and responsibly without prior restraint by any public 

217 



218 Mass Media and Violence 

authority. To paraphrase one newspaper editor: any code established by the 
media itself is a policy; any code imposed from the outside is censorship. 

The news media have growing misgivings about outside restrictions on 
news coverage of controversial public events and not without reason. Only 
last year, the Ohio House of Representatives considered denying newsmen 
access to scenes of riots and other emergencies. Congressional committees 
have announced hearings on news practices. And some city officials have, 
without consulting the media, issued riot coverage policies. 

These pressures, coupled with the media's own sense of responsibility, 
have resulted in the adoption of self-determined guidelines. While the daily 
press, with the belated exception of the wire services, has been reluctant to 
formulate specific formal guidelines for riot coverage, the case is considerably 
different in the broadcasting media. All three of the major television 
networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, and their 15 owned -and -ope rated stations, 1 1 
of 14 commercial television stations, and 13 of the 17 commercial radio 
stations, responding to the Violence Commission's five-city survey, have 
adopted some form of policy or guideline for the coverage of violence. 

But many of the news editors, both broadcast and print, strongly 
emphasized that their policies, with respect to coverage of inflammatory or 
violent events, are simply formalizations of good reporting practices, have 
evolved over long periods of time, and undergo constant review and revision 
when necessary. In cases where the stations, wire services, or newspapers 
reported the date they initiated their formal written policies on coverage of 
violence, it occurred most frequently during the past 3 years in all cases, 
including the networks, it actually occurred during the past 5 years. 

1 . Characteristics of Guidelines 

Much similarity exists among the "guidelines" of all media: 

Language . Caution extreme care in the use of language (e.g., avoid 
inflammatory descriptions), catchwords (such as "police brutality" and 
"angry mob"), and stereotyped phrases; use moderate language; avoid words 
such as "riot" and "racial" (often until officially designated); caution in 
characterization of crowd, disturbance, etc.; care not to exaggerate in 
headlines. 

Equipment and lights. Designation or warnings against use of certain 
equipment and lights, e.g., use unmarked cars; use certain microphones, 
cameras, and lights. 

Conduct and safety of personnel .Provision of police escorts, special 
equipment, special credentials; be a "moderating" influence. 

Procedures and assignments .Most experienced newsmen to field and 
command posts, special liaison with police. 

Reporting practices. Emphasis on traditional good reporting practices, 
e.g., confirmation, good sources; balance and fairness in story, avoidance of 
reports that might inflame or incite to violence; report causes, as well as 
effects; accuracy, restraint, strict attribution. 

Many of the guidelines simply extend normal news procedures, but several 
pertain only to the unusual circumstances surrounding riots and other violent 
disorders: 



Media Codes, Guidelines, and Policies for News Coverage 219 

Provisions for helmets, police escorts, etc.; cautions against use of 
certain terms and characterizations, e.g., "riot," "racial"; procedures 
for use of only certain equipment and lights ; embargoes on live reports 
and use of "bulletins"; policy of delay; avoidance of giving exact 
location and descriptions of weapons. 

2. Effectiveness of Guidelines 

Just how effective have these policies, or guidelines, been? From the 
responses, the media have found them, without qualification, to be useful and 
workable. These are some representative comments: 

". . . useful so far as it describes a management philosophy to which one 
entire news staff can and does subscribe." 

-WWDC-FM, Washington, D.C. 

". . . such guidelines keep various personnel , . . alert to consequences, 
alert to overemphasis, and cause of unrest and violence." 

- Evening Tribune, San Diego, Calif. 

". . . guides to good judgment . . . particularly at times when quick 
decisions must be made." 

-WRC-TV, Washington, D.C. 

Above all, the formulation and establishment of guidelines appears to have 
increased the sensitivity of news personnel to the problems of covering 
violence. 

3. Operation of Guidelines 

In all types of journalism, many people take part in shaping stories, and 
they all hold some decision-making power. Reporters, camera and sound men, 
researchers, rewrite men, writers, film editors, desk editors, regional and state 
editors, station managers and executive editors all assume responsibility, in 
part, for the way a story is reported. This shared responsibility argues most 
strongly for the formulation of a common policy. 

Although the news editor on duty usually bears direct responsibility for 
administering a policy, every person on the staff must know and abide by its 
meaning, in both letter and spirit, to make it effective. Several responding 
stations noted closer management supervision in times of disorder. Sanctions 
that enforce station policy include criticism, suspension, or discharge. 

B . Specific Media Guidelines 
1. The Networks 

All three of the major commercial networks ABC, CBS, and 
NBC subscribe to the NAB Code and have general broadcast news policies 



220 Mass Media and Violence 

and standards to guide their news operation and personnel. 
ABC has five "considerations" for news scripts: 

(1) Good taste; 

(2) Avoidance of obscene, indecent, and profane language; 

(3) Avoidance of defamation; 

(4) Compliance with government regulations during times of emergency; 
and 

(5) Competent news authority. 

In addition, "the news shall not be broadcast in a manner that might create 
alarm or panic." 

The November 1963 "Policies and Procedures" statement of NBC sets out 
broad but specific standards for the conduct of news personnel and the 
treatment of program subjects. Pertinent to the issue of violence is clause 5 : 

In the factual presentation and in the analysis of news, sensational 
treatment will be avoided. News may never be presented in a manner 
which would create public alarm or panic. News items relating to crime 
or sex in particular must be handled without morbid or sensational 
detail and must be treated with the judgment required in presentation 
to a family audience. 

For many years, CBS and NBC have reflected in their public statements, in 
their internal memoranda, and in directives to their news personnel at the 
network and at owned-and-operated stations, a strong sense of responsibility 
in their broadcast news operation. All three networks have adopted, and now 
have in effect, policy guides specifically for coverage of riots. The genesis of 
these policy guidelines at CBS and NBC go back to 1963 in both cases, and 
they have been augmented periodically in the intervening years. ABC's 
guidelines were formalized at least as early as July 1967. 

Public events and demands have precipitated a revaluation of policies at 
the three networks, which has often resulted in a redefinition of news policies 
and practices. It should be noted, however, that CBS and NBC have often 
anticipated the special conditions and challenges of the events of these last 
few turbulent years and have reiterated or modified their policies accordingly. 
At CBS, Richard Salant, president of CBS News, sent a memorandum to news 
personnel in June 1963, in anticipation of the disturbances in Selma, 
Alabama. He warned of "the unsettling effect on a stimulated crowd that the 
presence of TV cameras has," and requested that personnel and equipment be 
as unobtrusive as possible and that cameras be turned away or capped 
whenever there was a danger that they might exacerbate an event. In handling 
"racial crises and other confrontations throughout the country," Salant urged 
news personnel to conduct themselves with restraint and care. 

In August 1963, after Selma and after he had appeared before the House 
Subcommittee on Communications and Power, NBC President Robert 
Kintner "reiterated" in a memorandum to all news personnel four points for 
the handling of controversial issues and events, using as an example a 
demonstration in connection with segregation: accuracy, judgment in 
selection of air material, avoidance in taking sides by manner or tone or 
presentation, and balancing. 



Media Codes, Guidelines, and Policies for News Coverage 22 1 

Both CBS and NBC elaborated upon these basic statements over the years, 
and by mid- 1967 both networks had formally codified a set of guidelines for 
coverage of riots and civil disturbances. In May 1967, after Watts but before 
the widespread summer riots of that year NBC had set 13 guidelines for 
handling civil disturbances, which were "not designed to curtail coverage, but 
to insure its responsibility." NBC reiterated points which it said "are 
journalistic basics we all know but may forget in the heat of covering a big 
story." During the summer of 1967, CBS defined seven specific 
"precautions" for its news personnel. (The first CBS document referring to 
their existence was Dr. Frank Stanton's letter of Aug. 10, 1967, to Senator 
Hugh Scott.) 

Early in June 1968, NBC restated its policy with some updating, and on 
August 20, 1968, a few days before the Democratic National Convention, 
CBS News President Richard Salant amplified on the policy guidelines of 
CBS cameras are to be capped if they are aggravating the situation, the exact 
location of the disturbance is not to be revealed, reportage should concern 
itself with the underlying issues of the disorder and warned about the 
especially troublesome circumstances awaiting the news media in Chicago. 
After Chicago, CBS adopted two new policies for the coverage of riots and 
civil disorders: extreme care in the use of lights, and a general prohibition of 
live television (not radio) coverage. 

The following is a checklist that highlights the points of overlap and 
difference in the written policy guidelines of ABC, CBS, and NBC in 
reporting disorders: 

CBS ABC NBC 

Use unmarked or camouflaged 

cars and equipment X X 

Avoid using lights X 

Obey all police instructions X 

Caution in characterizing and 

estimating size, intensity, and 

mood of crowd or disturbance X X X 

Confirm all rumor and eye-witness, 

wire service, reports, 

strict attribution X X 

Balance all statements by rioters, 

responsible officials X X 

Avoid catchwords and stereotyped 

phrases (such as police brutality, 

angry mob), play news straight, 

without emotion X X X 

Cap cameras if contributing to 

situation X 

Avoid giving exact location, 

specifics about weaponry, etc X X 

Report underlying issues and 

causes X X X 

Do not reenact, simulate, stage, 

or aid demonstration X X 

No live TV coverage X X 

Advise affiliates when network 

coverage may conflict with local 

voluntary restrictive agreements X 



222 Mass Media and Violence 

CBS ABC NBC 
Do not describe disturbance as 

"riot" or "racial" until 

officially designated X X 

Specific editing cautions X 

Swift dispatch of reporters to 

scene of disturbance X 

Avoid interviews with participants, 

self-appointed leaders 

The written guidelines of the networks differ in two important respects: 

ABC and CBS have prohibited live coverage of civil disturbances a 
policy that implies delay, and 

CBS recommends obeying all police instructions, whereas the policy set 
by NBC to advise the affiliate when network coverage may conflict 
with local voluntary agreement implies a situation wherein NBC 
coverage may be in opposition to police wishes. ABC has no policy 
that applies. 

2. Television Stations 

Eighteen of the 22 television stations in the five cities surveyed completed 
and returned the Violence Commission's questionnaire. Of these 18 stations, 
four were public television stations. Eleven of the 14 commercial television 
stations completing the questionnaire said they had adopted specific written 
or unwritten guidelines for the reporting of "inflammatory or violent news 
events." None of the public television stations had adopted specific 
guidelines, but, with the exception of WETA-TV, Channel 26 in Washington, 
D.C., which broadcasts on-the-hour wire-service reports, the public television 
stations also did not carry any "hard news" programs. 

Although the television station guidelines tended to be similar, the codes 
ranged over a wide spectrum in detail and specifics. Several 
stations WMAL-TV, an ABC owned-and-operated station in Washington, 
D.C., and KOGO-TV, an NBC-affiliate Time-Life station in San Diego, 
Calif. had set very detailed, stringent plans and guidelines for their staffs, as 
well as general directives, and also alternative emergency plans and 
procedures. The policies of WSAV-TV, an NBC/ABC affiliate in Savannah, 
Ga., as enunciated by the president in a memorandum to the news 
department, related only to pretaping and delaying inflammatory film and 
the prerelease of information about demonstrations. Other notable specifics 
in codes were the following: 

Only a few of the 1 1 stations had any specific policy for delaying the 

news. 
Only one or two stations recommended against live coverage. 

Several stations were concerned with the use of "bulletins." 

Here are some representative examples given by reporting television 
stations of stories affected by their standards or codes: 



Media Codes, Guidelines, and Policies for News Coverage 223 

Editing of, or decision not to carry, film accounts of inflammatory 

remarks by Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, and angry whites. 
Deliberate downplaying of riots in Washington, D.C. 
Decision to report the event fully, but without a film of the rioting. 
Long, general shots of disturbances rather than closeups of angry 

rioters, flaming building, etc. 
Delay in broadcasting of the melee. 
Delay in broadcasting the occasion of integrating a theater until after 

the fact. 
Edited film of hippie dispersal by police to show the causes for the 

action. 

The most frequent complaints reported by stations came from viewers 
who accused the station or its network of showing a pro-Negro bias in its 
news coverage. Two stations, WKRC-TV and WLWT-TV, both in Cincinnati, 
reported their listeners complained that their policy of delay might be harmful 
and ill served the public interest. The stations surveyed also seemed to have 
received their share of protest mail about network coverage of the 1968 
Democratic National Convention. 

3. Radio 

Because the radio stations in the five communities surveyed were selected 
arbitrarily (every other one was listed in Broadcasting Yearbook, including 
FM stations) and because only 17 of the 35 stations solicited, or 50 percent 
of them, returned a completed questionnaire, this sampling of responses 
cannot be considered as representative either of the radio service in these 
communities or of radio guidelines in general. 

However, a few observations on the returns are important and interesting. 
Of the 17 responding commercial radio stations including seven FM 
stations 13 have adopted some form of guidelines. In two communities, 
Washington, D.C., and San Diego, all four commercial radio stations that 
responded to the questionnaire from each community have adopted some 
form of policy for reporting of inflammatory events and civil disturbances. 

The two most frequently mentioned guidelines adopted by radio were: an 
avoidance of live broadcasts from scenes of turmoil; and an intentional delay 
in broadcasting reports, with holdbacks ranging from a half-hour (WKRC, 
Cincinnati) to as much as 12 hours duration (KEYN, Wichita, Kan.). 

Two apparently Negro-oriented stations answering to the 
questionnaire-WOL, Washington, D.C., and KEYN, Wichita- have evaluated 
their role with special care. Each had provisions for delay in broadcasting 
reports of incipient violence in order to refrain from drawing a crowd. Each 
responded in unique ways during times of racial turmoil in their 
communities: WOL, in the April 1968 riots in Washington, broadcast gospel 
music in the hope of quieting the Negro community; at the request of the 
police, KEYN in Wichita stayed on the air beyond its usual signoff time 
during civil disorders to play soul music with Negro announcers during that 
evening they did not report news events. 

As with television stations, agreement prevailed among radio stations that 



224 Mass Media and Violence 

had adopted guidelines that these were helpful to their news operation. But 
although a number of radio stations have given considerable thought to their 
role in time of disorder, they nevertheless heavily dependespecially the 
smaller stations upon wire-service reports and often lack a well-trained and 
experienced news staff. 

4. Newspapers 

There is little evidence that many newspapers have adopted any specific 
codes of guidelines for the coverage of inflammatory events or civil 
disturbances. Although three of the four papers responding from four cities in 
the five-city survey indicated they have some policy for the coverage of 
"inflammatory or violent news events," only two of the papers, the Evening 
Tribune in San Diego, and The Washington Post in Washington, D.C., had 
codified their guidelines for riot coverage. 

A survey of editors of riot-torn cities that was done by William Ware, 
Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, for the Freedom of Information 
Committee of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, 
emphatically concluded that there was no need for a code of voluntary 
self-restraint. But while editors expressed reluctance about a "code" in the 
words of one editor, a "kind of journalistic sleeping sickness" many did say 
that they had exercised voluntary restraint and learned several things from 
their experience: (1) to exercise extreme caution to avoid inflammatory and 
exaggerated copy, headlines, and pictures; (2) to take measures to protect 
their staffs; (3) to make preparations for riot coverage; and (4) to fully print 
stories about what is going on as the best way to scotch rumors. 

5. Wire Services 

The wire-service reports of demonstrations and riots have come under 
severe criticism from many sources. Because all of the rest of the 
media radio, television, and newspapers depend to a great extent upon their 
accounts, their influence is immediate and widespread; and their errors and 
misjudgments compound many times over. This concern for inflammatory 
language and inaccurate descriptions in wire service reports has persuaded the 
networks and several radio and television stations to specifically provide in 
their guidelines that wire stories be rechecked before use. 

Both UPI and AP have now issued basic instructions on the handling of 
stories involving racial violence. The AP had formed a racial task force in 
1965 to set down some guidelines based on staffers' experience. These 
guidelines were recirculated again in 1967 and substantially updated in 1968 
to take into account the Riot Commission Report. The AP guidelines are 
considerably more detailed than those of UPI, which were only set on August 
3, 1967. Local UPI bureaus may have entered into community-wide 
agreements that are respected in times of emergency. 



Appendix II-D 
THE CANONS OF JOURNALISM 

(American Society of Newspaper Editors) 

The primary function of newspapers is to communicate to the human race what its 
members do, feel, and think. Journalism, therefore, demands of its practitioners the 
widest range of intelligence or knowledge and of experience, as well as natural and 
trained powers of observation and reasoning. To its opportunities as a chronicle are 
indissolubly linked its obligations as teacher and interpreter. 

To the end of finding some means of codifying sound practice and just aspirations of 
American journalism, these canons are set forth: 

I 

Responsibility. The right of a newspaper to attract and hold readers is restricted by 
nothing but considerations of public welfare. The use a newspaper makes of the share of 
public attention it gains serves to determine its sense of responsibility, which it shares 
with every member of its staff. A journalist who uses his power for any selfish or 
otherwise unworthy purpose is faithless to a high trust. 

II 

Freedom of the Press. Freedom of the press is to be guarded as a vital right of 
mankind. It is the unquestionable right to discuss whatever is not explicitly forbidden by 
law, including the wisdom of any restrictive statute. 

Ill 

Independence. Freedom from all obligations except that of fidelity to the public 
interest is vital. 

1. Promotion of any private interest contrary to the general welfare, for whatever 
reason, is not compatible with honest journalism. So-called news communications from 
private sources should not be published without public notice of their source or else 
substantiation of their claims to value as news, both in form and substance. 

2. Partisanship, in editorial comment which knowingly departs from the truth, does 
violence to the best spirit of American jo urnalism; in the news columns it is subversive of 
a fundamental principle of the profession. 

IV 

Sincerity, Truthfulness, Accuracy. Good faith with the reader is the foundation of all 
journalism worthy of the name. 

1. By every consideration of good faith a newspaper is constrained to be truthful. It 
is not to be excused for lack of thoroughness or accuracy within its control, or failure to 
obtain command of these essential qualities. 2. Headlines should be fully warranted by 
the contents of the article which they surmount. 

225 



226 Mass Media and Violence 



Impartiality. Sound practice makes clear distinction between news reports and 
expressions of opinion. News reports should be free from opinion or bias of any 
kind. 

1. This rule does not apply to so-called special articles unmistakably devoted to 
advocacy or characterized by a signature authorizing the writer's own conclusions and 
interpretation. 

VI 

Fair Play. A newspaper should not publish official charges affecting reputation or 
moral character without opportunity given to the accused to be heard; right practice 
demands the giving of such opportunity in all cases of serious accusation outside judicial 
proceedings. 

1. A newspaper should not invade private rights or feelings without sure warrant of 
public right as distinguished from public curiosity. 2. It is the privilege, as it is the duty, 
of a newspaper to make prompt and complete correction of its own serious mistakes of 
fact or opinion, whatever their origin. 

VII 

Decency. A newspaper cannot escape conviction of insincerity if while professing 
high moral -purpose it supplies incentives to base conduct, such as are to be found in 
details of crime and vice, publication of which is not demonstrably for the general good. 
Lacking authority to enforce its canons, the journalism here represented can but express 
the hope that deliberate panderings to vicious instincts will encounter effective public 
disapproval or yield to the influence of a preponderant professional condemnation. 



Appendix II-E 
CODE OF BROADCAST NEWS ETHIC 



The following Code of Broadcast News Ethics for RTNDA was adopted 
January 2, 1966. 

The members of the Radio Television News Directors Association agree that 
their prime responsibility as newsmen-and that of the broadcasting industry 
as the collective sponsor of news broadcasting-is to provide to the public 
they serve a news service as accurate, full and prompt as human integrity and 
devotion can devise, To that end, they declare their acceptance of the 
standards of practice here set forth, and their solemn intent to honor them to 
the limits of their ability. 

Article One 

The primary purpose of broadcast newsmen-to inform the public of events of 
importance and appropriate interest in a manner that is accurate and 
comprehensive-shall override all other purposes. 

Article Two 

Broadcast news presentations shall be designed not only to offer timely and accurate 
information, but also to present it in the light of relevant circumstances that give it 
meaning and perspective. This standard means that news reports, when clarity demands 
it, will be laid against pertinent factual background; that factors such as race, creed, 
nationality or prior status will be reported only when they are relevant; that comment or 
subjective content will be properly identified; and that errors in fact will be promptly 
acknowledged and corrected. 

Article Three 

Broadcast newsmen shall seek to select material for newscast solely on their evaluation 
of its merits as news. This standard means that news will be selected on the criteria of 
significance, community and regional relevance, appropriate human interest, service to 
defined audiences. It excludes sensationalism or misleading emphasis in any form; 
subservience to external or " interested" efforts to influence news selection and 
presentation, whether from within the broadcasting industry or from without. It requires 
that such terms as "bulletin" and "flash" be used only when the character of the news 
justifies them; that bombastic or misleading descriptions of newsroom facilities and 
personnel be rejected, along with undue use of sound and visual effects; and that 
promotional or publicity material be sharply scrutinized before use and identified by 
source or otherwise when broadcast. 

227 



228 Mass Media and Violence 

Article Four 

Broadcast newsmen shall at all times display humane respect for the dignity, privacy and 
the well-being of persons with whom the news deals. 

Article Five 

Broadcast newsmen shall govern their personal lives and such nonprofessional 
associations as may impinge on their professional activities in a manner that will protect 
them from conflict of interest, real or apparent. 

Article Six 

Broadcast newsmen shall seek actively to present all news the knowledge of which will 
serve the public interest, no matter what selfish, uninformed or corrupt efforts attempt 
to color it, withold it or prevent its presentation. They shall make constant effort to 
open doors closed to the reporting of public proceedings with tools appropriate to 
broadcasting (including cameras and recorders), consistent with the public interest. They 
acknowledge the newsman's ethic of protection of confidential information and sources, 
and urge unswerving observation of it except in instances in which it would clearly and 
unmistakably defy the public interest. 

Article Seven 

Broadcast newsmen recognize the responsibility borne by broadcasting for informed 
analysis, comment and editorial opinion on public events and issues. They accept the 
obligation of broadcasters, for the presentation of such matters by individuals whose 
competence, experience and judgment qualify them for it. 

Article Eight 

In court, broadcast newsmen shall conduct themselves with dignity, whether the court is 
in or out of session. They shall keep broadcast equipment as unobtrusive and silent as 
possible. Where court facilities are inadequate, pool broadcasts should be arranged. 

Article Nine 

In reporting matters that are or may be litigated, the newsman shall avoid practices 
which would lend to interfere with the right of an individual to a fair trial. 

Article Ten 

Broadcast newsmen shall actively censure and seek to prevent violations of these 
standards, and shall actively encourage their observance by all newsmen, whether of the 
Radio Television News Directors Association or not. 



Appendix II-F 

BROADCAST GUIDELINES 
FOR COVERAGE OF CIVIL DISORDERS 



The following suggestions are to be considered as guidelines for voluntary use 
by broadcast newsmen during possible or actual widespread civil disorder. 
They are the product of a committee of the Northern California Chapter of 
the Radio and Television News Directors Association formed to consider 
carefully the sensitive and influential role of the electronic news operation in 
its coverage of such disorders and recommend ways and means in which 
broadcaster may better serve the public interest, safety and welfare. 



Voluntary acknowledgment of these suggestions is based on the following 
factors: 

1. A majority of broadcast news directors in this region must indicate they 
feel such a set of guidelines is necessary in this one area of coverage 
because an instance of widespread civil disobedience, particularly one 
involving racial strife, is entirely unique from any other kind of story in 
that its coverage could affect the direction of its development and 
intensity, its duration and outcome and therefore demands exceptional 
treatment. 

2. The civil disorder must be of such size, or indicate a potential for 
developing into such size, that it could be a considerable threat to the 
community. 

3. Competition between broadcasters in coverage of such disorders should 
continue to be vigorous but, in this one volatile area, more thought 
should be given to changing the focus from dynamic impact to 
authoritative and calm reporting of vital information to the public with 
maximum assistance in the re-establishment of control as the primary 
goal. 

4. Law enforcement authorities should take the necessary steps to ensure 
that adequately informed staff members will be on duty at command 
posts who will be readily available to supply properly identified 
broadcast newsmen with pertinent information concerning the disorder. 

229 



230 Mass Media and Violence 

A. Guidelines 
(Prior to reaching the scene) 

1. Stories of civil disorder, particularly when the disorder is in its early 
stages, should not be over-emphasized nor should a "scare" approach be 
taken by the broadcasters in their initial reporting. 

2. The official designation of the incident should be used by the 
broadcasters, employing the term "riot" only after authorities do. 

3. At the outset of the disorder, broadcast newsmen should be dispatched 
to law enforcement command posts, rather than directly to the scene 
where their presence may heighten the disturbance or interfere with 
efforts to establish control. An authoritatively staffed command post 
will undoubtedly be in communication with the scenes of disorder and 
be capable of providing newsmen with any desired information. 

4. Determination of when newsmen may be sent to the scene without 
danger of inflaming or inciting further discord is the individual 
responsibility of each broadcast news director and his outlet. 

(From the scene, command post, and studio) 

5. Broadcasts which might tend to inflame or incite further violence 
should not be aired. 

6. Emphasis should be on the steps being taken to restore order, 
advisements to the public to keep out of the general disturbance area 
and, if a curfew has been invoked, of obeying that curfew. 

7. Reports should be calm, objective and present the "overall picture" and 
should be devoid of sensationalism, speculation and rumors which 
could incite or further extend the disturbance or stir a new outbreak in 
a controlled area. It should be emphasized that reports from the field 
are describing only those segments of the disorder that are being 
witnessed by that particular newsman. 

8. Caution should be taken against over-emphasizing isolated and, for the 
most part, trivial incidents. Such incidents should be incorporated into 
the "overall picture" and their importance fully explained, thus 
avoiding inflammatory editing of audio tape and film. 

9. Exact locations of intersections, street names and addresses of flareups 
should not be revealed by the broadcaster until authorities have 
announced order has been established and control being maintained in 
that particular area. 

10. Avoid broadcasting interviews with obvious lawbreakers 

in the disorder who are on the side which opposes law and order when 
the interview could be considered inflammatory and may add further 



Broadcast Guidelines for Coverage of Civil Disorders 23 1 

problems to the disorder. Whenever possible, the broadcast newsman 
should seek out a responsible spokesman for the community in which 
the disturbance occurs. 

1 1 . Broadcast newsmen should avoid creating further disturbances through 
the indiscriminate use of cameras, lights or microphones; i.e., avoid 
filming a milling crowd if it does not add to the story and might inspire 
a disorder by that crowd. When possible, cameramen should attempt to 
film with a long lens so as not to expose the presence of a camera and 
should use natural lighting whenever feasible. In short, use good taste 
and common sense. 

12. Unless and until a situation reaches the point of martial law , all 
Constitutional guarantees are deemed to be in force and applicable. 
Hence, the aforementioned constitute guidelines for voluntary conduct 
designed to provide the greatest assistance to the public and law 
enforcement agencies in the treatment of civil disorders and, at the 
same time, provide essential information to the public. 

13. Therefore, the basic goal of all broadcast newsmen participating in the 
coverage of civil disorder should be to encourage, by exemplary 
performance, responsible reporting that will produce an even greater 
fulfillment of their obligation to serve the public interest and safety, as 
well as defend the aims of duly constituted law and authority. 

(Endorsed by the membership at a meeting on February 23, 1967, for 
submission to station management and law enforcement officials.) 



Appendix II-G 
EMPLOYMENT DATA 



Professionals on TV and Radio News Staffs - 
Network Owned and Operated Stations 



CBS: 



Total professional staff 1,123 

Total number of Negroes 51 

Number of years on staff as of Oct. 1968: 

6 mos. or less 6 mos to 1 yr. 1 yr. to 18 mos. 18 mos. to 2 yrs. 2 yrs. or more 

31 2 1 5 12 

Percentage of Negroes on staff: 4.5% 
ABC: 

Total professional staff 672 

Total number of Negroes 26 

Numbers of years on staff as of Oct. 1968: 

6 mos. or less 6 mos to 1 yr. 1 yr. to 18 mos. 18 mos. to 2 yrs. 2 yrs. or more 

14 2 3 07 

Percentage of Negroes on staff: 3.9% 
NBC: 

Total professional staff 718 

Total number of Negroes 29 

Number of years on staff as of Oct. 1968: 

6 mos. or less 6 mos. to 1 yr. 1 yr. to 18 mos. 18 mos. to 2 yrs. 2 yrs. or more 

14 3 5 2 5 

Percentage of Negroes on staff: 4.0% 



233 



PART III 
TELEVISION ENTERTAINMENT AND VIOLENCE 



Parts I and II contained an examination of the past and present 
characteristics and context of the mass media in America. Part III examines 
one key facet of mass media activity and production entertainment 
programming and presentations. The major focus will be on television. 

Mass media organizations spend countless hours producing and presenting 
entertainment, and the American public spends a comparable amount of time 
in consumption of such productions. The specific focus of attention here is 
on the effects of mass media portrayals of violence upon audiences. The 
specific effects of violence cannot be isolated from the effects of total 
entertainment fares, the role of the mass media in society, or the 
characteristics of mass audiences and their social environment. Thus, the 
analysis of such effects must be presented in the context of the overall effects 
of mass media entertainment upon audiences. 

Although violence is one of the most discussed topics in America today, it 
is used in so many different contexts, that it is necessary to make clear what 
the term does and does not mean in this analysis. Violence is here defined as: 
"The threat or use of force that results, or is intended to result, in the injury 
or forcible restraint or intimidation of persons, or the destruction or forcible 
seizure of property." 

It is necessary to distinguish violence, as here defined, from other 
phenomena, such as crime, conflict, and aggression. For example, the 
definition of violence used in this Report does not completely coincide with a 
common definition of crime. Crime necessarily involves the breaking of a law, 
while violence does not. Crime usually connotes disapproved behavior, while 
violence in American society can be approved or disapproved. For example, 
the primary, characteristic of war is the use of violence by one nation against 
another; yet some American wars have received broad public approval and 
have been legal acts of violence. Another example of widely approved and 
legal violence is found in contact sports. Often, the most violent individuals in 
contact sports, as in war, are called heroes, while an individual committing a 
violent crime is labelled "criminal." 

In a discussion concerned with the effects of media portrayals of violence, 

235 



236 Mass Media and Violence 

distinctions between violence and conflict are particularly important. Conflict 
is a natural social process and one of the most central and enduring themes of 
all forms of literature, drama, and other arts. Conflict, as presented in the arts 
or experienced by human beings, occurs both within and between individuals 
and groups. Violence, on the other hand, requires at least two individuals in 
direct or indirect relation to one another. 

The battle between passion and reason provides an illustration of the 
differences between conflict and violence. An individual can experience 
severe conflict between the dictates of passion and reason. Such conflict may 
be resolved in a variety of ways which may or may not involve violence. The 
relationship between the more general psychological or social phenomenon of 
conflict and the inter-personal or inter-group phenomenon of violence is 
complex. Conflict can be one, but not the only, cause of violence, and 
violence can be one, but not the only, cause of conflict or mode of conflict 
expression and resolution. 

The necessity of conflict in drama, including mass media entertainment, 
has often been noted by the authors. Because some defenders of mass media 
presentations appear to rest their defense of violence on the necessity of 
conflict it is especially important to note that violence, as defined, bears no 
absolute relation to conflict. Some persons, for example, have pointed to 
Shakespearian plays such as Hamlet to illustrate and justify the necessity of 
violence in entertainment programs. The issues are only clouded by such 
arguments. They fail to distinguish conflict from violence. For example, if all 
the violence (as here defined) visibly portrayed in Hamlet were deleted, 
essential elements and messages of the story would still remain. It is doubtful 
that the same can be said for most mass media dramatic presentations. 

Much of the research relevant to the issue of violence and mass media 
entertainment has been carried out by psychologists interested in testing 
theories of aggression. Therefore, it is important to consider the similarities 
and differences between violence, as defined in this Report, and aggression. 

One can act aggressively without becoming violent. Furthermore, 
aggression within an individual can take the form of a feeling, drive, or 
motive, and can lie dormant without becoming manifest in aggressive 
behavior. Aggression, then, encompasses both feeling and behavioral states of 
one or more individuals, while violence most commonly refers to manifest 
behavior between individuals. 

All acts of violence can be called aggressive, while all instances of 
aggression cannot be called violence. As a result of the partial conceptual 
overlap between violence and aggression, research findings obtained from 
laboratory studies can be informative on the effects of exposure to both 
inter-personal behavioral aggression and violence portrayed in the media. 



Chapter 10 
POSING THE PROBLEM OF EFFECTS* 



The individual and social effects of mass communication must depend in 
in some way upon: (1) the pattern of content offered by the mass media; (2) 
the opportunities tor access to the media; and (3) the credibility attributed 
by audiences to media content attributes to mass media exposure. 

Numerous studies from both commercial and academic research centers 
clearly support what has long been the contention of many concerned 
citizens about these elementary points: (1) the menu offered by the mass 
media is heavily saturated with violent content, including incidents of persons 
intentionally doing physical harm to one another; (2) more and more people 
have ready access to the media, with the average American spending between 
one-quarter and one-half of his waking day attending to the mass media; and 
(3) for most persons, but particularly for the poor in American society, 
television is perceived as the most credible and believable source of 
information on the reality of the world. 

These points add up to a statement of one simple effect: mass media 
portrayals of violence attract large audiences. This also implies a much more 
troublesome question: If models for violent behavior are repeatedly presented 
with few competing notions, and people, particularly children, repeatedly 
expose themselves to such materials, what could be a more favorable 
arrangement for learning about violence, if not learning to do violence? 
However, merely to ask this question is not enough. The abundance of violent 
media content, and the frequency of exposure to the same, do not suffice to 
prow that the mass media can modify attitudes or induce violent behavior. 

When expressed in this manner, such questions can hardly be 
unequivocally answered. Indeed, many of the questions that concern us most 
intensely involve both fact and value-judgment. More than this, their answers 
depend on relations between different kinds of facts, connections between 
these relations, and certain value-judgments implicit in the thoughts of the 
questioner. It is not difficult, for example, to catalog the portrayals of 
violence on television. It is more difficult to relate such tabulations to 
personality and behavioral traits of viewers. It is still more difficult to show 
that such a relation is one of cause and effect, and if this can be established, 



*Prepared for the Media Task Force by Otto N. Larsen, Professor of Sociology, 
University of Washington. 

237 



238 Mass Media and Violence 

the effects produced must still be evaluated. When any one of these steps is 
omitted, basic policy decisions cannot readily be made about the desirability 
of continuing or changing the existing pattern of media performance. 

Mass media, moreover, do not operate alone; they are embedded in a social 
system which has many other facets. Whatever may be their effects upon the 
members of their audience, these must be assessed in relation to the way 
other aspects of this larger system affect these same persons. 

To speak meaningfully of the role of mass communications media in such 
critical concerns as the formation of personality, the induction of violent 
behavior, or in value formation, it is necessary to seek out and chart the main 
outlines of what is known in general about relevant processes of social 
learning. Because human personality is developed largely through a process of 
interaction in primary groups (such as the family), and because the various 
mass media can more or less simulate such primary interaction, they can play 
a real part in this process. Furthermore, they may do so unintentionally when 
they only seem to be entertaining or informing, because audience members 
are engaged in a process of "observational learning" and the mass media 
contribute to this through "symbolic modeling." 

As a child matures physically, he also undergoes a process of social 
preparation- for adult roles. Much of this preparation ordinarily takes place in 
the family, while some of it occurs in play groups and some of it involves 
formal education. It occurs all the time the child is awake and active, even 
when he and the persons with whom he interacts are not consciously 
concerned with shaping his character. He becomes a residue of what he has 
done and experienced, which in turn depends on his genetic endowment and 
the social heritage into which he was born. 

As each child grows up, he has a wide range of skills to learn. He has values 
and customs to embrace, amend, or reject. He has to discover for himself 
what kind of world he lives in; he gets clues to this from the way others act 
toward things, toward each other, and toward him. He has to discover who 
and what he is, and how his identity relates him to the world; again his clues 
come from the interactions of others with him. He has to find out where he 
will be going in life, how he will go, who will accompany him, and how they 
can get together. 

It would be surprising indeed if in our society the ubiquitous mass media 
did not play some part in this complex process. And yet until recently, not 
only has the potential involvement of mass media been relatively neglected, 
but even the fact tnat the process is social has sometimes been forgotten. 

The mass media enter into this process mainly by providing material for 
"observational learning," defined as "imitation" in experimental psychology 
and as "identification" in personality theory. The common denominator for 
all three terms is a recognition that human beings in certain circumstances 
tend to reproduce the actions, attitudes, or emotions they perceive in other 
persons. These other persons may either be live or symbolized models (e.g., a 
character in a story). As knowledge of the principles of observational learning 
accumulates, more can be said about how groups shape the personalities of 
their members. The clearer our understanding of these mechanisms, the 
firmer the ground on which to base statements about the possible effects of 
symbolized groups, such as those depicted in a television drama. 

If the content of mass communications is being widely discussed, perhaps 



Posing the Problem of Effects 239 

this indicates that it has other effects. One contention is that symbolic 
violence, whether portraying fantasy or reality, will arouse aggression or 
increase aggressive behavior, hardening persons to human pain and suffering 
and leading them to accept violence as a way of life and as a solution to 
personal and social problems. Another school of thought contends that such 
exposure has precisely the opposite effect. This view holds that exposure to 
violence will allow the media user to discharge in fantasy what he might 
otherwise act out. Thus, watching Gunsmoke or reading a Superman comic 
will provide a safe and harmless outlet for human frustrations and 
aggressive -hostile impulses in much the same manner as hitting a punching 
bag. A third position holds that violent content has little or no effect. 
Proponents of this view suggest that in a controlled and relatively secure 
society, the passive recipient can vicariously live bravely and dangerously 
through the video hero with no enduring impact on his feeling, attitudes or 
behavior in life. 

It is, of course, the first point of view which has aroused the concern and 
interest of vast sectors of the general public. However, little is accomplished if 
one merely notes the presence of undersirable features of some 
communication medium or art form, and then lets his aversion to both be 
transmuted into an assumption that the one disliked thing must be caused by 
the other. Much criticism of the mass media, and especially television, seems 
to reflect this kind of non-sequitur. This is unnecessary. There are research 
findings which afford a more objective basis for assessing the situation. 

To understand the full implications of the research, it is important to keep 
in mind just how recent man's experience is with the pervasive presence of 
mass media. Even now, a decade into the space age, the majority of the 
world's human beings are illiterate. In our own advanced society, many 
citizens have first-hand memories of the pre-television and pre-radio era. 
Some can even remember a childhood in which there was no such thing as a 
movie theater. Daily newspapers, in fact, have been around for a mere five 
generations. Since mass communications are so relatively new, it is not 
surprising that men are not agreed as to the social impact of the various 
media. 

Despite their tender age, mass communications have indeed become a 
pervasive aspect of our way of life. The media form the core of our leisure 
time activities, and television is the heart of this core. For the average 
American, mass media usage occupies almost as much time as does work, and 
for some, appreciably more time is devoted to mass communications. For 
children, television alone occupies almost as much time as school in their first 
sixteen years of life. Time -expenditure data by themselves do not prove any 
of the charges leveled against the media, nor do such data validate the praise 
the media have received. It is clear that the controversy over the effects of 
television is unlikely to be the only result of this deluge. 

The fact that time devoted to one activity cannot be used in some other 
way means that the large amount of time allocated by Americans to mass 
communications must have entailed some redirection of their lives. Although 
casual radio listening can be done in conjunction with other (presumably 
inattentive) activities, and newspapers can be read on the commuter train, the 
mass media must in general have displaced other pursuits. 

There are more direct and less incidental ways in which exposure to the 



240 Mass Media and Violence 

mass media could influence persons, and these may have either immediate or 
long-range impact. Immediate effects include the emotiojial, reactions of a 
person while he is viewing, listening, or reading, and the ensuing repercussions 
of these in defensive reactions, fatigue, excitement, dreams, and so on. The 
long-range effects concern the learning that is produced: both the content 
(vocabulary, items of information, beliefs) and the strengthening or 
weakening of personality traits, such as aggressiveness, passivity, and the like. 
Beyond the psychological level, concern must also be directed to the impact 
of the media on interpersonal relations, the development of norms, and the 
acquisition of values. The possibility of a change in behavior without a change 
in values must also be considered. 

These are some of the dimensions of the effects of mass media violence 
that must be coped with. As with most significant social issues, seemingly 
straightforward questions become, upon analysis, acutely challenging and do 
not yield simple solutions. Thus, the following guideline must be set up: 
when we ask about the effects of the mass media, we must not phrase the 
question simply in terms of whether the media have an effect; rather, we seek 
to know under what conditions, how much, and what kind of effect the 
media are likely to have within specified populations. 

We do not underestimate the enormity of the task, nor the necessity of its 
continuing pursuit. The impact of television in America is difficult to measure 
because very few people remain unex posed to it, and those few tend to act 
differently, in ways that pre-date the television era. One solution is to study 
the way television and other mass media fit into the life cycles of those who 
use them, without hoping for a comparison group of non-users. We all breathe 
air, after all, and the unavailability of a control group of non-breathers does 
not preclude our learning what air does for us. 

Present Approach 

In seeking answers to guide policy recommendations, the Violence Com- 
mission, given its short life-span, could not undertake or sponsor new research 
other than producing the relevant materials reported in Chapters 15 and 16. 
Instead, the Media Task Force approached the problem of effects by turning 
to acknowledged leaders of research in the behavioral sciences. They were 
asked to prepare papers on media effects by critically examining for their 
discipline what is known, what inferences can fairly be drawn from that 
knowledge, what needs to -be known through further study, and what 
procedures are required to discover the relevant information. 

Chapters 11-14 organize and present these efforts to convey an 
understanding of the effects of media violence, based on objective evidence. 

The research literature emerges from many sources and flows in many 
directions. It is crowded with complex issues, marked with incomplete 
efforts, and subject to various interpretations. However, the research effort is 
substantial enough to merit close scrutiny both for delineating what is known 
and for marking out promising territory for further inquiry The problem of 
communicating these assessments is a demanding one. The reader may prefer 



Posing the Problem of Effects 24 1 

a statement of simple findings which state unequivocal action implications. 
However, research is, of necessity, conditional in nature. A presentation 
devoid of qualifications may achieve clarity, but at a cost of essential validity. 
While we have asked our authors to phrase their reports with scientific 
fidelity, we have also encouraged them to interpret and evaluate the 
implications of the inquiries reviewed. 

A few consultant papers are presented to convey the full flavor of the 
research-interpretive enterprise. The bulk of the reports, including the more 
technical statements, are presented in the appendix. To guide the reader 
through all these selections, a further distillation of issues is presented briefly 
below. The general question before us is "what issues concerning the effects 
of mass media violence have been addressed by researchers? What have been 
the main thrust and chief contributions of empirical inquiry, particularly as 
they pertain to the "entainment" realm of mass media performance? 

A. Menu and Diet -Communicator Intent versus Audience Use 

Mass communicators attempt to attract and hold the attention of large 
audiences by providing material they deem of interest to their audience. 
Indeed, communicators often proclaim that their central concern is to give 
the audience "what it wants." Accordingly, a great bulk of their material is 
designed to be entertaining. That is often the major effect they seek to 
achieve. 

However, what is given may not be all that is taken by the audience. The 
kind of research on effects concerned with the intent of the mass media 
menu-makers might produce quite different results than that directed toward 
the diet and digestive processes of the mass media audiences themselves. This 
is particularly the case, since the social setting for audience experience of 
mass media content is itself undergoing rapid change of the type envisioned in 
the concept of "growing urbanism." 

In what ways have researchers found it fruitful to think about the nature 
of effects? In Chapter 1 1 , Professor Catton carefuly traces the evolution, the 
findings, and the implications in the shift from research on effects of mass 
media on audiences toward a model concerned with how audience members 
receive and use mass media content. In the process, he reviews past and 
contemporary classifications of effects, notes the importance of "intervening 
variables" in the mass communicative process, and sensitizes us to new 
conceptions of effects by referring, for example, to the "opportunity cost" 
by the abundance of violence portrayed by the media. In this latter 
connection, he asserts that the presentation of violence by mass media does 
effect the behavior of mass media audiences: it keeps them from using in 
their own ways whatever other kinds of content might have been presented in 
the same time of space. 

Chapter 1 1 thus alerts us to the following critical conclusion : research has 
shown the mass media do not easily and inevitably produce intended effects. 
To say that intended effects do not automatically occur is not to say, 
however, that unintended effects do not occur. Data in support of this 
important conception will appear in several places throughout the Report. 



242 Mass Media and Violence 

B. What is the Message? Medium or Content as the Basis for Social Learning 

The development of the technology of mass communication has rapidly 
transformed the nature of receiving impressions and information in modern 
society. When does the medium become the message? How does the form of 
transmission affect the perception and learning of the content being offered? 
What does technology do to the distinction between fantasy and reality? 

In Chapter 12, these and other questions about the effect of exposure to 
mass media violence on the social behavior of children are asked. Professor 
Siegal opens by noting several trends in the history of the development of 
techniques for transmitting information to the human senses. These trends 
include a diminishing reliance on written forms, the integration of appeals to 
several senses, the increased rapidity of communication, the increased 
availability of mass media material, and the increased fidelity in 
communication techniques. To illustrate the latter point, the correspondense 
between the printed word "fire" and an actual fire is low, but between a 
color film about a fire and the actual event, it is much closer. In a word, their 
trends add up to a characterization of television. 

The significance of these trends is addressed in a discussion of the 
distinctions that have traditionally been made between the entertainment and 
information functions of the mass media. For children at least, Professor 
Siegal senses that television, because of its vividness and fidelity, blurs this 
distinction. She argues that both fact and fancy have a certain inherent 
authenticity when presented on television. Supporting illustrations and 
research data are then presented to show that since children view these 
presentations as authentic and credible, and assume that the world is really 
the way it appears on television, it is natural for them to take the behavior 
they observe as a model for their own. 

The studies cited by Professor Siegal are important because they represent 
a consistent set of findings based on observations of behavior, not merely 
self-reports of attitudes or actions. The conclusion is dramatic: although it is 
not governed by a board of education, television does teach. And what is 
being taught? Under a wide range of conditions, children learn aggressive 
behavior which they then enact in their play under suitable circumstances. 
One study from this review which deserves special notice demonstrated that 
children mimic the aggressive behavior of adults, whether they observe 
this behavior in the flesh or on film, and that this imitation was drawn 
equally from realistic and cartoon-like films. The conclusion is that the 
fantasy -reality distinction on which adults pin so much hope seemed of little 
significance for the children of this particular research effort. 

C. Stimulating versus Cathartic Effects of Media Violence 

Does witnessing mass media violence tend to facilitate or purge the 
impulse to aggression? 

For many, this is the central question of effects. Convincing evidence one 
way or the other could help resolve many policy issues. If the catharsis effect 
was clearly dominant, anxiety about symbolic violence would be greatly 
relieved. Indeed, one implication could be that the media would be serving a 
healthy function or performing a public service by portraying violence, since 



Posing the Problem of Effects 243 

such portrayals would tend to control or inhibit the acting out of aggressive 
impulses. The appeal of the catharsis effect is thus evident. It stands in 
positive support of free expression by the media. 

The concept of catharsis has been at the center of considerable intellectual 
debate since the time of Aristotle. Only recently, however, have there been 
systematic attempts to test the notion through research by seeking out the 
conditions under which it might have some validity. A large and growing 
number of laboratory experiments have addressed the issue. The advantage of 
these studies is that they isolate and control relevant conditions and afford 
reasonably clear causal interpretations. Their disadvantage is that they are 
often based on small samples, have a restricted time -dimension, and involve 
conditions that are not closely comparable to natural exposure to the media. 

In Appendix III-D Professor Goransen provides a thorough review of the 
evidence from laboratory studies on the catharsis issue. His general conclusion 
is that this line of research has not supported the idea that the probability of 
aggressive behavior is reduced by observing the kind of violence seen in the 
mass media. He adds that the vast majority of experimental studies on this 
issue have reported media aggression as stimulating rather than providing 
aggression catharsis. 

Some of the more specific findings from laboratory studies also merit 
attention because they suggest the variety of conditions under which the 
observation of violence tends to increase rather than decrease subsequent 
aggressiveness. For example : 

(1) The stimulation of aggressive responses is more likely to occur 
when aggression anxiety is experimentally minimized rather than induced 
prior to exposure to filmed aggression. That is, where subjects are not 
frustrated, insulted, or otherwise angered before seeing a film, they tend to 
increase their willingness to inflict physical pain as a result of exposure to 
filmed aggression. 

(2) The stimulation of aggressive responses from exposure to filmed 
aggression is more likely to occur when the witnessed aggression occurs in 
a justified rather than in a non-justified content. (This point is ironic in 
light of current media programming policies. In showing that "crime does 
not pay" by depicting the hero's successful and righteous use of violence 
against the "bad guys," the media may be creating those very conditions 
most conductive to the instigation of aggression.) 

(3) Novel, aggressive behavior is learned by children through exposure 
to realistic portrayals of aggression on television or films. A large 
proportion of these behaviors are retained over long periods of time if they 
are practiced at least once. The likelihood that such aggressive behaviors 
will be performed is determined, in part, by the similarity of the violence 
observed from the media and the cues (e.g., names, social characteristics, 
etc.) present in actual later situations. 

(4) The actual performance of aggressive behaviors learned from the 
media is largely contingent on the child's belief in the effectiveness of 
aggression in attaining his goals while avoiding punishment. (The mass 
media typically present aggression as a highly effective form of behavior). 

(5) Frequent exposure produces an emotional habituation to media 
violence. There is suggestive evidence that this results in an increased 
likelihood of actually engaging in aggression. 



244 Mass Media and Violence 

(6) Aggressive impulses may be held in check if the viewer has been 
made especially aware of the suffering that may result from violence. 
(Production codes for most of the media include prohibitions against the 
portrayal of physical agony and suffering and too much punishment. 
Question: When this kind of de facto self-censorship operates to "sanitize" 
violence by "prettying up" or entirely omitting the real consequences of 
aggression, is the result again an unwitting creation of the very conditions 
found most conducive to the instigation to aggression? Laboratory 
research suggests that it is.) 

In general, then, an extensive program of laboratory research mounts a 
strong indictment of media performance not only with respect to the amount 
of violence portrayed but, more particularly, with the manner in which 
violence is portrayed. From this research perspective, there is no evidence in 
support of the credibility of a catharsis effect. Indeed, under laboratory 
conditions, the bulk of the evidence indicates that vicariously experienced 
violence tends to serve as a triggering mechanism and increases the probability 
of more aggressive behavior. 

It should be emphasized that some studies from the laboratory setting do 
show a reduction of aggressiveness resulting from exposure to symbolic 
aggression. However, it is the contention of the researchers that this can be 
explained without reference to any cathartic "draining off of aggressiveness. 
Such inhibition to acting out aggressiveness occurring from exposure to media 
violence results from the reminder that aggression is morally wrong 
(especially in the case where media violence is portrayed as unjustified), and 
when the subjects were made aware of the painful aftermath of 
aggression. 

A further interpretation in a broader context of sociological factors is 
presented by Professor Catton in Chapter 14. He contends that the eliciting 
effect is far more likely than the cathartic effect. In doing so, he remind us 
that evidence that media operators are good people and have no desire to 
promote violence cannot suffice to prove the mass communications either 
cannot or do not produce increases in violent behavior. By providing cues 
that violence is socially acceptable, mass media may inadvertently both elicit 
and disinhibit violent behavior. 

Despite the evidence from laboratory studies, the question of stimulating 
versus cathartic effects -remains as an issue in the literature of mass media 
research. This comes forcefully to our attention when we turn to research 
involving more natural conditions of exposure to the mass media in field 
situations. Here we have more limited research experience to draw from, but 
available evidence suggests caution in dismissing the possibility of catharsis as 
a major effect. The prime exhibit of such research is porvided in Appendix 
III-E where excerpts from a recent study by Professor Feshbach are 
presented. 

Going beyond earlier survey research in the field setting, Professor 
Feshbach has launched an experimental study involving relatively prolonged 
(six hours a week for six weeks) exposure to television by prep-school boys in 
seven residential schools located in California and New York. In each school, 
boys were randomly assigned to witness either aggressive television programs 
depicting fighting, shooting, or other forms of physical violence, or 
non-aggressive programs from regular television fare offered during the 



Posing the Problem of Effects 245 

evening and weekend hours. The programs were classified along this 
dimension, with a high degree of agreement, by three independent raters. 

A number of personality tests and attitude scales were administered at the 
beginning and end of the six-week experimental period. In addition, daily 
behavior rating forms were completed for each boy over the experimental 
period. By these means the investigator was able to measure and compare not 
only overt aggressive behavior such as fighting and swearing but also the 
mediating cognitive ideas, the hostile-aggressive attitudes, and the preferences 
and the fantasies experienced by both sets of boys. 

What were the major findings? This study failed to reveal any evidence 
that exposure to aggressive content in television stimulates or facilitates the 
acting out of aggressive behavior. Furthermore, this study did yield evidence 
suggesting that exposure to aggressive content in television serves to control 
or reduce aggressive behavior in pre-adolescent boys from low socio-economic 
backgrounds with aggressive tendencies. 

The investigator is properly cautious in interpreting the findings of the 
study. He would not, for example, advocate, on the basis of this research, 
that boys should be encouraged to watch aggressive television programs. He 
also recognizes the conditional nature of his research and is aware of some 
methodological shortcomings. Nonetheless, these findings clearly contradict 
the weight of evidence from the laboratory setting. Here the investigator 
acknowledges the problem of comparing the results from the two settings. 
The laboratory experiments deal with highly restricted situations, with 
dependent measures that are often play-like and vulnerable to the suggestive 
properties of the immediate stimulus situation. On the other hand, while the 
field studies have been more naturalistic, they have not experimentally 
controlled exposure to aggressive content in television as closely as would be 
desired. For these reasons, he concludes, there is an acute need for 
comparable field investigations and replication of the present findings. While 
new knowledge has been gained, the question of stimulating versus cathartic 
effects still remains a salient issue for researchers and policy makers. 

While the present state of knowledge on this important issue does not 
easily lend itself to policy formulation, enough is known to alert the mass 
media to a more sensitive, cautious, and creative approach in using violence in 
entertainment programming. Grave risks are run in a continued policy of an 
indiscriminate use of violence where other options are open. While the burden 
of proof lies with the researchers, the burden of risk lies with the daily 
activities of the mass media. 

D. Mass Media Effects on Norms, Attitudes, and Values 

Up to this point, attention has primarily been directed to research bearing 
on the question of whether exposure to symbolic violence directly triggers 
violent acts. We must also be concerned with how the media portrayal of 
violence might build a climate of attitudes, norms, and values as conditions 
that lead to or support actual violence, or prevent the abandonment of it in 
society. This suggests a concern with questions of the following broad order: 
(1) Does mass media content cultivate acceptance of the idea that this 
is a violent world where there is nothing one can do but accept violence as a 
norm? 



246 Mass Media and Violence 

(2) Does mass communication tend to teach its audience that they live 
in a kind of world against which they must take up arms? 

(3) Even if the mass media focus on violence does not instigate violent 
behavior, is there an opportunity lost because the media do not promote 
alternatives to violence by the audience? 

This level of questioning suggests research not unlike the study of climate 
or ocean tides. Such study may not tell us what given persons will do or 
where they will go, but it could tell us in which way the cultural winds blow 
or the cultural tide flows. And much can move with that. 

To put it another way, research on effects is also concerned with the 
aspects of life, values, and means the informal schooling of mass 
communication provides. Careful studies of television entertainment fare has 
revealed one dominant theme for all types of programs. That value theme is 
the the end justifies the means, and the most prominent means for achieving 
goals in television stories is by violence. 

To be concerned with values is to suggest that whether or not such 
messages directly encourage violence may not be as important as the 
cultivation of the assumption that that is the way life is. The critical 
possibility is that the acceptance of violence can make those who accept it a 
party to the occurrence of violence by making those who are inclined to 
engage in violence act in ways they sense to be socially tolerated, approved, 
or even expected. 

There is still a critical need for concerted research effort by students of 
mass communication in this area. Such work as does address the issue is 
partial and scattered. So vital is the concern, however, that we present in 
Chapter 14 an integration of approach, findings, and implications from the 
field by Professor Catton. In Appendix III-F, a further statement by this 
author may be found under the title of "The Worldview Presented by Mass 
Media." Here the author speculates on the possible degradation of values that 
occurs as a result of the intimate linkage of the entertainment content of the 
mass media with commercial messages. 



Chapter 1 1 

MASS MEDIA AS 

PRODUCERS OF EFFECTS : 

AN OVERVIEW OF RESEARCH TRENDS* 



During the last several decades, the trend in research and theory on mass 
communications has been away from the attribution of great potency to the 
media, and toward regarding them as relatively impotent (or at least 
innocuous). The media were initially viewed as insidious shapers of consent; 
their audiences were initially seen as atomized and defenseless targets of 
deliberate or inadvertent propaganda. Research findings, and the 
interpretations given to them, have changed this image. The media have come 
to be seen by many social scientists as components in an elaborate social 
system. Their audiences have been found to be less atomized than had been 
supposed, and there has accordingly been a change of direction. Instead of 
asking "What effects do mass media produce?," the question now is, "How 
do people and groups in the audience use mass media?" 

This analysis will attempt to show that this trend does not suffice to prove 
that there is no cause for concern. If it has not been demonstrated that mass 
communications can regiment the population, or that these media have 
corrupted our society, neither has it been proven that they are inherently (or 
at least under our free enterprise system) harmless. 

A. Decline and Fall of the "Hypodermic " Image 

The early supposition that mass media can "inject" effects into a passively 
recipient audience was based on a supposition about the nature of modern 
societies. It was assumed that western civilization had become a "mass" 
society, in which individuals were relatively detached from each other 
and from a social fabric, and therefore homogeneously susceptible -to 
stimuli from impersonal media. It was supposed that the urban way of life, in 
which primary group relations had been largely displaced by secondary group 
relations, made this so. The traditional basis of solidarity had been 
undermined, it was assumed, the family had lost its place in the social order, 
and the neighborhood as a social entity was disappearing. 1 Segmentalization 



*Prepared for the Media Task Force by William R. Catton, Jr., Professor of 
Sociology, University of Washington. 

247 



248 Mass Media and Violence 

of human relations was seen as characteristic of but not confined to cities. 
The heterogeneity of urban populations, the sheer numbers of people, and 
increased mobility all tended to detach people from stable groups and to 
foster increased reliance on formal mechanisms of norm enforcement. 2 
Kinship ties, it was assumed, lose their effectiveness in urban environments, 
and territorial units such as the residential neighborhood cease to function as 
a basis for social solidarity The city becomes "a series of tenuous segmental 
relationships superimposed upon a territorial base with a definite center but 
without a definite periphery." 3 

In the early 1950's, LaPiere sternly rebuked his fellow sociologists for 
swallowing the dichotomous classification of societies into two types, 
Gemeimchaft, and Gesellschaft, the former emphasizing homogeneity and 
primary group living, and the latter emphasizing heterogeneity or social 
differentiation and secondary group or impersonal contractual relations. The 
assumption of an inexorable trend toward Gesellschaft had originally been set 
forth by Tonnies in 1887. 4 LaPiere's rebuke was part of a rather widespread 
trend toward rethinking the sociological image of the urban way of life. 
Family and neighborhood ties were found to be still functioning in varying 
degrees in all parts of even the largest cities. Astronomical numbers of people 
did not alone turn a community into a mass society where individuals were 
psychologically isolated from one another. 5 There was diminishing 
acceptance of the assumption that a kind of social pathology called anomie, 
wherein human beings lose their capacity to relate to each other effectively, 
was the necessary result of over-elaboration of the division of labor. 6 Thus 
there was growing skepticism among social scientists about the notion that a 
functionally heterogenous population produces such a segmentalized life that 
in relation to mass media, the people are uniformly submissive . 

Propaganda efforts during World War I were based on a relatively simple 
theory that was consistent with the Gesellschaft image. This theory assumed 
that cleverly designed stimuli would reach every individual member of the 
mass society via the media, that each would perceive it in the same general 
manner as his fellows, and that this would provoke a more or less uniform 
response from all." 

As research accumulated, it became necessary to introduce more and more 
"intervening variables" into this simple stimulus-response model. It became 
necessary to recognize significant variations in the desires and inclinations of 
audience members, in the way they received media stimuli, and in their 
socially-shaped opportunities to respond. 8 The upshot of all these 
complications was that it began to seem as if the answer to the question, 
"What effects do mass media produce?" had to be, "It all depends . . .",and it 
was only a short step from that to a feeling that the media really don't 
produce effects at all. The contingent nature of mass media impact made it 
seem that the effects ought to be attributed to the intervening variables 
instead of (rather than in conjunction with) to the mass media stimuli. 

Thinking was moved in this direction by research that established the 
selective nature of perception. Individuals with different values, or whose 
other personality characteristics differ, perceive the same stimuli differently. 
At first, this discovery resulted merely in a modification of the "hypodermic" 
concept of mass communication: media may produce different effects with 
different kinds of people, but if people can be put in categories, the effects of 



Mass Media as Producers of Effects: An Overview of Research Trends 249 

mass communications injections into a particular category may still be 
predictable and powerful. 9 Later the emphasis on perceptual selectivity led to 
outright disparagement of the notion that media have effects at all. For 
example, DeFleur writes: "When communication 'effects' are a focus of 
research attention, the assumption that the media are in some way 'causes' of 
these effects is a natural one. Even if it is granted that intervening processes 
of some sort can soften or otherwise modify this relationship, the underlying 
cause-effect conceptualization is not different, only more complicated." 10 
He implies that conceptualizations in terms of cause and effect are inherently 
misleading. 

Skepticism regarding the "mass society" concept increased after the 1940 
voter study in Erie County, Ohio. It was found that a significant role in the 
mass communication process was played by informal social relationships. The 
personal influence of "opinion leaders" was found to mediate between radio 
or newspaper presentations on the one hand and the resulting attitudes of 
voters on the other. 11 A 1953 article in the American Sociological Review 
articulated the realization that had grown from this study and its successors 
that the behavior of mass media audiences is "distinctly social" and hardly 
conforms to the previous sociological views on "collective behavior." This 
article made it clear that the old "hypodermic" model was inappropriate not 
only because people in different categories perceive the stimuli differently, 
but also because people in different groups use the media differently; not that 
they get different injections from the same needle, but they often seem to get 
no injection at all; they get material for use in their own group- and 
self-determined activities. Being a member of the local audience of mass 
communications "is a distinctly social activity in which interaction with 
others before, during, and after any single occasion of spectatorship has 
created definite shared expectations and predisposing definitions. These in 
turn have a determinate effect, in conjunction with the institutionalized 
character of the activity, on what members of the audience select or do not 
select, and how they react or do not react. 1 2 

But this does not logically indicate that mass media have no effect on their 
audiences. At most it might imply that mass media seldom if ever have any 
altogether independent effect. This idea has been constructed, however, as 
the basis for pious rebuttal to the worried critics of the media. Sociologists as 
well as media spokesmen have taken this change in theoretical orientation of 
mass communications research as warrant for some complacency about media 
effects. 1 3 

B. Contemporary Assumptions and Theoretical Views 

The assumptions people make about a topic are often implied by the kinds 
of questions they ask about it. Several kinds of questions can be asked about 
mass media. According to DeFleur, 14 most sociological inquiry about mass 
media has thus far addressed itself primarily to the question, "How do mass 
media affect society and its members?" Similarly, he says, most of the 
criticism of mass media has been phrased in terms of this question. The 
question implicity assumes that mass media produce distinguishable effects 
(both on people and on societies), and DeFleur and others are critical of this 
assumption. He suggests two other kinds of questions each of which implies 



250 Mass Media and Violence 

somewhat different assumptions; (1) How does mass communication work, 
and is it in principle any different from direct interpersonal communication 
process? Mass communication stimulates primary interaction in varying 
degrees. Its capacity for socializing members of its audiences and shaping their 
communication simulates primary interaction in varying degrees. Its capacity 
for socializing members of its audiences and shaping their values and 
personality characteristics has some striking resemblances to, and some 
important differences from, real primary interaction. DeFleur also asks, (2) 
What political, economic, or cultural conditions have led mass media to 
operate as they do? 

In the earliest days of cinema, the sheer fact that pictures moved was 
enough to attract an audience. The customers in the penny arcades soon 
began to choose among different kinds of film content, however. According 
to DeFleur, "Such films as Beavers at Play or The Surf at Dover brought in 
fewer pennies than the brief but exciting Dane du Ventre, or the titillating 
What the Bootblack Saw. Efforts toward the filming of more serious or 
artistic subjects were not received with enthusiasm. Film content aimed at 
more elementary gratifications was what brought in the money." 1 ' Thus, 
when mass media are commercial enterprises, content is shaped by 
considerations of what brings in the money. The mass media operate as they 
do partly because of the kind of enterprise they are in the kind of society 
they are in. 

Mass communication differs from other communication in some ways and 
resembles it in other ways partly from purely technical considerations. But 
the similarities and differences arise partly from the kinds of use people in the 
audience have learned to make of the content provided. What is needed to 
understand the impact of television, for example, on children is to ask not 
only what television presents to them, but also what do they do with what 
they take from it? 16 Television is often used as a babysitter, and the child is 
often completely absorbed in the program. Some children seem addicted to 
it, watching a great deal, and becoming restless when the set is not turned on 
or is unavailable to them. Perhaps this medium has not made children 
generally more passive, since it has only displaced an average of about half an 
hour a day of active play (out of a two- or three-hour quota). The remainder 
of television time is a displacement of other mass media, or of sleep. For 
children who, for other social or temperamental reasons, might be inclined 
toward passivity and withdrawal, television does afford them a clear 
opportunity in that direction. 1 ' 

Adolescents, and younger children as well, seem to seek satisfaction of a 
hunger for contact with the adult world from television. They have a desire to 
know about it, to participate in it (which they can do vicariously with 
television), and to acquire status in it. 18 This is the socialization process, so 
there is inherent in the medium a potential for socializing youngsters who 
bring to it an attention motivated by this sort of appetite. 

If television provides information (and misinformation) about the adult 
world, it may extend the limited opportunities the child or adolescent would 
otherwise have for contact with that world. However, this extension is always 
only an imitation, not a direct interpersonal relation. 19 For this reason, as 
children grow older, some of them at least tend to shift their mass media use 
from a fantasy -oriented type to more reality -oriented usage; for some, this 



Mass Media as Producers of Effects: An Overview of Research Trends 25 1 

means less television and more reading. This trend is more pronounced in the 
middle class than in the working class. 20 It may reflect a shift from vicarious 
to real social relationships as the child matures. Televised simulation of 
primary group life is partly abandoned as real primary group experiences 
accumulate and as skills are acquired for secondary interaction. Again, 
however, discovery of this trend does not indicate that television or other 
mass media have no effects; they are used by viewers seeking to be affected in 
one way or another. Usage changes in relation to desires as the alternative 
sources of various desired effects are changed. 

Sociologists have probably erred as much in downgrading the notion of 
mass media effects as they had previously erred in elevating it. To say, as 
Klapper does, that mass communications effects are mediated by a complex 
nexus of social and psychological factors, and that mass media are thus not 
the necessary or sufficient causes of various audience effects, 2 1 is not the 
same as saying mass media are ineffectual (and hence harmless). Klapper 
maintains that there is strong indication from communications research that 
the mass media are more likely to reinforce than to change existing opinions. 
He bases this conclusion on the findings about perceptual selectivity, group 
processes and normative influences on audience members, the interpersonal 
network that is superimposed on the communication link between medium 
and audience member, the allegedly "super-normative" characteristics of 
opinion leaders in this network, and the need of commercial mass media to 
comply with audience desires so as to retain large (and thus lucrative) 
audiences. 22 If existing opinions are reinforced by mass media when they 
would otherwise have been changed by other factors, the mass media have 
produced an effect; pointing out the conservative nature of this effect cannot 
argue it out of existence. 

Klapper acknowledges that field and laboratory studies have shown that 
"communications are extremely effective in creating opinions on matters 
about which the audience is unlikely to have preexisting opinions." 23 
Children are born with no opinions at all (unless their innate preference for 
comfort over discomfort is dubbed an "opinion"). They begin acquiring them 
as soon as they begin to be socialized. The trend in sociological thought 
toward the "little or no effect" view of mass communication was developing 
during the decades when television was being technically perfected and 
socially adopted. Research has shown how television now dominates children's 
mass media experience. If it once might have been true that the previous 
types of mass media produced little or no effect on audience members, and if 
this was only belatedly recognized, in the meantime the idea has ceased to 
be applicable. This new electronic audiovisual medium represents a significant 
jump over its less versatile predecessors in ability to simulate primary 
interaction, and it is avidly attended by the most nearly opinionless segment 
of the population children. 

Attitude changes do occur, and Klapper acknowledges that special 
circumstances occasionally enable mass media to convert people from one 
view to another view, even an opposing one. These special circumstances can 
include any reduction of the strength of the factors that ordinarily cause the 
media to be conservative and reinforcing in their influence. They can also 
include the fact that people vary in their susceptibility to persuasion. Some 
people can be persuaded of anything; Klapper cites research which indicates 



252 Mass Media and Violence 

that the extremes of persuasion are "topic free." 24 But again, these 
considerations do not necessarily divest the mass media of responsibility for 
audience effects; they indicate that the average impact of communications 
cannot be regarded as the only impact. The social acceptability of the average 
impact is no warrant for disregarding the special effects which may or may 
not be so socially acceptable. 

Klapper also notes the capacity of the mass media to confer status on the 
persons or ideas to which the media give attention. 25 This is an effect, 
inasmuch as there is no basis for believing that status would be allocated to 
exactly the same people and in exactly the same proportions by agencies 
other than mass media and by means other than the sheer giving or 
withholding of attention. Moreover, this can have other effects. Status can be 
instrumental; people who have been accorded status by the mass media can 
do things they could not otherwise do, and the effects of their actions are due 
to the mass media. 

Finally, Klapper discounts the assumption made by mass media critics that 
the abundant portrayal of violence stimulates socially undesirable behavior. 26 
Content analysis studies have repeatedly shown how abundantly the mass 
media do portray violence, both real and fictional. Logically, the data 
produced by content analyses can be said to fall short of the demonstration 
of a causal link between communications content and audience behavior. But 
if we remind ourselves that mass communicators strive to attract and retain 
large audiences, analyses of mass media content tell us something about what 
those who control the media think about their audiences, even if they do not 
explain what the audience members think or do as a result of exposure to the 
content. Content analyses do measure an effect, then the way media men 
have been affected by their relative freedom to choose alternative means of 
attracting audiences and by their perceptions of audience interests. Mass 
media time, space and resources devoted to the portrayal of violence are not 
available for presentation of other kinds of content. There is thus a clear 
opportunity cost to the abundance of violence even if (as hopefully alleged) it 
entails no such social cost as the perpetration of violent behavior. 
Presentation of violence by mass media does affect the behavior of mass 
media audiences: it keeps them from using in their own ways whatever other 
kinds of content might have been presented in the same time or space. 
Moreover, recalling the alleged conserving effect of mass media, and 
recognizing certain traditions of violence in American history, it follows that 
abundant portrayal of violence by mass media may have helped prevent 
abandoment of violence by the audience. If it is true that violence is valued 
by at least some Americans, then the very argument that has been used by 
media apologists cuts the other way; this value, like any other, would be 
subject to the value-conserving influence of the mass media. 

C. Contemporary Oassiflcation of Effects 

The trend away from considering what mass media do to audiences and 
toward considering how audience members receive and use mass media 
content does not seem to have weakened the relevance of Lasswell's now 
classic categorization of mass media "functions." 27 He suggested in 1948 
that mass media perform three kinds of social (as distinct from private) 



Mass Media as Producers of Effects: An Overview of Research Trends 253 

functions. (1) They carry on a surveillance of the environment, keeping 
audiences informed of opportunities and threats to which they may need or 
wish to respond individually or collectively. This is a social effect because 
different kinds of social order are dependent on populations with different 
degrees of informedness. (2) The media tend to bring about some correlation 
of the components of society for effective, organized response to the 
environment. The arguments about the limited persuasive capacity of the 
media, and about the involvement of intervening variables in the persuasion 
process leave this function intact, for the leaders of a modern community or 
society do turn to the mass media as aids in exercising their leadership, and 
the audience expects mass media to be used in the process of organizing social 
action. (3) The mass media help in transmission of the social heritage from 
one generation to the next. Studies of the occurrence of incidental learning 
show that this function is served (appropriately or not) even when this may 
not be the intent of the communicator. Studies of vicarious learning, from 
observing both the behavior of models and the consequences accruing to the 
models, have revealed one of the processes by which this takes place. 

Clearly, the second of Lasswell's types, and especially the third, are closely 
related to the socialization process which occurs apart from the mass media. 
Both pertain to the imparting of values. 

It is important to remember that these functions are very often 
subordinated to two other purposes, more private than social, in our system. 
This fact itself has value implications. A great deal of the content of mass 
communications is presented as entertainment. The purpose of the audience 
members in exposing themselves to the mass media is very often to be 
entertained. 28 If they are informed, if their activities are correlated with 
those of others, and if they -absorb something of their social hertage, it is 
largely incidental to being amused or distracted. It is also largely incidental to 
the communicator's quest for monetary gain. Movies bring in revenue from 
admission tickets, and that is why they are produced. Books yield revenue by 
being sold, and that is why they are published. Reading is incidental. 
Magazines and newspapers yield negligible revenue from their subscribers; 
their profit depends on income from advertising, the latter provides virtually 
the entire base for radio and television. In any of these sponsored media, the 
volume of advertising revenue depends in part on the size of the audience. 
The advertiser ostensibly buys time or space, but his real interest is in buying 
audience attention. He exchanges entertainment or otherwise interesting 
communication for the audience attention required to give him opportunity 
to sell his product. 

D. Mass Media Incompletely Exonerated 

Many good things can properly be said about the mass media in general 
and about television in particular. Granted the validity of much of this 
commendation, and granted that the imaginable harm television might 
conceivably do to a child who is already warped or deprived of good social 
relationships will not usually be done to children with warm and secure 
family lives, nonetheless many of the severest criticisms remain at best simply 
unproved rather than disproved. 29 AsBandura notes in reference to a number 
of widely circulated survey studies that have been construed as showing that 



254 Mass Media and Violence 

television violence neither harms nor helps its viewers, "It is surprising how 
this view has won uncritical acceptance," based as it is on opinion studies of 
parents or people who work with children rather than on studies of children's 
actual behavior and attitudes. 3( 

Studies of the impact of audiovisual stimuli on children's behavior have, of 
course, been made. To discount the implications of these experimental 
studies because laboratory conditions do not duplicate real life situations, 
Bandura points out, is to misunderstand the manner in which knowledge is 
advanced. "Indeed," he says, "experiments are not designed to reproduce the 
stimulus events that occur in real-life situations and they would be 
superfluous if they were," 3 1 An experiment deliberately controls some of the 
factors which vary in real life so as to be able to discern the relations between 
certain specific variables which can be manipulated as they might not be 
outside the laboratory. 

To ensure development of principles of social learning, for example, 
laboratory experimentation must involve dependent variables that overlap the 
social responses to which the tester wishes to generalize the conclusions 
drawn from his experiment. However, ethical considerations preclude some of 
the conceivable manipulations of some variables. Accordingly, laboratory 
methods must be supplemented by field studies. By the same token, field 
studies take on different meanings when supplemented by laboratory 
experimentation. Some of the behaviors whose causes are sought by social 
scientists have resulted from such an interplay of multiple socializing agents 
and compound effects of any single agent that it is often necessary to begin 
with field studies that are purely correlational. These can generate hypotheses 
about relations between antecedents and consequents which then require 
testing in rigorous laboratory studies. Without the latter, the statements of 
correlation derived from field studies cannot properly be taken to represent 
causal relations. 3 2 The finding in a field study that two variables seem to be 
uncorrelated cannot be taken as proof that there is no causal relation between 
them; two or more causal relations that could be disentangled in careful 
experimentation may mask each other in the field. 

The optimistic mass media theorists, Wilenksy says, "seem always to come 
to the same punch line: the burden of evidence indicates that the media are 
not omnipotent; they are absorbed into local cultures via the two-step flow 
from media to local group to person; and this absorption involves a 
self-selection of exposure corresponding to previous attitude." 33 The 
advances in theories of mass communication may be characterized as a 
progressive modification of the image of anomic mass society by the 
increased recognition of a host of mediating factors intervening in the 
previously oversimplified stimulus-response link between communicator and 
audience member. While the trend in theory and research has been toward 
greater recognition of such influences, the trend in modern society at the 
same time apparently has been toward the weakening of the actual influence 
of these intervening social variables. Society has been moving closer to being 
the way we once thought it was, while we have been abandoning that once 
inappropriate image of it. 

In the United States in recent decades there has been growth of structural 
differentiation and increasing cultural uniformity. In this or any other 
country undergoing rapid social change, the characteristics of mass society 



Mass Media as Producers of Effects: An Overview of Research Trends 255 

can be found to some degree. 34 Blumer's and Wirth's classic statements of 
those characteristics may have exaggerated the extent to which they applied 
to American society at the time they were written, but forces have been at 
work tending to detach people from their local cultures and weaken local 
group affiliations. People have been thrust into a new and broader world by 
migration and by exposure to mass media. They have had to adjust to this 
changed world somewhat independently of traditional values. So Blumer was 
not really wrong in saying that "Under conditions of modern urban and 
industrial life, mass behavior has emerged in increasing magnitude and 
importance." 35 The trend has been extended since he wrote about it. 

According to Wirth, urbanites characteristically (he did not say always) 
interact with one another in terms of segmentalized roles. City life is 
characterized by depersonalized or secondary group contacts, rather than 
primary group contacts. There are, to be sure, face-to-face encounters, but 
these commonly are segmental and impersonal. Urbanites accordingly develop 
a reserve and indifference toward one another which serve as immunization 
against personal claims and expectations of others. 36 A single ride on a New 
York subway will show what he meant, and the so-called "rediscovery of 
primary groups" by sociologists does not invalidate his statements. Certainly 
there are primary groups in large cities; but they embrace a lesser proportion 
of the human interactions occurring in urban than in preurban societies. 

Blumer said the mass "consists of an aggregation of individuals who are 
separate, detached, anonymous, and thus, homogeneous as far as mass 
behavior is concerned. . .the individual in the mass. . .acts in response to the 
object that has gained his attention and on the basis of the impulses that are 
aroused by it." 37 Sociologists recognize today that this description fits 
society less well than they once thought it did, but that recognition is not 
inconsistent with the contention that it fits more closely today than it did 
when it was more naively accepted. 

Larsen has defined mass communication in general terms as "the relatively 
simultaneous exposure of a large, scattered, and heterogeneous audience to 
stimuli transmitted by impersonal means from an organized source for whom 
the audience members are anonymous." 38 Normally the devices we refer to 
as mass media do indeed reach a large, scattered, and heterogeneous audience 
roughly simultaneously, and the research on intervening psychological or 
social variables does not refute this. The means of transmission are 
impersonal, and audience members are usually anonymous to the 
communicator, if not to each other. That is all the definition specifies, so all 
the research on group affiliations as mediators of communications and all the 
theorizing about audience use of media content in no way turn mass 
communication into something that would have to be called by another 
name. 

Mass media audience members may not be anonymous to all other 
members of the audience, but they are anonymous to most others, as well as 
to the communicator. This is what influences the nature of the 
communication. They are socially involved in a direct way with only a very 
small fraction of the total audience. Therefore, assertions that the collective 
behavior concept of the "mass" is inapplicable to mass media audiences are as 
serious overstatements as are the earlier views these statements were intended 
to counter. 



256 Mass Media and Violence 

If television, and to a lesser extent other media, serve some people as 
substitutes for primary interaction, these people are thereby made less 
available to others as primary group associates. The need to turn to mass 
media for substitute primary group experiences is thereby increased. The 
detachment of people from intimate relationships which Blumer associated 
with mass behavior and the reserved and indifferent attitude toward others 
which Wirth associated with urbanism need not be assumed to exist before 
effects can be attributed to the mass media. The mass media, when they have 
become as omnipresent as they are in the lives of Americans, can foster 
detachment, reserve, and indifference. 

The concept of the mass is naturally associated with the concept of 
urbanism. Cities are, sociologically speaking, relatively large, dense, and 
permanent settlements of socially heterogeneous people. The characteristics 
of the urban way of life become more pronounced the larger, the denser, and 
the more heterogeneous the city happens to be. 39 Most of our cities have 
been growing, and a growing fraction of our population have become city 
dwellers. Modern cities have as their economic base, as Wirth noted, the 
concentrative force of mechanized industry. Factories mass produce for 
impersonal markets. This leads to product standardization, which, together 
with the essential anonymity of customers in relation to producers, further 
results in a largely pecuniary social nexus. Products and services are 
purchasable by persons who possess the requisite dollars, whatever may be 
their other characteristics. 40 Thus, as a result of the continued intensification 
of urbanism and industrialism, our occupationally, ethnically, and culturally 
heterogeneous population has acquired a good deal of the psychological 
lowest-common-denominator kind of homogeneity that was presupposed by 
the hypodermic model of mass communications. 

To understand what continued urbanization means for the impact the 
mass media may have in our lives, it is important to spell out the conditions 
that would be required for mass communication to "be effective." After 
reviewing four examples of explicit mass media attempts to influence 
audience behavior Kate Smith's marathon bond-selling broadcasts in World 
War II, a 1947 radio effort to curb juvenile delinquency ("The Eagle's 
Brood"), a New York TV station's effort to mobilize civilian defense workers, 
and the televised hearings of the Kefauver Committee Wiebe asked whether 
radio and television can sell social objectives as they sell soap? The answer 
ventured was this: "Given a reasonable amount of receptivity among audience 
members, radio or television programs can produce forceful motivation. The 
sponsor of the social objective must tell us to what social mechanism the 
motivation is to be directed. He must see to the existence, adequacy and 
compatibility of the mechanism and he must consider the distance of 
audience members from this mechanism in formulating his expectations of 
results." 4 1 Then Wiebe, who was Research Psychologist for CBS Radio, 
added: "To the extent that he finds these factors in good order, he is in a 
situation comparable to that of a commercial sponsor, and he can reasonably 
expect results comparable with those of a commercial sponsor." 42 It is of 
course assumed that commercial sponsors do sell their products as a result of 
their advertising efforts. 

Advertising on radio or television is intended to accomplish limited 
objectives. Given smokers in the audience and cigarettes in the stores, 



Mass Media as Producers of Effects: An Overview of Research Trends 257 

cigarette commercials^ me rely seek to bring the two together. The intent is to 
cause the potential customer to take whatever steps separate him from 
actually making the purchase. In principle, such effects should be expected to 
occur even in cases where there was no intent to produce them. A Camel 
commercial may help sell Marlboros, and vice versa, simply by arousing the 
viewer's urge to smoke (whatever may be his brand preference). In the same 
manner, televised violence should be expected to arouse violent behavior in 
viewers with violent habits who may be harboring a grudge and who happen 
to have accessible targets. 

Opportunities for the inadvertent "advertising" of violence to succeed are 
increasing. As our cities have grown, certain areas in them have visibly 
deteriorated. Other parts of them have changed in ways which may not 
represent deterioration, but which cause regrets, in people with 
value-commitments to previous conditions. Many of the newer residents of 
urban areas have not reaped the rewards anticipated. The very presence of 
some may be resented by persons who were there before them, who react to 
their social differences ethnocentrically, and who see their intrusion into the 
area as a threat. These people are variously experiencing an accelerated pace 
of living which has led some sociologists to expect that adaptations to new 
situations are likely to be made increasingly violently. Change is coming at 
unprecedented speed and tradition and custom hardly prevail as constraints 
on human behavior. People are now living in megalopolis without benefit of 
previous personal or ancestral familiarity with this kind of environment. It is 
a new kind of world. 43 

Thus, our cities contain increasing numbers of people with violent 
attitudes and habits, smouldering grievances, and easy access to targets of 
hostility. To televise violence into such an audience without expecting to 
arouse violent behavior seems sharply inconsistent with the belief that 
broadcasting cigarette commercials to an audience that includes smokers can 
increase sales. 

Consider the simple fact that in forty years the percentage of the U.S. 
Negro population which lives in urban areas has more than doubled. 44 In just 
twenty years, the percentage of Southern-born non-whites residing outside 
the South has almost doubled. 45 These two facts point to an increasing 
abundance of contacts between persons who are more or less strangers to 
each other the prior residents of a city and the recent immigrants who are 
products of somewhat unlike subcultures, and who have a color difference 
that can visibly symbolize both their cultural differences and their social 
distance. In many of these encounters, both parties must be expected to 
harbor a sense of frustration, for various reasons. An increasing proportion of 
such contacts take place in large metropolitan environments, where, for all 
the reasons cited previously, informal means of norm-enforcement are 
attenuated. In the face of these circumstances it takes some strong and 
questionable assumptions to support the supposition that televised violence 
will not produce violent behavior. 

Apologists for the television industry are fond of asserting that fictional 
violence on the screen will not cause normal children in happy families and 
stable communities to behave violently. But today they can hardly avoid 
knowing that there are a good many children (and adults) whose 
sociopsychological normality is dubious, whose family life is less than happy, 



258 Mass Media and Violence 

and who are living in communities that are far from stable. There is ample 
reason for concern about the probable behavioral impact of broadcasting to 
audiences of this sort such programs as Mannix, Rat Patrol, High Chaparral, 
Mod Squad, or N. Y.P.D., just to mention a few. 

As Wilensky points out, mass media may have considerable effect under 
conditions of rapid social change because this condition includes persons 
without the usual cultural and social anchorages. When norms are in flux, 
mass media may reach their audiences more directly than usual, unfiltered by 
the intervening variables sociologists and others have so laboriously 
discovered. 46 Crisis social, economic, or political puts extra burdens on 
mass media. 47 Crisis conditions can also open the way for mass media 
impacts that would be restrained by non-critical circumstances. 

Even if crises were unknown and social change always occurred at a snail's 
pace, the possibly cumulative effects of mass media would require attention. 
If a single act of violence on a single television drama could be shown to cause 
no discernible behavioral response, this would not demonstrate that a 
continuous exposure to such stimuli over long periods will not affect behavior 
or values in profound ways. Moreover, if many audience members are 
exposed to the same stimuli repeatedly, and are also recurrently exposed to 
each other, a sort of "multiplier effect" is possible. Distorted images of the 
real world that are obtained from the fantasy world of television are less 
likely to be set straight by interaction of real human groups if all the 
members of these groups have also been absorbing the same distorted images. 
Just as people sometimes have the impression they "confirmed" a rumor 
when they hear it from a second or a third source, the very abundance of 
mass communications, and the universality of the population's exposure to 
television in particular, tend to foster the illusion of "consensual validation" 
of whatever values are thus absorbed. 

To sum up, research has shown that mass media do not easily and 
inevitably produce intended effects. To say that intended effects do not 
automatically occur is not to say, however, that unintended effects 
automatically do not occur. Yet the apologists for the media, and some of the 
social scientists who have been unduly impressed with exceptions to the mass 
society concept, have left this distinction unstated. Serious investigation is 
needed now to determine what long-range unintended consequences will 
occur from the way we have organized our lives around the mass media, 
and especially around that simulator of primary groups, television. 

REFERENCES 

1. Louis Wirth, "Urbanism as a Way of Life," American Journal of Sociology, 44 (July 
1938), pp. 20-21. 

2. Ibid., p. 1. 

3. Ibid., p. 23. 

4. Richard T. LaPiere A Theory of Social Control (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1954), 
pp. 3-24. 

5. Melvin L. DeFleur, Theories of Mass Communication (New York: David McKay, 
1966), p. 111. 

6. Ibid., pp. 109-110. 

7. Ibid., p. 114. 

8. Ibid., p. 115. 

9. Ibid., p. 127. 



Mass Media as Producers of Effects: An Overview of Research Trends 259 

10. Ibid., p. 122. 

11. Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet, The People's Choice (New 
York: Columbia University Press, 1948); Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Personal 
Influence (Glencoe, 111.: The Free Press, 1954); Elihu Katz, "The Two-Step Flow of 
Communication: An Up-to-Date Report on an Hypothesis," Public Opinion 
Quarterly, 21 (Spring, 1957), pp. 61-78. 

12. Eliot Friedson, "Communications Research and the Concept of the Mass," 
American Sociological Review, 18 (1953), pp. 313-317. 

13. LaPiere, op. cit. note 4, pp. 518-522. 

14. Defleur, op. cit. note 5, pp. 6-7. 

15. Ibid., p. 36. 

16. Wilbur Schramm, Jack Lyle, and Edwin B. Parker, Television in the Lives of Our 
Children (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1961), p. 169. 

17. Ibid., pp. 159-160. 

18. Robert Lewis Shayon, Television and Our Children (New York: Longmans, Green, 
1951), pp. 26-29. 

19. Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. cit. note 16, p. 145. 

20. Ibid., pp. 105-109. 

21. Joseph T. Klapper, The Effects of Mass Communication (Glencoe, III.: The Free 
Press, 1960), p. 8. 

22. Ibid., pp. 49-51. 

23. Ibid., p. 60. 

24. Ibid., pp. 94-97. 

25. Ibid., p. 129. 

26. Ibid., Ch. VI. 

27. Harold D. Lasswell, "The Structure and Function of Communication in Society," in 
Lyman Bryson (ed.), The Communication of Ideas (New York: Harper & Bros., 
1948), pp. 37-51. 

28. See Douglas Waples, Bernard Berelson, and Franklyn R. Bradshaw, What Reading 
Does to People (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1940), pp. 123-124. 

29. Cf. Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. cit. note 16, p. 175. 

30. Albert Bandura, "What TV Violence Can Do to Your Child," reprinted from Look, 
Oct. 22, 1963, pp. 46-52 in Otto N. Larsen (ed.), Violence and the Mass Media (New 
York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 124. 

31. Albert Bandura and Richard H. Walters, Social Learning and Personality 
Development (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963), p. 41. 

32. Ibid., p. 39. 

33. Harold L. Wilensky, "Mass Society and Mass Culture: Interdependence or 
Independence?" American Sociological Review, 29 (April 1964), p. 175. 

34. Ibid., pp. 177-179. 

35. Herbert Blumer, "Elementary Collective Groupings," Ch. 21 in Alfred M. Lee (ed,), 
New Outline of the Principles of Sociology (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1946), p. 
187. 

36. Wirth,op. cit. note l,p. 12. 

37. Blumer, op. cit. note 35, pp. 186-187. 

38. Larson, op. cit. note 30, p. 6. 

39. Wirth, op. cit. note 1, pp. 8-9. 

40. Ibid, p. 17. 

41. G. D. Wiebe, "Merchandising Commodities and Citizenship on Television," Public 
Opinion Quarterly, 15 (Winter, 1951), p. 691. 

42. Ibid 

43. Roy G. Francis, "Problems of Tomorrow," Social Problems, 12 (1965), p. 331. 

44. C. Horace Hamilton, "The Negro Leaves the South," Demography, 1 (1964), p. 277. 

45. Ibid., p. 281. 

46. Harold L. Wilensky, "Social Structure, Popular Culture, and Mass Behavior: Some 
Research Implications," Studies in Public Communication, 3 (1961), pp. 15-22. 

47. Waples, Berelson, and Bradshaw, op. cit. note 28, p. 3. 



Chapter 12 

THE EFFECTS OF MEDIA VIOLENCE 
ON SOCIAL LEARNING* 

A. The Media, the Senses, and Information Transmission 

The media differ in the senses to which they appeal and in the amount of 
training that is necessary before they can be used. Thus, personal oral 
communication is perhaps the primary human medium of communication. It 
appeals to audition and secondarily to vision (lip reading), and the training 
needed to understand it is given universally to all children in the early years 
of life. 

Graphic communication appeals to vision. Since it is directly 
representational, little training is needed for understanding. (Research 
findings about blind people who are given vision surgically after childhood 
reveal that these individuals are unable to grasp the meaning of graphic 
representations. Because of this we know that some training is necessary for a 
child to be able to decode such representations.) 

Written communication also appeals to vision, and extensive training is 
needed for comprehension. As is noted above, that training has in the past 
been offered to only selected human beings. Moreover, the production of 
written communications has in times past been a slow process. Until the 
invention of printing, a written communication could be reproduced only by 
a human copier. In the medieval period, many individuals devoted their 
lifetimes to copying texts. With the invention of printing, mass production of 
printed texts became possible, and thereafter the written (printed) word 
became increasingly important in human affairs. Still, the impact of printing 
as a mass medium of communication was limited by a technology in which 
paper was rare, binding was done by hand, and distribution of printed 
materials was slow and inefficient. It took centuries for our society to 
develop the means to benefit from the invention of printing, and only by the 
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did we have the technology to 
support this invention the ability to produce paper, to produce printing 
machines, to distribute printed paper rapidly and widely, etc. Only then did 
we have a mass base of consumers able to benefit from this 
technology people who could read and understand the printed word. Thus 

* Excerpt from a larger paper prepared for the Media Task Force by Alberta Engvall 
Siegel, Associate Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, Stanford University. 

261 



262 Mass Media and Violence 

the printed word became increasingly important to mass culture. 

The twentieth century has witnessed the invention and promulgation of 
several new modes of communication. One of these, the telephone, appeals 
exclusively to audition. Communication is entirely by hearing, and in fact 
even the audio fidelity of the telephone is grossly limited. The special appeal 
of this mode is that it enables contact between individuals who are not within 
hailing distance of each other. The telephone is an extension of the ear, and 
thus of the voice. Very little training appears to be needed for its use, 
although there are folk tales about adult immigrants to America who could 
never learn to use the telephone effectively, who never got over the habit of 
shouting into the receiver, and who were perplexed by the babble in the 
receiver. Infants are fascinated by telephones, and young children go through 
a period when they appear to understand the speech that they hear through 
the phone receiver but do not respond to it. (Every doting parent has had the 
experience of telling his two-year-old to "say hello to grandma" and of then 
standing by with growing exasperation watching his child listen mutely to 
grandmother's voice saying "hello, Danny," and "are you there, Danny?") By 
age three or four, the child is able to carry on the give and take of a telephone 
conversation, and as soon as he understands numbers he is able to dial the 
phone to get his intended party. (The ability to dial comes much earlier, and 
in these days of direct dialing many of us have had the experience of 
answering the phone's ring to find ourselves chatting haltingly with an 
adventuresome three-year-old in another state.) The school-age child is an 
accomplished telephone user, and by adolescence the telephone seems to be 
the preferred mode of social interaction. 

Radio is another modern medium that appeals exclusively to audition. In 
contrast to the telephone, it is a one-way rather than a two-way system, 
putting the communications receiver in a totally passive role. (The recent 
renaissance of radio has occurred in part because of "call-in" techniques 
which remove the listener from that passivity and use the telephone to 
transform radio into a two-way communications system.) Radio contrasts 
with the telephone also in fidelity. It is capable of transmitting a very wide 
range of sounds, and may be used for music as well as for human speech. 
Little or no training is needed to enable an individual to comprehend radio 
communication, and very little is required to acquire the skill of turning it on 
and tuning it in. Children are able to receive radio communication as soon as 
they are able to attend to sounds, and many mothers find that their young 
infants are soothed by music from radio or by an announcer's mellifluous 
tones. Children are able to understand spoken communications by radio 
almost as soon as they can understand face-to-face speech; there is some lag, 
because in face-to-face speech the spoken word is augmented by detailed 
non-verbal communications which reinforce it. The child "gets the message" 
not only from the words but also from the speaker's facial expression, body 
position, etc. These modalities are absent from radio, and for this reason 
radio is less effective in communicating with the very young child. By age 
three or four, however, children are "tuned in" to radio, and in years past it 
was a preferred communications medium for many school-age children. Just 
as their mothers listened to the soap operas during the morning and early 
afternoon hours, school-age children listened to their serials during the late 
afternoon and early evening hours. 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 263 

Comic books are a form of visual communication, although they have 
esthetic appeal through touch and smell as well most adults are able to 
remember how the books felt and how they smelled as well as what they 
looked like. Their central device is redundancy between the verbal message 
and the accompanying graphic message, which is typically vivid and simple. 
The books hold some appeal for children who cannot read at all, an 
indication of how much is communicated directly by the pictures. Their 
central appeal is to the partly-literate reader, child or adult, and for this 
reason the comic book format has been widely imitated in manuals to train 
hard-core unemployed workers, in appeals to voters in underprivileged 
communities, etc. In contrast to the telephone and the radio, the comic book 
has almost no appeal to the infant and young child, and children become 
interested in this format only after they are relatively mature and 
sophisticated as communications-receivers (usually in their fifth year or later). 
Another contrast between the radio and the comic book is that the pacing of 
the former is outside the receiver's control; the radio listener cannot adjust 
the rate at which the announcer speaks. However, the comic book reader can 
control the pace at which the information on the page comes to him. Adults 
who watch children read comic books are struck by the children's absorption, 
their deliberateness in plodding from square to square, their turning back 
pages for rereading, and their return to the same comic book for another 
exposure on another day. Comic books offer these possibilities for a slow 
pace because they are permanent embodiments of the communication. 

The wax recording was also a permanent embodiment, this time of an 
auditory rather than a visual message. Despite initial low fidelity, records won 
a wide audience, and they continue to be a popular form of mass 
communication. Like the comic book, they can be controlled by the 
consumer, and the child can play the same record over and over. Very young 
children can listen to records, but their access is controlled by the difficulties 
in playing them: the task of getting the needle into the groove is too difficult 
for a child until he is three or four years old. Special records for children have 
a wide audience among the young, and of course records for adolescents are 
the mainstay of the industry. 

The film was a dramatic innovation in communication technology. Like 
the comic book and the record, and in contrast to the telephone and the 
radio, it involves the permanent embodiment of a message. Film provided a 
means of recording, preserving, and transmitting visual images which is 
infinitely more faithful to the source than any comic strip could be. Both rely 
on sequences of still graphics, but the film sequence is so rapid that it creates 
the illusion of movement and of temporal continuity. The silent film 
appealed exclusively to vision, but did so in a way which has much greater 
impact than that of the earlier visual media-print, graphics, and the 
print-graphics combination we know as the comic book. This impact occurs 
because of the film's fidelity to its source and its minimal reliance on 
conventional symbolization. It occurs also because the film embodies motion, 
and the human visual system is especially tuned to the perception of motion. 
The audience for a silent film does not need to know how to read in order to 
enjoy the film, although that ability is necessary for understanding the 
subtitles. As with comics, the subtitles in a silent film are largely redundant. 
Children respond to and enjoy films from a very young age. Their access to 



264 Mass Media and Violence 

films has been controlled by the economics of the motion picture industry, 
rather than by any constraints in their own sensory or intellectual 
endowment. The expense of owning and operating projection equipment, the 
need for a darkened room in which to show the film, and the expense of 
renting commercial films, have combined to keep movies in commercial 
theatres, with access blocked by an admissions booth collecting tolls. The 
importance of the box office in controlling access is attested to by the 
ingenuity of youngsters in dreaming up ways to circumvent it, and also by the 
fact that many American youngsters habitually spent all of their weekly 
allowances at that box office during the heyday of the movies. 

The printed page became a mass medium of communication only when the 
system of education created a mass audience of readers. Thus books and 
newspapers represented the "first wave" of the mass media. The telephone 
stands apart from this history, differing from the other communications 
media in the particularity of both sender and receiver. Although there is mass 
ownership of telephones in the United States today, the telephone is not 
presently used for mass communication. Radio, comic books, records, and 
silent films were the "second wave" of modern communications media. They 
were techniques of communication that required little sophistication on the 
part of the receiver. Unlike books and newspapers, these media did not 
require reading ability of their audience. Each technique in this second wave 
was beamed to one sense modality radio and records appealing to audition, 
and comic books and silent movies to vision. 

The "talkie" was such a major innovation that it deserves to be thought of 
as "the third wave," a medium that provides an integrated appeal to eye and 
ear. The audience for a talking film needs no special training nor special skills; 
they need only the capacity for visual information-processing and for 
language-understanding or sound-decoding which is universally characteristic 
of the human species. By being a normal member of the human race, and by 
paying the price of admission, one is able to receive communication from 
sound motion pictures. Only the grossly handicapped the deaf and the 
blind are excluded from full participation. For the rest of us, the 
communication from sound films comes to us in the senses which are most 
acute and discriminating seeing and hearing. The sound motion picture 
seemed to be "the ultimate" in mass communication, and it seemed so not 
only to the masters of hyperbole who were paid to advertise Hollywood. 
Some suggested adding scents to the stimuli in order to sensitize the audience 
olfactorily as well as visually and auditorily, but the "talkies" were so 
satisfactory that the proposal to replace them with "sm^llies" was never 
seriously considered. Refinements wider screens, curved screens, three 
dimensions, color, and stereophonic sound were but minor embellishments 
on the basic technique of reaching the viewer through eye and ear with a vivid 
and integrated message. Children were delighted by the talkies, usually 
preferring them to any other medium of communication. Even the youngest 
child could be held in rapt fascination by a movie, and the amount of 
information children learned effortlessly from films was prodigious. As with 
the silent films, limitations on children's use of movies were external to the 
child, created by the technology and economics of the movie the need for a 
darkened room, expensive equipment, and money to rent the expensive film. 

These limitations were bypassed by the next major innovation in mass 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 265 

communication, television. Like the movies, television beams simultaneous 
signals to both eye and ear. Unlike movies, TV does not require a darkened 
room, expensive equipment, or rental payments. In the American economy, 
the receiver is inexpensive and television programs are free. The child need 
not pay to enjoy television; his access is limited only by his ability to switch 
on the set, and most children can do that as soon as they can stand, i.e., by 
the end of their first year. Television also lends a sense f immediacy to the 
action, as opposed to the "canned" film one sees in movie theaters.* 
Differences between movies and television justify our calling the advent of 
television a separate wave in the development of mass communications. 

Several trends are evident in the history of the development of techniques 
for transmitting information to the human senses. One trend is diminishing 
reliance on written symbolization. To enjoy a book, one had to be a skilled 
reader. To read a newspaper, less skill was required. Even less reading ability 
yet was needed for access to comic books and to silent films. And no reading 
ability at all is needed to be able to "get the message" from sound movies, 
radio, records, and TV. 

A second trend is the integration of appeals to several senses. The early 
media reached one sense, but the newer media reach two senses 
simultaneously with an integrated message. The two senses which movies and 
television reach vision and audition are the most highly developed senses in 
man, those on which he relies most heavily for gaining useful information 
from his environment. Further, movies and television embody motion. In the 
deployment of attention, the human visual system is especially vigilant to 
movement. 

A third trend is toward rapidity of communication. In the days when the 
only way to get information across distances was to send a courier with a 
hand-written document, information travelled slowly. The invention of 
printing signalled the development of more rapid means of communication, 
but generations passed before supporting technology developed sufficiently 
to use printing in the production of newspapers. Early newspapers appeared 
monthly or weekly, and dailies are a relatively recent innovation. 
Simultaneous transmission of information is achieved by the newer 
media radio, telephone, and television with only a split second elapsing 
between the occurrence of an event and its perception by the 
communications-receiver at a distant spot. 

Fourth, there is a trend toward increasing availability of mass 
communications. Printed communications such as books and journals were in 
former times available only to an educated elite. Today such communications 
reach a mass readership. Newspapers are widely available. Radio has reached 
into almost every American home. Movie theaters exist in the remotest 
hamlet. Most Americans, even the poorest, own television sets and in many 
homes more than one set is in use. 

Finally, there is a trend toward increased fidelity in communication 
techniques. The "fidelity" of a communication is the correspondence of the 
transmission to the event itself. Today's telephone is a much higher fidelity 
instrument than its predecessors, but the correspondence between the voice 
one hears over the telephone and the voice of that person when present is still 

*With the advent of videotape, almost everything (except movies) on television 
appears to be "live," whether or not it actually is. 



266 Mass Media and Violence 

not exact. Radio has higher fidelity than the telephone, and today's radio is 
notably higher in fidelity than its ancestor, Similarly, phonograph records and 
tape recordings have improved in audio fidelity over the years. The color 
movie, like the color television, is more "hi-fi" than its black-and-white 
counterpart. 

B. Fidelity, Vividness, Credibility, and Authenticity 

Every member of a society must learn about that society, its values, and its 
habits. All children achieve this learning through trial and error, reward and 
punishment, observation, imitation, oral instruction, and attending to graphic 
representations. Children in literate societies such as ours also may learn 
about their society and its culture via the written word. To what extent are 
children likely to learn also from the even newer media from radio, movies, 
and television? We have reviewed the characteristics of these media, showing 
how they reach different senses and how accessible they are to children. Now 
we consider how much is learned from these media. 

"Fidelity" is an engineering concept, readily definable in terms of the 
correspondence between an event and its reproduction by a communications 
medium. The fidelity of a phonograph or a tape player may be of 
considerable importance to its owner. More interesting to the social scientist 
than a medium's fidelity is its credibility; he wonders how "credible," 
"believable," "compelling," or "authentic" the medium is. 

The mass media have historically been used for two main purposes: to 
entertain and to inform, and every medium of communication has been used 
for both purposes. The book, for example, provides entertainment in the 
form of novels, poetry, albums of photographs, etc., and it provides 
information in the form of textbooks, encyclopedias, biographies and 
histories. Radio entertainment comes in the form of comedy skits, radio 
dramas, and the like, and information is distributed in news reports, bulletins 
about traffic conditions, weather reports, and interviews. Comic books have 
been used principally to entertain, but this format has also been adapted for 
political propaganda and in how-to-do-it manuals. Motion pictures provide 
entertainment in dramas, comedies, and musicals, but its informational 
capacity has been exploited in instructional films, documentaries, and news 
films. Television broadcasts both entertainment shows and informational 
presentations such as news reports, and the newspaper contains crossword 
puzzles, comic strips, horoscopes, and humor columns as well as 
informational news columns. "Thus the distinction between entertaining and 
informing is not related to a particular medium all the media perform both 
functions. 

We all believe that presentations meant to inform should be authentic. A 
factual error in an encyclopedia is harmful to the reputation of that 
publication. A distortion of fact in the news columns of a newspaper can 
provide the basis for a libel suit and public demands for a retraction. A 
textbook is judged by the accuracy and completeness of the information it 
conveys to the student. A historian's account of a sequence of events is 
judged above all by its authenticity, and the notion of changing history to 
make it conform to ideology or political convenience is abhorrent to our 
tradition. A biography will draw sharp criticism, even ridicule, if it misspells 






The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 267 

the name of a principal, places his birth incorrectly, or misrepresents a date. 

On the other hand, authenticity is not an issue when the object is 
entertainment. We do not criticize a comic strip about spacemen because the 
rockets portrayed move more quickly than any known propellant could 
power them. A soap opera is no less enjoyed because in reality no person 
could endure such an unending succession of reversals and still remain full of 
good cheer. A comedy skit may be improved, not debased, if a comedian 
wears outsize shoes, a ridiculous necktie, and a zany hat. We do not reject a 
children's story because it says that all the characters "lived happily ever 
after." Part of the creativity of fiction is the use of fantasy, imagination, and 
dramatic distortion. 

In short, we do grant poetic license not only to the poet, but also to the 
novelist, the comic strip artist, the soap opera dramatist, the comedian, the 
children's fiction writer, and the television dramatist; we do not grant such 
license to the educator, news broadcaster, reporter, biographer, historian, or 
encyclopedist. 

The distinctions between fact and fiction, news and entertainment, and 
reality and fantasy, are not new. They antedate all the media, including print. 
Sophisticated and literate adults find these distinctions both useful and easily 
discernible. They can be applied to each of the media to the textbook in 
contrast with the novel, to the news broadcast as opposed to the war 
movie but in making this distinction, we may be in danger of ignoring the 
authenticity or credibility inherent in that medium. 

For the intellect of the child, and for the less sophisticated aspects of 
intellect which adults share with children, there may be another distinction 
which cuts across the familiar reality-fantasy distinction. Perhaps each 
medium of communication has its own intrinsic authenticity or credibility, 
and perhaps this feature lends itself to all the communications from that 
medium. 

At the outset, it seems that this intrinsic authenticity is simply the fidelity 
and the vividness of the communication. We have already defined "fidelity" 
as the psychophysical correspondence between the communication and its 
source. The "vividness" of a communication is defined in terms of the senses 
to which it appeals. Since sight and hearing are the primary modes of 
information-processing in man, a medium which appeals to these senses is 
especially vivid. Thus, it is possible to present the symbols of our language 
through touch, as is done in Braille print. Obviously, this is especially useful 
to the blind person, but is unlikely to be chosen by anyone who has the 
option of receiving symbolic communication through vision. It would be 
possible for the average housewife to locate the vegetables she wishes to buy 
in the supermarket solely by smell, since each vegetable has a distinctive 
fragrance. Simply by relying on smell and touch she could choose the 
particular vegetables that correspond to her standards of freshness and 
crispness, but no normal housewife selects vegetables this way; it is much 
more efficient for her to rely on vision in locating the ware she wants. This is 
the sense in which a visual communication is especially vivid. 

Media which appeal to more than one sense are more vivid than those 
reaching only one. We have already shown that talking movies and television 
are in a class by themselves as effective media because of their vividness as 
here defined. 



268 Mass Media and Violence 

A medium's intrinsic authenticity is a joint function of its vividness and 
fidelity. Both print and film appeal solely to vision, but film has more 
intrinsic authenticity because its fidelity is higher. Similarly, although 
black-and-white and color film appeal solely to vision, color film is more 
authentic because its fidelity is higher. If a communication technique is both 
vivid and of high fidelity, as is the color film or the color television image 
(high fidelity representations reaching the two most important senses), its 
intrinsic authenticity is especially high. 

Certain media lend an air of veracity to any message presented. Because of 
the characteristics of the medium, the presentation comes across as authentic. 
We may "know better," but still there is part of us that gullibly accepts the 
vivid evidence of our senses. The psychologist might apply the term "face 
validity" to describe the intrinsic authenticity of a television presentation. 
The vividness and fidelity of a presentation provide an implicit internal 
validation of its content. 

Every moviegoer has had the discomfiting experience of being unable to 
enjoy a musical precisely because the film does not come across as fantasy. 
This makes it difficult to accept the "unreal" actions of the characters in a 
musical, who break into song while embracing or tap dance down a factory 
assembly line. The success of animated cartoons in portraying fantasy, on the 
other hand, rests precisely on the fact that they circumvent the inherent 
authenticity of photography. 

When movies and TV are used to report and inform, their inherent 
authenticity works to impress the news on the viewer in a forceful and 
compelling way. Most observers of the contemporary American social scene 
are struck by the significant effect television news reporting has on the 
public's involvement in political issues, understanding of current affairs, and 
preferences among public figures. Through television coverage of a national 
catastrophe and its aftermath, the tragic assassination of our President in 
1963, a single mood of shared grief and mourning was sustained throughout 
the entire country. 

A newspaper reporter made a typical comment on the impact of television 
news reporting in his account of the 1968 presidential election contest in 
rural Iowa. He noted that the farmers whom he interviewed seemed less 
preoccupied with political issues immediately affecting their livelihood and 
their communities than with those they had learned about through television 
and the other mass media: 

Other issues have become so overriding as to obscure the farmer's 
problems, even in his own mind. Through some miracle of modern 
communication and repetition, the farmer lives in rural solitude and 
dwells upon crime-filled city streets, fiery demonstrations, bloody riots, 
bearded campus protestors, the frustrating war in Vietnam. And all 
indications are that those are the images that will fill the farmer's mind 
when he walks into the voting booth November 5. 1 

Today, the commonplace observation that television news reporting 
influences people's concepts of reality and thus their behavior is being 
supplemented by the feeling that dramatic shows may have the same effect. 
The same television set that brings news into the living room is also bringing 
realistic dramatic presentations. Russell Baker, commenting on the nation's 
response to the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, noted the mixed 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 269 

emotions evoked by the fact that information about this event came to the 
viewer on the same set that purveys entertainment and sports: 

"Gradually, grouped together around the social center of the 
TV screen with its humdrum evocation of the shared boredom of idle 
evenings and endless Sunday afternoons, we struggle to suppress the 
horror. 2 " 

Perhaps the fact that news and entertainment appear through the same 
medium is helping to blur the distinction between fact and fantasy. This was 
suggested by Give Barnes when he remarked that the author of a Broadway 
play is "against the moral blindness that permits million of people to treat 
[the war in Vietnam] as a kind of spectator sport to be watched on TV until 
we are no longer completely sure whether we are seeing our sons and brothers 
being killed on a newsreel or a few Hollywood actors biting the dust on the 
Late Late Show. 3 

We must consider the possibility that the inherent authenticity which 
characterizes television leds credibility to fictional presentations. George 
Willey has raised his own doubts about the distinction between reality and 
the producers' make-believe: "The growing concern is that what they make, 
many believe." 4 He argues that the problem with violence in the mass media 
is not that it is emotionally upsetting or aesthetically displeasing, but that it is 
accepted as a representation of the way things really are. In one column, he 
reviewed the difficulty which producers have encountered in attempting to 
edit violence from programs already in production. His example is a producer 
who cut out some of the gorier aspects of a violent scene a lady sniper fires a 
rifle at a young man driving through Black Rock Town "What will not be 
seen ... is a part of the same sequence which had been filmed in the original 
version: a close-up shot of the windshield shattering and the young man, face 
bleeding, collapsing over the steering sheel. This of course, is missing the 
point altogether. The objection to violence is not directed so much to the 
effect of violence but to the constant use of violence and the implicit 
suggestion that it should be anticipated wherever one goes." 5 

This account shows one response to the assassination of Senator Kennedy, 
an effort by the television and advertising industries to cut down on the 
amount of violence beamed over the airways. Other comments on that effort 
also touched on the blurred distinction between reality and fantasy. For 
example, a newspaper column related that the Association of National 
Advertisers was urging its members to select television scripts that avoid 
excessive or unnecessary violence. The column concluded by stating: 
"Yesterday an agency media guy made a valid point about television violence. 
'What do you do about the news programs?' he asked." 6 

The same intution was the basis for a column that appeared after the 
Democratic Convention in Chicago in August, 1968: 

Has the campaign against violence in TV programs, which started after the 
killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, suffered a 
setback as a result of the riots attending the Democratic National 
Convention? 

All three networks have been seriously examining ways of diminishing 
violence in dramatic entertainment and in children's cartoons partly as a 
result of the widespread belief that television's example can influence the 
impressionable for good or evil. But the way network spokesmen look at it at 



270 Mass Media and Violence 

the moment there isn't much point in cutting out the shooting in a Western 
or the pistol-whipping in an underworld drama if the viewer can switch to a 
news program and see citizens and the police locked in a bloody real life 
no-holds-barred conflict. No network would have dared stage in make-believe 
anything as violent as the battle in Chicago. 7 

The argument imputed to the network spokesmen makes sense only if one 
lumps together both fiction and news presentations in evaluating their effects 
on behavior. 

No doubt the cues as to a communication's authenticity are important. A 
television presentation identified on the screen as "news," and discussed by 
someone called a "newsman," provides internal cues that its pictures of 
mayhem and destruction are to be understood differently from similar 
photographs identified as "drama." 

The comfortable and well-understood old distinction between truth and 
fiction is blurred by a medium that presents truth and drama alternately, in 
the same frame, with the same sharp fidelity, and with the vividness that only 
a medium appealing to eye and ear simultaneously can invoke. 

C. Media Content and Social Learning 

Is social behavior affected by the media? Do children who have grown up 
on a steady diet of television behave differently than they would if it did not 
exist? 

These questions lie at the heart of our current concern about the media 
and violence. Serious and disinterested observers differ as to how to frame the 
best answer on the basis of our present knowledge. Observers with a stake in 
the media capitalize on our ignorance to reassure one another that the status 
quo will hold. 

Behavior is guided by belief. People act in a context of convictions about 
the meaning of their acts, what acts are appropriate in particular settings, and 
what responses may be expected from others. Action emerges from beliefs 
about the world and how one should respond to it. 

Human social behavior is learned. Much of this process occurs through trial 
and error, especially in the earliest years of life. It does not seem likely that 
television and other non-interactive media play a great role in such learning, 
since they cannot provide differentiated "feedback" to an individual. 
Whether an infant is crying or quiet, awake or asleep, hungry or full, walking 
or sitting, behaving well or mischievously, the television drones on and on, 
uninfluenced by the infant's behavior. Such an unresponsive communications 
system does not enter into trial and error learning. 

A great deal of human social behavior is also learned through observation 
and imitation. As the years pass, children acquire the ability to model their 
behavior after certain others, and this ability seems to be independent of 
rewards and punishments. To explain a child's behavior, we inquire about the 
observational learning opportunities which have been available to 
him "Where in the world did he learn to do thatf" We know that children 
watch television. Do they also imitate what they observe there? The inherent 
authenticity of television and movies makes it easy to believe that they do. 
Children understand such presentations as authentic and credible, and assume 
that the world is really the way it appears there. It is natural for them to take 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 27 1 

the behavior they observe on television as a model for their own. An amusing 
illustration of this comes from Britain: 

Presenting a resolution urging the Government to consider a code of 
conduct to guide people responsible for selecting television programs, 
Fred Armstrong [a member of the Rural District Councils Association, 
speaking at its annual conference] said that during one half-hour 
program the word "bloody" had been used 30 to 40 times. 

Was it surprising, he asked, when a 6-year-old boy told a woman in a 
shop she was a "bloody silly old moo" because his favorite candy was 
sold out? 8 

Although Americans might differ with this Briton as to the seriousness of 
the behavior he described, most would agree with him that the child's use of 
the proscribed word "bloody" probably resulted from his watching shows in 
which it was used by characters he subsequently imitated. At the other 
extreme is another account of imitative behavior in Britain, this time about a 
12-year-old boy who was found dead at his home in Leicester, in the English 
Midlands: 

Television chiefs issued a warning to millions of youngsters today 
after an inquest on a boy who died while imitating his masked and 
cloaked hero, "Batman" ... His father . . . told the inquest yesterday he 
thought his son, hanged while wearing a homemade Batman-style 
outfit, had been leaping from a cabinet in the garden shed when his 
neck caught in a nylon loop hanging from the roof. The inquest verdict 

was misadventure. 

After the inquest [the father] said that he hoped the Batman show 
would be taken off British television. "It is far too dramatic and 
hair-raising," he said. "It encourages children to attempt the 
impossible." A television company spokesman said: 

"We regret that the death of Charles Lee should be attributed to his 
viewing of Batman. Young viewers are cautioned that they should make 
no attempt to imitate Batman's activities. 

"Before each episode young viewers are reminded that Batman does 
not in fact fly and that all of his exploits are accomplished by means of 
his secret equipment." 9 

What are we to think of this event? In what sense is television 
"responsible" for this child's violent death? Is this twelve-year-old's imitative 
behavior in the same category as the six-year-old's remarks about "a bloody 
silly old moo"? 

Adult behavior, as well as children's, may be imitative. On December 13, 
1966, the National Broadcasting Company presented a filmed drama entitled 
"The Doomsday Flight." 

The plot of the film centered on the placement of a bomb on a 
transcontinental airliner . . . The plane emerged safely because it landed 
at an altitude above that at which the bomb was triggered to go off. 
The supposed suspense lay in tracing the deranged man who kept 
teasing officials with information on his deadly act. 1 



272 Mass Media and Violence 

While the film was still on the air, a bomb threat (which turned out to be a 
hoax) was telephoned to one U.S. airline. Within twenty-four hours of the 
show, four more had been phoned in. Within the week following the show, 
eight such hoax calls in all were received by various U.S. airlines, including 
American, TWA, Eastern, Pan-American, and Northwest. 1 * These eight bomb 
threats in one week equaled the number of such calls that had been received 
in the entire previous month, according to the Federal Aviation Agency. 1 2 

Before the film was shown, the Air Lines Pilots Association had urged 
NBC to keep the program off the air in the interest of air safety. They advised 
NBC that experience had shown that "the mentally unstable are highly 
responsive to, and easily provoked by, suggestion." 1 ' The pilots indicated 
that they feared the program could cause an irrational person to commit an 
act of sabotage. Telegrams were sent by the president of the pilots' 
association to the author of the script, to an NBC vice president, to the West 
Coast publicity director for NBC, and to the producer of the film at a 
Hollywood studio. 14 When no response was received, another representative 
of the pilots' association telephoned another NBC vice president in a further 
attempt to convince the network to call off the program. 

These efforts proved unsuccessful. The film was shown and the feared rash 
of bomb hoaxes did ensue. Fortunately, there is no record that a bomb was in 
fact placed on any plane. Unfortunately, we have no information on the 
identities of the individuals who translated screen behavior into acts in their 
own lives. We do not know their ages, their social histories, nor whether they 
were "disturbed," "unstable," or "impulsive." Probably some of them were. 
Many such individuals do exist in our society, and in our concern for the 
effects of television, we must consider them as well as the "balanced," 
"stable," and "restrained" persons for whom such a ready translation from 
drama to reality may be unthinkable. 

For many years, black citizens have objected to the stereotyped 
representations of Negroes in the mass media. They have resented the fact 
that blacks were almost always portrayed in subordinate and menial roles, 
such as servants, shoeshine boys, fieldhands, and ne'er-do-wells. They have 
felt that these condesending and two-dimensional portrayals would influence 
the way Americans felt about black people, even the way black Americans 
would feel about themselves. This argument rests on the assumption that 
people "accept" and "believe" the fictional representations in the media. The 
depth of the objections of black citizens lends seriousness to this assumption. 
It has not been sufficient to reply, "but it's only a story" or, "that's only 
fantasy." Even the media men themselves have finally accepted the validity of 
this argument, and serious efforts are now being made to portray blacks in 
dignified and admirable roles, to represent in the media the true variety of the 
human condition among black as well as white Americans. They have taken 
seriously the notion that for some Americans the media constitute their only 
acquaintance with blacks, and that therefore it is important for the media 
portrayals to be fair and realistic. Should we take seriously the notion that 
for some Americans the media constitute their principal acquaintance with 
violence and aggression, and that they learn about these phenomena and how 
to deal with them solely through the media? 

Several research studies have addressed this question. One examined the 
influence of violence in the mass media upon children's role expectations. 1 5 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 273 

An effort was made to study young children's impressions of a taxi driver a 
role chosen because taxi drivers are not widely sterotyped in our society. One 
group of second graders heard a series of radio dramas about taxi drivers. In 
each "thrilling episode," the taxi driver got into trouble with another person 
and extricated himself by being violently aggressive against the other person. 
A second group of children in the same grade heard a series which differed 
from the other only in the endings. In this series, tjie endings were not 
violent instead, the taxi driver found a constructive way to resolve the 
problem. 

To determine whether the children's reality conceptions had been 
influenced by these fictional presentations, the researcher gave each child a 
newspaper test. The child was shown a copy of the local newspaper and was 
asked to explain what a newspaper is. Only those who understood that a 
newspaper reports reality were in the final analysis. The individual who 
showed the newspaper to the child had not been involved in the earlier 
playing of the dramas on radio, nor did she acknowledge any acquaintance 
with them. She asked the child to tell her how certain newspaper stories 
ended. The first stories presented to the child concerned current local 
news the current weather, the fact that Lincoln's Birthday was approaching 
and that it would be a school holiday. Then the child was read stories about 
local taxi drivers, and asked to finish the story. One of these stories related an 
episode very similar to one the children had heard enacted on the radio. The 
children who had heard the violent endings to the radio drama gave very 
different responses to this newspaper story than did those who had heard the 
non-violent series. The responses were categorized according to whether the 
child attributed high, intermediate, or low aggression to the taxi driver in 
completing the newspaper account. In this Pennsylvania community, taxi 
drivers are helpful and friendly, so it is not surprising that the children who 
had heard the non-violent radio dramas tended to finish the news story in a 
way that attributed no aggression (two-thirds of the cases) or only 
intermediate aggression (in the other one-third) to the taxi driver. The 
children who had heard the violent series, on the other hand, apparently 
thought that taxi drivers in their own town would behave the same way as the 
fictional ones, for half of them finished the news account in a way that 
attributed "high" aggression to the local taxi driver, and only one-third 
attributed no aggression. 

This small study would need to be duplicated with various children, roles, 
and media before we could generalize from its findings. In the meantime, it 
warns us that the distinction between reality and fantasy may be blurred for 
normal young children. 

A striking series of studies by Professor Albert Bandura and his colleagues 
at Stanford University has demonstrated that children learn aggressive 
behavior from television and that they enact this behavior in their play under 
suitable circumstances. In earlier studies, Bandura had already shown that 
children will imitate the specifics of aggressive behavior they observe in an 
adult. 1 6 He and his colleagues then conducted a study to determine whether 
children will imitate aggression they observe in a film as readily as they will 
imitate aggression they observe performed by adults. 1 7 

The study included ninety-six nursery school children, ranging in age from 
less than three to nearly six, with an average age of four and one-half. He 



274 Mass Media and Violence 

assigned the children arbitrarily to four categories. A child in the first 
category, the "Real-Life Aggressive condition," was brought to a room and 
given some materials to play with at a small table. After the child settled 
down to play, an adult in another part of the room began playing with several 
toys, including a mallet and a five-foot inflated plastic Bobo doll. The adult 
was aggressive toward the Bobo doll in highly novel and distinctive ways, and 
performed each of these aggressive acts like pummeling the Bobo on its head 
with a mallet several times in the course of the session. The child, of course, 
observed this aggressive adult behavior occurring in his presence. A child in 
the second category was brought to the same playroom, set to playing with 
the same toys, and then shown a color film on which the same adult model 
displayed the same sequence of novel aggressive behaviors to a Bobo doll. 
This was called the "Human Film-Aggression condition." A child in the third 
category was shown a cartoon film showing an adult costumed as a cat, 
playing against a fantasyland backdrop of brightly colored trees, butterflies, 
etc. On this film, the cat was similarly aggressive towards the Bobo doll. 
Finally, children in the fourth category were reserved as a comparison group, 
with no exposure to aggressive models in the course of the study. 

Immediately after the experience described above, the child was taken to 
an anteroom containing a variety of highly attractive toys. The experimenter 
told him he might play with them, but once he had begun, the experimenter 
purposely frustrated the child by saying she had decided to reserve the toys 
for some other children. She indicated that instead he could play with some 
toys in another room. They went to that room, where the adult busied herself 
with paperwork at a desk, while the child played with the toys. These 
included toys typically used in aggressive play and others associated with 
unaggressive activities. Among them was a Bobo doll and a mallet. The child 
played for twenty minutes, while his behavior was observed and scored by 
judges watching through a one-way mirror from an adjoining room. 

The main finding of this study was that children who had observed adult 
aggression prior to being frustrated were more aggressive in their subsequent 
play than those who had been frustrated, but had not observed any adult 
aggression. The average total aggression score for the control children was 54, 
while the average was 83 for children in the "Real-Life Aggressive" category, 
92 for those in the "Human Film-Aggressive" category, and 99 for those in 
the "Cartoon Film- Aggressive" category. 

The second finding was that the aggression of the children who had 
observed adult models would be imitative. The child's behavior during the 
play session was rated as imitative, partially imitative, or non -imitative. An 
imitative act was one which directly copied the adult behavior the child had 
seen earlier, with the child exhibiting the very acts he had observed or 
speaking the very words the adult had spoken. In the "Real-Life" and 
"Human Film" categories, eighty-eight percent of the children exhibited 
varying degrees of imitative aggression, and in the "Cartoon Film" condition, 
seventy-nine percent did so. Not only were these children more aggressive as a 
whole, but, more significantly, the character of their aggressive behavior was 
closely modeled on the behavior they had observed in adults, whether live or 
on film. Scores for imitative aggression were significantly higher for the 
children who had observed models than for the control children, and the 
same was true for scores of partially imitative aggression On the other hand, 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 275 

aggressive gunplay was displayed equally by the various groups. This is an 
example of aggressive behavior which had not been modeled by the adults in 
the experiment. 

This study holds special interest not only because it demonstrates that 
children mimic the aggressive behavior of adults, whether they observe this 
behavior in the flesh or on film, but also because it demonstrates that the 
kind of film seen does not seem to affect the mimicking process significantly. 
The fantasy-reality distinction in which adults believe seems to have little 
significance for the bright middle-class pre-school children Bandura and his 
colleagues studied. 

One reason that Bandura's work is so widely respected by other 
psychologists is that his conclusions do not rest on a single study. He has 
conducted a series of investigations over the years, using different children 
and different films. Each study adds to the strength of the conclusions we can 
draw. 

A second study meriting close consideration here used nursery school 
children whose ages ranged from three to five years, with an average of just 
over four years. 18 They were assigned at random to different categories. A 
child in the first category was taken to a playroom where the adult 
experimenter worked at a desk while the child watched a five-minute film 
projected on a TV console. This film concerns two adult men, Rocky and 
Johnny. At the beginning, Johnny is playing with his highly attractive 
collection of toys. Rocky asks to play with some, and Johnny refuses. Rocky 
then behaves aggressively toward Johnny and his possessions, enacting a series 
of highly unusual and distinctive aggressive behaviors while making hostile 
remarks. (These unusual and distinctive acts of aggression were employed in 
this series of studies to enable observers to distinguish imitative acts of 
aggression in the child's subsequent play from other stereotyped acts 
common to the play of many children.) Rocky is the victor as the result of 
his aggressive behavior, and "the final scene shows Johnny seated dejectedly 
in the corner while Rocky is playing with the toys, serving himself generous 
helpings of 7-Up and cookies, and riding a large bouncing hobby horse with 
gusto. As the scene closes, Rocky packs the playthings in a sack and sings a 
merry tune." 1 9 A commentator announces that Rocky is the victor. 

Another film was used which also involved aggression between Rocky and 
Johnny, but was rearranged in sequence so that the aggression behavior 
shown by Rocky results in his being severly punished. "Rocky is thoroughly 
thrashed by Johnny. As soon as he succeeds in freeing himself, Rocky flees to 
a corner of the room where he sits cowering, while Johnny places his toys in 
the sack and walks away. The announcer comments on Rocky's 
punishment." 20 

After viewing one of these films, the child was taken to a room for a 
twenty-minute play session which was observed and scored by judges behind 
a one-way vision screen. This room contained some toys similar to those in 
the film, and others as well the latter being present to avoid loading the dice. 
The child's imitative aggressive acts and his nonimitative aggressive acts were 
recorded. 

The total aggressive scores of the children in the "Aggressive 
Model-Rewarded" category were 75.2, which is significantly higher than the 
total for children in the "Aggressive Model-Punished" category (53.5). In 



276 Mass Media and Violence 

contrast, children who had seen neither film but who simply were brought to 
the playroom for a twenty-minute play session had total aggression scores 
that were intermediate (61.8). Most of the aggression was not sufficiently 
close to that exhibited by Rocky and Johnny to be called imitative, but the 
imitative aggression that was observed occurred more commonly among the 
Model- Rewarded children than among the Model-Punished children, and both 
showed more imitative aggressi jn than the controls, who had never observed 
the distinctive adult behaviors. 

After the play session was over, a child was asked to evaluate the behavior 
exhibited by Rocky and Johnny, and to select the character he preferred to 
emulate. Among the children who had seen Rocky emerge the victor because 
of his aggressiveness, 60 percent preferred him, 5 percent preferred Johnny, 
and 35 percent voiced no preference. Among those who had seen Johnny 
triumph despite Rocky 's aggressiveness, 20 percent preferred Johnny, 20 
percent preferred Rocky, and 60 percent had no preference. 

Almost without exception the children who said they preferred Rocky as 
a model were nonetheless critical of his behavior. They preferred him despite 
his infamy, siding with the winner: " 'Rocky is harsh, I be harsh like he was,' 
'Rough and bossy/ 'Mean/. . .'Rocky beat Johnny and chase him and get all 
the good toys.' 'He come and snatched Johnny's toys. Get a lot of 
toys' . . . 'He was a fighter. He got all good toys.' " 2 1 Bandura's comment on 
the meaning of this finding deserves to be quoted: 

The finding that successful villainy may outweigh the viewers' value 
systems has important implications for the possible impact of televised 
stimulation on children's attitudes and social behavior. The present 
experiment involves only a single episode of aggression that was 
rewarded or punished. In most televised programs the "bad guy" gains 
control over important resources and amasses considerable social and 
material rewards through a series of aggressive maneuvers, whereas his 
punishment is generally delayed until just before the last commercial. 
Thus children have opportunities to observe many episodes in which 
antisocially aggressive behavior has paid off abundantly and, 
considering that immediate rewards are much more influential than 
delayed punishment in regulating behavior, the terminal punishment of 
the villain may have a relatively weak inhibitory effect on the viewer. 2 2 

These two studies demonstrate that young children imitate the specific 
acts of aggression they have observed in the behavior of adults on film or 
television. This imitation occurs whether the dramatic presentation is realistic 
or fantasylike. Imitation is enhanced if the aggression brings rewards to the 
adult who is observed and minimized if the aggression brings punishment. 

A third, more recent study by Bandura again confirms the finding on 
imitation. However, it is somewhat more ominous in its implications, for it 
shows that children acquire from watching television the capability of 
performing imitatively many more acts of aggression than they spontaneously 
exhibit that children learn more from television than their spontaneous 
behavior reveals. 

The sixty-six children who participated in this third study were again of 
nursery school age, averaging just over four years of age. 23 They were 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 277 

assigned at random to three categories-"Model Rewarded," "Model 
Punished," and "No Consequences." A child in the first category began his 
participation by watching a five-minute television show in which an adult 
exhibited physical and verbal aggression toward a Bobo doll. In the closing 
scene of the Model Rewarded film, a second adult appeared, bearing an 
abundant supply of candies and soft drinks, informed the model that he was a 
"strong champion," and that his superb performance of aggression clearly 
deserved a treat. He then gave the model various desirable foods, and while 
the model consumed these he continued to describe and praise the model's 
feats. 

A child in the "Model Punished" category saw a performance which was 
identical to the above in its initial sequences, but concluded with a second 
adult's reproving rather than praising the model: 

"Hey there, you big bully. You quit picking on that clown. I won't 
tolerate it." As the model drew back he tripped and fell, and the other 
adult sat on the model and spanked him with a rolled-up magazine while 
reminding him of his aggressive behavior. As the model ran off cowering, 
the agent forewarned him, "If I catch you doing that again, you big bully, 
I'll give you a hard spanking. You quit acting that way." 24 

Finally, a child in the "No Consequences" category saw a performance 
involving only the initial section of the above film, the part showing the 
adult's aggression toward the Bobo doll. 

Each child was then observed in a ten-minute play session while alone in a 
room containing a variety of toys, among which were some similar to those 
used by the adult model on the film. Judges observed through a one-way 
screen and recorded the occurrence of imitative aggressive responses. Then 
the experimenter returned to the playroom, bringing an assortment of fruit 
juices and booklets of sticker pictures to be presented to the child as rewards. 
She then asked, "Show me what Rocky did in the TV program," and "Tell 
me what he said," promising to reward the child for each imitation 
performed. 

The findings of this study have to do with how much imitative aggression 
each child performed spontaneously in the ten-minute session as compared 
with how much imitative aggression he showed himself capable of performing 
when offered an incentive. 

As might be expected from the earlier studies, the children in the "Model 
Rewarded" and the "No Consequences" categories mimicked the adult model 
in their own free play, doing so more frequently than those in the "Model 
Punished" category. Again we have a demonstration that children imitate 
aggression they observe on television and again the finding that punishment 
of the adult in the television show serves to inhibit the children's tendency to 
imitate spontaneously. 

When requested to imitate the adult's behavior and offered an incentive, 
each group of children performed more imitative acts of aggression than had 
been performed spontaneously in free play. This demonstrated that the 
children were capable of more imitative aggression than they had initially 
shown. Further, those in the "Model Punished" category could imitate 
aggressive acts just as efficiently as those in the "Model Rewarded" and "No 



278 Mass Media and Violence 

Consequences" categories. Remarkably, the girls in this study (as had the girls 
in the other two) exhibited less imitative behavior in their own free play than 
the boys, but when offered an incentive for imitating aggression, the 
mimicked essentially as many aggressive acts as the boys. 

Thus, this third study of Bandura's reinforces the theory that children 
learn some of the behavior they observe. Some sequences of their learning are 
exhibited spontaneously in their play, and others can be elicited if the setting 
is right. This is equally true whether the observed behavior was condemned 
and had painful consequences, was rewarded and had positive consequences, 
or was neither rewarded nor punished and had no known consequences. The 
study suggests that the observed consequences of behavior have some 
influence on the spontaneous mimicking of that behavior, but none on the 
retention of the capability to imitate the behavior when offered an incentive 
for doing so. 

A related study deserves brief mention. The participants were seventy-two 
children, ages six to eight, from a lower-middle-class neighborhood. 25 Every 
child saw the same four-minute color film showing an adult performing a 
series of novel acts with various toys. For example, when he first came on 
stage, the adult had his right hand cupped over his eyes. Later, he tossed bean 
bags at a target, but instead of standing erect, he bent over with his back to 
the target and threw the bean bags through his legs. 

Children were assigned at random to three categories. Some simply 
observed the film. Others were instructed to verbalize every action of the 
model as they watched the actions unfold on the TV screen. Those in the 
third category engaged in competing symbolization, counting aloud while 
they watched the TV film: "1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 . ." 

Each child was then taken to a room containing the toys the adult had 
used in the film. The experimenter asked him to demonstrate every one of 
the model's actions he could recall. She praised and rewarded each correct 
response. She also prompted the child with a standard set of cues, asking him 
to show the way the adult behaved in the opening scene, to demonstrate what 
the adult had done with the dart gun, the Bobo doll, and the bean bags, and 
to portray the adult's behavior in the closing scene. 

The children did very well in mimicking the adult they had just observed. 
Those who had simply, watched the four-minute television show were able to 
reproduce an average of fourteen sequences of behavior. Not surprisingly, 
those children who had verbalized the sequences as they watched the same 
film could reproduce even more an average of seventeen. As expected, 
completing verbal activity interfered with the child's retention of the film 
content the children who had counted aloud during the film could 
reproduce only nine of the sequences afterwards. 

Again we have a demonstration of the child's powers of observation and 
retention. Such demonstrations have interested other psychologists, and a 
number of them have conducted studies providing independent confirmation 
of this phenomenon. 26 What is especially significant about these studies is 
their concern with the child's behavior. Many questionnaire and interview 
studies report what people say they think and what they say they might do or 
not do, but these report what the subjects actually do. 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 279 

D. Conclusions 

Every civilization is only twenty years away from barbarism. For twenty 
years is all we have to accomplish the task of civilizing the infants who are 
born into our midst each year. These savages know nothing of our language, 
our culture, our religion, our values, or our customs of interpersonal relations. 
The infant knows nothing about communism, fascism, democracy, civil 
liberties, the rights of the minority as contrasted with the prerogatives of the 
majority, respect, decency, ethics, morality, conventions, and customs. The 
barbarian must be tamed if civilization is to survive. Over the centuries, man 
has evolved methods of accomplishing this. 

Our methods of "socializing" the barbarian hordes who invade our 
community every year rely on their remarkable learning abilities. The infant 
learns by trial and error, and man has capitalized on this ability by rewarding 
infants for acceptable behavior and punishing them for unacceptable 
behavior. The infant develops a close attachment to one or two persons who 
care for him and meet his needs, and because of this he desires to conform to 
their wishes and expectations. Man has capitalized on the infant's propensity 
to make attachments by assigning special educative responsiblities to mothers 
and fathers. The young child learns through observation and imitation, and 
throughout the ages man has provided opportunities for young people to 
learn from their elders in apprentice relations the girl learning housewifery 
by watching her mother, the boy learning farming skills by working alongside 
his father, the youngsters learning hunting skills by observing the experienced 
hunters. The young child learns through oral instruction, and man makes use 
of this opportunity by talking to children about the social group and its 
values and ideals, by relating legends, telling tales, gossiping, sermonizing, 
lecturing, conversing, explaining, scolding, and moralizing. The young child 
learns from graphic representations, and for many years parents have created 
pictorial representations of the culture, its religious symbols, its heroes, and 
its workers. All of these age-old techniques of socialization have enabled man 
to teach most of the young barbarians how to behave as members of the 
group if civilization is to flourish. 

In the modern era, these techniques continue to be very important, but 
they have been joined by others whose impact is less well understood. At 
first, the new methods of teaching were available only to a privileged few. 
Thus, the method of teaching through written instruction reached only those 
who had been taught to read and who could gain possession of rare scripts. As 
the technology of printing and distribution of printed materials advanced, 
more and more individuals had access to the printed word, and more and 
more were taught the literacy skills needed to gain meaning from print. Thus 
the printed word became important in socializing the young. Any educated 
person is impressed with the extent of this importance, and perhaps it is 
worthwhile to remind the reader that the ability to read is acquired late in a 
child's life, long after his basic social learning has been accomplished, and the 
ability to read efficiently comes even later. The child is well advanced before 
he is so skillful in reading that the printed page can modify his behavior or 
alter his beliefs. 



280 Mass Media and Violence 

The newer forms of communication circumvent this difficulty. As we have 
discussed, they are meaningful to the illiterate as well as to the tutored. The 
most powerful of these new forms, movies and television, communicate with 
the individual both audibly and visually. The most powerful medium of all, 
television, accomplishes this feat in the individual's own home, bringing into 
that arena instantaneous reports of events in the world around him, not only 
in his neighborhood and city, but in his nation and other nations. 

The fact that we do not think of the new media as being instructors for 
our young does not affect their teaching ability. Although it is not governed 
by a board of education, TV does teach. We think of radio, movies, and TV as 
"entertainment," but in fact children learn efficiently from them. Our 
media-saturated college students, born eighteen or twenty years ago, just as 
television was coming into prominence, get their kicks from playing "Trivia," 
a campy game of inconsequential questions and answers about radio, TV, 
movies, comic books, and popular songs in which the effectiveness of these 
media as teachers is demonstrated by the young people's ability to answer 
questions like "Who was Bob Hope's radio announcer?" "What was the 
consolation prize on 'The $64,000 Question'?" and "Who was the singer of 
'Come on-a My House'?" A Trivia Contest was held at Columbia University in 
1967, with teams from Princeton, Yale, Pennsylvania, Barnard, and other 
elite schools battling it out, and with the winner receiving a trophy while a 
chorus sang the Mr. Trivia song "There he goes, think of all the crap he 
knows." The proud winner declared, "You have to get your basic training 
from the time you are six until perhaps 12 or 13," and credited his success to 
"my garbage-filled mind." 27 

The new media speak directly to the child's two best developed senses, 
conveying a reality which is not very different from the other realities he 
experiences. A child who has seen President Johnson on television would 
recognize him instantly if he should encounter him; a child who has only read 
about Mr. Johnson or heard his name spoken would not recognize him on 
sight, but instead would need to be told, "That's our President, Mr. 
Johnson." It is precisely the direct correspondence between reality and the 
television representation of reality with no need for reliance on verbal labels 
for encoding and decoding that makes television so powerful. 

American children, spend many hours a week watching television. They 
begin watching at a very young age, and are faithful to the set on weekdays 
and weekends, throughout the summer, and during the school year, with the 
result that at age sixteen, the average American child has spent as many hours 
watching television as he has spent in school. Is it a fair bet that the two 
sources of information have affected his social learning equally? 

Perhaps, but one might lean toward television. The child turned to "the 
tube" at a younger and more impressionable age, and he attended the 
television school on his own initiative and volition, not because of the 
combination of social pressures, parental expectations, and truancy laws 
which enforce school attendance. One hears a great deal about school 
dropouts, but very little about those who do not watch television. The ability 
of television to hold its audience better than our schools can hold their 
students may tell us something about its superior effectiveness as a 
communicator and thus as a teacher. 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 28 1 

What is this electronic mechanism teaching the child? The Christian 
Science Monitor completed a survey of TV programming six weeks after the 
assassination of Senator Kennedy. In 85^ hours of programming in prime 
evening hours and on Saturday mornings, 84 killings were observed. Both acts 
of violence and threats of violence were recorded. 

The survey found that the most violent evening hours were between 
7:30 and 9, when, according to official network estimates, 26.7 million 
children between the ages of 2 and 17 are watching -television. 

"In those early evening hours, violent incidents occurred on an 
average of once every 16.3 minutes. After 9 p.m., violence tapered off 
quickly, with incidents occurring once every 35 minutes, " the paper 
said. 

"In the early evening, there was a murder or killing once every 31 
minutes," the survey reported. "Later, once every two hours." 28 

Everything that social scientists know about human learning and 
remembering tells us that this carnage is being observed and remembered by 
the audience. If children can remember and reproduce fourteen or fifteen 
sequences of behavior from one of Bandura's amateurish five-minute films, 
how much do they remember from hour after hour of 
professionally-produced TV? 

The fact that a student can recall the 1946 singing commercial, "Use Ajax, 
boom, boom, the foaming cleanser" when playing Trivia does not mean that 
he mil use that foaming cleanser when he grows up and has to scour his toilet 
bowl. Similarly, the fact that children watch TV "pictures of mayhem, 
mugging, and murder" 2 9 does not mean that they will perform comparable 
acts of violence in their own lives. This is obvious from our crime statistics, 
which show that children are among the least violent of our citizens, and that 
violence is most characteristic of the adolescent and young adult male. 

However, television time is sold to sponsors on the conviction that 
although the Ajax ad will not guarantee that the viewer will buy the product, 
it raises the probability that he will. Social scientists would simply make the 
same claim for filmed or televised violence, whether fictitious or real. Viewing 
the carnage does not guarantee that the viewer will "go forth and do 
likewise," but it raises the probability that he will. 

Media spokesmen make much of the fact that as yet social scientists have 
no convincing proof for this hypothesis. 30 They minimize the fact that the 
evidence for it is accumulating year by year and at an accelerating rate. They 
also ignore the fact that there is no convincing scientific evidence for or 
against most of our social practices and policies. 

To the media spokesman, one is tempted to reply "Media man speaks with 
forked tongue." The television industry exists and reaps its profits from the 
conviction that television viewing does affect behavior buying behavior. 

Is it fanciful to imagine that there may be a relation between the Trivia 
game at Columbia in 1967 and the violence at Columbia in 1968? Where did 
the students learn the attitudes and the aggressive behaviors that they vented 
against the police? Where did they learn the implicit values that seemed to 
justify their expressing what may be entirely legitimate grievances in such 



282 Mass Media and Violence 

profoundly antisocial ways? They acknowledge that their minds are "garbage 
filled" by the media, and we may wonder whether they are "aggression 
stuffed" by the same sources. 

The evidence that we do have indicates that films and television are 
profoundly educative for their viewers, teaching them that the world is a 
violent and untrustworthy place, and demonstrating for them a variety of 
violent techniques for copying with this hostile environment. Whether this 
message is beamed as fact or fiction, it is accepted by young children. They 
incorporate in their own behavior patterns all the sequences of adult behavior 
they observe on television. 

Whether they will ever employ these aggressive behaviors in their 
interpersonal relations depends on many complex factors. Every individual is 
capable of more different behaviors than he has occasion to display. Many of 
us remember our high school French, and although years pass without 
presenting us with any occasion to speak it, we continue to retain some 
capability of doing so when the occasion does arise. The analogy to television 
violence is not exact, for television as a school for violence enrolls adult 
viewers as well as high school students, and has them in class for many more 
hours than any French teacher ever did. When the occasion arises that calls 
for violence, one does not have to cast his mind to his high school classroom, 
but only to last night's or last week's "thrilling episode." 

What else will he remember from that episode? There was a muider every 
half hour during prime viewing time on 1968 network television. How many 
instances are there of constructive interventions to end disagreement? What 
other methods of resolving conflict are shown? How many instances of tact 
and decency could an avid televiewer chronicle during the same hours? How 
often is reconciliation dramatized? How many adult acts of generosity are 
provided to children for modeling? What strategies for ameliorating hate are 
displayed? How many times does the child viewer see adults behaving in 
loving and helpful ways? What examples of mutual respect does he view? 
What can he learn about law and order? How many episodes of police 
kindness does he see? How frequently does the glow of compassion illuminate 
the screen? 



References 

1. Douglas E. Kneeland, "Pocketbook Issues Secondary in Rural Iowa," New York 
Times, Oct. 18, 1968, p.34. 

2. Russell Baker /'Nightmare out of the Attic," New York Times, June 6, 1968. 

3. Clive Barnes, "Heller's 'We Bombed in New Haven' Opens," New York Times, Oct. 
18, 1968, p. 36. 

4. George Willey, "Does Happy Ending Justify Violence?" Palo Alta (Calif.) Times, 
June 10, 1968, p. 22. 

5. George Willey, "Editing out Violence Poses Problems," Palo Alto (Calif.) Times, 
Oct. 8, 1968, p. 16. 

6. Philip H. Dougherty, "Putting a Damper on Violence," New York Times, July 12, 
1968, p. 38. 

7. No reference 7. 

8. "Children in Britain, 13 to 14, called Rulers of the TV Set ," New York Times, July 
17, 1967, p. 12. 

9. "Young Britons Told Not to Copy Batman," New York Times, Aug. 25, 1966, p. 
42. 



The Effects of Media Violence on Social Learning 283 

10. Jack Gould, "The Doomsday Flight," New York Times, Dec. 15, 1966. 

11. Jack Gould, "A Bomb Backfires," New York Times, Dec. 16, 1966. 

12. "TV Show Blamed by FAA For Rise in Bomb Hoax Calls," M?w York Times Dec 
21, 1966, p. 69. 

13. "Air Bomb Threats Follow TV Drama," New York Times, Dec. 15, 1966, pp. 35-56. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Alberta E. Siegal, "The Influence of Violence in the Mass Media Upon Children's 
Role Expectations," Child Development, 1958, vol. 29, pp. 35-56. 

16. A. Bandura and Althea C. Huston, "Identification as a Process of Incidental 
Learning," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1961, vol. 63, pp. 311-318; 
A. Bandura, Dorothea Ross, and Sheila A. Ross, "Transmission of Aggression 
Through Imitation of Aggressive Models," Journal of Abnormal and Social 
Psychology, 1961, vol. 63, pp. 575-582. 

17. A. Bandura, Dorothea Ross, and Sheila A. Ross, "Imitation of Film-Meditated 
Aggressive Models," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1963, vol. 66, pp. 
3-11. 

18. A. Bandura, Dorothea Ross, and Sheila A. Ross, "Vicarious Reinforcement and 
Imitative Learning," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1963, vol. 67, pp. 
601-607. 

19. Ibid., p. 602. 

20. Ibid. 

21. Ibid., p. 60S. 

22. Ibid., pp. 605-606. 

23. A. Bandura, "Influence of Models' Reinforcement Contingent on the Acquisition of 
Imitative Responses," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1965, col. 1, 
pp. 589-595. 

24. Ibid., p. 591. 

25. A. Bandura, Joan E. Grusec and Frances L. Menlove, "Observational Learning as a 
Function of Symbolization and Incentive," Child Development, 1966, vol. 37, pp. 
499-506. 

26. Mary A. Rosenkrans and W.W. Hartup, "Imitative Influence of Consistent and 
Inconsistent Response Consequences to a Model on Aggressive Behavior in 
Children," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 1967, vol. 7, pp. 429-434; 
Deanna Z. Kuhn, C.H. Madsen, and W.C. Becker, "Effects of Exposure to an 
Aggressive Model and 'Frustration' on Children's Aggressive Behavior," Child 
Development, 1967, vol. 38, pp. 739-745. 

27. "Triviaddiction," Time, March 10, 1967, pp. 69-70. 

28. "84 Killings Shown in 85% TV Hours on the 3 Networks," New York Times, July 
26, 1968, p. 29. 

29. Morris Ernst, quoted by George Gent in "Human Life Seen as Devalued by Violence 
in the Mass Media," New York Times, Sept. 17, 1968, p. 78. 

30. Joseph A. Loftus, "CBS Man Doubts Violence Theory: Tells Panel Studies Fail to 
Establish Links to TV," New York Times, Oct. 17, 1968, p. 87. This is an account 
of the testimony of Joseph T. Klapper before the National Commission on the 
Causes and Prevention of Violence. 



Chapter 13 

VALUE MODIFICATION 
BY MASS MEDIA* 



Before turning to research data that indicate modification of values by 
exposure to mass media, some clarification of concepts is required. 

Values may be briefly defined as conceptions of the desirable. 1 Most 
values can be stated in words, but for some this is difficult and even 
impossible. Even when people can verbalize their values, it is not clear how 
effective such values are as determinants of behavior. People may behave as 
they do because they hold certain values, but there are many other factors 
that shape almost any human act. 

Values can sometimes be stated by the people who hold them. 

Values can sometimes be inferred, even when not explicitly stated, from 
what people do, from rules that say what people should do, or from things 
people say. 

Values can change. Since the link between values and actions is 
problematic, however, a change in values does not necessarily entail changed 
behavior. Nor does changed behavior necessarily presuppose changed values. 
To be specific: a population might differ from its ancestors in the degree to 
which it admires certain forms of violence and the degree to which it abhors 
other forms, yet it might behave in the same violent ways on the same kinds 
of occasions as before. 

Some of the ways in which behavior may change without a corresponding 
change in values will be examined in the next section. The present analysis 
simply assumes that there is such connection between values and behavior 
that the fact that people behave in one way instead of another can sometimes 
be regarded as an expression of preference, and can thus be taken as a basis 
for inferring their values. If people interact with each other, for example, in 
situations where it would be possible for them to inflict physical injury upon 
each other, and if they seem to strive to avoid inflicting these injuries, it might 
be inferred that they value the lives of others. Perhaps each values only his 
own safety and behaves non-violently toward others to avoid retaliatory 



*Paper prepared for Media Task Force by William R. Catton, Jr., Professor of 
Sociology, University of Washington. 

285 



286 Mass Media and Violence 

violence: even then, the expectation of retaliation would imply a norm 
enforced by sanctions. The existence and enforcement of the norm would 
seem to imply that the secured condition is valued. "Live and let live" is 
preferred to "kill or be killed." 

Thus values can sometimes be inferred from norms. It will be assumed that 
values can be inferred from verbal expressions of preference. Patrick Henry's 
rhetorical question, "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at 
the price of chains and slavery?" was an implied expression of preference. At 
least on the verbal level, precarious liberty was being declared preferable to 
enslaved security; he was declaring the value of freedom. 

It should not be assumed that values inferred from verbal expressions of 
preference will necessarily be congruent with values inferred from non-verbal 
behavior. For example, men have not always responded affirmatively to the 
challenge to "Put your money where your mouth is." 

The process of inferring values from preferences, either verbal or 
non-verbal is not a simple one. If, on a certain stretch of road, we observe 
that most drivers of high-powered cars keep their speed under thirty miles per 
hour, we cannot simply infer that they value moving at a leisurely pace. More 
likely, they value avoidance of speeding tickets and accidents, and have seen 
signs indicating a twenty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit. The posted speed 
limit does not indicate that some legal authority assigns a negative value to 
speed as such; the negative value -may again be attached to the risks of 
accident, injury, or death which would be made excessive in this congested 
area by speeds that would be tolerable elsewhere. 

A. Acquisition of Values 

Values are acquired in the socializing process. To the extent that the mass 
media are involved in socializing human personalities, there is an inherent 
possibility that these media can affect the way people acquire values and the 
kinds of values they acquire. 

LaPiere speaks of a category of "fugitive" values, which people impute 
temporarily to certain acts or objects because of their newness. Group status 
is determined partly by sharing in these fugitive values. All groups assign such 
values. 2 For teenagers, there are slang expressions, popular songs, and hair 
styles. For academicians, there are intellectual fashions. For motorists, there 
is the value assigned to owning the latest model car. Mass media, of course, 
have the power to create or implement such fugitive values. This is indicated 
by the role of the radio disc jockey. The play he gives a particular record on 
the air affects its "popularity" far more than the frequency with which he, or 
any other private individual, plays it at home. This is why "payola" was 
considered scandalous, because people who have a fondness for music did not 
want to feel that the frequency with which a piece was played on the air was 
induced through monetary considerations. 

There are various ways in which different media can affect or have 
affected values. When a new medium first comes into existence, the mere fact 
that some people have access to it and some do not may give one group an 
advantage over another. In the ancient and medieval worlds, only a select 
segment of the population, distinguished by status and education, constituted 
the reading public. Literacy was at first associated with membership in a 



Value Modification by Mass Media 287 

ruling elite. 3 Now that literacy is so nearly universal in a number of lands, the 
ability to read no longer has that special value, although in a sense it has 
greater utility than ever because of the continued multiplication and 
diversification of written materials. Similarly, when the electronic media were 
new, social distinctions arose between set owners and non-owners. Quite 
apart from the impact of broadcast content upon audience values, set 
ownership had a social value that is now lacking. Both radio and television 
came on the scene after literacy was nearly universal in our society, and set 
ownership, especially of television, has now reached the same status. 

The transition from non-literacy to nearly universal literacy took several 
thousand years. The elite status of literate people in the early centuries of 
that transition was not a "fugitive" value. In the United States, it took less 
than one generation for radios to become standard household fixtures, and 
the corresponding transition for television took about a decade. Since 
universal literacy already prevailed at the beginning of these latter two 
transitions, it was never possible for early access to either of these electronic 
media to have the powerful stratifying effect that early access to literacy had 
had. Early television ownership did have some kind of "fugitive" value, but 
this seldom gave anyone access to a fund of information from which 
non-owners were totally and hopelessly cut off: newspapers and other media 
were always available. Consequently, what mattered to the television viewer 
was the subtler difference between the eye-witness quality of membership in 
the television audience versus the quality of indirectness inherent in 
membership in the audiences of the printed media. The difference between 
membership in the viewing audience of television and in the listening 
audience of radio was even less, though it was great enough to stimulate the 
rapid adoption of television by a nation already equipped with radios. 

The invention of printing increased the importance of literacy because 
there was more available to read. As literacy became more universal, it took 
on a different kind of value; the ability to read lost its aura of religious and 
political power. The spread of literacy provided the social context for the 
invention of new kinds of printed media, including the daily newspaper. A 
century ago relatively few people really needed to keep abreast of current 
events, but as newspaper publication began to make this more possible, the 
knowledge of current events acquired a social value (and a lack of this 
knowledge implied a loss of social status). 

The value of being "informed" was further enhanced with the advent of 
radio newscasting. It was now possible not only to know what had occurred, 
but to be involved in it in a new way. One did not just read about the 
President's "State of the Union" address; it could be heard on the radio, and 
this gave the message a great deal more immediacy. Accordingly, the value of 
audible events and experiences was enhanced. 

The advent of television did not reduce the number of radios, but did 
bring about a drastic change in radio programming. The audiovisual medium 
improved on some of the innovations that the sound-only medium had been 
performing rather well. Most drama, and a good deal of the news, were even 
more interesting when experienced through the audiovisual medium. 
Programmers soon realized that radio was at a distinct disadvantage in 
comparison with the sound-and-sight combination, and radio programming 
became largely confined to music and abbreviated news, and some special 



288 Mass Media and Violence 

events coverage and sportscasting aimed at people only temporarily out of 
touch with television. 

Just as radio newscasting discovered that the distinctive things it could do 
it must do (e.g., replay recorded excerpts of a president's speech rather than 
just a newscaster's descriptive summary), so the networks have found that 
because they can show interesting events, they must? The visual aspects of 
the news event or a drama thus acquired new values. During a radio broadcast 
of a presidential address, the listener is allowed to form his own opinions 
about the speech and the various points in it. Television, on the other hand, 
must (because it can) show which senators or congressmen are or are not 
applauding, and must show any disturbance in the gallery, or any cabinet 
member who happens to be dozing during any part of the speech. Because 
television can make eyewitnesses of its audience, it must and must therefore 
go out of its way to present interesting and unusual visual aspects. There is 
thus an inherent tendency for television to introduce a visual bias into our 
value system. 

Because television allows its audience to see and hear, its socializing power 
should be appreciably greater than that of radio, which in turn has somewhat 
more socializing power than most printed media. The power of visual 
broadcasting to change attitudes and behavior is well-illustrated in an 
experiment by Bandura and Menlove. 5 Children in nursery school at Stanford 
who were afraid of dogs showed a significant reduction in this behavior (on a 
test consisting of a graded series of actual acts of approach) after they had 
been exposed to eight three-minute films, two per day on four alternate days. 
The films showed a child making progressively bolder approaches to a dog. 
Two different treatments were tried in the experiment. One group saw a 
series of films which all used the same five-year-old male model and the same 
cocker spaniel. Another group saw a series in which the same single-model 
sequence was interspersed with scenes in which models of both sexes and of 
various ages approached different dogs in a graded series of increasing size and 
fearsomeness. Both groups showed significant and lasting reduction in their 
fear of live dogs in comparison with a control group of equally apprehensive 
children who were shown neutral films (Disneyland and Marineland scenes). 

Television programs frequently portray actions which most viewers would 
have some inhibition about performing from switching cigarette brands or 
using a hair color rinse for the first time, to killing an adversary. The viewing 
these events could be expected to reduce inhibitions to some degree, in much 
the same manner as the dog-approaching inhibitions of the children. Before 
the films were shown, the children had a negative attitude toward dogs; after 
seeing the films, in which approach behavior was exhibited without adverse 
consequences to the model, these values (as expressed in overt behavior) had 
been shifted in a positive direction. The children not only learned to 
approach the dog used in the experimental test, but their learning was 
generalized to include other dogs. 6 

It seems to be well established that differential vicarious reinforcement can 
produce differential amounts of imitative behavior. There is no reason for 
assuming that human actions described or depicted in the mass media will not 
function as models in this manner. Berelson and Salter, after performing a 
content analysis of a magazine fiction sample and finding majority-type 
Americans overrepresented among the characters and especially among the 



Value Modification by Mass Media 289 

favorably portrayed ones (whereas minority members were underrepresented 
numerically and unfavorably treated in the stories), commented on the 
"presumable effects" of such images. They had not actually studied reader 
behavior before and after exposure to the stories, but their comments are 
significant in the light of subsequent experiments on observational learning. 
They wrote: 

These stories are probably offered and accepted purely as 
entertainment. Their typical effect upon readers is ... respite . . . from 
daily routines and daily cares . . . but it is certainly not the only one. 
Many communications have other than their intended effects upon 
readers or listeners and this is probably such a case .... Readers with 
latent tendencies to assign the usual stereotypic descriptions to groups 
whom they do not know, or toward whom they are unsympathetic, or 
with whom they do not come in personal contact, can find support for 
their convenient tags, labels, and aggressions in such magazine fiction. 
Thus the condition and behavior of fictional characters can readily be 
used to "prove" that the Negroes are lazy or ignorant, the Jews sly, the 
Irish superstitious, the Italians criminal, and so on. 

The nature of these stories, then, tends to perpetuate the myth of 
the "100% American" by differentiating subtly and consistently 
between The Americans and the representatives of other groups. 7 

A key idea here is that people are influenced in serious ways even when 
they seek only entertainment (or "respite") by exposure to mass media. This 
was also found to be true in the case of those who listened to the radio 
daytime serials, or "soap operas." From a study of one hundred intensive 
interviews, Herzog noted three major types of soap opera listener 
gratification: (1) emotional release a "chance to cry," or derivation of 
comfort from sensing that "other people have troubles, too;" (2) 
opportunities for wishful thinking exposure to happy episodes which offset 
one's own problems; and (3) a chance to obtain usable advice. The third type 
was considered something of a surprise, and was further studied in a poll of 
2,500 serial listeners who were asked whether these programs helped them 
deal better with their own everyday problems. Forty-one percent claimed to 
have been helped, 28 percent said they had not been helped, and 31 percent 
had not thought of it that way, did not know, or did not reply. 8 

The propensity to take advice from radio serials varied inversely with 
education, directly with the perceived amount of worry, and directly with the 
number of soap operas listened to. The kind of advice obtained consisted 
mainly of: (1) learning "how to take it" (acquiring what might be termed 
"stoical values" and absorbing the conviction that "things come out all 
right"); (2) learning to project blame on others (because the interpersonal 
problems portrayed are attributable to another's character defects); and (3) 
acquiring ready-made formulas of behavior (e.g., don't slap your children, 
deprive them of something; take things calmly, don't get excited)? 

In England, Himmelweit and his associates found that, even with regard to 
values that are implicitly rather than explicitly preached editorially, television 
does have some measurable impact on children despite their exposure to 
many other sources of values. The influence of television depends on 



290 Mass Media and Violence 

repetition in dramatic form and is most possible where views are not firmly 
fixed. The optimal age of responsiveness varies for different topics and 
depends on emotional and social maturity as well as mental or chronological 
age. The more emotionally responsive the child is to television, the greater its 
influence. 10 

B. Crime and Viloence 

Several content analyses of television programming have shown the steady 
diet of crime shows available to viewers, many of which present recurrent acts 
of violence. Schramm and his associates asked a sample of parents, "If ycu 
could prevent certain TV programs from being seen by your children, what 
kinds would you try to prevent?" Almost two-thirds answered that they 
would like to eliminate programs of crime, violence, and horror. Then they 
were asked why they objected to these programs. The respondents thought 
that: (1) these programs tended to frighten children; (2) the children tended 
to dwell on and dream about them; (3) some children tended to re-enact 
some of the dramatic scenes; or (4) such programs might induce delinquency. 
These apprehensions were more common among college-educated, 
middle-class parents than among lower-class parents. 1 1 One interesting 
implication of the study is that the wish that children be insulated from such 
programs, and the fear that such programs would have harmful effects, did 
not seem to be accompanied by a conviction that parents actually could 
eliminate these programs from their children's television diet. 

These apprehensions and parents' implicit resignation to the pervasiveness 
of these unwanted influences are important. From several kinds of tests, 
Himmelweit demonstrated that 

. . . under certain conditions, ideas and values which form part of the 
underlying entertainment pattern do influence children's attitudes, not 
because they differ from the content of other mass media, but because 
they are repeated and seen much more often. We have no reason for 
assuming that respect for violence and aggression a basic feature of the 
popular dramatized programmes under review should have a smaller 
effect than other- scenes on television. 1 2 

Wertham has suggested several kinds of effects that might result from 
exposure to abundant television violence. Whether or not the viewer actually 
learns to value violence, Wertham suggests that viewing could conceivably 
reinforce a pro-violence value. Television could demonstrate violent methods 
or how to escape detection after a violent act, or the viewer's awareness of 
the undesirability of violence may merely be dulled. He sees television as a 
school for violence, and says, "In this school young people are never, literally 
never, taught that violence is in itself reprehensible. The lesson they do get is 
that violence is the great adventure and the sure solution, and he who is best 
at it wins." 1 3 

There is violence, for instance, in westerns. Some people assume that if 
these shows are regarded as teaching anything, it is that good wins out over 
evil. However, it can also be suggested that "good triumphs over bad through 



Value Modification by Mass Media 29 1 

violence-the manly, as well as the only, course of action." 14 There are other 
values presented (and perhaps taught to some viewers) by the westerns: 

.... regard for justice, life, and property. A whole range of values, 
however, never finds expression in Westerns those to do with family, 
work education, and manners. The characters do not need them in their 
way of life; they are rarely encumbered by parents, wives, or children, 
and seldom eat or go into their homes; most of the indoor action takes 
place in the sheriffs office or in the saloon. 1 5 

A number of studies have shown that exposure to violent or aggressive models 
can increase the propensity for aggressive behavior. Lovass conducted three 
experiments with preschool children who were exposed to five-minute movies 
and then allowed to play with a lever-pressing toy which can cause one doll to 
beat another on the hand. Exposure to a film that portrayed aggressive 
behavior increased the child's indulgence in this symbolic kind of aggression; 
exposure to a film of non-aggressive behavior did not. 16 Mussen and 
Rutherford carried out an experiment with thirty-six first-grade children of 
middle-class origin. A third of them were exposed to aggressive fantasy in an 
animated cartoon, another third to a non-aggressive cartoon, and the 
remainder to no cartoon. Those who viewed the aggressive cartoon 
manifested an increased subsequent preference for the prospect of bursting a 
balloon (or having it popped) over the prospect of merely playing with it. 1 7 
Balloons are trivial objects, and balloon popping may be a relatively minor 
form of aggression, but keeping in mind that values are conceptions of the 
desirable which we infer from preferences, the demonstration that viewing a 
single animated cartoon which portrays aggressive behavior can arouse a 
preference for even such mildly destructive behavior seems to indicate that 
visual media can influence values. 

In a sample of 354 sixth-to eighth-grade boys in the schools of Adelaide, 
Australia before television was available, Lovibond found that exposure to 
comic books and frequency of cinema attendance were positively correlated 
with scores on a scale designed to measure acceptance of a fascist-like 
admiration for use of force by the strong to dominate and exploit the weak. 
In a sample of ninety-three sixth-and seventh-graders, after television became 
available, this same scale was found to, be positively correlated with the 
number of hours viewed per week Moreover, preference for crime and 
violence programs was positively associated both with the scale scores and 
with high amounts of television exposure. 18 The attitude scale was 
constructed on the basis of a content analysis of crime and war comic books 
which found that these seem to express an ideology amounting to "idolatry 
of force and violence." 

Most of the people who write and draw for the comic-book industry 
presumably have little intention of instilling a set of values or an ideology in 
those who read their material. Certainly few of them are employed on the 
basis of credentials signifying that society has certified their qualification for 
transmission of values to children. However, an investigation of comic-book 
readership by children (similar to the study of women who listened to soap 
operas) reveals that such media do function as socializing agents. 



292 Mass Media and Violence 

Developmental, as well as entertainment, needs of children are served by 
comic-reading. 1 9 How well is another question. 

Zajonc found that radio programs could persuade children "to admire and 
identify with a model who bears striking resemblance to the so-called 
'authoritarian personality,' and who represents a system of values more 
typical of autocratic than of democratic societies." 2 The structure of the 
experiment showed that the acceptance of the values implicit in the model's 
behavior depended primarily on the success rather than on the 
conventionality of the behavior. 

Berkowitz and Geen demonstrated that the inhibitions of male 
undergraduates at Wisconsin against aggressive behavior could be reduced by 
showing a filmed episode of "justified aggression." Their aggressive responses 
toward another experimental subject were also increased when the name 
attributed to that person tended to associate him with the target of the 
justified aggression in the film. 2 1 

In the light of such studies, it is somewhat ironic that the various 
self-regulatory media codes of good practice insist that violence should not be 
shown unless germane to the dramatic development of the story. One test of 
relevance is that it produces a desired outcome; another is to have the 
violence directed toward a character who is defined as "deserving it." In 
either case, as the studies have shown, the conditions for effective 
observational learning through vicarious reinforcement have been ensured. To 
the child who views television for entertainment, but is also available for 
incidental learning (although this is unintended so far as the media people are 
concerned), violence that contributes to "dramatic development" 
accomplishes something. What is to prevent the child from learning that 
violence is an acceptable means to ends he may have learned or will 
subsequently learn to value? When the codes forbid "senseless" violence, but 
permit violence that leads to some end, perhaps they simply create the 
impression that violence is usually sensible an unintentional imparting of 
pro-violence values. 

In the very process of seeming to preach that "crime does not pay," the 
media may actually undermine the moral restraints against violent and 
anti-social behavior. Screenplays based on the precept of "an eye for an eye 
and a tooth for a tooth" can lead to "socially harmful consequences. If the 
criminal or 'bad guy' is punished aggressively, so that others do to him what 
he has done to them, the violence appears justified." 22 There is always the 
possibility that precisely those aspects of the dramatization which convey the 
sense that the violence was justified can stimulate some previously-angered 
person to violence. 23 

There is another danger worth noting. Even if mass media violence does 
not induce pro-violence values among the audience, it could so define 
violence as to make certain values seem inapplicable. By repeated exposure to 
stylized violence on television, for example, children may come to regard all 
violence, even in news broadcasts, as unreal or unimportant. 24 This might be 
the effect on some viewers, even while others were learning to admire the uses 
of violence and still others were learning to abhor violence. The existence of 
perceptual selectivity, so commonly cited in defense of the harmlessness of 
mass media, must also preclude any easy assurance that everyone in the 
audience will respond in a desirable way. 



Value Modification by Mass Media 293 

Wertham is not necessarily exaggerating when he says, "Many modern 
children fail to see the evil in horror and the wrong in violence and have lost 
their natural sympathy for the suffering of others. The trouble is not that 
they get frightened, but that they do not get frightened." 25 Crime dramas, in 
addition to portraying the value that crime because it does not pay is bad, 
also portray other values: (1) What you do does not matter so much as which 
side you are on; the "good guys" do many of the same things the "bad guys" 
do, and are admired for it. (2) Good appearances more often mask an evil 
character than vice versa. 2 6 

As a horizon-broadening experience, exposure to television affects the 
values of viewers in other ways. In England, more viewers than non-viewers in 
a children's sample disagreed with the statement "My own country is always 
right." 27 Evidently exposure to television can reduce ethnocentrism; some 
may desire and others may regret such an effect. Viewers in the same sample 
showed slightly more interest in other countries than did non-viewers. In 
describing six categories of foreigners, viewers made more objective and fewer 
evaluative statements that non-viewers. 28 The BBC policy of presenting 
programs about foreign countries for children had the effect of leading many 
viewers toward a more detached view of foreigners. 

C. Family and Sex 

In the same British sample, viewers and non-viewers did not differ 
significantly in the proportion wishing to marry when they grow up, or in 
percentage disagreeing with the expectation that marriage assures happiness. 
There was some difference in their impressions of what makes a good 
husband (the viewers were more inclined to stress personality attributes and 
the non-viev/ers gave proportionally more stress to role performance), but 
none in the impressions of what makes a good wife. Since television 
portrayals of family life are quite varied, their effects may tend to cancel one 
another out in an overall sampling of opinions. Moreover, for viewers and 
non-viewers alike, their own families still seem to function as the major 
source of children's ideas about family life. 29 

There is one important exception. Children usually have little opportunity 
(at least in American society) to observe adult sexual behavior directly, save 
for its milder or peripheral forms. Due to norms of privacy, children can 
hardly model their own sexual behavior after that of their parents. Characters 
portrayed in the mass media afford some additional opportunity for 
observational learning and may thus be of considerable importance. By 
contrast, children in some other societies have abundant opportunities to 
observe all phases of sexual behavior; in such societies there is a considerable 
amount of imitation by children. It is sometimes encouraged, and often fully 
accepted. 30 Similar imitative behavior occurs when opportunities do arise for 
children to observe adult sex activity in normally nonpermissive societies such 
as the United States. Such situations occur in crowded slum housing, for 
example, where parents have little privacy from their children. 3 1 

To the extent that sex is presented in the mass media, there is a pressure 
upon children to learn from these presentations because of the paucity of 
other opportunities for observational learning. Walters, Bowen, and Parke 
conducted an experiment which produced results suggesting that sex values 



294 Mass Media and Violence 

can be acquired from such experiences. Male college undergraduates were 
shown a series of photos of erotically posed nude or nearly nude males and 
females. A moving spot of light on the film was said to indicate the eye 
movements of a previous viewer. Half of the subjects saw a version of the film 
in which the spot of light (ostensibly "the previous viewer's eye") was on the 
background most of the time, and the other half was a version in which it was 
on the breast or genital area a high proportion of the time. An eye-marker 
camera attached to the subject's head recorded his own eye movements while 
he subsequently looked at a series of similar pictures, presented on slides. The 
group which was shown the second film spent significantly more time than 
the other group inspecting the nude or nearly nude bodies and significantly 
less time looking at the background features. 32 

Questions can be raised as to the validity of the sexual learning available to 
mass media audiences. Apart from the readers of the limited array of serious 
books about sex, what image of the sexual nature of human beings is 
obtained by the audiences from such media as movies, television, radio (and 
the popular songs it presents), and magazines? The balance between mutually 
rewarding marital sex and exploitive, obsessive, casual, or brutal sex varies 
from medium to medium. Again, as in the case of other kinds of 
communications, most of the people involved in preparing these images 
probably have little intention of instilling one kind of sex value or another in 
their audience. They are providing entertainment or some other supposedly 
effectless commodity, but their intentions may be an inadequate guide to 
their impact. 

D. Occupational Values 

In a study of television's version of the labor force, not only was the 
frequency of occurrence of various job types tabulated, but a listing was also 
made of the number of times each character, whatever his or her occupation, 
(1) gave an order to be carried out; (2) obeyed an order an order given by 
someone else; (3) gave permission to another person; (4) received permission 
from someone; (5) was addressed by a term of respect, such as "sir" or "your 
honor;" or (6) used such a term of respect in addressing someone else. From 
these tabulations, indexes of "power" for each occupational category were 
calculated by subtracting the number of submissive acts from the number of 
dominant acts and dividing the difference by the sum. 33 The ranking of jobs 
depicted in the analyzed programs (which was reasonably realistic) is not so 
important here; what is of interest is that the tabulations could be made with 
such facility. This showed that readily discernible acts of interpersonal 
dominance and submission are built into television portrayals of human 
interaction. 

Power or lack of it is not always a highly salient aspect of occupational 
roles in real life. As indicated before, the characteristics of television as a 
communication medium influence the kinds of material that will be selected 
for presentation. . In a television drama, the episodes in which employed 
people interact with each other may be easier to portray and more germane 
to development of the story than other aspects which are more characteristic 
of job performance. The pencil-pushing acts of a powerful occupational 



Value Modification by Mass Media 295 

category may, in real life, consume more time than the people-pushing acts, 
but they are unlikely to occupy a proportionate amount of the time in a 
television dramatization of that role. As a result, it is possible that television 
viewers come to assign greater importance to the visible signs of power, or 
even to the power aspects of positions, than they would in the absence of this 
influence. 

Himmelweit did find that the importance of viewers attached to jobs 
differed from that of non-viewers. Viewers were more ambitious and more 
"middle-class" in their job preferences, and often stressed the need for 
self-confidence as one of the factors contributing to personal success. 34 
Perhaps this was due, in part, to the repeated witnessing of dramatic 
symbolizations, where dominance is an indication of self-confidence, while 
deference indicates humility. 

E. Gratification Deferment 

The training of the maturing human being to defer certain activities until a 
more appropriate time is a necessary part of the socialization process. There 
are situations in which foregoing an immediate reward will facilitate the 
attainment of a larger reward later, such as studying rather than playing, or 
investing some of one's money rather than spending it all as it comes. Since 
immediate gratification is more appealing, it takes prolonged and intensive 
training to overcome the innate reluctance to defer gratification. The ability 
to defer gratification is generally considered an aspect of maturity, and is 
demonstrably useful. How is it affected by the mass media? 

Schramm and his associates made a study of 198 tenth-graders in Denver. 
They divided the group into categories of "high" and "low" users of print, 
and "high" and "low" users of television. On the premise that printed media 
and television differ in the presentation of fantasy versus reality, they formed 
four types: "Low users" (low TV, low print), "fantasy-oriented" (high TV, 
low print), "reality-oriented" (low TV, high print), and "high users" (high 
TV, high print). On a questionnaire, 83 percent of the "reality-oriented" 
disagreed with the statement that "The best way to live is to enjoy today and 
not think about tomorrow," while only 43 percent of the "fantasy-oriented" 
disagreed. In response to the statement, "The best way to be happy is to plan 
ahead," 58 percent of the "reality-oriented" agreed, and only 36 percent of 
the "fantasy-oriented" agreed. In response to the statement "It's a good idea 
to work hard today so you can enjoy tomorrow more," 56 percent of the 
"reality-oriented" agreed, as compared with only 40 percent 'of the 
"fantasy -oriented." Both the low-users and the high-users tended to fall 
between the other two categories in response to these statements. 3 5 

The reality group was thus most in favor of deferred gratification and the 
fantasy group least so. In other words, high exposure to print favored and 
high exposure to television disapproved gratification-deferring values. The 
study did not show the extent to which the differences in media exposure 
might be responsible for the differences in gratification-deferment preference, 
or vice versa. Assuming that a preference for immediate gratification would 
tend to point one toward television as a fantasy-laden medium, and a 
preference for deferred gratification would tend to point one toward the 



296 Mass Media and Violence 

reality-laden printed media, the differential exposure thus produced would 
hardly tend to undo the value difference, and seems likely to strengthen and 
increase it. 

The most common reason given by children for watching television is the 
pleasure of being passively entertained, having vicarious thrills, and living a 
fantasy. In their teens they begin to express this differently it keeps them 
from getting bored. 36 The implication that without television they would be 
threatened with boredom could be symptomatic of a television-bred inability 
to find other means of entertainment for themselves. 

Children acknowledge that they learn from television, but they generally 
prefer that such learning be incidental to the entertainment value of the 
medium. They consciously learn manners and customs, hair styles, clothing 
fashions (for both sexes), athletic and other techniques, ideas for school 
themes, conversational topics, etc. They are often loath to view educational 
programs where learning is not incidental to entertainment. 37 It would seem 
that this attitude, repeatedly reinforced by years of exposure to commercial 
television, would carry over into school, making them unreceptive to learning 
which, in those formal educational contexts, is quite clearly not incidental to 
immediate pleasure. The modern college student's restless complaint that his 
classes "don't seem relevant" (usually without specification of what he wants 
them to be relevant to) may be a direct symptom of retarded development of 
the ability to defer gratification. College classes usually are not as relevant to 
immediate pleasure as are television programs, and the solutions to real-life 
problems that might be derived from higher learning will seldom be as simple 
and immediate as the familiar perpetration of violence upon the personal 
sources of problems in televised fantasy. 

On the basis of testimony by parents and teachers, Himmelweit concluded 
that television does not seem to have either diminished or enhanced the 
importance children attach to school, and he seemed to find no difference 
between viewers and non-viewers in respective interest in school work and 
extracurricular activities. 38 However, the children in Schramm's studies felt, 
in large numbers, that school is dull by comparison with television. The 
proportion who felt this way was highest among eighth-graders, and higher 
for boys than for girls. 39 Perhaps there is a greater difference in the 
attachment to male" roles on TV as opposed to real life than in the case of 
female roles. In any event, as children enter their teens and pay increasing 
heed to their peers and less to their parents, they are acutely conscious of the 
contrast between entertainment by commercial television and education by 
noncommercial television. They tend to disparage the latter as being for 
"squares." Television is regarded as part of the non-educational portion of 
their day's routine. 40 This almost implies that school would be viewed as part 
of the non-pleasurable portion of the day. 

F. "Sleeper" Effects 

When exposure to mass communication can be shown to produce little or 
no immediate effect on attitudes, but an appreciable delayed effect shows up, 
this is called the "sleeper effect." 

Such an effect occurred in the study cited earlier in which children's fear 
of dogs was reduced by watching films of a child playing harmlessly with a 



Value Modification by Mass Media 297 

dog. The increment in dog-approaching behavior was significant in the group 
which saw the series of films always showing the same child making a graded 
series of approaches to the same dog; this improvement lasted with virtually 
no diminution when remeasured a month later. However, in the group 
exposed to the films showing a variety of persons interacting with a variety of 
dogs, while the immediate increment was comparable, there was no loss over 
the ensuing month, and there was actually some further gain. 41 It seems 
likely that this was due to an enhancement of stimulus generalization by the 
fact that both the humans and the dogs shown in the films were diverse 
enough to provide a generalized model. Equipped with a more general 
pro-dog frame of reference, these children were more likely to perceive 
subsequent real-life encounters between persons and dogs as continuations of 
the film-viewing experience. Thus they could continue to learn that fear of 
dogs was usually unnecessary and that pleasure from playing with dogs was 
possible, whereas the other group's learning was completed when it stopped 
seeing films on the subject. 

Knowledge of the sleeper effect began to accumulate from systematic 
research as far back as 1933, when studies of movies as stimuli for attitude 
change began to question the permanence of the change. It was soon apparent 
that increments of further change were possible. 42 During World War II, in 
studies of the effects of indoctrination films used in troop training, clear cases 
of sleeper effects were found; factual information would be forgotten as time 
passed, but opinion changes often grew. Several explanations were suggested: 
(1) individuals pre-disposed to accept an opinion who had not yet done so 
might be won over slowly; (2) forgetting the source while retaining the ideas 
might make them more acceptable; (3) forgetting specifics while retaining 
generalities might produce cumulative attitude change; and (4) implications 
might be retained while the specific bases were forgotten. 43 Later research 
indicated the possibility of another mechanism: (5) exposure to mass 
communication could provide the audience member with a new cognitive 
frame of reference by which he would perceive subsequent events in a 
changed manner. 44 

Whatever the explanation for sleeper effects, it is clear from the fact that 
such phenomena do occur that mass media produce long-range changes in 
values that would escape notice in short-range studies. It should be clear, too, 
that previous exposure to the mass media may be among the factors which 
shape the perceptual selections which in turn shape the effects of subsequent 
exposures to mass media. Thus, the fact that perceptions are selective is no 
warrant for complacent assumptions that the impact of mass communication 
upon values is either negligible or necessarily benign. 



REFERENCES 

1. See also William R. Catton, Jr., "A Theory of Value," American Sociological 
Review, 24 (June 1959), pp. 310-317; Douglas Waples, Bernard Berelson, and 
Franklyn R. Bradshaw, What Reading Does to People (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago 
Press, 1940), pp. 21-22. For a somewhat different but compatible definition, see 
Richard T. LaPiere, A Theory of Social Control (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1954), p. 
133. 

2. LaPiere, op. cit. note 1, p. 142. 



298 Mass Media and Violence 

3. Waples, Berelson and Bradshaw, op. cit. , note 1, p. 103. 

4. Wilbur Schramm, Jack Lyle, and Edwin B. Parker, Television in the Lives of Our 
Children (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1961), pp. 22-23. 

5. Albert Bandura and Frances L. Menlove, "Factors Determining Vicarious Extinction 
of Avoidance Behavior Through Symbolic Modeling." Journal of Personality and 
Social Psychology, 8 (1968), pp. 99-108. 

6. Ibid., p. 106. 

7. Bernard Berelson and Patricia J. Salter, "Majority and Minority Americans: An 
Analysis of Magazine Fiction," Public Opinion Quarterly, 10 (Summer, 1946), pp. 
168-190. 

8. Herta Herzog, "Motivations and Gratifications of Daily Serial Listeners," reprinted 
from Paul Lazarsfeld and Frank Stanton (eds.), Radio Research, 1942-1943 (New 
York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1944) and in Wilbur Schramm (ed.), The Process and 
Effects of Mass Communication (Urbana, 111.: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1954), pp. 
50-55. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Hilde T. Himmelweit, A. N. Oppenheim, and Pamela Vince, Television and the Child 
(London: Oxford U. Press, 1958), pp. 260-261. 

11. Schramm, , Lyle, and Parker, op. cit. note 4, p. 55. 

12. Himmelweit, Oppenheim, and Vince, op. cit., note 10, p. 216. 

13. Fredric Wertham, "School for Violence," in Otto N. Larsen (ed.), Violence and the 
Mass Media (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 39. 

14. Himmelweit, Oppenheim, and Vince, op. cit., note 10, p. 184 (emphasis added). 

15. Ibid. 

16. O. Ivar Lovass, "Effect of Exposure to Symbolic Agression on Aggressive Behavior," 
Child Development, 32 (1961), pp. 3744. 

17. Paul Mussen and Eldred Rutherford, "Effects of Aggressive Cartoons on Children's 
Aggressive Play," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 62 (1961), pp. 
461-464. 

18. S. H. Lovibond, "The Effect of Media Stressing Crime and Violence Upon Children's 
Attitudes," Social Problems, 15 (1967), pp. 91-100. 

19. Katherine M. Wolfe and Marjorie Fiske, "Why They Read Comics," reprinted from 
Paul Lazarsfeld and Frank Stanton (eds.), Communications Research, 1948-1949 
(New York: Harper & Bros., 1949); and Wilbur Schramm (ed.), The Process and 
Effects of Mass Communication (Urbana, 111.: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1954), p. 49. 

20. Robert B. Zajonc, "Some Effects of the 'Space' Serials," Public Opinion Quarterly, 
18 (1954), pp. 373. 

21. Leonard Berkowitz and Russell G. Geen, "Stimulus Qualities of the Target of 
Aggression: A Further Study," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5 
(1967), pp. 364-368. 

22. Percy H. Tannenbaum and Bradley S. Greenberg, "Mass Communication," Annual 
Review of Psychology, 19 (1968), pp. 372-373. 

23. Leonard Berkoxvitz, "The Effects of Observing Violence," Scientific American, 210 
(Feb. 1964), p. 5. 

24. Himmelweit, Oppenheim, and Vince, op. cit. , note 10, p. 216. 

25. Wertham, op. cit., note 13, p. 38 

26. Himmelweit, Oppenheim, and Vince, op. cit. , note 10, p. 190. 

27. Ibid., p. 256. 

28. Ibid., pp. 253-254. 

29. Ibid., pp. 247-248. 

30. Albert Bandura and Richard H. Walters, Social Learning and Personality 
Development (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963), p. 65. 

31. Ibid., p. 66. 

32. Ibid., pp. 76-78. 

33. Melvin L. DeFleur, "Occupational Roles as Portrayed on Television," Public 
Opinion Quarterly, 28 (Spring, 1964), pp. 68-69. 

34. Himmelweit, Oppenheim, and Vince, op. cit., note 10, p. 18. 

35. Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. cit. , note 4, p. 1 14. 

36. Ibid., pp. 57-58. 

37. Ibid., pp. 58-59. 

38. Himmelweit, Oppenheim, and Vince, op. cit. , note 10, p. 246. 



Value Modification by Mass Media 299 

39. Schramm, Lyle, and Parker, op. cit. , note 4, p. 91. 

40. Ibid., pp. 93-94. 

41. Bandura and Menlove, op. cit. , note 5, pp. 102-103. 

42. See Ruth C. Peterson and L. L. Thurstone, Motion Pictures and the Social Attitudes 
of Children (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 65-66; and Perry W. Holaday and 
George D. Stoddard, Getting Ideas from the Movies (New York: Macmillan, 1933), 
pp. 78-79. 

43. Carl I. Hovland, Arthur A. Lumsdaine, and Fred D. Sheffield, Experiments on Mass 
Communication (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1949^, ch. 7. 

44. William R. Catton, Jr., "Changing Cognitive Structure as a Basis for the 'Sleeper 
Effect,'" Social Forces, 38 (May 1960), pp. 348-354. 



300 Mass Media and Violence 



Chapter 14 

MASS MEDIA AS ACTIVATORS 
OF LATENT TENDENCIES* 



From what has been said in the preceding chapters, it should be 
abundantly clear that good intentions are not enough. Evidence that media 
operators are good people and have no desire to promote violence cannot 
suffice to prove that mass communications either cannot or do not produce 
increases in violent behavior. 

It is not necessary to assume that the mass media would have to change 
people's values, either, in order to change their behavior. Values and behavior 
are not that tightly linked. Making audiences value violence is not the only 
conceivable way in which mass media could promote violent actions. For 
various reasons, people do not always do what they would value doing, and 
they sometimes undertake actions that are markedly inconsistent with the 
values they hold. 

It is likewise not necessary to assume that the mass media would have to 
produce deviant motivation in order to foster deviant behavior. Deviant 
behavior may be either intentional or unintentional. People with deviant 
motivations may not behave in a deviant manner, for any of several reasons. 
Blake and Davis have listed five reasons why deviant motivation may not 
result in deviant actions: (1) A person tempted to deviate in certain ways 
from one norm may be inhibited by other norms and values which he has also 
internalized. (2) People generally desire approval by others and the 
temptation to deviate from some norm may be offset by the recognition that 
it will result in disapproval. (3) The temptation to deviate may also be offset 
by anticipation of formal punishment. (4) The anticipation of mere 
nonreward, even without actual anticipation of disapproval and punishment, 
may keep a person from deviating in spite of temptation to do so. 
Nonreward, unlike punishment, affords no glamour or heroic status to the 
deviant. (5) Deviant behavior may be inhibited by lack of opportunity even 
when a person is motivated toward it. 1 

To the extent that deviant motivation may already exist, and to the extent 
that the mass media may inadvertently alter any of these preventives of 

*A paper prepared for the Media Task Force by William R. Catton, Jr., Professor of 
Sociology, University of Washington. 

301 



302 Mass Media and Violence 

deviant behavior, the media can thus indirectly and unintentionally foster 
deviant actions. 

A. Changing Behavior Without Changing Values 

The same values do not always produce the same behavior, and different 
values do not always give rise to different behavior. There are several reasons 
for this. If different people with the same values have different kinds or 
different amounts of knowledge about the characteristics of various potential 
goals, the knowledge differences will cause the same values to lead to 
different actions. Even if the values and the knowledge are alike for various 
people, these persons may act differently if they are at different distances 
from the goals in question. Proximity to a potential goal tends to make it a 
stronger motivator. Not many people will literally "walk a mile for a Camel," 
especially if another brand is available only a few feet away. 

Each person has many values. At any given moment, only one or a few of 
his values are salient. Two persons with the same sets of values, then, may 
behave differently because different ones of their values are activated at a 
given moment. 

If all these things are kept in mind it should be clear that overt adoption of 
some action which has been persuasively advocated through mass media is by 
no means the only kind of "effect" mass media may have. Audience behavior 
can be influenced without any change of attitudes or values. Mass 
communications may convey new knowledge about goals already sought, thus 
altering the goal-pursuing behavior of the audience. Or, mass media may 
indicate to audience members that their proximity to (and hence motivation 
to strive for) a goal they already desire is greater than they had supposed. 
Mass media content may alter the momentary salience of the various values 
already held by the audience member, showing him that another of his values 
applies to a given situation to a greater degree than the one he had been 
invoking. 

In all of this, the fact that incidental learning does occur must also be 
borne in mind. Sheer entertainment content, not intended to affect either 
values or behavior, . may influence what audience members do if, in an 
incidental way, it modifies any of the kinds of conditions set forth in the last 
several paragraphs. 

Apologists for mass media, especially television, have argued that the 
provision of substitute satisfactions or vicarious experiences can serve to 
prevent overt actions that would be socially undesirable. According to this 
line of reasoning, the mass media serve a socially useful "cathartic" function; 
by displaying violence they provide harmless outlets for the violent impulses 
of audience members. But this is apparently not the way it works, according 
to a series of experiments summarized by Berkowitz. 2 These studies have 
shown that catharsis is less likely than arousal of aggressive behavior, as a 
result of observation of aggression. In particular, watching "justified movie 
violence" does not discharge the anger of previously antagonized viewers but 
rather makes them feel freer to attack the person who had antagonized them. 

It has become clear from a considerable body of research that televised or 
filmed violence affects viewers in one or more of the following ways: (!) It 



Mass Media as Activators of Latent Tendencies 303 

may reduce their inhibitions against behaving in violent and aggressive ways. 
(2) It may teach them forms of aggression, by giving them information about 
how someone they may want to attack could be attacked when an occasion 
presents itself. (3) The customary ethical ending, which supposedly shows that 
crime or other wrongdoing does not pay because the villian gets punished, 
may delay any tendency by viewers to reproduce the actions they have seen, 
but such endings do not always suffice to eliminate effects (1) and (2). 3 

In more general terms, studies of the effects of observing models have 
experimentally demonstrated that (1) the observer may learn novel 
responses and this is what is meant by the "modeling effect;" (2) i the 
observer may have existing responses strengthened or weakened 
"disinhibited or inhibited;" or (3) the observer may be stimulated to do 
something he has already learned to do the "eliciting effect." 4 The eliciting 
effect is far more likely than the cathartic effect. By providing cues that 
violence is socially acceptable, mass media may inadvertently both elicit and 
disinhibit violent behavior. 5 

Consider the fact that military training, which teaches men to use 
weapons, can only be effective by expecting the trainees to apply their 
training at a later time under motivational conditions that differ from those 
prevailing during training. If the military trainee can generalize what he has 
been taught to a motivationally different situation, so can the mass media 
audience member. A child observing use of such a weapon as a switch-blade 
knife (either in face-to-face play or in mass media entertainment, or both) 
acquires a greater likelihood of inflicting injury later if three things hapoen to 
be present: appropriate motivation for using such a weapon, the weapon 
itself, and a person whom he defines as an object of his hostility. One who 
had not observed the weapon's use would lack one learning ingredient 
fostering the act. 6 

Berkowitz described an experiment with male college students which 
shows that the several ingredients for hostile behavior can be acquired at 
different times. Subjects in that experiement were led to expect an 
opportunity to retaliate after receiving electric shocks from a supposed 
partner, but they were then denied this opportunity at the time it was 
expected. They retaliated more aggressively later when another opportunity 
was given than did subjects who had not originally been led to expect to be 
able to retaliate. 7 It is possible that one effect of the traditional "ethical 
ending" of crime shows is to teach the idea that opportunities tp retaliate 
against offenders are usually forthcoming. If the viewer doesn't absorb this 
expectation of the right to retaliate from this source alone, he is also in a 
position to acquire it from observing the recurrent exchanges of violence 
berween the "good guys" and the "bad guys." 

It is not necessary to continue making the assumption that audience 
"persuasion" by mass media consists in so modifying the individual audience 
member's internal psychological structure (e.g., his values) that "the 
psychodynamic relationship between latent internal processes and manifest 
overt behavior will lead to acts intended by the persuader." Such mass media 
persuasion efforts as charity appeals, chest X-ray drives, political campaigns, 
and efforts toward prevention of littering have apparently operated on such 
an assumption. 8 In the several other ways already enumerated, behavior can 



304 Mass Media and Violence 

be changed without changing values and the mass media are no more 
automatically exempt from producing such effects than any other agent to 
which people devote so much of their time and attention. 

B. Communication and Social Contagion 

Is it only coincidence that the crescendo of campus unrest, street 
demonstrations, etc. so uncharacteristic of American life in the past has 
come in the years when the first generation to have been wholly socialized 
within a society saturated with television were graduating from adolescence 
into adulthood? To raise such a question is not merely to "blame" television 
indiscriminately for diverse social problems. It is to suggest simply that the 
ubiquity of this medium in our lives is a fact of some social importance. 
People ordinarily learn in the process of being socialized that they can check 
doubtful impressions of the world around them which they have obtained 
from one source by seeking information from other, independent sources. 
The ubiquity of television, together with the degree to which people depend 
on it both as a prime news source and as a means of entertainment from 
which with their guard down they derive incidental learning, tends to 
undermine the independence of anyone's alternative sources. 9 If one viewer 
derives from his exposure to TV crime shows the notion that police are often 
stupid and brutal, and if he asks his acquaintances, "Do you think the cops 
are stupid and brutal?" they may "confirm" his impressions because they 
have been watching the same shows. But, having thus obtained the same 
image from several sources which seem independent to him, this viewer's 
impression hardens into a conviction. Worse yet, the conviction may cause 
him so to act in some subsequent encounter with a law enforcement official, 
as to elicit a hostile response which he will then regard as the final 
"confirmation." 

The ubiquity of the medium can cause problems in other ways, too. It is 
common to ask whether viewing violence on TV tends to make fhe viewer 
more prone to commit acts of violence. It is often assumed that the answer is 
affirmative, and mass media research findings have been interpreted both 
ways in opposition to the assumption and in support of it. But it is not so 
commonly asked whether the expectation or hope of being shown on 
television in the act of committing violent acts increases the probability of so 
acting. There are at least two reasons for believing the medium may have this 
effect. The "status conferral" function of the mass media generally, 
combined with the "visual bias" of television, previously discussed, can 
operate to favor violent behavior. When people want attention, whether just 
for the sake of some non-instrumental sort of status, or because they want to 
say something to an audience, they are under some pressure to do the things 
that will get them the attention they want. One way to get attention from the 
television cameras is to behave in a "newsworthy" way, which can mean to 
engage in acts of disruption or violence which the television news people are 
likely to film for showing on the air. 

Along with recognition of the status conferral function, it has been 
supposed that mass media can perform an "ethicizing" function by 
strengthening social control and prevention of deviance through the 



Mass Media as Activators of Latent Tendencies 305 

publicizing of deviant behavior. IQ There is no sufficient reason, however, for 
believing that publicity is necessarily unwanted by everyone engaged in 
actions which someone may regard as deviant. Publicity may be precisely 
what is desired, especially by people of strong convictions who feel 
themselves denied a hearing through conventional channels. Such people may 
include: Negroes still suffering deprivations and injustices a century after the 
nominal ending of slavery; white urban residents who are resentful of assorted 
changes in their urban environments including the influx of black 
population; college students perturbed about the depersonalized nature of 
modern, large-scale campus life and angry about the prospect of having to 
leave even this to serve in the military in a war they disapprove of and which 
they believe their country improperly stumbled into; or policemen who feel 
beleaguered by each of the previous categories and earnestly desire increased 
public support for their own profession. Whether the publicity any of these 
groups can obtain for themselves by acting in ways that cater to television's 
visual bias will actually serve their more ultimate ends is somewhat beside the 
point. One thing they all have in common is the feeling that they are being 
overlooked, and by relieving them of at least that sense of deprivation, the 
attention their actions obtain from television cameras provides reinforcement 
of whatever kinds of actions receive such attention. 

There is another, and perhaps even subtler, way in which the television 
display of various forms of behavior that had generally been regarded as 
anti-social can tend to foster more of it. The word "contagion" may not be 
too inapplicable. People who have felt certain impulses but have not 
acted them out may be more likely to do so when they become aware that 
others are doing so. This would be especially so when the impulses are strong 
and when the other people have similar identity so that they function as a 
positive reference group. Students at the Free University of West Berlin, after 
staging a sit-in demonstration, were reported to have asked an American on 
the scene, "Is this the way it was done at Berkeley?" The implication is that 
definitions of the student role are not confined to a single campus. When 
students on one campus are aware of the way the role is defined elsewhere, 
under some circumstances they may feel some obligation to adopt behavior 
that was previously alien to them because it now appears to be part of the 
very role to which they feel committed. And again, because of television's 
visual bias, the aspect of campus life most likely to attract the cameras and 
microphones (other than intercollegiate athletics) is more likely to be protest 
demonstrations, especially when disorderly, than quiet and serious work in 
classrooms, libraries, and laboratories. 

In many languages, it is said, "teach" and "show" are completely 
synonymous. Children in many societies learn a good deal of their society's 
culture by learning to do what they see adults doing, rather than just what 
adults may tell them to do. Learning from models, live or symbolized, is 
common to the socialization process in all cultures. 1 1 Development of the 
mass media has hardly exempted the technologically advanced societies from 
these principles. 

"Behavioral contagion" has been observed in a number of species. It refers 
to processes that include the release of a well-established pattern of behavior 
in other members of a species when they witness that pattern's occurrence in 



306 Mass Media and Violence 

one of them. One familiar example is the "social facilitation" of yawning in a 
group of humans. 12 In the absence of mass media, one person's yawn is 
unlikely to release similar responses in more than a few other individuals. But 
television can make common role models available to a worldwide (or 
nationwide) audience of potential players of the same role. Television can 
provide reference groups and a knowledge of their norms and values. For 
example, in pre-mass media days, a farm girl might have few role models for 
feminine behavior beyond her own mother, sisters, and the occasionally 
encountered relatives and neighbors who happened to be female. Today, her 
descendent can model her behavior as a woman after glimpses she has had of 
"womanly" behavior all over the world, in many walks of life. Similarly, 
learning to be Negro in a white-dominated society meant one thing to the 
socially isolated sharecropper's child; it means something else to the child in 
the urban ghetto with access to a television set, and its new meaning can 
easily include violent rejection of anything regarded as a token of continued 
white dominance. The ghetto dweller's child has abundant opportunities to 
see whites in roles other than landlord and overseer, and he has abundant 
opportunities to see how other Negroes are going about the business of 
breaking down racial barriers. If television gives him more glimpses of the 
violent ways than of the non-violent ways, he must be expected to learn 
accordingly*. 

C. Identities, Reference Groups, Information, and Action 

There are some rather clear techniques by which a mass communicator can 
exert persuasion. He can relate an object of persuasion to a role with which 
audience members are known or expected to identify, and he can stress a 
definition of that role which involves use of the object, implying that 
non-users are deviant. The communicator may portray or imply social 
sanctions which can or will be brought to bear upon such deviants, or he can 
describe or allude to the social rewards and social approval likely to accrue to 
the adopter of the communicator's goals. Congruence of the suggested act 
with group approved values, or with values known to be already accepted by 
the audience, may be asserted and emphasized. This will tend to show how 
compliance by the individual audience member with the patterns of action 
the communicator is trying to persuade him to accept will be good for the 
audience member's own group. 1 3 

The skill of a communicator in deliberate persuasive efforts depends on 
the correctness of his assumptions as to the identities of members of his 
audience (as they perceive themselves), the reference groups to whose values 
they are attracted or committed, and the kinds of information they already 
have and the kinds they need in order to act out their identities in the way he 
desires and to invoke their reference groups' values along lines he intends. All 
of these considerations apply in a modified way to unintended persuasion, to 
incidental learning, or to inadvertent symbolic modeling. 

In an experiment by Maccoby, Wilson, and Burton, observations of 
subjects' eye movements showed that during romantic movie scenes involving 
just two characters the male lead and the female lead male viewers had their 
eyes on the male actor more of the time than did female viewers, while the 



Mass Media as Activators of Latent Tendencies 307 

latter spent more time than did male viewers watching the female player. 14 
Reasoning purely from the sex interests of the viewers, it might have been 
expected that boys would watch girls, and vice versa, so the actual results 
which were contrary to this strongly suggest a predominance of the process of 
identification. Each subject watched the movie character whose actions were 
most likely to resemble his own. To the extent that the subject might be 
inclined to take the movie character as a model, then, he might change his 
own actions in similar situations to change the degree of resemblance. For a 
model he defined positively, the observer would tend to increase the 
resemblance between his own behavior and the model's; for a model defined 
negatively, the tendency would be to decrease the behavioral resemblance. 

Maccoby and Wilson also showed a "class B" movie to seventh graders and 
tested them for retention of its content. Boys were found more likely to 
remember aggressive content, and girls were found more likely to remember 
romantic content. But boys remembered proportionately more of the 
aggressive acts of male characters than of female characters, and girls 
remembered proportionately more of the romantic acts of female characters 
than of male characters. 1 5 If observation and retention were thus selective 
along sex lines (and presumably further tests would show other identity lines 
of selectivity), then observational learning can be expected to depend on the 
matching of identities between model and observer. 

Waples, Berelson, and Bradshaw cited the kinds of satisfactions housewives 
obtained from reading women's magazines to illustrate enhancement of 
readers' prestige as a social effect of reading. Housewife readers received 
implied prestige from emphasis placed in such magazines upon "the 
complexities of domestic life, on the skills required to be parent, dietitian , 
decorator, chauffeur, politician, and economist at the same time." They 
added that, 

When fiction plays up the important role of women whose husbands 

stray from the marital fold only to be retrieved by the tact of the wife, 

or whose children go mildly astray and are rescued, the prestige effects 

are further intensified. Where the mother considers divorce or ventures 

into business, calamities crowd the pages, and the reader eventually 

decides that husband and home are the true sources of happiness. 

Match this with readers who fear that their husbands and children will 

err, but who want to believe that women can hold the home together, 

and the effect is a sense of pride at what a woman can do and security 

that this reader can do as well as a fiction character. 1 6 

The possible effects of magazine fiction were also discussed, as noted 

earlier, by Berelson and Salter. 1 7 They made an analysis of the characteristics 

and roles of all speaking characters portrayed in 198 short stories published in 

sample issues of eight of America's most widely circulated magazines in 1937 

and 1943. Their analysis revealed abundant stereotyping and clearcut 

discrimination. Minorities were numerically underrepresented, and were 

usually assigned to unimportant or unfavorably described roles, and often 

stereotyped. Common stereotypes included "the amusingly ignorant Negro," 

"The Italian gangster," "The sly and shrewd Jew," "The emotional Irish," 

etc. 



308 Mass Media and Violence 

Berelson and Salter studied magazine stories, not readers of magazine 
stories. To the reader who identifies with majority characters while reading 
such stories, the story treatment of minority characters could become a 
model which could affect his subsequent behavior particularly if that is the 
way the minority characters are treated in the story by the characters with 
whom majority readers identify, and if such majority character behavior is 
rewarded in the story. Such considerations as these partially offset the lack of 
data directly revealing reader reactions. Berelson and Salter asserted that an 
ethnic group stereotype in such fiction "operates socially as a stimulus of 
xenophobia." 18 They attributed no mal-intent to the stories' writers, and 
they recognized that minority stereotypes facilitate the filling of stock roles 
with stock characters, thus meeting the need of this category of fiction for 
brief, compact plots, in which the action develops quickly and with clarity. 
Considerations of business success and audience heterogeneity help 
perpetuate formula writing, they noted. But such writing, they went on to 
suggest, actually activates prejudice in its readers, who use the discriminatory 
fictional portrayals of certain minorities as "proof of the validity of 
stereotypes already held by the readers. 

What do minority readers of such fiction learn? This question is seldom 
asked. It seems unlikely that the majority reader identifies with a majority 
character solely because of their common majority status; writers have a 
variety of more sophisticated techniques which they use to induce reader 
identification with certain characters around whom the story revolves. 
Accordingly, minority readers may experience an ambivalence not felt by 
majority readers, for they will be affected by these deliberately used 
identification-provoking techniques but will, because of their minority status, 
also identify with some of the unfavorably depicted characters. 

Regardless of internal psychological predispositions, people acquire 
definitions of appropriate behavior and interpretations of reality from their 
organizational memberships, their work roles, reference groups, cultural 
norms, and primary group expectations. This has been made clear by a 
substantial body of research and theory in sociology. DeFleur cites these 
matters in the context of showing why mass media should not be considered 
hypodermically omnipotent, 1 9 but it can also be noted that people acquire 
definitions of appropriate behavior and interpretations of reality from the 
mass media. 

In one experiment, six groups of six children apiece were shown a movie in 
which an adult did various simple acts with various objects. Three of the 
groups were told beforehand that they would be tested afterward on their 
ability to do the same things with such objects. Three were not told this, but 
were also tested afterward. One group from each set was instructed to 
verbalize what they saw as they watched the four-minute film. Another group 
from each set was told to count as they watched (thereby distracting them 
from even covertly verbalizing what they were watching). The remaining 
groups just watched. Verbalizing what was seen increased ability to reproduce 
the acts later, while counting somewhat reduced it, in comparison with the 
control groups. Advance warning that this ability to reproduce the acts would 
be tested afterward somewhat diminished the spread that was wrought by 
verbalizing versus counting. 20 The various manipulations of the subjects in 



Mass Media as Activators of Latent Tendencies 309 

this experiment can be interpreted as having altered the degree to which the 
children in the various groups watched the adult in the movie as a role 
model-i.e., as a person who either could be or should be identified with and 
imitated. Thus, the results of the experiment support the principle that 
observational learning depends on perception of the model in terms of 
common identity. 

The effects of reference groups (or reference persons) and the way such 
effects can be modified are evident from an experiment in which seven to 
eleven-year-old subjects played a sort of bowling game and rewarded their 
own performances by taking plastic tokens from a bowl, after watching an 
adult model or a peer model, or both, play the game and reward their own 
performances in this manner. When children saw the adult model set high 
achievement standards for himself, reward himself according to such 
standards and receive social recognition for adhering to such norms, these 
children subsequently imposed higher performance standards on themselves 
than did children who had seen models doing exactly the same but without 
getting social recognition for it. 2 * 

In an experiment with 84 boys whose mean age was just under six. 
exposure to a three-minute color movie (silent, but with backgound music) 
was shown to affect subsequent tendencies to play with available but 
forbidden toys in the experimental room. The movie depicted a child playing 
with similar toys. Three versions of the film differed in their endings. When 
the child in the film was rewarded for his actions, or incurred no 
consequences, the subjects deviated more (and more promptly) than when 
the movie ended with a punishment scene, or when the subject saw no movie 
at all. 22 What happens to the model as a consequence of his behavior, then, 
clearly affects the model's influence on the behavior of an observer. 23 

In another experiment subjects were "frustrated" at the beginning by 
being shocked several times by an accomplice who purported to be another 
subject in the experiment. They then viewed either a boxing film in which 
one character takes a brutal beating, or a neutral film showing no such 
aggression. Afterward, the subjects were given a chance ostensibly to 
administer shocks to the accomplice. If the accomplice had been originally 
introduced by a name resembling either the beaten character in the boxing 
movie or the actor portraying him, the subject tended to give more shocks 
than when the accomplice was otherwise introduced or when the neutral film 
was shown. The number of shocks given was not increased by having 
introduced the accomplice by a name associating him with the movie 
character who did the beating. 24 Thus, aggressive responses by the subject 
were patterned according to variable relationships among the apparent 
identities of film models, subject, target, and whatever preexisting values 
provide standards of "justification" for aggression. 

REFERENCES 

1. Judith Blake and Kingsley Davis, "Norms, Values, and Sanctions," in R.E. L. Paris 
(ed.), Handbook of Modern Sociology (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), pp. 456-484. 

2. Leonard Berkowitz, "The Effects of Observing Violence," Scientific American, 210 
(Feb. 1964), pp. 1-8. 

3. Albert Bandura, "What TV Violence Can do to Your Child," reprinted from Look 



3 10 Mass Media and Violence 

(Oct. 22, 1963), pp. 46-52 in Otto N. Larsen (ed.), Violence and the Mass Media 
(New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 130. 

4. Albert Bandura and Richard H. Walters, Social Learning and Personality 
Development (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963), p. 60. 

5. Larsen, op. cit. note 3, p. 1 17. 

6. Bandura and Walters, op. cit. note 4, pp. 116-1 17. 

7. Leonard Berkowitz, "On Not Being Able to Aggress," British Journal of Social and 
Clinical Psychology, 5 (1966), pp. 130-139. 

8. Melvin L. DeFleur, Theories of Mass Communication (New York: David McKay, 
1966), p. 123. 

9. Melvin L. DeFleur, "Occupational Roles as Portrayed on Television," Public Opinion 
Quarterly, 28 (Spring, 1964), p. 74. 

10. Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Robert K. Merton, "Mass Communication, Popular Taste and 
Organized Social Action," in Lyman Bryson (ed.), The Communication of Ideas 
(New York: Harper & Bros., 1948), pp. 95-1 18. 

11. Bandura and Walters, op. cit. note 4, pp. 47-49. 

12. W? H. Thorpe, Learning and Instinct in Animals (London: Nethuen, 1956), pp. 
120-122. 

13. DeFleur, Theories of Mass Communication, pp. 136-137. 

14. Eleanor E. Maccoby, W. C. Wilson, and R. V. Burton, "Differential Movie Viewing 
Behavior of Male and Female Viewers," Journal of Personality, 26 (1958), pp. 
159-167. 

15. Elenor E. Maccoby and W. C. Wilson, "Identification and Observational Learning 
from Films ," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology , 55, (1957), pp. 76-87. 

16. Douglas Waples, Bernard Berelson, and Franklyn R. Bradshaw, What Reading Does 
to People (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1940), pp. 127-128. 

17. Bernard Berelson and Patricia J. Salter, "Majority and Minority Americans: An 
Analysis of Magazine Fiction," Public Opinion Quarterly, 10 (Summer, 1946), pp. 
168-190. 

18. Ibid., p. 179. 

19. DeFleur, Theories of Mass Communication, p. 134. 

20. Albert Bandura, Joan E. Grusec, and Frances L. Menlove, "Observational Learning 
as a Function of Symbolization and Incentive Set," Child Development (Sept. 
1966), pp. 199-506. 

21. Albert Bandura, Joan E. Grusec, and Frances L. Menlove, "Some Social 
Determinants of Self-Monitoring Reinforcement Systems," Journal of Personality 
and Social Psychology, 5 (1967), pp. 449455. 

22. Richard H. Walters and Ross D. Parke, "Influence of Response Consequences to a 
Social Model on Resistance to Deviation" Journal of Experimental Child 
Psychology, 1 (1964), pp. 269-280. 

23. Bandura and Walters, op. cit. note 4, pp. 15, 103, 107; Richard H. Walters, Ross D. 
Parke, and Valarie A. Cane, "Timing of Punishment and the Observation of 
Consequences to Others as Determinants of Response Inhibition," Journal of 
Experimental Child Psychology, 2 (1965), pp. 10-30. 

24. Leonard Berkowtz and Russell Geen, "Name-mediated Aggressive Cue Properties," 
Journal of Personality, 23 (1966), pp. 456-465.. 



Chapter 15 

THE TELEVISION WORLD 
OF VIOLENCE 



Since the advent of mass communication which are owned and operated 
by increasingly complex and profitable corporations, there has been a 
growing concern on the part of citizens and public officials about the effects 
of mass media programming on audiences. Before these effects can be 
assessed in an objective and systematic way, it is necessary to know what the 
media are presenting to their audiences. The most effective way to determine 
this is through content analysis. 

Analyses of mass media content vary considerably in their scope, focus, 
and information value for the problem of evaluation of the effects upon 
exposed audiences. The most common type is the familiar procedure of 
counting the number of times persons are shot, attacked, or killed in a given 
program or series of programs. However, this type of analysis provides very 
little information about the effects of the programming. For example, this 
knowledge does not tell us (a) if the killings were justified or unjustified ;(b) 
if killers were rewarded or punished; (c) if the killings were presented in a 
bloodless and sanitized way, or in a "blood and guts" portrayal; and (d) 
whether or not the killings occurred sadistically, as a means to a desired end, 
or during the course of self-defense, law enforcement, or war. 

The Media Task Force was directed by the Violence Commission to 
investigate the relationship of mass media programming and violence. Several 
initial decisions made by the Task Force led eventually to a contract with 
Dean George Gerbner and his staff at the Annenberg School of 
Communications. The Task Force first made the decision to concentrate on 
media entertainment programming. After a review of content analyses 
available, it was clear that no single or multiple research was sufficient. 

The second decision concerned the selection of a mass medium for 
analysis. Studies of media availability, preferences, and use led to the 
selection of commercial television entertainment programming. Television has 
a virtual corner on the mass media entertainment market. No other single 
mass medium of communication approaches its claim on massive audiences 
composed of all sectors of American society. 



311 



312 Mass Media and Violence 

Our findings show that 43 percent of adult Americans (eighteen years and 
older) picked television as the mass medium they use most of the time for 
entertainment. The next most chosen medium was books, a distant second 
with 19 percent. 

At least two other considerations influenced our selection: 

(1) Young children use television to an even greater extent than adults. 1 
Most young children cannot read with sufficient proficiency to use 
newspapers, books, or magazines for daily entertainment, and they cannot or 
do not attend movies as a daily or weekly form of entertainment. 2 Radio will 
not hold their attention for any great length of time. Television, then, is 
uniquely equipped by its audiovisual properties to sustain children's 
attention. It is unique among the mass media for children's use because of its 
availability in the home and because advanced reading skills are not a 
prerequisite for use. 

(2) Television is the only mass medium whose entertainment content at 
any point in time is very much the same regardless of locale. The three 
national networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, through their owned stations and 
affiliates, are responsible for the vast majority of all entertainment 
broadcasting. Hence, when an analysis is made of television entertainment 
broadcast by these three networks, there is a high probability that audiences 
are being exposed to the same content. 

We next had to decide what time periods to research and how to construct 
a content analysis that would provide useful information for the general 
research problem-the relationship of mass media entertainment programming 
and violence. The week of October 1 through 7 was selected as typical, and in 
order to assess possible changes in programming, the same week (October 1-7) 
was analyzed for both 1967 and 1968. It was further decided to analyze only 
prime -time viewing hours. 

In the simplest of terms, the research aim was to provide an objective and 
reliable analysis from which the Task Force could deduce the messages about 
violence which were communicated to the audience. How violence is 
portrayed is at least as important as the amount presented. Knowledge of the 
incidence and intensity of violence in television programming can tell us, 
among other things, how often audiences are exposed to messages about 
violence and what opportunity audiences have to view programs which do not 
contain violence. 

Finally, the Task Force had to decide who was best suited to perform the 
content analysis. We felt it essential that such an analysis should provide new 
and directly relevant information, and meet all the criteria of scientific 
objectivity and systematic thoroughness. Thus it was necessary that the task 
be undertaken by trained social scientists who had expertise in the methods 
of content analysis and mass media effects research. It was also important to 
find a group which had the necessary equipment (the capability to analyze 
video tape and film materials), and the ability to form an expert research 
team on extremely short notice. 



The Television World of Violence 313 

We were fortunate to be able to contract the project to Dr. George 
Gerbner, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University 
of Pennsylvania. Dean Gerbner is a well-known expert on content analysis, 
and was keenly interested in conducting the type of research proposed by the 
Task Force. 

It was also necessary to seek the cooperation of the three major television 
networks in this endeavor. The networks were most helpful in compiling and 
sending all the requested programs to the Annenberg School. 3 

The multitude of specific details involved in translating a research project 
aim into a viable research effort were carried out by Dr. Gerbner and his staff. 
In a remarkably short time, this group completed the analysis and submitted 
their report to the Task Force. Significant portions of the total report are 
presented in the following pages. 



A. Dimensions of Violence in Television Drama: Summary* 

In September of 1968, the Mass Media Task Force of the National 
Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence contacted Dr. Gerbner 
to inquire if a study of violence in television drama could be completed in less 
than two months. The study was to be based on a week's prime-time network 
programming from 1967. The purpose of the study was to yield objective and 
reliable indicators of the extent and nature of violent presentations shared by 
all classes of the American viewing public. 

1 . Challenge and Difficulties 

The scope and significance of the challenge were matched by its 
difficulties. Some of these were conceptual. What are useful indicators of 
violence in fictional dramatizations? How could a study based on 1967 
material reflect the impact upon television programming, if any, of the tragic 
series of violent events that shook the conscience of the nation and the world 
in 1968? It was felt that the study was worth attempting only if it could yield 
multiple indicators which would be useful for a variety of investigative and 
policy purposes, if it contained dimensions salient to problems of social 
communication theory and practice, and if it could include 1968 material 
relevant to the tendencies and dynamics of television programming. 

Other difficulties were logistical. A team of research analysts had to be 
recruited immediately. Physical facilities and program material had to be 
obtained and organized. Instruments of analysis had to be constructed and 
tested with no opportunity for pilot studies. It was anticipated that much 
information would fall below acceptable standards of reliability and would 
have to be discarded. Therefore, several simultaneous approaches had to be 
employed to assure corroboration of results and sufficient useful information 
even after eventual elimination of much that had been assembled. 



314 Mass Media and Violence 

2. Accomplishments 

The decision to proceed with the study was taken in the understanding 
that this would be a "bare bones" report, one with little interpretation. Its 
purpose would be to extend the factual basis for a consideration of one 
aspect of television programming and for the further exploration of the role 
of fictional violence in contemporary culture. Interpretation and analysis was 
to continue in a broader scope and context after the termination of the 
research reported here. 

What follows, then, must be seen in light of these circumstances. The 
report overcame some of the difficulties and achieved some of the objectives, 
despite false starts, the elimination of much interesting material of 
questionable reliability, and unavoidable shortcomings. The principal lessons 
to be learned are (1) the confirmation of the adage that "haste makes waste," 
and (2) the clear conviction that if indices of mass cultural content have 
theoretical, social, and policy significance, only a systematic and continuous 
program of research will be adequate to the task. 

A special debt is owed to wives and friends for many evenings and 
weekends of work, the ready assistance of an able clerical force, particularly 
Mrs. Kiki Faye, the support of the research staff of the Mass Media Task 
Force, and the full cooperation of the television networks. 

B. A Bird's-Eye View of the Results 

All network television programs transmitted during prime evening time 
and on Saturday morning during the weeks of October 1-7, 1967 and 1968, 
were monitored for this study. Regular television dramas, cartoon programs, 
and feature films presenting one or more plays were subjected to analysis. 
The analysts recorded observations about the prevalence and "seriousness" of 
violence in each play; rates and types of violent episodes; the role of major 
characters in inflicting or absorbing violence; the role different times, places, 
people, and "the law" play in the world of dramatic violence; the significance 
of violence to the plots; and, when violence was an integral part of the plot, 
the rates and characteristics of encounters between parties inflicting and 
suffering violence. 

There are certain key terms used throughout this report, and they are 
defined as follows: 

"Program" and "play" are synonymous unless otherwise noted, and 
denote a single fictional story presented in play or skit form. "Violence" 
means the overt expression of force intended to hurt or kill. A "violent 
episode" is a scene of any duration between the same violent parties. A story 
element, such as violence, "significant to the plot" is one that would be noted 
in a one-page general synopsis of the play. An "act of violence'"' or 
"encounter" is an action originating in a particular source and directed 
toward a particular receiver with no major shift in the style of action. 



The Television World of Violence 3 15 

During the week of October 1-7, 1967, the three television networks 
transmitted 96 plays in 64 hours of broadcast time. During the same week in 
1968 the networks transmitted 87 plays in 58& hours. In the total of 183 
plays or 122# program hours analyzed, 455 characters played major parts, 
241 of which were violent. These occurred in 149 plays (or 104.4 program 
hours), which contained a total of 872 violent episodes. Of all plays 
containing violence, 112 (or 78.9 program hours) portrayed violence 
significant to the plot. These plays included 1215 separate violent encounters. 

1 . The Extent of Violence 

Some violence occurred in eight out of every ten plays. The average rate 
of violent episodes was five per play (ranging from three in a comedy to 7 in a 
cartoon or acting drama) and seven per program hour (ranging from five each 
comedy to twenty -four each cartoon hour). 

Most violence was an integral part of the play in which it occurred. The 
average rate of acts of violence was eleven per play or fifteen per hour. Eight 
out of every ten violent episodes and acts were presented as serious rather 
than humorous occurrences. 

There was no evidence of overall decline in the prevalence of violence from 
1967 to 1968. Some indications of possible moderation come from slight and 
selective reductions in the rates of violent episodes per play, in the 
proportions of "serious" violence, and in the proportions of plays in which 
violence was significant to the plot. The rates of violent encounters in these 
plays indicated that, with some exceptions, the saturation of such programs 
with acts of violence remained in 1968 what it had been in 1967. 

Programming on CBS generally featured the least violence, and moved in 
two different directions: the rate of violent episodes increased somewhat 
from 1967 to 1968, but the proportion of violence significant to the plots 
and the frequency of violent acts in such plays decreased. ABC, the most 
violent in many respects, maintained its share of violent programming but 
reduced the proportion of programs containing the most significant type and 
the highest rate of violent episodes. Violence on NBC, as prevalent in 1967 as 
on ABC, declined slightly in some respects in 1968. 

2. The Nature of Violence 

Violent acts were usually performed at close range. They were inflicted 
primarily through use of a weapon, half the time upon strangers, and, in the 
majority of encounters, upon opponents who could not or did not resist. 

Those who committed acts of violence generally perceived them to be in 
self-interest rather than for some other reason. Violent encounters were 
usually between males, and almost as frequently between as within different 
national or ethnic groups. These encounters primarily engaged group leaders 
as initiators and group members as targets of violence. 

Witnesses to scenes of violence were usually passive spectators. For every 



316 Mass Media and Violence 

bystander who attempted to prevent violence, there was at least one who 
joined to assist or encourage it. 

Pain was difficult to detect except when severe or fatal. Even so, some 
injury was evident in half of all violent episodes.The casualty count of injured 
and dead was at least 790 for the two weeks, and one in every ten acts of 
violence resulted in a fatality. 

Most violence took place between the forces of good and evil. The "good 
guys" inflicted as much violence as the "bad guys," suffered a little more, but 
triumphed in the end. 

3 . The People of Violence 

The two weeks of dramatic programming featured 455 leading characters. 
Of this number, 241 committed some violence, 54 killed an opponent, and 24 
died violent deaths. The dramatic lead thus inflicted violence 50 percent of 
the time, became a killer ten percent of the time, and was killed five percent 
of the time. One-third of those killed were also killers, and one out of every 
seven killers died a violent death. Surprisingly, nearly half of all killers 
suffered no consequences for their acts. 

The "typical violent" actor was an unmarried young or middle-aged male. 
At least one out of three characters in every age group committed violence, 
but the adolescent and the middle-aged perpetrated more than their share. 
They also played nine out of every ten killers and eight out of every ten fatal 
victims. Those in the middle-aged group were likely to be victims. 

The forces of law and of lawlessness, each numbering about one out of 
every ten leading characters, accounted for one-third of all violent aggressors 
and half of all killers. Criminals were somewhat more likely to commit 
violence, but, when violent, agents of the law were as likely to kill as were 
criminals. Members of the armed forces were less violent than the other 
groups, but when violent, the most deadly; every second violent soldier killed 
an "enemy." More criminals than soldiers and none of the agents of the law 
died violent deaths. 

There may be as many violent "good guys" as "bad guys," but those fated 
for a happy outcome (mostly "good guys") were slightly less likely to be 
violent than were those fated for a clearly unhappy outcome (mostly "bad 
guys"). Even though half of all "violents" and nearly half of all killers 
achieved a happy ending, those who did not were more likely to commit 
violence, to kill, and to be killed. 

4. The World of Violence 

The past, the future, and the far-away loom large in the world of violence. 
The settings of plays without violence tended to be contemporary, domestic, 
and civilized. By comparison, then, the settings of violent plays was more 
global, more distant in time as well as in place, more mobile, and more exotic. 

Foreigners and non-whites committed more than their share of violence, 
and, unlike white Americans, for nearly every life taken, they paid with a life 
of their own. 

Violence rarely appeared to violate legal codes, and when it did, the law 
itself was likely to be violent. 

To sum up the prevalence of violence in about eight out of every ten 



The Television World of Violence 317 

plays did not decline from 1967 to 1968, despite some evidence of 
moderation in its rate and tone. Most violence was individual, selfish, and 
often directed against strangers and victims who do not resist. Violence stuns, 
maims, and kills with little visible pain. A count of casualties may find an 
average of five per play injured or dead. Those who inflict violence may be 
"good guys" or "bad guys," but they are not as likely to reach a happy 
ending as non-violent types. All major characters, especially males in the 
prime of life, have a better than even chance to commit violence, at least one 
chance in ten to kill, and still reach a happy ending nearly fifty percent of the 
time. Foreigners and non-whites are more violent than white Americans, but 
pay much more dearly for their actions. Television drama projects Americans 
as a violent country a world of many violent strangers, with a mostly violent 
past and a totally violent future. 

C. Dimensions of Violence 

Violence in drama, as in life, is a complex matter, the full implications of 
which were not the subject of this study. Our subject was the extent and 
nature of overt violence in television plays. Our purposes were (1) to extend 
the factual consideration of one aspect of television programming; (2) to 
make a contribution to the understanding of some dimensions of the 
dynamics of fictional violence; and (3) to suggest certain expectations about 
violent behavior and consequences that these presentations might cultivate. 

In the following pages, we give a descriptive account of the "bare facts" 
relevant to the extent of violent representations during the 1967 and 1968 
study periods and to selected manifestations of violent behavior, people, and 
circumstances in the fictional world of television drama. 5 

Selected findings will be discussed according to their relevance to these 
questions: 

How much violence is there is television drama? Did the prevalence, 
significance, frequency, and "seriousness" of violent portrayals change 
between the 1967 and 1968 study periods? 

What is the nature of violence in television drama? What characteristics 
of violent behavior and of its consequences do these portrayals present to 

the audience? 

Who are the people of violence? What is the distribution of violent roles 
among various groups of the fictional population? What part does violence 
play in the fate of "good guys" and "bad guys"? 

And, finally, how does the world of violence differ from the world of 
non-violent drama in historical time, place of action, nationality and 
ethnicity of the population, and some of its recurrent themes? 

The analysis included all dramatic network programs transmitted in prime 
evening time and Saturday mornings for the weeks of October 1-7 in 1967 
and 1968. The 1967 study period contained ninety-six plays and the 1968 
period eighty -seven. It should be noted again that the basic program unit 
analyzed was the play, and the terms "program" and "play" are used 
interchangeably. 

To correct for differences in playing time between short plays and skits 



318 Mass Media and Violence 

and long plays or feature-length films, the time of a program was also 
measured. The 1967 study period included sixty -four hours of dramatic 
programming, and the 1968 period fifty -eight and one half hours. 

Regualr drama programs produced for television comprised 60 percent of 
all plays in 1967 and 63 percent in 1968, or 62 percent and 69 percent of 
program hours, respectively. Cartoons accounted for 33 percent of program 
time. Six feature films were telecast each week, accounting for six and eight 
percnt of the plays, but twenty and 26 percent of program time. 

Crime, western, and action-adventure style stories comprised about 
two-thirds of all television drama; comedies made up nearly half of all 
programs, with some changes in proportions and shifts in network share of 
each kind between the two study periods. Differences in the extent of 
violence between the 1967 and 1968 study periods and among the networks 
may be attributed to shifts in a few program categories, policies affecting 
most programs, or to a combination of both. 

1 . The Extent of Violence 

How much violence was there in television drama? Did the three networks 
share equally in the amount? Did the proportions change between 1967 and 
1968? 

The four dimensions dealing primarily with the amount of violence are 
prevalence, significance to the story, rate, and extent of "seriousness." 

Prevalence is the incidence of any violence on a program. It measures the 
number of programs in which at least one violent act occurs, regardless of 
frequency or other characteristics. 

Significance to the story indicates the extent to which violence was an 
integral part of the plot. 

The rate of violence was measured as the frequency of violent episodes and 
acts per play and program hour. 

"Seriousness" involved the style and context of violent portrayals. How 
much violence was presented in a humorous vein, and how much was not? 

a. Prevalence 

Some violence occured in 81 per.cent of all programs and 85 percent of all 
program hours. The prevalence of violence in dramatic programming did not 
decline between 1967 and 1968. If anything, there was a slight (four percent) 
increase. 

Violence was more prevalent on ABC and NBC than on CBS. However, 
CBS increased its percentage of violent programming between the 1 967 and 
1968 study periods. 

b. Significance to the Story 

Violence may be either an incidental or integral part of the story. The 
measure of significance was used to ascertain the proportions of these two 
types of presentations. (It was also employed as a screening device to select 
those plays in which violent encounters and acts were to be subjected to 
further analysis). The criterion used to measure "significance to the plot" was 
whether or not the violence, regardless of type or amount, would have to be 
noted in a one-page summary of the story of the play. 6 



The Television World of Violence 3 19 

Most plays containing any violence met this criterion. Eight out of every 
ten violent programs in 1967 and seven out often in 1968 contained violence 
significant to the plot. Whether this slight change represents a real decline or 
merely reflects shifts in the proportion of different types of plays in 
uncertain; but at least the overall significance of violence did not increase. 

c. Rates of Violent Episodes and Acts 

Violent episodes are defined as scenes of violence involving the same 
parties, and violent acts as actions by each party in violent encounters on 
programs where violence was judged to be significant to the plot. 

During the 1967 study week, a total of 478 violent, episodes were 
observed. During the 1968 study week, 394 such episodes were observed. 
This decline of 18 percent, compared to the 10 percent decrease of all 
dramatic programs analyzed, indicated the possibility of a slight reduction in 
the overall number of violent episodes. 

Violent episodes ranged from three per comedy to seven per cartoon or 
crime, western, and action-adventure play, and from five per hour of all 
comedy programming to 24 per hour of cartoons. The overall rate of violent 
episodes was five per play or seven per program hour. Programming which 
contained any violence at all contained an average of six violent episodes per 
play and eight per hour. Reductions in these rates by less than one point per 
play and per hour indicate that the frequency of violent episodes might have 
declined slightly from 1967 to 1968. The overall reduction, if any, was not 
evenly distributed. 

CBS programs generally contained somewhat lower rates of violent 
episodes than did those of the other two networks. However, although ABC 
and NBC reduced their frequencies of violent episodes, CBS increased theirs. 
Of all the violent episodes on the networks for both years, 35 percent were 
transmitted by ABC, 37 percent by NBC, and 28 percent by CBS. Although 
1967 figures show ABC leading (41 percent). NBC second (36 percent, and 
CBS third (23 percent), in 1968, NBC led (37 percent), CBS was second (35 
percent), and ABC third (28 percent). A reduction in the number of cartoon, 
crime, and other action programs and perhaps in the general level of violent 
spisodes on ABC and an increase in cartoon violence on both CBS and NBC 
appear to have been the major sources of these relative shifts. 

The rate of violent acts per play was 11.1 in 1967 and 10.5 in 1968. The 
only substantial change was a reduction of the rate of violent acts from 10.9 
to 7.1 per play on CBS programs. In other words, although CBS increased its 
share of dramatic violence, it reduced the frequency of violent acts on those 
programs . 

d. The "Seriousness" of Violence 

It can be argued that violence is always relevant to personal existence, 
well-being, and integrity. To that extent, violence is always serious. Whether 
presenting it in a humorous way makes it more or less acceptable or part of a 
given framework of knowledge are issues that measures of presentation alone 
cannot resolve. 

Measures of "seriousness" can indicate dramatic convention, convenience, 



320 Mass Media and Violence 

and intent. They show that even when we include cartoons (which are 
saturated with violence), the great bulk of all violence occurs in a serious or 
sinister context. 

Three-fourths of all violent programs and nearly nine out of every ten 
violent episodes were found in the crime, western, or action-adventure 
categories. Nearly all such programs contained some violence. Separate 
observations in all program categories showed that eight out of every ten 
violent episodes occured in a serious or sinister context. Eight out of every 
ten violent acts were also judged as "serious." In other words, overtly 
humorous (slapstick, sham, satirical) intent was apparent in only two out of 
every ten violent episodes or acts in all program categories. However, there 
appeared to be a shift (of perhaps one in every ten) toward a higher 
proportion of "humorous" types of violence between the two study periods. 



2. The Nature of Violence 

What happens in violent incidents, and how? What are some personal and 
social characteristics and consequences of violent behavior in television 
drama? The portrayal of violence may be at least as relevant to the cultivation 
of public assumptions as the amount of violence presented. We turn, 
therefore, from general questions of amount to more specific questions about 
the nature of violent representations. 

Two different approaches were focused on selected characteristics of 
violent behavior. One was the observation of violent episodes in all plays, 
concentrating on the agents and means of violence, witnesses and group 
relations among violent opponents. Another set of observations dealt with 
acts of violence in plays in which violence was significant to the plot (112 
out of 183). The focus here was on the nature of the interaction between 
sources and receivers of violence. 

Any reference to persons involved in violent episodes and acts is not to 
individuals as such, but to their participation in the incidents observed. A 
single individual may participate in several capacities. Participation as both 
source and receiver tends to equalize figures in those categories and lends 
greater significance to such differences as may occur. 

Three-fourths of all violent episodes involved human agents (both "live" 
and cartoon). The rest involved "humanized" (speaking) and other animals, 
creatures (a robot), and "accidents" (which, in fiction, are of course not 
accidental). There was no "act of nature" found as an agent of violence. 7 All 
violent acts involved human or human-like sources and receivers. 8 



a. Means and Personal Aspects 

Weapons were used in at least six out of every ten violent episodes and 
acts. Small instruments were used to commit one-third of all violent acts, and 
more complex instruments, ranging from machine guns and explosives to 
elaborate devices of torture or mass destruction, were used in 26 percent of 
the acts. 

In the majority of acts (six out of ten), those who committed violence 



The Television World of Violence 32 1 

perceived it as in their own personal self-interest rather than as a service to 
some other cause. 

Was it effective? In terms of immediate response, yes. Six out of ten 
violent acts evoked no response from their victims; they could not or did not 
resist. Counter-violence was the response 36 percent of the time and 
non-violent resistance six percent of the time. 

Was it personal? In seven out of ten acts the violent opponents were close 
enough to speak to one another, 24 percent of the time, they were more 
distant but still within sight; and in four percent they were out of sight of 
each other. 

Violent encounters occurred primarily at close range, but rarely among 
intimates. Half of all violent acts took place between strangers. 

In at least eight out of every ten violent acts, both the source and the 
receiver was male. The source of violence was female in seven percent of all 
acts and the receiver was female six percent of the time. The rest were 
indeterminate or mixed as far as the sexes of sources and receivers were 
concerned. A sexual aspect to the relationship between sources and receivers 
was noted in four percent of all violent acts. 

b. Group Aspects 

Nationality, ethnicity, or family membership of the opponents was 
observed in two-thirds of all violent episodes. Approximately one-third of the 
time violent opponents were from the same ethnic background. Violence 
between different national or ethnic group members was observed in 28 
percent of all violent episodes. Violence between members of the same family 
was rare (two percent). 

An analysis of acts coded separately by sources and receivers gives an 
indication of the group structure of violent encounters, and of the effect of 
group membership upon chances of generating or suffering violence. Isolated 
individuals, group leaders, and groups themselves each generated about 
one-fifth of all violent acts, and individual group members generated more 
than one-third. On the receiving end, however, group leaders suffered less and 
group members more than their share. Group leaders generated 21 percent 
and received eighteen percent of all violent acts while group members 
committed 37 percent and suffered 40 percent of all violent acts received. If 
there is any pattern in these slight differences, it suggest that, among those 
involved in violence, there is greater safety in isolation from, leadership of, or 
total immersion in a group than in being an identifiable group member. 
Group members committed sixteen percent more of all violent acts than did 
the leaders, but became the targets of 22 percent more than did the leaders. 

C. Witnesses to Violence 

Is violence presented as acceptable in the social context of the portrayal 
itself? One approach is to observe witnesses and their reaction or relation to 
the violence. 

It is difficult to pinpoint witnesses on television. Frequent closeups and 
medium shots tend to exclude them. The presence and reaction of witnesses 
in drama is not an independent occurence, but part of the whole structure 



322 Mass Media and Violence 

and intent of the play. Even if witnesses are assumed to be present, showing 
them and their reactions adds to the cost and complicates the scene; this is 
done only to make a specific point in the story. 

Half of all violent episodes did not show any witnesses. When witnesses 
were shown, they were usually passive. In thirty three percent of all violent 
episodes, witnesses were present but did not or could not react. In eight 
percent, witnesses attempted to prevent violence. In nine percent, witnesses 
assisted or encouraged violence. On the whole, violence is rarely overtly 
objected to or punished by witnesses in the world of television drama. 

d. Physical Consequences 

At least three-fourths of all violent acts had no permanent physical effects 
upon the victims. Some incapacity was observed in seven percent of the acts, 
and death in nine percent. Focusing on acts rather than on individuals tends 
to emphasize the more repeatable (and, therefore, less serious) consequences; 
a victim may suffer several acts of violence, but only one fatality. 

A study of violent episodes revealed that half of all episodes resulted in 
physical injury or fatality. The average rate was almost two casualties per 
violent episode. Three-fourths of all episodes with any injury resulted in a 
single casualty, thirteen percent in two casualties, another eight percent in 
three to eight casualties, and six percent in eight or more (including mass) 
casualties. 

Gory details of physical injury (blood and wounds) were shown in 
fourteen percent of all programs, 

e. "Good" vs. "Bad" and "Winner" vs. "Loser" 

In at least eight out of every ten violent acts, the opponents were clearly 
recognizable as "good" or "bad" and as ultimate "winners" and "losers." On 
the receiving end, the "good guys" suffered in five out of every ten acts, 
while the "bad guys" suffered in only three out of every ten. The difference 
between "winners" and "losers" as targets of violence was less pronounced, 
but in the same direction; "winners" were subjected to violence in 35 percent 
and "losers" in 31 percent of all acts received. 

The pattern remained the same with "good guy winners" and "bad guy 
losers." Violent acts tended to engage the two combined types equally as 
sources, but not as receivers. Violent virtue suffered more than violent evil, 
but triumphed in the end. 

3 . The People of Violence 

Violence is a form of conflict in which lives are at stake, and force governs 
the outcome. Who is given the power to inflict violence upon whom in 
television drama? What are some characteristics of the killers and their 
victims? What roles do the forces of law or lawlessness play in the distribution 
of violence? What part does violence play in the fate of the fictional 
characters? 

These questions guided the analysis of all major characters in all plays, 
both violent and non-violent. A total 455 such characters were found in the 



The Television World of Violence 323 

plays analyzed for both 1967 and 1968. Nearly one out of every four (23 
percent) were cartoon characters; nearly nine out of every ten (89 percent) 
were human (both "live" and cartoon); the rest were "humanized" 
(speaking), other animals, and a robot. 

Unmarried white males in the prime of life were cast in the majority of 
dramatic leads and violence was the dominant theme of life in their fictional 
world. 

a. "Violents," Killers and their Victims 

At least half of all characters inflicted some violence upon others. The 
proportion of these 'Violents" was 56 percent in 1967 and 50 percent in 
1968. 

At least one out of every ten leading characters (twelve percent) was a 
killer. More than one in every five (22 percent) of those who committed any 
violence was a killer. The proportion of killers remained unchanged from one 
study period to the other. 

Widespread victimization was evident, but again difficult to specify unless 
resulting in death. At least five percent of all characters, eight percent of all 
violent characters, and fifteen percent of all killers met violent ends. 

Most of those who were killed also committed violence, but most killers 
did not die violent deaths. Of the 25 major characters killed in all television 
plays, twenty inflicted violence upon others and eight were killers. Of all 54 
killers, 46 did not pay for their acts with their own lives. 

b. Males and Females 

Male characters dominated the world of television drama by a four-to-one 
ratio, and committed six times more violence than females. Males killed eight 
times more frequently than females, and were killed seven times as often. To 
look at these figures another way, 58 percent of all male leading characters 
and 33 percent of all female leading characters committed some violence. 23 
percent of violent males, (or, of all males, 13 percent) were killers. Finally, 
6 percent of all males and 3 percent of all females suffered violent deaths. 

c. Age and Marriage 

The average character had 50 percent chance of committing some violence. 
The likelihood increased with age, but declined in old age. Middle-aged 
characters and those of indeterminate age (mostly cartoon characters) were 
the most probable "violents." More specifically, 'Violents" comprised 
one-third of all preschool and primary school-age characters, 45 percent of 
secondary school-age characters, 48 percent of young adults, 56 percent of 
middle-aged character , 42 percent of those in old age, and 65 percent of 
indeterminate or "ageless" characters. 

Young adults and middle-aged characters portrayed nine of every ten 
killers and eight of every ten victims of fatal violence. Each of these age 
groups had a greater share of killings than their proportion of the total 
population might suggest. The adolescent was less likely than the middle-aged 
to play violent roles, but more likely to commit fatal violence. However, the 



324 Mass Media and Violence 

older characters were much more likely to be killed than the younger. 

Of all violent young adults, one-third became killers, while only 24 of all 
violent middle-aged characters did so. However, most fatal victims (60 
percent) were middle-aged. The violent fatality rate among young adults was 
3.4 percent, but among middle-aged characters was 7.3 percent. 

Marriage reduced the chances of violent involvement. Married characters 
played 29 percent of all major parts, 22 percent of 'Violents," nineteen 
percent of violent killers, and twelve percent of fatalities. The bulk of 
'Violents," killers, and their victims came from among the unmarried 
characters or those whose martial status could not be determined. More single 
than married people engaged in violence (58 percent against 40 percent), 
turned killers (fourteen percent against eight percent), and died violent deaths 
(seven percent against two percent). 

d. Forces of Law and of Lawlessness 

The forces of law and of lawlessness together made up one-fourth of the 
total lead population of television drama, one-third of all violent characters, 
and half of all killers. 

Criminals numbered 10 percent of all characters, 15 percent of violent 
characters, 20 percent of killers, and 24 percent of those killed. Arrayed 
against them were public and private agents who portrayed nine percent of 
the total lead populations, 11 percent of the 'Violents," 13 percent of the 
killers, and none of the killed. 

Two of every ten violent acts included criminals, and one out of every ten 
public and private law agents. While criminals inflicted 22 percent of all 
violent acts and suffered in only 17 percent, the agents were equally balanced 
at both ends of the scale. The imbalance between virtue and evil on the 
receiving end may be due, in part, to the fact that criminals suffer less 
frequent but more lethal violence than others. 

Most criminals (82 percent) engaged in some violence; 25 percent of all 
criminals and 31 percent of violent criminals were killers, and 14 percent of 
all criminals were killed. 

Police and other law enforcement agents were almost as violent but they 
rarely, if ever, paid with -their own lives. Seven of every ten agents committed 
violence and 20 percent of these actions resulted in a fatality. Those who 
committed violence were as likely to kill as were violent criminals. 

Fewer private agents were violent (67 percent), and they rarely killed or 
were killed. 

The armed forces of various nations made up six percent of the total lead 
population, about the same percentage of 'Violents," 15 percent of the 
killers, and 12 percent of the fatal victims. 

A somewhat smaller percentage of members of the armed forces (60 
percent) committed violence than did either agents or criminals. However, 
when they did, they killed more often and suffered fewer casualties. Half of 
all soldiers involved in violence killed, but only one in ten was killed. 

e. Outcome: "Happies "and "Unhappies" 

Most of the "good guys," usually also the "winners," are by definition 
those who achieve a happy outcome. "Bad guys losers" come to an unhappy 



The Television World of Violence 325 

end. Six of every ten major characters reached an unmistakably happy end, 
and two of ten an unhappy end; the rest were mixed or indeterminate. 58 
percent of all characters achieved "happy" endings, while only 52 percent of 
"violents" did; 20 percent of the total achieved "unhappy" endings, as 
opposed to 25 percent of the 'Violents." The figures did not vary 
significantly for those whose ending was uncertain. 

The pattern extends to killers. The proportion of "nappies" among all 
killers declines by another six percentage points, and the proportion of 
"unhappies" among killers increases by 5 more percentage points. 

Although more than half of all "violents" and nearly half of all killers may 
be destined for a happy ending, violence and killing each make a happy 
outcome less likely for one out of every ten major characters. 

Nearly half (147 percent) of the "happies" commit violence, nearly one in 
ten (nine percent) turns killer and not one "happy" was killed; the 
proportions are only slightly below those for the total lead population. For 
the "unhappies," the proportions are much higher: seven of every ten commit 
violence, two of ten become killers, and three of ten die violent deaths. 



4. The World of Violence 

What is the setting of the fictional world in which violence is prevalent? 
What kind of people inhabit that world? How is the law enforced in that 
world? Dimensions of the analysis addressed to these questions compared 
violent and non-violent television plays with respect to the time and place of 
action, nationality and ethnicity of population, and aspects of law 
enforcement portrayed. 



a. Time of Action 

Most television plays were set in contemporary America, and 80 percent 
contained some violence. The "present" (the sixties) was the setting in 85 
percent of the non-violent plays, but only 55 percent of the plays that 
contained violence. The past was the setting in only a negligible portion 
(three percent) of non-violent plays, but 26 percent of the violent plays. The 
future (the setting in ten percent of the plays) was never shown without 
violence, and the time of action was indeterminate in one out of ten plays 
regardless of violence. 

Ninety -eight percent of all plays set in the past contained violence, the 
future was always violent, only 74 percent (less than average) of plays set in 
the present contained violence, and the plays set in several or no identifiable 
time periods contained an average share of violence (79 percent). 



b. Places and People 

Violence tended to shift the action toward other places, as well as to other 
times. The location was varied, indeterminate, or totally outside the United 
States in 38 percent of violent, but only fifteen percent of non-violent plays. 



326 Mass Media and Violence 

Other countries and foreign or minority groups were significant themes in 
four out of ten violent plays, but only two out of ten non-violent plays. 

Space travel was twice as frequent in violent as in non -violent plays. 
Uninhabited or mobile settings provided the locales of 44 percent of violent, 
but only 21 percent of non -violent plays. Urban and rural settings, on the 
other hand, were the primary locales of the great majority of non-violent 
plays. 

In other words, whenever the place of action was not limited to the United 
States alone or not localized to a city, town, or village, or whenever foreign 
themes or people other than majority-type Americans were significant 
elements in the story, violence prevailed in nine out of every ten plays. 

We have noted before that intergroup violence was nearly as frequent as 
ingroup violence. Now we see that foreign themes and people are more 
frequent in the fictional world of violence than of non-violence. It is not 
surprising, therefore, to find that a violent world of other times and places 
also involved in violent action a disproportionate number of "others." 

Major characters playing violent roles included half of all white Americans, 
six out of every ten white non-Americans, and nearly seven out of every ten 
non-whites. 

While all "others" were more violent, white foreigners killed more, and 
non-whites less, than white Americans. Both foreigners and non-whites 
suffered proportionately higher fatalities than did white Americans. 
Twenty -eight percent of all violent whites inflicted fatal violence, and white 
killers outnumbered whites killed two-to-one, but only two of the twenty 
violent non-whites were killers, and for each non-white killer there was a 
non-white killed. 



c. Law and Its Enforcement 

Legality was seldom portrayed as being violated unless criminal themes 
were involved. Such themes were featured as significant elements in one-third 
of all and less than half (45 percent) of violent plays. When crime was 
featured, however, the plays nearly always involved violence. 

Due process of law l\Q%a\ apprehension or trial) was indicated as a 
consequence of major acts of violence in only two out of every ten violent 
plays. Official agents of law enforcement, (seven percent of all major 
characters), were thus confined to a small segment of the population of the 
fictional world of violence. These agents played a discernible role in one out 
of every ten violent episodes. When they did play a part, it was violent on two 
of every three occasions. The violence was initiated by agents of law 40 
percent of the time. Agents of law responded to violence in a violent manner 
on three of every ten occasions. Police restraint in the face of violence was 
rare (one out of every ten such episodes), and law agents suffered violence 
but could make no response in two of every ten such episodes. 

The level of violence employed by agents of law appeared to be no more 
than that necessary to accomplish their objectives on eight out of every ten 
occasions. Their actions were portrayed as justifiable on seven of every ten 
occasions. 

In conclusion, television drama presents a lawless world in which due 



The Television World of Violence 327 

process plays a small part. It is a wild world of many violent strangers, with a 
mostly violent past and a totally violent future. 

D. The World of Television Entertainment: 1967 and 1968 

This section will be devoted to interpretation of the findings reported in 
the previous section. The content analysis research carried out by the Gerbner 
research team provides us with information about the extent, nature, and 
presentation of violence on television. This information permits us to 
decipher the messages about violence being sent to television audiences on the 
basis of factual, objective, and reliable information. Thus, we do not have to 
rely on selective impressions, biased opinions, or subjective judgments about 
the nature and extent of violence on prime-time television. 

1 . Extent of Violent Programs 

The first issue to be considered is the extent to which violent programs 
appear in the total entertainment package offered by the three major 
television networks during prime-time viewing hours (4 p.m. - 10 p.m. 
Monday through Friday and Sunday, and 8 a.m. - 1 1 a.m. Saturdays). 

Table 1 programs containing violence 
{Percent of total programs presented J * 



1967 


All Net> 

TV 
( 78) 


vorks ABC 
Percent TV 
81.3 (31) 
81.6 (20) 
81.4 (51) 


Percent 
88.6 
90.9 
89.5 


CBS 
N 
(21) 
(27) 
(48) 


Percent 
65.6 
77.1 
71.6 


NBC 

TV 
(26) 
(24) 
(50) 


Percent 
89.7 
80.0 
84.7 


1968 


( 71) 


Total 


(149) 



*TV=Number of violent programs 

The figures presented in Table 1 are conservative estimates of the extent of 
violent programming. This is because (a) only explicit threats or acts of 
violence were included, and (b) the number of programs counted by Gerbner 
exceeds the actual number of programs as defined by half-hour segments. 

If television is compared to a meal, programming containing violence 
clearly is the main course being served. The total volume of violent 
programming on the three networks did not decrease from 1967 to 1968. 
ABC programming contained the second highest percentage of violent 
programs in 1967 (88.6 percent) and the highest in 1968 (90.9 percent). A 
person tuned to ABC who wished to avoid programs containing violence 9 
would have had a difficult time in 1967 and even more trouble in 1968. 

CBS had the lowest percentage of programs containing violence in both 
1967 (65.6 percent) and 1968 (77.1 percent). However, the percentage of 
violent programs increased from 1967 to 1968. Dr. Frank Stanton, president 
of CBS, indicated shortly after the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy 
that the extent of violence in CBS programs would be reduced (in a letter to 
Dr. Milton Eisenhower, Chairman of the Violence Commission). 

If CBS had reduced the amount of violent scenes in the following months, 
it would have affected the results of the 1968 content analysis. It is difficult 
to know how much higher the percentage of CBS programs containing 



328 Mass Media and Violence 

violence might have been if the 1968 content analysis had been conducted 
before instead of after Senator Kennedy's assassination. In any case, a regular 
viewer of CBS would have trouble finding non-violent programs. 

NBC had the highest percentage of programs containing violence in 1967 
(89.7 percent), and the second highest in 1968 (80.0 percent), and was the 
only network to show a decrease in the percentage of violent programs. 
Despite this fact, a regular NBC viewer who seeks to avoid violent programs 
for his or his children's viewing during prime-time is in the same situation as 
ABC and CBS viewers. 

On the other hand, if a person seeks to watch programs containing 
violence, as is entirely conceivable, he would probably be able to do so during 
all of prime-time television. Those who wish to avoid violent programming 
have an extemely difficult task, while those who seek it have little trouble. 



2. The Incidence of Violence for Different Types of Programs 

Within the total entertainment programming package, different types of 
programs vary in terms of the presence or absence and frequency of violence. 
All entertainment programs were classified into three general categories (for 
the purposes of this section of the report): (1) Comedy Tone, (2) 
Crime-Western-Adventure Style, and (3) Cartoons Format. 10 

a. Programs with a Comedy Tone 

Comedy programs constituted 45.8 percent of all entertainment 
programming analyzed for 1967, and 48.3 percent of that analyzed for 1968. 
In Table 2, the extent and intensity of violence in comedy programs in 1967 
and 1968 is presented. 

Table 2. - Violence in programs with a comedy tone 

1967 1968 Total 

Percent containing violence 65.9 66.7 66.3 

Average number of violent episodes: 

Per program 2.8 3.2 3.0 

Per program containing violence . 4.2 4.8 4.5 

Of the three program types, we might expect to find the least violence in 
comedy programs. While this expectation is supported, approximately 
two-thirds of all comedy programs analyzed contained some violence. 

A viewer of comedy programs broadcast during prime-time hours can 
expect to see an average of three violent episodes per show, and if he is 
watching a comedy program containing violence, he will see an average of 
four violent episodes per show. The percentage of comedy type programs did 
not change significantly from 1967 to 1968, although the average number of 
violent episodes increased slightly. Thus it appears that violence plays a 
significant role in television comedy. 



The Television World of Violence 329 

b. Crime-Western Action-Adventure Style Programs 

When the topic of violence on television is raised, people customarily think 
of the crime-western action-adventure type of program. The content analysis 
findings show that the majority of all television entertainment program types 
during prime-time hours contained violence, but the crime-western adventure 
style does indeed contain the highest percentage of violent programs. The 
findings are presented in Table 3. 

Table 3. -Violence in crime, western, action-adventure style 

1967 1968 Total 

Percent containing violence 95.3 98.1 96.6 

Average number of 

violent episodes 

per program 6.5 6.3 6.4 

Per program containing violence .... 6.9 6.4 6.7 

Per hour 8.8 8.7 8.7 

This kind of program constituted a large portion of the total presented 
during prime-time hours, in 1967 (66.7 percent), and again in 1968 (62.1 
percent). 

According to Table 3, crime-western, action-adventure type programs: (1) 
almost always contain violence; (2) did not decrease in the percentage 
containing violence from 1967 to 1968; and (3) have a high incidence of 
violent episodes, the intensity of which decreased slightly from 1967 to 1968. 
In other words, little change occurred in the extent of violence in these 
programs between 1967 and 1968. 

Entire battle scenes, as well as all other instances in which a group was 
involved in violence, were counted as only one violent episode. In light of this 
fact, the methods used to count the number of violent episodes are certainly 
conservative. Had individual acts of violence in a war, gang fight, or other 
scenes been counted, the overall incidence of violent episodes would certainly 
have been much greater. 

c. Programs with a Cartoon Format 

Of all of the types of television entertainment, cartoon programs are the 
most specifically directed toward an audience of children. For example, the 
Saturday morning (8 a.m. - 1 1 a.m.) programming format, regardless of which 
network is being watched, is almost exclusively cartoon-type programs, and a 
large part of the advertising presented during cartoon programs is specifically 
directed toward children. 

In almost every public or governmental expression of concern about the 
effects of television entertainment programming, a primary focus is on the 
possible effects upon children. Recent studies of childrens' media habits show 
strong indications that children are viewing more and more prime-time 
programming. 1 1 Thus, the decision was made not to do separate content 



330 Mass Media and Violence 

analyses of child and adult programming. However, the extent and intensity of 
violence contained in cartoon programs can give a clear indication of how 
often and how much violence is presented when the known and expected 
audience is almost exclusively composed of children. We can thus get a 
reasonably clear indication of the emphasis placed upon violence for child : , 
audiences by network personnel. 

Table 4- Violence in programs with a cartoon format 

1967 1968 Total 

Percent containing violence 94.3 92.8 93.5 

Per program 4.7 6.5 5.5 

Per program 

containing violence 5.0 6.7 5.8 

Per hour 21.6 23.5 22.5 

The findings in Table 4 are underestimates of the extent and intensity of , 
violence occurring in a fifteen-minute or half-hour cartoon show, because a 
cartoon program, as defined for purposes of this content analysis, means a 
single cartoon story (e.g., one "Bird Man" cartoon). 

Cartoon programs made up 33 percent of all programming analyzed for 
1967, and 29 percent for 1968. Though there is a decrease in the percentage 
of cartoon programs from 1967 to 1968, the largest increase in intensity of 
violence occurred in cartoon programming. Violence was pervasive and 
intense in cartoon programs broadcast in prime time hours for the periods 
studied. 

Some observers may discount these findings on the grounds that: (1) 
cartoon programs are fantasy, not reality; (2) children know the difference 
between fantasy and reality; and (3) fantasy programs can have no harmful 
effect upon child viewers. 

Without going into the crucial question of the messages being sent via 
cartoon and other program types, the following points should be made in 
regard to the real or potential effects of violence presented in cartoons and 
other programs which are thought to fall within the realm of fantasy. 

1 . There is no conclusive evidence that children can differentiate between 
fantasy and reality in television programs. 

2. It remains to be proven that fantasy programs have no effect upon child 
viewers harmful or otherwise. 

3. Some psychologists suggest that television, with its capacity to 
stimulate audiovisual senses, has properties of perceptual reality which 
blur the distinction between fantasy and reality. 12 

4. For many children, the first contact with violence probably occurs while 
viewing television. For many children, their only contact with several 
types of violence may be from exposure to television programs. 

3. Do Television Audiences Get What They Want? 

For many years the claim has been made that the extent and nature ol | 
violence in television entertainment programming prevails because it is what 
the public wants. In support of this claim, the television networks point tc 



The Television World of Violence 33 1 

studies of audience size. It is not easy to determine just how these studies are 
carried out, thereby making it difficult to assess the scientific validity of the 
sampling process. 

Two important points should be made which bear directly on audience 
preferences: 

a. Manifold Functions of Television 

Social scientists have noted that the mass media do more than merely 
fulfill the desire for acquisition of information and entertainment. In the case 
of radio, soap operas give many female listeners 1 3 lessons in family-related 
problem-solving; lower income persons often think they are learning the style 
and etiquette of middle-class society from television programs. 14 

Television also serves as a baby-sitter. Almost all American families own a 
television set. It is a fair guess that many harried parents are relieved when 
their children are busy watching television, and some parents encourage this 
so that parental work and other activities may be accomplished in relative 
peace and quiet. 

Television also serves a "companion function." For many persons who are 
alone for long periods of time, television can act as a substitute for the 
presence of loved ones or the company of other people. 

The point to be made is that many persons may not watch television solely 
for the inherent appeal of its entertainment or informational content. For 
them, television viewing may result directly from a variety of factors 
essentially unrelated to program content. 

b. Habitual Nature of Television Viewing 

Television viewing, like newspaper reading, may be a habitual activity. 
When some subscribers do not receive their newspaper, they become irritated 
and upset. 15 The irritation does not result solely from the inability to keep 
up with current events, but also from the disruption of a habitual daily 
routine. Given the numbers of hours of television that Americans watch daily, 
it appears reasonable to speculate that television viewing, regardless of the 
content, may be a habitual activity for some Americans. This hypothesis 
could be tested by measuring people's reactions when their set is out of order, 
or by systematically preventing some communities from watching television 
for various lengths of time. 



c. The TV Public's Choices 

Regardless of the merits of audience appeal, studies, network officials claim 
that these studies represent what the viewing public chooses to watch from 
what is available. 

What are these choices? First of all, the public can decide whether or not 
to watch television at all. We know that most American families have at least 
one set, and that most of them watch some television. The question remains, 
however, as to why these persons choose to become members of the 
television viewing public. 



332 Mass Media and Violence 

One obvious reason is that it seems wasteful not to use a television once it 
has been purchased. Many may choose to watch television simply because it is 
an inexpensive form of entertainment. Sports and news programs, which were 
not included in the content analysis, often provide the viewer with a better 
vantage point than persons who are actually on the scene. 

Another possible factor may be termed the "Jones' effect": "If everyone 
else is watching television, why should we be different?" Sometimes, a 
television serial becomes a topic of discussion at social gatherings or even a 
full-fledged fad. In these instances, some persons, especially children, may 
watch that program in order to know what people are talking about or to be 
able to participate in discussions related to the program. 

In any case, many factors probably affect the decisions of persons to 
become members of the viewing public. 

The television public also makes choices about which channels and 
programs to watch. For the viewer whose criterion is the absence of violence, 
choice is limited to less than nineteen percent of all programs broadcast 
during prime-time hours, according to our study. By way of contrast, viewers, 
seeking to watch programs containing violence have little difficulty. 

d. The Public 's Views on TV Violence 

In view of the above discussion, it is important to know how Americans 
view the amount and kinds of violence they find available in television 
entertainment programming. Two items bearing directly on this question 
were included in the Violence Commission National Survey. The first 
inquired: 

How do you feel about the amount of violence portrayed in 
television programs today, not including news programs do you think 
that there is too much, a reasonable amount, or very little violence? 

A representative sample of adult Americans gave the following responses 
to this question: (1) fifty-nine percent said there was too much violence, (2) 
thirty -two percent said there was a reasonable amount, (3) four percent said 
there was very little, and (4) four percent were not sure. 

Thus a majority of adult Americans think there is too much violence on 
television. 

A second item was asked of the same sample : 

Apart from the amount of violence, do you generally approve or 
disapprove of the kind of violence that is protrayed on TV? 

Responses (Percent) 

Approve 25 

Disapprove 63 

12 

100 






The Television World of Violence 333 

Americans may not be getting what they want in television programming 
when the issue is the kind of violence portrayed. 16 

e. Summary 

Whether audiences get the programming they want is an issue which 
should be assessed in light of all the relevant factors associated with television 
viewing and program selection. It has been suggested that the inherent appeal 
of television programming is not the only factor affecting conscious or 
unconscious decisions to watch television in general or a given program in 
particular. 

With regard to violence, our findings indicate that a majority of adults are 
not getting what they want with respect to the amount and kind of violence 
on television. In addition, to the extent that the two weeks of entertainment 
programming analyzed are typical, the entertainment choices available to the 
viewing public appear to be reduced either to watching programs containing 
violence or watching very little television. 

Major findings of the analysis include the following: 

1. Violence is pervasive, occurring in eighty-one percent of all 1967 
programs analyzed and eighty-two percent in 1968. 

2. The extent of violence varies by type of program, but a majority of all 
types of programs contain violence. Programs with a 
crime-western-action adventure style have the highest proportion 
containing violence, with cartoons a close second, and comedies third. 

3. Networks vary in the proportion of their schedule allocated to given 
types of programs. This largely accounts for the differences between 
networks, and changes from 1967 to 1968. However, no network had 
less than seventy -seven percent of all its programming (prime time, 
October 17) containing violence in 1968. 

4. The majority of adult Americans not only think there is too much 
violence on television, but also disapprove of the kind of violence 
portrayed. 

4. Messages for Violence Contained in TV Entertainment Programming 

In order to investigate the real or potential effects of television violence, it 
is not sufficient to know only the extent of violence; these effects are most 
directly determined by the messages sent to the viewing public. To use a 
medical analogy, we might say that the extent of violence is the dosage given 
and the message sent is the medication. So far we know the "dosage" is very 
high, but we need to know the nature of the medication. 

Each of the norms for violence listed below has been inferred from one or 
more of the findings summarized in the preceding pages. This process involves 
identification of the substantive meaning of an event on the basis of 
incomplete information. For example, when a boy has received three 
consecutive refusals for a date from a girl, he may draw the inference that the 
girl is not interested in ever dating him. Although she has not categorically 
stated that she is not interested, her actions imply this meaning. Thus the boy 
"gets the message," and makes an inference made on the basis of incomplete 
information. 



334 Mass Media and Violence 

This procedure was involved indeciphering some of the norms for violence 
which are implied by television messages. The problem is to infer what the 
substantive meanings of these messages of violence could be (e.g., norms). It 
is likely that more than one norm could be inferred from the same message, 
and it is conceivable that an inference made by one investigator would not 
be made by another, or that contradictory inferences could be drawn from 
the same message. 

The fact that inference does involve judgments means that there can be 
legitimate differences in judgment between two or more investigators within 
reasonable limits. 

We can return to the boy-girl situation to illustrate this point. The boy 
who receives three consecutive refusals may make the inference that the girl is 
not interested in him. On the basis of exactly the same facts, he could also 
draw the inference that the girl is very popular, so that if he keeps trying, 
eventually he will get a date with her. However, there are practical, if not 
logical, limits to the inferences which he can make: for example, he could not 
infer that she has been eagerly waiting by the phone just for him to call and 
ask for a date. 

Inference, then is not haphazard or whimsical. It is a process of attributing 
meaning on the basis of factual, but incomplete, data within the confines of 
logic and trained judgment. 

The most frequent and relevant messages about violence contained in the 
programs studied are abstracted below. Accompanying each message are one 
or more norms for violence which have been inferred from that message. 
Messages are ordered from the most specific to the most general. 

1. Message: Unmarried young to middle-aged males are usually violent. 

Norm: Expect unmarried young to middle-aged males to be more violent than 
others. 



2. Message: Non-whites and foreigners are disproportionately more violent than 
whites and Americans. 

Norm: Expect violence more from non-whites or non-Americans than from 
whites and Americans. 



3. Message: The vast majority of violence occurs between strangers who are within 
talking distance of one another. 

Norm: When anticipating violence, be wary of situations in which you encounter 
strangers at close physical range. 

Norm: Violence is to be expected more from strangers than from friends, 
acquaintances, or family members. 

Norm: If you want to avoid being involved in or the victim of violence, avoid 
strangers. 

Combining Messages 1-3: In the U.S., expect violence from unmarried 
young to middle-aged male strangers; if outside of the U.S., expect 
violence from non-white or foreign unmarried young to middle-age 
male strangers. 



The Television World of Violence 3 35 

4. Message: Non-whites kill less often than do whites, but are killed more often. 

Message: Violent young males are more likely to kill than are violent middle-aged 
males, but less likely to be killed. 

Norm: The violent people, including killers, who should be the most concerned 
about getting killed are middle-aged men and non-whites. 



5. Message: Law enforcement officers are frequently involved in violent encounters 
with segments of the American public. 

Message: A law enforcement officer's response to violence is more often violent, 
than non-violent. 

Norm: It is to be expected that law enforcement officers will be as violent as the 
most violent citizens. 



6. Message: The future is pervasively violent. 

Norm: Although the past and present are heavily saturated with violence, the 
future will be more extensively so. 



7. Message: Although violence can lead to death, physical injuries are not often 
accompanied by visible gore. 

Norm: Physical injury caused by violence can kill, but is sanitized and does not 
hurt. 



8. Message: When there are witnesses to violence, the most typical reaction is 
non-reaction or passivity. 

Norm: If you are a witness to a violent episode, do not get directly involved by 
intervening, and do not publicly disapprove; just watch quietly. 



9. Message: The use of violence, even killing, often goes unpunished by formal means 

of due process of law or by informal means of public or private 
expression of disapproval. 

Norm: If you use violence, do not be too concerned about being formally or 
informally punished. 

10. Message: "Good guys" and "winners" use as much violence as "bad guys" and 

"loser." 

Norm: The use of violence has nothing to do with the distinction between "good 
guys" and "bad guys" and "winners" and "losers." 

Message: Violence is used by "good guys" and "bad guys" as means to an end, and 
"good guys" generally attain their goals. 

Norm: Violence is a legitimate and successful means of attaining a desired end. 

Norm: There is no inconsistency between achieving a desired goal through 
violence and being a "good guy." 



336 Mass Media and Violence 

The above messages and norms have been selected as the most relevant for 
the present discussion. The overall impression is that violence, employed as a 
means of conflict resolution or acquisition of personal goals, is a predominant 
characteristic of life. Cooperation, compromise, debate, and other non-violent 
means of conflict resolution are notable for their relative lact of prominence. 

A general impression gleaned from the selected messages and implicit 
norms presented above is that violence often accompanies conflict, is a 
successful means of reaching personal ends (especially for individuals cast in 
the role of "good guy"), and is not usually punished. These findings are 
consistent with those obtained by Larsen, Grey, and Fertis in a content 
analysis of popular television programs. 17 

5. Research Implications 

Even though findings and inferences from content analysis may give rise to 
serious concerns about the effects of exposure to television violence, they do 
not provide conclusive evidence about them. Exposure alone does not 
automatically mean that the viewer will be affected. The degree to which 
exposure is likely to have a direct effect depends, in large part, upon the type 
of effect being considered. 

If our concern is solely to determine whether or not persons have an 
emotional reaction to television violence research shows that they do. We are 
dealing with a relatively direct and simple effect of exposure. 18 In this case, 
messages and implicit norms for violence have little, if any, bearing. 

However, if we wish to determine what persons can and do learn from 
their exposure to television portrayals of violence, range of messages and 
norms for violence which can be inferred are a salient concern. 

In chapter 12, experimental studies provide consistent evidence that 
people, especially children, can and do learn complex and novel acts of 
aggression from observation of television and film portrayals, 19 However, 
learning novel acts of aggression is less complex than the process involved in 
acquiring implied norms for violence. If a group was exposed to the same 
series of messages about violence for the same length of time, we would 
expect different individuals to perceive the portrayals of violence in relatively 
different ways. This expectation is based upon the well-established principle 
of selective, perception. 

In some respects, the implications of selective perception are greater when 
the issue is learning norms rather than acts. Learning norms requires a 
complex symbolic process of attributing normative meaning to an observed 
event. To the extent that people differ in their perceptions of a television 
portrayal of violence, we would expect different normative inferences to be 
made. Differences in inferred norms would probably lead to differences in the 
nature of probable effects. 

The inferral of the same norms by a group still does not prove that the 
process of making a normative inference has an effect. If audiences were to 
draw similar inferences, under what conditions will they incorporate the 
norms implied in that television program as their own norms for violence? 
The next question is: What are the behavioral implications for persons who 
incorporate television norms for violence as their own? 

The questions which must be answered before we can definitively assess 



The Television World of Violence 337 

the effects of exposure to messages about violence on television are: (1) 
under what conditions does learning of norms for violence occur from 
exposure to television?; (2) under what conditions are inferred norms for 
violence adopted, once they are learned?; and (3) under what conditions are 
the norms for violence, when learned and adopted, acted upon? 

Studies cited in Chapter 1 2 point to the following conditions in which 
learning of aggressive acts is demonstrated: (a) when a situation is 
encountered similar to the portrayal situation in which aggressive acts were 
learned; (b) when there is an expectation of being rewarded for performing 
the learned aggression or escaping detection; 20 and (c) when no disapproval 
of the portrayed behavior is shown by another person who is exposed to the 
same portrayaK 2 1 

These three conditions are by no means the only ones which must be 
considered, but they lend themselves most easily to evaluation through 
content analysis. 

The likelihood that viewers who were exposed to the two weeks of TV 
programming analyzed would face similar situations is somewhat reduced by 
the fact that only fifty-five percent of all programs containing violence were 
set in the 1960's. Time of action, of course, is only one aspect of a portrayal 
situation. Thus, a different time of action does not remove the possibility 
that the portrayal situation could be quite similar to those encountered by 
persons in the 1960's. 

For example, the portrayal of a teenage boy in frontier times encountering 
a situation where he must decide whether or not to resolve conflict with 
another teenager by the use of violence may influence a teenage boy living in 
the 1960's who encounters a similar situation. 

To the degree that portrayal situations are different from those the 
viewing audience are likely to encounter, learning of violent acts and norms 
may occur, but are less likely to be acted upon than when such situations are 
similar. 

The content analysis findings bear directly upon the second research 
condition; there is an increase in the likelihood that subjects in experiments 
will act upon their learning of aggressive acts when subjects expect to be or 
see actors in television portrayals rewarded for aggressive behavior. One of 
the clearest content analysis findings is that violent characters in television 
portrayals are often rewarded for their behavior. Reward comes most directly 
to "good guys," who often achieve success through violence. In addition, the 
use of violence is not often punished in the television world. Thus, if viewers 
infer from their exposure that violence not only goes largely unpunished but 
is rewarded, they may be more likely to transfer this inference into an 
expectation that they might be rewarded or go unpunished for using violence. 

Although the rewarding and non-punishment condition does occur in the 
programs analyzed, it is not known whether this condition will have the same 
effect (significantly increasing the probability that learned aggression will be 
performed) on audiences who are not subjects in a laboratory experiment. In 
other words, we cannot assume that the effects occurring under the 
controlled setting of an experiment will also occur in home settings. 

The importance of considering the social contexts in which television 
viewing typically takes place is pointed up in the third condition whether or 
not approval or disapproval is expressed by one viewer in another viewer's 



338 Mass Media and Violence 

presence. The content analysis research does not provide any information on 
the degree to which children view television in the presence of others, or how 
often others, when present, verbally approve or disapprove of portrayals of 
violent acts. Future research is required before we will know if the effect of 
this condition will be the same in a home as in laboratory experiments i.e. 
increasing the probability of learned acts of aggression being performed. 

Future research is also required to determine if the conditions which are 
found to increase the probability of persons performing learned aggression 
also increase the probability of persons acting in accordance with norms for 
violence learned from exposure to television programs. The present 
assumption is that it will, but future research is needed to corroborate or 
disprove the hypothesis. 

E. Summary 

The world of television violence is a place in which severe violence is 
commonplace. The main characters are unmarried young to middle-age males 
who became involved in violent encounters with strangers. Violent encounters 
are often unwitnessed, but when they are, the predominant reaction is passive 
observation and non-intervention. Violence, regardless of the identity of the 
initiator, goes largely unpunished. The central role played by violence in this 
cold world of strangers and passive observers is to provide a successful means 
for individuals or groups to resolve conflicts in their favor or self-interest. 
Forces of law enforcement are undistinguishable from others insofar as they 
also use violence as the predominant mode of conflict resolution. Legality, in 
many instances, is not a relevant dimension or concern. 

An examination of some of the most frequent messages being sent to mass 
audiences and norms for violence inferred from these messages leads to a 
serious concern about the effects upon audiences of television entertainment 
programs. At the very least, it can be said that the messages being sent about 
violence are inconsistent with a philosophy of social behavior based upon 
involved cooperation, non-violent resolution of conflict, and non-violent 
means of attaining personal ends. 

The next series of questions which needs to be addressed is (1) Are the 
messages which are sent actually received by TV audiences? (2) Are these 
messages learned? (3) Can norms for violence implied in these messages be 
learned and adopted as the audience's norms for violence? This series of 
questions lies at the crux of the issue of the social and psychological effects 
of mass media portrayals of violence. 

REFERENCES 

1. See Bradley Greenberg, "The Content and Context of Violence in The Mass Media," 
paper submitted to the Violence Commission, Fall, 1968. This paper can be found in 
Appendix II C. 

2. Jack Lyle, "Contemporary Functions of the Mass Media," paper submitted to the 
Violence Commission, Fall, 1968. 

3. We would like to thank ABC, CBS, and NBC for their cooperation. 

4. A study of network programs transmitted October 1-7, 1967 and 1968, conducted 
in October and November 1968 for the Mass Media Task Force, National 
Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. 



The Television World of Violence 339 

Associate investigators: Marten Brouwer, visiting professor of communications; 
Cedric C. Clark, post-doctoral fellow in Communications; Supervisor of data 
processing: Klaus Krippendorff, Assistant Professor of Communications. 
Administrative Assistant and Staff Supervisor: Michael F. Eleey. 
Technical Director: Vernon J. Wattenberger, Director of Facilities and Engineering 
Assistants: Barry Hampe, Supervisor of Film Laboratory Services; John Massi, 
Supervisor of Broadcasting Laboratory Services 

5. Appendix K describes the selection of programs, terms, units, and other conditions 
of analysis, and the methods used to control and measure the extent to which 
unreliable observations or prior judgements might affect the usefulness of the results 
in providing a basis for fresh judgment. The structures of interpretation noted 
should be kept in mind in reading and using the results. 

6. In other words, an accurate and meaningful capsule statement of the story requires 
one or more references to violent acts. 

7. A category for an act of nature as the agent of violence was included, but none were 
observed. 

8. Three-fourths of all sources and receivers were human beings, and one fourth were 
human-like (animals or human-like cartoon characters that can and did speak, and 
one robot who also could speak). 

9. It is difficult to know how many viewers actually include the violent or non-violent 
nature of television programs as a criterion of program selection. However, if this 
criterion were employed, the range of available non-violent programs is quite 
limited. 

10. In Appendix K, analysis is made of more detailed program types. Note that one 
program can be classified as one, two, or three types; e.g., a cartoon format with a 
comedy tone. 

11. See Eleanor Macoby, "Effects of Mass Media, " in M. L. and L. W. Hoffman, (eds.), 
Review of Child Development Research (Russell Sage Foundation, 1964), pp. 
323-348. 

12. See Alberta Siegal, "Effects of Mass Media Violence on Inter-Personal Relations, " 
paper submitted to the Violence Commission, Fall, 1968. 

13. Herta Herzog, "What Do We Really Know About Daytime Serial Listeners?" in P. 
F. Lazarsfeld and F. N. Stanton (eds.), Radio Research (New York: Duell, Sloan & 
Pearce, 1942), pp. 3-33. 

14. W. M. Gerson, "Social Structure and Mass Media Socialization," Unpublished 
doctoral dissertation, University of Washington, 1963. 

15. Bernard Berelson, "What 'Missing the Newspaper' Means," in Wilbur Schramm (ed.), 
The Process and Effects of Mass Communications (Urban, Illinois: Univ. of Illinois 
Press, 1954), pp. 3647. 

16. Social desirability could have affected these responses-i.e., some respondents may 
have felt that the expected or desirable response was to say that they disapproved of 
the kind of violence or that there is too much violence in television entertainment 
programming. 

17. Otto Larsen, Louis Grey, and J. Fortas, "Achieving Goals Through Violence on 
Television," in O. N. Larsen (ed.), Violence and the Mass Media (New York: Harper 
& Row 1968), pp. 9.7-1 11. 

18. For example, see Leonard Berkowitz, 'The Effects of Observing Violence," 
Scientific American, vol. 210 (Feb. 1964), pp. 2-8. 

19. See Chapter 12, for a review of research concerning observational learning from 
exposure to audiovisual portrayals of aggression. 

20. See Chapter 12. 

21. Ibid. 



Chapter 16 
THE ACTUAL WORLD OF VIOLENCE 

A. Norms for Violence 

Thus far it has been shown that (1) television programming is and has been 
saturated with violence; (2) the norms implicit in the television world of 
violence support the use of of violence as a means of conflict resolution and 
as a successful and legitimate means to an array of personal ends; (3) many 
social scientists conclude that audiences exposed to media violence over a 
period of time can absorb norms and attitudes of violence which are 
implicitly or explicitly contained in media entertainment programming; and 
(4) many social scientists conclude that the media can stimulate aggressive 
tendencies which, under some conditions, can lead to aggressive behavior. 1 

No scientists would argue that the media are the sole determinants of past 
or present violence in America. However, there appears to be a growing 
consensus of opinion that the mass media cannot be ignored when an attempt 
is made to explain the phenomenon of violence in contemporary America. 
Social and psychological phenomena are not caused by one and only one 
factor. Thus, the search for an explanation of violence must be directed at an 
investigation of many factors, including mass media presentations and 
practices. 

The Commission staff did not restrict itself to an examination of the 
television world of violence; they also investigated the actual world of 
violence as experienced by Americans. This study is important as a basis for 
comparing real and fictional worlds of violence. It is, then, a factor which 
must be considered in an attempt to explain why some people are violent and 
others are not. Perhaps those who have had direct experience with violence 
are affected differently by exposure to violence as portrayed on television. 
Thus, experience with violence may be both an independent source of 
learning and an intervening factor between exposure to and the effects of 
violence on television. 

Comparison of the two is extremely complex. The impetus for research on 
the actual world of violence stemmed in part from the fact that the effects of 
mass media portrayals of violence upon audience attitudes and behavior 
necessarily involve both (1) the nature of media portrayals of violence in this 
case, the television world of violence and (2) the nature of the norms of and 
direct experience with violence. 



341 



342 Mass Media and Violence 

1 . Survey of Adult and Teenage Americans 

The Media Task Force portion of the national survey constituted 
approximately one-half of the questions given in a one-hour interview. Area 
probability samples of the adult (eighteen and over) and teenage (fourteen to 
nineteen) population of the United States were drawn by Louis Harris 
and Associates. 2 The samples of 1,176 adult Americans and 496 teenagers 
are broadly representative of the total adult and teenage population of this 
country. 

The three major parts of the interview provide detailed information on (a) 
the respondent's norms for violence; (b) the extent and nature of his actual 
experiences with violence; and (c) his media habits and preferences. 3 A copy 
of the Media Task Force portion of the interview schedule is presented in 
Appendix I. 

2. Norms for Violence: Adult and Teenage Americans 

Norms set standards for behavior and define the limits between acceptable 
and unacceptable behavior. It is generally, assumed that most persons will 
seek to act in accordance with these norms in order to avoid disapproval. 
However, applicable norms in a given situation may not coincide either with 
personal norms or with norms of others, and therein lies the opportunity for 
deviance and conflict. Persons who deviate from their own norms may lose 
self-esteem. Persons who deviate from the norms held by others, such as 
friends and family members, may lose the respect of these people or be 
otherwise sanctioned or punished for their deviance. Thus, norms have an 
explicit control function over behavior; conformity is rewarded and deviance 
elicits punishment. 

a. Description of Findings 

Both samples were asked to respond to a series of questions, phrased as 
hypothetical situations, which were intended to ascertain their norms for 
violence. Sixteen of these situations, containing minor and major (low level 
and severe) instances of violence occurring between eight different 
assailant-victim relationships were presented to the respondents. 4 An example 
of the question format is presented below: 

39a. Are there any situations that you can imagine in which you would approve of a 
public school teacher hitting a student? 

Yes . . 1 

No 2 

Not sure 3 

40a. Are there any situations that you can imagine in which you would approve of a 
public school teacher punching or beatings student? 

Yes 1 

No 2 

Not sure .... 3 



The Actual World of Violence 



343 



Thus, each role relationship, in this case teacher-student, was repeated 
twice -once with a relatively low-level or minor act of violence (hitting) and 
once with a relatively severe act of violence (punching or beating). 

Adult and teenager general approval of violence patterns were assessed by 
this procedure for the following role relationships: 

(a) Parent and Child (at least one year old and healthy). 

(b) Husband and Wife* 

(c) Wife and Husband 

(d) Public School Teacher and Student 

(e) Male Teenager and Male Teenager 

(f) Man and Adult Male Stranger 

(g) Policeman and Adult Male 
(h) Judge and Citizen 

The adult responses to the general question of "are there any situations 
that you can imagine in which you would approve of X doing B to Y?" are: 



Yes 

1. Parent spanking his or her 

child assuming the child is 

healthy and over a year old .... 93 

2. Parent beating his or her 

child 8 

3. Husband slapping his wife's 

face 20 

4. Husband shooting his wife 3 

5. Wife slapping her husband's 

face . 22 

6. Wife shooting her husband 4 

7. Public school teacher hitting 

a student 49 

8. Public school teacher punching 

or beating a student 5 

9. Policeman striking an adult male 

citizen 73 

10. Policeman shooting an adult 

male citizen 71 

1 1 . Teenage boy punching another 

teenage boy 66 



Percent 
Not sure 

1 
1 

2 


2 
(*) 

4 
2 
5 
5 
4 



No 

6 

91 

78 
97 

76 
95 

47 
93 
22 
24 
30 



*In (b) the husband acts violently against his wife, while in (c) the wife acts violently 
against her husband. 



344 Mass Media and Violence 

Percent 

Yes Not sure No 

12. Teenage boy knifing another 

teenage boy 3 (*) 97 

13. Man punching an adult male 

stranger 52 5 43 

14. Man choking an adult male 

stranger 24 4 72 

15 . Judge sentencing a person to 

one or more years of hard labor .84 6 10 

16. Judge sentencing a person to 

death 53 7 40 

Only two of the eight role relationships (policeman-adult male and 
judge-citizen) received approval from a majority of the American adult 
population, regardless of severity of the act of violence. Policemen and judges 
may engage in minor or severe acts of violence with the general approval of a 
majority of adult Americans. Parents, teachers, teenagers, adult males, 
husbands, and wives may engage in minor violence with varying degrees of 
approval, but severe acts of violence are disapproved by a majority of the 
adult population. 

The major difference between policemen and judges and the other roles 
studied is that policemen and judges have institutionalized legal authority to 
use violence. The policemen is authorized to use whatever force, including 
violence, necessary to apprehend lawbreakers, while judges have the authority 
and responsibility to mete out punishment consistent with the dictates of the 
law, including punishments which may be acts of violence. 

In light of the incidence of television programs in which policemen play a 
significant role and the apparent increases in domestic disorders which 
directly involve law enforcement agencies, it is important to understand the 
specific conditions under which adult Americans approve of the use of 
violence by policemen. 

b. Norms for the Use of Violence by Policemen 

Seventy-six percent of the adult sample and 78 percent of the teenage 
sample in general approved ("y es " an ^ "not sure" responses) of a policeman 
shooting an adult male citizen. A series of specific hypothetical situations 
were presented to respondents who gave general approval in an attempt to 
discover what level of provocation was necessary before these respondents 
would approve of such an action. Percentages in this study are based only on 
responses of general approval (i.e., 32 percent here means 32 percent of the 
76 percent who gave general approval). 

42a. Are there any situations you can imagine in which you would approve of a 
policeman shooting an adult citizen? 

*Less than one percent. 



The Actual World of Violence 345 

Adult responses Teenage responses 

(N=1176) (N=496) 

Percent Percent 

Yes 71 Yes 74 

No 24 No 22 

Not sure 5 Not sure 4 

42b. Would you approve if the citizen: 



Percent of persons saying 

yes or not sure above 

Adults* Teens* 

Yes Yes 
Had said vulgar and obscene things to 

the policeman 2 

Was demonstrating against the war in 

Vietnam and carrying a Vietcong flag 1 4 

Was being questioned as a suspect in a 

murder case 2 2 

Was attacking the policeman with his 

fists 32 28 

Was attempting to escape from custody 55 59 

Was threatening the policeman with a 

gun 96 90 



An extremely small minority would approve of a policeman shooting a 
citizen for saying obscene things to the policeman, demonstrating against the 
war in Vietnam, or for being a suspect in a murder case. However, a sizeable 
minority of adults (32 percent) and teenagers (28 percent) would approve 
of a policeman responding to an assault in this manner. A majority of adults 
(55 percent) and teenagers (59 percent) approve of a policeman shooting 
someone who was attempting to escape, while the great majority approve of 
a policeman shooting someone who is threatening him with a gun. 

Both class and race differences were found in this study. Those with higher 
income and more education approve of policemen using violence, more than 
those with lower income and less education. Non-blacks approve of police 
violence more than blacks. 5 One possible interpretation is that lower-class 
persons, especially blacks, have much more contact with policemen in a 
violent context, and hence, see themselves as likely recipients* of such 
violence. 

It is particularly important to recall that police on television are very 
violent. In a later section of this report, norms for police use of violence held 
by adults and teenage Americans are compared with the norms for police use 
of violence implicit in television programming. 

Adult and teenage responses to the question involving a policeman striking 
an adult male citizen are strikingly similar: 

4 la. Are there any situations you can imagine in which you 
would approve of a policeman striking an adult male 
citizen? 



W=894 adults, W=387 teens. 



346 Mass Media and Violence 

Adult responses Teenage responses 

N=W6 N=496 

Percent Percent 

Yes 73 Yes 73 

Not sure 5 Not sure 4 

No 22 No 23 

41b. Would you approve if:* Yes responses 

Percent 

Adults Teem 
Had said vulgar and obscene things to the 

policeman 27 21 

Was demonstrating against the war in Vietnam 

and carrying a Vietcong flag 19 27 

Was being questioned as a suspect in a murder 

case 8 9 

Was attempting to escape from custody 83 84 

Was attacking the policeman with his fists 97 97 

* Asked only of persons saying "Yes" or "Not Sure" to general questions 
(41a), Adults, #=917, teens, JV=382. 



In this case, as with almost all the questions, there is very little discrepancy 
between adult and teenage responses. Approximately three-fourths of the 
adult and teenage populations can imagine a situation in which they would 
approve of a policeman striking an adult male citizen. 

A remarkable proportion of adults and teenagers approve of a policeman 
striking a citizen if he has said vulgar and obscene things to the policeman 
(adults, 27 percent; teens, 21 percent). Police use of violence thus is approved 
in response to strictly verbal deviance, which does not involve breaking a 
law. 

Likewise, a substantial minority would approve of a policeman striking an 
adult male who was demonstrating against the Vietnam war. Again, the adult 
male is doing nothing illegal and is not endangering anyone's life or physical 
well-being. These respondents are approving of police violence as a means of 
punishing political deviance. 

At one extreme, nearly one out of ten approved of "third degree" 
methods of dealing with suspects. At the other extreme , a sizeable minority 
of adults (22 percent) and teenagers (23 percent) do not approve of a 
policeman striking an adult male in any situation imaginable. Approximately 
the same percentage of adults (24) and teenagers (22 percent) cannot imagine 
any situation in which they would approve of a policeman shooting an adult 
male citizen. Thus, for a substantial minority of adult and teenage Americans 
police violence is normative ly disapproved. 

Thus, two sizable minorities are divided with respect to the use of violence 
by policemen. One group disapproves of police violence regardless of the 
provocation, while the other group gives almost unqualified approval to the 
use of violence by policemen. Certainly, as noted earlier in this Report, the 
norm that policemen should be non-violent is not being supported by the 
television world of violence. 

The majority of Americans, however, are consistent with legal norms, 
approving of police use of violence only when the provocation is illegal, 



The Actual World of Violence 347 

potentially threatening to the life of the policeman, or directly hindering law 
enforcement. 

c. An Overview of Adult and Teenage Norms for Violence 

Using just the "yes," "no," or "not sure" responses to the general question 
of "Are there any situations that you can imagine in which you would 
approve of X doing A to Y?," we can derive a summary profile of American 
norms for violence. As one approach to this problem, the hypothetical 
situations involving relatively low and severe violence have been ranked 
separately on the basis of the percentage approval given by the sample of 
adult Americans. 6 

Rank Order of Low Violence Situations: Adults 

Percent 
Role relationship Violence act Approval* Rank 

(a) Parent-child Spanking 94 1 

(b) Judge-citizen 1-year hard labor 90 2 

(c) Policeman-adult male Striking 78 3 

(d) Teenage boy-teenage boy Punching 69 4 

(e) Man-adult male stranger Punching 57 5 

(f) Teacher-student Hitting 53 6 

(g) Wife-husband Slapping face 24 7 
(h) Husband-wife Slapping face 22 8 

* Approval includes "yes" and "not sure "responses. 

Rank Order of High Violence Situations: Adults 

Percent 
Role relationship Violent act Approval* Rank 

(a) Police-adult male Shooting 77 1 

(b) Judge-citizen Death sentence 60 2 

(c) Man-adult male stranger Choking 28 3 

(d) Parent-child Beating 9 4 

(e) Teacher-student Punching or beating 7 5 
(0 Wife-husband Shooting 4.5 6 
(g) Teenage boy-teenage boy Knifing 4 7 
(h) Husband -wife Shooting 3.5 8 

Again, policemen and judges received high levels of approval regardless of 
the severity of violence. None of the other six role relationships receives 
approval from anywhere near a majority of the adults. Thus it seems that 
most adult Americans only approve of institutionalized law enforcement 
officials performing severe acts of violence. Furthermore, law enforcement 
officials receive approval from a majority of adults for the use of violence 
only when it is necessary to protect their lives or to carry out their legal 
responsibilities. 

The least approved role relationship is the most intimate, the relationship 
between husband and wife. There is little difference between percentage 
approval of violence on the part of husbands and wives in the same situations, 



*Yes and not sure responses. 



348 Mass Media and Violence 

regardless of the severity. The vast majority of American adults disapprove of 
violence between husbands and wives, no matter who was the instigator. 

Perhaps the most relevant institutionalized aspect of family violence has to 
do with parents' needs, rights, or responsibilities toward their children. 
Physical punishment in the form of spanking is an act of violence, even 
though common sense and our findings tell us that this is approved by all but 
a small minority of adult Americans. However, when we consider beating, a 
more severe form of physical punishment, we find that only nine percent of 
adult Americans'approve of this action in any imaginable situation. 7 

Another institutionalized relationship in which one party has authority 
over the other is the public school teacher-student relationship. A slight 
majority of adult Americans approve of corporal punishment in some 
situations. A majority of these do not approve of a teacher hitting a student 
for being noisy in class, but do approve if the student had been repeatedly 
disobedient and uncooperative, destroyed school property, or hit the teacher. 

The vast majority of American adults (ninety-three percent) would not 
approve of a teacher punching or beating a student in any situation. Of the 
remaining seven percent, a majority approved only when the teacher has been 
hit by the student. 

The teenage boy-teenage boy role relationship is an interesting one because 
there is no difference in authority between the two parties, and neither party 
has formal authority to use violence against the other. However, there does 
seem to be a prevalent dilemma for teenagers and their parents in this 
country, since two inconsistent norms apply here one, that conflict should 
not be resolved with violence, and the other, that males should not back 
down from a challenge, even if it might result in violence. In America, 
violence is most often conceived as a male activity, whether the situation 
involves crime, war, or private conflict. 

A majority of adult Americans feel that it is all right for one teenage boy 
to punch another, especially if the other boy has challenged him to a fistfight 
or actually hit him; but knifing is never approved behavior. However, a 
significant minority of adults (thirty-one percent) disapprove of violence 
between teenage boys, regardless of the level of violence or the nature of the 
situation. 

The man-adult male stranger is especially interesting because the majority 
of television violence takes place between adult male strangers. This is similar 
to the above mentioned relationship in that both parties are equals with 
regard to authority. Both have the legal right to use violence only in 
self-defense or when the other is trespassing and all other possibilities have 
been exhausted. 

The man-adult male stranger relationship may also involve a normative 
dilemma, which is evident in the two die turns that "men should not take the 
law into their own hands" and "men have a right to defend themselves, their 
loved ones, and their property." 

The findings indicate that a slight majority of adults can imagine a 

situation in which they would approve of a man punching an adult male 

stranger, while a large majority cannot imagine a situation when they would 

approve of a man choking a stranger. Low-level violence (in this case 

punching), is approved, "specifically in response to violent or illegal 

provocation. 



The Actual World of Violence 349 

45a. Are there any situations that you can imagine in which you would approve of a 
man punching an adult male stranger? 

Adult responses 

(#=1,176) 

Percent 

Yes 52-1 

No 43 -2 

Not sure 5-3 

45b. Would you approve if the stranger: 

Percent of persons saying 
Yes or not sure above 
(#=670) 
Percent 

Yes 
Was in a protest march showing opposition to the other 

man's views 2 

Was drunk and bumped into the man and his wife on the street 8 

Had hit the man's child after the child accidentally damaged 

the stranger's car 59 

Was beating up a woman and the man saw it 81 

Had broken into the man's house 93 

46a. Are there any situations that you can imagine in which you would approve of a 
man choking a stranger? 

Adult responses 

IN* 1,1 76) 

Percent 

Yes 24-1 

No 72-2 

Not sure 4-3 

46b. Would you approve if the stranger: 

Percent of persons saying 

yes or not sure above 

(N=329) 

(Percent 

Yes 

Was in a protest march showing opposition to the other 

man's views 

Was drunk and bumped into the man and his wife on the street 2 

Had hit the man's child after the child accidentally damaged 

the stranger's car 27 

Had broken into the man's house 71 

Had knocked the man down and was trying to rob him 92 



350 Mass Media and Violence 

In general, adult norms for the use of violence by against a stranger 
support low level violence when the man is playing a protective role, but 
reject the use of high-level violence. Even the minority of adults (28 percent) 
who can imagine a situation in which they would approve of a man choking 
an adult male stranger, do so only when the stranger is beating up a woman, 
has broken into the man's house, or has knocked the man down and is trying 
to rob him. 



d. Adult and Teenage Norms for Violence: Comparison and Summary 

A simple method of measuring the degree of similarity between adult and 
teenage norms is to compare the percentage of approval each group assigns to 
the eight role relationships. Adult and teenage rankings of low violence items 
are almost idential. 

Table 1 -Adult and teenage rankings of role relationships: low violence items 



Rank 

Role relationship Act Adult Teenage 

Parent-child Spank 1 1 

Judge-citizen 1 year hard labor 2 2 

Policeman-adult male Strike 3 3 

Teenage boy-teenage boy Punch 4 4 

Man-male stranger Punch 5 

Teacher-student Hit 6 7 

Wife-husband Slap face 7 6 

Husband-wife Slap face 8 8 



Spearman's rho=0.98. 

Adult and teenage rankings of high violence items are also extremely 
similar. Although there are important differences between each group's norms 
for violence, the overall patterns of approval are very similar. 

Table 2. -Adult and teenage rankings of role relationships: high violence items 

Rank 
Role relationship Act Adult Teenage 

Police-adult male Shoot 1 1 

Judge-citizen Death penalty 2 2 

Man-male stranger Choke 3 3 

Parent-child Beat 4 4 

Teacher-student Punch or beat 5 6 

Wife-husband Shoot 6 7 

Teenage boy -teenage boy knife 7 5 

Husband-wife Shoot 8 8 

Spearman's rho=0.93. 



The Actual World of Violence 35 1 

The most notable aspect of adult and teenage American norms for violence 
is that only legally constituted authorities are given approval by the majority 
to use high-level violence. Judges and policemen may use high-level violence 
when legally permitted and when the situation warrants it. Low-level violence 
with the exception of the husband-wife role relationship is much more 
broadly approved by the majority of adult and teen Americans. 

3. Black and Non-Black Comparisons 

Although there are some important differences between black and 
non-black norms for violence (the most important is that a greater percentage 
of non-blacks approve of the use of violence by policemen than do blacks), 
there is a striking similarity between their rank orders of approval of the 
low-level and severe violence items. Spearman's Rho, a statistical measure 
which assesses the degree of similarity between two rank orders, is 0.84 
between black and non-black rank orders of the low-level violence items, and 
0.98 for severe violence items. In general then, black and non-black norms 
with respect to violence are similar. 

In the following section, exploration will be made of the demographic and 
social characteristics of the minority of adult and teenage Americans who give 
the highest overall approval of violence. 



4. The Approvers of Violence: Low-Level Violence 

The first group consists of those who approve of low-level violence 
(slapping face) between husbands and wives. 

Twenty-nine percent of the adults approved of a husband slapping his 
wife's face and/or a wife slapping her husband's face. This minority can be 
described in terms of four demographic characteristics which distinguish them 
from the rest of the adult population: (1) sex, (2) age, (3) residence, and (4) 
education. The most common group of high approvers of low-level violence 
consists of: (1) male, (2) eighteen to thirty-five years of age, (3) residing in 
cities having a population over 50,000 persons, and (4) without a college 
education. 

Thirty-three percent of adult males and twenty-five percent of adult 

females are high approvers of low-level violence. Although more males than 

females are high approvers of low level violence, the demographic patterns for 

; males and females are identical. High approvers are young city people who do 

not have a college education. 

Teenagers are higher approvers (45 percent) of low level violence than 
either male or female adults. The same demographic characteristics were used 
, to identify teenage approvers, with the exception that race was substituted 
' for education, with a higher percentage of blacks expressing approval. 

There is no variation between male and female teenagers with respect to 
percent approval of low level violence (45 percent of both males and females 

!are high approvers). Teenagers were split into two age groups: 13 to 15 years 
. f old and 16 to 19 years old. There is no significant variation in percentage 
! approval between age groups for males or females. 



352 Mass Media and Violence 

The two characteristics which do distinguish teenage high approvers of 
low-level violence from the rest of the teenage population are residence and 
race. A greater proportion of teenagers living in metropolitan areas are high 
approvers than teenagers living in rural, small city, or suburban areas. Of 
teenagers residing in metropolitan areas, a greater proportion of blacks are 
high approvers than non-blacks. 

The subgroup of teenagers who are high approvers of low-level violence 
consists of those living in metropolitan areas, especially blacks. It should be 
noted that the majority of blacks live in metropolitan areas, especially 
northern blacks. It is difficult to compare black residents of northern suburbs 
with similar metropolitan residents, since there are too few suburban blacks 
to make a meaningful comparison. 



5. The Approvers of Violence: High-Level Violence 

High approvers of high-level violence are defined as those who approve of a 
high-level violence item which is approved by less than fifteen percent of the 
total population. These items are (a) parent beating child, (b) teacher beating 
student, (c) teenager knifing teenager, (d) wife shooting husband, and (e) 
husband shooting wife. 

Twenty percent of the adult population fall into this category. There is 
variation in approval between the sexes, with twenty-five percent of the males 
and fourteen percent of the females defined as high approvers. The 
demographic group with the highest proportion of high approvers of severe 
violence is exactly the same as the group approving of low-level violence: (1) 
male, (2) eighteen to thirty-five years of age, (3) residing in a metropolitan 
area, and (4) with less than a college education. 

The group with the second-highest proportion consists of males thirty-six 
to sixty years of age, living in metropolitan areas, and having less than a 
college education. 

Only fourteen percent of adult females are defined as high approvers of 
severe violence, but an examination of their demographic characteristics 
reveals the same pattern found among males. 

The teenage group with the highest proportion of high approvers of 
high-level violence is: (1) male, (2) between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, 
(3) residing in metropolitan areas, and (4) black. Male teenagers between the 
ages of thirteen and fifteen with the same residential and racial characteristics 
constitute the second most approving group of high level violence. 

There is a greater percentage of high-approving teenagers (twenty-eight 
percent) than adults. Thirty-four percent of male and twenty-one percent of 
female teenagers are classified as high approvers of high-level violence. Black 
female teenagers living in metropolitan areas are the highest approving group 
among females. 

The fact that black teenagers are consistently higher approvers of violence 
may be an indirect result of the fact that metropolitan residents are high 
approvers of violence. Social scientists have pointed to many aspects of urban 
living in an effort to explain why the rates of deviant behavior are higher in 
large cities than in suburbs, small cities, or rural areas. Cultural differences 



The Ac tual World of Violence 353 

between blacks and non-blacks are probably less important than residential 
differences with respect to approval of violence. 

6. Summary 

Adult and teenage Americans have similar patterns of general approval of 
violence. The major characteristics of these patterns are: (1) the use of 
violence, regardless of severity, is never unconditionally approved by a 
majority of adults or teenagers; (2) low-level violence is approved behavior for 
all the role relationships, except the husband-wife relationship, where 
violence of any level is never approved by a majority of the respondents; (3) 
the situational bases of approval of low-level violence vary from punishment 
and control by parents of children and teachers over students, to self-defense 
and protection of property, loved ones, or masculinity for teenage boys and 
adult male strangers, and self-defense and law enforcement for policemen and 
judges; (4) high-level violence is approved by a majority of adults and teens 
only for the policeman-adult male and judge-citizen role relationships; and (5) 
policemen and judges may employ high-level violence with the approval of 
the majority of adults only when legally permitted (e.g., self-defense). 

Two findings with particular relevance concern norms relative to the use of 
violence: 

(1) Two significant minorities of adults and teenagers hold opposing views 
with regard to policemen using violence one approves of police violence 
almost unconditionally, while the other never approves of it. This finding has 
clear implications for the study of political polarization. From the content 
analysis of the televison world of violence and the role played by law 
enforcement officials in that world, it is clear that the norms for police use of 
violence on television support the norms espoused by a minority who almost 
unconditionally approve the use of violence by police. Conversely, the 
minority who disapprove police use of violence receive no normative support 
from television programming. It is important to note television norms with 
respect to police violence are not supportive of those expressed by the 
majority of Americans who approve of police violence only when it is legally 
permitted and necessary, as well as the minority who never approve of it. 

(2) A large proportion of teenagers are high approvers of violence, 
regardless of the level. 

In both teenage and adult populations, the highest proportion of high 
approvers of violence was composed of metropolitan residents. High 
approvers among adults were most often males between the ages of eighteen 
and thirty -five residing in a metropolitan area and having less than a college 
education. Black male metropolitan residents had the highest proportion of 
high approvers in the teen population. 

High approval of violence, then, is related to sex, age, residence, and 
perhaps to race, although race did not distinguish adult high approvers from 
the rest of the population. 8 However, when non-black and black 



354 Mass Media and Violence 

metropolitan residents were compared, a slightly greater percentage of blacks 
were high approvers. In any case, race is not as closely associated with high 
approval among teenagers as are sex and residence. 

An interpretation of these findings will be deferred until the actual 
experience of adult and teenage Americans with violence is examined. 

B. Actual Experience With Violence: Adults and Teens 

Adult and teenage respondents were asked if they had had direct personal 
experience with any of five violent encounters. Direct personal experience 
with violence was assessed by repeating the same series of violent encounters 
for three different types of experience: (a) as the victim, (b) as the assailant, 
and (c) as an observer. 9 

The series of violent encounters is listed below. Presented next to the 
series of violent encounters are the questions asked of respondents to assess 
their experience as victim and observer. 



Victim: Have you ever been (1) Slapped or kicked 

(repeated 1-5) (2) Punched or beaten 

(3) Threatened or actually 

cut with a knife 

(4) Threatened with a gun 
Observer : Have you ever seen or shot at 

another person (repeated 1 -5) (5) Choked 

Measurement of experience with violence as an assailant required a slightly 
different procedure. It was strongly suspected that very few persons would be 
willing to admit that they had taken a severe act of violence against another 
person. The questions asked to assess assailant experience are presented 
below. 



(1) Have you ever slapped or kicked another person? 

(2) Have you ever punched or beaten another person? 

(3) Have you ever been