Television Critic Has His Critics, Even Among Allies
URBANA, Ill. (AP) _ Everywhere he looks, Thomas Radecki sees violent entertainment: toys, games, books, sports, television - even the Christian Broadcasting Network, which carries old cowboy shows on its cable system.
″CBN is telling us the message of Jesus Christ is to kill bad guys - hate your enemy and go blow his guts out,″ said Radecki, the ardent chief and founder of the National Coalition on Television Violence.
Radecki, a 39-year-old psychiatrist, asserts that even President Reagan is affected, saying, ″He’s into violent Clint Eastwood fantasies that are clouding his thinking about what is best to do for our nation.″
The coalition, established in 1980, routinely tallies murders, fisticuffs, shootings and other violent acts on TV and interprets other research on the effects of violent entertainment.
Radecki defines violence as the deliberate use of force against a person or the threat of force with a weapon or fist. A violent act could be a murder, a fistfight, a push, a slap or a spanking, even done in the context of a slapstick comedy.
Not considered violent are verbal abuse, property damage, sanctioned physical contact in sports and horseplay. Thus a playful pie fight would not count, but a pie in the face intended to harm would.
His coalition publishes a widely distributed newsletter that also reaches several thousand newsrooms around the country, often gaining publicity for its findings.
But his positions have also gained him criticism, including charges that he misrepresents his credentials, exaggerates other research conclusions and plays on hysteria to make his point.
″You can make a lot more noise if you attack something with the Chicken Little approach - you can get on the networks if you say the sky is falling,″ said Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children’s Television, a Boston watchdog group.
Radecki said his concern stemmed from his days in medical school, when he went to the movie ″A Clockwork Orange″ then saw a nurse and ″had this fantasy of me kicking and beating″ her.
He became convinced that violent entertainment could trigger real violence and warp attitudes to the point that ″we are taking a serious chance of causing the end of the world.″
Radecki wants mandatory announcements on television saying violent entertainment is harmful.
To supporters such as as Grace Baisinger of Washington, former president of the national PTA and a coalition board member, Radecki is a ″good watchdog.″
Though the coalition has a five-member board and lists about 2,000 contributors, Radecki is the driving force. He puts up half the $60,000-a-year budget and works up to 35 hours a week running the organization.
To the charge that he misrepresents his credentials, Radecki, who has a private practice in nearby Decatur, says he has regularly identified himself as a ″psychiatrist at the University of Illinois School of Medicine″ here.
Dr. Charles O’Morchoe, director of the local medical campus, said that in 1983 Radecki was given an unpaid appointment like that offered other doctors who help teach students. But Radecki ″has had essentially no contact with students and no role in the college of medicine″ for at least a year, he said.
Radecki said identifying himself with the university was appropriate because the coalition’s ″main function is educational.″ However, O’Morchoe said, ″It’s very unusual for someone with a purely voluntary appointment on the faculty to publicize it in the way Dr. Radecki has done.″
The TV violence ratings regularly published by the coalition come from six area residents who are paid a small fee to monitor programs in their homes. One in seven programs is checked by a second monitor to try to keep the ratings uniform, said Radecki.
Recently, monitoring director Jeanine Sanders played a videotape of CBS’ ″Scarecrow and Mrs. King,″ scoring the scenes in accordance with Radecki’s formula.
One character with a gun chased another, 3 points; one shot at the other, 5 points; one mud wrestler grabbed another, 1 point. The result: a rating of 33 violent acts per hour.
Radecki, who monitored the Disney Channel last year and found that only one-third of the cartoons were ″safe for children,″ argues that young peole learn violence is acceptable and a way to solve problems when they see it on their favorite television show. He says it also leads to more violent or aggressive behavior from the young viewer.
″I was particularly disturbed by the Donald Duck and his nephews cartoons which promote spanking as the appropriate and only way to discipline children,″ Radecki said. ″Three different Donald Duck cartoons put down nonviolent attempts to deal with problem children and offered no altenative type of discipline other than corporal punishment.″
According to Radecki, his rating system shows that prime-time violence is up more than 100 percent since 1980.
However, George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, said his staff has monitored television over the past 17 years and found ″no significant change in the level of violence.″
Gerbner said that under the school’s system, four monitors must agree on something before it is reported. He also said the monitors count entire violent scenes rather than individual actions because ″there is no justification that two or three times as many shots means two or three times as much″ violence.
Bob McAllister, former host of a children’s television show in New York, once endorsed the coalition’s activities but has since disassociated himself from Radecki, saying, ″It is his approach to things - radical would be the right word.″
″I think (Radecki’s) tendency to overstate things and exaggerate damages his credibility,″ said Sam Simon, president of the Telecommunications Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C., who served on the coalition’s board until this year.
In one newsletter, Radecki said that a study by Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesmann of the University of Illinois at Chicago had confirmed that ″TV violence causes adult crime.″
However, Huesmann said that while he was sympathetic to Radecki’s crusade, ″I would never make that statement.″ Huesmann said the adults in his study who were convicted of crimes were more likely to have watched a lot of violent entertainment as children, ″but that doesn’t prove that TV viewing is causing the criminal behavior.″
Nevertheless, a 1983 report by the National Institute of Mental Health - based on a review of several hundred research studies - concluded that ″the evidence accumulated in the 1970s seems overwhelming ... that violence on television does lead to aggressive behavior by children and teen-agers who watch the programs.″
Whatever the methodology, academic researchers are divided on the impact of violent entertainment. Many studies, such as those used in the NIMH report, have concluded it may desensitize viewers, even stimulate aggression. But some scholars doubt it actually causes violence.
″The only way it makes sense to me to say that an environment, like television, makes us do anything is for us to not be much different than computers,″ said professor Brent Slife of the Psychology Department at Baylor University.
But Radecki maintains few researchers on aggression believe he is overstating his case.
″Do I sound hysterical?″ he said. ″I think I’m just concerned.″