Ellerbee on What Kids Think


The fight over TV indecency has filled the news networks and C-SPAN with officials and critics talking about the perils of television for children, but rarely do you hear from the kids everyone's trying to protect. Linda Ellerbee changes that in Ten Things Wrong With Television, her latest Nick News program for Nickelodeon. The former NBC correspondent/anchor's crew interviewed children about their perspective. She spoke with B&C's John M. Higgins about what they said.

Do kids worry about the same things regarding TV as their parents?

We asked kids all over the country about what was wrong with television. We put these answers on the Web site, then asked kids to rank them. The number-one thing that kids said was wrong with television was there were too many commercials.

You asked them about “too much sex, bad language and violence on TV.” Where does that rank?

Number two. We know overall that, when we talk to kids about violence on television, invariably, the number-one thing they find violent is the news. That may simply reflect that it's the most violent [thing] they see.

Beyond that, the thing that scares them more is local news, not national news. Then the thing that scares them are news stories where children are hurt or killed. What you have here in a child's mind is, the closer to home it gets, the more frightening it is. That's a perfectly natural child reaction. Adults have a similar one: 20,000 dead in Pakistan does not equal one dead next door.

What about sex?

It doesn't come up as high. I think it reflects that kids have already been exposed to a lot of sexual content. One of the things that we had to deal with in this is, we constantly had to keep separating out, in kids' minds, television from the Internet from videogames. That's one of the issues I see in talk about tiering cable TV. What then do we do about the Internet or videogames? There are violent videogames that you wouldn't believe.

Your kids are older, but how do you see the indecency fight as a parent?

I have a great sympathy for parents in this issue. Parents are trying to do the right thing.

At what point do we take the responsibility away from the parents? At some point, we all have to take responsibility for our appetite. Censorship is someone else telling you what they don't want you to watch. I can't think of anything more violent on the air than the war.

As a onetime aspirant, what do you think of the evening-news-anchor shuffle?

If there was one job I was sure I never wanted, it was that one. I would add, no network ever wanted me do it. I don't believe all this talk about the death of network news because they can't get younger viewers.

I think the newscasts need to look hard at what they're saying and how they're saying it and how dull they are. There is a reason The Daily Show is so popular. Jon Stewart's not afraid to say the emperor wears no clothes. We have gotten very timid.