Exposure to violent television programs, movies, video games and music might influence teenagers to immediately go out and beat someone up, but it's unlikely to have a lasting long-term effect. At least according to a report released last week by the U.S. Surgeon General.
"The report found strong evidence that exposure to violence in the media can increase children's 'aggressive behavior' in the short term," says a statement released along with the report. It also found that it would be worth curbing violent media's influence by limiting kids' exposure to it.
But in a finding that was a relief to Hollywood, the report went on to say "it was extremely difficult to distinguish between the relatively small long-term effects of exposure to media violence and those of other influences."
"We applaud the Surgeon General's insightful and thoughtful report on an issue of concern to all Americans," said Rich Taylor, spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America. "This is a seminal study. Anyone engaging in the debate over youth violence should pay great attention to the comprehensive work of the Surgeon General and the rather illuminating findings within."
The Clinton White House called for a study by the Surgeon General in September 1999, four months after two teen-age gunmen killed 12 people and themselves in Littleton, Colo.
Since then, filmmakers, TV producers, video game creators and record companies have taken their share of blame for what some term an "epidemic" of youth violence, routinely appearing before lawmakers at hearings and pledging not to market violent movies to children.
The issue has remained politically hot, even playing an important role in the presidential election. Three of the campaign's most prominent candidates were well-known for speaking against violence in the media before they even began running for office.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who ran against George W. Bush for the Republican nomination, long has publicly criticized companies that provide violent fare. As Senate Commerce Committee Chairman, McCain has held numerous hearings on the issue.