Originally appeared in SFGate.com Novemeber 30 2005
It isn’t easy finding network television shows worth watching these days. Between the seizure-inducing visual editing, the MTV-like onslaught of montage sequences accompanied by the latest pop tunes, the numbingly unfunny laugh-track comedies and the nonsensical plot lines, the days of must-see TV are a distant memory.
For fans of television shows that focus on law enforcement, the choices are even slimmer. While there is a plethora of programs to choose from, politics is an unavoidable part of the equation. Just as there is bias in print media, television is likewise mired in the politics of those who create it. Judging by the product, the creators are uniformly liberal. ?
Probably the worst offender is the “Law & Order” franchise on NBC. Pick any incarnation of the series and one is certain to find more preaching than entertainment. The original “Law & Order” has lost almost all of its initial “ripping stories from the headlines” grittiness and devolved into nothing more than a platform for liberal politics. The last couple of seasons were so biased that many conservative viewers simply chose to change the channel.
Watching the Detectives
For those who remained loyal, the final straw was the Nov. 16 episode, which centered on an anti-illegal immigration group called the Countrymen Border Watch of America. Of course, the Countrymen were just a thinly veiled reference to the Minuteman Project, a civilian border patrol group that reports illegal alien activity to the authorities.
In fact, initial advertisements for the show used the Minuteman title, but producers reportedly decided to change the name of the group for the episode after receiving a barrage of complaints. It made little difference, for the episode was nothing more than an exercise in slander.
The Countrymen were portrayed as a sinister group of white men who turn out to be xenophobic racists, with one member a murderer. This is in direct contrast to the real Minutemen, whose rules forbid racism or bigotry and specify the use of legal, non-violent tactics.
Nonetheless, the Countrymen’s fanaticism was hammered home throughout the program. At one point, while questioning the ex-wife of one of the group’s members, a detective asked if her ex-husband’s “zealotry contributed to your divorce.” ?Very subtle, indeed.
The episode was based on an event that took place in 2003, when 17 illegal aliens were left to die in a trailer at a south Texas truck stop. But in a bizarre twist of logic, the show turned the human smuggler who left the people in the back of his truck into a victim after he’s murdered by one of the Countrymen.
When a prosecutor described the Countrymen’s actions as “a campaign of terrorism against human smugglers,” whatever credibility might have remained of the episode went out the window. ?
‘Law & Order’: Liberal Intent
Notwithstanding the Countrymen fiasco, the “Criminal Intent” version of the “Law & Order” series is the most blatantly biased of the bunch. This was the show that became infamous for equating a group of violent white supremacists with Republican Congressman Tom DeLay in an episode last season.
When one of the federal judges in the case was murdered and the detectives couldn’t find a suspect, one of them quipped, “Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt.”
The show’s writers somehow managed to put DeLay’s criticism of judicial activism on the same moral footing as murder, and many viewers (including DeLay himself) were justifiably outraged. But as NBC put it, “the line wasn’t intended as a political comment.” Of course not.
Another episode of “Criminal Intent” featured the mysterious disappearance of groups of Arab-American man. It turned out they were being rounded up by federal agents on suspicion of terrorist involvement and confined in an American prison, where they were routinely tortured for information. The hysteria ratcheted up a notch when one of the detectives threw out the line, “I read the Patriot Act under its first title, ‘1984.’”
The preposterous plot concluded with the detectives locating the prison and confronting the evil warden, who then held them hostage and threatened to kill them all. While the story line would seem to be an obvious allusion to the terrorist suspects being held at Guantánamo, the television version bears little resemblance to reality.
“Special Victims Unit,” another “Law & Order” offshoot, is guilty of the same obvious sermonizing. A recent episode revolving around a rape case abruptly transformed into a re-enactment of the Terry Schiavo case, when a bulimic woman went into a coma and was diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state.”
After a mere week, the detectives, the doctors and the woman’s husband (a convicted rapist) started clamoring to pull the plug. Once the deed was done, the husband gleefully collected on the life insurance.
Somehow, the show’s writers managed to portray the husband as a bad guy— while depicting his desire to end his wife’s life as perfectly acceptable. They also inserted their views on the Terry Schiavo case into an episode that had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Stay tuned for the “Special Victims Unit” take on reforming Social Security. ? ?
Lest it be thought that NBC is entirely to blame, one of the preachiest of the preachy cop shows has to be “Cold Case” on CBS. The show is consumed with such liberal preoccupations as anti-abortion activism, disturbed Vietnam veterans, transgender hero(ines), interracial lesbian love affairs, draft dodgers, McCarthyism and demonizing Christians.
An episode from last season betrayed the latter fixation perfectly by making Mormons the targets of ridicule. The episode revolved around Roy, a Mormon serial killer who murders his victims because “God tells him to.” At the same time, Roy attends a screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” where he strips down to his underwear on stage—the implication being that Mormons are sexually repressed lunatics. But it’s all in a day’s work for the writers of “Cold Case.”
When it comes to the war on terrorism, television can be credited with at least trying to cover the topic. Unlike Hollywood, where the subject has apparently been taboo ever since Sept. 11, television writers have made some effort to engage with the political realities of the 21st century. But here too liberal bias reigns supreme.
The usual approach is to portray terrorist suspects as innocent victims of American oppression and authorities’ attempts to curtail their activities as sheer abuses of power. If it seems that the villain of a program is going to be an Islamic terrorist, especially aboard an airplane, the real villain will almost always turn out to be a white guy— a disgruntled former airline employee, for instance.
Any time the Patriot Act is referenced, additional commentary by detectives, prosecutors or federal agents about how much they can now “get away with” is required. These shows are nothing if not predictable.
Fox’s “24” is the boldest of the bunch, going so far as to portray a Muslim family as a terrorist sleeper cell in last season’s story line. But between star Kiefer Sutherland’s politically correct public service announcements and the season’s conclusion (which shifted the blame from jihadists onto Chinese diplomats and various Westerners), viewers hungry for true “reality television” were left disappointed once again.
While the examples above are just a sampling of what’s available on television today, there’s more than enough thinly disguised propaganda out there to drive the point home. And audiences are taking notice. ?
Eventually, declining viewership and escalating criticism may remind television producers that there’s more to television than pushing a political agenda. Until that time comes, those who seek thought-provoking entertainment rather than indoctrination will just have to turn elsewhere.