December 05, 1988 12:00 PM

In the control room of People Are Talking, a New York chat show, I sat in horror as the host, the hooting audience and the guests—including “stripper for God” Kellie Evert, who is suing Morton Downey Jr. for allegedly body-slamming her—made frequent and loud use of the words breast, boobie, whip, slut and bimbo. Then Roy Innis, the activist involved in the beak-breaking brawl on Geraldo Rivera’s show, came on to call Geraldo a hero. That was going too far. I had been asked to join these people for a discussion of tabloid TV. But this wasn’t about tabloid TV. This was tabloid TV. So I left. That is one proper response to this despicable trend toward sleaze, sensationalism and senseless confrontation. This trend is lowering TV’s standards. Worse, it is lowering America’s standards of civilization. We should be ashamed of ourselves for watching—but so far we are not. We tune in this junk in big numbers, and the producers use that to justify making more junk. Tabloid TV gets ratings, they say. It sells. But so does crack. So does porn. That is no justification. That is a warning. Tabloid TV should be stopped or at least pulled back from the brink. Censorship is not the answer; it never is. Ignoring it is no alternative; we can’t just sit back and wait until someone is murdered on one of these shows. No, we should shame tabloid TV’s producers, stars, guests and audience—and the executives behind them—into learning self-restraint. We should call the leaders of this mob just what they are: the pimps and pushers of television programming. Then perhaps their egos—if not their ethics—will stop them. At the same time the good guys in television news and entertainment must set standards and police themselves. Network news reporters whined loudly when their budgets were being cut; they should be screaming now that their credibility is being diluted by proximity to the likes of Unsolved Mysteries, Incredible Sunday and High Risk. And we are all left with one last alternative: Don’t join the mob. Don’t watch these shows. Don’t appear on them. Don’t tolerate them. Tabloid TV is not funny. It is dangerous. It is a disease.

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