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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

TV Can Seriously Damage Your Health

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WASHINGTON -- On Nov. 12, American Airlines Flight 587 took off from JFK Airport, and then crashed in Queens. Two hundred and sixty people on the plane and five on the ground were killed. Across the United States, CNN fed emotions -- already raw after Sept. 11 -- with graphic footage of another unfolding New York tragedy.

As it happens, I was flying into JFK that day from Moscow. My father had heard of a horrific crash involving JFK and was frightened it might be my plane. Had I known of the crash, I would have called home. But we weary travelers waiting for our connecting flight to Washington were oblivious -- thanks to something called the CNN Airport Network.

This nine-year-old network is today at gates in 36 U.S. airports, and also in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. "Passengers can enjoy the best that CNN has to offer," says its promotional copy, which touts "news [and] live breaking events."

Except, of course, breaking events of particular value to airline travelers: According to a media kit the network reserves for its business partners -- advertisers, airlines and airports -- "the network will not air graphic or live video coverage of air accidents or incidents involving damage or injury to a passenger aircraft or its passengers."

The media kit does not do this sneaky practice justice. All we got from CNN Airport Network was a bloodless green-and-blue map with a white icon of an airplane -- a graphic suspiciously similar to the in-flight maps that let air travelers track a flight's progress. "A plane is down in Queens," said an (anonymous) announcer. No mentions of deaths or damage; no details. I and others at JFK that day came away with the vague idea that a small private plane had quasi-successfully emergency-landed in Queens.

The announcer also said that JFK Airport was closed -- but again, no details. Some of us looked around, confused -- we were here, others were milling about, could the airport really be closed? About two hours later, Aeroflot admitted that, yes, we weren't flying to Washington today.

So, by lying by omission, CNN Airport Network slyly kept us passengers in our seats an additional couple of hours -- good for their advertising demographics, no doubt, but not something I'm terribly grateful for.

"The advertising industry has adopted as its mission the identification of captive audiences," says Frank Vespe, executive director of the TV Turnoff Network [www.tvturnoff.org], a nonprofit that tries to wean people off of the tube.

He's right. This year, I began to see advertising inside urinals: You read a text about, say, the Half.com web site even as you are peeing on it.

Vespe says there are now mini-TV sets at gasoline pumps in the Midwest. Turner Broadcasting and NBC have been flirting with a Check-Out Channel for supermarket shoppers waiting to pay. Cafe USA is a television network in food courts at malls. Channel One is the "educational" cable channel -- with commercials -- infiltrating public schools. The TV Turnoff Network reports tailored programming is also creeping into doctors' waiting rooms.

This in a nation where the ever-fatter American watches four hours of TV a day, or nine years' worth by age 65. The U.S. surgeon general this week called for a campaign against watching television to fight obesity. It turns out that sitting captive on the couch and absorbing pleasant messages about high-salt, high-fat foods is the No. 2 killer of Americans.

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, is a Washington-based fellow of The Nation Institute [www.thenation.com].