Originally published in 1982 by The Zig Ziglar Corporation, Dallas, Texas
A few years ago, the Rev. Don Wildmon sat down with his wife and four children to relax and watch TV. It was an evening of frustration as they tried to find a program suitable for family viewing. That night Don made a commitment . . . a commitment which would take him out of the church pulpit and into a mission to change television . . . a mission that is lonely, often threatening and frustrating, yet rewarding.
Early this year a milestone was reached when Don, who had founded the National Federation for Decency (NFD) earlier, was instrumental in forming the Coalition for Better Television (CBT). He serves as chairman of CBT which is comprised of over 2,000 diverse groups who share a common goal – to stop the flow of profanity, sex, violence, alcohol abuse and other anti-social behaviors into America’s living rooms via TV. Through these combined efforts, many of TV’s largest advertisers have become more aware of their responsibility to the public. Only recently, Procter & Gamble, whose TV ad budget is higher than any other, withdrew its sponsorship of 50 programs that didn’t measure up to its policy of sponsoring wholesome programs.
It was our privilege to have “Rev. Don” as an overnight guest in our home while we still lived in Michigan. In the few moments we had together, it was readily apparent that the only thing small about him is his physical size . . . not his goal, not his dedication, not his motivation, and last but surely not least, not his love for America and her people! During this time of commemorating our country’s birth, think about what Don has to say in this transcript of a recent speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
— Zig Ziglar
It is time to pay the fiddler
It is no accident that our country is the most violent country in all the world. It is no accident that in our country during the past seven years more than eight million unborn babies – the weakest, most helpless, most innocent, most defenseless of all human life – have been killed. It is no accident that the divorce rate and the breakup of families in our nation has skyrocketed during the past generation and that nearly one of every two marriages will end in divorce. It is no accident that the existence of the family – the backbone to any civilized society – as the central unit in our society is now threatened. It is no accident that teenage pregnancies have become a national concern. It is no accident that we are afraid to walk the street of our cities at night. It is no accident that we lock our homes not only at night but during the day also, or that each of us has our car keys in our pocket at this very moment.
Years ago a simple Jewish tentmaker spoke these words: “Whatsoever a man sows, that will he also reap.” That truth is as valid for a nation as it is for an individual. The truth of the words of Paul of Tarsus is evident in our country today. For more than a generation now our society has been sowing seeds which are today bringing forth their fruit. Truth can be rejected, but it cannot be avoided.
No, things don’t just happen. One of the most elementary of all scientific truths is the law of cause and effect. Things are caused to happen. Put a lighted match in an empty gasoline can and you will have an explosion. It is a scientific, undeniable truth. Truth is as much a part of the make up of man as it is the environment in which man lives. Teach a child to cheat to secure his goal, and he will do so until he is taught to do otherwise.
For a generation now, our society has been taught, subtly but effectively, that one’s religious faith was a personal and private matter of little practical value and should not interfere with one’s daily living. Recently the chairman of the board of one of the largest companies in America, a company whose sales run in the billions annually and which employs nearly one hundred thousand people, wrote me. “The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are vanished Americanisms and the situation is moving from bad to worse, except as you know, there is a core of very religious people who are becoming more fervent and active in their religion – probably as a reaction to the evil they find around them.”
For nearly two hundred years our country has been guided by a strong reliance on God. Every President, from Washington to Reagan, took the oath of office with his hand on a Bible. That is not to say that all Americans were religious people in the traditional sense. Indeed, they were not. Freedom of religion also meant freedom from religion, and many availed themselves of that opportunity and still do. But underneath the heart of America there was always abiding a strong belief in the guiding hand of a Divine Being. “Stand beside her, and guide her” was our song. Today that belief appears to be slowly dying, pushed aside by those whose religion is self-interest and self-indulgence.
In its place has arisen in our nation an anti-religion attitude which no one dared to predict a generation ago. So strong is this anti-religion attitude that in today’s atmosphere it would be impossible for Congress to make Christmas a legal holiday; to place “In God We Trust” on our coins; to include in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag the phrase “One nation, under God;” to have a chaplain open the sessions of Congress with a prayer; or even to allow our armed services to have chaplains. If we were attempting to do those things today they would not be able to get beyond the thinking stage.
Atheism and agnosticism, with their stepchildren of humanism, hedonism, and materialism, may not be the official religions of our country, but they have become the accepted practical religion by many in key positions of influence.
It comes as no surprise that this situation has created a conflict in our society. Any religion or philosophy which teaches us to use people and love things is a natural enemy of the Christian faith, which teaches us to love people and use things.
It is no accident that public schools in our nation, long a backbone for a strong country, are struggling while private, religious schools – long struggling – are growing at a record rate. Those who blame racial motives for this occurrence are correct only to a minor, indeed a very minor, degree. Families are deserting the public schools only where the public schools have deserted the families. Caring parents want their children not only to learn to read, write and do arithmetic, but also to learn basic Judeo-Christian moral values such as honesty, fairness, politeness, patriotism, integrity, discipline, obedience to authority, and kindness. And they want that education to take place in an atmosphere of Judeo-Christian moral conduct.
I find it odd that a 14-year-old must have her parents’ permission to have her ears pierced, but not to have an abortion. I find it odd that our government will give a 15-year-old contraceptives without the permission or knowledge of the parents, but that same 15-year-old must have a parent’s permission to take a school field trip.
I find it odd, but yet revealing, that many of those who want to save the baby seal find nothing wrong with killing the unborn innocent baby human. I find it odd, but yet revealing, that many of those who are concerned about air pollution and water pollution will contribute generously to mind pollution.
When Lee Rich, producer of Dallas, Flamingo Road and other programs, said that he had not been to church since he was 17 and did not know a single person who goes to church (He mixes and mingles with those who are responsible for what we see on television everyday and knows them on a first name basis.) It answered a lot of questions about why television ignores Christian characters or belittles Christian values.
When Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman recently released their study of 240 media elite (including editors, reporters, and other leading personnel of the New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, U.S. News & World Report, ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS), which stated that 86% of those interviewed never or seldom attend church and that 54% do not consider adultery immoral, it answered a lot of questions about why religion is treated as it is in the media. These people serve as the “teachers” on TV!
The rise of the coalition has also prompted the rise of those who are responsible for what goes on television. Among the most notable and visible is Norman Lear, one of the leading producers in Hollywood and founder of People For the American Way. While he has been very critical of ministers who speak out on social issues, I feel it should be noted that Mr. Lear hired Virginia Carter, described by Esquire as “a fervent feminist and a passionate liberal,” and gave her the task of working his favorite social issues into episodes of his programs. She admitted she and Lear used the programs to advocate social positions. “I consider it a duty to serve as an advocate,” Ms. Carter said. “To waste that valuable air space I’d have to be crazy.” And while Mr. Lear complains about ministers who have access to one or two million viewers a week, he fails to note that the National Association for Better Broadcasting stated in 1976 that Lear “talks” by television “to more people each week than any other person in history.” At one time as many as 150,000,000 man hours were spent [by TV viewers] each week watching Mr. Lear’s programs, listening to his social “sermons.” Mr. Lear’s method of “talking” in his programs is simply another way of “preaching,” as Virginia Carter so well noted.
Mr. Lear, the gentleman who espouses “pluralism,” called the people of Peoria, Illinois, “provincial” when they supported their television station’s decision not to air his controversial Maude abortion episode.
Mr. Lear finds it acceptable for some groups to use force to change television in their own mold. Speaking about Action for Children’s Television, he said: “They forced their way on the networks. They forced the networks to be attentive. … They’ve done that in the healthiest manner that is totally consistent with the spirit of liberty in this country.” But he has been very critical because many Americans are practicing one of the most fundamental rights afforded us, the privilege of spending our money where we please.
The head of Action for Children’s Television, Peggy Charren, accuses the coalition of censorship. The coalition has not asked any government agency to pass a single law but has taken its case to the people. Action for Children’s Television, on the other hand, has been lobbying in Washington for years to get the FCC and the FTC to impose ACT’s views about television on the public by government fiat. Who is it that is practicing censorship? The group practicing their right to buy or the group trying to impose their views on the public by official government action?
The Coalition for Better Television works on the following premise: The networks can show what they desire, the advertisers can sponsor what they desire, the viewers can view any of the choices they desire (Only the networks and local stations tell you what you can and cannot watch.), and consumers can spend their money where they desire. Our entire program is voluntary. No one has to participate who does not desire to do so.
The coalition’s boycott of RCA/NBC is an exercise of stewardship, not censorship. The accusation that the boycott is censorship makes as much sense as NBC entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff’s recent charge that the boycott was “the first step toward a police state . . .” (Yes, he actually said that!) Mr. Tartikoff seems to think that the republic will fall unless we continue to financially support what many of us feel is offensive and destructive programming. Our republic existed long before television turned to vulgar and tasteless programming.
We are left with the opinion from the networks that we are under an obligation to support that which we find to be morally offensive or mentally insulting. Our message is that we are not. Supporting vulgar or tasteless programming is no more our obligation than it is an obligation of this country to support economically the government of Russia.
The real objection
Gene Mater, vice president of policy, CBS-TV, expressed what they find objectionable about me in a debate we had in this city nearly a year ago. When I asked Mr. Mater why it was right for other groups, including the homosexuals, to do the same thing I was doing and not me, Mr. Mater replied: “The difference – I think what sets you apart – your organization apart – is the fact that you are … cloaked in this self-assumed aura of religious respectability.” Therein lies the problem. It is not my methods but my ideas that represent a threat. Which ideas? Ideas that spring directly from my Christian faith. That is what the networks and Hollywood find dangerous. This was further brought out when James Rosenfield, president of CBS network, referred to me in a speech at Monterey as the “Ayatollah of the religious right.” So, then, it is my ideas which must be suppressed. Ideas, you see, can be dangerous. Those who publicly accuse me of censorship are practicing exactly that of which they accuse me. They censor out the ideas I espouse, because they find these ideas dangerous.
This is nothing new. These ideas I hold have been dangerous for two thousand years. They were so dangerous that the Person to first advocate them ended up on a cross, crucified by the power brokers of His day. Ideas so dangerous that for nearly 300 years the Roman Empire threatened to kill and indeed did kill those who held them. Ideas so dangerous that in Soviet Russia in this century more than 12 million people have been put to death because they held them (a fact one would never learn watching network news). Ideas considered so dangerous that in one third of the world, they are still outlawed and forbidden. Ideas so dangerous that Hollywood and the networks find they must be suppressed and censored out.
Some “dangerous” ideas
What kind of ideas are there that I have that are dangerous? The idea that says sex is a beautiful gift given by God to be shared between husband and wife, not cheap and vulgar like the networks and Hollywood make it. That is a dangerous idea. Should it be allowed to catch hold, then all the pornographers, from Hugh Hefner on down, and many of the filmmakers would suffer monetary loss.
What kind of ideas? The idea that says violence is not God’s way of resolving conflict. Surely that is a dangerous idea. [If it is] allowed to spread, the public might reject a steady diet of violence on the screen and in the news. The job of Hollywood and the networks would thus be complicated. Some imagination, creativity and objectivity might be called for.
What kind of ideas do I hold that are dangerous? The idea that the elderly are an important part of society, to be honored and respected for their wisdom and experience. That is dangerous. The networks and Hollywood depend on youth, primarily female youth, which they can exploit. To see beauty as something intrinsic, rather than meat well proportioned on human bones, is dangerous. Writers might have to use creativity and imagination to bring forth suitable scripts. Presenting a half-naked female would no longer be considered an art. Females might have to be treated as intelligent humans instead of sex objects.
What kind of ideas? The idea that intelligent and thoughtful people can express themselves without resorting to vulgar, crude and filthy language. That is dangerous. If the networks should ever have to face that idea from the public, they would have to use skill to get across a forceful point.
What kind of ideas? The idea that illegal drugs should be presented from a negative light, shown as non-approved behavior and detrimental to the well-being of the individual and society. The idea that says alcohol should not be the overwhelming drink on television, and when it is shown the results of alcohol should be shown – deaths on the highway, deaths and violence in the home, lost production, human suffering. Those, indeed, are dangerous ideas.
What kind of ideas? The idea that capitalism, nurtured by Christian ethics, is the finest economic system ever devised. This idea is so rejected by Hollywood that Jim Brooks, a TV writer and former producer of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, said concerning businessmen: “They are all sons-of-b------.” Douglas Benton, another successful writer and producer, put forth his idea of capitalism nurtured by Christian ethics. “We are inevitably moving toward socialism. Ultimately it will come to socialism, because it’s the only governmental organization which attempts to take care of the dumb and the weak and the helpless. The free enterprise system is set up to reward your energy.”
The Media Institute released a study which reported that 67% of businessmen on TV are depicted in a negative way and reported: “Fully three quarters of those corporate leaders portrayed in a negative light engage in illegal activity. … Over half of all business leaders on these prime-time shows … are portrayed as criminals.” It was the capitalistic system, nurtured by Christian ethics, that made this country the most prosperous in all the world and allowed us, more than any other country in history, to help underprivileged countries. Capitalism, divorced from Christian ethics, will become a most callous economic system, as socially repressive as communism.
What kind of ideas do I hold that are dangerous? The idea that religion is a vital part of life, that according to George Gallup 90% of Americans consider themselves Christian and that more than 50,000,000 people attend worship regularly. That the Christian faith has helped build schools and hospitals, house the homeless, feed the hungry, heal the broken home, heal the alcoholic and play a central role in making this country the greatest on earth. That is such a dangerous idea, that it should not be shown on TV.
So it isn’t my methods the networks and Hollywood reject. They have used and approved the same methods for others. It is my ideas, my concept of man, that is dangerous. They must not let these dangerous ideas spread. They may be contagious.
We can have a society that recognizes God and His moral standards, or we can have a society that recognizes the “make-it-up-as-you-go” moral standards of Hollywood. We cannot, however, have both as equals. We cannot have a society where half recognize human life as precious and half recognize human life as convenience.
We can base our law and justice, our determination of right and wrong, on the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, or we can base our law and justice on the “make-it-up-as-you-go” values of Hollywood and the networks. But we cannot have our base on both because they are diametrically opposed to each other.
Whether we reject God or affirm Him, the fact remains that we are still His children and brothers together in the family of man. We can follow the example of Cain in dealing with our brothers, or we can follow that of Andrew, but we are – have always been and will always be – brothers.
You have seen the changes which have taken place in our nation in the last generation. I ask you, is our nation a safer, better, more moral, more stable society than it was a generation ago? Is the quality of life better than it was a generation ago? And if crime, drug use, divorces, abortions as convenience, pornography, apathy and similar social ills continue for another generation as they have during the past generation, will we have the kind of society you want your grandchildren to grow up in? Do we desire to proceed in the same direction morally which we have been going for the past quarter of a century? Are we ready to sell our national soul for a mess of valueless pottage? I certainly hope not.
The greatest resource America has is her people. The most precious gift in all the world is human life. The greatest good is to serve your fellowman. The greatest tragedy is the refusal of American people to get involved on behalf of those who will come after us. A nation which turns its back on God and His moral standards will reap what it sows. That was truth 2000 years ago. It is truth today. It will be truth 2000 years from now, even if we reject it.
We are beginning to learn that the party is over. It is time to pay the fiddler.