With rhe 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, a new study concludes that primetime dramas like “CSI: Miami,” “NCIS” and “House” “stayed closer to reality about common stereotypes” about what terrorists look like, but leave out aspects like racial profiling, reading of Miranda rights and aggressive interrogation tactics. Jack Bauer on “24” was one exception.
The study, from USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center, also looked at the primetime portrayal of the War on Drugs.
The report, authored by Johanna Blakley and Sheena Nahm and available here, was funded by the ACLU, was done to “help us understand what Americans (and the rest of the world) might be learning about the War on Terror and the War on Drugs from the most popular shows on U.S. television (which are watched by billions of people around the world.”
Among the findings:
Minorities are not depicted as the perpetrators in the War on Terror. Most are white American citizens. Some 67% of terror suspects were white, and 14% were identified as Middle Eastern, Arab or Muslim. Some 62% were U.S. citizens or residents, and in “one particulraly jarring storyline,” a right wing terrorist bomber is played by Justin Bieber. The report says that given the rise in threats from within, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “these anxieties may well be justified.”
Shows present a sterilized view of the War on Terror. Of 49 episodes monitored, only one episode featured a reference to racial profiling. Shows also strayed from “some of the most dramatic and defining aspects” of the War on Terror, according to the report, incoluding waterborading and other aggressive interrogation techniques.
Government action often has negative consequences. Arrests were few, military force was often ineffective and often crimes were not prevented.
The legal system gets short shrift. Rarely were terror suspects shown in trial proceedings. In fact, the judicial process, which polls show a big chunk of the public believe is deeply flawed, was pretty much ignored.
The full study is here, and a video summary is below. What is also interesting is how it compares primetime portrayals to public perceptions. For instance, almost twice as many Americans believe that radical Muslims pose a greater risk to the U.S. than homegrown radicals.
As for the War on Drugs, the most commonly used illicit drug in the shows was marijuana, which 44% of Americans believe should be legalized.