Bureaucrats, Politicians TV's Favorite Bunglers

By Duin, Julia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 6, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Bureaucrats, Politicians TV's Favorite Bunglers


Duin, Julia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Call it the negative '90s.

Television shows now portray civil servants, public officials and businessmen as lazy, inept and greedy, according to a new report from a Washington research organization.

"Public officials and public employees are the Rodney Dangerfields of TV entertainment," said S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. "They don't get no respect. Basically, bureaucrats are there to pester you and politicians are there to steal your money and generally corrupt the system."

The center conducted an exhaustive study of 1,234 prime-time TV episodes and 9,588 characters that aired between 1955 and 1998 on ABC, CBS and NBC.

In analyzing shows that aired from 1955 through 1986, 51 percent of the politicians played negative roles compared with 40 percent who played positive ones. Nine percent of the portrayals were neutral.

Politicians' roles have become more neutral in the past few years. For shows airing between 1992 and 1998, only 31 percent were depicted negatively, 22 percent positively and 47 percent neutrally.

Some TV politicians were depicted as honorable, such as actor Fess Parker in the TV version of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a comedy show that ran from 1962 to 1963.

But after the mid-1970s, when Watergate occurred, TV focused on either the dark side of political life - evil politicians allied with business or criminal interests - or as foolish bumblers in humorous roles, such as Boss Hogg, a corrupt and blustery county commissioner on "The Dukes of Hazzard," the report said.

In "Spin City," fictional New York Mayor Randall Winston is portrayed as a scatterbrained bungler.

Other government workers don't fare so well, either. In an episode of "The X-Files," FBI agent Fox Mulder - often portrayed as a hero - discovers a secret government conspiracy to implant a deadly biotoxin in stolen money to test its effects on the public.

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