'Erase the Hate.' (a USA Network Program Confronting Violence) (Judgmental Journalism)

Article excerpt

Responsible media cannot ignore the increase in violence and in tolerance in our society. As fragmentation along social, ethnic, and economic lines has fed fear and misunderstanding among people, cries have come from all sides for solutions, and calls have come for those in a position of possible influence to "do something" about these problems.

For myself and my staff at USA Network, a chance to use our influence in a positive way first came to us in the form of a wonderful script and movie for our continuing "USA World Premiere Movie" series. This movie ignited a strong desire to in some way be a part of the solution to America's current crisis of violence and hatred. As this feeling too hold, one of the first questions that occurred to me was: how will the news media, which have always been so quick to judge the entertainment industry for what they perceive as inattention to morality or too much violence, receive socially relevant programming? I believe that what 1 learned in seeking the answer to this question is instructive in our understanding of the media's role in attempting to deal with society's problems, and in what can be done by all of us who work in this incredibly diverse and far-reaching field.

"Silent Witness: What a Child Saw" was a movie produced for USA Network by Hearst Entertainment. This film dealt with the difficulties many young people currently encounter in a world filled with gangs and guns. Besides being entertaining, the movie resonated deeply within all those who saw it. It suddenly seemed obvious that we were in a position to say something positive about what many in this country see as a decline in values and an increase in violence. Almost immediately, the "Erase the Hate" campaign was born.

"Erase the Hate" was conceived as an 18-month media campaign including public service announcements, anti-hate themed episodes of our original series, similarly themed network IDs, as well as an incorporation of the "Erase the Hate" message into marketing materials and the "Cable in the Classroom" program. The centerpiece of the campaign would be our first "Erase the Hate" special, a one-hour program written and produced by members of our programming staff.

"Erase the Hate" had its premiere telecast, in prime-time, on August 25 of this year to overwhelmingly favorable reviews. The program focused specifically on young people who have found positive ways to combat the bias, prejudice, and hate they face in their everyday lives. Topics included gang violence, anti-semitism, homophobia, and peer counseling as a method for reducing fear and intolerance. The quality of this program surpassed my highest expectations of what could be achieved in a one-hour television special.

Groups and individuals profiled in "Erase the Hate" included Gangs for Peace, a Los Angeles-based group comprised of many former members of L.A. Gangs; Camp Rising Sun, which recruits an ethnically and culturally diverse group of youngsters to learn realistic ways to work for peace and harmony; Project CURE and the Crown Heights Youth Commission, a program developed by an Hasidic educator and a Baptist Minister in the wake of the Crown Height race riots; and, Facing History and Ourselves, a national organization that educates young people based on the premise that history's worst chapters can repeat themselves if hate is not understood and confronted. The work of organizations was described through telling the personal stories of various members. For instance, the opening segment on Project CURE told the story of Yudi and T.J., an Hasidic Jew and an African-American who were brought together by the community leaders who started the group. Both of these young men overcame considerable fear and prejudice to achieve a new understanding of human relations.

While the airing of "Erase the Hate" was a very significant moment in the more than decade-long history of USA Network, in many ways it was only the beginning. …