Archive for Friday, February 23, 2007

Does media coverage drive fears?

February 23, 2007

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John Stossel hosts a two-hour "20/20" (8 p.m., ABC) special about my favorite media subject: fear.

The special, Stossel's first two-hour presentation, "Scared Stiff: Worried In America," was not available for review in time for this column. Stossel looks at the media's coverage of a virtual cafeteria of wide-ranging fears, including terrorism, bird flu, vicious crime, cancer and global warming. Stossel reports that the things we are most told to worry about are sometimes the least likely to hurt us.

Like most Stossel reports, this one sounds like a combination of the truly profound with the profoundly self-evident.

The news media, and television in particular, are most adept at instilling and managing fear. And for the most part, we love it. Just look at the weather. Time was, winter meant snowstorms and the occasional blizzard. Now such "natural" events are treated like the onslaught of a military campaign. We consult satellite imagery and ponder disaster scenarios. Storms get their own monikers, "The Blizzard of 2007," as if 2 feet of snow were on par with the battle of Bunker Hill.

Sometimes it seems that popular perceptions of the media can be summed up in two figures from childhood fairy tales. On one hand, there's Henny-Penny, for whom the sky was always falling, and on the other, we have the boy who cried wolf, a chronic exaggerator who lost his credibility just when he needed it most.

¢ "Science of Winter" (9 p.m., National Geographic) puts all of the myths and legends about the season to a laboratory test. Are all snowflakes indeed unique? Does a blizzard pack more destructive energy than a hurricane? And just what does happen to mosquitoes during the winter months?

¢ Grim moments between married couples, bad blind dates, jealous boyfriends, bad breakups and other social wrongs and rites of passage of 20-somethings become fodder for a sketch comedy troupe on "Spoons" (10 p.m., BBC America). Consistently funny. Contains adult language and situations.

Tonight's other highlights

¢ A morgue mystery thickens when two spirits emerge on "Ghost Whisperer" (7 p.m., CBS).

¢ A prep school dean stands trial for the murder of his mail-order bride on "Close to Home" (8 p.m., CBS).

¢ Ed won't let tragedy derail the company picnic on "Las Vegas" (8 p.m., NBC).

¢ Adrian takes on the "Six-Way Killer" on "Monk" (8 p.m., USA).

¢ Austin, Texas, shows off its cuisine on "Giada's Weekend Getaways" (8:30 p.m., Food).

¢ Kidnappers seize the son of a music big shot on "Numb3rs" (9 p.m., CBS).

¢ After promoting a controversial book, a publisher is found murdered on "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).

¢ The apparent lack of concern of the parent of a missing child raises eyebrows on "Psych" (9 p.m., USA).

¢ "The Greatest Fashion Icons in Film" (9 p.m., TLC) profiles cinematic trendsetters of the past and present.

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