Naked City

SBOE Spares Channel One

On Nov. 15, the State Board of Education considered and rejected a non-binding resolution recommending that local schools stop showing Channel One, a daily news program with commercials broadcast in 1,200 Texas high schools. At the meeting, Channel One was defended by Jim Ritts, the well-coiffed CEO of Primedia, which produces the program. Ritts was well prepared to address the conservative SBOE; he came armed with a Channel One clip that featured first lady Laura Bush and a Hispanic teenager who preached abstinence. Ritts charged that the campaign against Channel One was run by extremists, including Gary Ruskin, the director of Commercial Alert, who Ritts said was "closely connected to Ralph Nader."

That was when Judy Strickland, R-Plainview, the conservative who proposed the Channel One measure, piped up. "You might include Phyllis Schlafly in that group," said Strickland, referring to the anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist leader of the Eagle Forum. "I know Phyllis on a first-name basis. Now, you wouldn't call her on the fringe, would you?"

As Ritts began to demur, board member Richard Neill, R-Fort Worth, piped up, "Nobody likes you, do they?" The crowd roared while Ritts sputtered that "hundreds of teachers and students across Texas like us." But this was a rare moment when activists on both the left and right agree. Liberals like Ruskin hate Channel One for giving advertisers a captive audience in the schools and teaching passive consumerism. Conservatives agree, but also think that Channel One is immoral for advertising movies with sex and violence and discussing taboo topics. Linda Striegel, a parent testifying before the board, was shocked that the Channel One Web site linked to an article that discussed whether high schools are failing gay and lesbian youth. "I didn't know that's what our schools were all about," she said indignantly. But several teachers argued that Channel One was the best tool they had for keeping kids up-to-date on world events.

The board rejected Strickland's resolution and instead adopted a milder measure encouraging parents and school districts to become informed about the concerns associated with marketing in the schools.

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