Group says TV portrays business as bad guy

Bob Moon Jun 23, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Now here’s a novel concept. Corporate America as the bad guy. If you watch enough television, you might have the idea businessmen are worse than gang members. So says the Business and Media Institute.

Marketplace’s Bob Moon reports it’s a free-market group that wants to see American business portrayed in a more flattering stagelight.

BOB MOON: It helps to lower your voice an octave when you’re talking about all the big, bad, shady businessmen on televisiona€¦

CSI MIAMI CLIP:“Trans-International owns quite a bit of real estate, particularly a building at 1312 Surf Street.”

“I own many investment properties.”

“Yes, but this building, is used for the trafficking of weapons to juveniles!”

That clip from “CSI: Miami” is being featured on the Web site of the Business and Media Institute as an all-too-common example of how businessmen are usually portrayed on network television. The group found businessmen-as-villains storylines outnumber pro-business four-to-one. Director Dan Gainor complains that creates a climate of mistrust in a basic American institution.

DAN GAINOR:“If all you see on TV news is Enron, and then all you see on entertainment TV are the drama versions of Enron to the hundredth-power, where you actually have murders and kidnappings not typically associated with business. That’s long-term bad for our society.”

Which brings a big yawn from Robert Thompson. He heads Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television. Thompson says such story lines are older than the evil banker Mr. Potter in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and he argues that’s what drama is all about:

ROBERT THOMPSON:“You should no more try to get an idea of what business is like in America by watching fictional television than you should try to learn how to do emergency surgery by watching Gray’s Anatomy.”

Thompson says you can’t legislate portraying businessmen as heroes. The Business and Media Institute says it doesn’t want government censorship, just for Hollywood to lighten up.

In New York, I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.