Nader, Schlafly Lambaste Channel One at Senate Hearing

By Mark Walsh — May 26, 1999 3 min read

Channel One was attacked in a Senate committee hearing last week as “the most brazen marketing ploy in the history of the United States.”

And that was one of the nicer things that veteran consumer advocate Ralph Nader had to say about the daily, 12-minute television news show for schools, which is supported by two minutes of commercials.

“We’re not just dealing with overly crass commercialism,” Mr. Nader said during a May 20 hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “We’re dealing with parental neglect and the delinquency of school boards” for signing contracts to show the program.

The hearing was long sought by Sen. Richard C. Shelby, an Alabama Republican who has taken up the cause against advertising in schools.

“We are now at the point where there are product placements in textbooks, kids watching commercials at their desks during class time, and students filling out marketing surveys as part of their homework assignments,” Sen. Shelby said. He is not a member of the education committee, but he lobbied its chairman, Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., to hold the hearing.

Mr. Shelby acknowledged that he didn’t expect any federal action against Channel One and other forms of advertising in schools.

“Ultimately, and appropriately, the final decisions regarding this subject will be made on the local level,” he said.

Joining Sen. Shelby and Mr. Nader in attacking the classroom news show was Phyllis Schlafly, the longtime conservative activist who is the president of the Alton, Ill.-based Eagle Forum.

“Channel One is a devious device to enable advertisers to circumvent parents,” said Ms. Schlafly, who outlined various commercials and news segments she found objectionable.

She said the program often runs ads for violent movies and even encourages students to see the movies over a weekend so they can answer a “pop quiz” on the following Monday’s show.

Channel One, which has long drawn fire from critics on the political left, such as Mr. Nader, is increasingly under attack from those on the right, such as Ms. Schlafly, as well. (“Conservatives Join Effort To Pull the Plug on Channel One,” April 7, 1999.)

High Renewal Rate

Paul W. Folkemer, a former middle school principal who is now Channel One’s vice president for education, defended his network’s program.

“Channel One has 8 million kids a year learning current events,” he said. “It is the only news program designed for kids.”

Critics, he added, ignore the facts that many educators find the program useful and that the 12,000 middle and high schools that show it renew their contracts at a 99 percent rate.

The Rev. Peter Weigand, the headmaster of St. Anselm’s Abbey School, a 245-student Roman Catholic boys’ school in Washington, told the committee that Channel One taught students how to analyze the news and presented major issues with sensitivity.

“They reported on the recent Columbine [High School] tragedy without any imagery that I would consider unnecessarily disturbing,” he said.

As for the commercials, “there are some from time to time that I could do without,” Father Weigand said. “On the other hand, there is nothing there [students] don’t see at home.”

Ms. Schlafly objected to that defense of the commercials.

“There are large numbers of parents in this country who restrict their children’s television viewing,” she said, adding that that control is removed when children are compelled to watch Channel One and its ads in school.

Channel One’s contracts with schools typically require that it be shown to most students on 90 percent of school days. Individual students may opt out of viewing, but critics say they rarely do.

The Senate committee did not appear to share Sen. Shelby’s strong opposition to Channel One. Sen. Jeffords’ only substantive remarks were in a written statement in which he mentioned arguments on both sides and praised the idea of business partnerships with education.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, said he watched some tapes of Channel One last week with his school-age daughter. He worried about a Mountain Dew ad featuring a fast-driving car valet, which he thought might be inappropriate for classrooms.

“But I did think the news was very good,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the May 26, 1999 edition of Education Week as Nader, Schlafly Lambaste Channel One at Senate Hearing