by Curtis Symonds I’m afraid – and that’s an ironic choice of words, given what I’m about to say – that America is becoming a nation of cowards. That’s not to say we don’t have heroic people. To the contrary, consider the soldiers in Iraq, the volunteers braving disease to help tsunami victims in Southeast Asia, or the thousands of firefighters and police officers who go to work every day, knowing well they may not come home. I’m talking about a different kind of cowardice. All around is evidence that we as a society lack the guts to do certain things. Not life-threatening, save-a-baby-from-a- burning-building kinds of things, but more subtle, less heralded things. Things like standing on principle. Like making a mistake, admitting it, and apologizing. Like doing something unpopular, then having the guts to take heat when criticism starts. What’s this got to do with cable? This industry is an easy target for a very vocal minority. In the eyes of many, cable nets are purveyors of filth, promoters of depravity and the leading reason this country is no longer the peachy-keen place it once was. There is an indecency storm brewing and it’s headed our way. Think we won’t need courage in 2005? We have a lame duck president who, in the opinion of some political pundits, will spend his remaining "political capital" trying to impose his sense of morality on as many aspects of American life as he can, including television. And we have an FCC Chairman who is so willing to stamp out "indecency" that after fining Disney for its tawdry Desperate Housewives/Monday Night Football promo, had the temerity to scold Michael Eisner like a ten year old, and ask, "What would Walt Disney think?" Now, more than ever, this industry needs corporate courage. As right-wing political action groups take aim at content they deem objectionable, our CEOs are going to have to find the guts to stand up to that criticism and respectfully disagree – not pander. Marketers will tell you consumers like to do business with companies whose values they admire. And there is no value we admire more than courage. Winston Churchill called it "the first in human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others." By the same token, lack of courage is seen as blood in the water by hungry sharks. Remember, people were upset when Janet Jackson bared her breast during the Super Bowl, but the real feeding frenzy didn’t start until a spineless statement was released calling it a "wardrobe malfunction." And on Veterans Day, many ABC affiliates made headlines (and horrified millions) by not carrying Saving Private Ryan after being threatened with fines by the FCC. Clearly the more courageous choice would have been to simply run the film. And speaking of courage, if the FCC had any guts it would have made good on its threat to levy fines against ABC affiliates who ran Ryan, a stirring tribute to the veterans of D-Day and a television event that included an intro by American war hero Senator John McCain. As you might expect, no fines were ever levied by the FCC’s morality cops. What I’m hoping for in 2005 is a cable industry that not only continues to break ground in programming, but one that understands with such innovation will come criticism. And when it arrives, Symonds says, I hope those in charge will look deep within themselves and discover the courage of their convictions. Curtis Symonds can be reached at

The Daily


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