Donahue and the Dentist

With all the harmful trends we critique on this program, people sometimes say to me, "Tell us about the good things that are happening—things we can support." So today I have a happy tale to tell: a tale of how one person can make a difference. The story begins with a dentist named Richard Neill, who was concerned about tabloid-style television shows: Donahue, Oprah, Geraldo—you know the type. As a father, Dr. Neill didn't like knowing his kids might turn on the television and hear bizarre sagas told by transsexuals, strippers, topless dancers, prostitutes, and self-described nymphomaniacs. So one day, Dr. Neill decided he would do something about it. He would not wait for an organization to form. He would not wait for a movement. He would act on his own. Immediately. He decided to focus on the Donahue show, the leader of the talk show industry. Phil Donahue claims that his show deals with issues; but more often than not it is little more than sexual exhibitionism. So Dr. Neill collected a list of the companies that sponsor the Donahue show and typed letters to their top executives, requesting that they withdraw their advertising. "The sponsors are the Achilles' heel of these programs," Dr. Neill explains. The FCC's guidelines on obscenity are vague enough to let a Mack truck through; so the consumer's real leverage comes with deciding whether or not to buy the products advertised on the program. What made Dr. Neill's campaign especially effective is that he mailed actual examples of the offending material to sponsors—quotations from transcripts of the show. He didn't write inflammatory denunciations of Donahue. He didn't have to. A simple presentation of the facts was enough to make many sponsors change their minds about supporting a program that glorifies what we used to call vice. Amazingly, since Dr. Neill began his campaign, about 130 companies have dropped the Donahue show, including K-Mart, Clorox, Sara Lee, Starkist, Montgomery Ward, and Baskin Robbins. That's nearly 90 percent of the show's sponsorship gone. And the bottom line is that without sponsors, Donahue will be forced either to change the content of the program or go off the air. Needless to say, Phil Donahue has not been pleased about all this. He has accused Dr. Neill of "character assassination," saying "there is something very immoral" about reprinting comments made on his program. Strangely, he doesn't seem to feel it was immoral for his guests to make the comments in the first place, only for Dr. Neill to repeat them. Well, what Dr. Neill did privately and individually is now starting to draw public attention. Multimedia Entertainment, which syndicates the Donahue show, has tried to silence Dr. Neill, accusing him of economic blackmail. But a more accurate description for it is economic democracy. And those of us who support Dr. Neill need to let him know. For more information on his campaign, give us a call here at BreakPoint. One man really can make a difference—especially when we, his Christian brothers and sisters, stand alongside him.


Chuck Colson


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