Three Major Networks Hype New Grand Theft Auto Game, Offer Limited Criticisms of Violence

The new, ultra-violent Grand Theft Auto V video game debuted last week and raked in over $1 billion in just the first three days of sales. It was so impressive that the three major broadcast networks all took note and reported on the game on their weekend morning shows. But all three networks focused on the stellar sales numbers for the game while failing to explore a possible connection between violent video games and desensitization to violence that helps lead to mass shooting incidents.

CBS This Morning: Saturday was the worst of the three networks. CBS essentially fawned over the game while devoting only two sentences to criticism of it. Co-anchor Anthony Mason began the hype right at the top: “It was a blockbuster debut that would make any Hollywood executive jealous, except you couldn't see it on the silver screen but rather on the small screen.”


Reporter Elaine Quijano started the package with a matter-of-fact description of the game’s graphic nature: “Grand Theft Auto V allows video game players to assume the role of gangsters, committing almost any crime imaginable. Bank robberies, car thefts, often murder.

A game like that can’t have positive implications for society, especially when it’s played by impressionable young people. But Quijano didn’t discuss the effect that such a violent game might have on our society. She played sound bites from a boy who played the game and two women who bought the game before finally giving a nod to the controversy surrounding Grand Theft Auto V: “But critics have complained about the violence, including a torture scene. Officials with Take Two Interactive Software, the company behind the video game, declined to comment on criticisms of it.”

That was all the criticism Quijano offered in this one-sided celebration of Grand Theft Auto. After the package concluded, co-anchor Vanita Nair enthused, “The game is obviously so much about violence, there were reports of violence to get the game. People impersonating police officers, people beating people up to get the game.” Mason only responded with, “The sales numbers are extraordinary,” to which Nair replied, “I know, unbelievable.”

NBC’s Today show on Sunday also devoted a full package to Grand Theft Auto V, but NBC framed it in a more responsible manner. After Lester Holt began by noting the game’s wondrous sales, his co-anchor Erica Hill added, “But with its very violent scenes and adult themes, the question is raised: should kids be playing the game?”

That’s the question that CBS should have asked. The NBC package also praised the game, but reporter Michelle Franzen included this warning near the end of her report: “But one child psychologist says despite the Mature-17 rating, many younger teens are still playing this violent game.” This was followed by a sound bite from the psychologist in question.

However, Franzen then went right back to praising the awesome sales numbers: “Meanwhile, sales keep soaring. The $1 billion so far is more than the annual gross domestic product of some nations.

After the package wrapped up, Holt marveled, “The message it sends aside, the graphics are incredible.” Hill agreed: “The graphics are beautiful.”

ABC’s Saturday edition of Good Morning America ran only a news brief on Grand Theft Auto V. As such, they did not explore any of the controversy or potential criticisms surrounding the game. After announcing that the game had earned over $1 billion in the first three days, newsreader Ron Claiborne mused, “Imagine that.”

It was stunning that all three of these networks offered such a superficial take on this video game. In light of the many tragic shootings that have gripped our country over the last couple of years, this would have been a good opportunity for the networks to ask whether a game as graphically violent as Grand Theft Auto V is sending the wrong message not just to children, but to all Americans who might play it.

But instead, ABC, CBS, and NBC focused mainly on the immense popularity of the game. It was irresponsible.

Below are full transcripts of the three segments:

CBS This Morning: Saturday
09/21/13
8:16

ANTHONY MASON: It was a blockbuster debut that would make any Hollywood executive jealous, except you couldn't see it on the silver screen but rather on the small screen. The extremely violent video game Grand Theft Auto 5 shifted into overdrive, earning $1.5 billion in just three days and shattering records. Elaine Quijano has more.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Grand Theft Auto 5 allows video game players to assume the role of gangsters, committing almost any crime imaginable. Bank robberies, car thefts, often murder.  College freshman Daniel Bell started playing four years ago.

DANIEL BELL: You’re never going to really be a criminal. So like, when you’re all these characters who are just insane criminals who rob banks and steal cars, it’s just like a fun experience and it gives you a rush.



BOY: I'm here for Grand Theft Auto 5. [cheers]

QUIJANO: On Tuesday, fans around the world lined up for the chance to be the first to plop down $60 for the game, which did $800 million in worldwide sales its first day. Friday there were no signs momentum was slowing at the Manhattan GameStop where we ran into Theresa Rotundo. She bought the game for her 13 and 17-year old sons.

THERESA ROTUNDO: I want them to know that I don’t like it but I guess I do let them play because all their friends are playing.

QUIJANO: Naomi Barney bought it for herself. She’s not put off by the game’s depiction of women, often as prostitutes or strippers.

NAOMI BARNEY: I think it's just a game to have fun with, just to play and that's it. For me at least it is.

QUIJANO: Grand Theft Auto 5 has made twice as much as the last Harry Potter movie did in its opening weekend. That film holds the record for the best box office opening ever. But critics have complained about the violence, including a torture scene. Officials with Take Two Interactive Software, the company behind the video game, declined to comment on criticisms of it. Sales could jump even higher if the company releases a version for new Play consoles, coming out in November. For CBS This Morning Saturday, Elaine Quijano, New York.

VANITA NAIR: The game is obviously so much about violence, there were reports of violence to get the game. People impersonating police officers, people beating people up to get the game.

MASON: The sales numbers are extraordinary.

NAIR: I know, unbelievable.

***

NBC Today
09/22/13
8:36

LESTER HOLT: In just three days the video game Grand Theft Auto 5 has pulled in more than $1 billion in sales. It was a highly anticipated sequel and gamers, a lot of them have been playing it nonstop.

ERICA HILL: But with its very violent scenes and adult themes, the question is raised: should kids be playing the game? Here’s Michelle Franzen.

MICHELLE FRANZEN: The gaming world sped into new territory this week with the latest installment of the Grand Theft Auto series raking in a record $1 billion in its first three days.

JOE BERNSTEIN, Buzzfeed: This is the first new Grand Theft Auto game in five years.

FRANZEN: The glossy, action-packed, and notoriously violent bank heist adventure fans can't get enough of.

FRANZEN: When did you get it? Tuesday.

KID ON THE STREET: The same day it came out.

FRANZEN: Did you wait in line?

KID: Yeah.

JEREMY HUGHES, Gamer: Fast cars. It's like playing a 40-hour-long crime movie. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, baby.

FRANZEN: Gamers are also sharing virtual high fives, tips and strategies on Twitter and YouTube.

VOICE: How to start an illegal street race.



FRANZEN: One gaming editor played for 38 hours straight and says there are new twists along with the violence the game is known for.

BERNSTEIN: It's a very over-the-top, very cartoonish representation of southern California and of crime and violence.

FRANZEN: But one child psychologist says despite the Mature-17 rating, many younger teens are still playing this violent game.

DR. JEN HARTSTEIN: What happens is younger teens, kids get their hands on it and they aren't really able to decipher the messages that are being put out there.

FRANZEN: Meanwhile, sales keep soaring. The $1 billion so far is more than the annual gross domestic product of some nations. The latest Grand Theft Auto’s profits also blow away the top weekly box office sales. While the cost of making the game, an estimated $250 million, is as much as a blockbuster movie.

JAMES BINNS, pcgamesn.com Founder: You should think of it as a new Martin Scorsese movie or the finale of Breaking Bad. You know, this is an adult experience, targeted at adults, with very adult themes.

FRANZEN: A cultural shift and a sign you'll likely see the next Grand Theft Auto coming up fast on the road ahead. For Today, Michelle Franzen, NBC News, New York.

HOLT: The message it sends aside, the graphics are incredible.

HILL: The graphics are beautiful.

***

ABC Good Morning America
09/21/13
7:34

RON CLAIBORNE: And the new video game Grand Theft Auto 5 has shattered sales records, earning over $1 billion in just the first three days. Imagine that. Take Two Interactive Software, that’s the company behind the game, claims that that is the fastest any entertainment property has ever reached that milestone. Pretty fast.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.