- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

Geezer revenge may be at hand: The negative image of older Americans in print and broadcast media has been taken to task on Capitol Hill.
"There is a coalition to protect the way every other group is depicted in the media, from Italians to Arabs to racial groups. But no one protests the image of the elderly," Doris Roberts told the Senate Special Committee on Aging yesterday.
The 70-something actress plays a feisty mother on CBS' "Everyone Loves Raymond."
"My contemporaries and I are denigrated as old. Old coots, old fogeys, old codgers, geezers, hags and old-timers," she said, adding that "this is not just a sad situation, this is a crime."
Miss Roberts and four other advocates called media-borne "ageism" a psychosocial disease, an irrational bias and a deep-seated fear. The stereotyping as doddering and foolish could even imperil "the survival of older adults," according to Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale University.
"The media's obsession with youth comes at the expense of older Americans," said Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat and the committee chairman.
Seventy-five percent of older Americans, he said, were fed up with downright rude references to seniors in news, entertainment and marketing.
Enough, say the advocates.
Epithets such as "geezer nation," "prune face" and "old war horses" have no place in newsrooms, said Paul Kleyman, who coordinates a 750-member network of journalists aged above 50.
He cited the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and other news organizations for perpetuating the "myth" that courting viewers and readers beyond the magic 18-49 demographic was worthless.
"Take a phrase like 'old audience,'" he continued. "If a newspaper ran an article today that said CBS had to recover from having a 'black audience' or a 'women's audience,' the nation would be in an uproar."
Earlier this year, Harvard's "Age in the Press" study found that newspapers "are paying nearly no interest to readers in the upper-middle ages, in spite of the fact that this is the fastest-increasing group of readers."
Mr. Kleyman did bring some good news, however, noting that about 75 newspapers have at least one reporter on the "age beat," covering retirement or elder care issues.
Dr. Robert Butler of the International Longevity Center blamed the fear of aging itself for the persistent portrayal of older people "as feeble, ineffective, helpless and irrelevant" and called for a change in "language and imagery of old age in the media."
Robert Snyder, a senior partner with advertising giant J. Walter Thompson, also noted that stereotypes about aging are tolerated "in ways that would never be allowed for any other group in the country."
But the company's new TV spot for Butterfinger features a befuddled old couple sharing the candy and a pair of dentures. The commercial already has been included in one upcoming network news special about age discrimination.
Meanwhile, aging TV anchormen continue to hold sway on the networks. CBS' Dan Rather, 70; NBC's Tom Brokaw, 62; and ABC's Peter Jenkins, 63, will remain on the air well past the 2004 elections. PBS' Jim Lehrer, 68, recently said he'll stay on the job until he starts "drooling."
Others have taken their case to court. In February, a group of older TV writers filed 23 class-action suits against NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and others, saying they've been frozen out of youthful Hollywood. The case is still pending.

Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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