Thursday, June 21, 2007

How I Went Face-to-Screen with Jack Thompson

I first heard the name Jack Thompson just last June. I was driving from New York to Camp Hill, PA, for a signing of The Plot to Save Socrates at a Barnes and Noble, when my cell phone rang. It was CNBC.

I didn't have Bluetooth then, and my cheap handless gadget wasn't working, so I pulled over to the side of the road to talk.

CNBC: Would you be interested in being on CNBC's Squawkbox the next morning to talk about videogames?

Me: Sure. [I'm always interested in being on television.]

CNBC: And you think there's no connection between violence in videogames and violence in the real world? [I talk about the lack of connection between violence in every medium and violence in the real world in most of my books - such as my 1997 The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution.]

Me: Right. No causal connection at all - studies that say they show that violent videogames cause violence in the real world are confusing correlation and causation [I know, a mouthful from the side of the road in Pennsylvania, but it's gotta be said].

CNBC: Excellent. So we'll have a car for you right outside your door at 5:30am tomorrow. Jack Thompson will also be on the show.


At that time, I was far more unhappy about the 5:30am than I was about Jack Thompson.

But a sleek car's whisking me over the George Washington Bridge to CNBC's studios in Ft. Lee, New Jersey early the next morning.

I'm kept waiting longer than usual - though, truthfully, there is no "usual" for this - and I'm finally ushered into the studio, miked, and smiled at by the host of Squawkbox, Becky Quick.

I won't rehash the actual interview for you - you can see it here for yourself. Suffice to say I was repeatedly interrupted by Thompson, whose style is to talk a blue streak, then break in a few seconds after the other guest starts talking, continue to do that, and then complain that you were hogging the conversation when he gets his chance to talk again.

I've run into people like that before. What was in some ways even more irritating was Becky Quick's moderation style - which consisted of letting Thompson talk first, not doing anything to stop Thompson when he was interrupting, and then giving him the last word.

But here's what bothers me most, and what I understand least: why does Thompson with his nonsense keep getting so much air time? True, the American Psychological Association doesn't help, by sometimes speaking loosely of correlation as causation - confusing A (playing violent videogames) happening at the same time as B (violent episodes in real life) with A causing B, when B could have caused A, etc. And yet, Thompson all too often appears unopposed on television, or in a conversation in which he is given the upper hand by the host.

After Thompson appeared on Chris Matthews' Hardball last week - where Matthews did ask him some tough questions - MSNBC published an editorial that called Thompson out. Joystick is talking about the "Jacklash" - the media are finally waking up about Thompson.

But a lot of this could have been avoided, if the media had not been so worried about offending Thompson in the first place. Next time, either don't have him on your air at all, or try the tried-and-true procedure of giving equal time to opposing opinions.

See also Fallacies of Connections Between Violent Videogames and Violence in Real Life

Above reposted from - originally posted there 23 April 2007. Comments from original posting follow. Feel free to post more comments here, anytime you like.

After watching the injustice you received in that interview I was shocked not only at the rudeness of Thompson but also the ignorance of the American public to believe most of his nonsense. In a basic statistics course in high school it was pounded into our curriculum that "correlation does not imply causation". I hope the your medium for providing controversial and thought provoking ideas can overpower terrible television personalities like Thompson.
Posted by: Mike at April 23, 2007 04:44 PM

im going to go to books a million and buy all of your books now.... on general principle
Posted by: Burn at April 23, 2007 08:27 PM

i spoke on Fox News a while back about the Ward Churchill debate on the University of Colorado campus. Same deal: FNC had an agenda they wanted to push, so they lead off with the representative from the campus republicans, and allowed him to interrupt me, and then misinterpreted my answers. Fair and balanced, right?
Posted by: Will at April 23, 2007 08:36 PM

Outstanding Blog and Amazing Success with flessing out Jacks obsession, major kudos Mr. Levinson. ( I like how they played games during Jacks turn lol)
Posted by: Mike at April 23, 2007 08:44 PM

I applaud you sir, if not simply for being the bigger man in that debate. You had every right to get frustrated with Thompson. What I don't understand is how he can be so offended when you call studies that "show clear causation" ignorant, yet he can go on tangents calling the IGDA leaders idiots and jackasses.
You definitely deserved more time than you were given in that debate, but frankly our media doesn't want to submit enough time to give a fair in clear debate about something that isn't presidentially connected.
Posted by: Jinno at April 23, 2007 10:01 PM

I've had email correspondence with Thompson before, and he is just the same. He won't answer your questions, and, in print, he uses horrible punctuation and capitalization. Anyhow, he and I exchanged email a couple of years ago during the "Hot Coffee" over exaggeration, and even though I tried to be as cordial as I could when emailing him, he didn't even try to return the favor. I guess when he's not on television he doesn't even try, which he hardly does when he is on TV. Hopefully soon someone at these media places will read up on him a little bit before thinking it's a good idea to put him on the air.
But I digress. Great job taking him on. I just wish the TV stations could spend more than five minutes of their precious time to cover this subject. It's not really enough time to get anything accomplished.
Posted by: Garret at April 23, 2007 10:35 PM

Thompson again showed a total lack of understanding of the difference between correlation and causation when he aparently emailed the FBI accusing him of a "website" of targeting him, when in fact it was a comment in the comment section on the website, from someone unafiliated with the website.
Thompson's 15 minutes of FUD should have been up 14 minutes ago.
Posted by: Graham Fair at April 23, 2007 11:25 PM

Mr. Levinson, I applaud you for how you handled yourself during the show. While Thompson tried to interrupt you, you stayed steadfast and got some of your points across. I've seen Thompson on other TV shows and he does the same thing every time. His mannerisms and words seem to be more violent than most people who play video games and this is because he HATES video games and all people who like to play them.
Posted by: Mike To at April 24, 2007 01:23 AM

You are a hero Mr. Levinson, finally someone who can see trough the never ending BS which is spouted from the mouth of Mr. Thompson. It's nice to know that we have intelligent people who actually look at fact, and not live in their own little world.
Sir, I applaud you!
Posted by: Anonymous at April 24, 2007 02:50 AM

On the interview Mr. Thompson says that a minor could walk into a store and buy a violent video game. He says that there are restrictions put in place for movies (a minor cannot get into an R rated film) and other media, but a minor could walk into a store and buy that same R rated movie on DVD with absolutely no difficulty. The same goes for music with explicit content. If this mature content is, indeed, damaging today's youth, then why are video games getting all the blame? The explicit content in music seems to be much more pervasive in popular culture than that in video games.
I personally love video games. They're great. Most games that have violence in them do not promote killing for the pleasure of killing. Rather, teamwork (especially in multiplayer games) and strategy are stressed. I have talked to other gamers and they agree with me, but I won't assume this as fact; it is simply my subjective experiences.
I need not describe the difference in virtual killing and killing in real life. Shooting a man made of pixels is much easier and completely detached from emotion than hurting in real life. Me, I feel bad when I accidentally step on my dog's tail.
I know that my subjective experiences cannot be made into generalizations for the larger populations. It seems more likely, however, that a school shooting would be caused by other factors, including mental illness/personal problems plaguing the shooter or even a complete breakdown in the system. I heard (but I'm not certain of its accuracy) that the English Dept. at VTech had noticed that the shooter Cho was possibly disturbed and some actions were taken to help him. Is it not possible that he was not taken as seriously as he should have been? When he bought the gun, did the seller notice that his address was on the VTech campus? Could the reason this tragedy happened was because multiple systems failed?
On a lighter note, I plan to pick up your latest book some time next week. This whole thing has me intrigued.
Posted by: Brandon at April 24, 2007 02:54 AM

"[I'm always interested in being on television.]"
This cracked me up. =)
Posted by: doctornine at April 24, 2007 02:55 AM

Wow, I just saw the interview. I want to be a smart-ass and say, "Exactly which part of the brain causes copycat behavior, Mr. Thompson?" but not even knowing which apparently amazing breakthrough was made in medicine first makes it hard to know for sure if he's wrong or right. That's the problem with Jack Thompson, every outright lie is coupled to some half-truth he can fall back on. Too many people seem willing to passively collude with this man's crusade, as you pointed out. I can't figure out why they do it, either. He's very obviously a "snake-oil salesman" personality (with all respect to the snake-oil sellers of the world), so why do people suffer his presence, knowing nothing he says is reliable? They know that his words are as much - if not more so - sculpted for effect as they are factual content.
I wonder if maybe it's because the majority of folks actually want what he's selling (laws to restrict M-rated games from children); they're just not willing to admit it, out loud. Or maybe they just know he's good TV.
Posted by: Snipehunter at April 24, 2007 03:14 AM
Why did they have Thompson on the show and then give him all the time? Because, contrary to what CNBC tells you, they are in the business of making money(read: entertainment), NOT delivering the truth. Expecting them to be fair and balanced is unreasonable, seeing as they are part of a huge FOR-PROFIT corporation.
Posted by: Anonymous at April 24, 2007 08:43 AM

Very Nice. I (as well as many other gamers I know) have had enough of Mr.Thompson getting all this attention. Constantly, getting owned at all his attempts.
Blaming Microsoft for the V-tech shooting, Taking on Take2 and failing, calling for an FBI investigation on Kotaku. When will he learn?
Posted by: Nori at April 24, 2007 04:23 PM

Hey, many thanks for the comments, everyone - keep 'em coming!
Just two brief responses -
Will - I think I remember your appearance on Fox. Actually, though Fox is no angel when it comes to this, I've done better on O'Reilly, John Gibson, and Cavuto in getting my points across than on CNBC. In fact, I get to say more on Fox than on MSNBC's Scarborough Country - check out the video clips on my Paul in the Media link in the right-hand column above.
What's distressing is that no tv show, with the exception of the PBS News Hour, lets you get more than a few words in. But the Squawkbox Thompson bit was a new low, at least for me.
Snipehunter: Thanks for picking up on the "part of the brain" gibberish that Thompson said at the end. Had I been given a chance to respond, I would have said that of all the things Thompson said, that was the most absurd of all - what part of the brain would that be, Jack?
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 24, 2007 04:30 PM

Wow. What an asshole. Does his facial expression change at any point during the entire interview?
Posted by: Soren at April 24, 2007 06:02 PM

So she said she was going to ask both of you back, and that was almost a year ago!
Good follow-up by Beck and her producers.
Paul, in light of the mental midget's recent rantings, have you thought about making a call to CNBC to initiate another "discussion"?
Posted by: BunnySlope at April 24, 2007 07:23 PM

People like Jack are infuriating, but what bothers me more are the people who are confused by his lies and misquotes and then try to act on this misinformation.
For example my mother who pulled me aside to let me know about the dangers of letting my kids play videogames.
She has never played a video game, knows nothing about the games, but wanted to make sure I (a gamer of 20+ years) was aware of the perils i am apparently putting my children under if I allow them to be "changed forever" by these games and their images...
Posted by: SomeLlama at April 24, 2007 07:24 PM

Bunny - you're right, I should call CNBC and hold them to Becky Quick's word at the end of the show.
Problem is it usually doesn't work that way - tv producers are very resistant to being pitched by previous guests.
On the other hand, it certainly wouldn't hurt for me to try.
I'll keep everyone posted.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 24, 2007 07:31 PM

the "moderator" was bias... the whole thing was bias. take them down! I admire you for being the bigger person there. Mr. Jack Thompson is ignorant and lacks the understanding of his own statistics.
Good luck to you
Posted by: Roar3D at April 25, 2007 04:24 AM

good job, we need more people to take on the Jack Thompsons of the world.
however going back on CNBC to take on Thompson again is not really a great way to get your point across.
the impact CNBC wants to have on an audience is one that makes them want to watch more. (money) your position on that show seemed to be to provide a que for Thompson to rant on, he was the Squawkbox. no matter what my opinion of the issue is i'd have to say that Thompson was more fired up and calling for drastic action, you're at a disadvantage here as there's no drastic action for you to call for.
now if you were to return and get really fired up and start accuse Thompson of blind prejudice, lies and trying to take away from peoples freedoms. then the news network could possibly do one of two things...give you more air time or throw you out of the station. (i'd be betting on the first one as i think it would make for better TV in their eyes) otherwise your at a disadvantange no matter what the evidence suggests.[/rant]
anywho good job.
Posted by: avid_gamer at April 25, 2007 05:40 AM

Someone touched on this briefly before, but I thought I'd try to clarify. When a movie theater prevents a minor, it is because they choose to. The movie ratings are completely voluntary (if I'm correct. And so, the movie system that Jack Thompson talks about is the same system that stores (can) use when you talk about selling violent games (or movies for that matter)
Anyways, I'm glad to see people calling out anyone who uses studies and statistics to further their cause instead of as a starting point. Good job
Posted by: not the Will from before at April 26, 2007 11:54 PM

Wow, never really heard of this guy before.
I'm going to go play Halo to piss him off :D
I applaud you trying to get your points across anyways, though.
Posted by: Blastedt at April 30, 2007 05:35 PM
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