by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

Last month a school board in Portland, Maine, faced a difficult vote on a proposal to allow the school’s health clinic to provide birth control services to the district’s middle schoolers. Even though all the board members wished they didn’t even have to consider such action, the board ended up passing the proposal simply because many of their middle school students were, in fact, becoming sexually active.

Unfortunately, such trends are not limited to the Northeast. Across the country teens are becoming sexually active at a much younger age. Which should lead us all to wonder where teens so young are getting the message that sexual promiscuity is acceptable.

Television is one of the first things people point to when trying to understand how teenagers are learning how to behave – and rightly so. According to Nielsen Media Research, most Americans (including teenagers) watch more than four hours of television each day. Despite the fact that teenagers have all sorts of new media at their disposal – instant messaging, the Internet, cell phones – television viewership among teenagers continues to increase each year. More than half of America’s teens have television sets in their bedrooms.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest surveyed teens about their television viewing and found that 60 percent of teenagers age 12 to 13 years old have some restrictions on television-watching imposed by their parents or guardians. Of those, 54 percent said they were not allowed to watch television after 9 p.m. and 93 percent were not allowed to watch after 10 p.m. By setting a cutoff time for television-viewing, parents have traditionally been able to limit their child’s exposure to strongly violent or sexual programming since television networks limit their mature material to the later hours.

But on the 24-hour news channels, available on cable and satellite TV, such standards are rarely observed. Sadly, with 24 hours of programming to fill daily, several channels apparently have found it easier and less costly to titillate than to investigate.

The Fox News channel has been an industry leader when it comes to using sex to increase viewership. The channel regularly shows as much smut and nudity as it can, all the while claiming to condemn such material. So far, it has gotten away with this farce and profited handsomely.

Now someone is finally calling Fox News out. Filmmaker and television watchdog Robert Greenwald recently launched a parody Web site – – to show all the filth this channel has been broadcasting in the guise of news. When one peruses these clips, it is hard to argue that any of them are newsworthy items. It’s only when they are sandwiched between other news reports that viewers are deceived into perceiving these clips of nude women as part of the news.

As if to underscore the point that this material from Fox News was in fact not news, material from Greenwald’s site was banned for some time on the popular news site because it consisted of “adult content.” In addition, a trailer video from Greenwald’s site posted on YouTube has been categorized as adult material. Viewers must click on a link to verify that they are older than 18 if they want to see this video composed entirely of material that has already aired on Fox News.

It’s a bad sign of the times when sites on the Internet have a better idea of what is news and what is adult content than the producers at a cable TV news channel.

Many of the clips on come from the Bill O’Reilly show, which seems odd considering how he promotes himself in his books and newspaper columns as a father figure who knows what is best for America when it comes to issues of morality. Of course, O’Reilly argues he has to show such smut for people to know what he is outraged about. Give me a break. Does he really think we are that stupid?

There is little that anyone can do to prevent Fox from airing such material, but Greenwald is urging visitors to his Web site to contact Fox’s advertisers and ask them not to support such programming. Such pressure has worked before, so perhaps it can make a difference with Fox as well.

Regardless, Greenwald’s efforts should at least make parents aware that it is not just sitcoms and dramas that can carry strong messages about sex into their homes.