It's Sweeps Week -- ABC News to Focus on Sex Tonight

If you see your best friend's husband out with another woman what would you do?

Is porn just another form of entertainment?

These are two moral issues ABC News is tackling tonight in two different programs.  Infidelity will be handled on 20/20, while Nightline will air a debate on the merits of pornography.  The debate, taped last week, was moderated by co-anchor Martin Bashir who went to Yale University for Sex Week. (Click here for more on that story.)

If it wasn't the end of the February ratings sweeps period the two-fer on sexual morality would seem coincidental.  Unfortunately it reeks of viewer manipulation.

ABC's John Quiñones appeared on Good Morning America to preview the infidelity segment airing on 20/20 but which is really the first in a new limited called “Primetime: What Would You Do?” that will debut February 26. Quiñones said the new series will seek to address moral conflicts by putting real people in real dilemmas to see how they respond.

In the preview aired on GMA, Quiñones set up the piece by saying ABC News sought out real couples, some married, some not.  They agreed to role-play a scenario in which they cheat on their mate in front of an unsuspecting best friend.  An actor was hired to play the role of the “other person.”  Hidden cameras were used to record the best friend's reactions.  Other scenarios in the series include teen vandalism and verbal bullying by teen girls. 

Will people act when they see a situation that is dangerous, illegal or immoral?  The description of the show on indicates viewers may be surprised by what they see.  According to CMI's National Cultural Values Survey, what people say they believe about morality and what they actually do are often not the same thing.

Putting what you preach into practice is part of what drives the porn debate on Nightline tonight.  The Nightline Web site has a preview of the debate between “porn stars and porn pastors” and declares that Craig Gross, one of the “porn pastors” is the underdog in the debate.  ABC News put salacious endorsements of porn, that come in the form of sidebars with titles like “Porn Star's Dad: Dreams Do Come True” and “Porn Star: Brit Should Take It Off,” on the Nightline site.

ABC raises the question, when you cover pornography as a “news” story, do you necessarily have to become a gateway to porn in the process?

Perhaps a future “What Would You Do” feature could be a hidden camera experiment in the editorial offices of ABC News.  We'd love to see how they decide what constitutes “news.” 

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.