Zach at Zenopus Archives pointed me to a recent Newsweek piece about a 1985 letter to the editor written by a very level-headed 12-year-old named David Bobzien. The letter defended role-playing games against the sensationalist article above (via Furiously Eclectic!), which blindly pounds all the panic buttons of the time—“fanatics sometimes collect figurines and elaborate paraphernalia to help them in their fantasies,” etc. Only in the last paragraph does it offer some faintly positive words about the hobby and D&D in particular. The 60 Minutes episode attacking D&D would air just a few days after the article appeared.
Steven Spielberg really did use D&D to help him cast the kids in E.T., as mentioned in this People article from August 1982:
`I was particularly nervous about this audition because I like Steven’s films so much,’ says [Robert] Macnaughton, who had performed in regional theater and three TV movies before making his film debut in E.T. `When we met, Steven just asked me what I like to do and when I told him I ride my bike and play Dungeons & Dragons, he said, `Oh, really, we have those things in the movie.’ After Macnaughton read for the part, Spielberg took several young actors to play a D&D game at screenwriter Mathison’s house. `You can fake things in an audition,’ says Robert, `but when you play that game you have to show ingenuity and quick thinking.’
I remember how excited I was when I saw the kids playing a D&D-like game in the movie. Spielberg was way ahead of his time, and championed young kids much like John Hughes championed teenagers.