We have too much respect ... for ourselves as journalists.
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 95 23:27:24 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: We have too much respect ... for ourselves as journalists.
Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
From: ShopTalk For Wednesday February 15, 1995
JERRY SPRINGER's LESSON IN TELEVISION TRUTH IS FULL OF FOOTNOTES
By Eric Zorn
The Chicago Tribune
Speaking for journalists everywhere, I would like to express
solidarity with Richard Dominick, executive producer of the "Jerry
Springer Show" in his hour of extreme indignation.
"We feel especially bad (sic) for the people in our audience who felt
genuine sympathy for the situation described by these self-proclaimed
comics," Dominick thundered in a news release concerning a hoax that
aired on the daytime talk show last week. "We will not allow our
audience to be duped by anyone. We have too much respect for them and
for ourselves as journalists."
It was indeed a dark day for the Fourth Estate at the Springer Show
when four Toronto-area comedians got on the air pretending to be,
respectively, a philandering husband, the baby-sitter with whom the
husband had slept and the baby-sitter's annoyed boyfriend.
The "wife" pretended to be stunned, shattered and humiliated as she
learned of her husband's betrayal. "We were honest and forthright,"
complained Burt Debrow, vice president of Springer's production
company. "When people have the audacity to play with our
credibility, our fighting gloves come out strong."
"All I have to sell is my honesty," added Springer himself.
Of course honesty must have its limits, or else how would you ever
perform the lofty journalistic function of surprising people with
really terrible news, then prodding them with disturbing details as
with a stick? Producers acting on Springer's behalf had to be less
than fully honest with the woman they thought was the victim of her
husband's indiscretions as they lured her from Toronto to Chicago in
early January for the taping.
"They told me the show was about how to work through problems and put
romance back in your marriage," said comic actress Suzanne Muir, 27,
who was pretending to be the 31-year-old wife in this unfortunate
Her friend, Johnny Gardhouse, 23, said that, in playing the role of
the 33-year-old husband, he suggested to the production staff several
times in advance that perhaps it wasn't right to subject his wife to
an on-air confession. "I said I was worried it would devastate her,"
"They told me no, it would turn out a lot worse if I told her off
air," Gardhouse said. "They told me that it really would be a lot
better and a lot safer for me to do it on TV."
Yet the two responsible producers -- both of whom, supposedly by
coincidence, no longer work on the show -- "knew it might turn out
very ugly," Gardhouse said. "They asked me if I wanted separate
flights for us back to Toronto."
And it did look ugly. Excruciatingly so. Through the limits of such
journalism will not be reached until such programs begin doing on-air
death notifications -- `Actually, we're not interested in your brisket
recipe, Mrs. Fapp, you're here because -- Surprise! -- your husband is
After the taping, the show's officials offered to pay for two sessions
of marriage counseling, according to Gardhouse and Muir. They also
asked if they could send a crew to Canada to videotape the couple in
Now that's what I call TV journalism. Edgar R. Murrow would have
throbbed with pride had he lived to see it and no doubt would have
added his name to the list of plaintiffs in a civil suit the
production company has announced it will file against the hoaxsters.
The comedians say they are struggling artists and nearly broke, but
the legal sword rattling obviously isn't about money. It's about
discouraging future falsehood, deception and sleazy, exploitative
lying by non-journalists.
And it may be designed to keep this seemingly embarrassing story in
front of the public in commentaries like this one, reminding potential
viewers over and over of the story that the journalist in Jerry
Springer wanted to tell you, tried to tell you and will, surely tell
you again if he can fool a genuinely wronged woman into coming on the
air to be genuinely destroyed by those she trusts in front of a
howling, cheering studio audience.
Until then, we will have to be content with such shows as next
Monday's in which a raging Springer will barely be physically
restrained from punching out an anti-Semitic guest in the name of what
else? -- the truth.
© 1995 Peter Langston