American TV Networks: Some observations...

James Randi --- Wizard ((no email))
Sun, 18 Sep 1994 15:56:38 -0400

An observation: There is currently much interest being shown in the new
"Quiz Show" movie that dramatizes a shameful event in American history. This
is the great quiz-show scandal at the beginning of the Age of TV, in which
prominent personalities such as Charles van Doren and others were supplied
with correct answers to questions they would be asked on upcoming "live"
programs. I'm sure every ethical person is repelled by the facts of this
fiasco, which eventually was exposed after a major federal investigation.
As a result, TV was believed to have cleaned up its act...

Not so.

Consider: For several years now, major and minor American TV networks have
been presenting programs that they know to be based upon proven hoaxes, have
offered viewers the infamous 1-900 telephone services that claim to provide
"certified" "psychic advisors" for large fees, have aired half-hour
"infomercials" that use bogus gimmicks and demos to sell products that do
not perform as demonstrated, and have sold time to TV evangelists who
promise healing, financial benefits, cured marriages and all sorts of
miracles which do not materialize.

Many of these shows are touted by prominent entertainers. Della Reese, Ben
Vereen, Rosie Greer, Olympia Dukakis, CHIPS star what's-his-name, boxing
stars, other sports figures, lend or sell their support and thus bolster
belief in the validity of the shows and the promises they make. Is this not
merely another method whereby viewers are being led to trust the medium?

But there's a big difference here, since viewers change their beliefs, give
their money and become dependent on false claims of divine advice, bogus
medical methods and useless products.

Have you seen the "carpet cleaner/stain remover/instant brightener" product
that is currently being offered by infomercial? As a teen, I got a job
selling this product -- under a different name -- and was even taught how to
mix up a batch of it. When I discovered what it actually was, I tried to
expose the that fact, but no one would listen to a trouble-making 16-year-
old kid. It was a mixture of photographer's "hypo," soap powder and
trisodium phosphate. It de-colorized two different chemical indicators
(bromthymol blue and bromthymol red, if I remember correctly) and also
tincture of iodine -- BUT NO OTHER CHEMICALS. And those were the
ingredients we used -- the only ingedients -- for the demo. Currently, the
TV demos show "ink" and "red dye" plus iodine being bleached out instantly
on white shirts and carpets; but ONLY the right "stains" will vanish after
meeting this product. The dirty rug and stained upholstery samples we
prepared by spraying them with starch suspension, then with tincture of
iodine; the result was a dingy gray color. The hypo in the mixture
decolorized that instantly.

The "psychic hot line" is known to be a hoax. Many times, persons chosen to
serve as advisors on such a "boiler room" operation -- as such telephone
schemes are known in the trade -- have come forward to admit that they were
never asked if they had any "psychic" abilities, but were accepted because
they agreed to hold their victims on the line as long as possible to
increase the charges they'd have to pay. Despite this, the TV stations and
networks continue to sell time to these people without anything but a weak
formal disclaimer. That, in my view, is not fair, ethical, honest, nor
sufficient.

I can easily dismiss and ignore the falsity of the "professional wrestling"
promoters; only a genuine idiot would choose to believe that farce. But I
am concerned that the quiz-show deception of early TV days has merely
changed its direction and now takes in more money and more people but by
somewhat different means. Disclaimers won't do it.

Is there any way to bring responsibility back to the television industry?

James Randi.

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