After her new team lost
a game, meaning that they had to vote a member off
that night, Rob muttered to his friend Lex, on Amber’s
new team, asking Lex to not vote Amber off. Lex did
this, and the next week, when the tribes merged, Rob
promptly voted Lex off. Lex was not very happy about
this, spouting some typically Survivor-esque bluster
about how Rob came to him as a friend asking him to
do a favor, and in a shocking glimpse of rational
thought on the show, Rob replied that if Lex helped
save Amber for him as a friend, then he had no right
to demand game help from Rob in return.
Lex took most of his speaking time in the big season
finale to slam Rob for his actions some more, saying
that Rob chose money over friendship, but Rob’s
point was still true: if the decision was made as
a favor to a friend, then Lex had no reason to ask
for help in the game as a tit-for-tat. Either the
actions were friendly, in which case there was no
need for “payback,” or they were game
play, and BOTH of them were in it for the money.
How does a “reality” show relate to the
politics of the day, you ask? Via a real-life scenario
in the papers this week. In the role of Rob, we have
the Bush administration—but instead of saying
to political commentator Armstrong Williams (playing
the part of Lex), “Please help our No Child
Left Behind act from being voted off the island because
you’re our friend and like us so much,”
They said, “Hey Armstrong, if you talk up the
No Child Left Behind Act, we’ll give you $240,000.”
And now, in the aftermath of USA Today discovering
and publishing a story on this bribe, Williams is
insisting that the money wasn’t part of a cause-and-effect
relationship; he promoted No Child Left Behind because
it was so great.
Inquiring minds must then ask: why the $240,000?
This is not the first time the Bush cabal has illegally
used taxpayer money to purchase blatant propaganda.
Last year, “news” pieces on the White
House’s proposed prescription drug plan appeared
in scores of local news programs before it was revealed
that the “reporters” in the piece, giving
an ostensibly neutral recitation of fact (that just
happened to list the advantages of the Bush plan in
handy bullet point form,) were actually actors in
a “video news release” funded by your
Both the contract with a supposedly independent political
pundit and the phony news reports are indisputably
illegal—government money cannot be used to fund
propaganda for or against its own programs. I know
this well from personal experience. I helped put together
some grassroots lobbying for a non-profit organization
that also receives some governmental contracts. I
was brought into the organization explicitly because
a regular salaried employee spending some of their
time working on lobbying and some on an event paid
for with government money would be too far into a
legal gray area: it was easier to hire an entirely
separate person for a finite length of time to just
do the lobbying, and keep that person’s job
functions completely distinct from any work funded
by the government.
So if that is the standard to which other organizations
are held, how on earth can the White House defend
using the money I pay in taxes to fund Republican
political propaganda, in a particularly underhanded
Williams as well deserves particular opprobrium.
It is manifest to someone who has read even one of
my columns that I am writing from a particular ideological
perspective. But even if you don’t agree with
what I’m writing, I trust that you believe that
I hold this perspective because I actually think this
way, not because I’m getting a check for espousing
a specific program or candidate.
One expects that people involved in the political
world can have ties to candidates and programs as
specific as they like. I don’t think anyone
believes that James Carville speaks objectively about
Bill Clinton, nor that anyone bought Karen Hughes’s
book for an unbiased evaluation of George W. Bush.
The key, however, is that the viewers know about those
ties, and can make their own evaluation of a pundit
based upon a level of transparency.
When the government uses our money to covertly pay
for favorable“news” reports, or softball
interviews of Cabinet members (as when Williams interviewed
Secretary Rod Paige,) that transparency is gone.
Williams is a conservative from way back—he
was an aide to Clarence Thomas, after all. He very
likely would have toed the Republican line in support
of No Child Left Behind without a check.
What he would not have done on his own is to have
had a written agreement to lobby other journalists
to talk more about No Child Left Behind. He probably
wouldn’t have explicitly targeted African-Americans,
convincing Steve Harvey to have Paige as a guest on
his own show. And, need I add, he wouldn’t have
gotten paid for his commentary twice—once by
the ultra-conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Corporation
(which has actually severed ties with him,) and a
second time by the White House.
The Bush administration represents the new paradigm,
exemplified by fake “reality” shows like
Survivor, where greed provides the motivation to model
an orchestrated version of pretend conflict to entertain
a willing and self-deceived audience of voyeurs.
If the American people aren’t quite stupid
enough to believe every outright lie that our President
and his minders tell them, then the Grand Old Values
Party will simply pay someone to act as a shill. In
case you haven’t been to the carnival lately,
a shill is “A decoy who acts as an enthusiastic
customer in order to stimulate the participation of
others.” When news organizations report that
a government program (its very name a cruel deception)
like “No Child Left Behind” is failing
miserably, what option does Bush have but to secretly
pay a commentator to use his public position to spread
his lies covertly?
When the rock was lifted off Bush’s little
cockroach nest, he and Mr. Williams scurried for dark
corners and explained that they were “just friends”.
Thus we return to the lesson of the Survivor show,
after all. The White House can’t hand over a
check and then say Williams was doing it because they’re
buddies. Williams got a check for “services
rendered,” and now he and the White House are
pretending that they rented out that cheap motel room
because Williams likes the White House’s eyes.
Just admit it, boys—you did it for the money.