Quiz Show Scandal

Quiz Show (1994)                                                                                               Director & Producer: Robert Redford                                                              Starring:                                                                                                                             John Turturro                                                                                                                  Rob Murrow                                                                                                                       Ralph Fiennes

By Rebecca Doser and Yoshifumi Kobayashi

quiz show the cover
Fig.1: The movie Quiz Show (1994) portrayed the problematic way of being in television industry.

Quiz Show (Fig.1) is based on  the scandal of the Twenty One quiz show that appeared in the late 1950s. The Twenty One was broadcasted by NBC and was the television show that awarded a sum of money to the winner regarding to the fight over a bunch of trivial quizzes between two contestants. The directors of the show started to fabricate the results by telling the winner when to win or lose to make it more entertaining in order to  raise the viewers and keep the show’s solo sponsor, Geritol, at the end. The exposure of this scandal changed the way of sponsoring a television show and brought to light the extent a television show will go in order to provide entertainment.

First, we will examine what made executives of  Twenty One decide to manipulate the results of the quiz show and why that sequence became one of the greatest scandals of all time in television industry. There was a very important fact of the system in sponsorship of television at that time behind the scandal. The fact was that “throughout the 1950s, the networks served primarily as time brokers, offering airtime and distribution (their affiliates) and accepting the payment for it” (Baran, 2015, p. 186). That is, in 1950s it was just natural that one company hired one program to air to enable advertising of the company’s product throughout the program. As Baran states, “the networks relied on outside agencies to provide programs”(p. 186), moreover, there was only one agency to rely on to produce the program at that time.

Fig.2: Geritol was the only sponsor of the Twenty One quiz show
Fig.2: Geritol was the only sponsor of the Twenty One quiz show

In the case of Twenty One quiz show, Geritol, a  medical company, was the one and only sponsor that the show can rely on (Fig.2). For the sponsoring company such as Geritol, the effectiveness of the show and how well the show could advertise its product mattered significantly. On the other hand, no matter how meaningful or interesting the show was, it could not be broadcasted without the agencies that financially supported. This dilemma caused the quiz show scandal that took place in the late 1950s. Since the representative of the sponsoring company was concerned and not satisfied with the advertising on the show by the current champion, Herb Stempel, the representative ordered to change the person who would promote the product, otherwise he would quit sponsoring. When the sponsor insisted on abandoning its sponsorship, those who ran the program Twenty One had to obey the order if they wanted to keep airing the show. This meant that they needed to fabricate the honesty of the show by changing the champion on purpose. Eventually, the directors of the show dismissed Stempel and brought Charles Van Doren who could potentially elevate the sales of Geritol’s products as Van Doren’s father and grandfather were well known public figures. Thus, the quiz show used Van Doren as a source to advertise Geritol and accrue attraction.

When the fraud finally came out in public, it affected not only the quiz show and NBC, which owned the show, but also the whole industry of television in regards to how much control a sponsor should/could have over the program. It was evident that “the content of television was altered” (Baran, 2015, p.187). To illustrate this, sponsorship by one single sponsor was taken over by spot commercial sales: “selling individual 60-seconds spots on a given program to a wide variety advertisers” (Baran, 2015, p. 187). This change  that impacted a whole television industry was a result of the quiz show scandal in 1950s that suggested instability of adopting the solo sponsorship.

As a result, it  became relatively harder to commit ad-pull policy towards a television program, which was what the representive of Geritol suggested, unless all advertising agencies unite in ceasing to sponsor. That is, television programs do not necessarily twist the truth of the show when they are sponsored by multiple  companies and get enough money to run the show, though it is not true for some reality shows on TV nowadays. Even though there seems to be no worries anymore as for ad-pull policy, television still tends to exaggerate the content of a show in order to entertain the public. This idea lead to social responsibility theory that explains “how media should operate” (Baran, 2015, p. 366). Baran (2015) defined the theory as “media must remain free of government  control, but in exchange media must serve the public” (p. 366). Therefore, television as a mainstream medium “Give(s) the public what they want” just like it was said in the movie. When the public wants entertainment, television gives entertainment. Staged reality shows are not really real, but that what we expect to be real and thus we enjoy the show even if we are aware of the untruthfulness of it.  However, the problem is that to what extent television producers are allowed to make a show entertaining. If the truth is too boring to call it entertainment for the public to watch, then why not add some extra spices to let it be fun enough if that is what the public wants? Social responsibility theory says we, as the public, are responsible for the content of a program when television gives us what we want. Therefore, television is not to blame since we are the ones who want it and watch it for fun.

quiz show, chasing Van Doren's personal scandal
Fig.3: All the tv clues left the court and followed after Van Doren to record and to interview him.

Meanwhile, however, the comment mentioned by Richard N. Goodwin in the opening of this movie had me think about today’s television for a while. He said, “(I) used to be a man (who) drives a car, but now the car drives the man.” This line was not on the script that I checked, so Morrow who played Goodwin must have ad-libbed that line, which I think was very well thought because it interpreted the role of television today. For me, the line was connected to the last scene when all the cameras followed Van Doren’s personal scandal of being fired from Columbia University, ignoring the public scandal of the Twenty One quiz show that was still going on the court inflight the relatively bigger scaled scandal. Since television crews followed and recorded Van Doren, that was what the public saw on television. What I am trying to say here is that television is limiting what we can see, and it all depends on what the television crews capture. Thus, television companies decide what the public watches as well as what the public wants since they may have guessed Van Doren’s scandal was more interesting to the public than the television scandal as he had more connection to the public. Goodwin also described in the last scene that “I thought we were going to get television. The truth is like the television is going to get us.” In other words, it is not us who controls television, but but it is television (companies) that have control over us. Ultimately, we are responsible for what the television broadcasts according to social responsibility theory, however, the decision was all in those who work in television industry’s hand  when they produce a show at the end.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 8.” Public Relations. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print                                                                                                                  Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 14.” Public Relations. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print




Wag the Dog & Spin Strategies in Washington, D.C.

Wag the Dog (1997)
Director: Barry Levinson
Dustin Hoffman
Robert De Niro
Anne Heche
Denis Leary
William H. Macy

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

Fig. 1: Wag the Dog was released in 1997 and reveals some core PR practices that politicians and public officials use in order to manipulate U.S. public opinion.

Wag the Dog (Fig. 1) is a comedy that is loosely based off of Larry Beinhart‘s novel American Hero. The storyline follows a Washington, D.C. spin doctor played by Robert De Niro who distracts the electorate from a sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood film producer to construct a fake war with Albania. This comedy was released prior to the Lewinsky scandal as well as the bombing of the Alshifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan by the Clinton Administration.

Fig.2: Conrad Brean is a top-notch spin doctor who distracts the electorate from a presidential sex scandal.

The term spin refers to outright lying or obfuscation in public relations (Baran, 2015, p. 277). It is a form of propaganda that is achieved  through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor of a public figure. In the case of this film, spin was used as a form of propaganda to persuade the majority that there was a war in Albania, in order to take their focus off of the President’s so called “advancement” on a Firefly Girl only two weeks before Election Day. Conrad Brean (Fig.2) is a spin doctor who is wrapped into a scheme to take the public’s attention away from the sex scandal that could ensue. Spin doctors have more access to new technologies than many, thus, in public relations, they are deceptive and manipulative in skewing the truth in order to create a biased interpretation of events. Conrad Brean says multiple times, “I’m working on it.” He is characterized by his assistant, Winifred Ames as “Mr. Fix-it” At the very beginning of the movie the audience views him and his colleagues in the basement of the White House as he brainstorms a strategy involving a B3-bombing and war in Albania. He is characterized as a strategic and clever spin doctor who is always thinking of the potential consequences of his actions before he goes through with them.

The movie takes place in the heart of Washington, D.C. in which Washington’s K Street is known as the hub for think tanks, lobbyists and advocacy groups. The lobbying industry is very prevalent in this area and thus this is where a lot of spin goes on. Lobbying is directly interacting to influence elected officials or government regulators and agents as a central activity, further making it the core of manipulative spin doctors and lobbyists alike.

Fig. 3: The Kennedy-Nixon debates ushered a new era of taking advantage of media exposure to build successful political campaigns.

At the beginning of the movie, Conrad Brean has to convince Hollywood producer Stanley Motss to join his PR campaign. He argues that politics is a show business. Brean says, “War is business that’s why we’re here” (15:30). He uses examples of past popular war slogans such as 54-40 or Fight and Tippecanoe and Tyler Too to portray how those campaign slogans resonate more with people than the actual war details do. He says, “We remember the slogans and we can’t even remember the fucking wars…you know why? That’s show business” (15:50). He continues with his argument saying,“You’ll remember the picture 50 years from now and you’ll have forgotten the war” (16:07). This argument is  related to the first televised Kennedy-Nixon electoral debate. In 1960, the Kennedy-Nixon debates (Fig.3) were not only the first televised presidential debates in American history but they also ushered a new era of creating a public image and taking advantage of media exposure to build a successful political campaign. Nixon took a hit in August when a reporter asked Eisenhower to name some of his vice president’s contributions, but after a long press conference he replied, “If you give a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.” This was later used in a commercial that ended with the statement, “President Eisenhower could not remember, but the voters will remember.” People remember slogans and political symbols more than they remember the details behind an event, statement or speech.

Later on, when the President claims that the speech written for him is too “corny,” Motss is determined to give it himself in the oval office in front of 30 secretaries. Many of the secretaries leave Motss’ speech in tears and are very moved by what he said. Motss – leaving the Oval Office – says to Brean: “You know, Connie, I felt very much at home in there. Simple quirk of fate, I could have gone this way,” and then he adds, “It’s all a change of wardrobe” (58:16). Connie says a bit later in response, “It’s like Plato once said…It doesn’t matter how the fuck you get there, as long as you get there” (58:45). This scenario points to the multitude of strategies there are to deceive individuals and hope the people and media will concentrate on anything that is presented to them in the news.

Fig. 4: An Albanian girl is the star of this staged news brief.

There are many scenes throughout the movie that represent multiple strategies used by spin doctors. One strategy used throughout the movie is a video news releases (VNR), which is a video segment that looks like a news report but is instead created by a PR firm, advertising agency or government agency. A VNR is portrayed in the scene in which the Albanian girl (Fig. 4) is portrayed running from terrorist uprisings in her village (36:00). VNRs are used frequently by government agencies in favor of presenting manipulated accounts as actual news reports (Baran, 2015, p.280). This is a clear attempt of the producer to relay the idea that seeing is believing. A theme of the movie that opens up here is one of constant fear as to whether or not the individuals used in the screenplay are illegal immigrants. Employing illegal immigrants can be a far bigger crime than even just setting the scene for a war that never existed and this theme comes up later in the movie

When the CIA learns of this fake creation of a war, they announce that the war has ended and in turn, Motss decides to create another fake story: one of a hero who was left behind. The soldier’s name is William Schumann who left behind an old shoe. This act in itself becomes a point of support and a political symbol in the movie as the producers begin to throw old shoes from trees in support of Schumann’s cause and the attempt to bring him home. When a photograph of Schumann is released, the producers relay the idea that there is a morse code embedded in his shirt that spells out “Courage Mom.” America is easily captivated by this story of bringing Schumann home immediately. This is an example of astroturfing, the practice of masking sponsors of a message or ogranization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by a grassroots organization. The news outlets of television and newspaper alike are continuously building off of each other and publishing news that is identical to simply what they are seeing all over the place.

Multiple media events or pseudo-events such as the war in Albania, the footage of the Albanian girl and the grassroots demonstrations of patriotism in bringing Schumann home as an American hero all lead to Motss’ ultimate frustration in the end. The media credits the president’s win to the campaign slogan of “Don’t change horses in mid-stream” rather than crediting Motss for his hard work and directing. As Conrad mentioned at the beginning to Motss, one will always remember the slogan but not the war.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 11.” Public Relations. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print

The Social Network & Social Determinism

The Social Network (2010)
David Fincher
Jesse Eisenberg
Andrew Garfield
Justin Timberlake
Armie Hammer
Max Minghella

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

Fig. 1: The Social Network was released in the United Stated by Columbia Pictures on October 1, 2010.

The Social Network (Fig. 1), is the true story about the founding of Facebook and the entire lawsuit process surrounding its creation. Jesse Eisenberg plays Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin and Justin Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the two other individuals involved in the creation of the website.

Fig. 2: Sean Parker suggested to Zuckerberg that he drop the “the” from “thefacebook” during their first time meeting.

The creation of Facebook was inspired by multiple old-fashioned directories containing students’ photos, names, private information and more issued by U.S. universities way before Mark Zuckerberg even created his website. Nearly 17 percent of all online minutes across all platforms is devoted to social networking sites and it was specifically Facebook’s desire to make itself even more attractive to mobile users that pushed the company in 2012 to buy Instagram for $1 billion (Baran, 2015. p. 242). It all started back with Classmates.com, which launched in 1995 and was followed by sites such as Friendster in 2002, LinkedIn and MySpace in 2003. (Baran, 2015. p. 242). In late 2003, Zuckerberg created a Harvard campus website called Facemash by hacking into his university’s database to accumulate photos of females students and placing them on the website so that male students could rate each girl’s attractiveness. When the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra invite Zuckerberg to work on the Harvard Connection, an idea comes to Zuckerberg’s mind for an online social networking website that would be exclusive to Ivy League students called Thefacebook. While the Winklevoss brothers and Narendra are livid over their belief that Zuckerberg stole the idea from their Harvard Connection website, the Harvard President, Larry Summers, sees no issue due to the fact that in all reality, Thefacebook could indeed be argued as an accumulation of multiple social media creations over time. It isn’t until Zuckerberg connects with the napster co-founder, Sean Parker, that the “the” from Thefacebook is dropped and it becomes simply Facebook (Fig. 2).

The new medium of Facebook and specifically the mentality surrounding its creation is an idea of social determinism, according to Zuckerberg. He says, “This is what drives life in college-are you having sex or aren’t you… this is why people take certain classes, sit where they sit, do what they do….” For Zuckerberg, Facebook is a technological solution thats economic drive and cultural change is driven by society and people as opposed to the ideas referred to as technological determinism in which some theorists believe it is machines and their development that drives economic and cultural change (Baran, 2015, p. 16).  Zuckerberg has a conversation with his friend Justin in class who is questioning whether a girl at Harvard is single or in a relationship. This brings Zuckerberg to realize that students want to know each other’s relationship status and this is a key factor in driving social determinism. This realization pushes him to run home to add a “relationship status” element to Facebook before launching it. This clearly portrays how it is social determinism that drives the cultural and social changes in the new medium of Facebook as opposed to the actual technological creation itself. The fact that students want to know every detail about each other is an element of social desire and human interaction that drives the success or failure of a socially-driven technological innovation such as Facebook.

As stated before, Facebook was not simply just Zuckerberg’s idea alone. Other technological inventions have improved  the system of Facebook and social interaction across previously created means of communication still continue to influence Facebook’s development over time. Take for example, the fact that HarvardConnection, which perhaps spurred the idea of Facebook, may not have even been a thought if there was no such thing as e-mail. Email allowed internet users to “communicate with anyone else online” (Baran, 2015, p.238) and since users of HarvardConnection needed to have Harvard University’s .edu email account to access it, this medium would not have even been possible if other technological creations were not involved. We cannot ignore the appearance of LANs and WANs,which made it possible to connect more than one computer within a certain area (LANs) or even in separated locations (WANs) (Bara, 2015, p.238) which would significantly help HarvardConnection spread. As we discussed in class this past week, technological evolutions are the continuous movement of technological revolutions. Also, when a new technology is introduced, there are always multiple people who invented the technology behind the innovation. People invent various means of technology and people use or do not use these technologies based on accessibility and/or popularity. Furthermore, “the decisions are ours” (Baran, 2015, p.259) in determining what we engage in and how we engage in it across social media outlets. Thus, the success or failure of a technological innovation stems from social determinism, which opposes the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, Joseph C. R. Licklider, and William Gibson who claim how technology itself changes our society and culture.

Fig. 3: College students thrive on engaging with one another through social media as it drives many of their decisions in the real world.

In the movie, Sean Parker stated that, “we lived on farms and then we lived in cities and now we’re gonna live on the internet.” In this statement, Parker means that he views a future surrounded by technological transformations and digitization is just another step in the direction of a new way of living. If so, is it going to be a better world? McLuhan introduced the idea called the global village that said, “the new communication technologies will permit people to become increasingly involved in one another’s lives” (Baran, 2015, p.245). He assumed that people would grow closer on the internet because it connects people, allowing them to become “one family” and exchanging thoughts easily as if they all lived under one rooftop. Baran mentions that online feedback on the internet “is more similar to feedback in interpersonal communication than to feedback in mass communication” (Baran, 2015, p. 245). We communicate with each other through the internet, the largest mass communicative technology out there. Zuckerberg comments in the movie that, “college kids are online because their friends are online” (Fig. 3). Facebook is an extremely popular tool of communication among friends and family members. In fact, Facebook ranked third in 2012 for the number of monthly visitors on the Internet in the U.S. according to Quantcast 2012 (Baran, 2015, p.241). People put plenty of personal information on Facebook that they believe is kept private and only to be seen by “friends.” However, people complain about the leaking of their personal information when it reaches a third party whom they do not know. Today, the border separating the social media world from “real” life is blurred and almost one in the same due to individuals’ leniency in placing personal details of their life on the social network.

The most valuable commodity that Facebook generates is it’s user-generated content. It is the people that make the site more or less valuable. It is truly a social networking site that thrives off of social engagement. Similar to other online mediums, Facebook makes possible easy dataveillance-the massive collection and distillation of consumer data (Baran, 2015, p. 253). Through Facebook, one can distribute and share personal, private information among organizations other than simply the one for whom it was originally intended (Baran, 2015, p. 253). Employers can access this information and more or less, anyone who wants to know something about a person can simply buy into the necessary means to get hold of this information without even having a person’s permission or knowledge of the act itself. Eduardo Severin, Zuckerberg’s business partner and roommate said, “It was a great idea. There was nothing to hack, people were going to provide their own pictures, their own information…” Severin believed that anyone could put his or her information out there and it was a conscious decision to do so.  It is not until issues of online privacy come into play that the protection of personal information becomes a larger issue. According to the international human rights group Privacy International’s Global Privacy Index, the United States ranks in the lowest category of “endemic surveillance societies” (Baran, 2015 p. 253). Online privacy will continue to be an issue as people increasing leak their personal information onto a website or social media outlet and it spreads to unintended people or areas.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 10.” Mass Communication, Culture and Media Literacy. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print