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Kid Nation: Murrow Spinning in His Grave

San Jose Mercury News: CBS feels bite of `Kid Nation’ controversy. Throwing even more fuel on the fire: the agreement signed by the parents of the kids and the production company, a copy of which was obtained by the New York Times. In the contract – a standard one used by most reality shows – the parents (who could not visit their kids during filming) essentially signed away the children’s rights, absolving Forman’s company and CBS from any responsibility for injuries, working conditions or unsafe housing. There was also a clause covering “emotional distress, illness, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and pregnancy.” And if the parents complained to the press, they were subject to a $5 million penalty under a confidentiality agreement.

In defending itself, the network had to admit that the kids were surrounded by hundreds of adults: producers, camera operators, paramedics, cooks, psychologists. Any illusion that the kids were on their own disappears and “Kid Nation” looks like any other reality show in which producers create scenarios and even feed lines to those involved.

You have to wonder what kind of people would a) write such a contract and b) sign it. And you have to wonder what kind of people turn to this garbage for their entertainment.

The biggest scam is that the industry gets away will calling them reality shows — as if they were filming documentaries. CBS is no different from the other companies, but it was the crown jewel of television news. Once it produced “Harvest of Shame,” telling the real stories of migrant workers. Now it produces “Kid Nation,” claiming reality but offering the sleaziest fiction.

Couldn’t reporters who write about TV at least stop using the word “reality” in this context? Or are they as helpless in the face of propaganda as the majority of Washington reporters who continue serve as stenographers to the powerful?

3 Comments on “Kid Nation: Murrow Spinning in His Grave”

  1. #1 Seth Finkelstein
    on Sep 2nd, 2007 at 11:14 am

    Dan, are you some sort of elitist? Do you think you know better than The People and The Market?

    [I’m being sarcastic – but ironically, your being a blog-insider insulates you from the obvious flaming that could result if an identical post was made by an Enemy Of The A-list.]

  2. #2 Dan Gillmor
    on Sep 2nd, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    I think you’re wrong about this, Seth — this stuff is pure exploitation and intellectual fraud. I don’t give a damn how popular it is.

  3. #3 Seth Finkelstein
    on Sep 2nd, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    More seriously, recall that the time of Murrow was also the time of the Quiz Show scandals – which were the scripted “reality” TV of their day. So there was no Golden Age. Grabbing a quote from

    “He received four other individual Emmys for Best News Commentator or Analyst as well, with the last coming in 1958, the year he excoriated the broadcasting industry in a speech before the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) for being “fat, comfortable, and complacent” and television for “being used to detract, delude, amuse and insulate us.””

    The more serious point I was making is, well, maybe I better not go there, into the problems of “pure exploitation and intellectual fraud”.