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Lauren Weinstein: If MTV Calls, Hang Up 761

Posted by timothy
from the if-only-it-had-been-live-instead dept.
Lauren Weinstein writes "Usually when one gets a call to participate in a news-oriented television program, subterfuge isn't a worry. But in the brave new world of 'newsertainment' -- a blurring of news and entertainment -- you really need to watch your back. Herein is the sordid tale (posted last night to Dave Farber's "IP" list) of what recently happened to me -- and my narrow escape -- when Viacom/MTV Networks came calling, asking for my help to educate the world's youth about important topics (in this case, the scourge of spam). Be warned. It could happen to you!"
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Lauren Weinstein: If MTV Calls, Hang Up

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:44PM (#9479163)
    For people that didn't read the article, it's actually a new show on Comedy Central [digitalspy.co.uk] called Crossballs [crossballs.com]. It's not MTV itself, or even a show on MTV.

    Comedy Central also produces the great The Daily Show [comedycentral.com], which I'm sure a few guests are upset they appeared on after it airs. (Host Jon Stewart recently jokingly asked on the show why anyone is still willing to appear). It's more widely known, though, and they seem to be open about who they are.
  • by scragz (654271) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:47PM (#9479188) Homepage
    Dave,

    The L.A. Times article (avoid folding the long URL!):
    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-adfi-fr eston20j un20,1,5581013.story?
    coll=la-home-headlines online for now (registration required) tells the story of
    Tom Freston, chairman of Viacom's MTV Networks. The article suggests that Tom's
    style for MTV et al. might be the saving grace for Paramount and perhaps the
    rest of the entertainment industry.

    If MTV's model is the solution, we're in for big trouble. Hear my saga and avoid
    the fate that almost befell yours truly -- experts and spokespeople in the IP
    readership, you could be next!

    A few weeks ago, I got a call from a producer who identified herself as being
    with MTV Networks' "The Debate Project" - -- who wanted to book me onto a new
    debate format show in production, to be taped a few days hence. She described
    the show (which she never actually specifically named) as oriented toward young
    people about important topics, with guests who were experts in their respective
    fields. They wanted me to debate a known spammer (who they wouldn't identify at
    the time) regarding the scourge of spam. It would be fun she implied, since the
    audience would of course be on my side.

    While MTV Net producing a show like this seemed a bit odd, it's not unheard of
    for them to do topical programming. She assured me the program would definitely
    air on an MTV Network but wasn't sure which one yet. Odd, but I've gotten
    stranger calls from more ordinary news-oriented programs.

    They sealed the deal by promising to send a car so I wouldn't have to hassle
    with driving in to Hollywood from The Valley through late Friday afternoon
    traffic, and even said they'd throw in $200 (egads -- payment for a "news"
    appearance -- unheard of in my experience!)

    OK, I'll bite -- sounds more interesting than typical interviews anyway. Then
    followed more phone calls from other staffers questioning me at length on the
    topic of spam, an e-mailed message with similar questions, and finally all was
    set to go. They were really excited about my joining them the next day they kept
    saying, and would call me in the morning before sending the car.

    That same Thursday night, with the show scheduled for Friday, I was increasingly
    uncomfortable. There was a bad feeling I just couldn't shake, an almost animal
    instinct of something amiss that I couldn't put my finger on.

    When the show had originally called, I had done some cursory googling but
    couldn't fine anything relevant. This didn't seem too unusual for a show in
    production but not yet on air. Now I started googling in depth.

    At first I found nothing again. But then I started working backwards from the
    contact phone numbers I had for the show's production staff. This time I hit pay
    dirt, and while the pages unscrolled on my screen a cold chill ran down my
    spine.

    As the recent, angry testimonials I had found recounted, with a matching of
    modus operandi that left no chance for error, the show on which I was about to
    appear was a fraud.

    Not really a debate at all, the show is actually a program for Comedy Central
    (yes, an MTV/Viacom network) called "Crossballs" -- and its sole purpose is the
    embarrassment and humiliation of the expert guests who are brought on expecting
    a legitimate discussion program.

    Crossballs is a rigged "reality" show, where real guests, who have been kept in
    the dark about the show's real format, are paired off against actors (playing
    the debate opponents) for the amusement of the live audience. The stories I read
    from persons recently on the show included descriptions of crude,
    sexually-oriented verbal attacks (and worse, like being handed various sexual
    "apparatus") and concerns that their reputations would be ruined once the shows
    aired.

    As the alien commander said in "Plan 9 From Outer Space": "That was TOO close!"

    In a few hours I was scheduled t
  • I managed to grab a mirror [lerfjhax.com] before the server was reduced to a smouldering pile of copper and silicon.

    Enjoy.
  • by OverlordQ (264228) * on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:52PM (#9479214) Journal
    Actually if you would of read it:

    Not really a debate at all, the show is actually
    a program for Comedy Central (yes, an MTV/Viacom network)
  • Geez, lighten up (Score:5, Informative)

    by bscott (460706) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:03PM (#9479273)
    It's hardly the only show on the air which does this - "Ali G" from the UK (and HBO) is a great example, he's interviewed the likes of Newt Gingrich, C Everett Koop, Ralph Nader, Buzz Aldrin and many others, most of whom never caught on. I'm sure the basic concept goes back as far as audiovisual reproduction technology.

    The good satirical shows (like the Daily Show) merely allow genuine whackos and phonies to make fools of themselves; I'm sure there are also lowbrow shows which try to ambush and victimize unsuspecting guests as well. I dunno which sort this "Crossballs" will be (though there's one or two in the cast whom I know don't need to be doing crap to pay rent, so there's hope) but regardless, her reaction seems to be a bit over the top...
  • by cioxx (456323) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:04PM (#9479285) Homepage
    I believe the accepted term is infotainment, and in some cases - docutainment.

  • Re:Punk'd? (Score:5, Informative)

    by wfberg (24378) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:07PM (#9479300)
    Since the shows are taped, they can't broadcast anything without a signed waiver, for fear of you sueing the bejesus out of them. Just stay clear of signing waivers that pertain to tapings of future events, and you'll be fine.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:08PM (#9479307)
    They won a Peabody award [campusprogram.com].
  • by Have Blue (616) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:20PM (#9479379) Homepage
    The great thing about the Daily Show is that it's an actual news show: They cover real-world events, they report the actual facts, and only then do they start joking around. At least, they are no more or less accurate than any other TV news program. And since it's a comedy, and on cable, they can get away with more BS-calling and inconsistency-lampooning than most, and that's why it's so attractive to the younger generation.
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:27PM (#9479403) Homepage
    Google is your friend. You can look up what reporters have written.

    My general position is that I'll always talk to the working press, but I blow off "lifestyle" reporters. Running a DARPA Grand Challenge team [overbot.com], I get a fair amount of press interest. Some of it is wierd. Playboy and Men's Life contacted me for interviews. There were documentary producers, including one guy with an Alcatraz fixation. (He'd done five TV documentaries on Alcatraz.)

  • by cluge (114877) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:28PM (#9479405) Homepage
    One can't help but feel sorry for the legit news folks over at CBS' "60 Minutes" and other excellent news programs....

    You are kidding right? The news program that almost drove Audi out of business with it's false inaccurate reporting?[ http://www.forbes.com/forbes/1999/1115/6412145a_pr int.html] The same news program that lines up it's guests to co-incide with their book releases (See Bill Clinton)? The same network (CBS) that uses pyrotechnics (20/20) to "demonstrate" what happens when a full sized pickup was hit - because it wouldn't catch on fire otherwise? [http://www.car-forums.com/s10/t2240.html]

    I thought the author was a bright guy, up until that comment. 60 minutes may have at one time been a respectable news magazine. That has not been the case for almost 2 decades IMHO. If 60 minutes knocks on your door and they have decided your "guilty", you have a better chance at getting your side of the story heard on cross balls.

    In the end - isn't that whats the most sad?

    cluge
    AngryPeopleRule [angrypeoplerule.com]
  • Re:coward (Score:3, Informative)

    by chimpo13 (471212) <slashdot@nokilli.com> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:30PM (#9479416) Homepage Journal
    They edit out shirts on teevee all the time. They also edit out "not paid for" product placement when they're in someone's house/business. Say, I'm drinking an RC Cola who doesn't pay for product placement, and MTV shows up, they edit out the RC label. Crazy.
  • by siriuskase (679431) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:31PM (#9479420) Homepage Journal
    Read his promo info, his most recent appearance was on the Art Bell show, need I say more?

    http://www.coasttocoastam.com/guests/12.html

  • by shiffman (118484) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:34PM (#9479431) Homepage
    One small point: the pyrotechnic pickup incident was neither CBS nor 20/20, which is in any event an ABC program. That particular event occurred on Dateline NBC, coincidentally enough an NBC program. It was a very early episode of that program and was apologized for by the producers who claim that it was done entirely without their knowledge or consent.

    Which is not to say that 60 Minutes gets everything right every time or that it doesn't choose stories for their "gotcha" entertainment value. But they have done and continue to do good journalism alongside their puff pieces. And that mix of hard and soft stories has been a component of the show from the beginning.
  • by scupper (687418) * on Sunday June 20, 2004 @06:16PM (#9479650) Homepage
    These pranks reminded me of who probably inspired them, the Canadian show "This Hour has 22 minutes [wikipedia.org]" in their feature "Talking to Americans [wikipedia.org]".

    In 2000, Rick Mercer [wikipedia.org] posed as a reporter and asked Bush for comments on Canadian Prime Minister "Jean Poutine's" endorsement of his candidacy for President [wikipedia.org]. Canadians start a trend again.
  • My general advice (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigberk (547360) <bigberk@users.pc9.org> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @06:24PM (#9479684)
    Quite simply, avoid talking to the media whenever possible. You can definitely expect them to put some kind of spin on whatever you say -- whether it's meant to add excitement, satisfy their existing bias, or for whatever other reason (lack of skill / stupidity). A close friend of mine was severely embarassed in our community due an idiot reporter who entirely misrepresented/misquoted what my friend said. The lesson for me was, reporters are not smart people and even if they mean well they can screw up big time, hurting you in the process, and nobody cares to read retractions. When the media comes knocking, keep your mouth shut.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 20, 2004 @06:35PM (#9479724)
    See: this transcript [tripod.com].

    Thanks to: This site [livejournal.com] for the link.

    After the bit, Will Ferrell (sp?) came out and ate a (the?) banana that was used...
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday June 20, 2004 @06:44PM (#9479766)
    And furthermore, read any contract you're presented with by a TV producer very carefully. Real news interview or documentary subjects don't need to sign anything nor are they ever paid. (The $200 they were offering her was most definitely a red flag... because that $200 is an exchange for value for the right to make her look like a fool.)

    Candid Camera (which is still on production on the Pax network, being led by Peter Funt, the son of Alan Funt) to this day still has a policy of junking any tape for which they aren't able to get a release form from the subject of the joke. Therefore, they have to keep their pranks so tame that nobody will be too mad at them after it's over.

    Cops obscures the faces of anybody who refuses to sign the waiver when presented with it. It has nothing to do with eventual convictions or lack there of.
  • Re:Pity (Score:5, Informative)

    by DJayC (595440) * on Sunday June 20, 2004 @07:08PM (#9479886)
    The difference is that Punk'd pulls pranks on celebrities. That is much different than asking experts to debate only to make fun of them by re-editing / taking out of context / etc. Punk'd draws a lot of its entertainment value on the premise that the people in hollywoord are "perfect" people, and the public eye is usually created by the media. Seeing these people upset over something for 15 mins shows another side... None of the people on Punk'd would lose their job or reputation. Most of the time the people involved are "friends" of Ashton Kutchers.

    I don't have a problem with Punk'd but this Crossballs thing seems malicious. The guest's reputation is on the line.
  • by mousse-man (632412) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @07:10PM (#9479894) Homepage
    The Jim March story is presented here [thehighroad.org]. The debate show and their producers have lawyers all over now and will probably find out what happens you keep f*cking with people that have access to good laywers.

    MTV degraded so badly in the last decade that they should go under. But then, not a whole lot of TV channels kept up with high standards on both sides of the big pond so I resolved to watching much less TV.
  • by EdMcMan (70171) <moo.slashdot2.z.edmcman@xoxy.net> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @07:10PM (#9479900) Homepage Journal
    Here [lerfjhax.com] is a mirror (not mine).

    If I were him I would have called and said I'd be late and then not showed up. I have a hard time believing people find this stuff entertaining.
  • by Xtifr (1323) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @07:33PM (#9479983) Homepage
    I saw the segment with Scott Richter, it was funny, and the only person made out to be a fool was Richter himself. The person who replaced you was teased a little ("What about the people who want spam? Aren't you hurting them?"), but has absolutely no reason to be sorry about the final result.

    I might worry if the Daily Show wanted to interview me about a controversial subject, but for something as clearly one-sided as spam, I wouldn't hestitate to talk to them.
  • by dellsworth (776177) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @08:31PM (#9480177)
    Jim March, a gun rights/electronic voting activist, went on this show without knowing what it really was. Here's his account of what happened:

    http://www.equalccw.com/thedebateshowfiasco.html [equalccw.com].

    Not pretty.

  • Re:My general advice (Score:3, Informative)

    by rynthetyn (618982) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @09:24PM (#9480543) Journal
    A close friend of mine was severely embarassed in our community due an idiot reporter who entirely misrepresented/misquoted what my friend said.

    Reminds me of some friends a while back (probably about a dozen years ago now), who agreed to be interviewed and photographed by our local paper, which was doing a story about homeschooling, which has been legal in Florida since the early 1980s. Anyway, one Sunday morning, they opened the local paper to find their photograph on the front page under the large point headline "Homeschooling: Is it Legal?" and an article that went on to suggest that it wasn't. That was the last time they ever had anything to do with that paper.
  • We have one (Score:3, Informative)

    by tarranp (676762) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @09:28PM (#9480567)
    It's called PBS.

    There are quite a variety of PBS shows out there that are pretty authoratative.

    Yes, at times their vaguely socialist emotional bias pops up pretty heavily, but they actually do indepth exploration of issues and interview many people ignored by the mainstream press.

    And, even though the P stands for "Public" the government funding they get is miniscule to non-existent. Their customers are not advertisors, not some mega-conglomerate owner, but their audience. If people don't value their coverage, they don't pay for it, and thus their quality is relatively high.
  • by darkmeridian (119044) <william DOT chuang AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @09:43PM (#9480640) Homepage
    You know what always cracks me up about these assertions that people "aren't allowed to talk" about certain things? It's this: if these assertions were true, then people would be put in jail for making them. Whenever you hear someone spout off about how freedom of speech is being suppressed, or how it's a fascist state, or how Bush = Hitler, ask yourself why that person isn't rotting behind bars or in an unmarked mass grave... and then ask yourself if it's just possible that that person might be full of shit and not worth your time and attention.
    Perhaps people are being put in jail for saying "bad" things. No one would know because the USA PATRIOT Act allows the government to hold anyone for indefinite periods of time for any reason without outside contact. US citizens suspected of a crime can be held as a enemy combatant due no Constitutional protections. US citizens suspected of a crime can be held as a enemy combatant due no Constitutional protections. [campusprogram.com] Or if you say something the Administration doesn't like, such as the fact that their claims about the Iraqi war was based on falsified documentation, then they simply out your wife as an undercover CIA operative. [msn.com] And what about being just plain old being censored? The Dixie Chicks, Bill Maher, and Helen Thomas all faced some sort of retribution because of their viewpoints. Agree with them or not, democracy is founded on two-sided debate; a one-sided debate is called totalitarianism. And the Bush Administration isn't exactly in a rush to disabuse Americans of their erroneous belief that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. [washingtonpost.com] Shouldn't a President trust the American people as well as his own policies enough to provide all the relevant information about something as important as a war? Or maybe it's just me. [msn.com]
  • by arkanes (521690) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [senakra]> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @10:34PM (#9480952) Homepage
    This one of the reasons I'm only half-joking when I call the Daily Show the best news on television. Unlike some other news shows (Fox, I'm very pointedly not looking at you), he doesn't harrase or ridicule his guests, even if they don't agree with him.

    The Daily Show is generally (although not fanatically) liberal, and of course audience is mostly liberal. But when an extremely conservative guy wnt on the show to promote a book about how Bush is really a very smart man and he needs to get some respect, Jon Stewart was very respectful of him, did his best to keep the audience respectful, and really did his best to make the guy (who was obviously feeling very defensive, as well as pasionate about his book) feel at ease and like he was being heard. I think it really showed his skill as an interviewer, not just a newsman and I was really impressed.

  • by Eccles (932) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @11:41PM (#9481345) Journal
    Feh. A Fox News vice president was on air recently with some of their talking heads, saying how the whole Abu Ghraib uproar was just a scheme to embarrass Bush.

    That was my last attempt to see if Fox actually could be anything like unbiased...
  • by Farley Mullet (604326) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @11:48PM (#9481372)
    Did you see the one time, I forget what they were covering, think it may have been a British royal scandal, and both Colbert and Stewart just broke down laughing?

    Oh yes I did, and I think it qualifies as a best thing ever. Click here [comedycentral.com], and then the bottom left-hand corner link ("Prince Charles Scandal"). You'll need a RealPlayer plugin, but it's worth it.

  • by Twirlip of the Mists (615030) <twirlipofthemists@yahoo.com> on Monday June 21, 2004 @12:55AM (#9481708)
    Are you saying this because you haven't heard of Brett Bursey, who was arrested and faced with a six-month sentence for holding a "No War for Oil" sign?

    That's like saying that the killer was arrested for wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

    Brett Bursey was arrested for trespassing. For security reasons, the Secret Service restricts access to public property when the President is visiting. They do that because in the past people with an axe to grind have had a bad habit of taking potshots at our various Commanders-in-Chief, all too often with tragic results. This is just and proper.

    Brett Bursey seemed to think that his cardboard sign somehow trumped national security. He was mistaken. When this was explained to him, he refused to relocate. And we're not talking about relocating to another county here, either. He was asked to move about a thousand yards down the tarmac. Others were also so asked, and complied, and were not arrested. Mr. Bursey became belligerent and refused to move, and so was taken into custody.

    What if Mr. Bursey had had a .38 tucked into his belt? The Secret Service did not know whether he did, but he was certainly acting like he was angry about something, and he was insistent about getting into close proximity of the President, so they acted in the only reasonable way.

    Once arrested, he was given a clean cell in which to wait, full and free access to legal counsel, hot food, and complete liberty to relieve himself, bathe, and conduct the other procedures relevant to basic human dignity.

    If convicted of every crime he is accused of committing and sentenced with the full strength and weight of the government against him, he will serve six months in jail and pay a $5,000 fine.

    God damn this fucking fascist dictatorship we live in.
  • by Tracy Reed (3563) <treedNO@SPAMultraviolet.org> on Monday June 21, 2004 @02:01AM (#9481962) Homepage
    And here are the email addresses of the lowlifes responsible for this show:

    jeff@debateshow.com

    erika@debateshow.com

    Email them and give them a piece of your mind. Maybe if they get enough email they won't be able to communicate with other victims.
  • by Tracy Reed (3563) <treedNO@SPAMultraviolet.org> on Monday June 21, 2004 @02:07AM (#9481984) Homepage
    Also, with a little googling I came up with the following. Feel free to give ol' "Bart" here a call to express your dissatisfaction with how they conduct their business.

    Bart Coleman
    Producer - The Debate Show
    (323) 957-7601 tel
    bart@debateshow.com

    Following are email addresses of various "handlers" who will sucker you in and keep you in the dark. Might want to cc them all on any comments you have for them.

    jeff@debateshow.com
    erika@debateshow.com
    gary@ debateshow.com
    wendy@debateshow.com
    lauren@debat eshow.com
    bart@debateshow.com
  • by Tracy Reed (3563) <treedNO@SPAMultraviolet.org> on Monday June 21, 2004 @02:29AM (#9482071) Homepage
    Hah...one more comment: I sent email to all of the above email addresses and Bart's email bounced revealing the real address he has all of his mail forwarded to:

    bart@wexlervideo.com

    So I just thought I would let you all know about it so you can send your comments there also since his @debateshow.com addy does not work. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 21, 2004 @02:49AM (#9482146)
    Not only that but I did some digging and found out Bart really does work for Wexler Video. If you go to:

    http://www.wexlervideo.com/wexlerpages/email/wex le r-email.html

    You can see all of the other people who work there. They are:

    bart@wexlervideo.com, bwexler@wexlervideo.com (CEO!), jordesky@wexlervideo.com, cthompson@wexlervideo.com, sparsons@wexlervideo.com, jferguson@wexlervideo.com, jbown@wexlervideo.com, sjones@wexlervideo.com, lnichols@wexlervideo.com, mmeyer@wexlervideo.com, sdweyer@wexlervideo.com, mdimino@wexlervideo.com, mgoede@wexlervideo.com, pfrocchi@wexlervideo.com, dhudanish@wexlervideo.com, sfinkelstein@wexlervideo.com, sstalnaker@wexlervideo.com, drohrer@wexlervideo.com, rrand@wexlervideo.com, dwitt@wexlervideo.com, dwolff@wexlervideo.com

    So drop them all a line too and warn them that Bart is of questionable character.
  • by GooseKirk (60689) <`goosekirk' `at' `hotmail.com'> on Monday June 21, 2004 @03:42AM (#9482319) Homepage
    If you read the bill instead of the lies and the propaganda, you'd know this.

    For anyone who doesn't understand what an obnoxious and stupid comment this is, here's the text [epic.org] of the PATRIOT act.

    "Twirlip of the Mist" hasn't read it, either.
  • Brass Eye (Score:3, Informative)

    by gefafwysp (707762) on Monday June 21, 2004 @03:50AM (#9482344)

    There was a massive fuss in the UK three years ago over a spoof documentary called Brass Eye, which was a one-off special on the media's treatment of paedophilia. There were numerous celebrities and government ministers who were duped into appearing, and the tabloids branded it the "sickest TV show ever".

    The strange thing about the reaction to the show was that it appeared to justify the screening of the programme, including the minister who launched an attack despite not having actually seeing it.

    Lots of info from the BBC [bbc.co.uk], and a transcript here. [glgarden.org]

    Your written correspondence is currently broadcasting a postal address. With this, someone can begin attacking your house!

Practical people would be more practical if they would take a little more time for dreaming. -- J. P. McEvoy

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