NOVEMBER 6, 1959
SAN FRANCISCO—I am not surprised to read in the newspapers that one of the TV producers of the now-defunct "$64,000 Question" show testified that the sponsors had "made clear at weekly meetings which contestant the country wanted to win or lose." (Ed. note: The sponsor has since denied this.)
To fool the public seems to have been considered entirely justifiable. If you can do it in advertising, they seem to reason, why not do it in the quiz shows?
Actually, many businessmen seem to consider that the public can just be led along by the nose. They seem to think they can dictate what this vague thing known as "the public," which is you and I, can be made to think and to buy. It is their conviction that we set our standards by their standards.
A lot of politicians follow the same line as many businessmen. They think, because they sometimes succeed, that they don't have to do more than tell the public over and over again certain things. They are confident that they will be able to control public thinking through mediums of communication and that their actions as politicians in carrying out—or not carrying out—their promises will never be questioned.
The quiz show scandals may have the value of awakening people to the realization of the mixed-up standards that are being presented to our youth.
Charles Van Doren is a brilliant young man. The show he was on did not need to be rigged. He did not have to have all the answers beforehand in order to win, and one is saddened for him and for those who were so proud of his accomplishments. The loss of his job seems to me a tragedy because punishment of this kind makes it impossible for him to do the one thing that I believe is important for him and for the youth he represents in the future. As far as possible he should restore to society what he has dishonestly acquired. No one else should do it for him because his whole future depends on his being able to live with himself.
Punishment makes it impossible for him to set himself voluntarily to the task of returning the money he took under false pretenses. It is being made impossible for him to live with dignity and to become an asset to society again. This is a second loss to society, for here is a young man of brilliance whose standards of values became affected by the standards which we, the public, have allowed to grow up in our society.
The sponsor and producer of the show were equally responsible for what was done. Nor does the National Broadcasting Company clear itself by dismissing the young man, who has to earn a living and should set himself to returning the money which he received and was not entitled to, having acquired it through fraud. The kind of punishment he is being given seems to me quite wrong, and we as a society should accept some responsibility for the type of standards we have allowed to exist.
Do we really like to be fooled, or would we like to be told the truth? Would we like to be able to look at a show and know that the people before us are genuine and are giving us what they really know and think and not what someone is telling them to give?
We had better get back to wanting the truth and not wanting to be fooled. At present we cannot shirk our share of responsibility for what has been done to this poor young man and is being done daily to our young people as a whole.