The Truth about Honesty
In general, television rarely depicts the truth. There is a direct relationship between the businessmen behind the shows and the viewers. The businessmen look for the script that will increase the ratings. He will not choose the script that is closer to the truth if it means sacrificing views. It’s “show biz” as Albert Freedman—the producer of “ Twenty-One”—would say. The viewers automatically look for the shows that are the most entertaining and the ones that will toy with their emotions. The same can then be applied to the “Twenty-One” quiz program. People seem to want the “’likable character” of the show and the tension that it brings. The only people who seem to care about the truth are the contestants themselves. If that is the case, then we might ponder whether or not honesty is good for the public good in every situation.
The truth about honesty is that it can sometimes have a one sided benefit. One person may benefit from the truth but another may not. For example, although Herbie Stempel and Charles Van Doren were relieved after telling the truth, the public seemed to give the truth only partial attention. They paid attention to the case because of the hype of the case not the contents of the case. The public forgets and moves on. This is proven in the fact that Dan Enright and Jack Barry returned to television with “ The Joker’s Wild” and made millions. So, although Stempel may have thought he was benefiting the public by telling the truth about the hoax, he was mostly just helping himself move on from his wrong doing.
If we look at what actually makes a good action, many say that it depends on the amount of people it helps or harms. Socrates friends—in the “Euthyphro” by Plato—took a similar stance. They believed that Socrates was creating injustice because he was ignoring the amount of harm he was creating through his actions. Others depended on him, and his friends felt they would look bad for not trying to “save” Socrates. His friends said he was not taking into consideration the consequences of his death. Thus, according to them, he was taking a negative action instead of a positive one. His reluctance to compromise with the jury was a bad action because it would result in some harm towards his friends. Similarly, Herbie Stempel and Charles Van Doren were told the truth but because the truth did not help a wide amount of people in the public, they can be considered not having done a good deed. As Van Doren himself says in his speech to the public, “ I have learned that good and evil are not what they always appear to be.”
Hence, honesty is irrelevant and plays no large role in television. The viewers do not rejoice when the truth is uncovered or feel deceived when a TV show or even “reality” TV is fabricated. As Albert Freedman said to the congressmen, “the sponsor makes out, the network makes out, the contestants see money they probably would never see in a life time, and the public is entertained. So, who gets hurt?”