"It Seemed Neater"

Bryan Preston at the Tatler analyzes the transcript of a White House press conference and notes how the subject deftly moves to prepared ground. Away from the subject of the President’s woes, directly to the matter of his exceptional wisdom. “Carney answers the Iran question with vague talk of working with international partners to isolate Iran and so forth, doing his best to not make any news on the subject, and after he finishes, Spetalnick drops the question about Augusta.”


Q: One other question. Today is the opening round of the Augusta Masters, and the question of whether the all-male Augusta National Golf Club should admit women refuses to go away. Of course, tomorrow is — the White House is hosting a conference on women and the economy. What’s the White House stand on this? Should the Augusta National Club admit women to become members, especially now that you’ve got the CEO of a longstanding sponsor of the Masters, IBM, is a woman, and her predecessors have all been admitted?

The question comes out of nowhere, but Carney is ready with an answer that is guaranteed to make news on one of the major memes that the White House is pushing: That it really really cares about women.

MR. CARNEY: Well, the President’s answer to this question is yes. He believes — his personal opinion is that women should be admitted.

Q Do you think we’ll be hearing him stating that before Friday?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know that — I happened to have a discussion with him about this, so I know that that’s his answer. But it’s obviously up to the club to decide. But his personal opinion is that women should be admitted to the club.

That brief exchange quickly generated headlines that the president believes Augusta should admit women, and the question itself pushed the White House’s conference on women, being held today, into the news. Carney was obviously ready for the Augusta question — he says that he “happened to have a discussion with the president about it” so he knows what the president thinks. How much time does Carney typically get with the president of the United States each day? Do they typically converse about the membership rules of a private golf club?


How much time does Carney spend talking to the President about golf club membership rules? About as much time, perhaps as Hillary Clinton spends talking to her staff members about Global Warming. During her Presidential campaign, she was caught packing the audience at her “Town Hall”meetings so that someone would ask her a prepared question.  ABC co-host Kate Snow “acknowledged that Clinton’s campaign had directed a college student to ask a question on global warming earlier this month and the correspondent mentioned a second such occurrence at another event.”

Plants and other kinds of deception have been around for a long time on what audiences believe to be a real show. For example, the quiz show Twenty One was fixed. Although initially run in an honest manner, the producers found its ratings flagging and they decided that the audience would like it better rigged.

The initial broadcast of Twenty One was played honestly, with no manipulation of the game by the producers. Unfortunately, that broadcast was, in the words of producer Dan Enright, “a dismal failure”; the first two contestants succeeded only in making a mockery of the format by how little they really knew. Show sponsor Geritol, upon seeing this opening-night performance, reportedly became furious with the results, and threatened to pull their sponsorship of the show if it happened again.

The end result: Twenty One was not merely “fixed”, it was almost totally choreographed. Contestants were cast almost as if they were actors, and in fact were active and (usually) willing partners in the deception. They were given instruction as to how to dress, what to say to the host, when to say it, what questions to answer, what questions to miss, even when to mop their brows in their isolation booths (which had air conditioning that could be cut off at will, to make them sweat more).


The conundrum is that  while audiences may want to think they are watching a real show maybe deep down they really want it to play out like fantasy.  Fantasy is more exciting. Audiences brought up in a Hollywood cultural environment of snappy dialog, dramatic plot twists, improbable coincidences, stereotypes and fast-paced action may find actual reality too boring.  Even today, or perhaps especially today, the most popular ‘reality TV’ shows are largely faked.

Reality television frequently portrays a modified and highly influenced form of reality, at times utilizing sensationalism to attract audience viewers and increase advertising revenue. Participants are often placed in exotic locations or abnormal situations, and are often persuaded to act in specific scripted ways by off-screen “story editors” or “segment television producers”, with the portrayal of events and speech manipulated and contrived to create an illusion of reality through direction and post-production editing techniques.

But only the entertainment is fake, right? The news is real, or is it?  Or are audiences are also fed a diet of ‘reality news’ — news that is scripted in some fashion in order to expand the news readership or advance a narrative. For example, the UK Meteorological Office recently issued a report with a headline claiming that Climate Change is linked to industrial pollution — exactly at a time when a previous storyline, the rise of Global Warming from increased carbon emissions, was beginning to flag.  And yet anyone who reads the report will be astounded to discover that it really says something else. The lead author of the research, said:


“Until now, no-one has been able to demonstrate a physical link to what is causing these observed Atlantic Ocean fluctuations, so it was assumed they must be caused by natural variability.

“Our research implies that far from being natural, these changes could have been largely driven by dirty pollution and volcanoes. If so, this means a number of natural disasters linked to these ocean fluctuations, such as persistent African drought during the 1970’s and 80’s, may not be so natural after all.”

That leads to the inescapable conclusion that volcanoes are not natural. But there’s more.

“Particles from industrial pollution make clouds brighter and last longer, which means they can reflect much more of the Sun’s energy into space,” said Paul Halloran, a Met Office ocean scientist.

“When we include these processes in our latest climate model the observed changes emerge. When industrial pollution peaked over the Atlantic, this effect played a big role in cooling the ocean beneath; as pollution was cleaned up – for example after the clean air legislation of the 90’s – the seas warmed.”

That statement on the face of it implies that clean air legislation caused Global Warming. The body of the facts are in conflict with the narrative. As the movies say, when the self-reported facts conflict with the legend, print the legend.  The narrative must always be served.

But at what level does the legend exist? When Charles Van Doren was investigated by a Senate Committee as shown in the video below, which was the play? “Twenty One” or the Senate Hearing? Or was the audience watching a play within a play, as Shakespeare staged in Hamlet?


Perhaps when the moment of our death comes, a strange person who we vaguely recognize will place an odd object on the table beside our beds. No one else will be able to see him. And all of us will say, almost as if we’ve been coached, these identical words:

“I’ve seen one of these objects before many, many years ago. It belonged to a man I met in a half-remembered dream. A man possessed of some radical notions. But that’s impossible… We were young together. I am old.”

But the mystery man will say, “I’ve come back for you, to remind you of something. Something you once knew. That this world is not real.”

“Yes, I must come back  to honor our arrangement.”

The mystery man will reply, “to take a leap of faith, yes. So come back, so we can be young together again. Come back with me. Come back…”

And then we wake up in a room with Jay Carney and Barack Obama laughing and talking about Augusta’s club membership rules. Maybe we should have stayed in the dream.

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