Saturday, July 31, 2004

(3 sonnets) Sonnetizing the AmCan Sham CASE (PREAMBLE)

Artist vs Journalist (Round 1)

{ACS.001_01} THAT NIGHT IN '99 when Beatty spoke
{ACS.001_02} (when Courtney Love said

something in my ear)
{ACS.001_03} three-hundred global journalism folk
{ACS.001_04} came running to record.
Some could not hear . . .

{ACS.001_05} . . . what Warren said regarding "If he'd run?"
{ACS.001_06} A METAPHOR about "drum majorette"
{ACS.001_07} derailed their logic track. When speech was done
{ACS.001_08} they did not have what they had come to get.

{ACS.001_09} A WEST COAST BUREAU CHIEF (I will not name)
{ACS.001_10} sat two feet from the stage, but could not tell
{ACS.001_11} if Beatty said he'd run -- translate his fame
{ACS.001_12} from Hollywood to Washington pell mell.

{ACS.001_13} BUT IT WAS CLEAR TO ME he said, "No go."
"We don't know."

{ACS.002_01} PERHAPS it helped that Courtney Love's
loud breath
{ACS.002_02} had primed my eardrum for that metaphor
{ACS.002_03} about the "majorette." Cold logic's death
{ACS.002_04} brought on by Courtney's lips --
not stiff Al Gore . . .

{ACS.002_05} . . . or Bush flat-footed phrases all week long
{ACS.002_06} the bureau chief endured and numbed his soul
{ACS.002_07} (and other body parts unnamed). The wrong
{ACS.002_08} conclusion that he reached --
misjudged the goal- . . .

{ACS.002_09} . . . post wide enough to make you wonder why
{ACS.002_10} they'd sent him on the field. Not "on-the-ball" --
{ACS.002_11} this ivy-educated, well-classed guy
{ACS.002_12} who snubbed me
when the wrong first name I call . . .

{ACS.002_13} . . . out to him as I stride to shake his hand.
{ACS.002_14} Sometimes forget those wussy twits.
They're bland. {smile}

{ACS.003_01} WELL ANYWAY, the point of this parade
{ACS.003_02} of words bound in constraints
of Shakespeare's form

{ACS.003_03} is even if two people are arrayed
{ACS.003_04} before the same speech scene,
one may be warm . . .

{ACS.003_05} . . . the other cold as ice, when asked to write
{ACS.003_06} the facts of what they saw before their eyes
{ACS.003_07} in one location on the same long night
{ACS.003_08} when truth came marching clearly in disguise . . .

{ACS.003_09} . . . The artist with his ear brushed by hot lips
{ACS.003_10} hears what the cold-eyed journalist does not.
{ACS.003_11} Though I could never tell what Courtney quips,
{ACS.003_12} what Warren Beatty said, I clearly got.

{ACS.003_13} And, by the way, that speech
was meant for me.
{ACS.003_14} BOKE IS "drum majorette" . . . with poetry.

# # #


By the time we're done

perhaps you'll see that our eyes

have the best vision.

Friday, July 30, 2004

ASIDE: An Historical (?) Note ... in the neighborhood of "CIVILITY" and PUBLIC DISCOURSE

From a 4th of July oration, 1852, in Rochester, NY, in James M. Gregory, ed., Frederick Douglass, the Orator (New York, 1893), pp. 103-06.

Frederick Douglass:

At a time like this, scorching irony, not

convincing argument, is needed. O! had I

the ability, and could reach the nation's ear,

I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of

biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering

sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light

that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle

shower, but thunder. We need the storm,

the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling

of the nation must be quickened; the

conscience of the nation must be roused;

the propriety of the nation must be startled;

the hypocrisy of the nation must be

exposed; and its crimes against God and

man must be proclaimed and denounced.

While we wait for EPISODE #1 (on Sunday) ...

(1) ... you can check for the lastest items in the news flow with the buttons below ...

CLICK FOR Google News SEARCH FOR "american candidate" SHOWTIME

CLICK FOR Yahoo! News SEARCH FOR "american candidate" SHOWTIME

AND ... (2) Since Google will be going public in a week or two ... ponder the "existential epistemology of search engines" {smile} ... and contemplate the big picture of what BOKE is "up to" {grin} (rhetorically) in the context of "American Candidate," Journalism, and ...

Google american candidate showtime

Yahoo american candidate showtime

MSN Search american candidate showtime

MSN Search PREVIEW american candidate showtime

Ask Jeeves american candidate showtime

Gigablast search american candidate showtime

AND (3) wonder where is...
the mysterious Doctor Wunder? {smile}

TO REVISIT THIS BLOG's BEGINNINGS (before Veritas stepped into an interdimensional portal, or something ... {smile} ...

... from first to last (so far)

6/08/04 [12:11]

06/08/04 [12:45]

6/08/04 [18:38]

6/09/04 [13:31]

6/10/04 [13:10]

06/11/04 [17:04]

6/13/04 [23:07]

06/15/04 [23:13]

06/17/04 [15:34]

06/19/04 [17:49]

06/22/04 [08:33]

06/25/04 [17:12]

07/06/04 [7:55]

07/07/04 [8:17]

07/09/04 [8:17]

07/14/04 [5:06]

AND LAST, (if you've missed any songs {grin}), HERE'S AN AmCan Sham SONG INDEX (by the ever-industrious BOKE {smile})

Thursday, July 29, 2004


This is the most illuminating commentary on journalism you will ever hear on TV so pay attention {smile/ no joke}:

(paraphrased only slighly)

TED KOPPEL (to Jon Stewart): YOU get to say things are B.S. (yada) with humor.... I can't do that.

JON STEWART: ... YOU can do it without the humor ... (yada yada) CREDIBILITY

TED KOPPEL: Out of time. (Shoos Stewart away.)

More links for today (Thursday) ... for later comment

Turned off by 2 presidential choices? Try these 10
By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY

QUICK COMMENTS (for now): Gets a lot of the framing right, but skips over the implications of method of "elimination" ... and the use of Kaplan quote is a bit "off." (More later.). AND ... journalists continue to "fall for the idea" that political competitors should be sweet and civil to each other. Respect and all that crap. Trust me. That's bullshit. (For example, Candidate Gillespie gives Jesus a bad name. He's a blasphemer of the holy spirit and is therefore going to hell {smile} That is how it is SUPPOSED to be done.)

Provo politician is 'reality' candidate
by Scott D. Pierce DESERT MORNING SUN (Utah)

QUICK COMMENT/HIGHLIGHT (for now): Richard Mack (who was running for governor of Utah until the producers called him) says that the people picked for the show are, well, just finer than fish hair ... "I think the caliber of individual that was on the show is much higher than what you'll see in real life." {smile} Yeah, TV producers can sure pick 'em good... if Mack does say so , himself. {grin}


(FOR FUN) An EXCELLENT TITLE ... and WILD speculation ... by playful BILL FROST of SALT LAKE CITY WEEKLY

HEADLINE: (Excellent)
Fake the Nation:Showtime's American Candidate mocks the vote, reality style.

" ... Chrissy, hand on Lisa’s ass: “I feel your pain—and a Vicky’s Secret thong, if I’m not mistaken. Bold choice"

Well, I guess we can take a break from careful fact-checking on this one. {smile} BUT I WILL SAY that in the brief biographical parentheticals, you're leaving a whole lot unsaid if, for instance, you don't mention that Chrissy Gephardt is the daughter of Dick Gephardt ... BUT this piece is not to be read for the facts, but for the fun. No, let us not forget fun. AMEN.

FACTUAL ERRORS and BULLSHIT (about American Candidate) brought to you by RHONDA STEWART (half-assed journalist) of the Boston Globe

It's Showtime for this eager 'Candidate' (Boston Globe 7/29/04)

If the country is ever ready to elect a black, Puerto Rican, Italian woman with a pierced tongue and hip-hop sensibility as president, it might be Emerson College alum Malia. Lazu

Well, as far as I know, that first sentence sounds like the truth. {smile} (Of course, I'd have to check out that piercing, and hear her rap a little to be sure. {grin}) BUT what about the rest of that piece? Let's take a look ...

REALITY {smile}

"Most of the show was filmed during primary season. In the second episode, for example, the group travels to Keene, N.H.,"

American Candidate (pre-final) episodes were filmed from JUNE 7 TO EARLY JULY. That is NOT "primary season" in this reality. {smile} For example, they were in Keene from June 10-13.

"When the show airs, voters in the state where the candidates made their appearance can call a toll-free number to choose their favorite. The two who receive the lowest number of votes square off in an elimination debate to see who'll be ousted from the show."
Except for the final (one or two) episodes, all the voting has already been completed. Voting took place in the towns/states where the competition took place... at that time.

"More than 20,000 people requested or downloaded applications for the show, and the 10 finalists were chosen from 1,500 people."
And I brushed my teeth, and the earth revolved on its axis, but the sun was not much affected by my brushing, either. {smile} I.E., Read Veritas' posts below.


Cutler said the show examines the notion people are taught in school that any boy or girl can grow up to be president.

"I promise you when John Kerry is sitting around in a quiet moment, he's got a lot of the same insecurities and anxieties these guys have," he said. "There's a point to be made about this, which is people who run for president are human. They're men and women just like you and me. They're not royalty. They're not gods. They're not chosen by gods."

No, they're chosen by television producers {serious smile} ... and other rhetorically incompetent babies. yada yada yada (More later, obviously. {grin})

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Don't tell me self-proclaimed "mean writer" ALESSANDRA STANLEY of the New York Times ... is already mushy-headed "sweet" on American Candidate?

Dropped into "Mean" Ms. Stanley's piece about Amish In The City is this "sweet" little paragraph.

"But there are also more high-minded reality shows on the horizon. This Sunday Showtime begins "American Candidate," an election year reality show in which 10 ordinary people learn how to lead a political campaign appealing to real voters and coached by real-life campaign advisers. It is not a farce or even frivolous: experts from the League of Women Voters and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard are on the advisory board."

And we thought Ms. Stanley only had the hots for "suave" Peter Jennings {smile} ...

Now, if you don't know about her natural "meanness" ... you might ponder that she referred to Teresa Heinz Kerry's removing the thumb from little Jack Kerry's mouth as an "imperious gesture" ... and sums up Ms. Heinz Kerry's self-control with this little gem "it seems as if Mrs. Heinz Kerry speaks five languages and cannot hold back in any of them".

Why so "sweet" on "American Candidate"? Wonder who she's got the hots for over at Actual Reality? {grin}

(Don't pay much attention to the tone of this post. I'm just practicing being "mean" like Ms. Stanley ... when she's not distracted. {grin})

Tuesday, July 27, 2004



They will receive some funding and publicity
for Australian senate campaigns. REAL campaigns.

Will their participation have any effect? Will any win?
Time will tell. {smile} We'll look in on them later.

AND MEANWHILE AT American Candidate -- there's an EVEN NEWER VIDEO PROMO (CLICK ON MONTEL's HEAD {grin})

Monday, July 26, 2004

The TEXT of the new "American Candidate" (VIDEO) PROMO #2


Perhaps the Doctor will enjoy the TEXT above. {smile}
Just click the image.

(NOTE: The tedius job of transcription is not quite done. Soon.) COMPLETE.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Let's see ...

... obviously.


A trial balloon ... of 12 HAIKUs ... regarding the future of this temporary blog


Shall we judge the press

by their gullibility

regarding this show?

IRAQ showed how bad

journalism has become.

How far it's fallen.

AmCan's no Iraq:

An entertainment sideshow.

Who'll "get" the story?

Who will spread bullshit?

Who're the lazy journalists

who don't ask questions?

We'll rank the cov'rage.

Who'll frame it with TRUE HEADLINES?

Who'll re-transmit NOISE?

Who are we to judge?

We've been "casing this story"

since January.

What's our agenda?

To do journalism right.

Ask the right questions.

What does this show mean?

How does this puzzle piece fit


What's the history?

What about Argentina?

What of Australia?

And, yes, television.

What's "reality tv?"

Are there "artists" yet?

Does Hollywood know

what the hell it is doing?

What skills are missing?

What questions would find

something beyond the hoopla?

What does this all mean?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


In Australia ... PHONE VOTING IS UNDERWAY for Channel 7's "Vote For Me" ... narrowing the 16 finalists ... to six winning candidates

Monday, July 19, 2004

RE: This Blog This Week ... NOTE: On Wednesday 21 JULY the Television Critics Association (TCA) Press Tour

NOTE: On Wednesday 21 July, Showtime

will be presenting its fall schedule at the

Television Critics Association (TCA)

press tour. . . American Candidate: Revolution?

Posting in this blog will be somewhat

"irregular" this week {smile} . . .

(Previous Version)

For CONTEXT on Journalism in the age of blogs ... see NYU/Jay Rosen's PRESSthink Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine BLOG

MEANWHILE (if you've missed any songs {grin}), HERE'S AN AmCan Sham SONG INDEX (by the ever-industrious BOKE {smile})

SPECIAL COMMENDATION: "Best" Description of American Candidate in a Blog by someone else

... from first to last (so far)

6/08/04 [12:11]

06/08/04 [12:45]

6/08/04 [18:38]

6/09/04 [13:31]

6/10/04 [13:10]

06/11/04 [17:04]

6/13/04 [23:07]

06/15/04 [23:13]

06/17/04 [15:34]

06/19/04 [17:49]

06/22/04 [08:33]

06/25/04 [17:12]

07/06/04 [7:55]

07/07/04 [8:17]

07/09/04 [8:17]

07/14/04 [5:06]

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Saintly Lyricist marches in yet again to sing about TCA ... to the obvious melody

What can I say ... this is just too much fun to pass up. {smile}

Yet more delightful rhetorical verse in the form of a song re-write ... SUNG TO THE MELODY OF "WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN SOURCE PAGE: Songs of Texas

At TCA ... what will they say?

At TCA .... what / will / they / say?

Will Cutler BULL-SHIT or / sur-prise us?

At TCA ... what / will / they / say?

If BOKE sneaks in ... to stop the spin ...

If BOKE sneaks in ... to / stop / the / spin ...

will they ar-rest him or / se-duce him ...

if BOKE sneaks in ... to / stop / the / spin?

Will Ver-i-tas ... go marching in?

Will Ver-i-tas ... go / mar-ching / in?

Oh, will she have / a press / cre-den-tial?

Will Ver-i-tas ... go / mar-ching / in?

Beyond that day ... what shall we say?

Beyond that day... what / shall / we / say?

Oh what's the pur-pose ... of / this / blog-space?

Past TCA ... what / shall / we / say?

Does England call? ... Some grand ol' hall?

Or gos-pel tent ... out / on / a / pier?

Will there be some ... tran-scen-dent some-thing?

AmCan's re-demp-tion af-ter all?

Friday, July 16, 2004

Lyricist strolls slowly toward the IDEA of an International AmCan DEBATE SHOWDOWN ... singing to the tune of "My Country Tis of Thee"

(SOURCE:American Patriotic MIDI Files)

Will I subscribe to see
Cutler's reality?
Pay cold, hard dough?

Twenty-five dollars to
ac-ti-vate Show-time's brew
of cable-programs, slight-ly blue ...
and Cutler's show?

Then each month, twenty more.
What the hell ev-er for?
(A-del-phia's broke.)

Ev-en if I ... was on
(not writing songs at dawn)
I would-much-rather ... MOW the LAWN
than watch this joke.

I'm being mean, to-night.
Spoiling for or-al fight:
For a de-bate.

Oxford or Cambridge hall:
Let's try the case! ... Then all
of those present ... make the call
on Am-Sham-gate.

What else is there to say
in this blog ... any-way?
We've said it all.

What's missing is A VOTE.
Find out just who's ... the goat:
On that note
let's go to the mall.

While VERITAS is mysteriously traveling about ... maybe she can help orchestrate an international debate. In any case, she'll be back next week ... The week of TCA in L.A. for AmCan ...

Thursday, July 15, 2004

ITEM: American Candidate DELETES all candidate web pages EXCEPT "The Cast"

ITEM: 15 JULY 2004

American Candidate



Lyricist promenades through like Donald Trump on a good hair day ... singing about THE (missing) BEEF ... to the tune of "Hail to the Chief" {smile}

Having given up the delightful thought of writing lyrics to the tune of the Lone Ranger theme ("The William Tell Overture" ) [SOURCE: Rose's Patriotic Page] ... for tonight, anyway ... Lyricist gets right to the meat of it all ... vaguely. {smile}


THAT this BLOG has been pro-TEST-ing?

Or just MORE RE-AL-I-TY?

CUT-ler OUGHT to be con-FESS-ing ...

... IF / good re-POR-ters ASK
what's THIS / s'pposed to BE?

YOU / claimed your AIM
was to FIND our age's LIN-coln.

WHAT did you DO
that caused SUCH rage and GRIEF?

WHAT was the CRIME?
And can IT be some-how UN-done?

Well, not undone -- Just add ...
... ONE slice of BEEF.

THERE's / ONE[?] more SHOW
TO be FILMED near first October

of "THE BEST" / shall be WAGED.

WILL / you just GET
some "fair" journalists who're sober ...

... to ask some questions like
the same ol' game's staged?

YOU / claimed your AIM
was to FIND our age's LIN-coln.

WHAT did you DO
that caused SUCH rage and GRIEF?

WHAT was the CRIME?
And can IT be some-how UN-done?

Well, not undone -- Just add ...
... ONE slice of BEEF.

# # #
[FRIDAY BLOG NOTE: Veritas is currently traveling on a mysterious mission ... and will not be posting a blog entry. What Lyricist will do in her absence ... is, unpredictable. {grin} In any case, you have been "warned." {smile}]

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

American Candidate (Showtime): In My Dreams, Fictional Interviews at the TCA

Just in time for their session at the Television Critics Association summer meeting next week, Showtime has finally decided to release the already well known names of the ten cast members. Over one month late.

Perhaps they decided all those reporters who were trusting Showtime's fluff press for the last seven months should at least be given enough "true" information to get the number of cast members correct.

The new press release looks just chock-full of details, but it also raises more questions about American Candidate that I'd just love to ask RJ Cutler and Showtime. In theory, TCA is designed to allow reporters and critics to ask questions and get some interviews. Of course, the odds of Showtime's brass or Cutler speaking with me are about the same as my winning the lottery.

After all, once I started this blog analyzing the distance between what Showtime and Cutler were saying and what they were actually doing, they seem to have reacted rather poorly.

They instituted a press blackout, made the cast clam up and even delete a few blogs they were keeping (and I was using here), reduced the already pathetic public interaction with the cast to laughably miniscule levels, and began deleting posts on the American Candidate message boards that so much as mentioned the name of this blog.

Quite a turn of events considering I was merely following RJ Cutler's advice in his interviews with LA Times reporter Carina Chocano. Chocano published those interviews on May 23 in her article Turn on, tune in ... then go vote. In them, Cutler discussed unsophisticated, "naïve" and "almost foolish" viewers who aren't performing "analysis" on the context of what they're being told, who don't look at things like "what the administration's objective is, what they want you to believe, what they did yesterday, what they're going to do tomorrow." The sorts of viewers and reporters who might, oh, … I don't know … perhaps put some trust in the reputations of Cutler and his American Candidate "advisory board," and because of that "expect that what these guys are really doing and the picture of what they are doing have any relationship."

Yup. I'd love to have that interview. Since it's clear, however, that I won't get it, I've decided to steal a technique from Reality TV. Everybody knows, Cutler's current chosen genre always employs the cut and splice edit. You know, where they take what folks actually said and just move it around a bit to create a fictional sort of story and make a point.

Seems just about right for that interview I'll only get in my dreams, and luckily, I've got Cutler's interviews with Chocano, his more recent repeat comments in the July 12 New York Observer, and his interview with Matt Smith of SF Weekly to work with. So with only a bit more ado, here's my fictional Reality TV interview.


For those journalists who took RJ Cutler's and Showtime's press releases about the show at face value until now, and wound up reporting something that didn't happen, and "spreading the word" for Showtime about a show that bears almost no resemblance to the story they gave you …

And for those hundreds upon hundreds of applicants who trusted in RJ Cutler's reputation and the reputation of the show's "advisory board" (the board whose names are absent from the latest Showtime press release), and invested your spirit, sweat, and ideals into a promise and idea Cutler and Showtime quietly abandoned once they got what they wanted from you …

Try not to be insulted by Cutler's comments below. After all, the show's not a revolution, and unless Showtime and Cutler get a clue real soon, it might not even be good Reality TV.

RJ, as you know, the casting of American Candidate has generated some controversy – particularly because you appear to have chosen a cast that directly contradicts your and Showtime's statements about not only the philosophy behind the show, but also the sort of people that American Candidate was looking for, and even the eligibility requirements and application deadlines.

There also appears to be a disconnect between how you've been marketing the "campaigning," and the ways we can "See How They Run," and what's actually been occurring in the lead-up to and during filming.

Given that, I'd like to focus on these issues and the latest Showtime press release and try to clarify a few things. Hopefully this interview will …

CUTLER: Hopefully, it will illuminate and expose both the limitations and the power of the medium.

VERITAS: Exactly, I'd agree if you're talking about the use of the media by those in power – especially to manipulate both the press and the public. Recently you told Joe Hagan of the New York Observer that " one of the effects of the TV era was a more sophisticated bending of truth among those in seats of power." Would you say that "sophisticated bending of truth" applies to the ways American candidate was presented to the press and the public?

CUTLER: Well, in a way. … But who knows if this is even true in an environment where image might be everything—

VERITAS: Oh, sorry to interrupt you RJ, but Greenblatt's got his hand up over there. Rob, you'd like to say something?

GREENBLATT: In the hands of these extraordinary producers, I think it will have amazing relevance to our country in a presidential election year – and who knows, maybe our winner will actually decide to enter the race!

VERITAS: Um … okay … Thanks Rob, and thank you RJ for the disclaimer. Okay, let's talk about image. Like the image you and Showtime presented that convinced regular Joe's and Jill's to trust you, to apply for the show and put so much effort into it when now it seems you really weren't looking for those sorts of candidates at all. Did you mean to use them as window dressing and publicity, and to keep them in the dark about what was really going on until they'd served their purpose?

CUTLER: It was kind of exactly what we had hoped for.

VERITAS: Really. What reality were you simulating there, when you made them believe they had a chance, when they didn't? When you said "The whole philosophy of this show is to make the process available to those who don't otherwise have access to it," but then cloaked the process in secrecy and misdirection.

Was American Candidate trying to illustrate how closed the political system actually is?

CUTLER: It could … We're told that any little boy or girl can grow up to be president, but nobody would ever say that any little boy or girl could actually get on the ballot. And –

GREENBLATT: The ideas upon which this country was built – that anyone can run for public office and each voice counts – seem to be a thing of the past. This show, which is designed to find the ideal ‘American candidate’ from out of obscurity, will try to change all that!

VERITAS: Well, I think we all know, most of your cast isn't exactly obscure Rob, but RJ made a good point there. So, RJ, you're saying that American Candidate's selection process simulates the duping of the public that goes on in real politics.

CUTLER: That's true.

VERITAS: But, once word got out about the ten candidates you'd chosen, and it became obvious they were nothing like what you'd claimed you were looking for, why did you and Showtime keep telling the public and the press bullshit? Did you really think they could be so easily manipulated after the cast went public?

CUTLER: It doesn't take a lot … most people, even in this day and age, are not sophisticated viewers. They're not performing the analysis on all these different things. … And, of course, that’s been exploited by those who are controlling the message …

It’s your own fault if you’re not a sophisticated-enough viewer.

GREENBLATT: We think Montel will bring insight, humanity and even some much-needed entertainment value to the campaign process!


RJ, since American Candidate instituted a blackout after its quick stop in Charlottesville, and you forced the cast who was trying to campaign to stop what little talking to the public they were doing online, could you elaborate using an example that won't violate the secret campaign before you get the chance to edit the footage you've filmed?

CUTLER: If you look at Condoleezza Rice on the "Today" show, and you believe what she says, you're naive. You have to analyze what she says in the context of all sorts of things: what the administration's objective is, what they want you to believe, what they did yesterday, what they're going to do tomorrow. There's no expectation that what she is saying is actually true.

VERITAS: So what you've been doing is kind of like the description you gave Chocano and Hagan of Deaver, where he would get the press to focus on a positive image of Reagan's engagement with citizens, precisely when a program was coming out "screwing" those citizens. The press coverage would counter whatever a few people might be saying in dissent as well as what was really happening.

Kind of like when I publish your past statements that contradict what AmCan's actually doing and what you're currently telling the press, but they get buried by the managed messages you feed the press.

What do you think about that?

CUTLER: It doesn't matter what the text was. And now it's beyond that …

VERITAS: An example from real politics?

CUTLER: …the distance between what they say and what they do. You're almost foolish if you expect that what these guys are really doing and the picture of what they're doing have any relationship. Now, you are naïve if you expect them to be one and the same.

VERITAS: It sounds like you're trying to teach journalists and AmCan applicants a lesson. I know one of your cast claims we need to give people a reason to trust politicians and those in power, but it appears you're using American Candidate to teach folks not to trust them.

CUTLER: My hope is that after watching American Candidate the viewer will be that much more sophisticated when he returns to watching the major party candidates going up against each other.

GREENBLATT: Highly entertaining and really sophisticated!

VERITAS: [Rolls eyes]

So, RJ, the applicants and journalists who did expect that what you were really doing and what you were saying had some relationship … they were as you say, unsophisticated, naïve, almost foolish.

CUTLER: That's true. I take full responsibility for that …


CUTLER: I'm telling you what I'm telling you. … It’s your own fault if you’re not a sophisticated-enough viewer.

VERITAS: All right, let's shift to another topic.

RJ, the latest Showtime press release claims that the cast comes from different backgrounds, but based on the research presented in The AmCan Sham blog, it seems clear that at least 5 of the cast have long-standing careers as political activists, and you can make that 7 if you count the, well, let's call it unusual activism of Mack and Riley. And there are a lot of connections between these "various" candidates.

Wouldn't it be fair to say you actually cast people with one crucially similar background? Would you say that's true?

GREENBLATT: That sort of 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' phenomenon!

CUTLER: It's not true or not.

VERITAS: Hmmm … All right, let's try another topic. The press release claims that "over the course of 10 weeks, they will participate in a fierce competition designed to test their presidential mettle and to show viewers what really goes on in the making of a presidential candidate." But, shouldn't that read something like 6 weeks, and in the past tense? Since the original plans were cut, perhaps due to costs?

GREENBLATT: It's not the cheapest documentary reality show we've done, but it's not the most expensive. A reasonable amount of money!

VERITAS: RJ, to get back to the topic … we know you're going to show episodes over 10 weeks, but according to your own press, the taping will be less than 10 weeks and mostly over by then. Cast members will have already been eliminated by each other after your version of "the people" – like that small focus group in DC – decide which superficial, quick glimpses they like best.

CUTLER: Well, in a way. It's different, because American Candidate plays in the real world but doesn't play out in the real world.

VERITAS: Sort of like when you expected people in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Charlottesville to vote for candidates based on whirlwind stops in which, as one viewer put it, "first impressions [were] the only impressions" for those few people lucky enough to actually hear about the show's stops. And for those not so lucky, you expected them to vote based on even less.

CUTLER: It's not about a real political campaign.

VERITAS: But isn't it a little misleading to say things like this show will "emulate an actual campaign," and illustrate "media management," and "coalition building?"

During the actual campaigning phase you've forced your cast into a media blackout, tried to stop people like George Loper of Charlottesville from taking pictures of the cast, and had the cast delete campaign blogs. Okay, the cast did ignore the failed AmCan Internet website and created their own online sites, but your actions so far indicate YOU are mostly managing the media and their access to it, not them.

And as for coalition building … Would you comment on the rumor that you suddenly changed how the public could "vote" after New Hampshire and Pennsylvania because so many of your handpicked candidates already had "special interest" backing from "coalitions," and statewide call-in voting was getting skewed by these groups voting "party lines" by phone without ever even catching a glimpse of the candidates?

CUTLER: Most of us will never see the candidate that we vote for in person.

VERITAS: But that's not very enlightening RJ. Especially when it seems that, in your efforts to keep the show secret until after you've edited your footage and put your spin on it, you've created a farce of a fictional campaign. Right down to the tidbit in the press release suggesting you'll be recycling your previously eliminated cast as "running mates." I know, you cite Edwards, but at least Kerry had some semblance of a choice. Was the budget really so low?

GREENBLATT: A reasonable amount of money!

There's no artificial twists here! R. J. isn't trying to force situations where something illicit happens!

VERITAS: [gives Rob supremely skeptical look]


CUTLER: We will show how the sausage is made.

VERITAS: What? Where? At a sausage festival in one these "rural communities" you're talking about in the press release?

And by the way, speaking of costs, what happened to the "criss-crossing the country" you guys hyped? Did the bus break down? As far as we can tell, you've stayed strictly in the Eastern time zone and even hit Pennsylvania twice. Gas prices too high?

What's with this new spin? Where places like Charlottesville are suddenly supposed to be a "rural community" that represents a "key constituency." And Allentown is supposed to a be an urban "key constinuency" – one where basically only the press who barely commented on the candidates after the "press conference," saw the candidates actually debate the issues.

What's up with that?

CUTLER: We plan to countervail that in our show.

VERITAS: With what? Creative editing?

CUTLER: I have nothing to say about the process, because it's ongoing.

GREENBLATT: We have to take risks! We have to challenge the audience!

Some offbeat characters might make it into the final 12!

VERITAS: Look Rob, I know you said that last bit in that LA Times article about the California applicants back in May, but come on. Showtime's latest press release says 10. So, do you know something that contradicts that press release?

GREENBLATT: This show, which is designed to find the ideal ‘American candidate’ from out of obscurity, will try to change all that!

VERITAS: Yes, Rob, you've told us that. How about it RJ? Is there another twist? A way you might try to actually redeem some shred of democracy from this current mess?

CUTLER: We started thinking maybe this will contribute to the debate. We wanted to open up the process. We're in the process of making the decision.

VERITAS: Well, to use a comment you made to Hagan, that's leaving a lot of "distance between the word and its meaning." I hope you'll understand if I say I'm not foolishly naïve, but I will allow you a little bit of hope.

I tell you what, I'll let you escape this interview if you'll just answer one more question.

I've noticed that the Showtime tagline "The revolution will be televised" has gone missing from the American Candidate website. And in this latest press release, Showtime has suddenly stopped touting American Candidate as some kind of "groundbreaking," "revolutionary" form of democracy.

Why do you think that is?

CUTLER: As David Mamet says, always tell the truth, it's the easiest thing to remember. Eventually, these kinds of disconnections between image and truth have a way of catching up to you.

VERITAS: On that, we can agree.

Rob, any last words?

GREENBLATT: A lot of decisions are made well in advance. Most of what you're seeing in this year, with the exception of 'Huff,' and a couple of things that may come our way down the pike, I have had very little to do with.

VERITAS: Okaaay.

Thanks for the time and your words RJ.

It may not seem like it at times, but I really do hope you can make some changes and redeem the AmCan mess. It would do folks good, and make for some good Reality TV.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Lyricist rides through on a bicycle to sing elliptically to the tune of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" from "Butch Cassidy and ... SPIDER-MAN 2"

Hmmm ... What's this silly song doing smack dab
in the middle of this serious blog? Fits about as well as
it did in those movies somebody decided to stick it in.

Wait. That's not quite right. It got stuck in SPIDER-MAN 2
because somebody had already stuck it into Butch Cassidy
and the Sundance Kid
... a long, long time ago. That makes
it a "Classic" I guess... Yep, and there's all kinds of playful
ways it makes sense ... if you're silly. {grin} Well, anyway ...
Let's sing ... (and experiment in formatting how to "sing")


and -- ever so much more recently -- SPIDER-MAN 2]

[The-] SAME THOUGHTS / keep BUZZ-in'

but THAT / DOES-n't MEAN / that WE / have ALL
BE-COME / brain-DEAD --

CRE-a-TIV-i-TY ... SHOT.

WE'VE GOT / a RES-u-ME / to PROVE (TO "all SMART folks") ...

... we ... are... THE ...

... BEST / THINK-in' / PEO-ple / IN the WORLD.

Just ASK / all the FOLKS / who've GOT the

Old-school, phone-call net-

work ... WHAT OTH-er WAY to POW-er ...

We / thought / there / MIGHT ... JUST BE[E]

a-NOTH-er WAY to POW-ER ... BUT the SOU-R, ...

sad TRUTH is ALL ... us B[ZZZZ]-y types ...
know JUST one FLOW-er.

WE / KNOW / the folks we need to KNOW.

Beyond them / lies only strange, / unruly
weeds / that grow ...

off our bee-hive's ra - ...

-dar. ... WE'LL NEV-er NEED to fly
in THEIR weird di-rec-tion ...

... be-cause we're bees ....

And we know what we see[s].


WE / CAST / the BEST / that we / know HOW.

And WE / KNOW / much bet-ter than
the folks / who've had / a COW.

That's / why we make / T-

V ... NOT / all those peo-ple who applied

... that ... we ... don't ... see.

Monday, July 12, 2004

American Candidate (Showtime): Let's Play the AmCan Casting Game … Who's Your Connection?

When Showtime and RJ Cutler announced American Candidate, they suggested connections wouldn't matter. But, when it came to casting, it looks like they did.

Today, we're going to play an Internet search-based variation of six degrees of separation, one that illustrates some of the connections between several of American Candidate's players and illuminates aspects of the casting process neither Cutler nor Showtime is willing to comment on right now. And although they may not want to comment, a bit of googling reveals yet another way in which American Candidate seems to have played an old-fashioned political game.

Networking. The kind where who many of the cast knew seems to have helped get them on the show.

I know, those of you following this blog are shocked by this turn of events!

After all, you thought the various follies already exposed in this blog, such as Cutler's decision to cast exactly the sort of Ivy Leaguers, millionaires, and children of real presidential candidates that he claimed made people feel the real political process disenfranchised ordinary folks, were just an abberation. Especially since Cutler told The Guardian that "Just as American Idol went searching for undiscovered musical talent, American Candidate will be on the hunt for untapped political and leadership skill."

And besides, right smack over there on the AmCan website, there's a press release where Showtime executive Robert Greenblatt claims that although "The ideas upon which this country was built – that anyone can run for public office and each voice counts – seem to be a thing of the past... This show, which is designed to find the ideal ‘American candidate’ from out of obscurity, will try to change all that." And that "this unique series is designed to find an unknown leader from the ranks of ordinary citizens who could catapult to national prominence."

Surely, the casting crew of American Candidate wouldn't have chosen to go with already "tapped" political and leadership skill. The kind that makes a good many of the cast of American Candidate far from "obscure," but very well connected in the national networks of professional politics where they've advanced their careers. The kind that means cast members like Bruce Friedrich, Chrissy Gephardt, Keith Boykin, Malia Lazu, and Lisa Witter already act as advisors, executives, directors, or sit on several boards of various political activist organizations and spend a good portion of their lives on the conference / convention circuit or being interviewed by the major media in print or on TV.

Just because Jennifer Netherby of Variety reported in June, after the cast was revealed, that "producers of the mock-presidential election series hired experts in grass-roots political recruitment to research potential contestants before they were contacted and informed about the show," doesn't mean that those experts weren't picking "average" or "ordinary" citizens like Cutler and Greenblatt claimed.

Surely the "experts in grass-roots political recruitment" wouldn't have gone with what they already knew -- like those professionals RJ told the Kansas City Star he didn't want when he said that "The Founding Fathers did not envision political professionals running this country … They were going to emerge from other walks of life." The kinds of professionals who wouldn't need the show to function as what Cutler described to CNN as "a platform" for contestants "to launch their political careers."

Surely they wouldn't have so blatantly contradicted Showtime's and Cutler's descriptions of American Candidate by relying on the non-revolutionary, usual form of networking that already gives us politicians.

If they did though … and picked cast members who actually functioned almost as nexuses in the activist networks … the connections amongst some of the supposedly "unknown leader[s] from the ranks of ordinary citizens" might look something like this ...

Lisa Witter who was named the Rising Star of the Year by the Washington State Democrats in 1998 has been rising ever since. Oxygen named her as a "Fearless Leader" and honored her as "an outstanding activist and expert on women's issues." She also is the co-founder of Institute for a Democratic Future and a former Emerge executive committee member and current advisory board member. Emerge is supported by American Candidate Advisor Marie Wilson whose statement that "Emerge will create a whole new pool of vibrant, dynamic and politically-savvy candidates. We need more organizations like Emerge," appears as a rotating endorsement quote on the organization's front page.

Lisa Witter and Marie Wilson also crossed paths just this last April when both were slated speakers at the national April 2004 Women's Funding Network Conference.

The timing may well have been fortuitous, since an article recently released by Women's e News reveals that Marie Wilson "helped recruit female applicants." (Although, as you know, Witter's late appearance has raised many other questions.)

Witter is also Executive Vice President and General Manager of Fenton Communications, "the country's largest public interest strategy and media firm," and Fenton and Witter's position there make her a major player in so many circles it's difficult to list them all.

But I will give you a sampling.

Fenton Communications "current and former" clients include:

The John F. Kennedy School of Government, where of course, AmCan advisor Dr. Elaine Kamarck currently hangs her hood.

Showtime's American Candidate "Strategic Partner" "Rock the Vote"

Showtime (though that appears to be an isolated case of one show)

The "Institute for Policy Studies" where Malia Lazu is "the project director for Democracy Action Project."

And, as they note in their latest newsletter, this spring, Fenton also worked with the LGBT community and is currently working with groups such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Freedom to Marry -- a "gay and non-gay partnership campaign seeking to win the right for same-sex couples to marry."

This is one of the major issues in which LGBT advocates Keith Boykin and Chrissy Gephardt are deeply involved via the National Black Justice Coalition (Boykin is President) and the National Stonewall Democrats (Gephardt is their spokeswoman and Grassroots Campaign Corps Director).

In addition, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, for whose causes Boykin has often worked and by whom he has been honored for his work, oftentimes partners with the National Stonewall Democrats on various activist projects. And of course, as the various press releases in the last few weeks have made eminently clear, Boykin advised President Clinton on LGBT matters and Chrissy Gephardt did the same for her presidential contender father. There's little need to examine Boykin's or Gephardt's connections extensively here. A quick google of either reveals more than enough press to expell any doubt about their connections and experience in highly political positions.

I will mention, though, that they appear in a trifecta link in Trailmix, the National Stonewall Democrats' blog. Trailmix notes "Chrissy will be joined on American Candidate by our friends Keith Boykin and Malia Lazu." and "Malia is a field director for the Young Voter Alliance, a new partnership effort of the Stonewall Student Network and four other groups, which seeks to turn out young voters for Democrats this fall."

Meanwhile, The Pace, the blog for the Young Democrats of America who are one of the groups partnering with the Stonewall Student Network on the Young Voter Alliance, has announced that "We have two friends of YDA that are running as 'American Candidates' - Malia Lazu and Lisa Witter.

And both Lisa Witter and Malia Lazu were slated to appear at "Take Back America" the 2004 National Conference in DC for "Campaign for America's Future."

Yet another of the groups that make up the Young Voter Alliance is Clickback America. As Clickback America explains, the organization is a partner with and "Each time you take an action at Click Back America, $1 will be donated on your behalf to the Voter Fund." And as you are no doubt aware, based on Lisa Witter's and's press releases, is one of Witter's major clients.

Furthermore, like Witter, Lazu also has crossed paths with AmCan advisor Marie Wilson. In the last year, Malia Lazu and Marie Wilson were speakers at least two of the same conferences.

And Marie Wilson has worked before with the Center for Voting and Democracy where Malia has served on the board of directors.

However, Lazu has other connections as well, too many in fact to list them all here. Suffice it to say that in addition to her duties with the Young Voter Alliance, her many conference and convention appearances, and the other organizations she serves, the Young Democrats of America also note that "She was named "Activist of the Month" by MTV [Viacom] in June 2000, and is a board member of the Youth Council of The Partnership for Excellence in Government as a representative of MTV [Viacom]. She currently sits on the following boards; YouthVote, Dunk the Vote, Council for Excellence in Government, Declaration Generation and the Center for Voting and Democracy-education committee."

And this is just a sampling of the connections -- for Malia as well as the others. For the curious, there is much more available simply by googling.

So, what does all this prove once we realize that several contestants, a few show advisors, and even organizations affiliated in some ways with Showtime and American Candidate move in the same circles? Is it a conspiracy?

No. It's not a casting conspiracy. It's networking – the way things are always done – in business and politics. Cutler's "experts in grass-roots political recruitment" simply gave him the other experts in grass-roots activism that he didn't hire.

The problem, though, is that Cutler and Showtime led hundreds of people, and the press, to believe that they wouldn't be rewarding just the sort of networking connections that most of Cutler's cast has but that "ordinary" "unknown leaders" don't. They used Cutler's reputation and cultural capital, and that of the "advisors" listed in the AmCan press releases, to persuade people to believe that they meant what they said.

Showtime and Cutler chose a cast in which it's obvious the majority of the 10 picks already have the networks and connections needed to launch political careers. A cast already so busily engaged in politics, that for many of them, politics in some form or another is their career, and one in which candidates such as Bruce Friedrich, Chrissy Gephardt, Keith Boykin, Lisa Witter, and Malia Lazu already are frequently interviewed by major media. They're far from obscure and certainly not the "non-pros" Cutler once claimed he wanted to encourage.

Back in May, when AmCan was still stringing the "ordinary" applicants along while it invited the hand-picked ones out to LA, he told Carina Chocano of the LA Times that "Our goal is to identify future leaders," and "I think it's more realistic and exciting to imagine each of the 12 people who are on our show returning home to their communities, getting involved, running for city council, running for Congress or mayor or senator and then looking back on this 12 years from now and saying, 'Wow, half of those 12 people are in positions in government now and one of them is rising quickly.'"

But the people he'd invited out to LA in May were already prominent leaders in various political organizations. Of course they're going to go back to their communities and get involved – hell, that's their real careers. Richard Mack was even running for governor when American Candidate convinced him to give it up.

And all of this raises a few interesting questions.

To draw upon on AmCan quote in another of my entries, if this show is about "a political system that isn't working," and a "groundbreaking" approach to politics, then why did the casting process use one of the oldest political systems around?

Does anyone really expect that using the same old methods will produce something revolutionary?

And finally … particularly when they've selected a group that had the means, the connections and the press access to run for real if they so chose …

What does it say about American Candidate's casting and the show itself when they recruited people who already could have run for city council, mayor, or Congress, but didn't?

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Lyricist marches through to sing a recap of the "SUPPORT ME!" BUTTON issue ... (to the tune of Yankee Doodle)


"SUPPORT ME!" mouse clicks ... do not count.

They're only window dress-ing --

an interactive ... simulated ... democratic-less thing.

Imag-ine that you have a voice.

Think ... you pull the lev-er?

BUT ... the truth is ... you've no choice.

Just click your mouse... What-ev-er.

Now, every-body ... with a clue ...

knew THAT was what the CLICKS-were.

But some folks, like Joe Caulfield, thought

they'd play the role of tricks-ter.


THE QUESTION is ... what kind of game

(in future) might deter-mine ...

which of the folks who throw their hat

should bow at op'ning cur-tain?


The only folks who ought to vote

are those who've got to see you

do something presidential-like.

(Not pre-shrunk network voo-doo).

Imag-ine that you have a voice.

Think ... you pull the lev-er?

BUT ... the truth is ... you've no choice.

Just click your mouse... What-ev-er.

Friday, July 09, 2004

American Candidate (Showtime): Supporter Buttons Make Some Folks Confused

As the appointed date approaches when RJ Cutler, Montel Williams (and, who knows, maybe the cast, advisors, Paris Hilton?) will face "the music" (?) at the Summer Television Critics Association hype-a-thon, it's time to get a few more stories straight. It's time to clear away the confusion surrounding the supposed "votes" applicants could garner on their webpages, or the press might miss the point.

Let's get this straight: Those "SUPPORT ME!" mouse clicks could never have counted as votes (and were never meant to be).

Unless you're in the mood for herring this morning, ignore the cries of perfidy you see printed here and there claiming Joe Caulfield's high clicks are evidence of failed democracy.

Yes, Showtime and Cutler have betrayed their claims of democracy, but Caulfield's clicks are not the case to make – unless you'd like to give Showtime a way to dismiss your case.

But wait! some say. How could the support buttons not count? How could we possibly ignore Joe's 96,353 "votes"? How could AmCan ignore them too?

It's easy if you'll use your brain.

When Matt Smith of SF Weekly spoke of "votes," he mostly framed the issue right. The words on AmCan's webpages, words I've covered here before, caused confusion that AmCan, Showtime, and Cutler then ignored except in isolated cases here and there.

The carefully worded Showtime webpages created an impression that many people accepted without careful thought. Statements calling the online window dressing a "race" and telling readers "ON THE WEB: See How They Run" and "For the next four months, AMERICAN CANDIDATE applicants have the opportunity to build up public support on this website," by "campaigning online and in person," made folks think those support buttons mattered.

BUT anyone, including Joe, who checked out Showtime's American Candidate webpages and message boards, would have known that this could not be so. Supporter buttons are nothing more than a lazy attempt at interactivity. And as I've noted previously, AmCan is poor, in more ways than one, when it comes to that.

First point that you should see: The American Candidate staff never took the time to design a voting system that could be even remotely fair.

So, it's a simple matter to vote twice, or thousands of times if you like, by deleting cookies. And if you're really enterprising, as some were during the run-up to June, a computer program can do the trick and rack up thousands of votes lickety-split.

Some of the cast's supporters quickly discovered this little detail already known to many applicants. A poster in Keith Boykin's blog revealed the trick in early June, although you won't be able to see the post now since Keith's blog entries are gone, although I have archives of those entries safely locked away. (Was it me, Keith? Using all those wonderfully clueless comments pertaining to the selection process here in my blog?)

Second point: Even if Showtime and American Candidate had taken the time to devise a somewhat fair voting system, they still were so slow on the updating of the candidate webpages that supporter clicks obviously could not matter.

Think a moment. How do you compare the clicks for an applicant whose page was up in March to the clicks for one who didn't get a page until late May? Since AmCan didn't have the time (Or manpower? Remember, Rob said he was the only one on web) to add more than a few candidate webpages a day, it would have been impossible to call the clicks fair.

Third point: Given the un-interactivity and problems with the webpages anyway, just what would supporter clicks show?

Little more than a measure of the free publicity for American Candidate via radio shows and mailing lists sent out to folks already part of a constituency. The problems with American Candidate's design were and are too great to think that supporter clicks show the appearance of some new Abe Lincoln not simply preaching to his choir.

When Cutler told Bob Garfield, "We're going to take everything we do very, very seriously," it seems he didn't mean the "everything" pertaining to Internet interaction. But then, unlike their advisor Joe Trippi, Showtime claims their "revolution" -- that isn't -- will be on TV.

So what's the point of supporter clicks?

That they encouraged applicants who couldn't see beyond the misleading words on Showtime's and American Candidate's webpages to give the show free publicity.

And more importantly, that their poor design, and AmCan's lack of clarity when it was clear the public was confused, are still more evidence of a sham. One of a different sort, where confusion on the issues is allowed, and even encouraged in some ways, as long as it's beneficial to the agenda of those in power.

That's a shameful move to make -- especially when you claim your show will be both beneficial and important to democracy. We've seen enough of that BS already these last few years. We don't need to see that technique reiterated and reinforced on Showtime.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

American Candidate (Showtime): Scheduling Showtimes

While sifting through the notes and papers surrounding me, and plotting the trajectory of this blog, it has occurred to me that we need a schedule -- some regular showtimes for the public to read. Since Showtime's American Candidate seems to follow Eastern time schedules, why not us as well.

And, since seriously long entries by me seem to be the norm (and opposite of Showtime's far between news briefs), I'll set some days as well for respite in between.

Morning reads at 8, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. While you wake with coffee or tea, you'll have a piece to read to start your day.

Yesterday's article was long, so today's will be brief. A simple note of what is on my mind.

Today I'm reading stories from the past, re-made then lost in Hollywood – except in scandal sheets.

You'll know this one from your past. Think back to when you first heard of Daniel Webster. No, not the version put out by Condi, when she tried to use him, wrongly, for a case for war. Try another version, better told. The Devil and Daniel Webster.

In that one, Webster saves a man's soul. Impossible odds for anyone but him, but Webster was a rare man. The kind you want on your side when all seems all but lost.

They said, when he stood up to speak, stars and stripes came right out in the sky … and when he argued a case, he could turn on the harps of the blessed and the shaking of the earth underground. That was the kind of man he was

And the new story surrounding Daniel and the Devil is an interesting one too -- another tale of costs and prices paid – but that will be for another day.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

American Candidate (Showtime): Hunting the Artifacts of American Candidate's Lost Dream

As the last vestiges of the lingering music and the holiday fade, I'm back from tracking artifacts of good ideas gone awry and lost, but I'm still thinking of the past. There's time this week, for us at least, to pause and reflect on how American Candidate became a sham. What Cutler intended, and instead, what happened.

Last weekend, Showtime's American Candidate was tracing figure eights in well-worn paths and back in Pennsylvania again for a second take. They've yet to move beyond the confines of that Eastern time space, but time is running out if they want that red, white and blue bus to make its way across the country. By July 21st, they must be in LA to face voters of a different sort. How many fast stops can they make before they reach the ocean?

I wonder if RJ Cutler watched the fireworks show at Penn's Landing on the Fourth and gave a thought to his independence that he sold (and his soul?) when he made a deal with Showtime's execs.

The Fourth was supposed to be American Candidate's glory. On Sunday, they again played retail politics, this time in festivities ready-made but not for them, pitching to the Philly crowds there to see other attractions. But what's one more display in the midst of so much more to see? Earlier last week, they were in DC, and that was where they were supposed to be to celebrate the holiday. But not hidden away in production booths. No, once upon a time, Cutler dreamed they'd be before the public there and making their own fireworks.


What's needed here is a little history. In this rush of filming, when even reporters "on the campaign trail" haven't the time to stop and think, or check their facts before they repeat the nearest "news" at hand, it's easy to forget the promises that were made and miss the compromises that occurred.

(Oh please, not history, I hear some say. This is reality TV, and everyone knows that kind of show changes every day. All right, let's put this another way. A crime has been committed. We must track back and find the clues that brought us here. The jury has already set a date to hear the case.)

Track back to Fall 2002, when word of RJ Cutler's plans first garnered serious notice in the news. Back then AmCan had big plans with FX. Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at USC described it as "100 people that none of us have ever heard of [getting] a chance, ultimately, to run for president, courtesy of the FX Channel." And even the The Observer overseas took note.

Cutler wanted to find a young "Abe Lincoln out there, somebody whose vision could turn on the public in an exciting way," and he was willing to spend six months from January to July to let the public find that American Candidate. With that time, he'd start not with 10 but with 100, and "the show would test the true openness of US democracy."

Even then, he knew "We're taught that every young boy or girl can grow up to be president, but we all know that's not really true," but still he was determined to try and in the trying "ask whether or not anyone really can become president." Instead of politics designed to "reward" those already part of the "machinery," Cutler would present a new game.

The hundred would be unknowns from outside the machinery, running in real-time, and "audience members and at-home viewers, voting by telephone and Internet," would winnow them out week by week. Chris Wright called it "The Ultimate TV Candidacy" and wondered if it might be "a wonderful, Marxian chance for the proletariat to rise to prominence," though he added a question in parentheses that we should keep in mind. "Although the elite still control the airwaves, so that wouldn’t go too far?"

The chance is there, though, and people take it. They ask for applications and the chance to be heard. Regular folks with passion who believe in RJ Cutler because of who he is. Despite the misgivings some have about "reality TV," they look at RJ Cutler's past work, and they decide to trust him, to trust that he is serious about this idealistic dream to really try democracy.

Move forward to February 2003 as executive reality begins to set in. It's February, and 100 is now just 18. This time, it's the New York Observer taking a look,
and Jason Gay says RJ Cutler knows how to play the reality TV game, but he "has learned how to negotiate the system without completely selling out."

Although we're now down to just 18, the plan is still to give them time … but less than he once wanted. The hope remains, however, and Cutler tells Gay "The scenario I am allowing myself to hope for is that when you turn on the TV set on Jan. 15, where the 18 finalists are introduced, you recognize one person whose belief system sparks your own and who you find inspirational. …And then over the course of the next 13 weeks, one or more of those people really emerge as serious thinkers with fresh ideas who excite the public and when we announce our winner—if the winner chooses to run for office—that their ideas are taken seriously in the political debate. That to me is as successful as we could dream."

But he's savvy too, and tells Gay, "Look, networks are going to do what makes money. …And what makes money is viewers." He knows how networks play the game and that they go for a "commercial idea" first.

And then it's May 2003 and Cutler and FX part ways. The cost is too high to keep the dream intact and let the people choose as candidates wage extended campaigns. As the New York Times reports "the network decided it could not afford to give the show the resources it would need to be successful," and Cutler says, "We remain passionate and confident about what this program should be." It's an honorable parting as both sides say they want to do justice to democracy.

Then it's Fall and Winter 2003 and Showtime queries the FEC. According to the FEC, Showtime says that it "intends to produce and distribute a fictional depiction of a presidential campaign," that will be "social commentary on the American political system as well as political leadership and character in America in an 'entertaining reality format.'" The candidates will still be filmed over a three to four month period, but they cannot be "testing the waters" for an actual candidacy.

The FEC grants its approval, and by January 2004 the NYT reports that AmCan has found its home. R. J. Cutler tells the press American Candidate is "designed to engage disinterested voters in the political process, which it would not cheapen," and we can still participate as we vote by Internet and phone and follow the candidates week by week.

On January 12th, Cutler tells the Kansas City Star "The Founding Fathers did not envision political professionals running this country," and "They were going to emerge from other walks of life." And the Star reports that "thousands are expected to file. They'll campaign via the Web site this spring and will be winnowed by the public to the 12 finalists who will appear on the show."

In another interview on January 30th, Cutler reassures Bob Garfield that "we're going to take everything we do very, very seriously," and even "we want to be able to reflect upon the role that the media plays, and we want to ask questions about what we're looking for in a presidential candidate."

He says they've received "thousands of requests for applications" and although he doesn't answer the question of how the twelve will be selected, he does give details about how the twelve will campaign. They'll "crisscross the country," and move gradually from a "retail process where the emphasis is on going door to door and meeting people and caucus-like events" to "more of a wholesale process" where "the emphasis will be more on media and advertising and large-scale debates." As Cutler stresses, "In every way our goal is to emulate what happens in an actual presidential campaign."

It's exciting stuff for people who believe politics matters – especially those folks who want to believe that Showtime will be truly giving them a chance, even if they don't have Ivy League degrees, connections, or a previous political pedigree. It's a huge opportunity to take a shot at a closed system and let their ideas be judged by the public, by people like them, not some elite group in backroom where they'd never have a shot.

Then it's Spring again, and changes come so quickly it's hard to tell just what has occurred. 18 candidates become 12. The age requirements of the presidency disappear. 13 weeks drops to 10, then 5 or 6.

But, the applicants still believe it's possible to make this work, and they want to make it work. They want it to succeed. They fill out long questionnaires and make videos they give to Showtime in perpetuity for free, and when the American Candidate website goes active in March, with message boards and slowly appearing candidate pages, many applicants devote still more time to the show – evidence that they care.

They think they're campaigning for the chance to be one of Cutler's and Showtime's 12. They think their efforts matter. They believe Showtime means it when it says "Stand Up and Be Heard," and they hope that their efforts and the show itself will be treated seriously and be given proper attention by Showtime. They want it be the revolution Showtime hypes. One aided by people like themselves who'll fight for the chance to change the status quo and revive democracy.

They believe Showtime exec. Robert Greenblatt when he tells the press that “The ideas upon which this country was built – that anyone can run for public office and each voice counts – seem to be a thing of the past." But, “this show, which is designed to find the ideal ‘American candidate’ from out of obscurity, will try to change all that. In the hands of these extraordinary producers, I think it will have amazing relevance to our country in a presidential election year – and who knows, maybe our winner will actually decide to enter the race.”

As the months pass with almost no word from Showtime except the occasional reassurance that their efforts matter and that they'll hear something soon, they keep trying to spread the word. They wait, patiently, for webpages and blue stars they're told they'll get. In the absence of help from Showtime and American Candidate, they create their own webpages off site. They put forth their views in the forums and work on their messages, even though it appears the boards are only monitored by moderators to delete posts. And even after word leaks out that 24 have been flown to LA for final interviews in May, they keep trying when Showtime and Cutler tell them selection is still open till June.

They keep the faith in an impossible dream.

They keep it long after Showtime and Cutler have betrayed their own faith in the dream, and cut the corners, cut the cost, cut the democracy, cut it all except the bullshit.

They kept it right up until the second week of June, when without a word from Showtime, the chosen TV candidates announced themselves. A perfunctory e-mail from Showtime telling them the obvious – that they hadn't been selected – didn't come until later.

And for the last month, they've known and seen what the press doesn't.

The press reports that thousands applied by the April 9 deadline, but the applicants know that evidence suggests only around 416 actually filled out the full Showtime questionnaire and made videos by that date.

They know what Johanna Neumann of the LA Times and Liz Sidoti of AP "on the campaign trail" do not – that Showtime only chose 10 not 12. That the majority of the ten were far from "obscure" and already had extensive experience with politics. That half appear to have not even applied by the April 9 deadline and were instead privately recruited.

They know that the campaigning resembles nothing like the original plans. That it's rushed, and that Showtime has not allowed candidates to spend more than a few days – much less than a week – in any one spot. That the people – the public Cutler wanted to engage – has oftentimes been put off by American Candidate's seeming disorganization, the lack of information about the candidates, and the lack of care about the communities' efforts or the benefit to them.

They know that in terms of news or coverage resembling real campaigns there is little more than last minute pleas for help sent out to constituencies candidates already had. That American Candidate does not want the public to "See How They Run" at all, until after votes have been cast and the show can be edited and aired. Even if that leaves people in the communities being asked to vote confused.

And now, if Johanna Neumann of the LA Times is correct about the elimination process, they know that the chosen TV candidates themselves, instead of the public, are doing some of the "voting" as to who is eliminated from the race.

What was once conceived of as an open process, designed to open the process to all of us, has gradually become so closed that the public plays virtually no role in it until the end. Then, presumably, we'll get to choose between two we may not even want – just like always.

Showtime's version of a revolution isn't one. It is a far cry from Cutler's original dream, the one he might have thought of on Sunday.


Because once upon time, Cutler dreamed that after months of engagement between the candidates and the public, in an open test of democracy, American Candidate would culminate with a convention on the National Mall in DC. It would be live, on the Fourth of July, and at that convention, three remaining candidates would fight for our votes, and we would choose our candidate.

Some very different fireworks than the dud Showtime's trying to sell us now. Now, it's not democracy. Whether they wise up, and whether it can be made good TV before they must face the jury, remains to be seen.