Tomorrow marks the end of the latest season of What Would You Do?, a hidden-camera production of ABC News hosted by longtime correspondent John Quinones that uses actors to stage uncomfortable scenarios designed to find intolerance and bigotry among average Americans. Not too many years ago, ABC News felt it had to apologize when an on-air reporter wore a coat indoors in front of an image of the Capitol building, to make it appear she was on location, when in fact she was at ABC's Washington, D.C. studios.
Now, the network's news division routinely uses deception to lure unsuspecting citizens into situations aimed at catching them spewing hate against Muslims, gays, Hispanics, etc. In reality, of course, all the Friday night program really demonstrates is the low opinion ABC News has for average Americans' character, and the network's obvious need to prod their audience to behave better. Here are five of the worst examples our analysts have found over the past six years:
1. On January 6, 2009, What Would You Do? went international. The show hired actors to play "ugly Americans" in France. The clueless characters loudly disrupted real French citizens sitting in a cafe. One woman told the walking cliches, who wore George W. Bush memorabilia, "This is nearly as if I had a t-shirt, 'I like Hitler,' you know?" "Bob" and "Bonnie" offered up the worst American stereotypes. Quinones cheered that the French "seem to relish putting them in their place." [MP3 audio here.]
2. On February 3, 2011, Good Morning America previewed the latest show. In an attempt to test Arizona's "anti-immigration" law, an actor playing a security guard attempted to deport people who looked Hispanic. (The nonsensical concept of a security guard deporting people wasn't questioned.) [MP3 audio here.]
3. In a June 14, 2013 episode, a white man walked into a restaurant. The actor snarled vitriolic attacks on an Arab man (another actor): "Since when are they hiring Muslims around here?...Bet you go home and learn how to make bombs....I don't want a terrorist touching my food or taking my order." In this episode of What Would You Do?, like in most of the shows, the real Americans who wander into the contrived scenarios tell the fictional bigot to stop his attack. [MP3 audio here.]
4. Also on June 14, 2013, the program's host wanted to see if restaurant patrons would lash out at a faux Boy Scout who announces he's gay. One child, also an actor, sneered, "It's not called gay scouts, it's called Boy Scouts!" [MP3 audio here.]
Other examples show the repetitive nature of the show: The latest season included a woman going on a racist rant against South Koreans while getting a foot massage; a bigoted basketball team mocking their gay teammate; and a transgender student facing hate while trying to buy a dress.
Perhaps the fact that most Americans aren't racist might explain the ratings decline. When it premiered in 2007, the show attracted almost eight million viewers. At the end of 2012, it was down to five.
One constant in the show is that Quinones and his producers are constantly disappointed.
Instead of fulfilling the show's goal of finding intolerance, Americans come to the aid of those being insulted and fight back against the bigoted actors. (In 2006, NBC gave up on a such a show when the network failed to find actual racism.)
In six years worth of episodes, one scenario has yet to be explored: Hidden cameras watching as actors, pretending to be liberal journalists, talk to ABC News hosts, people like John Quinones. Perhaps the actors would mock the American populace as racist and homophobic. It's not hard to guess how ABC's reporters might react in such a situation.