ABC News’ Unethical, Dishonest and Biased “What Would You Do?”

ABC’s News’ periodic segment “What Would You Do?” is public opinion manipulation crossed with bad social behavior research, seeking the entertainment value of hidden camera shows. The segments stage outrageous public scenarios—a caretaker mistreating a wheelchair-bound senior, for example, to see how bystanders will react. Any potential benefit of the segments—might they encourage people to consider intervening when they see blatantly unethical  behavior?—is swallowed whole by the more likely negative results. One is that the existence of a hidden camera show that stages such charades creates inevitable cynicism and skepticism. Most witnesses to crimes and other shocking public conduct have enough mental and social hurdles to clear before they can reach the decision to take action without ABC News giving them another. The thought “I wonder if this is fake?” may be just enough to still someone’s ethics alarms and cause them to discount the duties of rescue and confrontation. Indeed, several of the scenarios stages for the show have been unconvincing. “What Would You Do?” also provides a convenient rationalization for those who are inclined to ignore fellow human beings in peril: “This must be set-up.”

In addition, “What Would You Do?” often carries a more sinister feature, courtesy of the biased journalists at ABC. Sometimes the simulated conduct appears to be designed to portray the worst of human values, with the clear implication that such conduct is common in America. And sometimes, like last week, this is driven by a political agenda.

“What Would You Do?” hit rock bottom with this episode, which falsely purported to provide insight on Arizona’s SB 1070. From the ABC News website:

“What Would You Do?” decided to travel to Arizona. We installed our hidden cameras at BK Carne Asada and Hotdogs, a popular restaurant in Tucson, and hired actors to portray an off-duty security guard and a Latino customer. Later, host John Quinones, who is Hispanic, went undercover to see how restaurant patrons would react when he was the one facing racial profiling.”

The segment was pointedly introduced by an overview of the controversy surrounding Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law. ABC’s clear implication: this is what the law permits; this is what racial profiling looks like. That was more than misleading. It was a lie.

What the segment actually showed was a cartoonish staged scene in which an actor costumed as a generic security guard crudely harassed Hispanic actors. Barging into the restaurant, the “guard” loudly declared, “I’m just looking to make sure these guys are legal citizens!  And if they’re not legal citizens, they shouldn’t be here! They should be deported. They look Mexican!”

What was wrong with this? A lot:

  • Such conduct has absolutely nothing to do with the Arizona law, which only applies when a law enforcement officer has legitimately detained an individual for another legal infraction. ABC is intentionally misrepresenting a law its producers and reporters don’t like, to make it appear consistent with President Obama’s irresponsible and factually wrong statement that someone “buying ice cream” could be harassed by police because of how he looked.
  • Security guards don’t arrest people or check their credentials in restaurants! The law isn’t enforced by security guards. ABC couldn’t put the actor in a police uniform (that’s illegal) so it resorted to this, which made the scene as plausible and realistic as if the actor was costumed as Bozo the Clown or an Imperial Storm Trooper. ABC was slyly (Stupidly? Unconscionably?) conveying the ridiculous message that Arizona’s law would embolden uniformed jackasses to engage in spontaneous racial harassment raids. Has this happened anywhere? No. Would the law encourage such outrageous conduct? Only in the minds of deluded ABC zealots. Is it likely to happen in Arizona or anywhere else? Of course not. In fact, it is less likely to happen in Arizona, where a higher percentage of the public is of Hispanic heritage.
  • The conduct portrayed was not racial profiling, which is a controversial law enforcement tactic based on statistical probabilities that subjects innocent citizens to increased scrutiny and inconvenience solely because of their appearance. There was no law enforcement involved, or official authority misapplied. The scene was no more nor less than “obstreperous jerk with likely psychiatric issues disrupts an eating place and starts insulting customers.” [In the segment, almost everyone in the restaurant reacted vocally and assertively in condemnation of the boorish security guard’s unprovoked harassment. This did not, as ABC implied, prove that most Americans would find the operation of the Arizona statute offensive, but that most Americans won’t tolerate a bigoted idiot interrupting their meal and bullying strangers. Big surprise. ]
  • The fake episode could easily launch rumors that this was how the Arizona statute operated, which was exactly what ABC seems to have intended.
  • Segment host Quinones introduced the episode by saying this:

“So, we took our cameras down to Arizona, where a controversial, new law would give police the authority to question and perhaps deport anyone who, in their eyes, appears to be in the U.S. illegally.”

Unforgivable and despicable, journalism at its worst. ABC News has an obligation to accurately inform the public, not to actively misinform it. This was not a fair or factual description of  SB 1070, which does not “give police the authority to question and perhaps deport anyone who, in their eyes, appears to be in the U.S. illegally.” John Quinones and his illegal immigration sympathizing superiors may oppose the law, but they may not use the resources of ABC News to erode support for it (this segment was produced shortly after polls showed that at least half the American public approve of the Arizona law, much to the mainstream media’s disgust) through intentional misrepresentation.  Quinones also employed the favorite dishonest device used by many in the media as well as pro-illegal immigration advocates, referring to the law as “anti-immigration.” This is not shorthand, but intentional obfuscation. The law is prolegal immigration, and anti-illegal immigration. ABC and Quinones are violating all standards of competent, fair and objective journalism by using an inaccurate and pejorative term.

Despite the unethical structure and assumptions of the “What Would You Do?” segment, “Good Morning America” hosts Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos introduced it as legitimate perspective on the Arizona law:

Roberts: “Also this morning, imagine being threatened with deportation, even though you haven’t committed a crime and it’s all because of how you look. John Quinones goes undercover to Arizona’s controversial immigration law…”

Stephanopoulos: “We’re going to turn now to our undercover report from the front lines of the border wars. Arizona’s immigration law passed last year. It stirred up a lot of controversy. So, John Quinones went to Tucson to put people’s attitudes to an unusual test. And as I said earlier, this is sort of an ultimate, “What would you do?”

Well, at least George got the last part right. The segment was the ultimate example of an unethical format, as well as the ultimate example of terrible TV journalism and biased network news:  misleading, inaccurate, manipulative, poorly researched, politically motivated, and incompetent.

37 thoughts on “ABC News’ Unethical, Dishonest and Biased “What Would You Do?”

  1. Unethical? Yes… and for all the reasons you mentioned. Surprising? Not in the least. This is why so few people even watch network news any more, much less take it to heart. Besides, Stephanopoulos was in partisan politics for too long for anyone to accept him as an unbiased journalist. Something like this only proves why.

    • Forget that program. What shocked me was the one with a kid in public announcing he does not feel like he is a boy. Can you imagine what impression that has on our young kids who just wish to hold on to a thought and repeat anything they hear and what parents have to go through as is. The program is outrageous. ABC is not doing itself a favor by broadcasting this idiotic program.

      • These sort of programs- and worse- can very well have a negative effect on children who are coming to terms with their identity and developing their personality. But this also means coming to terms with the reality of their beings. If they can’t cope initially, they should have guidance from their parents. But when they see shows telling them it’s all right to take on the mannerisms of the opposite sex or- worse- are actually encouraged to do so by films, teachers and even their own (misguided) parents, then they are being herded onto a road of darkness and depravity. This isn’t the only form of depravity that they’re being exposed to, either, or the only media that reaches out to them. I suppose, even all the forms of evil influences that beset them, we should be thankful that any of them turn out as normal human beings. But none of them should be or deserve to be assailed in this manner. Of all the dangers that threaten this country and civilization, this is the one I fear and despise the most.

  2. I just obviously watched a ‘summer repeat’ of this episode of “What would you do” and I whole heartedly agree with the above comment. I have lived in Three Points, Az. since July 5, 1985 and have seen how ‘illegal immigrants’ have progressed in their invasion of the U.S. I have 5 acres in Three Points, Az. and never needed a fence till my wife came here from Russia and found actual campsites on the property. She spent 2 years and several months of tests and verifications at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to immigrate LEGALLY to this country. So I fenced the 5 acres and am patiently waiting for an ‘illegal’ to climb it. How would I know if ‘it’ was an ‘illegal’……..why would a citizen of the U.S. willfully climb on to someone else’s property.
    The ‘illegal’ Hispanics protest that they are human beings. They call themselves Hispanics because they are ashamed of their Mexican heritage. They do not like to be called Mexicans. If Caucasian people were to overrun the Mexican boarder heading south to steal other peoples jobs, health care, overrun the hospital emergency rooms, form street gangs and join drug cartels, how long do you think the corrupt Mexican government would let one of these individuals ‘run free’?
    SB1070 was the closest this state has come to enforcing the ‘boarder war’. But half (the important articles) were struck down because the general populous has no way of knowing what goes on behind closed doors. The state of Georgia has enacted a similar law because it seems that is the only way to stem this flood of lawlessness from the south.
    Aside from having so many ‘born here legally’ children to influence the vote and allow their children living along the border near Douglas, Az. to board school buses with no ID for a completely FREE education and returning them to the boarder at the end of the school day while the school administrators turn a blind eye because the more students they have on the roster the more government subsidy money they receive. Right now this country has many problems of which Illegal Immigration is just one of them. In time I believe laws such as SB1070 will oversee the lawless rampage (hidden from the general public) when the citizens of this country are fed up with giving the Hispanic Illegal’s FREEBEE’s!

    • Are you aware that your ancestors once did the same thing by coming to this country? The only difference is us Europeans killed the natives. America has always had an illegal immigration problem, just ask any Native American.

    • “They” call themselves hispanics? Who are “they”? The Latino population in the U.S.? That’s a massive generalization sir, as is thinking that every Latino is Mexican. Now, if your country was third world, massively poor, and your child was going to grow up with poor education in a dangerous environment, wouldn’t you risk everything for them to get a better future?

      Also, if you and other folks don’t want undocumented hispanics to be in this country and take “freebees”, I’d like to see white people try working 16 hours a day for $3 an hour. They don’t, because immigrants are doing all the dirty jobs. Please show some respect to the people you call illegal.

      • As a young man, I DID those jobs, Jocy. I worked through my summers during high school and worked my way through two years of college before I joined the Army. No government benefits for me. No nothing. Nor did I think of asking for any. We didn’t need illegal aliens then and we don’t need them now. They can expend their energy into cleaning up their own countries. This isn’t it.

  3. This is what you get when you let a moron with zero journalistic credibility do his own show. He is clearly out of his depth when it comes to actual reporting, so he resorts to sensationalism. His credo must be: if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, controversy will suffice.

  4. I’ve seen What Would You Do several times and I’m always find it odd that during the reveal the people always seem to know who John Quinones is. The whole show seems like a set-up. Just my opinion.

  5. John Quinones is a not so pretty puppet pushing political agendas. He is the essence of lazy journalism. It doesn’t take much guts or intellect to stage the low-level scenarios he hurls on the public. [Omitted by JAM. What followed was an extensive anti-gay marriage rant that is off-topic and tangential at best. The Comment policies specifically forbid this. This isn’t a public billboard. Argue the issues passionately as you can, but rants about unrelated social and political issues are a violation of the conditions for commenting here. Sorry. I don’t like killing comments.]

  6. This program was completely biased. Strictly for the bleeding hearts.
    Also, the program on gays was very slanted. All the women approved of gay marriage and all the men did not like it. I no longer watch this program.

  7. Thank you for this article. The “what would you do” program is completely motivated by earning cash by pranking victims and spinning it as justified social learning. It’s no better than Jerry springer. Children and the uneducated will mimic these types of pranks. Monkey see monkey do.

  8. Ever notice that in every staged scenario on every episode, the provocative actors are always white. ABC is obviously dishonest and consistently broadcast the same subliminal message…..White people bad, people of color good.

  9. Ive noticed after watching the show that alot of victims or innocent by standers look directly into the camera. Does this mean they are in on it too? please let me know cause i dont want to contue watching the show if it becomes as fake as scare tactics. (No offence to people who watch that show.)

  10. What Would You Do? If a show staged hidden camera scenarios that ALWAYS had white villans and usually minority victims and always had a liberal slant. I wouldn’t watch it. Ideally some journalism student should do a research project on this but fat chance of that happening. Just another example of the corrupt network news.

  11. I remember the John Stossel Comedy Hour aka known as ABC’s 20/20. Pathetic, bias, lies, rubbish and inferior reporting. In other words: tabloid journalism. Calling it 20/20 is a joke in itself. Now Fox has got Stossel. And we all know what Fox News is all about.

    ABC News has become unbelievably unwatchable. They used to run a pretty tight ship years ago. All of this cretinous “reality” rot has spilled over into their news division.

    The only place to get the news without all of the trickery, fluff and sensationalism is the BBC and the PBS Newshour.

  12. The show to me is way over the top. Every segment has an outrageous fake social situation, always in a public place with hired actors making a scene just to get a reaction.

    Just like Doug B. mentioned, I have also noticed that Mr. Quinones always seems to run his ‘experiments’ in communities that seem to be mostly White folks when he does a ‘race’ or ‘cultural’ based segment. Would he run an illegal immigration themed segment in a mostly Black community? Most African Americans are against Illegal Immigration. How about a gay man of Arab decent coming out of the closet at a Middle Eastern Restaurant to his family? How about a Black girl announcing to her father she is getting married to White guy and her Dad is against it? How about an Indian girl from a very religious Hindu family announces she will marry a Muslim guy at a crowded Indian restaurant and she will convert to make his family happy? How about a young Black guy announces he’s gay and is marrying his new boy friend, an much older White guy, in front of his very religious Mother?

    Mr. Quinones is a typical leftwing Liberal who continues send the message that the Sins of the Human Race are peculiar to America, Western Culture or people of European origins. The Liberal crowd eats it up because the vast majority are completely Historically illiterate to World History and have a low information myopic global view which fuels their beliefs.

  13. ABC needs to get Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs back on the ol’ 20/20 set. Meanwhile Rosie O’Donnell can be in charge of latrine duty in Hugh’s dressing room.

  14. I think it’s unethical for other reasons. They are manipulating people’s emotions for entertainment. Straight up manipulation. Lots of the “marks” start crying and say they are shaking, etc. I mean cmon. They are really messing with these people’s minds. Then they say ok let’s tell them the truth now and come out with the cameras and the lights and “I’m John Quinones”. But who makes that call? That it’s gone on long enough. Is it like after 10 tear drops or 12? They always stop it before the cops are called. I guess ABC or NBC or whoever airs it doesn’t give a hoot about informed consent. It’s like that show Scare Tactics.

  15. Would be interesting to see the producers and John Quinones be entrapped in a public manipulation and then have it go viral. It felt good reading these comments. Manipulating and then broadcasting a person’s response without their permission is wrong on so many levels.

  16. This show did what it intended. Got people talking about topics that they usually wouldn’t. Including the author of the article. So the show wins.

  17. I just watched this show last night and got very upset over it. The show was about the man that would not make a cake for two women getting married. This gentleman stands behind what he believes and they crucified him. Stores have signs that says no shirts no shoes no services. I do not see these folks being crucified. It’s a one sided view point. They had two people that no more believed in God than a man in the moon. Very disappointed in the show, please take it off the air.

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