ABC Special Searches for 'Ugly Americans'; Anti-immigrant Bigotry

ABC aired an incredibly insulting and condescending hidden camera news special on Tuesday that purported to probe the hidden racism of Americans. It also featured actors hired by the network to go to France and portray "ugly Americans," complete with a "Bush '08" t-shirt that was derided by one German woman as similar to saying "I like Hitler."

The "What Would You Do?" special attempted to see how real people would react to racism or over-the-top behavior. As part of the experiment, host John Quinones introduced "Bob" and "Bonnie," actors sent to Paris to represent obnoxious U.S. citizens. Quinones began the segment by cheerfully explaining, "They're the ugly Americans. And for more than a century, they've been fixtures in American literature and film."

Justifying the U.S.-bashing piece, he added, "So, why have we brought 'What Would You Do?' here to Paris? Well, we all know the stereotype. The loud, clueless American, oblivious to French manners and culture, and the haughty French, who seem to relish putting them in their place." The walking stereotypes were clearly designed to be what members of the media see as Red Staters. At one point, the very loud Bob is decked out in a Dallas Cowboys jersey.

Later, Bob can be seen with his pro-Bush shirt. An almost bemused Quinones narrated, "Apparently, not everyone is amused by our couple's t-shirts or their politics. This woman is German." The unidentified female derided, "This is nearly as if I had a t-shirt, 'I like Hitler,' you know?"

At no point did Quinones stop the woman or challenge her comparison of the democratically elected Bush to a genocidal murderer. This is quite the contrast to how he dealt with a belligerent American earlier in the show. That section featured a fake cashier in a New Jersey deli. With the hidden cameras rolling, the program attempted to see if real people would adopt the prejudice of the actors hired by ABC. A customer repeatedly insulted a pretend illegal alien who was attempting to purchase coffee. (Again, the day laborer and the cashier were network plants.)

Unlike the hateful German, Quinones later berated the customer until he recanted his comments and apologized. The ABC host also lumped together racists, such as the man in the deli, and those who oppose illegal immigration and its effects. Just after featuring the footage of the angry customer, the special cut to a clip of Americans protesting illegal immigration. Quinones lectured, "It's a highly charged, volatile subject with emotions running high on both sides over legal and illegal immigrants and whether they have a right to be here."

The correspondent also highlighted Jack Dovidio, a Yale professor, who continued to make the connection. Responding to a snippet of Quinones dealing with the belligerent deli customer, he explained, "When you're threatened, you think in terms of category. Who's part of my group? Who's not part of my group?"

Finally, 25 minutes into the special, the anchor let slip an admission that completely undermined the whole concept of the show. Regarding the experiment and whether or not people would stand up to the bigoted cashier in the deli, Quinones admitted:

QUINONES: During our experiment, a total of 88 people came into the store. 49 of them didn't get involved at all. Nine sided with the cashier, and most of them were unabashedly forthright about their feelings. But the fact is, 30 customers stood up and spoke out in defense of the day laborers.

So, those Americans who did get involved, stood up and opposed the racism of the cashier? This is the very definition of burying the lede. Apparently Mr. Quinones didn't think this was important enough to mention at the top of the program.

For more on this, including ABC's use of Barack Obama as an example of how to behave properly in Europe, see a NewsBuster posting by D.S. Hube.

ABC previewed the special on Tuesday's "Good Morning America." For more on that, see a previous NewsBusters post.

A partial transcript of the segment, which aired at 10pm on January 6, follows:

10:19

JOHN QUINONES: Before things get out of control, we decide to introduce ourselves. This was an experiment about racism.

DARICK MAXIS (CUSTOMER): I'm not racism. [sic] I'm not a racist.

QUINONES: Just tell us why. Can you just tell us why you said those things about these folks?

MAXIS: What are you? Are you Mexican also?

QUINONES: Yes. Mexican American also.

MAXIS: So what? I just did something racist also?

QUINONES: Well, I'm just asking. Do you think it was? You told them to get out of here, that you were gonna call the cops.

MAXIS: That's right, because they asked them to leave.

QUINONES: You told them not to look at your money.

MAXIS: Jeez, man.

QUINONES: You don't know if they're here legally or illegally, do you? Yale psychology professor, Jack DoVideo. In the heat of the moment, he even says to me, "What, are you Mexican?"

DOCTOR JACK DOVIDIO (DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY): When you're threatened, you think in terms of category. Who's part of my group? Who's not part of my group? And at that moment, you were not part of his group.

MAXIS: I'm a working hard black man. Life is a struggle. You know what, you know what I think? I think they're taking our jobs because we ain't got no jobs. So, you leave me alone. You don't know - where the heck I've been.

QUINONES: People are angry.

MAXIS: Yes, we are angry. We are. We're really angry.

QUINONES: He is right. [B-roll of illegal immigration protests.] It's a highly charged, volatile subject with emotions running high on both sides over legal and illegal immigrants and whether they have a right to be here.

DELI "CASHIER": Out. Vamonos.

QUINONES: But when it comes to something as simple as being served a cup of coffee, why should any of that matter? After watching us for half an hour as we repeat the experiment, Darick Maxis, who earlier threatened to kick the Latinos out, seems to undergo a total transformation. Looking back now at what happened, what would you tell those Latino workers?

MAXIS: I would have told them I'm sorry the way I, you know, I talked to them. Yeah. I'll be a man and say it because when I'm wrong, I'm wrong.

QUINONES: As a Mexican American and a former migrant worker, I wanted to see for myself what would happen if I posed as a day laborer. Mario joins me.

10:20

QUINONES: During our experiment, a total of 88 people came into the store. 49 of them didn't get involved at all. Nine sided with the cashier, and most of them were unabashedly forthright about their feelings. But the fact is, 30 customers stood up and spoke out in defense of the day laborers.

10:25pm

QUINONES: But forget about Carrie and her Manolo Blahniks because today, someone else is checking in. Meet Bonnie and her husband, Bob.

["Bonnie" and "Bob" walking through Paris.]

JEFF NATHAN (ACTOR): Howdy.

QUINONES: They've come all the way here from Paris. Paris, Texas, that is. They're loud.

WEISS: Whoa. Gee, that's big.

QUINONES: They're obnoxious.

WEISS: Dang.

QUINONES: And they don't know the difference between haute cuisine and oatmeal.

WEISS: We're in Paris.

QUINONES: They're the ugly Americans. And for more than a century, they've been fixtures in American literature and film. From the novels of Henry James to movies like "National Lampoon's European Vacation."

10:27

QUINONES: So, why have we brought 'What Would You Do?' here to Paris? Well, we all know the stereotype. The loud, clueless American, oblivious to French manners and culture, and the haughty French, who seem to relish putting them in their place. But just how true is that stereotype? And just how ugly do Americans have to get before the French rise up and shout "non."

10:28

HEATHER STIMMLER-HALL (FRENCH ETIQUETTE EXPERT): Faux pas is French. They have a lot of faux pas. They are the masters of what not to do, yes.

QUINONES: Heather Stimmler-Hall who moved to Paris from Colorado 13 years ago is an expert on French etiquette. She gives American tourists a course on how to behave, the dos and the don'ts. And here's our faux pas number one. Don't dress like you've come to mow their lawn.

STIMMLER-HALL: You're in the fashion capital of the world and people notice your clothes. They notice your shoes. You know, you could be even Bill Gates. He's not going to get very well treated either if he's wearing shorts and a T-shirt and a baseball cap.

10:40pm

["Bob" is wearing a "Bush '08" t-shirt.]

QUINONES: Apparently, not everyone is amused by our couple's t-shirts or their politics. This woman is German.

DINER (FEMALE): This is nearly as if I had a t-shirt, 'I like Hitler,' you know? Yeah. Aaah!

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org