Hidden cameras test public’s prejudice toward immigration
Last updated 1-8-09 at 1:34 p.m.
Would You Do” is a news–reality show on ABC that
tests the ethics of people who are unaware that they are being
Image provided by ABC
By David Bauder
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Public attitudes toward immigration are put
to the test on the latest episode of a news–reality hybrid
television show that uses hidden cameras to record the reactions
of real people.
An episode of the ABC network’s “What Would You Do?” shows
the responses of people standing in line at a deli behind two day
laborers fumbling with cash and struggling with English, when the
clerk begins spewing hatred. “Go back to your country or go
eat at Taco Bell.”
What would you do?
Stand in uncomfortable silence, hoping simply to
leave as quickly as possible? Tell the clerk to
shut up? Join in with the bigotry? Kick the men as they’re
When ABC News set up that scenario in a New Jersey
deli, hiring actors to portray the clerk and laborers,
and hiding cameras to record people’s reactions, it found all of those
responses — and more.
“What Would You Do?” has gotten some traction on ABC.
Producer Chris Whipple thought of the idea after
wondering if there was a way to do a TV version
of “The Ethicist” column
in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. There was an immediate response
in the ratings after “Primetime” carried the first segment
in 2004 with an actor portraying a babysitter who
was verbally abusing a boy in a park.
ABC carried five “What Would You Do?” hours last winter
and doubled the order for this year because it
was the highest-rated newsmagazine program with younger viewers.
“It’s the kind of insightful television that makes you
think, the water-cooler stuff you talk about the next morning,” said
John Quinones, who anchors the series. “It’s pretty powerful,
and [it’s] a reminder that you’re not in this world alone.
You have to look out for all your fellow human
The deli segment proved to be emotional. Even though
he was an actor, one of the men portraying a laborer cried later
because of the way he was treated.
One Black man initially advised the laborers to
get out of the deli, at first seemingly in sympathy but then in anger.
In an interview after Quinones stepped in, he acknowledged being
mad at immigrants taking away jobs. He softened after some thought,
realizing he was guilty of the same discrimination that he had experienced.
Quinones, who grew up in San Antonio, dressed down
and took a few turns himself posing as a Spanish-speaking laborer.
“Even though I knew it was all an act and the guy behind the
counter was being paid to say these awful words, the words still
stung,” he said.
Here’s how highly ABC thinks of the show: Even during troubled
economic times, Quinones and Whipple scored a trip
to Paris last summer to find out whether the French were snooty toward
“What Would You Do?” is also a sign of changing times
in broadcast news divisions. Quinones is a veteran journalist who
reported about Central America for “World News Tonight” and
won Emmy Awards for stories on the Congo’s rain forest and
the Yanomamo Indians who reside in the Amazon rainforest.
Now Quinones spends most of his time on concocted
Quinones admitted to some trepidation about the
idea at first, but he said it has been erased by how many times he
has seen brave people do the right thing.
“How many other newsmagazines are tackling domestic violence,
racism, attacks on the homeless, date rape, hazing, shopping while
Black?” Whipple said. Some of the experiments come directly
from the news: The recent stabbing death of an immigrant from Ecuador
on Long Island, east of New York City, has inspired a segment where
people’s reactions will be tested when they see day laborers
threatened with physical harm.
ABC has nine more episodes running on Tuesday nights
through March. (end)