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Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

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It used to be that "Put your money where your mouth is" was a well-regarded phrase. It challenged four-flushers and phonies to put cash on the line or back away from their fabrications. So I was stunned when the wrath of the media descended upon Mitt Romney because he challenged Governor Perry to bet 10,000 bucks on the truthfulness of his claim that Romney had supported a health insurance mandate. If Perry was sure of his facts, he should've accepted the bet and taken $10,000 of Romney's money. When he failed to do that, my reaction was that, once again, Perry had put his foot in his mouth. Much to my surprise, the media made an issue of the amount of money that Romney proposed -- $10,000 was just too much, the media proclaimed.

Too much for whom? We all know that Romney is a multimillionaire, and that Governor Perry is rich enough to pay $10,000 without missing his supper. I thought that $10,000 was the proper amount -- significant, but not enough to leave either of them flat broke. I thought that Romney won that round with a knockout, but I guess I'm wrong. People just don't expect other people to put their money where their mouth is. They accept lies, half-lies and exaggerations with no expectation of challenge or correction. My guess is that fifteen years of talking heads having free run on the cable news networks (and even some one the broadcasting networks) has gotten the audience so used to it, they don't even recognize it. I hoped, for a few minutes, that Romney's challenge might put an end to their tolerance. Obviously, such was not the case.

In the face of press criticism, Romney, after coming off as a tough guy for the first time, apologized, said he was only joking, thus restoring his image as an uptight, upper-class stuffed shirt.

There was a time when I used to create television news programming, and for the past ten years at least, I have been expecting news anchors to challenge the obvious overstatements and exaggerations of politicians on both sides of the aisle when they appear on their programs. It rarely happens, Katie Couric's challenge of Sarah Palin is the last one that comes to mind.

So I have decided to suggest that one of the networks create a new program that I would call Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. The program would be staffed with an anchor, a guest coordinator who would book the politicians or their spokesmen to appear on the show, and two or three researchers who would check the accuracy of all statements made by the guests. If the researchers found a statement inaccurate, they would ring a bell and the host, using the network's money, would challenge the guest to match the bet if he really believed the statement he'd previously made. From my knowledge of the business, that would make it awfully hard to get guests who expect to be able to make any claim that they want without being called on it. Of course, the network has the right to reveal the names of politicians who refuse to appear, and suggest that those politicians may not always speak the truth.

Because getting guests is such hard work, I don't expect that any of the networks to run with my suggestion. In the television business, each of the networks wants to stay on good terms with prominent politicians, because getting a good name on the air means better ratings. That has left the guys with the big names pretty free to say whatever they want, knowing that they'll get away with it. So we are all used to a diet of falsehoods and fabrications, and we've come to accept it. I'm glad that Mitt Romney called out Governor Perry, and I thought we all learned a lot when Governor Perry chickened out. I'd like to hear more challenges on Sunday morning from David Gregory, George Stephanopoulos (who is resuming his role on ABC after the first of the year) and I want congratulation Bob Schieffer on CBS, who is a little tougher than the other guys.

One final word of political wisdom -- never believe any guest who starts a statement with "As everybody knows," or "It is obvious to everyone," -- those are sure signs the guy's a liar.