It was only 7:45 AM, but I was already feeling surly. Thanks to an insurance snafu, I was now waiting to have my blood drawn. I looked up at the TV. The Today Show was doing an exposé, one with an undercover report and everything. You might be thinking that they were going to shine a light on some unconscionable abuse being perpetrated by a powerful entity against a vulnerable victim. Not so much.
What was this abuse? U.S. military personnel, it seems, are going out and finding spouses to participate in sham marriages. The "married" soldier then collects a decent amount of extra money (apparently more than $1,000 per month), and usually gives the spouse—who now has a cost-free place to live and health insurance—a bit of the cash. Let's be clear about one thing. This is flat-out wrong. I don't condone it, and there's no way around the fact that it is immoral and illegal. Fraud is fraud, no matter the amount in question.
So what did the intrepid journalists at the Today Show do? They sent "hidden cameras" to catch these nefarious criminal masterminds. First, the segment begins with grainy, black-and-white footage. Then we hear condemnations from NBC News analyst Col. Jack Jacobs—who undoubtedly earns a great deal more than the average grunt desperate enough to go through with this kind of fraud.
Finally, we get the money shot. Today had an undercover producer answer an ad that blatantly proposed a sham marriage. They put a wire on her, just like she was going in to get a confession from a murderous mob boss. She goes to the mobster's secret, private lair, er, I mean, she meets a barely out-of-his-teens soldier at a fast food place. He lays out the deal, closing with an irresistible rhetorical flourish, "You're just getting free stuff"—only he didn't say "stuff."
Next, the voice of righteous, journalistic authority intones: "After making his pitch, he gets up to leave. And I'm waiting outside." On camera, the reporter tells the soldier that he has been videotaped committing fraud, and asks why he did it. "So I can help support my son." Is this a lie? Maybe, but it looked to me much more like the truth, given how quickly and easily the answer came out of the soldier's mouth. The reporter's instantaneous reply: "Now look, a lot of people have children they want to support." The tone of superiority was unmistakable. At least he added, "and that is noble." Gee, thanks.
Here's what I'm thinking: Aren't there U.S. military personnel on food stamps? More broadly, it's not like the average soldier is pulling down a six-figure salary. And this guy—who says he's got a child to support—do you think he'll be living high on the hog with his extra $15K a year? Again, none of this excuses the crime, which the Today Show claimed is widespread in the armed forces. It's not okay to steal just because one earns below the median income level. But as I watched "National Investigative Reporter" Jeff Rossen bear down on a soldier lucky to be earning one-fifth what he is, I wanted to know why this was the crime on which the Today Show chose to focus. What about educating its millions of viewers about, oh, I don't know, the billions of dollars that corporations are scamming via barely legal tax maneuvers? By the way, House Republicans have refused to go along with Democratic efforts to ban such maneuvers—something you can protest by kicking in $3 to Daily Kos-endorsed candidates for the House of Representatives.
I encourage you to stop shaking your head at the incongruity of what the Today Show is doing here, and follow me across the fold.