In the past week or so, there have been two dust-ups over political groups using “Casting Calls” – on the right, an ad was created by a republican group that used an outside ad agency to put together an ad and the casting call for “hicky”-looking actors, and on the left, Democratic President Obama has been accused of putting out a casting call for an upcoming audience for a “Town Hall Meeting”.
At the very least, it seems perfectly reasonable that a candidate puts out a casting call for an advertisement – with the caveat that they include some form of disclaimer in the ad OR don’t lead the viewer to believe those actors are supporters. Does anyone think that the famous couple “Harry and Louise” weren’t actors? I’m willing to give the GOP a qualified pass on this…
On the other hand, a casting call for so-called Town Hall Meeting is a bit much – I mean, we all remember the reports about the Obama campaign re-arranging the stage audience used as a backdrop at his campaign stops (ostensibly to properly portray the true diversity of his supporters), but why the casting call to stack the “town hall?” Take a look at the actual casting call:
PRESIDENT OBAMA TOWN HALL, DC MTV, BET, and CMT (prods.) are casting the audience for a town hall meeting with President Obama. Shooting Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. in Washington, DC. Seeking—Audience Members: males and females, 18+. To apply, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Town Hall” in the subject line. To ensure that the audience represents diverse interests and political views, include your name, phone number, hometown, school attending, your job and what issues, if any, you are …[more]
(That’s all I could get without subscribing to the casting call website)
On the surface, this looks really bad, but a few things need to be kept in mind: first, this casting call is by the producers (MTV, CMT, BET), NOT the Obama Administration. Second, while it is tempting to latch on to the request to include your “issues, if any” line, but the network has a need to make sure the show is interesting – an audience full of healthcare reform haters, for example, has limited appeal – again, this is the producer of the “Town Hall”, not the administration. Third, organizing an event with “public participation” is a real challenge – you can’t invite too many, but you have to be able to accomodate “no-shows” as well. You need people to actually show up. Finally, if a casting call were not put out, there would be people at the door filtering the attendees on some basis – this is simply a case where the filtering is being done in advance of the event.
Knowing what we now know about this upcoming “Town Hall” meeting, we need to make sure the administration makes clear that this was a hand-picked audience, picked for gender, racial, age and issue diversity – if they make that clear, I have no problem with the casting call here either.