- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2008

“I just saw something really upsetting on TV,” Betsy says. “It made me realize there are people who will do absolutely anything for money.”

I can’t tell if my daughter has been watching the World Wrestling Federation or the latest update on political fundraising, but she seems genuinely disturbed.

Her comment piques my curiosity, not to mention that I’m wondering if I should beef up the parental controls on our TV. I brace myself for the possibility that my teenage daughter has seen one of those “documentaries” on brothels in Las Vegas.

“What was it?” I ask tentatively.

“A new show on Fox,” she says. “ ’Moment of Truth.’ It’s a reality show where people answer questions while hooked up to a polygraph machine and then reveal their answers on TV.”

I’m immediately relieved because this means what happens in Vegas is still staying in Vegas, brothelwise. That’s a relief.

On the other hand, Betsy is unnerved. “Mom, this show proves that there is no limit to the pain a person will cause someone else or the humiliation they will go through just to win a half-million dollars.”

I hate to be the one to tell Betsy, but people have been hurting others and enduring humiliation since the dawn of time for a whole lot less money. But still. She has a point.

The premise of “Moment of Truth” is to get contestants to reveal deeply personal and potentially embarrassing information to see if their honest answers to the host’s questions match the results of a previous polygraph test. Sounds entertaining enough — until you hear the questions.

“Do you hold your father responsible for ruining your family?”

“Have you ever stolen money from a workplace and let someone else take the blame?”

“Have you ever made a pass at a friend of your fiance’s?”

Essentially, it’s a game to reveal not only the unvarnished truth about certain topics, but also the deeply flawed character of the contestants.

Here’s the really twisted part — the piece that left my 16-year-old feeling as if she’d seen the dirty underbelly of our morally corrupt culture: Somehow, the people sitting in the hot seat of truth seemed to exude a sort of moral superiority by their willingness to admit honestly all of the really despicable things they had done in the past.

Or, as Betsy put it, “What kind of person sits there smiling while admitting they stole tips from another waiter?”

The kind of person who’s looking for a quick, six-figure paycheck in the hope he or she won’t ever return to restaurant work, I suppose.

I guess we could be happy that someone finally has found a way to use lie-detector tests for entertainment purposes, given that they’re still largely inadmissible in our courts of law. (The fact that polygraphs don’t meet a legal standard of proof seems to mean little to most of us. Even an unwillingness to submit to a polygraph has come to imply that someone is hiding something.)

Of course, this presupposes that “Moment of Truth” is entertaining. However, as Betsy discovered, its draw is more like the attraction of a car wreck. You can’t help but stare at the carnage as you drive by even though you know you should avert your eyes and keep moving.

I have decided “Moment of Truth” is going on the list of things we don’t watch at our house. To my mind, it’s just another way to promote cynicism and moral relativism in a culture that already wants for examples of good character and integrity.

Sadly, I can only assume that this show will earn high ratings even without my family tuning in. After all, as Betsy discovered, there’s no end to the number of folks who will sacrifice their dignity, their reputations and even their most beloved relationships for the chance to win a half a million bucks.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@ comcast.net.

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