Show biz and politics have always intersected. That is nothing new under the sun. Gloria Swanson had a barely hushed up affair with Joseph Kennedy and that was in 1927. The legends of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra cavorting in Palm Springs, Las Vegas and elsewhere with the likes of Jack and Bobby Kennedy and their brother-in-law Peter Lawford came decades later. So it’s not the least bit unusual, in the age of the reality TV commander in chief, that Hollywood and Washington are more closely aligned than ever.

What makes today different though, is that some seamless connection now exists to where everything political is now tabloid fare and tabloid fare somehow has achieved political stature. That is the doing of Donald Trump. That is the metamorphosis we observed, starting in 2015, and now it’s baked into our culture. Politicians are now performers, government is theater of the absurd. And everybody is on the take financially. That’s the one constant.

The issue with the Lincoln Project and John Weaver’s predatory nature is a sad one. Two thoughts come to mind: First, LP did some incredible videos and first class work. Whatever grifting, overreaching, etc. might have existed at the top of the corporate chain is one thing, and I’m not going to dissect that here. My hope is that the immensely talented people who put together all those great videos can still produce more good work.

Secondly, and this is where it gets sticky, peoples’ work and their personal lives and character are two different things. I can tell you from working in Hollywood back in the day that there were people whose public persona was one thing and whose actual behavior was something else altogether. Johnny Depp comes to mind. Rumors about him being unpleasant and overly aggressive were bouncing around the industry for many years before his domestic abuse became public. And I want to make it clear, I was off in the weeds in that business. I worked on some B-movies in the 80’s. I state this to let you know that I’m no kind of insider or expert, and that you didn’t have to be, to hear what the word was on the street. That’s the point.

Now getting to the Conway family, Claudia Conway made her debut on American Idol tonight. The TV appearance and her competition to make it in show business isn’t the issue. The issue is that the appearance was exploitative all around, with George Conway and a holographic version of his wife, Kellyanne — you gotta see it — being perfect parents and coaching their kid to achieve, months after all the scandals about abuse and threats of emancipation. And American Idol was exploiting political drama to make a buck. Variety:

The nineteenth season of the reality stalwart, which debuted Feb. 14, promotes Claudia’s appearance from its first ad break; that teaser features judge Katy Perry asking the youth, with some deliberateness, “Are you OK?” “No!,” Claudia replies, with the amusement at her own misery that will be familiar to anyone who was once a teen. Perhaps that’s all it is; perhaps Claudia is just suffering under parental authority in all the familiar ways. But there’s something eerier at work here, including Conway’s practiced defense of herself to the judging panel: “I only want to spread love, and I love a compromise. And I do agree to disagree with my mom and my dad.”

Granted, this was all taped last fall, before the most seismic family blowups hit the internet early this year. But the first thing that feels jarringly wrong about this is the degree to which a child at the center of a dispute that has bled into public view is being asked to launder the reputations of two adults who should know better. Kellyanne appears here briefly, first shown in archival footage embracing Donald Trump and then via video link, lecturing her daughter: “You should be nervous, honey, it’s a very humbling experience,” she begins, before declaring that “winners are people who are willing to lose.” (One wishes she’d passed that advice on to those in her professional orbit.) […]

Treating the pursuit of fame as the cure for infamy is hardly new. In the unscripted-TV universe, it’s been a generous wellspring for the casting department of “Dancing with the Stars,” among other shows. In 2019, Trump’s White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempted to obliterate the shadows in his persona with the glow of the mirrorball; previously, another daughter of politics, Bristol Palin, rode her Vice-Presidential nominee mom Sarah’s fame to the finals in 2010. That latter casting is likely more relevant here, in the similarities between Bristol Palin’s and Claudia Conway’s cases. Putting one on television felt annoying but conscionable, and putting the other on “American Idol” looks like malpractice. Bristol was, for all that her family’s story had made for tabloid fodder, tasked with working out nothing more complicated than her love for dance in almost aggressively sunny segments. She had also signed onto the show as a legal adult.

Contrast this with Claudia, whom judge Perry could credibly ask if her mother still hugs her. It fits both because of the public acrimony and because of Claudia’s age and vibrating waves of unhappiness. Claudia’s reply is as follows: “I mean, yeah, she loves me, I love her. It’s just, I feel like our relationship’s a little… it’s a little iffy.” The conversation between the judges and the judged is intercut with taped bits, including Claudia directly telling the camera, “Now I want to get out of the controversy, get out of the drama, get out of the political whatever, and let people know that I am a singer and this is what I want to do!” There’s a special sort of cruelty, or carelessness, to the introduction of a shot of Claudia fist-bumping her father just as she says she wants to “get out of the political whatever.” Try though she might, Claudia cannot escape the gravitational pull of her family story.

The one theme that resonates through all of this, is that learning how to control television is the ticket to great things. Again, that’s the legacy of Donald Trump. Television was the only thing he was ever any good at, form only, never substance. And if you can go on national TV and look Ward and June Cleaver, then that takes the sting out of rumors or actual facts of less savory moments.

Let me make it clear: I don’t care about the Conways’ family life at all. My point is that this latest episode in the Conway saga is part of a strange bastardization of celebrity and politics and public relations — and of course, money — which I believe does a disservice to this country. What made television an incredible invention was the fact that it was able to transmit pictures of reality as it was taking place. “And you are there,” intoned the announcer of yore. Now television has become the reality and the truth is lost. This is what I find ominous. What is real and what is play acting anymore? Who knows? More importantly, does anybody care?

So called politicians like Madison Cawthorn have made no bones about the fact that their main investment is in communications and public relations — not in learning how to do the job of being a member of the House of Representatives. Then you’ve got Lara Trump, whose only accomplishment in life is keeping Eric from eating the kids’ crayons — yet she’s hoping to ride a certain image and line of bull into a Senate seat. And you’ve got the rest, Kelly Loeffler, Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, we can go on and on.

We’re in a tremendous cultural nosedive in this country, having failed to take politics seriously and having turned it into a carnival act, bread and circus in lieu of accountability and progress. Politics is being spun as entertainment and entertainment is being cast as having political significance. We are on some shaky ground here, to say the least.

Here’s the American Idol clip. It’s just one more PR image in the Washington tabloid bubble. For that reason I hesitate to put it here, but on the other hand, if we don’t know what we’re dealing with, how can we decide what to do about it? And that’s the Faustian bargain, isn’t it? We can’t discuss what is harmful to us, unless we look at it, and in so doing, we amplify its reach. Of course the alternative is to ignore what is happening, and that’s not such a great idea either.

What’s next, Barron with a flaming swords act? Or, maybe he’ll save that for Dancing With The Stars.

America’s public discourse is too much of a freak show since Trump came on the scene. And now, we don’t seem to know how to pull the plug and go back to any semblance of normalcy. That’s the problem.


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  1. ‘Having failed to take politics seriously and having turned it into a carnival act, bread and circus in lieu of accountability and progress. Politics is being spun as entertainment and entertainment is being cast as having political significance’

    And this only helps the Republicans, whose official policy is to do nothing but spin the hell out of what was going to happen anyway and take credit for it. No wonder Trump fitted in so well.

    Now it’s up to our side to repair all the damage and fix everything, lets hope our achievements get the same marketing push as their ineptitude. Of course after the last demonstration of ‘leaving it to the market’ and ‘keeping government out of our lives’ has killed so many people, maybe people are prepared for the idea that competent government that gets things done is not just desirable, but essential.

    • There’s always going to be a tabloid flavor to politics, whether it’s Gary Hart and Donna Rice or Bill Clinton and Monica, etc., but if politics is going to be reduced to a gawking tabloid act, I don’t know where we’re going to end up. More Donald Trump, I suspect.

    • Don’t know how to rec a comment, but your contribution is very good.

      The first thing the Democrats need to do is eliminate the requirement for a super-majority. Why these red state Dem’s think hanging on to that undemocratic rule helps them, I don’t know. We need to flood those opposing this with emails and calls.

      To do list:

      Outlaw open/concealed carry.

      Make vote by mail mandatory as well as early voting. Require polling places be located based on concentrations of voters. Eliminate voting registration but require a thumb print that would be checked against a data base of all voters. Oh, outlaw any disenfranchisement laws concerning criminal history. Hell, they don’t mind having criminal Republicans holding public office.

      Add three new supreme court justices and have the DOJ go after any that are crooks.

      Increase Social Security payments. By a lot.

      Outlaw all but supplemental health insurance and have all health care paid for through a medicare type organization. Increase income tax to pay for this and eliminate the medicare payroll deduction.

      Make the social security tax progressive. Too many Schedule C taxpayers don’t make enough to pay income taxes, but have to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars is self-employment tax or SS.

      Force auto insurance providers ( insurance the government has forced people to buy for decades) to quit using credit ratings in computing insurance premiums.

      Bring back net neutrality and insure all Americans have reasonable access to internet. Need a cap on the fees, too. I am paying almost an hundred dollars a month now. Started out at about $40 six years ago. Another fucking monopoly.

      Outlaw gerrymandering and start arresting state governors that approve illegal gerrymandering legislation. In fact, arrest any governor that signs legislation in violation of federal law. These bastard son’s of bitches love fascism so much we should show their evil asses how it is done. I know, I know.
      You don’t have to say it.

      Outlaw lying TV opinion spouters. Mandatory one year prison term for each lie. Million dollar fine to tv station for every single lie. The little guy on CNN decides who is lying.


      • Thank you Walter. If enough people like us make it happen, it will happen. As someone currently ‘stuck’ in New Zealand, I know what is possible.

        • The hologram of Kellyanne was a bit too strange for my tastes. And I can’t really judge if Claudia has any talent. She didn’t sound bad to me, but she didn’t sound unique enough to get a singing career, either. I guess this is just one more episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, when it gets down to it. The yous and mes live in a different world.

          • I heard the thing but didn’t see the show. I thought she was ok, but it seemed to be an unspoken fact that Claudia wouldn’t be there but for her mother and father and the Trump show. Reality shows are cheap to make, just like game shows and for some reason people love them. You are right, this country has taken a nose dive into the garbage dump. There ain’t no quick fix. Too, many traitors that hate democracy and the Constitution to fix things fast.

  2. When it comes to the popularity of “reality” TV and the branch of it that includes American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, America’s Got Talent etc. maybe I’m headed towards curmudgeon status. From the time Survivor, the first one started I had a “You gotta be kidding me. This shit will never fly with the public.” I didn’t seen an entire episode but well over half of just ONE and came up with that opinion, and it’s been my view ever since. When I had DirecTV if you programmed in to watch a certain show the system would cut to that channel a minute or so before the show you intended to watch came on and so I caught bits of those tribal councils, and that crap and commercials advertising upcoming shows have been all I’ve seen since. It’s been pretty much the same with all the rest of the genre in all the years since. That and bits that get shown on the news which sadly has come to include political figures, which it seems to me have been almost all conservatives btw. Trying to rehabilitate their reputation! For anyone reading this who likes those kinds of shows I say sorry, but overall as far as I’m concerned their scripted “drama” and its popularity are a sad commentary on the taste and attitudes of the general public.

    Idol and DWTS seem to be the two venues where disgraced conservatives go to try and rebrand their image. Even in the bits I see in passing in ways I’ve mentioned I’ve wanted to erase images from my brain housing group. Tom DeLay shaking his fanny. Sean Spicer in that neon green and yellow outfit. And now I guess the torture sight of a tortured teenager from a highly known and highly dysfunctional family being paraded across the airwaves to tens of millions of people due to that KID’s desire for fame (something almost all of us dream of from time to time if we’re honest with ourselves) and her mom’s (and dad’s too) desire to improve a pretty negative public image. As you note this was all taped before the explosive stuff about the Conways got splashed across the headlines. Yes, I believe KellyAnne was the driving force behind this publicity stunt. She is exactly the type of disgusting human being who could and would manipulate a teenager that was miserable and dreamed of having her own voice into doing something like Idol. Given that Claudia is a minor her parent’s permission is surely required for her to have appeared and so this vile display is on BOTH of her parents.

    I never had kids so saying I have no idea what I’m talking about is a fair point. I’ve never lived with the unique pressures a parent lives with trying to raise a child, especially a teenager. I DO however know both from having been one myself, seeing teens of others that I’ve known well and working in social services for a fair part of my life (that includes a long stint as a substitute teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia) that teens are in most instances a handful to deal with. Even the ones seemingly headed towards reaching adulthood as fairly well adjusted persons. I actually feel badly for any kid growing up in the shadow of a famous parent or parents. Even the ones of parents that are good people.

    George and KellyAnne Conway are NOT good people. They never have been, or at least haven’t been for a very, very long time and KellyAnne has made a point of being particularly awful and doing so on TV for some of the biggest assholes on the political stage. For decades in fact. I feel sorry for their daughter. I really do. To be honest I felt sorry, at least at one time for Bristol Palin. I can still recall the camera’s “family shots” during her mom’s introduction as McCain’s running mate. I thought, that kid looks miserable and she would rather be anywhere else than where she is. Maybe she’s got an inkling of how her life is going to change and doesn’t want any part of the spotlight. Boy did I ever nail that one once it became known she was pregnant! If her mom (or dad) had an ounce of decency and parental good judgement and caring they’d have spared their daughter the noteriety of being a teen mom. One who likely had already born a child – and I’m referring to Sarah Palin’s youngest. I won’t get into all the details of why that’s the case here.

    My point is that we’ve learned that while we figured there had to be a weird, uncomfortable dynamic playing out in the Conway home in the past four years with KellyAnne lying her ass off for Trump and if not creating then making it a real part of public thinking and discourse the whole “alternative facts” universe as hubby George was taking regular potshots at her boss we had no idea just how bad it was. The negative effect all that family crap had on their offspring is unmistakable and its a sad thing to behold. The Conways should have known better than to work connections to get their daughter a slot on that show. American Idol should have known better, and more importantly had the decency to drop this. But it’s worse than that. The American public that will tune in to watch should know better. People have always had a fascination with gawking at a car wreck but this is worse.

    Remember, the actual saying is “The LOVE OF money is the root of all evil.” Ratings means money and some folks are going to make boatloads of it by airing this shit. Add in the concept of love of fame to the just expressed old saying and you have a toxic blend.

    As I made clear I don’t have to start boycotting watching this show because I never watched it to begin with. But others who are if not fans who watch regularly will tune in while Ms. Conway is a contestant just for the “look at the car wreck” thrill should refuse to do so. The producers would rather take a kick in the crotch over and over like the “Ouch! My Balls!” in Idiocracy than see their ratings nosedive. I know it’s a stupid fantasy to think the public will look away from this family car wreck. What’s sickening to me is that on the contrary their ratings will go through the roof.

    • The episode was taped in the fall, but Kellyanne resigned in August, 2020 and the same month George announced he was stepping back from the Lincoln Project, both for “family” reasons. Point being, the Conways have been a reality TV soap opera for quite some time — only now they’re actually on TV. Before it was Twitter and tabloids.

      • I saw where you mentioned when it was taped, and that’s kind of part of a point I tried to make. George and KellyAnne might have decided to step away from the limelight and try to do some repairs to their fractured family. There had certainly been plenty of public drama between them and their daughter by then, and if it were an average couple social services would have been spending a lot of time peering into just WTF was going on in that household. So, even if was WAY late in coming it seemed like the Conways had decided it was time to step back from being major DC players and try to be a mom and a dad and figure out how to deal with a dysfunctional household.

        Only it’s clear (at least to me) that it was nothing but a PR ploy. Again, the timing of Claudia going on Idol suggests that. One could credibly argue that KellyAnne in particular got out of dodge well ahead of the election knowing her boss would crash & burn and by distancing herself when she did she could claim it was everyone else’s fault, that four years prior when SHE was around they won. And as with other conservatives like DeLay and Spicer using DWTS as a vehicle for rehabilitation of their reputations she decided using her freaking daughter to, after the change in administration to start rehabilitating her own!

        There were MONTHS during which mom & dad Conway could have and should have pulled the plug, and frankly so should Idol have done so. That kid got used. It’s sickening, at least to me. But it’s the fact the taping was done four months (plus) ago and they still went ahead with it is I think appalling. There was more than enough time to fill in with another contestant.


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