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First Freedom First Fizzles with Pre-Recorded Fake Simulcast

This evening at 5:30 pm, I showed up to the Regal theater on the Southwest side of Columbus, Ohio, for what I was told would be a “gathering,” a “simulcast” event “emceed” by actor Peter Coyote at which, according to a soliciting e-mail:

Actors, musicians and comedians will join church-state community members in 37 theaters across the country on Wednesday evening, March 26, to put church-state separation on the national agenda during the 2008 election season. Please join us for this exciting (and free) event.

Other actors and celebrities scheduled to participate include Michael J. Fox (“Family Ties” and “Spin City”), Jack Klugman (“The Odd Couple” and “Quincy, M.E.”), James Whitmore (“The Shawshank Redemption”), Wendie Malick (“Just Shoot Me!”), Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”), Catherine Dent (“The Shield”), stand-up comedian and Air America host Marc Maron, singer/songwriter Catie Curtis and singer/satirist Roy Zimmerman.

In addition, Americans who have fought for individual freedom will tell their stories. Invited guests include…

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, and the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, will also participate in the simulcast.

A “simulcast” used to refer to a live program that was broadcast on radio and television simultaneously. These days, it refers to the private, non-public narrowcasting of events occurring live (possibly in more than one place) to more than one location. None of these accurately characterize the First Freedom First event that just ended. The local First Freedom First representative let the truth slip when he told the assembled (103 said they’d come, 27 actually attended) that any moment now, someone would “press play on the DVD.” What followed was clearly pre-recorded, consisting of actors who’d been long-ago videotaped, all folksy and avuncular:

James Whitmore on a First Freedom First promotional DVD aired in a pre-recorded not-exactly-simulcast

or “interviews” with F.F.F. administrators that were scripted and more than occasionally edited for brevity:

FFF fake interview with Peter Coyote

with occasional cutaway shots to a pre-recorded not-live “live” audience:

FFF not live live audience

and some song-and-dance numbers.

This was all very pat, with twinkly piano music for when we were supposed to feel sad, and cutaways to giggling audience members when we were supposed to feel amused, and kudos for all the right people all around. It wasn’t thought-provoking or intellectual. It was a sales pitch for people who are already sold on the idea of church-state separation, a sales pitch for a particular organization that sure could use your contribution. It was an advertisement.

You know, for an organization that says it’s for “academic integrity,” how about a little truth in advertising? For an organization that says it wants “respect for all families,” how about some respect for its constituency? Try being upfront next time. You know, something like, “hey, we’d like you to watch our pre-recorded infomercial for 90 minutes. Want to come over?” Something like that. What, it wouldn’t work? We wouldn’t come? Well, what does that mean?

7 comments to First Freedom First Fizzles with Pre-Recorded Fake Simulcast

  • hey- I was at the taping of the event and it seemed clear to me that the broadcast was gonna be just that, a broadcast of a prerecorded show. The audience reactions were the actual reactions, and the show itself was done with only 2 small gaffes that caused Peter Coyote to have to reread one line each time (towards the end) It was actually pretty smooth in how it came off…they played the commercials and little prerecorded videos in between switching the guests in the studio…and it was a very long show. I dont know how much they had to edit it, but I would hope that they did because it was around 3 hours long or longer…nonstop and seamless…
    I wrote it up in my blog, and was very impressed with the live version. I coudnt see goign to a theater to see something that should be, and will be released on the web as an on demand video.
    It may not have been as intellectual as you or I might wish it to be, but it is actually directed at people who are not the choir…and who will get it in wider release.
    FFF is a well meaning charity that only seems to want to float ideas. They may make mistakes, but their intentions seem pretty pure.
    I didn’t know much about them before this thing, but I do like the idea that someone is putting some money into discourse about these issues. i wish that they had a younger lineup in general, but, hey…its one event and it was free…at the taping they even fed us! education is gonna be key to digging us out of this mess, and I would venture that a large percent of people done know about the issues raised in this show…at the same time, I think that youtube clips featuring the older folks will be less likely to get the kinds of kits that I would hope for if I were them…
    regarding the T shirt thing…that would be a pretty strange thing. They had a table at yearly Kos last year and they seem to be run by some pretty knowledgeable merchandisers…so I would say that there is no excuse for that. It seems like you are in a position to inform them about it, and there is no reason to think that anything improper has gone on until you get a reply from them.
    I dont like cafe press because I dont much like the quality of the cloth they use. I had not idea that they had some questionable practices going on, but then, I only ever priced stuff in the Made in America line…and then, I looked around.
    What is the deal with Spreadshirt?…are there others that you would suggest that would be more worker correct?

  • Horatio

    Melina, a “simulcast” has to be simultaneously broadcast, or it’s not a simulcast. Looks like pretty clear deception to me. And why wouldn’t an activist event be free?

  • Jim

    The people invited to this “simulcast” were on First Freedom First’s e-mail list (along with the e-mail list of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State). That’s very much the choir.

  • charles pervo

    In an era where alternative religious views are suppressed, I enjoyed the program, and talked with a number of attendees afterwards in the lobby who were motivated to get involved.

  • Jim

    Of course you did; you’re one of the leaders of the organization. And it WAS good for your organization, I’m sure. You expanded your mailing list a bit and you got some individual lobbying time in. It was very good for your organization’s self-interests. What your organization didn’t do was to be upfront about this not being a simulcast and it being a thoroughly canned event. If FFF had noted on its website BEFORE the event happened (and not just afterward, as it has now) that the whole thing was pre-recorded and would be available on the FFF website, then I wouldn’t have wasted my time traveling to see a slick infomercial.

  • BAC

    Late to the game here, but the show was simulcast, via satellite, to 37 locations … definitely not a “hit the DVD button” event. As Melina mentioned, it was a “look-live” show — similar to what the Tonight Show, or Oprah, is.

    There were AU and TIAF members in the audience, but the program also played in more than a dozen theaters where neither group has an activist base.

    The purpose of this event was to encourage people to ask candidates running for office questions on church-state separation issues. It’s important that everyone know where a candidate stands on these important issues.

    It was a free event, designed to spark enthusiasm to get people engaged in asking important questions to people running for office.

    So tell me Jim, what questions have YOU asked the candidates in your area?

    BAC

  • Jim

    “Look-live” is not live. It was not a simulcast. And it didn’t encourage me, it patronized and infantilized me.

    I’ve asked my local congressional candidate about their positions on the bankruptcy crisis, foreclosure, three bills related to the Military Commissions Act and habeas corpus. I’d ask more, but I haven’t gotten past square one, since the campaign of Mary Jo Kilroy has decided not to answer substantive constituent questions.

    I’ve also sent letters of inquiry to congressional candidates as far afield as Bob Lord, who also has been unresponsive to my queries, particularly in regard to questions regarding birthright citizenship repeal.

    It seems that these congressional candidates have been gotten to by the same advisers who told AU that they should communicate to their audiences via infomercials that masquerade as live events. I’ve had better experiences with events such as the Evnironmentalists for Obama seminar which featured substantive discussion and a question and answer period with three experts in the field. That’s the direction that campaigns and nonprofits ought to pursue.

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