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The March 13 Today show gave Colorado another unwanted closeup via an exclusive interview with Tommy Clay, the Brighton Charter School student whose sexual relationship with teacher Carrie McCandless led to her firing, as well as charges of sexual assault of a child by a person in a position of trust and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Matt Lauer wore his compassionate face as he quizzed Clay, the teen's parents, and a lawyer representing him, but his tone couldn't help but seem phony.

Why? For one thing, Clay acknowledged that when word of the affair reached his pals, it was high fives all around. (The main negative he voiced: Girls at his school are now wary about dating him.) Even more problematic, however, was the use of one flirty photo of McCandless after another to illustrate the segment. Bottom line, this incident wouldn't have become a national phenomenon if McCandless was less than a looker -- and Today's overt moralizing didn't disguise the exploitation in the slightest. It's the equivalent of old Cecil B. DeMille biblical epics in which the director showed how debased sinners were by mounting elaborate orgy scenes and then lingering on them lovingly.

Hypocrisy? Damn straight. But who cares when it pumps up the ratings? -- Michael Roberts


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