David Manning Trivial Liars of the Month for May 2005

Corey Clark or Paula Abdul

In a rare trifecta for a TV show, "American Idol" has dominated May be earning one essay, an unethical website, and now The David Manning Trivial Liar.

Please hold the cheering down.

Thank you.

"Who is the trivial liar?" you ask. And, of course, the answer is: "What difference does it make?"

Corey Clark, a creep by any measure, chose to promote the release of his new CD by using ABC's "Primetime" investigative reporting program to accuse "American Idol" of cheating when he was on the show two seasons ago. Specifically, he claimed that Abdul, one of the top-rated show's three "judges" of aspiring recording star contestants, gave him special assistance while she and Clark carried on a secret sexual relationship. Clark has snippets of "evidence," such as a taped phone message from Abdul, and described both their alleged bedroom activities and Abdul's physical attributes in considerable detail for Howard Stern (Do you need to take a shower yet?). For her part, Paula Abdul released a lovely statement of absolute denial, stating that:

All my life, I have been taught to take the high road, and never to dignify salacious or false accusations. And I have been taught never, never to lie. Not only do I never lie, I never respond to lies, no matter how vicious, no matter how hurtful.  

To some, Clark's accusations raised the specter of fraud in the TV talent show, since making the "final 12" in the competition generally confers at least some modicum of professional legitimacy that even losing candidates can parlay into singing jobs and recording deals. To others, Clark's record of character deficits (he was kicked off "American Idol" for not revealing to producers a felony conviction related to his attack on his sister (Now are you ready for that shower?) make him nothing more than an opportunist who cannot be believed.

To the Ethics Scoreboard, this is a lot of unsavory and unethical behavior with little or no consequence, even if one considers the integrity of "American Idol" consequential. Yes, it seems likely that Clark is telling the truth, that he and Paula had a fling, and she attempted to give him "tips." Yes, that was unethical, for both him and her. The ethical time for him to come clean about it was when he was still in the competition, but then he felt he was getting benefits from his illicit affair, and being the slime-ball that he is, he didn't say anything. Each passing second after that point made it less and less honorable for him to spring a kiss-and-tell now, particularly since Clark has no regrets about his actions and seemingly doesn't see anything wrong with Abdul's conduct either ("All she did was have sex," he has said. Maybe he hangs out with Lanny Davis.) Even assuming he is telling the truth about the relationship, Corey Clark has set out to injure a former lover and damage a show that gave him a national stage to display his talent, simply to sell more CDs. You're no whistle-blower if your only motive is fame and cash.

If Clark is lying, he's only slightly more despicable. Clearly, he is fully capable of lying. But assuming his story is true, what of Abdul? Yes, she was guilty of Grade A, textbook impropriety and a conflict of interest, and it would be especially bad if she really had the power to influence the outcome of the competition. But she doesn't. Abdul's role on the show is more mascot than judge: she gushes over 90% of the song renditions, and appears to have little or no influence over the audience voting. Could her "tips" on song choices and dress have helped Corey Clark? Oh, maybe a little…but "American Idol" is still a singing competition, and if you've ever heard Paula Abdul sing, you know her assistance in this area would be of minimal value.

Paula or Corey? Whoever is lying, it is a waste of imagination, press releases and credibility. Fans of "American Idol" already have a healthy and appropriate cynicism about the fairness of the show anyway: people can vote multiple times, and there are frequent technological snafus. So Paula picked out a contestant's shirt. So what?

Is Corey Clark's CD likely to sell any more copies than Ron Artest's CD because of his simultaneous exposure of Paula Abdul as a horny judge and himself as a slimy cad? Very doubtful. Are Americans shocked…shocked! to discover that performers sometimes attempt to sleep their way to the top in the music business, and that there are people established in the business who are happy to have a good time while they try? Please.

In all likelihood, all the lying, impropriety and duplicity in this episode will have no effect on anything whatsoever, other than to give cable news something to gasp about, and to give The Ethics Scoreboard a much needed David Manning Trivial Liar for May. Thanks Corey…or Paula…whichever of you are lying.

And now I'm ready for that shower.



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