Jerry Springer spoke in the Marvin Center’s Betts Theatre Thursday without his usual sideshows – no brawling lovers, no raucous crowd chanting his name and no nudity.
In a 40-minute lecture, Springer criticized the media, offered his opinion on the Clinton impeachment trial, stressed the importance of the right to privacy and often mocked his highly rated talk show, “The Jerry Springer Show.”
“I’ve got the stupidest show on television,” Springer said to open his speech. “But you can’t be smart all the time. It’s an hour escape from what ails us.”
Springer fielded questions from the audience and then signed copies of his book, Ringmaster, which was available for $25.
Springer’s talk show debuted in September 1991 and has become the highest-rated daytime television program. The show is widely popular with college students but has been criticized in the media for its controversial content, frequent fights and profanity.
Springer said his show is pure entertainment but defended its content and right to be broadcast.
“(The show) is a reflection of the outrageousness in our culture, not the average people,” he said.
Springer also said critics who call his guests “trash” are elitist.
“Our guests are not trash, they’ve just done outrageous things,” he said. “I haven’t met a person yet who couldn’t be on our show.”
Springer, who has a law degree from Northwestern University, was elected mayor of Cincinnati in 1977 and was a local television news reporter there for 10 years after his term. He said the media is exploiting people in its reporting and is invading people’s privacy.
“We talk and write about people in a negative way,” he said. “If the story invades someone’s privacy, we run it anyway. (Our show) never ever puts someone on who doesn’t desperately want to.
“News is driven by ratings and so are we, but we’re supposed to be. News is not. News is supposed to be a public service and serious. That’s what’s wrong with news. They’re trying to get into entertainment,” Springer said.
Springer said the impeachment of President Clinton is helping to erode the right to privacy. He said independent counsel Kenneth Starr had no right to delve into Clinton’s private affairs.
“It’s impossible to have a free society without the right to privacy,” he said. “We are giving up our right to privacy. It’s already happening. Politicians are already being `outed.’ And don’t think it will stop with politics.”
Springer said the main players in the Lewinsky saga would be good guests on his show.
“First I’d bring out Hillary and then she and Monica would go at it,” he said, launching into a mock scenario. “`When we come back, we’ll meet the man in the middle, Bill.’ Then we’d bring out Ken Starr and the audience would go after him.”
Springer was still a local news anchor in Cincinnati when he started his show and felt he had to stick to serious guests and issues. But after he quit local news, Springer decided the show should target a younger audience and it grew more outrageous, he said.
“Once we went young, it got wild,” Springer said. “I do our show like a Friday night fraternity party.”
Students said they were surprised by Springer’s candidness.
“It was cool that he didn’t take himself as seriously as some other celebrities,” junior Sanjiv Gajiwala said, waiting in line for Springer to sign a copy of Ringmaster. “He sees his role in society, I appreciate that.”
But Springer’s presentation did not convince some students.
“I didn’t agree with some of what he said about right to privacy,” freshman Ryan Wenstrup said. “If people don’t want to get blackmailed, then they shouldn’t do those things.”
Springer was in the Washington area to promote his book, and was contacted about appearing at GW by the Student Activities Center, which organized the event along with the Program Board, said Amy Feldman, coordinator for leadership and special events for SAC.
“We thought he’d be a nice fit and students would enjoy his program,” Feldman said.
Students filled the theater and peppered Springer with questions on various topics, including whether his show is staged.
“Ninety-five percent of the stories are real,” Springer said. “People do make some stuff up. But we want it to be real, because otherwise it’s like a soap.”
Springer said guests only are turned away if their stories aren’t outrageous enough. But local affiliates refused to air a show that featured a man who had married his horse.
“But it’s probably better they didn’t show it,” Springer said. “Besides, the horse ended up leaving him.”