White-Collar Criminal: The Offender in Business and the Professions

By Gilbert Geis | Go to book overview

21
VAN DOREN AS VICTIM: STUDENT REACTION

Gladys Engel Lang
and Kurt Lang

On November 2, 1959, Charles Van Doren, the egghead idol of millions of television quiz fans, confessed to participation in a gigantic hoax, which enabled him to earn $129,000 by besting opponents on the program "Twenty-One." As it turned out, he was able to do this because he had received in advance correct answers that were denied to others. For a week or two, Van Doren was front-page news, the subject of small talk everywhere. In the prominence given it, the issue of Van Doren's duplicity overrode both foreign affairs and domestic issues. Though it is beyond question that the Van Doren exposure cut very deeply, the exact nature of the public reaction can stand pinning down.

Van Doren seems to have been pretty much absolved from guilt by the verdict of public opinion, in spite of the fact that professors and the academic community clearly condemned him. Moreover, the New York City press, in the days following his confession, tended to treat Van Doren as a tragic hero victimized by the television industry. Television and radio

____________________
Reprinted from Studies in Public Communication, 3 ( Summer, 1961), pp. 50-58.

-277-

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