Lie Detector Tests on Talk Shows—Are Guests “Getting Punked?”

Lie Detector Tests on Talk Shows—Are Guests “Getting Punked?”
by L. Arthalia Cravin

I am not one for using too much slang, but after viewing a few minutes of the Steve Wilkos Show today, “getting punked” best describes what I saw happened to a male guest.

A lot of what I call “conflict-based,” television talk shows, ask their guests to take a polygraph, a lie detector test, to prove that they are not telling a lie, or are telling the truth. The typical situation involves an accused cheating boyfriend or spouse. Why these folks go on national television to air their dirty laundry is beyond me, but whatever the inducement, shows like Maury Povich, Steve Wilkos, Jerry Springer, and even some judge shows, now have lie detector tests as part of their “shock and awe” format. And, as always, the accused vehemently denies the alleged wrongdoing. And, the reading of the contrary results of a lie detector test always brings on the usual audience boos and cheers. I wonder if these guests are “getting punked” for television drama.

I saw just such a “getting punked” show today– for no better reason than I was eating breakfast and was already tired of other networks talking about “what to do with leftover Thanksgiving turkey.” (Hey, we do what we do every year, we eat it!) And so I flipped to whatever station carries the Steve Wilkos Show. And, as usual, Wilkos was egging on couple animosity with allegations of infidelity. The wife accused the husband of bringing someone into the house for sex. He said he didn’t have sex only a few hits of a joint. They both took lie detector tests that asked the usual too-personal question of having sex with someone, followed by the usual denials. (You can almost guess the outcome of these lie detector tests based on who the audience favors.) The audience was in the wife’s corner for no better reason than the husband brought a stranger into the house. And so when the lie detector test results were read she passed, and, naturally, the already-in-the-doghouse-husband failed. Still he persisted “I did not have sex with that woman”–a refrain we’ve heard before. But still, he was adamant and asked to take the test again. Wilkos said no, you can’t take it again, you already failed it. And of course by then the wife had stormed off the show crying, yelling, and screaming for the husband to get out of the house. Another broken family, another couple headed for divorce court all behind dubious lie detector tests that I think should be banned on all talk shows.

A polygraph, or “lie-detector,” is a machine that measures various physical attributes (blood pressure, perspiration, heart rate, etc…) and attempts to correlate them with telling lies. The results of lie detector tests have been held by courts across the country to be so inherently unreliable that they cannot be used to prove guilt or innocence. Some states, like New York and Texas, forbid their use completely in all employment and law enforcement contexts. Other states have severe limitations on how the results of a lie detector test can be use in court. Georgia allows defendants who suffer damage because of a false result on a polygraph test (which are somewhat frequent) to sue the polygraph operator for damages and attorneys fees.

But daytime television has run roughshod over law in the nation about using the results of polygraph tests. The reason is that talk shows are not courtrooms in which the accused may lose life or liberty. Never mind that the results of some of these tests destroy relationships and families. I personally believe that many of these “talk show” lie detector results are rigged for effect and the accused are simply getting punked on national television. Of course I already know that part of the “General Release” documents that these participants signed protects these shows from liability for everything. The result of the release of all liability for what happens on these shows is that the participants go on national television and are made to look like, sometimes fist-throwing, fools. I believe that many of these lie detector tests results are rigged for drama. After hearing these rigged results the guests are often laughed at, cursed, ridiculed, and called bold face liars before the world. I believe that many of these guests are indeed telling the truth. But instead of vindication, these guests leave these shows like whipped dogs, tails tucked, to return to homes, families, workplaces, and neighborhoods where they are permanently branded as liars all because of the use of lie detector tests.

Someone needs to stop these shows from using lie detectors tests. If these tests are too unreliable for courts they should be too unreliable for talk shows to use to ruin lives and families. I believe that some of the polygraph examiners who are being paid big bucks by the very television show they work for, have a built-in incentive to rig the results. I believe that some of these examiners are lying and they know it. And I am now accusing them of doing just such a thing for drama. It’s too bad that the victims of these talk show lie detector frauds have signed away their right to sue these lying bastards.

Copyright 2010 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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  1. avatar cdm says:

    I have been watching the Steve Wilkos show off and on since it’s been on the air and share the same sentiments regarding the polygraph. I’ve always thought something was fishy with this system. I see time and time again these men that “fail” these tests and their genuine surprised reaction have me questioning every time. Some guys you can tell are busted but SOME of them are off the charts completely believable in their denials. I googled this topic and relieved to see I’m not alone. Great post!