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The annual flurry of outrage about reality TV is under way. It's a summer thing.

New and gimmicky shows appear on the schedule and, well, there is always someone ready to be pious, outraged, in a high dudgeon and appalled by low taste. It's like a heat-rash thing that returns as soon as the days are warm and the nights are long.

Like most summer things, it's fleeting and fallacious. The true horror is not found in cheesy shows anchored in a cunning ruse or a stunt. Television tends to be horribly wrong and offer true horror when it presents what is allegedly wholesome.

Right now, there is much discussion of a piece in the New Republic magazine, Television's Long History of Humiliating Poor People, by Esther Breger. The article was the subject of a segment on CBC Radio's q last week.

The gist, entirely predictable, is that such shows as the new CBS summer series The Briefcase amount to "exploiting the economically precarious for crass entertainment."

On The Briefcase, two couples "in the lower-middle class," as Breger puts it, get a briefcase containing $101,000. They have 72 hours to decide whether to keep all the money, spend part of it or give it all away to another family that has more dire needs.

The New Republic piece also cites a BBC series, Britain's Hardest Grafter, in which 25 young people compete to win a year's basic wage. Hard work is rewarded, and perceived slackers are cruelly treated. The piece goes easy on Britain's Hardest Grafter because, well, it's the BBC. But The Briefcase causes outrage.

On The Briefcase, we watch people who don't have much money to spend on luxuries. For some, the first thought is to pay medical bills. Yes, medical bills. An issue that never crops up on all those medical shows about saintly doctors and lovestruck nurses. Other families think about paying for a kid's education. When faced with other families who might need the money more, there is a sickening realization that others are worse off.

There's a twist, of course. Things work out. But for a time, the recipients of the briefcase of cash are vulnerable, a bit traumatized. Is that nice? No. But at least there's a scintilla of "reality" in showing working people worried about health-care costs and their children's education.

Far worse is American TV's tendency to fetishize and offer "wholesome" reality TV. The prime example, and now primary illustration of horror and hypocrisy, is TLC's 19 Kids and Counting.

The point of the show, always, has been the cuteness and adorability of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, and their enormous brood, engaging in good Christian living. Strict rules about dating, sex, consumption of popular culture. A Christian education and, you know, old-fashioned family values. Something to make a portion of the viewership stand up and cheer.

Then it turned out that eldest son, Josh had, some years ago, at 14, molested four of his sisters and a babysitter. His parents waited 16 months before telling authorities about their son's actions. On the family's Facebook page recently, the parents wrote, "That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before." Not the cops, God. Now the family and Josh himself refer to the matter as Josh's "mistakes."

It's at this point that the Duggars and TLC leave the rest of us howling in rage and disgust. But it gets worse. The Duggars spoke exclusively to Fox News – the most sympathetic of outlets for "Christian living" people, one assumes – and there was anger from the Duggars. "It's been an unprecedented attack on our family," Jim Bob said. Meanwhile, Fox's Megyn Kelly nudged the family to talk about "the liberal media" attacking them.

The mess spreads further. The Duggars have close ties to and have supported right-wing Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. In public, Huckabee has also referred to the molestation as "mistakes." This from the man who berated Barack Obama for allowing his daughters to listen to Beyoncé's music.

What's repellent is glossing over the fact that children were molested. And this fact is being spun as somehow less than it is because the Duggars are wholesome, the show is wholesome and wholesome people work out their "mistakes" by talking to God, or such. TLC has not cancelled 19 Kids and Counting. It's a cash cow, this epic of wholesomeness. According to Entertainment Weekly, it earned a reported $25-million in ad revenue this year.

It's a horror story, actually. Far more horrific, loathsome and objectionable than a bunch of people on TV excited about getting cash to pay their medical bills.