The reality of reality TV is that it generally rewards bad behavior. Being a loudmouthed, confrontational boor is usually the best way to get camera time.
Still, crashing a White House dinner — as Michaele and Tareq Salahi did — ought to be a bridge too far, and should give Bravo an opportunity to prove that there are limits to what contestants and wannabe participants can do and still remain viable candidates.
Thus far, all Bravo has said is that the couple are "under consideration" for "Real Housewives of D.C.," the next iteration (following Orange County, New York, Atlanta and New Jersey) of that lucrative franchise. As ABC News and others have reported, the producers have been filming the couple, which suggests they are already contestants — or at the least, serious contenders.
If Bravo wants to get ahead of this mess, the channel should stop being cute or coy about it and simply announce that the Salahis are no longer being considered for the show. And they could go one better by saying that their actions — which still might result in criminal charges — are what disqualified them.
I'm generally not a big fan of New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley, but she got it right in her recent piece about the preoccupation with celebrity when she wrote, "The Washington social climbers had a plan, even if it was lunatic and dangerous. So did the father who pretended that his son was trapped in a runaway balloon, and in much the same reality-show fevered way, so did Jon and Kate Gosselin when they ripped their marriage apart on camera."
People will only be deterred from engaging in dumbass stunts in pursuit of 15 minutes of fame if their stupidity yields consequences (a few will anyway, but that's unavoidable). Somebody else might very well step up and provide the Salahis the platform they appear to so desperately crave, but inasmuch as the NBC Universal network played a role — however small — in motivating their behavior, it doesn't have to be Bravo.
Update: The Wrap's Joe Adalian — who generally defends reality TV's perceived excesses – independently reached the same conclusion about Bravo's role in the situation. Meanwhile, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was peppered with questions about the security breach this morning, suggesting the story isn't apt to die anytime soon — especially with the prospect of the inevitable interview "get" with the Salahis, paid or unpaid, still looming. A spokeswoman for the couple has denied reports that they are seeking financial compensation for an interview, but their credibility at this point would be, how you say, zero.
Second update: The smell of NBC's connection to this story isn't getting any better. "Today" just announced that it had landed the first interview with the Salahis for Dec. 1. Networks always maintain that their news divisions operate without being soiled by entertainment considerations, but to avoid the appearance that some kind of quid pro quo is involved with its sister network, Bravo needs to state in no uncertain terms that the couple will not be part of the D.C. edition of "Real Housewives." Barring that, Matt Lauer ought to probe that connection — and disclose the corporate conflict — during the interview.
The longer Bravo waits, the worse this is going to look for both the cable network and NBC News.