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Social Worker Review: The Briefcase Exploits, Traumatizes Economically Struggling Families

A scene from "The Briefcase." Image courtesy of CBS.

A scene from “The Briefcase.” Image courtesy of CBS.

By Kurt Wellman

“The Hunger Games”  and its message of overcoming poverty through violence in a post-apocalyptic future was certainly bad enough and quite possibly left a permanent tear on the moral fabric of our social consciousness.

To make matters worse or to take things to a new level CBS has just unveiled a new reality series “The Briefcase” (Wednesdays at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central).

The premise of this show is to take a briefcase filled with $101,000 to two families who are living below the poverty line and after showing them the money give them the choice to keep all of it, keep some of the money or give it away.

This disgusting form of televised torture and media manipulation goes on to pit the two families against each other by revealing personal details about the other’s financial situation.

In one episode the show pits a family of four surviving on a mother’s salary of $15.50 an hour versus an Iraq combat veteran who is an amputee.

The reality show goes way too far in exploiting and preying on the vulnerability of the working class who are struggling to make ends meet. The ensuing mental and emotional anguish that the families experience —  to use the money for themselves or donate it — is captured for the whole world to see.

As a social worker I have viewed reality TV as nothing more than a mind numbing distraction that would provide relief to those with extra time on their hands. I didn’t view it as harmful or having the ability to produce trauma.

“The Briefcase” is a vehicle of predation that needs to be brought to a halt. Preying on the vulnerability of working class families and combat veterans is inexcusable.

CBS so far has no plans to cancel “The Briefcase” despite bad reviews from NPR, the Baltimore Sun, and other publications. To voice your opinion about the program email Executive Producer David Broome at

The financial struggle of these families is real and not meant for public consumption to produce ratings.

I feel that we are on a slippery slope. To engage those experiencing financial hardship and dangling this golden carrot in front of them is in my opinion at least unethical and could in fact be traumatizing to the family.

Kurt Wellman. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

Kurt Wellman. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

To be seen as selfish (wanting to keep all the money for one’s family) might cause psychological distress and a form of dissonance. The emotional damage created by this situation may in fact have long term and permanent damage.

This anguish is exactly the result that CBS is trying to produce and capture on film for its new series. To those of us who work in the field and are the champions of social justice the time is at hand to let CBS know that this is not acceptable programming and that that those struggling to make ends meet aren’t available for prime time viewing consumption.

As a social worker its time to speak and let our collective voices be heard, its time to draw our line in the sand and say “ Thou shalt not pass.”

Kurt Wellman is director of Region E of the National Association of Social Workers California Chapter.


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