Smart Talk

Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

Listen to Smart Talk live online from 9-10 a.m. weekdays and at 7 p.m. (Repeat of 9 a.m. program)

Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Amish being exploited on TV?

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Aug 4, 2014 6:08 PM

What to look for on Smart Talk Tuesday, August 5, 2014:


Although meant to be entertaining, "reality" TV shows such as Amish Mafia and Breaking Amish focus on a small margin of Amish society and many believe it's not done accurately. Some say that such shows are broadcasting “Amish-sploitation” and promote misunderstanding of the traditional Amish way of life.

Respect Amish is a Lancaster County movement responding to the unrealistic portrayals of Amish life on reality TV. They have asked 3,000 businesses in Lancaster County to boycott Amish Mafia film crews, making it difficult for the show to continue filming.

Kraybill_Haverstack .jpg

Dr. Donald Kraybill and Mary Haverstick


On Tuesday’s Smart Talk, Mary Haverstick from Respect Amish will discuss the group’s efforts to protect the Amish community from exploitation.

Nearby Elizabethtown College has an Amish Studies program, which offers students the chance to expand their understanding of the Amish religion, social organization, and cultural practices.

Dr. Donald Kraybill, an internationally recognized Anabaptist scholar and Senior Fellow in the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, will offer his thoughts about the reality shows..

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  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-05 08:33

    Thomas emails:
    i would like to say this, first i have never watched nor would i ever watch this.
    i think this is just a sign of how society has become.

    you stated that the networks used to have shows that really would teach you something.

    these networks are pandering to what the society wants.....tasteless, brainless entertainment.
    this is why culture and items like the arts (opera) are suffering in large and small cities all over the country.
    i disagree that it will bottom out, i feel it is a race to the bottom and the bottom far down.

  • John H. img 2014-08-05 08:33

    Your guest are very hypocritical...

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-05 08:34

    Jody emails:

    I think the show, Amish mafia is completely real, and exposes these people for the way they really are, and what real happens behind the hidden false front the Amish project to the general public. If you think that the Amish are just these nice people without a dark side like all human beings, your clueless, like your guests are today.

    I will continue to watch it, and even promote it if this groups continue to trash these shows.

    • alisons img 2014-08-05 18:37

      You're just wrong. The Amish certainly are not all "just these nice people without a dark side". Of course they have issues. Amish culture and social structures are really male-dominant and quite hermetic. There are theological points with which most others of Christian persuasion would disagree. But they also aren't the 'mafia'.

      Those shows do NOT, as Dr. Kraybill states, represent who and how Amish people function. Dr. Kraybill is a national expert on Amish culture and society -- you should listen to him if you're really interested in Amish people. And Mary Haverstick is right, too, and a much greater expert than you on what's real in Amish communities.

      You clearly need to listen to people who are wiser than you and stop insisting that you have any idea whatsoever about a whole people group you're only "getting to know" through an unfathomably stoopid TV show. Grow up, Jody, and get a brain of your own.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-05 08:37

    John emails:
    I moved to Pennsylvania with my family several years before the advent of these so-called “reality” shows.
    One of the first things I noticed was, Pennsylvanians (Amish or otherwise) appeared to be participating in an economy that encouraged tourists to come and gawk at these people. Where was the outrage for all those years?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-05 08:39

    Elam emails:
    I see LNP is going all in, in support of the "Respect Amish" movement. I'm in agreement that "Amishsploitation" films are problematic, but I don't agree with the "Respect Amish" movements remedy that LNP so heartily endorses. It is un-American to go to the lengths "Respect Amish" and the Chamber of Commerce are going, to oppose Amish reality shows. Will all future productions have to run their ideas past Mary Haverstick now to see if they're acceptable? Nowhere else in America would this kind of dictatorial control over the freedom of expression be tolerated.
    It is relevant that the Amish are uniquely impoverished by having their narrative controlled, not only from within the community, but also by outsiders. But more importantly, if LNP and the "Respect Amish" movement are so concerned about the Lancaster County brand, how come they haven't taken an activist role on the puppy mill issue?
    Instead of selectively jumping on the band wagon when it suits them, I suggest LNP do their job and report on the sordid state of the Amish-non Amish relationship. How about pointing out that, when the Amish drug busts occurred, in spite of the enormous amount of cocaine that was trafficked on Amish farms, (unlike what would've occurred in the non-Amish world) non of those farms were confiscated by drug enforcement.
    There is evidence that the police response to the Nickel Mines school shooting didn't follow police protocol. LNP is perfectly happy to stay mum on the subject in spite of the fact that the only investigation into the shooting was led by the police.
    Dr. Morton, who is highly revered and world renowned for his work treating genetic illnesses among lancaster's plain community, in spite of his enormous stature and influence with the communities he serves, is completely silent on the one solution that could make the biggest long term difference, in combatting genetic illnesses.
    Another highly respected individual whose silence is deafening, is Donald Kraybill. The one Achilles heel that the Amish have regarding sexual predators is their embrace of patriarchy. As long as their sexual abuse victims aren't allowed to testify in court, yet huge numbers of Amish show up in support of the perpetrator at his court appearance, they are at a disadvantage to address this issue. Kraybill's work goes on, page after page, in great detail when he is illustrating a positive aspect of Amish culture, but he is quiet as a mouse when it comes to their flaws.
    The stench of first amendment oppression is ripe here in Lancaster. The real mafia could only aspire to the code of silence practiced here. But like in the real mafia, there are victims, victims whose pain and anguish can and should be placed at the feet of LNP because of their collusion in this code of silence.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-05 08:40

    James emails:

    Let me start by saying that I may have been one of Mary's '31 members'.

    But has anyone noticed that many of these reality shows; Honey Boo-Boo, Gator Boys, etc seem to almost prey on folks at the lower ends of the economic spectrum?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-05 08:44

    Listener emails:
    I am listening to the program on NPR regarding the misleading shows about Amish crime and I think the point needs to be made that there is real Amish injustice, albeit not what is reflected on the shows, as I know them.

    The real crimes are not really appropriate for a TV show.

    Some of the crimes that persist in the Amish Mennonite communities are interfamily injustice, incest, violence, and abuse of women and children . These run through those communities and rarely is punished.

    I feel like the people on your show are misrepresenting the purity of the community in hopes of clearing the area’s name for tourism.

    Amish are human and they are completely innocent.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-05 08:53

    Brian emails:

    Don’t these programs come close to “hate Speech”?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-05 08:55

    Listener emails:
    Now they are going after Native Americans. I just read this last night.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-05 08:58

    Eileen emails:

    Lebanon County's Lebanon Levi from Amish Mafi has been used in a number of Lebanon County nonprofit organizations fund raisers and is treated as a rock star and raises large amounts of money. I sympathize with the difficulty of nonprofits raising money but have difficulty with this method.

  • thisgirlsmusic img 2014-08-05 10:10

    I'm sure you don't know Mary. If you did you would know that she would never take money to make films to support the Williams pipeline.

  • Mae Capoeira img 2014-08-05 10:14

    Excellent interview! It's important to get this word out to, in the very least raise the consciousness of others to the ridiculousness and absurdity of such programming... but more importantly to have it stated in no compromising way that indeed Amish Mafia is a falsehood. Also hopefully local business owners will hear this message and the message of "Respect Amish" and soul search to make the right decision on how to best NOT contribute to this ongoing bigotry.

  • thisgirlsmusic img 2014-08-05 10:16

    I think it's great that Lancaster County is speaking out against these shows. It's not just Mary Haverstick. It's over 3 thousand businesses and over 80% of LPN's readership which is representative of Lancaster County.

  • mary haverstick img 2014-08-05 10:22

    I must politely request that WITF remove the comment from a person called Stephen saying I am taking money for a pipeline film. I am against the pipeline and am not doing a film on it. I briefly considered doing a film AGAINST the pipeline, but have other projects pending. I am a member of Lancaster Against the Pipeline FB page. I expected more accuracy from listeners of WITF.

  • Sibyl Snow img 2014-08-05 10:50

    This program was a great example of poor or lazy journalism. Why did Smart Talk not invite someone with an opposing viewpoint to speak on the topic?
    I would have also liked to have heard a media scholar speak on the topic.

    • Kate Loving Shenk img 2014-08-05 14:14

      Dr Kraybill is a media scholar.

      • Sibyl Snow img 2014-08-07 16:08

        His curriculum vitae (per Elizabethtown's website) shows that he is a scholar of religious studies and sociology which is how he was portrayed on the show. Does anyone know where his media research is published? I'm genuinely interested in reading about the topic from this perspective as contemporary media is my area of study and I'm from the area.

  • TerriM img 2014-08-05 11:19

    I think the comment by Jody below speak to the danger of shows like these and why they are so popular: people are willing to believe that there has to be a dark, hidden, evil side to something largely good. I am an actress. I have worked on film sets. Film, TV, and theater are about creating illusion. I see the lengths to which those in these arts go to creating these illusions. I have seen the location where a great deal of Amish Mafia was filmed. It is a barn rented from a local farm/bed and breakfast. In one portion of the barn, a room has been set up as the set for Levi's supposed office. When the camera swings around to the opposite side of the room, lo and behold, we see an interior room of Esther's house, which is supposedly in an entirely different location than the office. This is one way audiences are made to believe things are "real".
    I also work as a tour guide and interact regularly with the Amish. They would be the first to tell you that they are not perfect. But I also see that they strive to follow their beliefs more closely than any group of people I know. The " crimes" that have been cited in Elam's post below that are supposedly insidious and prevalent in the Amish culture are neither. Are there some of these crimes committed? Probably so, as they are in our English world. But to say that, in either world, this is part and parcel of their people's character is to futher create and perpetrate negative stereotypes and whip up sensationist sentiments for the sake of denigrating what are on the whole a good, hard working, kind, humble, and peaceful group of people.

  • Kerry Clements img 2014-08-05 12:26

    As someone who has weekly interactions with the local plain community, my heart breaks over the wretchedness of these shows. They are prejudice and take advantage of a community who, in general, won't fight back. My family has had many relationships with the Amish throughout the years, in different capacities and I have always known them to be good neighbors and stewards of the earth. And I am appalled at the ignorance of those who continue to perpetuate the obvious falseness of the Amish lifestyle. In this age of social media there seems to be an ever increasing number of people who know very little but speak very loud.

  • Kate Loving Shenk img 2014-08-05 14:12

    I am not happy with these shows depicting the Amish as violent mafia types. I’ve lived in Lancaster County all of my life. I’ve been a RN for three decades. My present position entails working closely with Amish families.

    It used to be that people came to Lancaster with a genuine interest in learning about our peaceful neighbors. Now they come and expect to catch a glimpse of Lebanon Levi or Esther, and watch buggies be blown up by AK47’s. This is unacceptable.

    I encourage people to refuse producers’ requests to film on their property. Please email sponsors of these shows and, of course, tune out.

    By remaining silent, or turning a blind eye, we run the risk of exploiting our selves and all the family traditions we hold dear, here and everywhere else Discovery exploits the vulnerable.

  • annie img 2014-08-05 14:18

    I'm in complete agreement with Mary on this issue. Regardless of whether or not one enjoys "reality" shows, series such as "Amish Mafia" are of a completely different type than, say, "Duck Dynasty." The shows in question are bigoted in nature,and no other show targeting other religious groups would be tolerated.

  • maryhenry img 2014-08-05 20:36

    No, the Amish are not saints, but the actors in these shows are no longer Amish (if they ever were) and the behaviors being portrayed are not acceptable in the Amish community. The shows sell contrived drama and violence that have no relation to reality, against a specific religious group that shuns the cameras and avoids conflict.

    Some reality shows are based on people living down-to-earth lives, but the fictions of these shows are closer to "Ice Road Truckers Turned Pole Dancers!" There is no reality to them other than the manufactured, scripted kind.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-06 08:06

    Kellie from York emails:

    I totally agreed with the guests about the misrepresentation of the Amish in the media. The demonizing of those who are different has been the staple of our society's obsession with those in our nation who are different, are a small minority, and so have little recourse to addressing the mischaracterization of those members.
    I disagreed with the caller who claimed this is about some supposed attack on traditional morality. As a trans female, most presume I am a prostitute even though I have happily been with the same woman for 27 years. I am gainfully employed as a RN, and help others in my community. Thus, I feel that the majority has attempted to make me and others like me to be some kind of monsters.
    My point is that we need to stop making unreasonable and unfounded assumptions about each other, band together, and fight against all bigotry. This is the only way we will ever be able to end such programs like The Amish Mafia et al.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-08-07 09:06

    Nate posts on Facebook:

    This post is in regard to the Radio Smart Talk broadcast about the Amish reality Tv shows. I have been a very consistent listener and supporter of the show over the years. I have also called and made many comments. It was very troubling today to not only not have my comment brought up but to have almost no comments contradictory to the guest's and apparently the host's veiws. I have thought this for some time. However I would say this show was the death nail to the coffin. It seems that for some reason ( I can only suspect contributions, donors, etc.) that the integrity and nutraulity of the show have gone by the way side. That is disapointing to say the least. There are already, on the a.m. talk circuits, plenty of conservative biased shows that pander to the people that generaly make up that segment of society. Thank you to PBS, WITF, NPR for the shows that do stay true to a true public, intelligent, higher cause. As for Radio Smart Talk, you will not be included in my listening any longer.

  • Amy img 2014-08-07 11:38

    First, I am responding to the argument that we are hypocrites because we support a tourist industry that gawks at the Amish. Most if not all of the tourist areas I know of are very respectful of the Amish and strive to teach at least something about their way of life. That is much different than the outright lies the "reality" shows tell.

    Second, the Discovery Channel used to be a channel that I could turn to and be fairly certain that I would find something interesting to learn. It seems that it is like most of the other channels found on TV today, and I haven't even looked at its lineup ever since I heard about the Amish "reality" shows. If that garbage is on this channel, I just figure that it is all garbage. I'll stick to PBS and the BBC, thanks.

  • Patricia Smith img 2014-08-09 15:30

    As one who was born and raised in Lancaster County, I respect the Amish and their lifestyle. I have not and WILL NOT watch these shows.

  • Scott LaMar img 2014-08-12 08:49

    An update related to Amish Mafia...