As The Other Charlotte noted yesterday (see Apprentice Fever Spreads, Feb. 16), the cultural establishment can’t stand NBC’s biz-reality show in which well-groomed eager beavers compete for a $250,000-a-year slot as amanuensis to mogul Donald Trump. Everything about The Apprentice seemed to irritate the squad of seven self-proclaimed business leaders (of whom many were actually Washington career bureaucrats and high-grade policy wonks) the WaPo collected on Sunday to chat about “The Apprentice.”

An example of this was WaPo Sunday panelist Clifford Alexander Jr., a former secretary of the Army who now runs something or other called Alexander & Associates, Inc. (Free Biz Tip #1: The tag “& Associates” after your name on your firm nameplate usually means that your “associates” consist of Fido and his fleas snoozing atop your foot while you plug away on your home computer.) Alexander’s beef was that Trump–surprise, surprise!–actually gets paid ($100,000 per episode) to perform on the show. Oh my, we can’t have that.

Then there’s the Sexism Issue. The panelists–along with much of the media (e.g. whiny Dahlia Lithwick in Slate) and the dreary feminist establishment–are equally shocked that the female aspiring apprentices dress attractively, flaunt their good looks, and, horror of horrors, refer to themselves as “girls.” Here’s Clifford Alexander again:

“When I was head of [the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] in 1967, we worked to get people to stop calling women ‘girls,’ and [on this show] they call each other girls. And that was 1967, and that’s where they are now.”

My God, Clifford, 1967! Just how old are you? Rip Van Alexander seems to have been asleep, lo these past 10 years, during which time girls got really tired of all that “wimmin” stuff from politically correct deadheads like Clifford Alexander Jr. and decided they just wanted to have fun. Strutting around in high heels and feminine suits, the girls of “The Apprentice” look great–and they get ahead, too. So far, they’ve been beating the pants off their male teammates.

And there’s the Unreality Issue. The main complaint here is that “The Apprentice” focuses on the glamorous side of business life at the top–the corporate limo and the expense-account dinners–in contrast to the grinding hours of drudgery and the order-in pizza at midnight that are the realities of climbing the ladder to get to that top. Well, sure–just as the cameras on “The Apprentice” turn skanky Manhattan into a glittering motherboard of twinkling lights and architectural geometry. But I don’t think “The Apprentice” stints on showing the hard work and sheer anxiety of corporate life. Where do you think all that hotel-room bickering among the kids comes from?

Finally, the WaPo panelists’ real beef: That “The Apprentice” isn’t a grim Upton Sinclair-ish expose of the evils of global capitalism. Here’s Raul Fernandez, chairman (if I might use that un-p.c. word) of something called Object Video:

“[The participants] live in a world where a quarter of their jobs would be outsourced to India and China within the next five to 10 years.”

And here’s panelist Paul Villella, faulting “The Apprentice” for exactly the same thing:

“It’s hard to be part of a work culture that is a marathon if at the same time you think 25 percent of the workforce is going to come in from India and China and take your job.”

OK, OK, we got the Big Message. Villella, by the way, heads an outfit called HireStrategy. (Free Biz Tip #2: If your company is called HireStrategy, it might not be the best strategy to advertise that all the hiring has disappeared to India.) 

The thing I like–and millions of Americans apparently also like–about “The Apprentice ” is precisely that it doesn’t truck in Big Social Issues–or in the war against racism, sexism, globalism, or the other supposed evils of our time that get liberals all a-twitter. It’s just about young people, young people of both sexes and a wide array of racial and ethnic groups competing for something concrete: an interesting, well-paying, but highly demanding job in the business world. Sometimes they have to work together as a team; sometimes they have to compete. But at no time are they required to be under any illusions.