Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Should Dateline be doing this?

Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” reeled in a Texas prosecutor Sunday, and the man killed himself as police tried to serve him with a warrant alleging he had solicited sex from a minor.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Louis “Bill Conradt Jr., 56, chief felony assistant district attorney for Rockwall County, tried to proposition sex online from a decoy posing as a 13-year-old boy, and shot himself as police stood outside his door. NBC had a crew on the street, but officials say Dateline had no contact with Conradt before he killed himself.

I find this interesting because I was already on the fence about “To Catch a Predator.” On the popular show, Dateline teams with Perverted Justice, an Internet watchdog group, to catch people propositioning children online. As cameras roll, the usually unsuspecting person walks into the house looking for a child, only to find NBC cameras and Chris Hanson.

On one hand, the show provides a service and functions as a cautionary tale to parents to monitor their children’s Internet use. But I'm not too sure about luring someone into this situation. Sounds like entrapment to me.

Is it right for us to join with someone in a sting operation and show these moments to the world? It makes for great television—often the suspects tearfully apologize or run outside in hopes of getting away only to find the police waiting. But what about the ethical concerns? And is it fair legally to show someone in this light before they go before a jury?

Also, is this even journalism? I say not really. The show is entertaining, but it's less an investigation than throwing out a net and broadcasting what you catch. Then again, I guess it's not that far from the hidden-camera stunts television does all the time.

Should we be in the business of routinely shaming people? Especially when, as this case showed, we can’t be sure how a man (or woman) will react when he realizes he has been identified as a child molester on national television.

To read an article on the ethical questions of the show, click here

Posted by AJ


At Wednesday, November 08, 2006, Anonymous al said...

I don't have any contention with the program and I don't see it as "luring" anybody. It's not like the program is "tricking" sex predators into doing something they aren't already doing. It's about catching them in the act.

Luckily for us, television allows for many ways to present one story. Ideally, there are investigative stories, daily news updates, sports, features, etc. I don't think having one program such as this is a problem at all.

At Wednesday, November 08, 2006, Anonymous EG said...

I really don't know what I think about this program. I've seen it a few times, and I'll admit that I keep watching it, just like a car crash. It's compelling because there'a clear bad guy and you know he's going to get just have to wait a few minutes to see it. It's sort of like reading a crime novel or watching a movie, in a very condensed form.

But with that said, I don't think it's news. It is news that these disturbed individuals are out there and that they are often repeat offenders, but I'm not sure that this is the best way to report the story. In my mind, the jury's still out.


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