Saturday, February 17, 2007

To Catch a Predator?

We have all seen the show. A creepy guy walks into a house filled with hidden cameras with beer and condoms. He has been invited there by a thirteen-year-old girl or boy who has told the man their parents aren't home. The decoy leaves the room to change into something more comfortable and promises to be right back. But they never come back.

Instead, Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC walks around the corner. The men swear they had no bad intentions until Hansen reads the explicit internet conversations the men thought they were having with minors. The men then change their story to something along the lines of "I have never done anything like this before." They leave the house and are immediately picked up by waiting police officers.

That has been the formula for "To Catch a Predator" on Dateline NBC for the five or so operations since its inception.

Douglas McCollam wrote an article about the show in CJR this month entitled The Shame Game.

Is it a shame game? Who cares if a few perverts are humiliated on national TV? They deserve it, right?

McCollam doesn't care about the perverts though, he notes in his article the ethical questions concerning the journalists invovled.

"At a time when reporters are struggling to keep law enforcement from encroaching on newsgathering, Dateline, which is part of NBC’s news division, is inviting them in the front door — literally."

McCollam also points out that NBC pays the advocacy group that sets up the internet conversations, Perverted Justice, as well as the local law enforcement officials outside.

"But for NBC’s deep pockets, no “parallel” police actions would take place."

NBC says it's no different than paying a retired Army General to retain his services and expertise for stories, but I think it is quite different. They aren't paying the cops to give their opinions, they are paying them to arrest people they might never have known existed.

Isn't that staging?

There is also the question of the "predators" themselves. According to the article, most of the men have to be egged on a little by the decoy to get them to the house. And, just one in ten of the men who show up have criminal backgrounds. Are these men predators at all? No doubt there are dangerous sexual predators on the internet, but is Dateline skweing reality?

In my opinion they are. They are setting these men up. The men might never have gone to the children's houses if not for all the steps taken by the "news" show.

I would argue that it is just like the GM/NBC case. NBC is rigging these scenarios like they rigged the trucks.

McCollam agrees. "...journalistically it looks a lot like crossing the line from reporting the news to creating the news."

This is not news. This is a reality show. This is a way to watch others humiliated. This show should be on Bravo or FX or some cable show, not a respected news show.

It hurts NBC's credibility. Hansen has been on TV defending To Catch a Predator. To him, he is doing a public service. He is getting dangerous men off the street and away from children. Oprah applauded him on her show last season.

That's not Hansen's job as a journalist though. That is law enforcement's job. If he were to come across some illegal action while investigating for a story, he should report it; that is his duty. But he hasn't come across anything, he and NBC have created it.

Don't get me wrong, I am disgusted by the actions of these men. I am not unhappy they are prosecuted and sent to jail. I just don't think it is news or something Dateline should be a part of.



At Saturday, February 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JE, I agree. I think that type of journalism is despicable. I remember watching one of those segments with my mom, and she thought it was ridiculous. And whatever my mom says goes.

Nice work, JE. Now go run on the treadmill. :)


At Saturday, February 17, 2007, Anonymous cy said...

catching predators definitely is not what journalists were sent to society to do. and i'd say this so-called kind of news show is just trying to grip a larger audience. oh wait... Dateline, yes... that's the kind of news magazine show where the main goal is just to make money.

it's a shame that this kind of "reporting" can be considered news. reporting isn't even really involved is it? leave this kind of stuff to the police, please. it's just sickening to see journalism going in this direction.

At Sunday, February 18, 2007, Anonymous TB said...

Again, here comes the devil's advocate in me:

Aren't journalists also supposed to protect the little guy? To save society from predators by exposing their M.O.?

I won't defend the methodology... JE is right - in some cases the journalists play the predator when luring men into a home.

But couldn't you also argue that programs like these are for the greater good?


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