'20/20' Investigating Dateline's 'To Catch a Predator' Series

by Paul William Tenny

It's strange, yet actually quite appropriate. 20/20 is investigating Dateline's visit to a town in Texas where one of their caught "predators" was actually a Texas District Attorney who, after being snagged by Dateline, fatally shot himself just when he was about to be apprehended by the authorities. A lot of questions have been raised over the moral ethics of Dateline's investigations, including complaints by one of NBC/Dateline's own producers who was fired from the show after complaining about unethical behavior by the group that Dateline works with during their stings, called Perverted Justice.
There was a time I remember when PJ was an outcast group considered to be vigilante's by authorities, who thought what the group was doing to be damaging to their own investigations. Police complained that all Perverted Justice was doing was scaring suspected predators into being more cautious, making them harder to catch. They didn't hit the bigtime until Dateline started paying them as "consultants" so they could film their stings, which proved to be a ratings boon (mostly for MSNBC, which plays these things into the ground.)

Don't forget, the police didn't become involved with this deal until after the big ratings started coming in. If you'll go back and watch, you'll see the guys coming to these stings walked away free as a bird in the beginning.

I used to enjoy Dateline back when they did real investigative journalism. These days it's all sensationalist crap. We don't need to see 20 episodes of To Catch a Predator as if it were some new reality show. Nothing is being investigated here, it's the same gag every time, the same questions, the same setup. It really is bred for pure entertainment, and they know it. Now you've got 20/20 investigating the practices of Dateline, in effect doing what Dateline should have done all along: investigate and move on.

One of the suspects was a former district attorney, Louis Conradt, who shot himself to death when police entered his home with a search warrant.

Conradt's sister slapped NBC Universal with a $105 million suit claiming that the company took over police duties and failed to protect her brother.

The arrests and the suicide have drawn new attention to the series and whether its tactics are compatible with journalistic or legal standards.

The Dallas Morning News reported that a "20/20" news crew questioned Murphy police chief Billy Myrick about the cases in a City Hall parking lot last week.

"I didn't like their tactics," Myrick told the paper.

There's no defending what the men on these shows are doing and I won't bother trying to explain how I feel about these specials, but I will point something out here that's relevant to this discussion about ethics. We've all seen clips from the instances where the guy shows up to the house, strips in the garage, and comes in naked. They make huge deal out of it, sensationalize it, act surprised, but never bother to tell their viewers that their Perverted Justice cohorts were the ones who told these guys to do it in the first place.

As I said, there's no defending an idiot who actually goes ahead and does it, and there's something to be said for letting a person twist in the wind if they were stupid enough to get suckered by a group looking to take advantage of them and the situation, but that doesn't dismiss Dateline's responsibility or criticism for the lack of said responsibility to play it straight with the viewers during their investigations.

It puts things in an entirely different light when they act shocked at a guy bringing sex toys to the house when the guy was asked to do it by the PJ "decoy", doesn't it?

Variety has more.


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