Monday, September 10, 2007
Idiot vs. Predator: Requiem
Last March, I posted a column which dealt with not only the questionable tactics employed by NBC Dateline's ongoing and thoroughly ridiculous dog-and-pony show To Catch a Predator, but also with the equally questionable reasons for its existence in the first place.
In particular, I mentioned the dischord that the show and its producers sowed during a visit to the small town of Murphy, Texas -- one of the many places nationwide where Chris Hansen and his Turtleneck-of-Justice have brought their irresponsible roving sting operation.
What I wasn't aware of at the time, is that during the show's taping in Murphy, a former district attorney who became a target of Predator killed himself after being chased back to his own home by an overly zealous camera crew and the local police who were, in reality, acting as nothing more than starstruck puppets for Hansen and Company.
Dateline claims that Bill Conradt's suicide was the result of the guilt he felt over being a child molester. Whether or not this is true -- which it may not be -- is completely beside the point.
To Catch a Predator is unethical, hack journalism at its absolute worst.
I bring this subject up again, because as it turns out I was slightly ahead of the curve on this one.
This month's Esquire magazine features an excellent investigative report on just what went wrong in Murphy -- and how far NBC went in an attempt to bury it.
Also, in a rare attack by one television news department on another, ABC's Brian Ross did his own investigation into Predator's misdeeds (although ABC is equally guilty of employing the same sort of ratings-baiting scare tactics when it comes to the subject of children and sexual predators; a simple Google search of "ABC + Predator" confirms this splendidly). Among the controversies he notes: Not only is the show the subject of several lawsuits, but the group it partners with when targeting supposed predators, "Perverted Justice," turns out to be little more than a bunch of self-serving, publicity-obsessed vigilantes; I imagine their offices to be filled with a dozen or so clones of the John Walsh model: all camera-ready grimaces, black leather jackets and a propensity for using words like "scumbag" every few seconds -- great vengeance and furious anger signifying absolutely nothing.
Now that the true scope and grandeur of Dateline's predator-catching mechanism is coming to light, it serves as a painful reminder of just how low modern television journalism will stoop in pursuit of a story.
And just what happens when the very law we trust to protect our rights is allowed to be servile to its whims.
Esquire Magazine: Tonight on Dateline, This Man Will Die
ABC News: "To Catch a Predator Sting Gone Bad"
Deus Ex Malcontent: Idiot vs. Predator/3.1.07