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

18 comments:

Pete Carr said...

Chaz,

Thanks for blogging this information regarding both Dateline NBC and Perverted-Justice.com

I was the first, in a growing list of critics, that have raised serious questions regarding the vigilante group used by Dateline.

Your statement is dead on:
"To Catch a Predator is unethical, hack journalism at its absolute worst."

Thanks, and I'll be linking back to your blog post.

Pete Carr
Chatmag.com

voodoochild said...

Actually Rolling Stone did a story on this topic before Esquire. An issue from last month (I think) covered Perverted Justice and the lives it ruins.

RottweilerTOM said...

If there was a God, it would bless you!

heatdamaged said...

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2007/0529071nbc1.html

'In a scathing broadside at NBC's popular "To Catch a Predator" series, a former producer charges that she was canned last year after complaining that the show violated "numerous journalistic ethical standards" and many of the network's own "policies and guidelines."'

Wondered if you had seen this^, as the lawsuit alleges some interesting things, such as the fact that NBC does not just "work with" Perverted Justice, but pays them, thereby giving them an incentive to continue "supplying" NBC with "predators".(Maybe this is only news to me?)


Anyway, excellent insight and writing as usual. And it is not surprising to me that you were "ahead of the curve". [/sucking up]

Anonymous said...

You are still far behind the curve.

The forensic investigation of Conradt's personal effects is now complete and he has been found to have amssed child porn on his computer, on CD's and even on his cell phone.

How depraved must a man be to carry child porn everywhere with him on his cell phone?

Good riddance.

Chez said...

Anonymous (and why are they always anonymous?) -- if there was some sort of award for missing the point completely, you'd be dusting off your tux and writing an acceptance speech.

Brandon said...

Have you forgotten that these are child molesters?

On top of that, what happened to personal responsibility? The man that killed himself was indeed guilty of the crimes he was charged with. Instead of facing his sentence and taking responsibility for his actions, he kills himself and somehow it's Dateline's fault? Are you mentally ill?

Nobody was going to harm this man, that wasn't intent behind approaching his home. The people that are doing harm are the people that are getting busted trying to take advantage of children. You talk about journalistic ethics while tacitly defending child molesters. When you take advantage of those with a dubious ability to protect themselves, you should lose some rights, notably, he right to privacy and public trust. I'm not saying people convicted of these crimes should be beaten, tarred, and feathered. However, this candy-coating of the crimes these men commited because you have a beef with how they were caught is deplorable.

Chez said...

Once again, missing the point. No one's saying these aren't rotten people. But having worked in the news business for almost 16 years, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that allowing a news crew -- one in voracious pursuit of a story for no reason other than sensationalism and money for stockholders -- to assume the role of judge and jury is dangerous. Believe it or not Brandon, it may be the greater of the two evils; the point is, we'll never know for sure because the show isn't about justice, it's about ratings.

Brandon said...

I'm not missing the point at all, please drop the straw man defense. I'm simply letting you know where my priorities are. Dateline wouldn't have a story to exploit if these people weren't taking advantage of children in the first place.

Is Dateline taking advantage of this? Probably. Would any other news network use similar tactics were they in NBC's position? Undoubtedly. The criticism from other media outlets strikes me as hollow, because they are just as sensationalist as anyone else. People in glass houses...

I am not trying to impugn your integrity, however, I do view the media outlet as the lesser of two evils. If a bunch of creeps are off the streets or, at least, a little too worried about public embarrassment to pursue underagers, then sacrificing "ethical" journalism is fine by me. From my point of view these men are still commiting crimes regardless of how they are caught.

I suppose we will have to agree to disagree.

Chez said...

Sorry man -- I don't believe the ends in any way justify the means in this case. I really hate to use the term "slippery slope," because it's so obscenely cliche, but it does in fact fit. You don't want a news department reporting reality without context and using it to exact some kind of ill-fitting justice.

The biggest weapon in any fear-monger's arsenal is one word: children. More rational thought, basic reason and plain old common sense has been thrown under the bus in the name of protecting "our children" that it's a wonder the Constitution still exists at all.

Once again, I'm not saying the most innocent among us shouldn't be afforded our utmost protection -- and I'm not saying these men snared by Predator aren't quite possibly very bad people. I'm saying that it's not for a news crew and a vigilante group to decide, and the fact that the "evidence" against these so-called sexual predators is so badly tainted by the need to create sensational television that none of the Murphy cases could be prosecuted just proves that the whole thing is nothing more than a worthless charade that does absolutely zero to truly keep dangerous men off the streets.

Regardless, thanks very much for your well-thought-out comments. They're appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Chez,

It's not true that none of the cases could be prosecuted. The Esquire article states, "On June 1, 2007, seven months after the end of the sting operation, three months after Dateline airs the relevant episode of “To Catch a Predator,” the Collin County District Attorney’s office will announce that it has decided not to pursue indictments for any of the suspects Murphy police arrested outside the decoy house."

Decided not to is not the same thing as could not. In fact, charges may still be filed.

And you are missing the point that this type of programming does have some positive effects. Some men may think twice about approaching a child on-line (not that it will stop them from doing it in person, it won't 30 year olds who want to screw 13 year olds will still hit on them at the mall, park, wherever). And these programs also inform parents of the dangers on-line so that maybe, just maybe, they will check up on what their kids are up to.

Yes, this type of programming raises the ratings but so does the Maury show. And I feel much more sympathy for the kids who will be teased becuase their mother needed 10 DNA tests to find thier daddy than I do for men who want to screw kids and teens.

Tasha

Karl and Mia said...

While I agree with your take on the media's ethics of being judge/jury/executioner I'm torn as a parent on this one.

True, to allow the media this power is to eventually see them pursuing any and all criminals on national television, not just pedofiles. A modern day "Running Man," if you will.

However, as a parent, if my child were ever molested I would want the culprit stripped naked and publicly castrated--not chemically, as they have proposed--but manually with a blade and no pain killers in all its glorious cruel and unusual punishment. They do it livestock, and livestock don't molest children.

Thus, he is forced to live with the pain of physical dismemberment along with humiliation. Of course, I would be humane and offer him the option of death. I'm not a complete asshole.

Is this sensationalized? Perhaps. But once you have a child your feelings will change. I guarantee it.

Karl and Mia said...

I thought of something else, that ties in with a previous blog of yours.

While we can argue morality and ethics until the cows come home (the castrated cows, of course), the truth of the matter is we are still animals regardless of being human. There still exists in each of us the primal instincts of survival and the pecking order of society. There are those of us that we, banded together as a society instinctually agree don't belong. Like the old and the sick, they tend to be weeded out. Survival of the fittest. It's evolution.

10,000 years ago morality didn't play a large role in society. But how much has it changed since then? Conveyance is had in the very title of your blog...of the show itself: Predator (and idiot).

Predator indicates there is prey. Society is hunting. And idiot is an synonym for a lesser person of society--some one that is expendable--the prey. By blogging this you are the predator. Positive responses indicate more predators. Together with a "grass roots" like effort the resulting group becomes a pack and can exact change, and pressure the network to cancel the show. The pack hunts the prey.

It's really not much different from long ago when you think about it. We're just using different weapons these days.

I know you're going to think I'm nuts, but I already know I am, so whatever.

namron said...

Am I missing something here? Adults posing as children --- not innocent children----exchange raunchy e-mails with other adults. No children whatsovever are involved in the transactions. No sex acts occur. No weapons are flashed. No one is attacked or threatened. Yet, Brandon and Anonymous believe that death is an appropriate outcome for Conradt.

Chez, buddy, it ain't no "slippery slope." It's a fucking cliff dive!

Brandon said...

Namron, have you forgotten who killed Condrat? He killed himself. He made the choice to end his life. To blame anyone else is short-sighted at best. People take responsibility for their own actions. He was a pervert and instead of facing his jail sentence, he chose to kill himself. Do I approve of it? Did I cheer when he died? Of course not, but the choice to end his life was his own. No one else's. To say anything else is obscuring truth to advance a personal agenda.

I suggest you re-read my posts. I never suggested the idea of killing any of these people. I am saying that these criminals are responsible for their own behavior and passing the buck on to Dateline isn't the solution.

May I infer from your post that you are suggesting that real children exchange raunchy emails with adults hoping to have sex with them? I find it odd that you question my moral standards. Most states have laws against even attempting to solicite or approach a minor for sex. Intentionally exposing real children to the predators in the hopes of catching them is gross negligence. Which is why adults pose as children. That they're not actually children is irrelevant, the perpetrator thinks that they are and that is enough to establish that they are willing to engage in sexual acts with minors. You talk about slippery slopes with regards to catching perverts in the same breath that you more or less suggest subjecting children to this sort of work.

Chez, I appreciate your integrity. You do have a point in the power that the media wields and that it should be exercised responsibly. I suppose my opinion on this issue is a bit of a loophole, for lack of a better term, as those that bare the brunt here are the cause for their own troubles. Anyway, I don't mean to belabor the point, I was responding to namron's faulty interpretation of me.

namron said...

Brandon, my earlier comments were more facietious than they needed to be, and I apologize. I have represented any number of defendants accused of sex crimes. Many of them give me the creeps, and the farther they live from the rest of us,the better. But, I value the Constitution's "fair play" motif and our well-earned notions of what constitutes due process. The To Catch a Preadtor-type schemes used to snare these guys are just not right. Because a child is not involved --- nor, of course, should be involved--- there is no chance of the sex act occurring. There isn't even a chance that a child would even see the chat transcript, see the perp, or talk with the perp. The statutes that allow the arrests to happen at the door of the decoy house are as close to criminalizing mere thought or speech as the state could possibly go. No court has voided any conviction on a substantive due process attack upon the statute itself, though.

Sex with children is the most unpardonable of sins. But the disgusting nature of the crime and the great distaste we have for the perpetrators should not be the excuse for a less than vigorous defense of our civil liberties. As I tell my students,
we defend cretins today so that Big Brother will not taser our gonads tommorrow.

Chez said...

Karl, what makes you think I don't have a child?

Karl and Mia said...

I was assuming, which makes an ass out of u and me. Apologies if you have a child.