Thursday, November 20, 2008

NBC's 'To Catch a Predator' raises concerns about ethics

By Andrew Hampel

NBC’s “To Catch a Predator,” which aired from November 2004 to July 2007, centered on finding an apprehending men who used the internet to speak to and schedule meetings with children under the age of consent.

Chris Hansen, who joined NBC’s “Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric” in May 1993,” hosted “To Catch a Predator” and conducted 11 undercover operations with the help of Perverted-Justice. According to the Pervert-Justice Web site, the company intends “to root out people who use the internet to sexually abuse and prey upon children.” Additionally, law enforcement officers have participated in the undercover operations since the series third episode.

The undercover operations on “To Catch a Predator” raised a number of ethical concerns.
Brian Montopoli, former contributor for the “Columbia Journalism Review,” wrote on CBS News Public Eye blog that “To Catch a Predator”-related cases were vulnerable to the defense of entrapment. Montopoli’s remark came after a comment Stone Philips, an NBC news anchor, made in a blog post titled Why It’s Not Entrapment. Philips said the decoys Perverted-Justice employed to speak to suspected predators typically initiated the discussion of sex.

The series raised concern about conflicts of interest. According to an article by Paul Farhi on the Washington Post Web site, “Dateline” officials paid Pervert-Justice more than $100,000 to help conduct an operation in Greenville, Ohio, which included the arrest of 18 men. According to the article, Police officials deputized members of Perverted-Justice for the duration of the operation, which changed “To Catch a Predator” into a law enforcement operation (rather than an investigative report, which is how NBC originally described the show). The fee NBC officials paid Perverted-Justice also violated the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which states that reporters should act independently and discourages the practice of paying for sources.

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