Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Be Careful What You Catch

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Be Careful What You Catch

It's the new TV fall season, so every returning series is putting its best foot forward for its season premiere. One of the oddest shows on TV was back last week and will have another new episode on Friday night. To Catch a Predator, a sort of subseries of Dateline NBC returns with more caught predators. This show is amazing to me. If you haven't seen it, the whole point is to expose sexual predators on the Internet who focus on kids. They have volunteers from a vigilante group called Perverted Justice who act as kids online and entice (entrap?) potential predators to meet them. At the appointed meeting place, the men (I think they've always been men so far) are greeted by NBC reporter Chris Hansen, who proceeds to shame them on national TV.

My first reaction is that Dateline must've secured releases from these people to show and identify them on TV. What could they possibly be offering these people to get away with calling them pedophiles on national TV. A little bit of googling, though, has persuaded me that since Dateline is a news show they maintain that they don't need no stinkin' releases. But is To Catch a Predator a news show? It gets huge ratings, and you know people aren't tuning in to become more informed about online pedophiles. They're there for the spectacle of seeing someone's life ruined before their very eyes, to see their humiliation when they realize the vast amount of trouble they're in. The show's appeal is an entertainment appeal, not a journalistic one. Hansen and the show were used to pretty good comic relief in Conan O'Brien's Emmy opening a few weeks ago. I don't know if perhaps NBC waits for each of these predators to be convicted before they air the show (although somehow I doubt it), but either way, they're playing with fire.

I'm not the only one who finds this the least bit odd. Brian Montopoli wondered about some of the ethical questions this raises earlier this year in CBS News's Public Eye blog, and Radar Online had a story on the connection between NBC and Perverted Justice. This show may run its course as viewers get their fill and move on to something else, but it has the potential of getting more and more sensational and, as a result, more and more popular.


At 9:51 AM, September 21, 2006, Anonymous Catch Up Lady said...

I agree that it seems to becoming more sensationalist than it used to be - it does get huge ratings!

I think it's important in that it shows the real problem we have in this country with online safety. I'm shocked at how many of these many KNOW about the show and still set up these rendez-vous!

Hopefully this show incites parents or teens to check out resources online like Cybertipline, where you can actually report these dirtbags yourself!!

At 12:57 PM, September 21, 2006, Blogger Peter Collinson said...

I'm unclear about your position, do you find the prospect of any phedophile one might happen across having their "life ruined" by whatever means is at hand objectionable?

At 2:47 PM, September 21, 2006, Anonymous Doug said...

I tend to be a big fan of due process and the accused having their day in court. Pedophiles having their lives ruined? Doesn't especially bother me. By using whatever means are at hand? Somehow, I think we're better than that. (And that doesn't even take into account the minuscule room for error allowed by vigilante justice.)

At 3:23 PM, September 22, 2006, Blogger Peter Collinson said...

How does due process apply to the subject of your post? Embarrassed 70's CEOs could have said the same thing about Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes. Did you find (I wrote "find" but I'm honestly not sure 60 Minutes rolls that way these days) that tactic objectionable?

Or, is it that you feel pedophiles are entitled to a form of societal protection that CEO's aren't? Please allow me to suggest that perhaps the fact that our society clearly hasn't come to grips with the issue of pedophilia in a legal sense is a bigger problem than publicly embarrassed pedophiles.

Myself, I worry that it's almost impossible to …successfully treat their victims, convict one or punish the few who are convicted in a way that accounts for a recidivism-rate substantially higher than heroin addiction's.

In short: Pseudo journalism is a shame, but watching a father who's rapped and impregnated his 10-year old daughter get to walk away free (and I've watched 2) because our legal imagination has coped with the depth his reality (no I did not mean to write depravity) is a crime.

At 7:36 PM, September 22, 2006, Anonymous Doug said...

How does due process apply to the subject of your post?

You asked me why I didn't want to join a lynch mob. If you don't know what due process has to do with that, I'm afraid I can't help you.

But this post isn't concerned with the fate of the accused predators so much as the legal exposure NBC News opens on itself. If one of these guys goes to court and is found "not guilty," as in your example above, there's the potential for a massive slander suit. NBC got off easy when Richard Jewell was satiated with a cameo on Saturday Night Live (and half a million dollars). It could be far worse next time.

At 8:15 PM, September 22, 2006, Blogger Peter Collinson said...

The simple fact that our socital imagination has utter failed before the crime, I can't help but see any discussion of it in the public square as a good thing.

By the way the phrase "lynch mob" has a rather specific meaning that does not, to my mind, concern embaressment in any way.

More importantly, I beleive what I asked was which issue warrented more attention: a) bad journalism or b) a heinous crime with often catastrophic consequences that's getting more and more pervasive, and that goes either unpunished or inadequately punished?

At 10:25 PM, September 22, 2006, Anonymous Doug said...

The question you asked is up above and isn't a comparative question (do you want to know if I've stopped beating my wife, too?). It shifted the conversation in a different direction--which is fine--but included a few new assumptions that weren't in the original post.

If we believe in a society in which everyone is equal before the law, we can't change the rules for those accused of the most heinous crimes. Having one's day in court can mean being proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and punished accordingly just as much as it can being allowed to walk. We can and should have a discussion of what to do about convicted pedophiles, but I much prefer that we wait for the conviction.

And by the way, lynch mob does mean more than embarrassment, but so does by whatever means is at hand.

At 2:28 AM, September 23, 2006, Blogger Peter Collinson said...

I don't believe I shifted the conversation at all.

You equated the behavior of the media with the behavior of the courts. So, I disagreed and pointed out the fact that both our news media and our courts do piss-poor job (meaning no offense to piss) of handling those you seem to regard as victims of some kind in this instance.

To clarify ...Yes, I would use whatever means were at hand to shame, shun and otherwise restrict the range, as it were of pedophiles ...I also support mandatory neighborhood notification...and mandatory registries ...chemical castration ...actual castration ...lojacking (sp?) ...protective incarceration ...sentencing guidelines that reflect the horrific recidivism rate ...a prosecuting judge system (as per FR) for all sex-crimes to address an equally horrific conviction rate ...and substantial mandatory training re child and general sex-crime related issues for educators, DCFS personnel, and law enforcement personnel ... and that is, I guarantee you, only my starter list.

I know that the above might seem hyperbolic, unreasonable and or draconian – but this issue is simply a matter of the numbers.

Incidents of child-sexual-abuse are going up, not down, (the flat world applies to their level of access too) over-two thirds will never be available for prosecution and of those, few will result in convictions, those convictions will result in shorter sentences than basically any other violent crime, those convicted are far more likely to re-offend than any other class of violent felon (the statistical likelihood of re-offense if the opportunity presents is virtually 100%), the likelihood of coming across an individual inclined to enjoy representations of and of "fantasies" of child-sexual-abuse (read: the "contestants" on that show you took issue with) is statistically insignificant …meanwhile, we have a prison system clogged with the crime's victims and neither the methods nor means to address it.

In the end my point is simple. That show is an outrage, but only because it cares more about sensationalism than any of the above, on the other hand, thanks to it the 25 mandatory minimum bill in the house is going to pass. I think it's worth the trade.

. . . sheesh that was long-winded. I'm gonna go watch "The Peace Killers" now.


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