Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Were NBC's ethics perverted?

Posted By on 05.30.07 at 05:31 PM

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Indignation is the table wine of journalism. It goes with everything, and the cheaper the meal the more of it you swig. NBC hits the indignation hard in its evening news show Dateline, which for the last three years has teamed up with a citizens' group called Perverted Justice to produce the feature known as "To Catch a Predator."  NBC boasts that Dateline has "exposed over 200 potential child predators in its stings," and host Chris Hansen, in addition to running a blog that offers an "inside look" at his creep-nabbing, has written a book, To Catch a Predator.

But has NBC itself climbed into bed with the wrong company--Perverted Justice and its mysterious leader, who goes by the nom de guerre Xavier von Erck? Here’s a commentary that thinks so. And here’s a lawsuit that thinks so too. It was filed May 24 in federal court in Chicago by Marsha Bartel, a veteran NBC producer who was assigned to the Dateline series last August. Bartel says in her suit that she was fired in December because she insisted that NBC obey its own ethics policy, but the network "was more interested in sensationalizing and dramatizing the Predator series for profit than news reporting." According to the suit, Bartel once expressed her concerns about von Erck to her executive producer, who replied, "We all know they're nuts."

Bartel alleges that NBC "unethically pays Perverted Justice to troll for and lure targets into its sting, thereby giving it a financial incentive to lie to and trick targets of its sting." She alleges that Perverted Justice refused to identify the 50-some volunteers working for Dateline or to provide her with transcripts of online and telephone conversations that might have assured her no entrapment was going on. She also alleges that NBC entered into an "unwritten quid pro quo" with local law enforcement officials, giving them video equipment that could be used to make cases against the suspects and getting in return "dramatically staged arrest scenarios and video taped police interrogations to capture audience attention, increase ratings and ultimately revenues for NBC."  

Singling out Hansen, Bartel says he "knowingly and falsely claimed 'at any given time, 50,000 predators were on the Internet prowling for children' even though a transcript of a video taped interview with his source, a former FBI agent, contradicted Hansen's claim." 

Thanks to radaronline.com for spotting the lawsuit. 

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