Should We Worry About Pedophiles Caught in TV Sweeps Sex Stings?
That's what I kept thinking while reading reports of a prosecutor in a northern Texas town who killed himself as police moved in to arrest him for soliciting sex from minors on the Internet.
Louis Conradt, Jr. was ensnared in the same web which has caught hundreds of other men, prepared by Dateline NBC using paid consultants Peverted-Justice.com. And hard as it is to feel sorry for a prosecutor who network officials say engaged in explicit sex talk online with someone he thought was 13 years old, this entire, sordid incident leaves me wondering if Dateline's producers really appreciate the forces they set in play with these stings.
It's a controversy I wrote about months ago: Dateline has turned shaming these sex-seeking men into primetime entertainment, as correspondent Chris Hansen quizzes those stupid enough to walk into NBC's camera-equipped home expecting a sexual rendezvous with an underage teenager.
What they get is 15 minutes of bitter fame, as Hansen blows up their paper-thin excuses and exposes their underhanded manipulations for a national audience. It's compelling stuff. It's also totally unnecessary, because the guys are guilty of felony solicitation charges before they even set foot in the house.
But NBC has bankrolled the entire operation -- renting the house and paying Perverted Justice thousands for its time, in a way most police departments could not afford. So Hansen gets his 15 minutes with the perps before they are encouraged to leave the house and are scooped up by cops.
Of course, this also turns NBC into a defacto arm of law enforcement, which could get sticky if a bust goes wrong -- if somebody is injured or killed during an arrest, will NBC report fully on what happens? Particularly if it means they might be liable for funding and initiating the sting in the first place? (personally, I'm amazed and thankful that someone hasn't attacked Hansen or his crew, yet)
Conradt's case was different. He hadn't visited their sting house. In the wake of his death, NBC insists he was likely to visit the house soon and did not see their video crew, which was stationed outside his home when he shot himself in the head. Like so many other aspects of this case, these are details which we'll have to accept from Dateline and the police -- seemingly the only witnesses.
And that's not the first such death this month. Last week, a Pittsburgh-area minister killed himself after a local TV station began airing promotional ads for a expose of his reportedly "illict" activity. The station had already decided not to air the story -- hearing the pastor might harm himself -- when the guy did himself in, anyway.
Of course, journalists can't be held responsible when someone caught in wrongdoing turnes to suicide after they are exposed. And no one wants to excuse sordid behavior by someone in a trusted position such as a minister or prosecutor.
But these cases highlight what I've been saying for years -- that such stories can set events in motion which journalists cannot control. And that's when the fine line between covering a story and causing one becomes even more important to observe.
Election TV Almost Done, Thankfully
Because media rarely does anything halfway, the final bit of election TV you will be subjected to today is massive. Every news outlet knows we're on the verge of a historic change in power, and they're all trying to get their piece of it. But I'm still left with a few questions.
-- If MSNBC realizes that its strength lies in bringing network news faces such as Tim Russert, Brian Williams and David Gregory in for marathon, high-quality news coverage of the elections, why don't they use that same formula to make MSNBC a high-quality destination for news when the election is over? (extra kudos to Keith Olbermann for naming Sinclair Broadcast Group blowhard Mark Hyman as his Worst Person in the World Monday)
-- How many times will Daily Show "anchor" Jon Stewart beg guest Dan Rather to cut loose with a weird-ass Texas-type expression during their hourlong, live Colbert Report/Daily Show combo coverage at 11 tonight? (and how desperate is Rather to be on TV on an election night that he would agree to appear with two fake anchors?)
-- Why do I think the best coverage is probably going to come from National Public Radio, which starts its comprehensive coverage nationally and locally at 8 p.m. tonight? And why am I worried about what will pop up on WFTS-Ch. 28's three-hour web cast, which starts at 7 p.m. tonight (they're so desperate for sources, they even asked me to do it; unfortunately, I'll be holed up checking out Katie, Charlie and Brian).
-- And since Bay News 9 is probably the only local TV outlet which will provide coverage through prime time, why isn't their video coverage simulcast online? (Actrually, I know the answer to that one: They want you to access the video one way -- by purchasing a Bright House Networks subscription.)
Faith Hill Loses It: A Joke or Not?
My blog buddy Sean Daly has Faith Hill's statement regarding her amazing awards show faux pas during last night's Country Music Awards (if someone had told me something that juicy might happen, I would have considered TiVo-ing it, myself! Okay, probably not).
Two clues that she may not have been joshing with her too-honest reaction: she's blaming the press for blowing it all out of proportion (of course we are) and taking a self-righteous tone about respecting all her fellow artists and other such hoo-hah.
And that's an honor more than one person can win.