To Catch a Predator
To Catch a Predator was a recurring segment on NBC's Dateline news show whose mission is to lure adult men into sexual chats with people posing as children, invite them to a house to meet the imaginary children, and then expose them on national television. The segment, presented by Chris Hansen was wildly popular; episodes featuring "Predator" segments are ranked 16 among NBC's 41 regularly broadcast shows in the 2005-2006 season.
Perverted Justice and its leader Xavier Von Erck provided the vigilante operations and the actual luring of the show's sting victims. Perverted Justice was paid at least USD 100,000 per episode, as well as being promised a cut from future DVD releases.
On June 1st, 2007, all twenty-four cases brought up during an episode set in Murphy, Texas were declined to be prosecuted by the Collin County prosecutor's office due to insufficient evidence (Dallas Morning News, 1 June 2007), but only after one suspect (a former assistant district attorney) had committed suicide (Associated Press, 6 November 2006).
Death of Louis Conradt
Louis Conradt, a Democratic district attorney from Texas fell victim to Dateline NBC's To Catch a Predator, a TV series documenting "sexual predator stings", after he committed suicide when a SWAT team entered his house, with Dateline cameras recording the action.
On 24 May 2007, former Dateline producer Marsha Bartel sued NBC for breach of her employment contract. NBC claimed they fired her on 17 November 2006 as part of NBC's "TV 2.0" reorganization, but Bartel contends that the dismissal was due to her reaction to the extensive breaches of NBC's ethics code and journalistic ethical standards during Dateline production. The specific breaches mentioned by Bartel were:
- Perverted Justice was deputized as part of the sting, despite being "a shadowy organization with ill-defined purposes".
- Bartel as a producer was denied access to Perverted Justice volunteers, even though they were pivotal to the show's production.
- NBC's view of Perverted Justice changed after they began paying the organization. At first, they were viewed as "vigilante[s]"; later, they were viewed as "watchdog[s]". Bartel quotes Dateline Executive Producer David Corvo as saying, "We all know they're nuts."
- As paid contributors, Perverted Justice demonstrate a conflict of interest in their personal and professional lives. (This may refer to an intricate plan of revenge by Xavier Von Erck on one of his former covolunteers; see the Radar Online reference for more.)
- By paying Perverted Justice to troll and lure sting targets, NBC gives the organization incentive to lie to and trick their victims.
- Dateline host Chris Hansen lied to the public about NBC's "parallel investigation" with law enforcement in order to appear ethical. (In reality, NBC and law enforcement agencies were working closely together, as the next items suggest.)
- NBC traded video equipment and tapes with law enforcement for "dramatically staged arrest scenarios" and police interrogations to "increase ratings and ultimately revenues for NBC".
- Also to increase dramatic effect, NBC paid or reimbursed law enforcement officials to participate in the sting.
- NBC provided live data feeds to law enforcement during the sting operations, and later to prosecutors.
- In an unwritten agreement with law enforcement, officials provided confidential information they otherwise would not.
- The show covered up unethical and humiliating behavior by law enforcement officials.
- Perverted Justice did not provide complete transcripts of their trolling operations, making it impossible for Dateline producers to check them. Independent verification was also impossible.
- Although sting victims initially decide not to come, Perverted Justice vigilantes (posing as children) would beg the victims to come anyway. Dateline and Perverted justice would cover up these facts.
- Sting victims were led into additional acts of humiliation, such as undressing on national television.
- Chris Hansen over reported child abuse, saying that "at any given time, 50,000 predators were on the internet prowling children", even FBI sources show that this is false.
- NBC News and anyone acting on its behalf must obey United States and local laws, yet "Perverted Justice has been accused of committing the exact crime it claims it wishes to prevent, i.e. minors being exposed to pornography." NBC was told of this, yet took no action.
- Marsha Bartel v. NBC Universal, Inc., 07-CV-2925 (N. Dist. Ill. 2007)
- Strange Bedfellows, Radar Online, 7 September 2006 (on the relationship between Xavier Von Erck and NBC)
- To Sue a Predator Catcher, Radar Online, 29 May 2007 (on the lawsuit)
- "Texas prosecutor kills himself after sex sting", Associated Press, 6 November 2006. Retrieved on 7 November 2006.
- "Sex-predator arrests in Murphy rejected", Dallas Morning News, 1 June 2007. Retrieved on 1 June 2007.