June 5, 2007

Predator show slammed

Might mounting criticisms of NBC's "To Catch a Predator" signal a turning point in the cultural hysteria surrounding “sexual predators”?

Criticism is mounting on multiple fronts against the show, which features vigilantes trolling the Web to lure men into sexual liaisons with children.

On the civil front, the show’s former producer claims she was fired after complaining about flagrant violations of journalistic ethics. Marsha Bartel lost her 21-year career with NBC. She alleged in a U.S. District Court lawsuit that NBC provides financial incentives to the shadowy vigilante group Perverted Justice to use trickery and to humiliate targets to “enhance the comedic effect of the[ir] public exposure." She said that in some cases the vigilantes resorted to begging individuals to come to sting locations. Additionally, she charged that police behaved improperly off-camera, for instance “waving rubber chickens in the faces of sting targets while forcing them to the ground and handcuffing them." NBC responded by calling the lawsuit “without merit.” The lawsuit is on-line at: http://shurl.org/predator

On the criminal front, prosecutors have lambasted the series as an unethical blending of law enforcement and show business that does nothing to curtail sexual violence. In Collin County, Texas, for example, the District Attorney said none of 24 recent sting arrests were adequate for prosecution.

"This whole scenario is garbage-in-garbage-out, and here we sit with a pile of garbage,” commented one legal observer. "It's a prosecutor's worst nightmare. The last thing you want is the news media or reality TV shows to be involved in the prosecution or the investigation of the case."

Last fall, the show came under scrutiny when a target shot and killed himself as police stormed his house outside Dallas, Texas. The man, an assistant district attorney, was to be To Catch a Predator's most notorious target. "These people were acting not only as police, but judge, jury and executioner," said the deceased’s sister. "It was about headlines. Making a splash. Making a story. Jumping to conclusions.”
TV news coverage of the Texas cases is on-line at: http://www.wfaa.com/video/?nvid=148433&shu=1

Comedic criticism of the show can be found on YouTube. My favorite of these is the “auditions” for the job of teenage lure. See: http://shurl.org/auditions.

On a more serious note, a Baptist minister has analyzed the high financial costs of the current hysteria. These include not just the obvious costs of incarceration, but such lesser-knowns as declining property values when a registered sex offender moves into a neighborhood. David Hess of New York argues that lawmakers are throwing billions of dollars at a mythological problem, while doing nothing to deter real sexual abusers, mostly family members and friends of their child victims. His analysis is on-line at: http://shurl.org/economic+costs.