Friday, August 10, 2007

"To Catch a Predator" needs to go quickly into that dark night, with its head held low...

Former Atlanta Magazine staff scribe Luke Dittrich splendidly writes in this month's issue of Esquire about the NBC journalistic guilty pleasure that is the Chris Hansen-led ratings blockbuster crusade against online sexual predators, focusing on the case of Bill Conradt, a Texas assistant district attorney who killed himself after a SWAT team and the NBC crew descended on his house. Conradt had been exchanging bawdy instant messages with who he thought was an underage boy, who in reality was a 21-year-old aspiring actor hired by NBC. It makes for gripping television, but so do amateur videos of bear attacks and, while I'm at it, this. But more on point, this does it the best.

The piece details some disgusting lapses in journalistic ethics--Hansen allegedly pressuring authorities to get a search warrant--and touches on the dangers of hidden-camera journalism and the murky gray when journalists and law enforcement work together, both looking to come off as heroes and in the process dominate the story rather than the topic or issue at hand. It should be read in its entirety.

I'll admit that I've watched "TCAP," was most entranced by the awkward confrontations between Hansen and then alleged pedophiles, and turned off the show once the gotcha factor was over. The resolution was much less interesting than whatever sensational act transpired. So funny how that parallels the mindset of those involved after hearing Conradt killed himself.

After ending her cell-phone call, Lieutenant Barber looks at the camera. She asks the cameraman a question, speaking loudly enough to be heard above the rumble and whine of the rotors. Although the events of the last couple of days provoke a lot of questions, perhaps the one Lieutenant Barber now asks is the most pertinent. When law enforcement and television entertainment have commingled so completely and so lethally, perhaps there is really only one question left that matters at all.

“We having fun?”

She asks the question, she smiles wide, and then she relays an update Frag gave her a little while ago, something about a three-hundred-pounder nabbed back at the decoy house.

Oy. Give me a break. Find a soul while you're at it. And before the critics ask Esquire why they're defending the deceased alleged predator, it should be noted they're attacking the show.

To end things on a light note, here's perhaps the finest Robert Smigel SNL cartoon, dealing oddly enough, with catching the REAL predator.

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