April 21, 2006

Schadenfreude Friday: Bite Me, Stone Phillips

Although I am loathe to quote Fox on just about anything (for fear of infecting you or myself with the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Plague), this story, also reported elsewhere, caught my eye earlier in the week.

NBC acknowledged Monday that it had paid an organization to set up a pedophile sting operation in Ohio for a "Dateline NBC" story, saying it was performing a public service. Seventeen men were arrested in March as part of the sting. They were accused of looking for sex with minors after communicating with people posing as juveniles on the Internet, and caught when they came to a home in rural western Ohio. NBC arranged the operation, the fourth in its ongoing "To Catch a Predator" series on "Dateline NBC," with an organization called Perverted Justice that tries to ensnare pedophiles.

Okay, look...regardless of the subject matter, I feel kinda dirty getting my news from the O'Reilly network. Switching to The Washington Post:

The NBC newsmagazine "Dateline" agreed to pay a civilian watchdog group more than $100,000 to create a pedophile sting operation that the network plans to feature in a series of programs next month, network representatives and the organization's founder said. As part of the sting, the network also went along with police officials' deputizing of the group's members, in effect turning "Dateline's" made-for-TV operation into a law-enforcement action. The segments, taped last month in Ohio, have prompted news media observers and others to question NBC's methods and criticize its practices. "Dateline's" orchestration of the sting crossed ethical boundaries and could place the network in an awkward legal position, they said.

Mainstream news organizations typically do not pay sources for their cooperation because such payments might unduly influence the source's actions or information. Dateline's tactics on other stories have been questioned recently. On Friday, NASCAR officials accused the news magazine program of trying to "manufacture the news" by bringing a group of Muslim men to Martinsville Speedway in Virginia to see how they would be treated by NASCAR fans. Moreover, it is almost unheard of for a media outlet to allow its paid associates to act as law enforcement officials, even on a temporary basis, journalism experts said. "I can't think of anything like that," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, an Arlington-based group that advises journalists on legal issues. "It sounds to me like a very risky thing to do."

Look, big picture, kid-touchers are bad. I am not - and I need to make this clear - trying to defend them in any way, shape or form. But while NBC thinks it's doing something good - and making some incredibly cringe-worthy TV in the process - they're really setting a terrible precedent.

The journalism profession is frequently thrown under the bus along with lawyers and politicians. Sweeping generalizations are made, career choices are maligned, expectations lowered. And it's this kinda shit that does it. Journalists are responsible for reporting the truth, accurately portraying events and situations, thoughts and ideas in a fair, non-biased fashion so the rest of us can soak in all the facts and make educated decisions about the world around us. For a news organization to create the news is dangerous and unethical.

What's to stop your local affiliate from staging a bank robbery next time there's a particularly slow news day? What's to stop an overzealous reporter from arming a homeless guy and sending him into a mall to pick off suburban moms? Sure, these are unlikely to happen but when a news organization starts making news for the purpose of reporting said news, some kind of trust has been violated.

Child molestation and abuse? Bad. No question about it. The guys (because they're typically guys) who do it should have their testicles used as ping-pong balls or served as finger food at the local chapter meeting of the Hannibal Lecter Appreciation Society. It is important, however, that people are caught and tried fairly in this country. It also remains important that law enforcement do its job and journalists report on it, not take part. Paying for stories calls into question the integrity of the journalists and their stories and casts doubt on the criminal act being reported on in the first place. It does no one - the victims or their families - any favors if criminals are set free based on technicalities arising from questionable arrest tactics.

Posted by Chris at April 21, 2006 7:46 AM

Amen, and amen. You are right on the money with this one.

Posted by: samantha at April 21, 2006 7:49 AM

I am so with you on this Chris. You put it way better than I would have been able. Thank you. When "the revolution" comes about, and it's overdue, I want to be on your team. We can't afford to sit back and let all this shit go down everyday.

Posted by: JuJu's Mom Linda at April 21, 2006 7:52 AM

Much as I would like to see all these monsters locked up where they could never hurt another child, I have to agree.

NBC should have known better.

And what am I doing up? Oh, couldn't sleep and I don't even have a teething baby to blame.

Posted by: ann adams at April 21, 2006 7:52 AM

I'd venture to say that, in all but the rarest cases, broadcast journalism left the ranks of "journalism" a very long time ago and hitched a ride on the entertainment industry bandwagon.

Posted by: Tonya at April 21, 2006 8:13 AM

I think it would have been fine if Dateline had wanted to work with/pay Perverted Justice to set up a sting operation AND had disclosed that they had done just that on the program. I don't think of Dateline as a place to gather unbiased news. It's more like newstainment, and the end result was a good thing--pervs behind bars.

BUT, I know that this story was also reported AS news on the NBC Nightly News and on MSNBC, and I totally agree that it was grossly and completely unethical. I wonder how many more manufactured news stories are out there...

Posted by: mooalex at April 21, 2006 8:19 AM

This is why I get all my news online.

Posted by: That Girl at April 21, 2006 8:20 AM

What?! Journalists trying to maufacture the news?! Shocking! Sorry, I'm a little sarcastic in the morning without my 1st diet coke ;o)

Posted by: Sheryl at April 21, 2006 8:33 AM

Well, I had never thought of it that way. I suppose it would be less interesting if they just filmed what Perverted Justice (I think that's the name of the Internet watch-dog group)does anyway, but probably more ethical.

Posted by: Jessie at April 21, 2006 8:43 AM

I agree news organizations should not pay for the story, but Perverted Justice does these stings to catch these bastards. They need money to set up the sting and carry it out. Could NBC have really paid for their expenses and not the story itself? I think that has happened a lot! The money to me is not as important as the story itself, which brings awareness of this problem. SO, I dont have a problem here. The other examples you used were too unlikely to ever happen unless the network is CBS and then the slant to the story would be in the liberal favor and likely not note worthy on your blog.

Posted by: linda at April 21, 2006 9:05 AM

It is all in the definition of news really. I don't consider Dateline a New's Show but more of an "awareness" show. "Were you aware that such an such a car was made with faulty airbags" and that type of stuff.

Posted by: Bill at April 21, 2006 9:24 AM

Ok, I'm a reporter. And I agree with you 100 percent. That is just beyond wrong. It's a shame that media outlets try to control and spin the news. It's why I left my last job. Happy to say I no longer work for that organization, which coincidentally owns the USA's (hint, hint, wink, wink) largest newspaper, and now work for a publication that has integrity instead of "sensationalism."

Posted by: Traci at April 21, 2006 9:28 AM

I was anxious to read the comments regarding this post. Very interesting.

I agree with you. And I've always been very annoyed that they (news guys) refer to themselves as "The Media".

Posted by: cas at April 21, 2006 9:38 AM

To quote a great philospher...

Bread and circuses maintain the empire; vox populi. Give us potato chips and we will not revolt. (brought to you by the "The Man" http://www.jj-archive.net/albums/im.html)

Johnny Smoke

Posted by: Johnny Smoke at April 21, 2006 9:51 AM

Interestingly, the local news channel here in Tucson did something similar in November (http://www.kvoa.com/Global/story.asp?S=4104591), although I don't think they had anybody deputized; I think it was all volunteer based.

Anyway, the concept of 'journalists (being) responsible for reporting the truth, accurately portraying events and situations' is, to me, a further indication that Dateline is not news.

By the way, Linda, how is it that you imagine that an 'affiliate...staging a bank robbery next time there's a particularly slow news day' or 'an overzealous reporter...arming a homeless guy and sending him into a mall to pick off suburban moms' amounts to a story with a liberal flavor? I'm a little confused on that point.

Posted by: freezio at April 21, 2006 10:01 AM

I agree with you too.

I'd go into greater detail, but I need coffee for that, and it's brewing.

Have a great weekend, Cactus-Fish Family!

Posted by: Shash at April 21, 2006 10:06 AM

Now that I have a bossy little boy, I no longer even watch tv. If the tv is on, its on something PBS kids-like.

But it looks like I'm not missing anything... I used to watch Dateline.

Posted by: Lisa B at April 21, 2006 10:21 AM

Oh boy, here I go up on my soapbox. I was a communications major in college so I feel I can comment on this situation.

What we call news anymore IS NOT NEWS. News is anything new. The news channels are now MAKING up the news with situations just like that. They are now providing entertainment. Some people call this "reality" t.v. The bank robbing thing is not a bad idea. We may be seeing that next.

Posted by: DebbieDoesLife at April 21, 2006 10:51 AM

I agree with you...that this is not the way to catch these sickos...However, our local news station did the same thing and some very famous Houstonians showed up at the door looking for underage sex. So while I do agree with you, I liked the embarrassment that these people had to go through on the local news. As Nelson on The Simpson's would say, "Ha, Ha!"

Posted by: Nik at April 21, 2006 11:03 AM

It's funny, I was just thinking last night about Hearst-era Yellow Journalism, and how little things have really changed.

I agree wholeheartedly. Whether Dateline paid them for the story, or covered their expenses for the sting, they should have mentioned it. They could even have said, "we paid for this sting, here's a website where you can go to donate and help get more predators off the street." Would have saved them the backlash and helped the cause.

Infotainment has spread its roots out so widely in the media now that it's virtually impossible to avoid it.

I've seen a number of stories lately regarding major newspapers with poor journalistic practices, whose innacurate stories are then republished nearly verbatim, and without any further "fact checking" by all the lesser papers. It's just depressing to think of the number of people out there who believe anything they see in the paper or on a "news" show must be true or they couldn't have written it.

Don't even get me started on FOX News.

I try to get my news from enough different sources that the spins cancel each other out somewhat, and I can figure out what is actually going on.

Posted by: Kate the Shrew at April 21, 2006 11:06 AM

Chris said... "Paying for stories calls into question the integrity of the journalists and their stories and casts doubt on the criminal act being reported on in the first place."

Meant to include this w/ my prior comment. If you're interested in learning IMO what the 20th and 21st century press are really about.


Posted by: Johnny "Jaded" Smoke at April 21, 2006 11:07 AM

As glad as i am that these sick fuckers were caught and i hope they cut off their balls, I totally agree with your sentiment about the media and journalism. They shouldnt be preforming law enforcement duties, they should be reporting it. They arent supposed to create news, they are supposed to report it. Where does the line get drawn? What does this open the doors to? Great post.

Posted by: kristied at April 21, 2006 11:07 AM

I think TV "news" -- at least on the major networks -- is always more about the bottom line than about thoughtful discourse on the issues.

The President and his cronies have their own skewed reasons for attempting to discredit certain stories. Nevertheless, they are not far off the mark when they point out that journalists often tell the stories that sell, not the ones that are truly most important.

I can't believe I just agreed with the President. I have to go shower.

Posted by: Julie at April 21, 2006 11:53 AM

I totally agree, as well. I have to say, when I watched those programs, I was shocked though. I always pictured these pervs as older guys - but some are just as young as you and I! It's weird. Very eye-opening.

Posted by: Liberal Banana at April 21, 2006 12:34 PM

amen, my brother. they are supposed to COVER the stories. not CREATE them. in a situation like this, they are no better than a show like.... Fear Factor.

Posted by: jodi at April 21, 2006 12:34 PM

Amazingly well presented and thought out post and idea. I unfortunately was taited by reading the comments first and am having trouble getting past linda trying to turn this into a partisan arguement.

But I guess her disdain for 'liberal media' explains her lack of understanding when it comes to ethics issues.

Posted by: Latte Man at April 21, 2006 1:02 PM

Chris, I couldn't have said it better myself. The media is so totally out of control these days. And they probably don't think there's a thing wrong with "creating news" like that. Sad, but true. Stone Phillips, IMO, should head toward Oz. He needs a brain, a heart, and da nerve.

Posted by: Michelle at April 21, 2006 1:34 PM

Unfortunately, "creating news" is nothing new. Media strayed a long time ago from "reporting the truth" to "reporting whatever will get the ratings up, even if it's nothing more than conjecture." And the fact is widely known - statistically speaking, nobody really cares about good people. Only bad, evil people are interesting enough to lure the general public into watching. So if you have to go out and find them, then it's just part of the job.
I have seen firsthand several instances of this that have made me develop a severe cynicism and distrust of media, particularly television. :(

Posted by: SMIT at April 21, 2006 1:56 PM

I agree with you and everyone else on here. Pretty sad.

Posted by: Sabrina at April 21, 2006 2:12 PM

You are spot on.

Posted by: MrsJoseGoldbloom at April 21, 2006 4:38 PM

chris, this is the first time i'm posting on your site, but i've been an avid reader for quite some time now.i find it really commendable that you cut through the bullpoo of what is fast becoming a sensationalist media and government.i'm not american,but have many american friends and family members. it's good to see that the stereo type isn't true; not all americans think everything done in or by america is right.when something is right,its right, when its wrong, call it on its poo.it has nothing to do with the country,its all about humanity.

Posted by: CaribbeanHotSunGyal at April 21, 2006 4:46 PM

At first I wasn't sure if I was agreeing with you, but then I kept reading and yes, I do in fact agree. That's what happens when I read it all the way through. ;) I see where you went with it and I liked it. Happy Friday Chris!

Posted by: Kate at April 21, 2006 6:29 PM

My mom is a journalist and I do want to say that so many journalists out there are so honorable to the point where they risk their lives for justice.

However, I am so very much against buying help to get news even to get the bad guys. You see, getting the bad guys by doing something wrong does not have so much merit. The honor of the act goes down the toilet. Dont get me wrong getting those perverts in jail sounds good to me. However, Journalism should not have to resort to paying for news.

Hope I made some sense.

Posted by: Katherine at April 21, 2006 7:10 PM

Perhaps this is my being jaded and having no hope, or just having to watch the victims of these people suffer, but can't we just have Dateline pay for the gasoline and the matches for these guys? It will ease the transition into their next life...

Seriously, though, there is no source for news I trust. People complain about the weather people being wrong most of the time, but I'm pretty sure they're the most honest people in their field. At the same time, the infotainment does help sometimes. Hell, Oprah helps sometimes, as does Maury Povich. If we had some label to let people know not to expect journalistic behavior, would the actions be commendable? I just think that although there is sensationalism abounding, these shows do sometimes tackle our cultural problems that serious news broadcasts really have no right to tackle (i.e., it sure as hell ain't "new".). What do you suggest?

Posted by: alektra at April 22, 2006 8:43 AM

While the ethics of NBC coupling with a mysterious Perverted-Justice are questionable by itself, (during ratings sweeps, plus monetary payoffs) it should also be noted that the internet vigilante group is under considerable scrutiny by another watchdog group Corrupted-Justice...
Corrupted-Justice.com "Because two wrongs don't make a right" has been in operation for two years, meticulously combing through the seedy side of Perverted-Justice. What Dateline does not explain is Perverted-Justice's so-called "followup forum" where all anonymous participants are encouraged to phone, email, post flyers, and in any manner harass the targets whose chat logs are allegedly posted on their front page. All without an iota of police involvement. Friends, spouses, children, relatives, employers are not immune to receiving such calls. Real estate holdings, car license plate look ups, SS# posted, cell phone numbers reverse-look-upped... in short anyone who has access to confidential citizen data is rallied in mob fashion to help out. Not only that, but Perverted-Justice also displays a series of screen shots of webcam captures - of men exposing themselves. All this without appropriate age-check in place. So there are lewd chats ostensibly between an adult and a pretend minor, plus graphic sexual images. Not the hallmarks of an organization that is touted to protect children online.

Question Perverted-Justice's methods and you are labeled a pedo, pedo enabler, or pedo sympathizer. Be careful when speaking out against this vigilante group or they will utilize their well honed skills (they are aligned with a hacker group as well) against you. They have slammed journalists and other child protection groups which have voiced opinions that were not flattering. They would come here and start trolling against the less-than-glowing article at the top of this page.

Thank you for listening. Be informed. There is much more to the story.

Posted by: PJ Buster at April 23, 2006 12:51 AM