Oh man! Frontline is the freakinâ€™ intelligentest television journalism anywhere. By a mile. While the people over at Dateline are pulling the old bait-and-switch on child molesters, the people at Frontline are telling at least some of the most important stories of the day in a way that also shows viewers why theyâ€™re important.
Some of you may not know what Iâ€™m talking about. Dateline does these shows where they catch sexual predators. Itâ€™s called To Catch a Predator. No problem there. Then, as far as I can tell from the show, actors go online posed as minors, a weirdo shows up at a house rigged with cameras full of journalists and actors, answers a couple questions or runs away, only to be swiftly subdued and arrested by police.
On the predator website, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10912603/, the decoy and the journalist discuss an incident in which a dude shows up to the house naked because the journalist and the decoy told him to come naked in exchange for considering some sex act. They couldnâ€™t have revealed themselves as journalists and gotten a guy to show up nakedâ€“or at all, probably. The naked guy will get even better ratings than the pervert with clothes will draw, and Iâ€™m afraid ratings trumped ethics here.
This is debatable. There may have been no other way to get a story like this, which would justify some of tactics used, but Iâ€™ve never gotten the impression that they even tried any other way to get the story. The journalists obviously feel justified.
A cop on the website explains why it isnâ€™t entrapment (because the cops arenâ€™t actually involved in the investigation,) and why it wouldnâ€™t be even if they did (because he says the predators initiate the misconduct.) Well, if itâ€™s not entrapment why donâ€™t cops just do the same thing? It seems to work. I have a hunch the same tactics, if used by police, wouldnâ€™t hold up so well in court. Then again Iâ€™m not a lawyer.
Also on the website, a Perverted Justice member talks about how much his/her working conditions have improved since Dateline joined up. He talks about all the great equipment heâ€™s got now. (Perverted Justice is, I gather, a group that hunts sexual predators.) I just hope the money didnâ€™t come from NBCâ€™s news budget. Maybe itâ€™s just me that thinks there should be more coverage of things wars and genocides and immigration issues and political campaigns, and maybe they could spend some money on that.
I knew there was a reason I was talking about Frontline. The other night I saw an episode of their series News Wars. It showed how all those big mergers between Time and Warner Bros. or whateverâ€“the purchase of news gathering organizations by large corporationsâ€“has shifted the priorities of management away from the informing the public and toward pleasing shareholders by increasing profits. Increasing profits is simple: raise prices or cut costs. Newspapers and other media outlets are decreasing cost by eliminating things like jobs for reporters. (Even though newspaper publishing is a pretty profitable game.) Now there are only three newspapers in the country that keep a reporter covering the war full time. You should watch the episode (part III) at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/newswar/view/.
To Catch a Predator seems to be business as usual.
(Frontline. Nightline. Dateline. Confusing, huh? The best way to tell the difference is to take note of the way your head feels as you watch. Does your head feel like it has been so jam-packed with useful information that it will crack open and release a bunch of colorful thought-butterflies up to the heavens? Thatâ€™s Frontline. Does it feel like Joe Pesci has your head in a vice while he punches you in the face with brass knuckles? Thatâ€™s Dateline. I have no idea how Nightline makes your head feel.)