Dateline Continues To 'Catch' Criticism

On March 28, as we noted, the Dayton Daily News reported that "Dateline NBC," in filming the fourth installment of its To Catch A Predator series, "compensated Perverted-Justice as 'consultants' for a weekend Internet sting that netted 18 people on attempted unlawful sexual conduct charges." Public Eye first looked at journalistic questions raised by the series in February, and others have raised similar issues.

The latest comes from The Washington Post, where Paul Farhi reports the amount Dateline paid Perverted Justice, a controversial citizen's organization that aggressively seeks to ferret out online predators, to create its latest sting. That amount? $100,000. Farhi also notes, as the Daily News did, that Dateline "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."

Here's a bit more of the story:

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."

Journalists reject such an arrangement because they might be publicly perceived as being "agents of the government" rather than as independent news gatherers, Dalglish said. "This would certainly have me holding my breath," she said.

Dateline senior producer Allan Maraynes stood by the program's work. "We've raised the public's consciousness of a very serious issue. We think we've created a model [for reporting on Internet pedophilia] that accurately reflects what happens in real life," he told the Post.

Said Perverted Justice founder Xavier Von Erck: "We look at those [ethical] rules as just silliness. We've never gotten an e-mail from a parent [after a 'Predator' report aired] saying, 'What about journalistic ethics?'"