Back in February, I wrote a post asking if "Dateline" goes too far in its popular "To Catch A Predator" series. The series, which just completed taping for a fourth installment, centers on the exposure (and, in recent installments, arrest) of men ostensibly interested in having sex with children.
Now the Dayton Daily News brings word that criticism has greeted the newest iteration of the program, which is build around a sting in Darke County, Ohio. Dateline reportedly compensated members of the controversial "anti-predator organization" Perverted-Justice.com, covering expenses for them to enter chatrooms and pose as children interested in sex and to travel to the area of the sting. Dateline also worked with the Darke County's sheriff's office, which deputized three members of the Perverted-Justice.com organization.
"There are several ethics issues involved in this," Al Tompkins, who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, told the Daily News. "There's concern when news departments become an arm of law enforcement. There should be a separation of journalists and police, and our job is to cover what they do but not enable and become a participant in the enforcement."
He added: "In this case, there would not have been a crime if there wasn't a deception when they set these up. Journalists should be very reluctant to deceive. It should be a last resort, not the first. And it ought to be rare."
Eighteen men, who drove to a house where they believed they would find a 13, 14, or 15-year old they had met online, were caught in the sting. The series continues to raise difficult ethical questions, as Dateline senior investigative producer Allan Maraynes acknowledged to the Daily News. But Maraynes said that the people at Dateline "believe we're doing the socially responsible thing ... and the journalistically responsible thing."