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Inside Dateline on 'Predator III': Why these men?

February 2, 2006 |

A coast-to-coast review (Lisa Green, Senior Producer, Broadcast Standards)

NBC UNIVERSAL EXECUTIVES -- Pictured: Lisa Green, Senior Producer, NBC News -- NBC Photo: Virginia SherwoodVirginia Sherwood

You might be curious about the men Dateline will feature on Friday’s "To Catch a Predator" report. Why them? How bad was their behavior? I’d like to explain one factor that helped us decide which men to include.  

As these investigations have evolved, so has the behind the scenes work we put into preparing these stories for broadcast. This time around, the presence of the Riverside County, California sheriff’s department raised the stakes for the men who showed up to the house after chatting with Perverted-Justice volunteers. And we conducted real-time reviews as the chats took place, starting before any men arrived at the house, and before arrests were made. In part, we looked for how intent the men were on having a sexual encounter with someone they apparently thought was a 12 or 13-year-old child. 

I’ve seen transcripts where the men chatting online expressed some hesitation about a face-to-face meeting, or professed that their intentions did not include sex. Whether that was genuine, an attempt to coax a child to invite the man over, so he could later claim he was not the initiator, or a ploy to win a child’s trust through coy behavior, I’ll never know.  But we wanted Chris to interview men whose intentions were clear.

Before the broadcast, we wondered whether this factor would limit the number of men Chris would meet.  As you’ll see, that wasn’t a problem. We all found the number of men responding to these chats amazing and unsettling.  

Finally, a word about the chat excerpts you will see Friday night. Some might find them too graphic, despite our best attempts to tone them down. Our goal is to convey the often-repellant content of these chats, while remaining mindful of our status as invited guests in your living room. On a personal note, my two children, a teen and tween, were in my living room with me as I read, and often groaned at, the content of the Perverted-Justice chats I reviewed on my laptop. Curious, they begged for a look. I wouldn’t show them the unedited material.  But you can bet they’ll see the broadcast.

Questions? E-mail


What we don’t want to hide about hidden cameras (Lisa Green, Senior Producer, Broadcast Standards)

Meetings. Hours of editing tape and reviewing transcripts. Still more meetings. The Dateline NBC investigations featured have something in common: they are the products of a series of steps and a set of principles that help us decide when and how to use this powerful but controversial technique. Today, as viewers demand more transparency from journalists, it’s especially important that we explain why we think hidden camera is an important part of our work.  

Hidden cameras let us get close to people who, if they knew our plans, might well change their behavior, and that helps explain why you find hidden camera work in some of the most important investigations Dateline NBC has broadcast. But because the use of hidden camera — and our failure to identify ourselves as journalists up front — is so different from our usual methods of gathering information, we take care to limit its use to situations where we have an important story to tell, and strongly suspect that introducing ourselves would make that story evaporate. Would vendors serve an identifiable NBC News crew more beers than their rules allowed?  Would potential Internet predators behave the same way if they knew we were watching?  In each of these cases, we concluded that we needed to get to the story without introducing ourselves first.

Other factors are at work before our journalists begin. We meet to discuss journalism and editorial policy issues the story might raise. Our lawyers check to be sure our investigation is legal— relevant privacy and taping . And after the material is gathered, but before you see it, we take a close look at what we have, aiming always to give subjects a full and fair chance to respond to what we captured. We also think hard about what to include, making sure you get to hear what  the subjects of our investigations have to say.

That said, each of these stories posed different challenges and prompted serious discussions.  The Internet predator spot, for example, meant we spent a lot of time reading complete transcripts of the online chats between Perverted-Justice volunteers, posing as sexually available teens, and the men who chose to talk to them.  We struggled to share this material with you without running afoul of good taste because the chats drove home just how unwelcome these men would be in the life of your child.  If you watch the hour, pay attention to our explanations of how and why we came to report this extraordinary story.  I hope we did a good enough job of explaining our decisions, and I hope you’ll share your responses with us.