In 2004, NBC’s ‘Dateline’ did a special called “Dangerous Web” which centered on a sting operation to entrap potential internet predators. It took place in a house outside New York City and 18 men showed up at the house with the intention of having sex with a minor. Instead they got busted and exposed on national television.

Since then, the special now known as “To Catch A Predator” has become hugely popular not only among regular ‘Dateline’ viewers but also new viewers who’ve heard about the segment through word of mouth. The “To Catch A Predator” specials have been airing more frequently over the last year or so. Though the first segment took place in New York, other states including California, Ohio and Florida, among others have played host to the infamous “Predator” kitchen.

‘Dateline’ works with a group called “Perverted Justice”, whose sole purpose is to stake out internet chat rooms, posing as underage kids and waiting to be propositioned. Once someone takes the bait, they arrange to meet. The chats almost always contain extremely explicit conversation between the predator and the faux-teenager. When Mr. Predator shows up at what he believes is the child’s house, he’s greeted by ‘Dateline’s’ Chris Hansen. Hansen is amazingly cool and collected as he introduces himself, tells Mr. Predator that he’s busted and proceeds to read some of the chat transcript to the guy. In the earlier episodes, the men would get caught, have their interview then leave the house but the show soon began involving the local law in the set-up and when the men exited the house they were promptly arrested.

Many of these internet predators appear to be “normal” guys. Among those caught have been fathers, religious figures, teachers, college students and other professionals. Then of course there are always the shady and/or twitchy guys whom you could probably tell at first glance that they’re trouble. It’s the “normal” guys that ‘Dateline’ wants to expose because these are men who are living “normal” lives among our communities and appear entirely harmless.

Those of you who have seen at least one of the episodes know all of this already. So all of the above being said, I’ve seen quite a few of these specials and I have to say, every time I’ve watched them I experience mixed emotions towards the whole thing which is causing me to question the intent of the series.

For obvious reasons, the show has to be doing some good. Parents who watch the show are hopefully becoming more aware of how dangerous the internet can be for a child or teenager. The internet has become a virtual playground for people who are looking to quench some of their more inappropriate (not to mention immoral and illegal) desires.

The question at this point is, has the show gone far enough? Whenever watching a television show, we should accept that the network’s highest priority is to make money. High ratings means big advertising bucks. But ratings aside, what is the real intention of the series at this point? In the latest episodes, it seems like most of the people who are caught have heard of or have seen the ‘To Catch A Predator’ specials. They’re aware of the possibility that they could get caught and publicly humiliated and yet they still take the chance.

As a viewer, I am disturbed by the number of grown men who show up to the house with the intention of having sex with a young person (the age range is usually between 12 and 14), but at the same time, I find myself feeling uncomfortable and almost guilty for being entertained by the humiliation these men must feel at being exposed like this.

If you were to consider pedophilia as an addiction of some sort, is it right to exploit their addiction on national television for entertainment purposes? Don’t get me wrong; I am in no way suggesting that these men are the victims but these men are risking their futures and livelihoods (not to mention humiliating their families and loved ones) for the chance at a piece of underage you-know-what. If the fear of getting caught and losing everything they’ve achieved isn’t enough to stop them, maybe their issue goes further than just desire.

I believe in what groups like Perverted Justice are doing and think more should be done to catch these people. I’m just not sure at this point that Dateline’s intentions are pure anymore. The question of ethics comes into play here. The frequency at which they’re airing these specials has made me consider that they might be exploiting the issue of sexual predators for ratings and entertainment purposes.

In earlier episodes of the special they’ve had psychologists and psychiatrists speak briefly about pedophiles but the general focus in recent episodes seems to be on the kitchen-scene. As I said earlier, many of the men caught admit to being aware of the ‘Dateline’ special so why isn’t ‘Dateline’ using that knowledge to help potential pedophiles get help before they go as far as to set up a face-to-face meeting with a child? In all fairness, they do have a link tucked away on the MSNBC website for potential predators seeking help but overall, its evident that the focus of the show is on exposing the predators.

Sure, a 5 minute segment telling viewers where they can go or what they can do to deal with certain “inappropriate” desires that they might have might not be as entertaining as seeing a grown man get called out by Chris Hansen for being a pervert but it might prove to be a bit more effective at stopping future predators than the fear of getting caught (which doesn’t seem to be working all that well).

I recognize that to take advantage of a child or teenager is an abysmal act. My skin crawls when I see some of these men sitting in that kitchen with their beer, porn and condoms on the table in front of them but I feel if ‘Dateline’ is going to continue using the issue for ratings purposes, they should be taking it a step further by trying to help remedy the problem. The focus shouldn’t entirely be on educating the parents or humiliating the pedophiles. The people who are showing up at these houses have some real problems. They know they could get caught and their lives would be ruined if they were and yet they still showed up.

In the meantime, I’m done with the series. I already know that the internet can be a dangerous place for kids and I’m well aware of the fact that pedophiles come in all shapes and sizes. The only thing left that the show has to offer me at this point is a bit of entertainment and as I mentioned earlier, that only serves to leave me with a sense of guilt and discomfort for finding the issue even remotely entertaining.

What say you, readers? Have you seen any of the specials? Have you learned anything from them? Do you think ‘Dateline’ should continue doing the series or do you think they should take a break for a while and bring it back in a year or so as a reminder to parents and kids?

What to Watch (10/8 to 10/14)

”The Amazing Race” (CBS) 8:00 pm
I Know Phil, Little ‘Ol Gorgeous - (New!) - I usually watch ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ during this hour but I’ve recently gotten hooked on ‘The Amazing Race’. I just love that coal-miner couple. The teams are still trekking through Nam. Lets just hope CBS can manage to air the episode on time this week.

”Desperate Housewives” (ABC) 9:00 pm
A Weekend In The Country- (New!) – Nora continues to drive Tom and Lynette (and most of the show’s viewers) crazy, Bree comes back from her honeymoon, Gaby sees John Rowland (Mmm Jesse Metcalfe) and Susan and her new Brit boyfriend go off for a weekend in the country.

”How I Met Your Mother” (CBS) 8:00 pm
Ted Mosby, Architect- (New!) – It appears as though NBC has moved ‘HIMYM’ to 8 o’clock, probably to help boost interest in ‘The Class’ which will follow ‘HIMYN’ instead of precede it this week. Ted and Robin have their first fight after Robin tells Ted that she finds his architect stories to be boring.

”The Class” (CBS) 8:30 pm
The Class Blows The Whistle- (New!) – For a sitcom, this show is pretty funny. A party brought the class back together and now the show is settling in to a groove that could work. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.

”Heroes” (NBC) 9:00 pm
One Giant Leap- (New!) – After episode 2 aired last week I am just loving this show. In tonight’s episode, Peter tries out his flying abilities while his brother Nathan works to keep their secret from the press. Speaking of desperately trying to keep their powers a secret, Claire is also working hard to live a “normal” life as a high school student. Hiro is convinced he’s meant to save the world and Matt gets questioned after he revealed knowledge of Sylar to the FBI.

”Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” (NBC) 10:00 pm
The West Coast Delay- (New!) – When the show accidentally plagiarizes another comedians work, they have to try and omit it from the West Coast airing of the show. ‘Studio 60’ is a surprisingly good show. The writing as well as the acting is pretty fantastic.

”Friday Night Lights” (NBC) 8:00 pm
Eyes Wide Open- (New!) – After the star quarterback, Jason Street was injured in last week’s episode, the town turns to prayer and hope to deal with it. Meanwhile the coach works with the backup quarterback who, while talented, is still wet behind the ears. I cant stand football as a sport but I love football movies and ‘Friday Night Lights’ is as good as any football movie (except for the fact that it’s a show). I know guys will love this show but as a female I can honestly say that its got just enough drama to keep the ladies interested.

”Veronica Mars” (CW) 9:00 pm
My Big Fat Greek Rush Week - (New!) – Veronica infiltrates a sorority house in the hopes of getting information about the rape ‘n shave attacks on campus. Logan and Wallace participate in a prison guard experiment in sociology class. Keith is running for his life from Kendall’s murdered, Cormac. I don’t know about anyone else but I love it when Veronica goes undercover. Seeing her rushing a sorority should be hilarious.

”Help Me Help You” (ABC) 9:30 pm
Fun Run - (New!) TiVo – I feel like this show is tucked away in the middle of nowhere and while I strongly recommend you watch ‘Veronica Mars’ because it rocks (and it needs the ratings), I highly recommend people DVR this show because its hilarious. In tonight’s episode, Bill (Ted Danson) is told by his fellow therapist friends that he’s too competitive so he tries to change his ways in the hopes of getting his wife back. Meanwhile socially-challenged Inger (my favorite of the characters) meets her online-gaming “husband”.

”30 Rock” (NBC) 8:00 pm
Pilot- (Series Premiere!) – Tina Fey plays Liz Lemon, the head writer of a live TV variety show. The show also stars Alec Baldwin as one of the network big-wigs who tries to convince Lemon to make changes to the show. Lets hope the show is as funny as the promos.

”Jericho” (CBS) 8:00 pm
Walls of Jericho- (New!) TiVo – A man dying of radiation poisoning shows up at Jericho with an upsetting message. Meanwhile Dale deals with his discovery of the train full of food and some of the townspeople go off looking for other survivors. I didn’t think I’d like ‘Jericho’ but I’m finding it more and more appealing with each episode.

”Lost” (ABC) 10:00 pm
The Glass Ballerina - (New!) – Ben makes an offer to Jack that he might not be able to refuse. Kate and Sawyer are forced work while imprisoned. Meanwhile, Sayid is trying to find a way to rescue Jack, Kate and Sawyer but it puts Jin and Sun in danger. I’m definitely excited to see what’s been going on with the survivors.

”The Nine” (ABC) 10:00 pm
Heroes Welcome- (New!) – I thought I would hate this show because the premise sounded lame (a group of people brought together after being held hostage at a bank robbery) but the pilot was really good. In tonight’s episode, Egon enjoys being embraced by the media after the bank incident and Nick’s having problems at work.

”My Name Is Earl” (NBC) 8:00pm
Larceny of a Kitty Cat- (New!) – Randy tries to date a girl who has cats, which as it turns out, Randy is extremely allergic to. Such a simple plot for a thirty minute episode and yet I know it’ll be laugh-out-loud funny because that’s pretty much what you get with ‘Earl’

”The Office” (NBC) 8:30 pm
Grief Counseling (New!) – When Michael’s predecessor dies; Michael tries to help the office through the grieving process.

”Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC) 9:00 pm
What I Am (New!) – Addison begins to doubt her medical abilities and Cristina pushes Burke with his rehab. From the previews, it looks like Meredith thinks she might be pregnant.

”Men In Trees” (ABC) 8:00pm
The Caribou In the Room - (New!) – This is a total chick-show and I love it. Annie wont let Patrick spend the night with her because she doesn’t want him finding out about her snoring. Marin and Jack try to be “just friends”. Yeah, that’ll work.

”Battlestar Galactica” (Sci-Fi) 9:00 pm
Exodus (part 1)- (New!) – The Colonial detainees face a Cylon firing squad on New Caprica and Tyrol receives some bad news from a secret contract in Baltar’s administration.

Father of the Bride (1 & 2) (TNT) 7:00 pm
If you’re a guy, watch ‘The Island’ on HBO and enjoy everything Scarlett Johannson has to offer. If you’re a girl, pop the popcorn, sit back and watch as George Banks deals with the wedding of his only daughter in Father of the Bride and then stick around for the sequel when George deals with his little girl having a child of her own as well as learning he’s about to become a father (again).


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