To Catch a Predator, Hunted

The parallel investigation of ABC’s 20/20 and Esquire over Dateline NBC‘s own parallel investigation with the Murphy, Texas police force is a “meta” enough situation to give even the most astute media observer a case of cognitive vertigo. TVNewser’s Chris Ariens reported yesterday that 20/20 is working on a piece on one of Dateline NBC‘s “To Catch a Predator” stories. An ABC spokesperson later confirmed that their piece, “a work in progress,” involves the role of Dateline NBC in the suicide of Kaufman County prosecutor Bill Conradt. This month’s Esquire is particularly critical of the process known as “parallel investigations, in which a news organization and a police department set up separate and independent investigations on a single case. From The Hollywood Reporter:

The Esquire article details the circumstances around the sting in Murphy, where an actor had been hired to pose as a 13-year-old boy who had been chatting online with a man who was later identified as Conradt. Esquire said Dateline producers tried to lure Conradt to the house where police were waiting, only to find that Conradt wasn’t coming. They and members of Perverted Justice decided, Esquire said, to take police and a “Dateline crew to Conradt’s home in the small town of Terrell.

Dateline NBC denies that “To Catch a Predator” producers tried to manipulate the Murphy, Texas police. Poynter’s Kelly McBride uses the Esquire article to argue that parallel investigations are neither independent nor separate, but a messy tangle of transgressed boundaries.

— Ron Mwangaguhunga