Saturday, April 28, 2007

To Catch A Predator

First thing, I have to admit (or perhaps confess) my obsession with Dateline NBC's "To Catch A Predator" (TCAP). For those who don't know, TCAP is an ongoing news series in which a correspondent for Dateline, Chris Hansen, works with an organization called "Perverted Justice" whose sole reason for being is to catch online pedophiles and bring them to justice. With the cooperation of local police, PJ poses as underage boys and girls (typically around 13 or 14) who are online. Grown men IM or email these screen names (who they believe are 13 or 14) and post sexually explicit messages, might send pornographic pictures (of their gentials, for example) and suggest a meeting with the "child." After agreeing, and setting a place and time, the pedophile comes to the house, only to be met by Hansen. Hansen, with a copy of the chat log, asks them questions on why they're there. The predators, as most of them are wont to do, try to make up some bullshit (they're just there to hang out, for example). But Hansen reads direct quotes by these men from the chat log. Much hilairty ensures (from me anyway) as these guys scurry like deer in the headlights, only to be brought down by the police waiting outside.

Now, I'm no law-and-order type who glorifies everything law enforcement; I'm very critical of the police and the legal system. But when it comes to anyone willfully attempting to endanger a child, and ready to commit an action that will scar that kid forever, bring on the men in blue.

I just didn't decide to comment tonight on the show. An hour ago, I saw the show "America's Most Wanted" attempt to ape TCAP's formula. I guess the fact that some of these guys were taken off the streets made it by itself worthwhile. But what makes TCAP great is that Hansen almost comes off as a friend to these guys. He is very calm and cordial, and makes an effort to get into these guys' heads. He only makes a wiseass quip when someone tries to tell a particularly tall tale. But John Walsh, the host of AMW, picked the worst possible way to do it. As soon as the guy enters the house, he comes right out and just starts getting into his face. He was totally belligerent, and what's even worse, the cops are cuffing the guy as he's yelling at him. The guy's not gonna say anything to you if he already knows he's under arrest and in legal trouble! On top of that, you're not dealing with run-of-the-mill criminals. These guys are sick. Did Walsh think that yelling at them was going to make them regret what they did and repent their actions?

TCAP is both entertaining and informative. Tonight, AMW was neither, and it really showed me that John Walsh is one of the most obnoxious guys on television. I saw his show from the beginning, and while it was obvious he was new to television, he had a straight-shooting, sensible style that worked to the show's advantage. Ever since he started strutting around in his leather jacket, trying to look like a bad-ass & calling everyone he profiles names like "scumbag" or "creep", the quality of the show has gone down the tubes.

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