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Resources > Articles > Setting the record straight Re: ABC 20/20 broadcast concerning our 'To Catch a Predator' series

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Updated: 4:40 p.m. ET Sept 11, 2007

In the three years since the first "To Catch a Predator" aired, more than 250 suspected online predators have been exposed, leading to the convictions of more than 120 individuals -- something viewers wouldn’t have known by watching the ABC story. One of the "To Catch a Predator" reports was nominated for an Emmy for Best Investigative Journalism and another won the prestigious Gracie award. The broadcasts have received accolades from government officials, and Correspondent Chris Hansen was even asked to speak before a congressional committee in Washington.

The 20/20 broadcast
Brian Ross and his producer Vic Walter set out to tell a story alleging that a Dateline "To Catch a Predator" investigation in Murphy, Texas, was mishandled by Dateline, the online watchdog group Perverted Justice and the local police in Murphy, Texas. As a result, the ABC story alleged, numerous potential predators could not be prosecuted. Further, the story alleged that Chris Hansen actually prompted police to get arrest and search warrants.

The 20/20 broadcast was seriously flawed. Below are some of the most glaring reasons.

ABC claims the decision to obtain an arrest warrant for Assistant District Attorney William Conradt was made at the suggestion of Chris Hansen.

  • Fact: Chris Hansen never asked police to take any action. 
  • Fact: Former Murphy police officer Sam Love, whom ABC interviewed, never said Hansen wanted to do anything beyond interviewing Conradt if and when he left his home.
  • Fact:  ABC used NBC video to suggest Hansen influenced Murphy police to obtain an arrest warrant.  The video was actually recorded AFTER police had gotten an arrest warrant.  The video simply shows Chris Hansen reporting on police actions, not directing them.

To support the theory that Hansen was somehow directing the police operation, ABC claims that Hansen suggested that police call Conradt inside his home.

  • Fact: The NBC video makes clear that Chris Hansen made no such suggestion. It was a member of Perverted Justice who offhandedly made that suggestion. Chris Hansen merely provided Conradt’s publicly available phone number after police themselves decided to make the call.

ABC claims the police "went ahead" with their operation, "ignoring the protests of local residents."

  • Fact: ABC used video out of sequence. There were no public protests prior to the operation, as ABC suggests. Protests by some residents took place during the investigation. And the town hall meeting shown on 20/20 occurred AFTER the investigation was concluded. In fact, many of the residents at that meeting voiced support for the operation, some even offering their homes for another sting.

Ross reported that District Attorney John Roach thought the evidence from the investigation was "hopelessly" compromised because "they had to rely on Perverted Justice, not their own detectives."

  • Fact:  Perverted Justice had previously conducted operations in exactly the same way in other jurisdictions around the country in which individuals were convicted. Furthermore, Perverted Justice had even worked with Murphy police previously, leading to federal and county prosecutions.  Before the operation, John Roach’s office acknowledged in a letter to Murphy police chief Myrick, "if, as a result of this operation, the Murphy Police Department brings us solid criminal cases, we will prosecute them vigorously."
  • Furthermore, as we reported on Dateline, another Texas prosecutor with expertise prosecuting Internet sex crimes cases, speaking generally about Texas law, said there are numerous ways in which these types of cases can be prosecuted.

A final word to our viewers
As Brian Ross acknowledged, journalists regularly interact with law enforcement.  In fact, in a previous 20/20 broadcast reported by Ross, ABC News even funded a Baltimore Police Department investigation involving DNA rape kits. Ross justified his report by quoting H.L. Mencken as saying "an investigative reporter is a great one if he either puts somebody in jail or gets someone out. For the first time in a story, I’ve done both."

Ross obviously recognizes the value of cutting-edge journalism.  So do we.

We know the "To Catch a Predator" series has been unconventional. The key for us has been full disclosure to our viewers. As we have all along with the "To Catch a Predator" series, we always disclose our relationships with consultants with whom we work as well as any relationships we might have with police.

We believe it is important to tell you what we know — as well as how we gather information. We will continue to do so.

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