Thursday, March 04, 2004

Paging Kent Brockman | Throwing punches at broadcast news, and especially the local folks, and especially during sweeps periods, is about as easy as it gets. The inane, dippy stunts long ago staggered into the gutter of self-parody. Hyped with breathless copy, disturbing images, and stupidly ominous music, the spots are no more than blatant ratings grabs, completely barren of news. It's a relief when they're harmless, but all too often they venture into the realm of the irresponsible.

The Daily News's Dan Gross yesterday broke the story of an NBC-10 sweeps stunt that clearly falls into the latter category: The station rented a house in Newtown Square, a well-off Philadelphia suburb, and then went online posing as 14-year-old children in an effort to lure pedophiles. The sting was meant "to give a disturbing, but true, sense of how easy it is for pedophiles to prey on potential victims," the station's news director said yesterday, presumably with a straight face.

Yeah, right.

I'm not the only one who's skeptical of NBC-10's noble motives. The Delaware County district attorney's office is looking into whether the station broke any laws, notes today's Inquirer, which quotes D.A. G. Michael Green as saying: "It was only good luck that no one was injured, no weapons were drawn, no child was attacked, and no citizen who happened to be on the street at that hour was accosted."

For his part, Gross filed a brief follow-up today under the completely appropriate headline "Shame, shame, Channel 10." Both he and the Inky also include harsh words from Newtown Township police chief Lee Hunter: "I am totally, absolutely disappointed and disgusted with Channel 10 for the way they handled this situation. We are highly upset. We feel it was unethical, unprofessional, and dangerous. It's unfair and unsafe for citizens and kids and we are going to follow every avenue we can to eliminate this problem from happening again."

In a prior life I was a newspaper reporter, so I understand and respect the need to occasionally surprise complacent readers (or viewers) who think it, whatever "it" is, can't ever happen here, wherever "here" is. But limits are required. The youngest member of the Shallow Center household is but two-and-a-half years old, and if I found out that anyone had purposefully brought into my neighborhood even a single pedophile in hopes of raising my awareness, I'd be apoplectic -- and fighting mad. NBC-10's behavior is the height of journalistic arrogance, and I hope they pay a heavy price for their foolish and unnecessary attempt to teach parents a lesson we all, sadly, already know.


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