Tuesday, May 29, 2007

NBC's "Perverted" Justice?

Axed "Dateline" producer slams popular "Predator" series as unethical

MAY 29--

In a scathing broadside at NBC's popular "To Catch a Predator" series, a former producer charges that she was canned last year after complaining that the show violated "numerous journalistic ethical standards" and many of the network's own "policies and guidelines."

In a breach of contract lawsuit, Marsha Bartel, 49, alleges that her 21-year career at NBC ended months after her August 2006 appointment as "sole producer" of "To Catch a Predator," which conducts sting operations targeting men seeking illicit liaisons with children they've met online.

According to her complaint, which was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Chicago, Bartel charges that many of the program's ethical lapses stem from its relationship with Perverted Justice, a shadowy vigilante group that the show uses to "troll for and lure targets into its sting."

A copy of Bartel's lawsuit can be found below. According to Bartel, by paying Perverted Justice, NBC has given the group a "financial incentive to lie to trick targets of its sting." The identities of the group's 50-plus volunteers were kept secret from her, Bartel says, adding that Perverted Justice does not provide "complete transcripts from its trolling operations," so network officials "cannot independently verify the accuracy" of the group's transcripts.

In some instances, Bartel claims, sting targets are "led into additional acts of humiliation (such as being encouraged to remove their clothes) in order to enhance the comedic effect of the public exposure of these persons."

She also charges that NBC has unethically covered up the fact that law enforcement officials have acted improperly while working in conjunction with the "To Catch a Predator" crew, such as "goofing off by waving rubber chickens in the faces of sting targets while forcing them to the ground and handcuffing them."

Bartel says that when she "raised concerns" about controversial comments made by Perverted Justice's founder, David Corvo, executive producer of the newsmagazine "Dateline," responded, "We all know they're nuts."

Bartel, who signed a four-year contract in March 2006, contends that soon after reporting her concerns about "To Catch a Predator" to NBC management, she was terminated effective December 24, 2006.

While NBC told her she was part of a "mass layoff precipitated by general business factors," Bartel alleges that she was canned in retaliation for insistence on "ethical and accurate reporting on the Predator series."

NBC, she adds, was "more interested in sensationalizing and dramatizing the Predator series for profit than news reporting."

Bartel is seeking at least $1 million in damages from NBC.

In a statement, NBC said it has been "transparent about our reporting" on the Predator series, for which audience reaction has been "overwhelmingly positive. NBC News is proud of its reporting and we believe this lawsuit is without merit."