Lots of recent coverage on the ethics of reporting about online predators — most of it having to do with entrapment and vigilantism. Take for example Perverted Justice founder Xavier Von Erck, the man and web site behind NBC’s Dateline series, To Catch a Predator. In an Oregon Public Broadcasting story Von Erck claims to dislike children and authority, both of which are integral parts of his outfit. Yet, he willingly takes NBC’s money (enough to carry his organization comfortably through the year 2009) to champion the cause of saving children from these bad men he outs — one even killed himself to avoid arrest. Von Erck shows no remorse and instead complains that the suicide “robbed us of a conviction.” Who is the “us” exactly? Society? His organization? Dateline? Unclear.
Then there is the case of New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald. He published a series of articles about Justin Berry, a former child prositute who turned 18 and was currently grooming other children to follow in his footsteps. Berry was groomed himself, starting with an innocent purchase of a Webcam, then being paid to take off his clothes while online, and eventually meeting men face to face for sex. Eichenwald is on trial for allegedly “loaning” Berry $2,000 — an ethical violation in journalism. Nevertheless, he is still the recpient of a Payne Award, University of Oregon’s award for ethics in journalism.
I am not writing to support the actions of online predators. But what happened to trying to apprehend them the old-fashioned way? By arresting them for wrongdoing? I worry about the growing popularity of entrapment, paying off sources, and being rewarded for it. We don’t need people like Bernhard Goetz or Batman serving as model citizens.