‘Highly Rated Pile of Programming Debris’


So says John Hockenberry, a former Dateline correspondent who is now a distinguished fellow at the MIT Media Lab, about his former show.

Start with To Catch a Predator, which is kind of like watching Britney Spears’ life over the past year. There are children in danger, white trash, and a sense of disgust with yourself for watching. While it’s become a pop-culture phenomenon in its own right, the reports started as a Dateline investigation.

The gravitas of Ann Curry leads viewers to believe the news magazine does serious investigative work, but Hockenberry says the show is just a soulless cross-promotion machine in an article in this month’s Technology Review.

Hockenberry doesn’t hold back.:

[Hockenberry] claimed that then-NBC programming chief Jeff Zucker, who came into a meeting Hockenberry was having with “Dateline” executive producer David Corvo, said “Dateline” should instead focus on the firefighters and perhaps ride along with them a la “Cops,” the Fox reality series.

According to Hockenberry, Zucker said “that he had no time for any subtitled interviews with jihadists raging about Palestine.”

Ouch. But Hockenberry saves his best shots for To Catch a Predator.

The culmination of Dateline’s Internet journalism strategy was the highly rated pile of programming debris called To Catch a Predator. The TCAP formula is to post offers of sex with minors on the Internet and see whether anybody responds. Dateline’s notion of New Media was the technological equivalent of etching “For a good time call Sally” on a men’s room stall and waiting with cameras to see if anybody copied down the number.

While the revelation that Dateline and NBC executives don’t have much of a soul isn’t too earth-shattering, Hockenberry’s piece is an interesting look at how TV magazine shows are presented as news.