20/20 to Criticize Dateline in Premiere

MediaWeek/September 10, 2007

ABC newsmagazine 20/20 will criticize competitor NBC News' Dateline in a segment in its season premiere on Friday, Sept. 7 at 10 p.m.

In the segment, ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross will examine the tactics used by Murphy, Texas, police, the citizen watchdog group Perverted Justice and Dateline NBC during a sting designed to apprehend alleged sexual predators in that city. The arrests aired as part of Dateline's To Catch a Predator series.

"The police department, the professionals weren't in control of the entire operation," Collin County District Attorney John Roach tells Ross in the 20/20 segment. "They weren't calling the shots. Somebody else was." In the 20/20 segment, Roach says he warned the Murphy police in advance, in writing, not to participate, stating, "we're in the law enforcement business, not show business."

After the show aired, Roach declined to prosecute any of the 23 men arrested in the Dateline operation, citing problems with how the evidence was collected and the arrests were made, the 20/20 report says.

The 20/20 segment reports that one man, an assistant district attorney, committed suicide after police came to his home to arrest him in front of NBC cameras, and his family is now suing NBC and Perverted Justice, stating that they caused his death.

In the 20/20 segment, Walt Weiss, a former Murphy police detective, said, "The sting operation left a trail of destruction in the community of Murphy. It shattered lives. It shattered careers. I'm truly ashamed to have been part of that."

In the segment, NBC issued a statement defending the show and its actions, but no one from NBC appears. Murphy Police Chief Billy Myrick also defends the operation on the 20/20 segment, denying that his department ceded control of the operation to NBC and its cameras.

The segment is the result of a three-month investigation by ABC's Ross.

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