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Case studies in new ethical challenges in online journalism

Reporters lure child predators

By Natalie Johnson, Dotcom journalists

In December of 2003 the Wichita, Kansas television station KCTV-Channel 5 teamed up with the Web site Perverted-Justice.com and began an investigation to discover and reveal Internet predators in the area. Volunteers from the site posed as adolescent boys and girls in Internet chat rooms and set up meetings with men who solicited them for sex online, giving them the address of a home that the station had rented.

One by one, 16 men showed up at the home on the date they had scheduled with the supposed children, believing they were coming there to have sex with them. When they arrived there they were confronted by the team from Channel 5 and Perverted-Justice.com, including investigative reporter Steve Chamraz. The encounters were filmed and made into a six-part special report that aired on the Channel 5 evening news in February of 2004.

Although news stations have done similar reports before, Channel 5 may have been the first station to actually show the faces and give the names of the alleged predators. The series was widely popular in Wichita and boosted the station’s ratings during the February sweeps.

One man who was lured the home and featured in the story went on to sue the CBS network, Perverted-justice.com and Meredith Broadcasting, Channel 5’s parent company. The man, who was only identified as John Doe in the lawsuit, claimed that he never propositioned the girl he chatted with and was wrongfully portrayed as a pedophile on the show, causing him to loose his job. Two days after the show aired, Doe was fired from his $50,000 a year job. Doe also began receiving angry phone calls after the transcript of his chat was posted on Perverted-justice.com.

The transcript of the chat later revealed that Doe had never asked for or described a sexual act during the chat and the volunteer posing as a young girl had been the one who brought sex up. Doe’s attorney said that the whole conversation was joking and Doe never intended to meet up with the girl. Doe never even got an address from the person he chatted with and only went to the home after receiving a call from an older-sounding woman who claimed to be the same girl and offered to give him oral sex if he came over.

Chamraz defended Channel 5 and the series, saying, “We never called anyone a pedophile.” They did, however, refer to the men as “Internet predators” who “wanted to have sex with underage teens.” As of March 11, 2004, the lawsuit was still pending.

Perverted-justice.com went on to team up with a Portland-area station to do the same type of report on Internet predators. The show that aired in Portland showed an older woman making follow-up phone calls with the men they chatted with online.

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Works cited

-The Sting. (2008). Retrieved February 4, 2009 from Society of Professional Journalists Web site: http://www.spj.org/ecs3.asp

-Ortega, T. (2004). Jail Baited. Retrieved February 4, 2009 from The Pitch Kansas City Web site: http://www.pitch.com/2004-03-11/news/jail-baited/1

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