Thursday, September 11, 2008

No protection for producer's qualms about "To Catch a Predator"

The Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals just threw out (PDF) the suit of a TV producer who was fired after she refused to continue work on NBC's "To Catch a Predator," citing ethical qualms.
As a journalist and producer for NBC, one of Bartel’s main responsibilities was to ensure compliance with the ethical standards of journalism and NBC’s internal guidelines. Bartel found numerous aspects of the Predator segment production to be in violation of these standards and guidelines. She believed, for example, that NBC was directly or indirectly to the law enforcement officers participating in the stings. She thought it wrong that “Perverted Justice” representatives [the group that NBC works with to lure the subjects of the show] did not provide NBC with compete transcripts of their conversations with the targets, and that they did not identify all of their volunteers to NBC. She also objected that Dateline and Perverted Justice were staging the arrests in a way that maximized the humiliation of the target. Bartel informed her superiors at NBC of these problems, but they took no steps to cure them. Bartel then told her supervisors that she could not produce the segment.
For more background and the complaint, see The Smoking Gun. H/t to How Appealing.

Bartel relied on New York case law ruling that an attorney employment contract implicitly included protection for actions taken based on ethical duties. The court refused to extend this implicit contract protection for journalists, nothing that New York courts had already refused to extend it to doctors. Once again, lawyers - including judges - think their profession is unique and important above all others. The Seventh Circuit may have been right in its view of New York's judicial precedent, but it is disturbing that lawyers, and lawyers alone, should be granted this implicit protection.

I've never watched the "TCAP" on Dateline, but the concept of it has always struck me as a creepy and dubious undertaking. Other bloggers have noted that while NBC dresses up its crass sensationalism as a public service, the program arguably gives its audience a moralizing excuse to indulge their own fascination with sexuality and youth. It also contributes to the current moral panic about sex offenders, which has given us banishment laws and other constitutionally dubious and counterproductive legislation.

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