PeeJ Opinions: Discussing topics relating to what we do
20/20 needs a new prescription

Oh, we've dealt with dumb media before. We'll deal with dumb media again. It's stock and trade in what we do. However, it's not often we deal with media so desperate for a story that they'll on one hand shake their finger about so-called journalistic ethics while breaking a few in the process.

For those that didn't catch it, 20/20 on September 7th, 2007 ran a rehash of the various stories regarding Louis Conradt Jr. and the Murphy sting operation of November 2006. The story contained no new information and no new allegations to throw at us. It's somewhat difficult to even respond to the 20/20 story itself due to the fact that it's merely a rehash of other shoddy reporting we've already responded to.

The piece actually had a large benefit, Collin County DA John "I'm not in the showbiz business, but I'll rush to get on 20/20 to attack good police in my county" Roach finally went on record regarding his dereliction of duty in refusing to prosecute good cases against internet predators in this county. We're going to cover some of the weirdness of the folks behind this piece in various bullet points. It's more interesting what they omitted and didn't show than what they did air in a lot of ways, not to mention the reaction of people who watched the show... on ABC's own website regarding the story.

- Unaired 20/20 weirdness in Santa Rosa, California
The weirdness of those that produced the segment attacking NBC is no better illustrated by their actions the last few days in their attempt to get some footage of our personnel. The following was a chat-log of founder Xavier Von Erck talking to Dennis "Frag" Kerr regarding 20/20's desperate attempts to ambush him as their attempts unfolded. Xavier was typing on IM from outside of the court-room, waiting to testify in a preliminary hearing. All together, it was quite the education in media tactics.

Cell phone IM Conversation from September 5th
Xavier: 20/20 producer is here. Just got hit up. Told her I would not be available.
Frag: Wow, really?
Frag: Did she take it better than Byron?
Xavier: So now I have to avoid them outside.
Xavier: Oh yeah, it was very cordial.
Frag: Unreal.
Frag: Geraldo style at work.
Xavier: Indeed.
Xavier: Not quite that bad
Frag: Yeah, I guess not if she asked without the cameras rolling.
Xavier: She identified herself and asked if I'd do an interview. Very nice about it. Could've just tried to ambush me outside otherwise
Frag: true.
Xavier: Can't have them in the courthouse. Otherwise it would have been Geraldo style.
Frag: I forgot about that.
Xavier: Yeah, too bad for them.

At first, it appeared that the producer was being honorable about her request. However, that facade would fade quickly.

Xavier: Wow, 20/20 is desperate
Frag: Now what?
Xavier: Just had another one of them make their pitch.
Xavier: Now I'm formulating how to get out of here while avoiding them.
Xavier: Okay.
Frag: Maybe there's a back door.
Frag: Or side entrance.
Xavier: I referenced the statement I sent before and said that would be all I have to say about it
Frag: Perfect.
Frag: You also don't want them following you to where you're staying.
Xavier: Oh, and they asked if I would go on nightline friday
Frag: Hahaha
Xavier: Indeed like I'm going to line up for an obvious hit piece
Xavier: I feel like I'm under siege. :)
Frag: Haha
Xavier: 20/20 producer is stalking me hardcore. Sitting out here pretending she's not.
Frag: Well you'd be a hell of a get for her.
Xavier: Yep. I'll go to the DA's room after I leave here.
Xavier: And producer gone. I recognize her, saw her outside when I was having lunch. She missed her opportunity then.
Frag: Wow.
Xavier: Nah, she was walking around. Didn't see me then.
Frag: Probably still outside.
Xavier: I'm by a window on the second floor. I sneaky-peek'd out and saw a 20/20 guy trying to observe my position.
Frag: haha wow.
Xavier: Definitely under siege.
Frag: They're so going to jump on you outside.
Xavier: Going to try.
Xavier: Had to move from window, spotted them trying to set-up to film the back of my head.
Xavier: One step ahead so far.
Frag: Wow, desperate.
Frag: Unreal.
Xavier: Indeed
Xavier: I fucked with the spotter. Moved back and forth to avoid.
Frag: Ha, nice.
Xavier: Wow, they're good
Frag: What?
Xavier: Inside producer came out about thirty seconds later to see where I went.
Xavier: He must've texted to her to see where I went.
Frag: Haha they are so damn desperate.
Xavier: Yep.
Frag: They want you on camera saying no comment so that they don't have to use our statement.
Xavier: And here comes their second spotter, the other cameraman
Xavier: haha, wow, these guys are something else
Xavier: I won't say "no comment"
Xavier: I'll say "refer to statement."
Frag: Cool.
Xavier: And cameraguy 2 is gone. Wonder who will be next.
Xavier: We'll see. I know there's another exit, as I used it once.
Frag: I wouldn't be surprised that they have it covered if they have two cameras.
Frag: Well if they disappear after awhile I'd bet money they're setting up to follow you.
Xavier: Yep.
Xavier: They're all gone from this area now.
Frag: I think they want to harass you as much as possible in the hopes you mock them ala the Byron Harris interview.
Xavier: Haha, they'll know better already. I'm so tired that I couldn't even if I wanted to.
Xavier: Oh, there's my spotter again.
Frag: Haha hide and fucking seek.
Xavier: Yep.
Frag: Are they trying to approach you again?
Xavier: Nah, they're just trading posts again.
Xavier: They do it because they think they are sneaky.
Frag: Hahah
Frag: Well I sense a new blog coming on.
Xavier: Seriously, I'm so considering putting our convo on my blog. This is hilarious.
Xavier: Haha, wow, good timing.
Frag: Indeed.
Xavier: Be back later.
Frag: Alright.

After that, Xavier and other site volunteers left the courthouse where 20/20 cameras attempted and failed to perform a juvenile "ambush interview." The following conversation happened afterwards.

Xavier: Well, we made them run.
Xavier: Walked out the back way. They hauled ass to catch up. Got a "refer to statement, thank you" for their troubles.
Xavier: So they got footage, but no audio they can use.
Frag: Nice.
Frag: So they were watching all the exits.
Frag: Did they try and follow you at all after that?
Xavier: It's hard to get out without being seen, all the walkways are glass
Xavier: No idea.
Xavier: They had to haul ass to catch up. I feel bad for the cameraguy, it's hot outside.
Xavier: Only one cameraguy caught up.
Frag: Just amazing. Total scum.
Frag: Did they ask any questions?
Xavier: Yep. One.
Xavier: The producer was never able to catch up to us walking.
Xavier: Cameraguy, huffing, asked if I had comment. I referred to statement.
Frag: Comment about what?
Frag: haha
Xavier: Just comment. Didn't specify.
Xavier: "Do you have any comments???"
Xavier: So we'll see if it airs, I bet not.

Of course, 20/20 chose not to air the footage of their attempt to harass and ambush volunteers. The reason being is that the response to their own on-camera question was "refer to statement." Despite the fact that 20/20 was informed inside of the court-house that no interview would be given and that they should refer to the previously sent statement, the 20/20 on-scene producer still attempted an "ambush interview" outside of a county courthouse rather than referring to a statement we previously sent 20/20 producer Vic Walter. Speaking of which...

- Unaired statement sent to 20/20 producer Vic Walter
Typically it is considered unethical to do a story discussing a subject while not giving the subject any chance to respond. It is especially considered unethical in journalism circles to solicit a comment from a subject on a story and then never mention receiving such comments. Even the sexual predators on "To Catch a Predator" get their comments aired on NBC during interviews with Hansen, however 20/20 apparently doesn't believe in airing solicited comments from the subjects of their shows.

Email from Vic Walters sent 8/15/2007, 2:24 PM
To: Mr. Xavier Von Erck
Perverted Justice

From: Vic Walter
ABC News

Mr. Von Erck:

ABC News is working on a story about the Perverted Justice - Dateline operation in Murphy,Texas. As you know, serious allegations have been made about the way in which the operation was planned and carried out.
A few weeks ago I spoke by telephone with both Del Harvey and Frag to request an interview with you or a member of your organization for our program. I have not heard back from them or you, and I want to again request an interview.The 20/20 program could air as early as September 7th, so we need to know soon if you wish to respond.

Vic Walter

Please note, we have not edited the atrocious formatting of his email. That's really how we received it.

Reply from Xavier Von Erck sent 8/15/2007, 2:51 PM
Hello Vic Walter,

The following is our official statement and response regarding 20/20's "investigation"

Thanks for your interest in obtaining an interview. We are proud of our 100% conviction rate on cases brought by prosecutors using evidence supplied by our organization, literally hundreds of sexual predators convicted and sentenced. Unfortunately, however, we are going to have to deny your request for an interview being that you represent an ABC program simply looking to take potshots at an NBC program. We do our best to stay above petty fighting between networks. We encourage anyone who is interested in our work to come to and see first-hand the results we have achieved.

Xavier Von Erck
Director of Operations

The following statement in response to their solicitation for comment would later cause 20/20 to try their darnedest to harass Von Erck into an interview or at least a "no comment." Media does this in order to state that a subject of a story refused to comment. However, we didn't refuse to comment. They asked us for a comment, we gave it. Despite this, 20/20 aired none of their weird attempt at an ambush interview nor our statement. They did take the time to note that nobody from Dateline NBC agreed to comment on their story, showing that they would have made such a comment had we not agreed to comment ourselves.

Of course, 20/20 only airs the comments they "approve" of in order to advance their spin against a rival network, so our response was tossed out in favor of carefully edited salaciousness... nothing of which resembled real reporting.

- Where was the reporting in that piece?
Producers at 20/20 roared to Variety, the New York Daily News, the O'Reilly Factor and anyone that would listen to their drivel about their "big" investigation that would blow the lid off "To Catch a Predator." Their entire coverage revolved around the November 2006 Murphy, Texas sting operation, something that has been discussed and debated extensively both in the media and even on our own organizational website.

In the piece itself, not one new sentence was uttered. This touted "investigative" journalism consisted of the following...

- An interview with Patricia Conradt, a woman trying to cash in on her child porn collecting brother who committed suicide fearing the exposure of his various crimes. Patricia Conradt has done her usual "sob-sob" story interviews with anyone who would listen for the last ten months. While it's unfortunate that her brother killed himself rather than face the lengthy prison sentence he knew he was looking at, this isn't really "ground breaking" investigative reporting. There's nothing new with Patricia Conradt. Oh, and if you watch the broadcast carefully, don't you love the perfectly placed "dog running up to mournful sister" staged and produced B-roll footage? You stay classy, ABC.

- An interview with John Roach, the Collin County DA who is more apt to attack police officers doing police work rather than prosecuting internet sexual predators. John Roach has been interviewed in dozens of publications over the last two months and while the 20/20 interview did condense his ever-changing story and various lies into one segment, there certainly wasn't anything "investigative" about it.

- An "ambush" interview with Murphy, TX police chief Bill Myrick, Myrick, who has been forthright in answering reporter questions since the sting occurred in November of 2006 was harassed and "jumped" by 20/20 in a parking lot.

According to the Dallas Morning News
Myrick said a 20/20 film crew pulled up in unmarked cars for an ambush interview early last week, as he was on his way to a Murphy City Council meeting.

I answered what questions I felt like I could answer with them, the chief said.

I didnt like their tactics.

Investigative reporting? Hardly, when the subject of the interview has already been extensively interviewed over the last ten months with the same exact questions 20/20 tried to make hay out of in their piece. And does the description of 20/20's "ambush" Geraldo-style confrontations sound familiar? Certainly, as it was the same thing they attempted to do to Xavier Von Erck of our organization, footage that wasn't aired.

- Interviews with Sam Love and Walter Weiss, again, hardly new, the same duo where interviewed with questions from Esquire magazine. Walter Weiss is especially unreliable as a source considering what amounts to either his awful memory or his willingness to lie regarding Louis Conradt Jr. Walter Weiss told Esquire magazine that no child porn was found regarding Conradt Jr., despite his not being involved in the search of Conradt's many computers. 20/20 acknowledged and credited Dateline NBC's recent investigation which revealed through official documents that child pornography was found on Conradt Jr's computers. Of course, 20/20 never asks Weiss about the inconsistencies, after all, they're rehashing old allegations rather than checking the reliability of their source in Weiss and his recollection.

In fact, no discussion of Love and Weiss credibility in general is offered, just the factoid that they're former police officers in Murphy, unhappy with their ex-employer. However, no details regarding their resignations are given nor any investigative work done into the circumstances surrounding how they left the force. If you wonder why, remember the old axiom "never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

- Edited insinuations against Dennis Kerr and Chris Hansen, allegations raised once again originally in the Esquire article. Rather than examine these allegations from a neutral position, 20/20 quick-cuts and spins out-of-context footage involving the two. 20/20 tries to make the case by showing Dennis Kerr (referred to only as Frag on the 20/20 broadcast despite his name being available on our staff page. Go investigative journalism!) giving information from our organization to Murphy police. Of course we gave detailed information to Murphy police. That's our role. We give information to Dateline NBC and Murphy Police. Both entities choose to do with that information what they wish.

For example, closely examine the footage where 20/20 attempts to "prove" that Kerr was in control of the Murphy police when he suggests they call Conradt Jr. in order to talk him out. Law enforcement is asking witnesses on the scene (Hansen and Kerr) what they've seen. Kerr makes a suggestion to Myrick and an unidentified officer. The officers consider the suggestion and then decide that it is a good suggestion. Seriously, re-watch it closely and note the wording from Kerr himself. He brings up the idea and the police decide whether it's a good idea or not. They decide it's a good idea and attempt to call and talk Conradt out rather than breech the premises. Conradt, however, refuses to talk as he is, at this point, busy attempting to delete evidence.

The way Brian Ross and 20/20 edit this exchange is slick. They use the power of suggestion to attempt to slip this supposed example of "The Murphy Police being controlled!" past the viewer when in reality, Kerr who was on scene made a sound suggestion to try to call him and then turned over information regarding Conradt's phone number upon police request. That, dear reader, is interfacing with law enforcement and aiding their request. A far more honest summation of the scene would have been "Oh no, someone made a good suggestion and the police decided that it was a good suggestion!" Apparently in 20/20's opinion, police should never weigh suggestions from non-police, the general public apparently is just filled with dumb people...?

Oh, and of course 20/20 doesn't note the concern of all on scene, Hansen, Kerr and the Murphy Police in this footage. The concern of all involved is talking Conradt out peaceably in order to surrender to an arrest warrant. If the scene had been Hansen and Kerr frothing at the mouths and screaming "STORM THE WALLS OF JERICHO NOOOOOOWWWWW" then 20/20 would obviously have a point. However, no such footage exists as if it did, it would have been featured in the program.

- THONG! THONG! OMG THEY SELL A THONG! Yes, we have a cafepress store where we sell various articles of clothing, including, oh no, a humorous thong. Because you know, underwear is evil and the devil and will destroy the world. Apparently those producing 20/20 are all hard-bitten "shake your fist randomly" grumpy old men scornful of the public sale of... underwear.

Oh, and they also reported that we have over 220 convictions. Of course, neither the fact that we sell articles of clothing via Cafepress (and make a whopping dollar per sale!) and that we have a lot of convictions are anything new nor anything that took "investigatin" by the apparently crack squad over at 20/20.

- Interview with some random retired cop in New York, who 20/20 noted had never interacted with us. He did, however, supposedly interact with some "similar organization" which is news to us since we were the first large-scale organization to do what we do. Apparently the so-called unnamed "similar organization" was "the bad" according to this retired police officer. Of course, this individual has never spoken to us, reviewed our rules of engagement, our technology and our protocol. And of course, 20/20 didn't interview the police in Flagler Beach, Florida or Riverside, California or Petaluma, California or Harris County, Georgia or Ocean County, New Jersey or Laguna Beach, California or Darke County, Ohio or Fort Myers, Florida or Walters, Oklahoma or Jackson, Mississippi or the Kentucky Attorney General's Office or... you know, we think you get the point by now. We could continue though and go on and on.

Of course, they did interview some random retired officer who dealt with "other groups." 20/20 super investigative reporting club assemble!

Journalism, eh?

- Basically replayed 10% of Dateline's recent report of Wednesday, September 5th, the report that Conradt had a collection of child pornography. However, despite literally playing Dateline's investigative journalism (Sure, we're biased, we like Dateline... but they broke a report dozens upon dozens of other journalists didn't, something we'll cover soon) on their program, they didn't mention the OTHER 90% of that eight minute segment. You see, the other 90% of that show referenced featured an Austin, Texas district attorney, Pat McNalis, criticizing some of the given excuses regarding the non-prosecution of the Murphy, Texas sting cases.

Apparently 20/20 only watched the last minute or so of the Dateline update segment they aired an excerpt of during their program, as they missed the following exchange which came earlier in the eight minute segment:

From the following link
Chris Hansen: So, merely by the guy showing up at this location in a certain county, that county would under Texas law have jurisdiction?
McNalis: Absolutely.
Chris Hansen: Even if the person lives some place else and the decoy lives some place else?
McNalis: Absolutely.

Of course, they did air John Roach stating that there was "no reason" for the individuals to show up at the house and some whiny hysteria from affluent residents of Murphy asking why the individuals "had to show up in their neighborhood." Gee, according to other prosecutors in Texas, showing up at a given location establishes jurisdiction. This statement, of course, apparently wasn't relevant to the story 20/20 desired to tell. Surprising! The only criticism of Roach aired was a quick statement from a very long piece here on our own PeeJ Opinions subsite. Oh, those journalistic ethics always impress us mightily.

- So was there reporting in the piece? Kind of. There was a report filed, technically. There certainly wasn't any new information in the report though, just a over-produced twenty minutes of boring designed to attack "the competition." Of course, they also neglected to mention while criticizing "To Catch a Predator" that the ABC News formerly-titled "Primetime Live" program (Now known only as "Primetime") approached our organization in early spring 2004 to do a report recording a TCAP-style sting operation with our organization. We, however, did the first "To Catch a Predator" soon thereafter with Dateline NBC.

Oh, ABC News, you are such a pious flower of integrity.

- Of course, you know all of this
You've read this far? Congratulations. Of course, you likely already knew and understood what garbage pseudo-reporting the 20/20 piece was. After all, roughly 90-95% of responses on the official ABC News website in response to this story slammed 20/20 for what the public already knew was a flagrant exercise in network-warring.

Don't believe us?

Well, Check out the reaction of ABC viewers to 20/20's awesome reporting (copied and pasted as we don't trust ABC not to edit the comments), to put it succinctly... people know better, ABC News. They just know better.

In the face of that overwhelmingly negative reaction by their viewers to their garbage, it appears that the real breaking news is that 20/20 ironically seems to suffer from a pronounced case of myopia.


A response posted on MSNBC by Dateline NBC is also up. Their response focuses on different aspects of the 20/20 broadcast than our response does. You can read their response here. Sure, it doesn't have the sarcasm of our reply, but it does point out important facts.

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