Pappas: The reality of reality TV

By Nicholas Pappas

Louis William Conradt Jr. was many things. He was a successful assistant district attorney in Texas. He was a brother and friend. He also solicited children for sex. Some would call him a monster. Others would say he needed help. Regardless, he is dead. In November 2006, the press and the police raided his house to seek justice and, more importantly, to humiliate the man.

According to the officers’ accounts, Conradt said, “I’m not going to hurt anyone,” then put a gun to his head and hurt himself. Rather than face the villagers with torches, he chose to die a monster created by the science of tabloid journalism.

The raid was set up by Dateline NBC and a group called Perverted Justice to air as an episode in the controversial series “To Catch a Predator.”

Now, Conradt’s sister has filed a $100 million lawsuit against NBC, and, earlier this month, a New York judge ruled that the suit would go forward.

Even after the suicide, Dateline NBC aired a segment telling the tale.

At the end of the episode, Conradt’s sister called the incident the “reckless actions of a self-appointed group acting as judge, jury and executioner.”

She is right. While there may be no defending a man who would wilfully have sex with an innocent, Dateline NBC did not air these shows to make the world a better place. They did it simply for the almighty ratings.

They have gotten their hands dirty for the sole purpose of selling more ads for Ivory soap. It is a shame there are people like Conradt in the world who engage in these activities, but it is a greater shame that the general public is so mesmerized by their capture. Yes, he was a man who needed to be brought to justice, but he was also a citizen with the same rights as any of us. He deserved privacy. He deserved to be treated as innocent until he was proven guilty.

He is dead because of our voyeurism.

“To Catch a Predator” is one of a long line of shows meant purely to humiliate and throw stones. The most popular is “American Idol,” the FOX talent competition which bases the first half of the season on filming a young person’s dream and then pummeling it with personal jabs in a British accent.

FOX has now created a solid gold line-up of humiliation with the addition of the game show “Moment of Truth.” Cash is awarded for truthful answers to personal questions that could change your life and the lives of those you care most about.

The basic premise is this: “Is $100,000 enough to ruin every worthwhile relationship you have? Are you willing to tie your loved ones to a railroad track for personal gain?”

It seems in American pop culture, money cannot only buy happiness, it’s also worth destroying it.

Still, as disgusting as “Moment of Truth” is, it is protected by the First Amendment. It’s a shame revealing all the secrets of those who have made the unfortunate choice to care about you is what our founding fathers decided was worth protecting.

“To Catch a Predator,” on the other hand, is crossing a fine line. The press should report, and the police should convict. We are swimming in dangerous waters when each has an oar in his or her hand. Journalism is about seeking truth, not creating it. A journalist should treat their subjects as human beings, not faceless ratings. The public should be treated with compassion, not be destroyed for profit.

Conradt is dead because of grotesque reporting. Let’s hope that the exploitation dies with him.

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