ABC's '20/20' Looks To Catch NBC Journalist

One TV news organization attacking another TV news organization's journalistic chops is not precedent-setting -- thought maybe, on the surface, a little desperate-setting.

ABC News' "20/20" will take on the controversial NBC "Dateline" series "To Catch a Predator." The story is how certain local police in Murphy, Texas seemingly gave up control to NBC -- and the pedophile watchdog group, Perverted Justice -- in an attempt to create TV stories. Controversy already surrounds the "Predator" series, as it has had cries of "entrapment" from its subjects.

Longtime ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross - once an investigative reporter for NBC - does the legwork for "20/20" in this story. In response, NBC News president Steve Capus tells USA Today : "I chalk this up to the usual network silly competitiveness..."

This isn't the first time one network news organization has taken on another. With cable news networks, it happens even more.

Recently, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour's series on religious groups, "God's Warriors" drew an attack by Dan Abrams on MSNBC's "Live with Dan Abrams," who called the series "a defense of Islamic fundamentalism and the worst type of moral relativism."

The difference between Abrams' take and Ross' reporting was that Abrams vocalized his comments under his "Dan's Take" spot -- thus under the commentary banner-head.

Now there is plenty of room on 24-hour cable newscasts -- as well on the plethora of network magazine shows -- for all types of journalistic endeavors, even on how TV stories are put together.

Some may disagree and say that this wastes time and isn't real news. In fact, these kinds of critiques -- breaking down TV news stories -- is a good ideas. In the ever-growing surfeit of news - both on TV and online -- examining the process of TV journalism can be fascinating stuff, enough to please advertisers seeking "engaged" viewers.

The problem with these kinds of reports is that they may not get a wide audience. For viewers, it takes a deeper-level commitment to detail and observation, and few easy conclusions. Ask any producer. Viewers want their answers neat and easily digestible -- not just at the end of straight-ahead news stories, but any fictional ones that may appear on prime-time TV dramas.

At the end, MSNBC's Abrams realized he was wandering in touchy territory. With some trepidation, he said, "CNN is listening to this segment." Perhaps, also as general manager of MSNBC, Abrams is jumpy that CNN might start attacking one of MSNBC's stories.

ABC's "20/20" may also realize it might feel the heat from NBC down the road.

What do I say to that? Bring it on. Perhaps business journalists covering TV should do the same. It'll make us better journalists -- not really to catch predators, just a few mistakes



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