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The untold truth of To Catch a Predator

Led by host Chris Hansen, To Catch a Predator took viewers on a series of queasily compelling journeys as they tracked down and nabbed sexual offenders — on camera. It sparked ratings magic for years, and attracted plenty of controversy of its own along the way. Sure, it made for compelling television, but were Hansen and his crew really the good guys here? Did To Catch a Predator perform a public service, or was it just another ratings-hungry reality series? However you feel about NBC's hit Dateline segment, we've dug up a collection of behind-the-scenes details that might change your opinion. From forgotten stories surrounding the production to all the ups and downs experienced by Hansen and his signature series in more recent years, this is the untold truth of To Catch a Predator.

Chris Hansen and crew weren't after pedophiles

During a 2007 interview with NPR, host Chris Hansen explained that — in his eyes — he and the crew from Perverted-Justice, the organization responsible for setting up To Catch a Predator's stings, were not technically going after pedophiles. According to definition, pedophiles are people interested in "prepubescent sex," and the folks at Perverted-Justice pretended to be 13 to 15 years old, which is after the age of puberty. A small distinction, perhaps, but one Hansen felt the need to point out publicly.

Some reporters didn't like it

Almost instantly, To Catch a Predator caused a stir among reporters who felt the segment went too far — not just in content, but in execution. CBS News' Brian Montopoli accused the segment of being interested in nothing more than ratings, arguing it didn't operate with enough journalistic integrity, and made the news rather than reporting it. Furthermore, Montopoli accused the segment of taking the law into its own hands by publicly exposing child molesters on national television. Harsh as his opinion of the show might be, Montopoli also made it clear he feels no sympathy for the men exposed through its efforts.

It has been accused of entrapment

Anyone in the business of rooting out illegal behavior runs the risk of occasionally being accused of entrapment, and To Catch a Predator is no different. Yet there's a fine line between entrapment and enticement, and according to former Dateline correspondent Stone Phillips — who, obviously, also worked for NBC — it's always clear that the show's targets are no strangers to online predation. "Clearly, no arms are twisted to get these men to engage in sexually explicit online chats," Phillips pointed out. "And since the stated intent of the house visit is to have sex with a minor, the ultimate responsibility lies with the men who come knocking on the door, no matter who initiates the meeting."

Some district attorneys have refused to prosecute any of the predators

Not all the perps collared by To Catch a Predator have been given the punishment they might seem to deserve. After the segment nabbed 24 men in Murphy, Texas, the local district attorney refused to prosecute the cases, claiming the amateur involvement of Perverted-Justice "tainted" them. The DA had backup from Mayor Bret Baldwin, who said that even though the men in question deserved punishment, the involvement of a television show raised questions.

One predator was acquitted

A 26-year-old man arrested for trying to have relations with a 13-year-old girl in 2006 put yet another nail in To Catch a Predator's coffin. In 2011, the judge overseeing his case threw it out after only six days, saying prosecutors failed to prove the young man actually intended to have have relations with a minor. In addition, the judge also accused the segment of entrapment. After the trial, the defendant's mother vowed to sue NBC to reclaim the money spent defending her son. Heck hath no fury like a mommy scorned.

They've been sued

The segment has actually been sued at least once. After her brother Louis was caught on To Catch a Predator, Patricia Conradt filed a $100 million lawsuit against NBC, claiming her brother's exposure caused him to commit suicide. By 2008, the lawsuit was "amicably resolved" in a confidential settlement.

Louis Conradt was kind of guilty

In all the hubbub over Conradt's suicide and his sister's lawsuit against NBC, only a few people seem to be aware that he did harbor some guilt. State investigators found pornography among Conradt's possessions — some of it involving minors — as well as "evidence of graphic online chats."

Perverted-Justice is broke

You might be wondering what happened to the fine folks at Perverted-Justice after NBC stopped airing segments of To Catch a Predator. Well, after blowing through the $1.2 million they earned, they're all strapped for cash. Though the group is non-profit, group founder Xavier Von Erck reportedly spent the NBC money on "himself, his friends, and his website" — the latter of which doesn't really look like anyone put a whole lot of money into it.

NBC wanted to distance itself from Hansen and crew

By 2007, To Catch a Predator had collected quite a bit of negative press, including heavily critical stories in Rolling Stone, Esquire, and other media outlets. Some of Dateline's advertisers expressed misgivings about continuing to support the segment, and as a result, NBC started scaling back production. By August of that year, only one segment had been shot, compared to seven the previous year. NBC claimed it wasn't distancing itself from its controversial hit, but the numbers showed otherwise.

Chris Hansen was fired by NBC because of infidelity

Chris Hansen, a 20-year veteran at NBC, was ultimately canned after getting caught red-handed himself. He and a Florida affiliate reporter got a little too close for comfort, which wouldn't normally be a huge problem, but Hansen was married at the time. The network sustained a bit of a black eye during the scandal — and some might say they dropped the ball by not firing him on a segment similar to his own.

Chris Hansen campaigned to bring it back

After his ouster, Hansen came up with a plan to bring back To Catch a Predator. On April 15, 2015, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a web series called Hansen vs. Predator, with plans to bring it to television later. He claimed viewers were hungry for "another investigation," and he meant to sate that hunger. By May, he'd raised almost $90,000 and started production, with investigations already underway.

...and his efforts paid off

In August 2016, Hansen was hired to host the nationally syndicated series Crime Watch Daily, which celebrated his arrival by renaming itself Crime Watch Daily with Chris Hansen. As part of the new deal, he agreed to make his Hansen vs. Predator web series part of the program. "There isn't a bigger, more respected name in crime reporting than Chris Hansen. We hunted down Chris the way he hunts down predators to take this job," enthused creator/executive producer Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey. "We are excited to have him lead our amazing team of correspondents, to build on our success and take Crime Watch Daily to the next level."

To bounce a check

It's always embarrassing when a celebrity ends up on the wrong side of the law, but when that celebrity has built a career out of bringing perps to justice, it's even worse — as Chris Hansen learned firsthand in early 2019, when he was arrested for bouncing a pair of checks to a small business in Connecticut where he'd purchased roughly $13,000 in marketing merchandise. According to TMZ, Hansen made a series of attempts to keep the store owners from going to police, including offering to pay his debt down in installments and claiming he was selling his boat to come up with the funds, but ultimately, it wasn't enough — a warrant was issued for Hansen's arrest, he turned himself in, and he was released from jail after being booked.