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Insider Report: 'Catch a Predator' Worries Advertisers; Huckabee; Mormons, More

By    |   Sunday, 02 September 2007 01:04 PM

Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Advertisers Wary of 'To Catch a Predator'
2. Mormon History Film Bombs
3. Mike Huckabee Lauds NewsMax Story
4. Russian Says Overflights Were 'Training Missions'
5. No-Bid Contracts Soar
6. Kucinich Furious at ABC
7. We Heard: Aaron Russo, Kenneth Timmerman, Dr. Ruth, More

1. Advertisers Wary of 'To Catch a Predator'

NBC's sting-operation segments "To Catch a Predator" have scored solid ratings and created positive buzz among viewers, but the network appears to be scaling back its commitment to the program — because the content reportedly makes advertisers uneasy.

So far this year NBC has filmed only one sting operation for the program — which airs as a segment of its "Dateline NBC" newsmagazine — compared with seven last year.

The most recent episode, on July 25, included six national spot ads, significantly fewer than normal for a show in NBC's prime time, according to The New York Times.

"Some advertisers say they are wary of being associated with the show's content, in which men lured to a house by the promise of a sexual encounter are instead surprised by [host Chris] Hansen and then arrested," the Times reports.

And Andy Donchin, a director at the ad agency Carat USA, told the Times: "We're all concerned with what content we're associating ourselves with."

The program's producers work with a pedophile watchdog group, Perverted Justice, whose members pose as underage Internet users and converse with adults in chat rooms. If a conversation turns sexual, the "underage" Web surfer agrees to meet the adult in person. When the adult arrives at the meeting place, he is confronted by Hansen and a film crew and arrested by local police.

The program — which first aired in November 2004 — is currently facing two lawsuits, one stemming from a suicide.

Perverted Justice maintains that Louis Conradt, a prosecutor in Terrell, Texas, engaged in sexual conversations online, but he did not show up at the meeting place. Police obtained an arrest warrant, and as officers and "Predator" crewmembers approached his home, Conradt shot himself in the head on Nov. 5, 2006. His sister filed a lawsuit against NBC in July, seeking $105 million in damages.

In the other suit, former "Dateline" producer Marsha Bartel asserted that she was fired because she opposed what she called the program's unethical production practices. She contends that Perverted Justice did not keep accurate transcripts of the online conversations between the predators and the watchdog group's members.

Brian Montopoli of the CBS News Public Eye blog — and a former staffer at the Columbia Journalism Review — has maintained that the program is in some cases a form of entrapment.

He has also argued that while legal punishment of predators is left to police and prosecutors, airing the suspects on national television is already a form of punishment that the media has no right to inflict.

In addition to the bad publicity and advertiser reticence, "Predator" is also expensive to produce, according to the Times.

Regarding the network's seeming reluctance to commit to the show, Brad Adgate, senior vice president for research at the ad-buying agency Horizon Media, told the Times: "NBC's probably thinking about what their return on investment is, and might be thinking it's better to move on."

2. Mormon History Film Bombs

Concerns that a new movie depicting a dark event in Mormon history could hurt the presidential campaign of Mormon Mitt Romney turned out to be ill-founded — for the simple reason that almost nobody has seen the film.

"September Dawn" opened last weekend in 857 theaters, but took in only $615,000, according to Deadline Hollywood Daily.

The movie, which stars John Voight, is historical fiction based on a real event — the Mountain Meadows massacre in 1857, when renegade Mormons slaughtered 120 pioneers from an Arkansas wagon train traveling through Utah on their way to California.

Director Christopher Cain brushed off suggestions that the movie has anything to do with the Romney campaign, saying he had never heard of Romney when he began working on the movie, The Politico reported.

The reviews of the movie were savage. The New York Daily News said it "may be the worst historical drama ever made."

The San Francisco Examiner said the movie is "predictable, obvious, often silly, with a painfully poor script."

And Utah's Deseret Morning News said: "The filmmaking here is so incompetent and laughably awful that it recalls the work of schlockmeister Ed Wood ('Plan 9 From Outer Space')."

3. Mike Huckabee Lauds NewsMax Story

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee praised NewsMax for a "wonderful story" about his real record as governor of Arkansas.

When Huckabee appeared on "Fox News Sunday" on Aug. 26, host Chris Wallace pointed out that the conservative Club for Growth ran ads in Iowa attacking the candidate as a "tax and spender" during his years as governor.

Huckabee responded: "I have to be a little flattered that the Club for Growth targeted me with $100,000 of ads in a state where no one thought I was even playing seriously. And you have to wonder, 'Where did that money come from? Who gave them that money in order to run those ads?'

"NewsMax did, I thought, a wonderful story in which they pretty much debunked the Club for Growth ad and its content and the attacks."

The Club for Growth noted that as governor, Huckabee had raised sales taxes

37 percent, fuel taxes 16 percent, and cigarettes taxes 103 percent.

But Huckabee told NewsMax in an exclusive interview in early July that a state Supreme Court decision required immediate additional spending on education. The ruling came at a time when he had already cut the state budget 11 percent, and the choice was between raising taxes to fund the court order or being in contempt of court.

When he became governor, Arkansas had some of the "worst highways in the nation," he said. Over 80 percent of voters supported a 4-cent tax on diesel fuel to fix the roads.

Similarly, a 1/8-cent increase in the sales tax was approved by the voters to preserve their natural and cultural heritage.

Huckabee told NewsMax that as governor he would have "violated his oath of office" if he had tried to thwart the will of these voters.

With respect to the spending that he as governor had under his control — excluding federal pass-throughs and programs strictly controlled by the Democrat legislature — he said spending rose only about six-tenths of 1 percent a year during his 10 1/2-year tenure.

4. Russia Says Overflights Were 'Training Missions'

Several recent flights by Russian military aircraft over Britain, Norway, and Guam were "training missions" and the jets did not carry offensive weapons, Russian military sources said.

The Russian aircraft involved — the TU-95 Bear and the TU-160 Blackjack — are strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

At a briefing in Moscow, Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov said: "We never fly air patrols with nuclear weapons on board our planes. Our planes carry only training weapons."

In all instances the Russian jets were intercepted by NATO or U.S. aircraft, NewsMax's United Nations correspondent Stewart Stogel reported.

Russian military officials said the incidents were only normal training missions allowing Russian pilots to exchange "smiles" with their Western counterparts. Those missions had been suspended since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, but were resumed in mid-August.

5. No-Bid Contracts Soar

Federal spending on contracts awarded without "full and open" competition has tripled to $207 billion since 2000 — with a $60 billion rise last year alone, a recent congressional report disclosed.

Those contracts include deals where officials take advantage of provisions permitting them to avoid competition for speed and convenience, and deals where the government sharply limits the number of bidders, the Washington Post noted.

Government auditors say the no-bid contracts often lead to higher prices for taxpayers and an excessive reliance on a limited number of contractors.

"The rapid growth in no-bid and limited-competition contracts has made full and open competition the exception, not the rule," according to the report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Keith Ashdown, chief investigator at the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the Post: "Contracting officials are throwing out decades of work to develop fair and sensible rules to promote competition. Government officials are skirting the rules in favor of expediency or their favored contractors."

6. Kucinich Furious at ABC

Democratic White House hopeful Dennis Kucinich sent an irate letter to supporters charging that ABC snubbed him in the most recent presidential debate.

For one thing, the Ohio congressman said he was "deliberately cropped out" of photos taken at the Aug. 19 debate among eight candidates shown on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Washington Post blogger Mary Ann Akers said that ABC News spokesperson Andrea Jones addressed that charge, stating: There are 20 photos live on the ABC News Web site. Mr. Kucinich is in a number of them and there is even one of him and his wife."

She said ABC did not crop photos and that one shot that did exclude Kucinich was taken by The Associated Press, not ABC.

Kucinich also charged that after he took a "commanding lead" in ABC's online survey about the candidates, the survey disappeared from the Web site. And he was angry that he was not asked a question until 28 minutes into the program.

When she spoke with Akers, spokeswoman Jones said the survey results were still available. And while acknowledging that Kucinich wasn't addressed in the

first 28 minutes, she said "he was the only candidate questioned in his own segment on 'This Week with George Stephanopoulos,' two weeks in a row." She also pointed to "the extensive coverage of his candidacy on the ABCNews.com Web site."

7. We Heard . . .

THAT Hollywood filmmaker and libertarian activist Aaron Russo — who ran for president in 2004 — succumbed to bladder cancer in Los Angeles on Aug. 24.

The former rock music promoter, born in Brooklyn in 1943, was the producer of such films as the Eddie Murphy-Dan Aykroyd comedy "Trading Place," the Bette Midler vehicle "The Rose," and Brian De Palma's "Wise Guys."

But he is best known among libertarians as the director and writer of the 2006 documentary "America: From Freedom to Fascism."

The film explores the connection between income tax collection and the erosion of civil liberties in the U.S., along the way linking the Patriot Act and free trade deals such as NAFTA with a push toward globalism and fascism.

Russo ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for governor of Nevada in 1998, finishing second with 26 percent of the vote, and for the presidential slot on the Libertarian ticket in 2004.

THAT NewsMax Contributing Editor Kenneth R. Timmerman's novel "Honor Killing" has reached as high as No. 8 on Amazon.com's list of best sellers in the Spy Stories & Tales of Intrigue category.

The book has also logged in at No. 10 in the Action & Adventure category, and No. 1,772 overall among the online bookseller's hundreds of thousands of books.

"Honor Killing" centers around attempts to thwart a terror attack on the U.S., and to solve the "honor killing" of a Muslim-American girl in Maryland.

Timmerman's other books include "Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran."

That Dr. Ruth Westheimer will offer sex advice to college students this fall on MTVU, the cable network available on more than 750 American campuses.

"Sex Cred With Dr. Ruth," like all programming on the network, will feature segments no longer than six minutes, the trade publication Variety reports.

Dr. Ruth will join sex columnists from college newspapers in responding to questions submitted by students to the network's Web site.

THAT an Israeli official blames Russia for the heightened tension between Syria and Israel at the beginning of the summer.

Amos Gilad, a retired general who heads the Diplomatic-Security Bureau at the Defense Ministry, told Israeli Army Radio: "At a certain time, the Russians caused the Syrians to believe that Israel was preparing for war. I think that they have stopped this. Syria is not planning on attacking Israel, and Israel is definitely not planning on attacking Syria."

The Jerusalem Post reported that Kremlin officials purposely misled the Syrians to encourage the Arab nation's purchase of military equipment from Russia.

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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):1. Advertisers Wary of 'To Catch a Predator'2. Mormon History Film Bombs3. Mike Huckabee Lauds NewsMax Story4. Russian Says Overflights Were 'Training Missions'5. No-Bid Contracts Soar6. Kucinich Furious at ABC7. We Heard: Aaron...
Sunday, 02 September 2007 01:04 PM
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