TV Investigations Gone Too Far?

ByABC News via logo

Nov. 29, 2006 — -- Nancy Grace and CNN are being sued by the family of a mother who committed suicide after a tough interview about her son's disappearance.

Grace and CNN, however, are not the only hosts and stations under fire for a TV subject's suicide.

Relatives of Melinda Duckett believe Grace pushed her over the edge during an interview about her missing son, Trenton.

Duckett fatally shot herself on Sept. 8, one day after taping a segment on Grace's "CNN Headline News."

The network aired the segment after her death.

However, there have been other suicides after TV news investigations.

In Pittsburgh, TV station KDKA promoted a story about a pastor who apparently was caught on tape seeking gay sex in a bookstore and boasting of sex with minors.

The station never aired the story because it was warned the pastor could be suicidal. A couple of days later, his body was found in a motel.

"They should have run the news story … [to] demonstrate to the public what they had that was newsworthy and why that person probably committed suicide," said Ted Kavanau, a former CNN executive. "That's their obligation -- not to squelch the story."

In Texas, prosecutor Bill Conradt Jr. shot himself to death as police came to arrest him for allegedly soliciting sex online from someone he thought was an underage teen.

He'd been caught in an Internet sting set up by a group working with NBC's "Dateline."

The veteran district attorney's suicide was different because he might not have known that a media-initiated sting was the reason police were after him.

Conradt never actually showed up at the house where "Dateline's" cameras captured alleged pedophiles arriving for supposed teenage trysts.

Under Texas law, he didn't have to show up at the sting; his online solicitation itself was illegal.

There's no evidence that Conradt knew "Dateline" was involved in his case, and "Dateline's" correspondent distanced himself from the suicide.

"'Dateline' never had any contact with Conradt," said NBC correspondent Chris Hansen. "I never confronted him."

Still, some say there are risks if television -- particularly reporters -- takes justice into its own hands.

"The whole problem there is the person is guilty until proven innocent," said media psychologist Stuart Fischoff.

Others disagree, saying that TV should hold people responsible for questionable actions.

"We live in a culture in which we believe somehow people are not responsible for their actions. They are responsible," Kavanau said.

But does TV share any of the blame for the recent suicides?

"Everything should not be on the menu for entertainment," Fischoff said.

"If they had to worry that any person they covered in a news story might commit suicide, it would cripple all reporting," Kavanau added

CNN has said that it's standing behind Grace in the lawsuit filed by Duckett's family.

Florida police now believe that Duckett may have passed her son on to someone else the day she reported him missing and that he may be still alive.

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