Mayor Marion Barry was as wrong as two left feet when he was caught on tape smoking crack cocaine. Yet, even a hardened narc like me felt something when this sting was revealed. No, it was not sympathy for Barry -- he made his choice. Even as I watched the networks break into regular broadcasting to tell the story and show the tape I knew this was a big scandal, yet this is not what troubled my soul. What grieved me was trying to come to terms with a gripping force that risked lives by enticing a man to hurt himself so he could be forced out of a job. Some 20 years have gone by and I had not been as vexed this way until I saw the ACORN tapes.
Instead of crack, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) workers were baited with an opportunity to "help" others. Reporters posing as pimps and prostitutes presented themselves as people seeking guidance on handling business such as tax preparation in the apparent fishing expedition to catch workers giving ill advice -- so their company could be forced out of business. Those operatives, unlike government employees did not have to ensure they were not entrapping a target before setting up a sting. While predisposition is a legal standard for targeting suspects, an altruistic motive should also be a requirement for targeting. What can be so important as to launch an involved operation which risks the safety of covert workers sent into the most dangerous places on earth (a criminal's lair) wearing hidden recording devices?
Making bad stuff stop; getting criminals off the street; deterring others from wrong-doing; or justice. Whatever you want to call it, going through the intricacies of a sting, should be designed to cease and prevent serious criminal behavior while simultaneously improving society. Embarrassment and destruction are the goals of personal vendettas. The results of recorded set-ups designed for personal agendas could become commonplace for revenge or driving competition out of business were it not for the fact that many state governments prohibit electronic tape recording of others without consent.
I have to give credit to Chris Hansen for his NBC Dateline Series "To catch a Predator". He deserves accolades for bringing the issue of how dangerous it can be for children meeting strangers on the internet to the forefront, and doing so while passing the justice and altruism tests. With his show, Chris prevented bad things from happening by exposing predators and getting them arrested as police were standing by. What many of those pedophiles attempted to do was criminal and vile. Conversely, those involved in the show seemed motivated by the right stuff. Everyone from the host, to those posing undercover, to the police making the arrests afterwards seemed to be in it for the right reason of preventing sexual assaults, in furtherance of bettering society. But can we say the same of those who set the traps for Marion Barry and ACORN?
Only those involved in those operations know for certain. But as for the rest of us, we should demand of our government and our press corps that the quest is always a search for truth. If everything becomes political so that the intellect of an advocate's mind; the volume of a pundit's voice; the budget backing a lobbyist's inducement; or the craftiness of an operative's scheme are the things that engender a relative truth instead of an absolute truth, we will be defeated on many fronts. Sugar coating and circus tricks are good for candy makers and magicians, but in this real world things like our health care, economy, national security and environment all call for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.