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Opening Arguments

Cheap thrills

ABC's "20/20" doing an investigative piece about NBC's "Dateline" -- now, that's funny:

"Dateline NBC" denied Wednesday an Esquire article's claim that its "To Catch a Predator" producers tried to manipulate Texas police officers into arresting a D.A. who killed himself when confronted by police at his home last year.

Meanwhile, NBC is facing a $105 million federal lawsuit filed by the man's sister as well as a lawsuit by a former producer who said she was fired because she questioned the "Predator" lawsuit on ethical grounds. ABC News also confirmed Wednesday that its newsmagazine "20/20" was conducting an investigation into the death of Kaufman County prosecutor Bill Conradt and the role of "Dateline" in it.

It was "Dateline" and Perverted Justice, the consultant to the series that has used TV to entrap would-be child sex predators, that led police in Murphy, Texas, to set up a sting that would collar suspects and provide compelling TV all at the same time. The "Dateline" series has led to several convictions from the more than 200 people who have been snared, all with the cooperation of "Dateline" and law enforcement.

The Esquire article details the circumstances around the sting in Murphy, where an actor had been hired to pose as a 13-year-old boy who had been chatting online with a man who was later identified as Conradt. Esquire said "Dateline" producers tried to lure Conradt to the house where police were waiting, only to find that Conradt wasn't coming. They and members of Perverted Justice decided, Esquire said, to take police and a "Dateline" crew to Conradt's home in the small town of Terrell.

Esquire said the "Dateline" crew wanted Murphy police to get search and arrest warrants for Conradt's house, which the police did. The next day a SWAT team -- with "Dateline" cameras staked out nearby -- entered Conradt's home to arrest him. After a few words, Conradt held a Browning .380-caliber pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. He died on the way to the hospital in Dallas.

The subject matter isn't funny, of course. Even stings operated by police professionals can cross the line into entrapment, and when you add a cheap-thrills TV show to the mix, anything can happen, all bad. I'm not too sure how credible this will all be, the "20/20" pot calling the "Dateline" kettle black.