Chris Hansen was the host of the NBC news show, "To Catch a Predator," which baited alleged Internet child predators onto camera and into handcuffs. He will speak on April 17 at the Kellogg Center for the event, Kaleidoscope: A day for women.
When you went to Michigan State University, did you go there with the idea of being a broadcast journalist?
I did. I majored in telecommunications and I was lucky enough to walk onto the campus radio station at the beginning and started as a news reporter.
What made you want to go into broadcast journalism?
When I was 14 years old, Jimmy Hoffa was kidnapped from a restaurant, the Red Fox, that was about 1 1/2 miles up the street from where I lived. I used to ride my bike up there and the FBI was up there and it was a crime scene and there were local police and local news reporters; I got bit by the bug watching that.
Where was your first job?
I was a reporter for Channel 10 the last half of my senior year. When I graduated, I went full time at Channel 10 and I stayed in the Lansing area for about a year. Then, in 1982, in the spring, I went down to Tampa and worked there for a couple years and then Detroit. In 1993, I went to NBC.
How did "To Catch a Predator" come about?
It was my idea. I was on the phone talking to a friend of mine who was a reporter in Detroit, Kevin Dietz. He was telling me about this online watchdog group called Perverted Justice and I was thinking, ‘Wow, if we could combine their ability to work as decoys in chat rooms and our ability to wire a house with hidden cameras and microphones, it could be pretty compelling.’ A lot of other smart people weighed in and figured out ways to improve the concept and we went out and shot the first one in Long Island.
Did you ever struggle with any ethical issues about doing the show?
Well, everything creates a discussion with standards people and lawyers and our bosses. When we did a third investigation, where law enforcement did a parallel investigation, a lot went into that to make sure there was a wall between what we were doing and what law enforcement was doing. The media doesn’t want to be too close to law enforcement or seen as influencing law enforcement. And law enforcement doesn’t want to be seen as a tool of the media. And we were able to work out a method to do it where everyone was comfortable. Those things were discussed all the time when we were doing TCAP.
Do you think TCAP will be what you’re most remembered for?
Yeah, undoubtedly. I had no idea when we did the first one it would get so much attention nor did I think we’d do some 12 investigations, over 30 hours of television and write a book about it. I thought we’d come back with me taking a nap on the kitchen counter like the Maytag repairman. We found out we could do 12 more investigations. Obviously my name has become connected with TCAP, and I’m comfortable with that.
Any memorable stories from your days at Channel 10?
Right out of the chute, right after or before graduation, there as a huge riot at the southern Michigan prison in Jackson. They shot us out there and there were fires and riots in the yard. As a young reporter it was wild to see. I got back on the set at 11 p.m. and was kind of jittery. And Howard Lancor, who was the anchor and news director, who actually took a chance and hired me as a college senior, sat me down and said, you know, ‘’Tell us what you saw.’ And they rolled the video and that was on a Friday night. I had gotten a call from the prison. The warden was going to allow some of the inmates to do interviews. I was the only reporter to get in there and that story actually made it on CNN and NBC and as a 21-year-old reporter, on Channel 10 TV action news, that was pretty exciting.