The Untold Truth Of Dateline

The television news magazine Dateline debuted on NBC on March 31, 1992. Next TV reports that the program, which was originally hosted by Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips, and aired on Tuesday evenings, provided a more in-depth perspective on human interest stories that were already making headlines. Two years later, Dateline added a second show, which was hosted by Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric, on Wednesday evenings, and a third show on Friday evenings.

By 1999, Dateline was airing five nights a week. However, over the next 22 years, it was eventually cut back to Friday and Sunday nights. Next TV reports that Dateline still features human interest stories on occasion, but the program primarily focuses on true crime now. Dateline NBC's Senior Executive Producer, David Corvo, said he is always "looking for very rich stories with lots of twists and turns that have very interesting characters, very sympathetic people and victims who will let us into their stories."

Dateline's new two-hour format has allowed for more in-depth stories, and the addition of podcasts has brought the program to an even broader audience. Dateline has also produced a number of special series, including "To Catch a Predator," "To Catch a Con Man," and "The Real Blacklist."

Dateline is currently hosted by Lester Holt, with correspondents Andrea Canning, Josh Mankiewicz, Keith Morrison, and Dennis Murphy.

Although Dateline has been on the air for nearly 30 years and remains one of the most popular news magazine programs, the show has not been without controversy.

Dateline nearly got canceled less than one year after its premiere

Less than one year after it premiered, Dateline was nearly canceled over a special that  questioned the safety of certain models of Chevy trucks. As reported by Entertainment Weekly, the "Waiting to Explode" episode, which aired on November 17, 1992, included crash test demonstrations — which suggested certain trucks would burst into flames on impact. Although the report itself was based on an actual problem, Dateline orchestrated the explosions that were shown on the special, without letting the audience know they were staged.

At the time, General Motors was facing thousands of lawsuits over the placement of gas tanks in certain trucks built between 1973 and 1987. As reported by MotorBiscuit, the tanks, which were built outside the frame rails, were dangerous because they were more exposed. Therefore, they were more likely to suffer damage in a side-impact crash.

Once damaged, the gas tanks were prone to leakage, which ultimately caused a number of explosions. The NHTSA reported more than 2,000 people were killed in explosions linked to the gas tanks between 1973 and 2009.

Dateline's decision to cover the faulty gas tanks, and the subsequent deaths, was never called into question. However, their decision to stage the explosions damaged the show's reputation and prompted General Motors to sue NBC for defamation.

As reported by Entertainment Weekly, Dateline anchors Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips issued an on-air apology for the segment and admitted staging the explosions was a mistake.

Dateline received harsh criticism for airing specials about other NBC programs

Dateline is primarily known for its human interest and true crime stories. However, the news magazine has covered topics that do not necessarily fit in with a majority of its other programming. As reported by Today, Dateline aired a number of specials dedicated to other NBC shows, which had absolutely nothing to do with the show's established format.

Today reports Dateline faced harsh criticism for airing specials about a season finale of "The Apprentice," and the series finales of "Frasier" and "Friends." Although the three specials were relevant and drew an estimated 105 million viewers, critics believe there were far more important topics that should have been covered at the time.

60 Minutes, for example, covered a story about Iraqi prisoners, who were allegedly abused by American soldiers. CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves said, "While 'Dateline NBC' was busy shilling for 'Friends' and 'Frasier,' our two editions of '60 Minutes' were breaking news that will change the world forever."

As reported by Today, then-NBC News President Neal Shapiro acknowledged he "took some grief from the critics" when the specials aired. However, he said, "the audience was totally understanding."

Shapiro said Dateline has always offered viewers "a variety of stories." He also said the show previously aired special episodes about the season finales of "Cheers" and "Seinfeld" without the criticism surrounding the others. Shapiro believes the more recent specials received more negative attention because they aired "within a month of each other."

Dateline producer Michelle Madigan was forced to leave DEFCON

In January 2009, Dateline producer Michelle Madigan was forced to leave the DEFCON security conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. As reported by ABC News, Michelle entered the conference with a hidden camera in an attempt to get an exclusive story about the event and its attendees.

As defined by, the DEFCON conference "is the premier event for hackers, corporate IT professionals, and government agencies aiming to expand their knowledge and skill set ... This event is truly the largest underground hacking conference ... "

ZD Net reports Michelle Madigan went to the 2009 DEFCON in an attempt to record how federal agents and criminals interact at the conference. However, she did not obtain any credentials or a press pass. Instead, she registered as "a regular DEFCON attendee."

Conference organizers were alerted to her agenda when she told another attendee, who was actually on the staff, that she needed to find a restroom so she could prepare her hidden camera. As reported by ZD Net, the staffer told her hidden cameras were not allowed. However, she simply ignored him and moved forward with her plan.

Organizers said Michelle Madigan was given a number of opportunities to obtain the proper credentials and a press pass, even after she was caught with the hidden camera. However, she refused. She was ultimately forced to flee the conference, "followed by a pack of 150 DEFCON attendees."

Dateline was accused of race baiting at a NASCAR event

In 2006, Dateline sent a number of "Muslim-looking men" to the Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, with camera crews, in an attempt to determine whether fans would react to the men in a negative way. As reported by ESPN, the show was planning a segment on "anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States."

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said Dateline did not inform NASCAR about their plans or request permission to film the segment at Martinsville Speedway.

Dateline representatives said nobody confronted or even reacted to the "Muslim-looking men." However, Ramsey Poston said the experiment never should have happened. As reported by ESPN, Poston said, "Any legitimate journalist in America should be embarrassed by this stunt. The obvious intent by NBC was to evoke reaction, and we are confident our fans won't take the bait."

In a statement about the incident, NBC said they got the idea from a poll, which indicated anti-Muslim bias had increased in the United States in the years following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets.

ESPN reports NBC said it was "early on" in their "newsgathering process." However, they planned to visit several other locations to gauge people's reactions to Muslims. The network insisted they had good intentions and would conduct their experiments "in a fair manner."

As reported by Speed Society, critics said the stunt was "blatant race bait," that "seemed to stereotype NASCAR fans."

"To Catch a Predator" was canceled after a target died by suicide

Dateline's special series, "To Catch a Predator," which aired from 2004 to 2008, was one of the show's most popular, and most controversial endeavors. As reported by NBC News, "To Catch a Predator" used "decoys," who were adults posing as teenage girls and boys, to interact with adult men online and eventually lure them to meet in person.

In many cases, the suspected sexual predators would drive hours to meet who they assumed was an underage boy or girl. Instead, they were greeted by the show's host, Chris Hansen, and confronted about their intentions. Local authorities were waiting outside the house to arrest them when they attempted to flee. The entire process, from the online chats to the arrest, was filmed and broadcast on the show.

As reported by NPR, the sting operations were not actually run by NBC or Dateline. Instead, they were run by an online watchdog group called Perverted Justice. However, Dateline received a great deal of criticism and was eventually sued, for their involvement.

Republic World reports the show was criticized for "creating the news, rather than reporting the news." Dateline was also accused of entrapment, as it was alleged that they were reportedly provoking men to commit crimes they would not have committed without provocation. However, the show was ultimately canceled after one of the targets, who was an assistant district attorney in Texas, died by suicide.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.