By DAVID BAUDER
NEW YORK — NBC News’ Chris Hansen has done his share of hidden camera work, most notably confronting would-be child predators. Even for him, meeting a man willing to carry out a hit was a chilling experience.
Hansen is shown negotiating with a hit man during a “Dateline NBC” special Friday exploring some of the strange and dangerous business being carried out online on sites like Craig’s List and others. He also meets a man looking to sell his marijuana delivery business, a woman advertising her willingness to sell her kidney and another woman seeking to buy a kidney.
Drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin are available online, he said, and many young people are becoming dependent and then turning to heroin as a cheaper alternative.
“It’s an eye-opening look at society because so much is going on on these web sites,” he said.
“Dateline NBC” didn’t even get in to the issue of sex trafficking online. Hansen said there’s enough material to make Friday’s special, “Wild, Wild Web,” a regular feature.
Even Hansen wasn’t quite prepared for the experience of meeting a man who advertised his willingness to complete “jobs done discreetly.” When Hansen mentioned that there was someone he had a problem with, his potential partner noted that he could arrange to have a leg broken, to send someone to the hospital or guarantee that they could “disappear.”
When they sat down for a meeting in New York’s Bryant Park, captured on hidden cameras, the hit man’s eyes constantly scanned for someone suspicious. The man had suggested walking around and then meeting in a federal office building, knowing that metal detectors would reveal if Hansen was an undercover police officer wired with a recorder to make an arrest.
Hansen wasn’t working for the police, but he was wired. If he didn’t talk the man into sitting down in the park, the story would have been ruined.
After a half hour of talking, Hansen revealed he was a journalist working on a story. The man, indignant, said that the NBC crew hadn’t caught him doing anything criminal.
“I’m not a lawyer,” Hansen said. “My sense of it is they have to prove intent. Will police look him up and pay him a visit? Quite possibly.”
They parted ways. Just to be safe, NBC producers quietly followed the man to a subway where he left the scene.
In another park, Hansen met with a man willing to sell the list of customers from his marijuana business. Before Hansen identified himself, the man said, “You look like that guy from the child molester show.”
Well, yes. Hansen’s NBC identity is sealed as the host of “Dateline’s” long-running “To Catch a Predator” series, a sting operation for men convinced they’ve found an underage girl online who wants sex. NBC no longer runs the series, but reruns with updates occasionally air on MSNBC. NBC drew ethical questions for its role in setting up these confrontations and some critics suggested the network was using humiliation for entertainment.
Hansen knows it is the work he’ll be remembered for most at NBC. In some situations, it’s an advantage. Hansen said he’s run into law enforcement officials who recognize him and give him access beyond what his competitors get.
“I know what you’re getting at,” he said. “Clearly when there is a character based on you on `South Park’ or `The Simpsons,’ that is something that sticks with you for the rest of your career. But I’m fine with that.”
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