It’s 24 meets Dog the Bounty Hunter.
What’s not to love about that?
NBC’s latest addition to the reality show genre, The Wanted, doesn’t premiere until July 20 at 10 p.m. ET, but it is already stirring up a full pot of controversy. And while it would be easier for me to join in the media pig-pile on NBC, touting superficial analysis of a show I’ve never seen, I have decided instead to go into this with an open mind and many questions. Let there be clarity!
The Wanted features Emmy-winning journalist Adam Ciralsk, retired Navy SEAL Scott Tyler, retired Army Special Forces officer Roger Carstens, and former U.S. intelligence official David Crane. They all team up to track suspected terrorists and war criminals living comfortably among us — “us” being quiet, unsuspecting neighborhoods all over the world.
This proximity should cause a certain level of discomfort for those of us who would prefer to think “not in my neighborhood.” Perhaps that discomfort is why this show is under fire by the mainstream media. We don’t want to consider the possibility that our neighbor finances a global terrorist organization, or that our daughter’s college professor is accused of genocide.
But psychology aside, criticisms of the show stem primarily from issues of journalistic ethics and vigilantism.
There has been some blatant bad reporting regarding the show. I have seen several articles label all members of the show’s team as journalists, while only one is. Also notable, though only mildly surprising? Despite the considerable coverage of the show to date, the cast members I spoke to have had little contact from the media.
I was prepared to write endlessly about comparisons to other “reality shows” and about how the media has covered high-profile criminal cases in the past. But I realized — again, after talking to the cast of The Wanted — that these comparisons, however valid, are also a distraction from the real question of the roles and responsibilities of investigative journalists.
The show follows the aforementioned team of experts in various fields conducting interviews, gathering and analyzing information, and following leads, with the ultimate goal of confronting the accused (suspected terrorists and war criminals) and giving them a chance to respond to the allegations against them. Is this not what investigative journalists do?
Anyone who has a working television knows that when there is a high-profile criminal case in this country — O.J. Simpson, BernieMadoff , Scott Peterson — the media blankets it with interviews, updates, and legal analysis that often goes well beyond the bounds of the evidence at hand. The media does not wait for these cases to be decided before launching into full exposition on the case. Nor should they be compelled to.
However, in the case of The Wanted, the Department of Homeland Security has attempted to dissuade the show’s investigation into a particular case of a man wanted for genocide, claiming the actions of the cast and crew could impede any “official” investigations. While most of us cannot speak knowledgeably as to what Homeland Security is or is not doing with regards to any of these cases, one thing we can rally around is the singular importance of a free press — a media that is not beholden to the priorities, agendas, and timelines of a government or any of its agencies.
So what about the vigilante aspect?
This one is much simpler to answer. Go to Merriam-Webster.com, or the dictionary on your bookshelf, and see the following or a similar definition:
Vigilante: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily.
At no point in the show does anyone involved attempt to deliver justice, by any means or perception. Those involved with The Wanted are quite clear that their hope is to shine a syndicated light on these cases so that public sentiment will demand justice in the appropriate venue by the appropriate authorities.
Public sentiment is a powerful force. And if the show succeeds in its mission, perhaps the cases they investigate will result in answers to long-posed questions — questions of the guilt or innocence of individuals living among us, accused of terrorism and war crimes.