Hansen was born March 26, 1959 in Lansing, Michigan but grew up in northern Detroit suburbs of West Bloomfield and Birmingham. In an interview with the Lansing City Pulse, Hansen said that watching the FBI and police investigate the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa inspired him to become a journalist. He graduated from Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications.[
CareerHansen became a reporter for Lansing NBC affiliate WILX in 1981 during his senior year at Michigan State University. He then reported for WFLA in Tampa, various radio stations and newspapers in Michigan, WXYZ in Detroit, and WDIV as an investigative reporter and anchor from 1988. In May 1993, Hansen joined NBC News as a correspondent for the newsmagazine Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric.
Dateline NBCHansen's notable work for Dateline includes coverage of the Columbine massacre, the Oklahoma City terrorist attack, the Unabomber and the TWA Flight 800 disaster; as well as investigative reports on Indian child slave labor and on counterfeit prescription drug sales in China. Hansen was responsible for most of Dateline's coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as stories on terrorist groups and the operations of Al-Qaeda. He exposed how a group linked to Osama Bin Laden had tried to buy missiles and nuclear weapons components, and he also worked on an exclusive report detailing an attempted 1994 terrorist attack in France. His series on the lack of security at airports resulted in the Federal Aviation Administration opening an investigation and ultimately revising its policies.
To Catch a PredatorIn conjunction with the website Perverted-Justice, Hansen hosted a series of Dateline NBC reports under the title To Catch a Predator. Volunteers from Perverted-Justice impersonated teenagers online and arranged to meet with adults for sex. The meeting places were usually "sting houses", where camera crews from NBC and sometimes police awaited the would-be pedophile.
Capitalizing on the success of Hansen and his Predator investigations, Dateline NBC created three Tuesday night spin-offs of its original concept; Hansen hosted To Catch a Con Man and To Catch an I.D. Thief. In March 2007, Hansen's book, To Catch a Predator: Protecting Your Kids from Online Enemies Already in Your Home, was released in the American market.
Louis Conradt, Jr. controversyLouis William "Bill" Conradt, Jr. was a district attorney in Texas who became inextricably linked to To Catch a Predator after he committed suicide when the Kaufman County SWAT team entered his house, with Dateline cameras recording the action.
Conradt's death prompted criticism of the show, already attacked by some in the legal and journalistic profession for breaking down the walls between the press and the police. A year later, Rolling Stone and Esquire magazines published articles criticizing To Catch a Predator. Hansen was criticized for his predator series; among the accusations he faced was that he colluded with law enforcement authorities to conduct the stings. Hansen denied these accusations, claiming that he and law enforcement agencies conducted "parallel investigations" and that he barely talked to law enforcement during the cases. In the Esquire article, Luke Dittrich accused Hansen of deception.
In September 2007, Esquire interviewed Hansen about the show and, in particular, the case of Conradt. In the interview, Hansen defended To Catch a Predator and its practices, but admitted he never saw the MySpace page that he mentioned in his own blog and on the show to incriminate Conradt.
According to the Esquire interview, Murphy detective Sam Love claims that Hansen asked the Murphy Police Department to obtain a search warrant for Conradt, since Conradt had stopped communicating with the decoy. Hansen denied doing so, and claimed no knowledge of anyone from NBC or Perverted-Justice making such a request. Hansen admitted to several other inconsistencies or gaps in his personal memory. He claimed that NBC cameramen were never on Conradt's property; footage obtained by Esquire showed a cameraman on the property even before Kaufman County, Texas SWAT team members had arrived. Hansen claimed that members from Perverted-Justice were never at the scene.
In June 2008, NBC settled a lawsuit with Patricia Conradt, the sister of Louis Conradt. The amount of the settlement is not public. The Los Angeles Times reported that To Catch a Predator was being dropped from regular production as a result of the controversies surrounding it.
State investigators subsequently found three laptops, a cell phone and several computer disks in Conradt's home, all containing child pornography.
AppearancesHansen has appeared on such television programs as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Adam Carolla Show, Today, Scarborough Country, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Rise Guys Morning Show, The Don and Mike Show, The Opie and Anthony Radio Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Glenn Beck Program, and Diggnation.
On January 9, 2007, Hansen appeared on the BET news series, American Gangster. The special, which was hosted by actor Ving Rhames, focused on Detroit drug lords, the Chambers Brothers gang. Hansen gave insight into the lives of the brothers based on the reporting he had done on them in the 1980s and 1990s as a reporter for ABC affiliate WXYZ (Channel 7) and NBC affiliate WDIV (Channel 4). On January 13, 2008 he attended the NBC Golden Globes Winners Special which was poorly attended by the nominees due to the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike.
AwardsHansen has received seven Emmy Awards, four Edward Murrow awards, three Clarion awards, the Overseas Press club award, an IRE, the National Press Club award, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Award; as well as awards for excellence from the Associated Press and United Press International.
He is married to Mary Joan Hansen; the couple has two sons. The family resides in Connecticut.