You may remember from my story on the The CamWhore Chronicles (Episode #233), that I found much of Eichenwald's reporting about child pornography to be insincere and tabloidish.
Whenever I see his byline on a story, I get chills about the First Amendment, not child molestation. I have a hard time understanding how a journalist could put his own calling into so much peril, or how he can characterize young people in trouble with such pulpy, titillating prose. The guy needs to spend a year doing grunt work at the local feminist battered women and children's shelter... something to sensitize him, for chrissakes!
Kurt's recent story— Child Sex Sites on the Run raised even more questions about how he's accessing child pornography Web sites, when it's against the law for ANYONE to do so—whatever their intentions.
Beyond that, what does his reporting mean in the real world where most kids being abused and exploited are at the tech-free hands of immediate family members?
The first alarm over Eichenwald's kid-porn-series blew up with researcher and writer Debbie Nathan, who broke the ritual-sex-abuse panic investigations of the 1980's. I'm sure you remember some of those whoppers!
Nathan read Eichenwald's story and was gobsmacked. She wrote a reply for Salon called, provocatively, "Why I Need to See Child Porn." It began:
New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald looked at a lot of kiddie-porn Web sites recently while researching the front-page article he published last weekend about "child model" erotica.
The kind of looking he did can get a journalist arrested, but Eichenwald isn't
very worried. He told me as much in a series of e-mails. His lack of concern irks me, because when I stumbled on similar material earlier this year during my own research, I was terrified I'd be busted simply for doing my job as a member of the media. For a couple of days after my accidental viewing experience I was sleepless with fear. After that I still didn't rest well for a while.
But my second stage of insomnia came from anger. It infuriates me that the government prohibits reporters and other legitimate investigators from doing front-line research into child pornography. I'm not talking about obsessive coverage of John Mark Karr and JonBenet Ramsey, which was the spur for Eichenwald's piece. The reporting I'm talking about involves testing government claims about how prevalent child porn really is, and what makes an image pornographic in the first place. To get answers, investigators must look at illegal material - lots of it.
Those investigators must also be independent of the government. Otherwise the government can use our fear and loathing of kiddie porn to make false political claims. And to terrorize people like me.
Just when everyone was about to say, "Right on, Debbie, Right on, Salon!" for investigating the "investigation," Salon's editors got a hopping-mad call from Eichenwald, who said if they didn't pull Nathan's story and apologize, he would tear them a new asshole on a court bench.
Amazingly, they acquiesced, and ran this retraction, plus a second apology to boot! Go read the readers' letters, and you'll get even more confused. Salon's readers are largely educated, liberal people who were the perfect audience for this discussion. We all know how child welfare and sexuality issues have been perversely abused by politicians in recent years— it's fertile ground for argument!
I'm sorry for all the copious links, but this is a hell of a story.
What was my first reaction to Kurt's exposé? I was terrified, and sickened. Partly, because of my reaction to some of the scumbags he unearthed... it's not for the faint of heart. Strangely, he seems to have no clue that this is a worldwide story of human slavery, supported by economic policies that enable it all the way down the line. No, Kurt prefers the "hopeless freak" approach to understanding human bondage. Too bad it's not that fucking easy!
Even more scary, is my fear that Eichenwald's approach puts sincere people— victims, survivors, and activists who want to make a difference— in MORE jeopardy, not less. He writes titillation fests, and who pays the price? His intentions are in the wrong gear. His work puts every reporter who wants to say something real about this issue in fear of their First Amendment protection.
It seems to me, that unless Eichenwald sat with a member of the Justice Dept. holding his hand and showing him creepy selections from locked drawers, there was no way K.E. could investigate this legally or safely. And that's not right. Either he is the Dangerously Naive DoGooder of the Year, or he is part of the problem! And given the Sick Fuck Monstrosity of the Bush Justice Dept., what does THAT say about their credibility? How many of THEM have been indicted for child sex crimes themselves? I've lost count. Whose blood wouldn't run cold in both directions at these headlines?
If you have the time to look into this, it's worth it. I'd say it's about a half hour or so of reading the main points. Or listen to my audio show and get your ears filled!