Accuracy in Media

After uncovering a criminal conspiracy in the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic church involving the sexual abuse of children, the media are now reassuring the American people that abductions and murders of children by child predators are rare. “The abductions and searches have become a staple of cable television news, which may give the public the impression that there has been a sudden rash of abductions and murders of children,” wrote William Booth in the Washington Post. “But according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there appears to be no significant increase in the number of child abductions.” Newsweek said, “?terrified parents, take comfort: there is no epidemic. Wrenching as these cases are to the victims’ families and friends, there has been no real increase from the 200 to 300 kidnappings each year by strangers that a 1990 federally funded study found.”

Rather than reassure people, the media should explain why it has been so difficult for law-abiding citizens to find out if convicted perverts and criminals are living or working in their neighborhoods. It is obvious that the sex crimes of Catholic priests were covered up and not reported to law enforcement. But the man charged with sexually assaulting and killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion had been charged and acquitted by a jury of molesting two other children. Even when caught and convicted, these predators serve little time. It is estimated that the average convicted child molester spends only 2 years and 9 months in prison. They are then set free in our communities to commit more serious crimes against children.

A Right to Know?

One of the shocking discoveries in the Elizabeth Smart abduction was that Richard Ricci, who was suspected of involvement in the crime because he had worked at her home, has a criminal record stretching back 29 years. He had been imprisoned for attempted homicide of a policeman and was out on parole. Edward Smart told reporters that he was not aware of Ricci’s criminal record and would not have hired him if he had known of it. “I never would have exposed my family to that,” he said.

Not only did Edward Smart not have knowledge of Ricci’s criminal background, he had no right to be notified or informed about it. The U.S. criminal justice system bends over backward to accommodate the perceived rights of criminals so that their criminal backgrounds won’t be used to deny them housing or employment. That means the burden is on ordinary law-abiding citizens to discover the criminals in their midst.

A 1994 federal law required all states to establish registration programs for certain sex offenders. A 1996 federal law known as Megan’s Law required all states to provide and facilitate public access to this information. It was named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and killed in 1994 by a convicted sex offender in her neighborhood whose criminal history was unknown to the public and her parents. Her mother, Maureen Kanka, said at the time, “If I had known that there was a pedophile living on our street, my daughter would be alive today.” The offender, Jesse Timmendequas, had been convicted in a 1981 attack on a 5-year-old child and an attempted sexual assault on a 7-year-old child.

A law mandating public access to information about registered sex offenders sounds good. But consider how it works in practice. The Palo Alto Daily News reported that when Redwood City resident Hamilton Woods, the father of four, heard that a sex offender had moved into his neighborhood, he decided to find out more about his new neighbor. The paper said, “Woods knew the sheriff’s department had a statewide listing of sex offenders known as the Megan’s Law database. But knowing about the list was easier than getting to it. To see the list, Woods had to drive to downtown Redwood City during working hours, sign a form saying he was not a sex offender, and wait behind a security window as a sheriff’s department employee ran a criminal background check on him and photocopied his driver’s license. When that was over, Woods was taken to a special booth and given 15 minutes to wade through dozens of names and photos of sex offenders living within his zip code, and attempt to identify his new neighbor from the mug shots. To make matters worse, he wasn’t allowed to take notes. Overwhelmed, Woods gave up on his search.”

The ACLU argues that giving the public access to such information encourages vigilantism. It strongly opposes making this information available on the Internet. Only about half the states now do so. The ACLU has also defended the North American Man-Boy Love Association, a group that advocates men having sex with young boys. They call it “intergenerational sex.”

I checked the Maryland registry on the Internet and discovered that two convicted sex offenders were located in my area-one of them within a mile of my home. Convicted sex offenders, operating in anonymity as “John Doe,” have challenged the use of these on-line registries in Connecticut, contending that their rights are being violated by being identified to the community. They convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan that they are entitled to individual hearings to determine whether “they are particularly likely to be currently dangerous before being labeled as such.” The court ruled that the constitutional rights of sex offenders may be violated by simply telling the public about their crimes. It issued an injunction under which offenders must still register with the state’s Department of Public Safety, but the state is barred from publicizing their whereabouts. That means Connecticut residents can’t get that information.

A Supreme Court ruling against Connecticut could force states to hold separate hearings for sex criminals to decide whether their names and addresses will be made public. Connecticut’s appeal said that the system demanded by the criminals would be “cumbersome and expensive” and too subjective. It would impose a burden on the taxpayers to accommodate the criminals. The current system includes only true and accurate information that enables parents to take appropriate action. This is a matter of freedom of information and the right to know.

“In my hometown of Herndon, Virginia,” writes Jon Bennett of Frontiers of Freedom, “there are eight registered sex offenders, two of which are currently wanted for questioning by the police. In Fairfax County, there are 234 registered offenders. I found this out simply by using the Virginia sex offender database. However, if the Supreme Court finds for the ‘John Doe’ in the case ‘Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. John Doe,’ these monsters will be able to fade back into the shadows, where they will more than likely continue to victimize women and children, free from public scrutiny. All this, because two sexual deviants did not like the stigma of being called perverts.”

Epidemic of Child Abuse

Because of Megan’s law, we now have some awareness of the problem. It is estimated that 70,000 sex offenders are register-ed nationwide for certain offenses, but that there are over 234,000 sex offenders under supervision at any given time. Marc Klass, who lost his daughter to a sexual predator, says, “One has only to look at the ever-increasing number of registered sex offenders who fall under the care, custody and control of correction agencies or the pitifully inadequate prison sentences served by child sex offenders to understand that children are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation today than they were in 1993.”

Since 1980, according to the Department of Justice, the number of prisoners sentenced for violent sexual assault other than rape increased by an annual average of nearly 15 percent-faster than any other category of violent crime. Of the estimated 95,000 sex offenders in state prisons today, well over 60,000 committed their crime against a child under 17. In addition, there are many predators at large who should be in prison.

Mum on Capital Punishment

One obvious answer to crimes against children is to increase the penalties. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News suggested a new “Child Criminal Protection Act of 2002” to prosecute all child abusers under federal law and give them mandatory prison sentences. Responding to public outrage, the House over-whelmingly approved a bill that would require life sentences for repeat child sex offenders convicted on the federal level. The Two Strikes, You’re Out Child Protection Act, sponsored by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mark Green, passed by a vote of 382 to 34. Reflecting the bipartisan support, Rep. Martin Frost, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, denounced the “revolving door justice” that “has allowed serial offenders to prey on America’s children for far too long.” The implication is that politicians and judges have permitted this to happen. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-FL, supported the bill, but he argued that a second offense deserved the death penalty.

Marc Klass and John Walsh, the host of “America’s Most Wanted,” both had children who were abducted and murdered. They are frequent guests on television shows, but they are rarely asked about their advocacy of capital punishment as a means by which society can protect itself against sex criminals and killers. The media don’t want them to talk about that. Instead, we have been treated to countless stories about the hypothetical possibility of an innocent person being put to death. The media’s open bias against the death penalty was the subject of an AIM Report (August-A 2000) in which we documented how journalists tried to use the issue against President Bush as he campaigned for president. They feared that he would appoint more judges who support capital punishment to the federal bench.

The real prize is control of the U.S. Supreme Court. Clinton-appointed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a former counsel to the ACLU, once voted to delay the execution of a convicted killer on the ground that the jury that gave him the death sentence failed to take into consideration charges that he was drunk at the time he committed the murder and had a troubled childhood. She was in the majority on June 20 when the Supreme Court ruled, by a 6 to 3 vote, that executing inmates who claim to be retarded is cruel and unusual punishment and is banned by the 8th amendment. The majority cited a “national consensus” against such executions and the views of the “world community.” Justice Scalia, who joined Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas in dissenting, said that “seldom has an opinion of this court rested so obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members.”

Excuses for Murder

The retarded defense is the latest trick of those opposed to the death penalty. The term “insanity” has traditionally been used to excuse killers for their crimes, contending they cannot tell right from wrong. The abuse excuse is another ploy. Lawyers for Jesse Timmendequas, the killer of Megan Kanka, contended that he was beaten and sexually abused by his father. He had lured Megan into his house across the street from hers to see a puppy, then raped her and strangled her with a belt. Bite marks were found on his hand, showing how the child had fought her attacker. The jury didn’t buy his excuse and sentenced him to death, but he remains on death row. Although the state’s capital punishment law is nearly 20 years old, not a single inmate has been executed. This is a scandal that the anti-death penalty media don’t want to highlight.

Richard Allen Davis, the killer of Polly Klass, confessed to police shortly after his arrest, saying he was “toasted” on drugs and alcohol at the time. Davis took Polly at knife-point from her home and then sexually assaulted and strangled her. His criminal background began with check kiting at the age of ten. Later, he escaped convictions for sex crimes through plea bargains. He had been convicted of 14 felonies and was involved in three kidnappings. He had been diagnosed as a sexually violent psychopath prior to one conviction for which he spent only 7 of his 16-year sentence in prison. Before his release, he told other inmates that that he would avoid AIDS in his sex crimes by getting a young victim. That was Polly, age 12. His lawyers claimed he had a bad childhood. The jury didn’t buy it, sentencing him to death. But he may sit on death row for many more years because he is entitled to an automatic appeal. In California, it takes three years just for a death row inmate to get an appeals attorney. “It represents the continued victimization of victims and families of victims,” said Marc Klass. Meantime, Davis has a Web page, courtesy of an anti-death- penalty group, where his artwork and craft items can be seen.

In a case cited by Rep. Green in pushing his bill, in 1960 19-year-old David Spanbauer forced his way into a home, tied a 16-year-old baby-sitter to a bed, and raped her at knife-point. When the homeowner returned, Spanbauer shot him in the face. He was sentenced to 70 years in prison but was freed on parole after only several years. He then raped a young hitchhiker and was sentenced to another twelve years in prison. In 1991, he was again released on parole. Just 3 years later, he was caught trying to break into a home. His car contained burglary tools and materials similar to what he used in multiple sexual assaults of a woman and a girl in their homes earlier that year. He confessed to raping and killing a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old, as well as a 21-year-old adult and pleaded guilty or no contest to 18 felonies in five counties. But because Wisconsin has no death penalty, Spanbauer was sentenced to three terms of life imprisonment plus 403 years for his crimes. Perhaps he will get a Web site, too.

The Clinton Legacy

Liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who seldom criticizes the media, saw a connection between the Samantha Runnion assault and murder and “America’s morbid fascination with the erotic and psychotic” that is seen on several television programs featuring sex and violence. In a July 21 column, she urged companies not to advertise on such shows.

Dowd’s column ignited controversy and debate. But there should be no dispute that child pornography is clearly linked to child abuse. President Bill Clinton had promised “aggressive enforcement of federal obscenity laws by the Justice Department, particularly by the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section.” But Bob Peters of Morality in Media says Clinton “quickly discovered that there was little interest in enforcing obscenity laws among the Democratic party’s national elite,” including the ACLU, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, People for the American Way, the Playboy empire and Hollywood. What’s more, “the scandals surrounding his administration would later make it difficult for him to pressure Attorney General Janet Reno to enforce obscenity laws. It isn’t easy to champion a public morality cause when dogged by accusations of personal immorality,” Peters notes. Very few child pornography cases were pursued under Reno and prosecution of obscenity dropped by 80 percent.

Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, the situation appears to be changing. On March 18, the Justice Department announced that Operation Candy Man had uncovered over 7,200 child pornographers who were spreading their obscene pictures through a single Internet group on Yahoo! Of this number, 4,600 were located in the United States. Thirteen of the 90 people arrested thus far have admitted to molesting a total of 48 different children. They include a school bus driver, a photographer, law enforcement personnel, members of the clergy and a teacher’s aide. Operation Candy Man began on January 2, 2001, as the Clinton administration was nearing its end.


Liberals are hoping to use the issues of corporate crime and Bush/Cheney contacts with big business to score gains in the November elections. But the federal programs and agencies that they have been running for most of the last 50 years make the accounting tricks of Enron and WorldCom look pale by comparison. Fortunately, some journalists are starting to set the record straight.

One of the best stories was written by Martin Crutsinger of Associated Press and ran in several newspapers around the country under such headlines as “U.S. Gov’t Uses Creative Accounting” and “Government Unrivaled in Botched Bookkeeping.” His story began: “Lost in all the outrage over the corporate accounting scandals is one fact politicians do not like to acknowledge: The auditing problems at American companies cannot rival the bookkeeping shambles of the world’s largest enterprise-the U.S. government. Exaggerated earnings, disguised liabilities, off-budget shenanigans-they are all there in the government’s ledgers on a scale even the biggest companies could not dream of matching.” He noted that WorldCom executives brought the company to bankruptcy after using improper accounting to pad earnings by $3.8 billion. But when the Congress wanted to bolster the bottom line on the federal budget, it simply changed a date for corporate tax payments that enabled it to increase its reported revenue by an additional $33 billion.

The federal government can’t even pass a routine audit. In 1998, the federal government was supposed to improve its bookkeeping to the point of passing such an audit. But Crutsinger notes that, “Unfortunately, the General Accounting Office has not been able to sign off on any of the five annual documents so far, contending that the bookkeeping is still too shoddy to get an auditor’s seal of approval. The 2001 report featured $17.3 billion in what was described as “unreconciled transactions”-money that simply could not be accounted for.”

Fraud On Seniors

Senator Charles Grassley made headlines recently when he revealed the results of a GAO investigation finding that some 200 Army personnel used government charge cards to get $38,000 in cash that they spent on “lap dancing and other forms of entertainment” at strip clubs near military bases. That gets attention because of the sex angle. More mundane and boring topics, such as the liabilities of the Social Security program, don’t get as much attention. The Social Security system will begin running a deficit by 2016. “In today’s dollars,” says the Tax Foundation, “the system’s cumulative deficits total more than $22 trillion through 2075. In present value terms, the system’s unfunded liability stands at $12 trillion.”

Liberals want to use the Enron and other corporate scandals to thwart Social Security reform. Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of a Senate subcommittee who calls Enron “a massive shell game,” said, “Americans in record numbers have placed a large percentage of their economic futures in the hands of Wall Street. President Bush has been talking about putting part of Social Security in Wall Street’s hands as well. The key to this bargain is that Wall Street and the corporations they represent meet their responsibilities as fiduciaries of the stockholders.” This of course begs the question of what has happened to Social Security, a more extensive shell game, and why President Bush and a special commission want reform.

Contrary to the way it was sold to the American people, Social Security has become a pay-as-you-go system. Money comes in from current workers and goes out to the retirees. The number of workers per beneficiary is declining, forcing higher taxes or less benefits. Bush and his commission, which included former Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, want to give workers the option of investing for their retirement a small portion of their Social Security taxes in stocks or other investment vehicles.

Some say Enron is a big scandal because its employees lost their pensions. The Supreme Court ruled in Flemming v. Nestor that workers and beneficiaries have no legal ownership over their Social Security benefits. What they have is a government promise that can be changed at any time. The president’s Social Security commission pointed out, “In any retirement system a lack of legal ownership is a source of insecurity. In one that is under-financed in the long run by over 25 percent, it is a serious problem.” Sen. Levin’s dig at Wall Street implies that the government does a better job of managing peoples’ money than the people do. Until the market crashed, that view was often ridiculed. It is less so now, but government promises can also prove to be fraudulent.

Oregon’s Klamath Basin farmers — many of them war veterans or their heirs–have learned that in recent years. They were attracted to the area by a federal program that was providing irrigation water to foster agriculture. R.J. Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute says, “Many war veterans who settled there had deeds signed by various U. S. presidents granting them and their heirs water rights in perpetuity.” The Native Americans claim that this violated treaties that gave them ownership of most of the land. Environmentalists claim that the Endangered Species Act supersedes all claims. A federal district judge ruled in their favor, saying that water vital for crops in the Klamath Basin must be reserved to sustain water levels allegedly needed to protect endangered fish. Water for the farms was cut off last year, forcing many farmers to abandon their land. Bob Vice, former president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, says federal contractual commitments to the farmers have been violated because of “an extremist brand of environmentalism.” The Indians say the government has made many promises to them, but it has kept only one: to take their land.

Sue Blevins of the Institute for Health Freedom has written a book, Medicare’s Midlife Crisis, which notes that Medicare is going belly-up because of faulty projections and fraudulent accounting. In 1965, when the program was created by Congress, the government predicted the hospitalization part of Medicare would cost $9 billion by 1990. The actual cost was $66 billion. Reviewing the facts contained in Blevins’ book, John Hood says Enron’s accounting looks accurate by comparison. Even though the program now costs more than $200 billion a year, most retirees are forced to buy supplemental insurance. Medicare offers no drug benefits and no coverage for many new technologies or preventive care. At one point, politicians urged tapping the growing budget surplus to pay for a new Medicare prescription-drug benefit. That surplus is now gone. Still, House Republicans want to spend $350 billion over 10 years for such coverage and the Democrats want to spend between $700 billion and $800 billion.

What You Can Do

Send the enclosed cards or your own cards or letters to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill and an editor of your choice.

Ready to fight back against media bias?
Join us by donating to AIM today.


Comments are turned off for this article.