Accuracy in Media

Just when the media start doing some good for a change, the official media critics wonder if they are going too far. Such was the case when Howard Kurtz of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” questioned whether NBC’s Dateline show was getting too close to law enforcement in tracking down child predators and helping turn them over to the police. The shows are called “To Catch a Predator.”

The shows are sensational, to be sure, and I’ve been having my fill of cable news devoting endless coverage to crime-related missing-person cases. But NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” bags sometimes five or so perverts per episode. They are caught, of course, before they actually have sex with children, who are really adults with a group called Perverted Justice conducting sting operations in coordination with local police agencies. Chris Hansen is the narrator.

In my opinion, some of the best shows on television involve hunting down criminals. “America’s Most Wanted” on Fox led the way. But Kurtz, on his CNN “Reliable Sources” show, asked, “Should NBC be cooperating so closely with law enforcement?” What followed was a discussion, not a debate, in which all three panelists-Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times, Steve Roberts of George Washington University, and Glenn Reynolds of found fault with what NBC was doing.

Deggans, a media critic at the St. Petersburg Times, complained about the fact that Dateline is paying to conduct on-line stings that result in the child predators being arrested. He found the relationship “troubling.” Steve Roberts of George Washington University said that NBC’s cooperation with the police “goes beyond the line.” And Reynolds, a law professor some consider a conservative blogger, said that he thinks “there’s a real risk for journalists in getting in bed with law enforcement. I think there may actually be a bigger risk for law enforcement in getting in bed with journalists. And I think cases like this pose a real risk for complications and problems.”

The Perverted Justice website, not surprisingly, looks at it differently. It says, “The media can be a great partner in addressing the issue of predators, pedophiles and exploitation. Rather than demonize the media, it’s far more constructive to try to bring media, law enforcement and the citizenry into one ‘big tent.'”

I agree. I think the problem for Kurtz, is the belief that, somehow, they think they are being used by law enforcement. The media would prefer to use others for their own purposes. But I think it’s actually a case of the media, citizens and police working together.

At the recent New York Times annual meeting, while I used much of my time to criticize the paper for various journalistic misdeeds, I took time to congratulate chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. on the publication by the New York Times of reporter Kurt Eichenwald’s story about the online child-pornography industry. Eichenwald not only saved the life of Justin Berry, an underage boy who was forced into and finally escaped the business, but helped put some of his exploiters under scrutiny by law enforcement.

Eichenwald’s journalism resulted in an April 4 hearing, “Sexual Exploitation of Children Over the Internet: What Parents, Kids and Congress Need to Know About Child Predators.” Both Berry and Eichenwald testified.

But reflecting the uneasiness that some in the media have in cooperating with law enforcement, even in going after child pornographers and predators, Eichenwald said that “As a matter of policy, the Times instructs its reporters to decline requests to testify in judicial and legislative settings, because it can serve to undermine our work if we are seen by the public as an extension of the government. In this instance, the Times accepted a subpoena from the committee on my behalf after the committee agreed that I would be asked to provide published or publicly disclosed information.”

In any case, Eichenwald’s testimony was riveting and revealing. “Like most people,” he said, “I gave little thought during my life to the scourge of child pornography. But, I now know we are fighting a losing battle.”

One reason we’re losing is that too many in the media have failed in their obligations as citizens and have decided that, as journalists, they should not get involved. Another reason is that the ACLU, a media favorite which enjoys far too much influence in our society, defends the “right” to distribute child pornography.

As explained by William A. Donohue in his book, The Politics of the American Civil Liberties Union (page 296), the ACLU adopted as its policy a statement that while it is appropriate to prohibit the production of child pornography by sexually exploiting children, “It is inappropriate, unnecessary and unconstitutional to prohibit the publication, sale, or distribution of such printed or visual materials.”

In other words, once the child-porn material has been produced, it can be freely distributed under the First Amendment.

But how many people even know this is the official position of the ACLU? No wonder former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese called it the criminal’s lobby.

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