HiR:tb Toots (@warwalker)

What I’ve been doing today instead of posting here.

Things are busy at work, and aside from three glorious hours in front of the Patriots/Steelers games last night (I had the game recorded on the DVR, enabling me to charge through all the commercials) the weekend was indeed full of merry-making, festivicating and celebratizing. I was looking forward to sitting down and writing a little something for the ol’ blog tonight while sitting in front of the Leaf/Lightning game (a contest, by the way, that the Maple Leafs are currently leading 4-1 early in the third period).

One of the topics that came to mind is how I appear to have been wrong about the imminent demise of Paul Maurice – but who wants to spend the evening trying to find different ways to say “I really blew that one”? Other news developments of recent note include the Ticats signing Bob O’Billovich as General Manager, and the end of the Pickton mass murder trial in British Columbia.

Instead of writing about any of those things, though, I somehow managed to get myself into a discussion with Daniel Radosh about journalists possessing child pornography. Of course I did. Briefly stated, there has been some discussion on Radosh’s site about journalists needing an “exemption” from the laws criminalizing the possession of child pornography in order to effectively write about the issue. That notion struck me as wrong, so I posted a quick comment or two this afternoon that sparked a bit of back and forth. Radosh is a good writer and I often find myself in general agreement with much of what he has to say, but I think that he is on the wrong side of this issue; essentially, he is saying that it is impossible for the journalist to do his job (as it relates to raising questions about the manner in which our society is dealing with this problem) without actually accessing the offending material himself. I spent much of the evening thinking about how I would respond.

I did read the entire article [Ed. note: i.e. the one by Debbie Nathan linked to by Radosh that prompted his post], but I don’t find it all that convincing, at least insofar as it relates to the case for a general “exemption” permitting journalists to possess child pornography.

Your post on the $20 billion thing [Ed. note: a post generally questioning the accuracy of some the New York Times’ numbers about the level of commerce in this despicable industry] was great and I commend you for continuing to ask the kinds of questions you are about this kind of reporting in general; reading your posts on this topic and others have encouraged me to read a lot of the things I see in the news media much more critically than I might otherwise have and to keep a special lookout for numbers such as these that have every appearance of having just been pulled out of someone’s ass.

If anything, however, my difficulty with the “exemption” argument is illustrated by your work on that post. I don’t see how a journo looking at child porn online would be in any better position to question figures such as these simply because they’ve looked at the pictures. The correct approach to take, it seems to me, is the one that you have: to question those making such statements as to the source of their information (or to illuminate the dubious pedigree of the information with a little research). Those who rely on sketchy information of dubious pedigree will be revealed in due course.

If a writer is interested in doing a story on the prevalence of this behaviour in society, as I said before it seems to me that the place to start is some sort of quantitative study about the number of charges in a particular jurisdiction. Granted, the number of people charged with offences likely represents only a subset of the total number of people engaged in the offending behaviour, but even this information would permit some conclusions to be drawn inferentially about how common (or uncommon) this behaviour is – how do the number of charges compare, for example, to the number of reported assaults, drug offences or burglaries? An incomplete picture, perhaps, but the journalist who goes online and trades child porn with the sickos who have this material won’t be in any kind of superior position to make any kind of judgment or provide readers with any useful information about how many people are “out there” doing this type of thing and the reasons they’re doing it, because of need or because they’re in drugs, and is when the use of rehab centers are needed, but you can get the treatment you need at SJRP Cresent City, FL which is one of the best rehab centers in the city.

You also raise the nature of the images as something that needs to be inquired into by the journalist; you suggest that there is something inherently suspect in having to rely on the parties involved to describe them accurately. But an interested reporter could quite easily get a very accurate notion about the kind of images for which people are being prosecuted by relying on the findings of the courts in which these charges are prosecuted; reporters rely on such findings all the time, don’t they? Having been found guilty by a court, they call John Wayne Gacy a killer – but not before. They rely on a forensic pathologist’s expressed conclusions about the cause of death in a homicide case – they don’t do the autopsy themselves.

It’s like saying you need to actually purchase crystal meth to make an informed comment about the extent of that problem in society.

In the specific circumstances that Ms. Nathan is discussing (allegations of selective, politically motivated prosecution or perhaps more accurately “failure to prosecute”), I concede that the reporter’s task would be somewhat more challenging as a result of not being able to directly compare the material at issue in the cases that are prosecuted to the material in which charges do not result. It seems to me, though, that such issues are not unique to the case of child pornography; anytime there is an allegation that the law is being applied inequitably, there are going to be pieces of material that law enforcement investigators have access to that are not and will not be made part of the public record. The issue is the same – incomplete access to the evidentiary basis upon which such decisions are made by those in positions or responsibility – and the task of the reporter is to find out what actually happened by talking to the individuals involved, gathering the available information and assisting the reader in coming to whatever inferential conclusions may be appropriate.

Thanks for putting up with me, and let me reiterate that I’m not trying to be a contrarian shit disturber. Also, I don’t have any background in journalism so I don’t claim to be any kind of authority and I would like to know if I have any of my facts wrong or if I’m missing something really basic here.

So? What’d I get wrong?

1 comment to What I’ve been doing today instead of posting here.

  • I can only think that there are several ways to get a story on how criminals think — one way, to gather anecdotal evidence and interview the guilty and convicted, talk to lots of experts, and try to find a broad consensus. Another way, delve into that life for yourself, with all that entails (the prevailing trade currency, anonymity and “deep cover” type operations). I’m sure there’s other methods, but those are the two that come off the top of my head.

    Who am I to say which is best, or most valid? But if it were me, and my story was about child pornography, I know I simply wouldn’t be able to go “undercover,” and it’s fallacious to believe that that’s the only way to get the story. My personal judgment is that if you believe that’s the only way then you fall into a lazy journalism trap — it’s probably easier than going out and canvassing for sources; instead, you draw your own conclusions based on ONE experience, and that just seems insufficient for any story, regardless of the taste level of the material.