You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war. - William Randolph Hearst
The most disgusting aspect of witch-hunts is the way that everyone from the village idiot to the pillar of the community jumps on the bandwagon; the most horrifying aspect is the way in which anyone who refuses to participate in the hunt is implicated as a target, and the saddest aspect is the way in which innocents whom the hunters pretend to defend are actually victimized by them. All three aspects are demonstrated in this CNN story on “child sex trafficking” which was linked by Jill Brenneman in Bound Not Gagged earlier today.
At one time, CNN was a respectable news agency, but like most of the popular media it has devolved into yellow journalism and now focuses on promoting scandal, hysteria and outright lies while largely ignoring real news. Like the sensationalized newspapers of the 1890s, CNN and other modern media outlets prefer to create news rather than reporting it, and never let the facts get in the way of their crusades. But genuine international wars have fallen out of fashion, so modern yellow journalists prefer to create or intensify wars against individuals – in other words, witch-hunts - rather than traditional wars as Hearst and Company did. And as I’m sure most of you know, the most popular war right now is the one on prostitution, disguised as a fight against “child trafficking” so as to get around the inconvenient fact that the vast majority of prostitutes (about 96.46% by New Zealand estimates) are adults who practice the trade voluntarily. Attacking the sexual choices of adult women might be recognized as incredibly misogynistic, but “protecting children” can never be questioned.
The CNN article, as is typical for trafficking propaganda, conflates prostitution with sexual slavery and adults with children; it gives police abuses of prostitutes a free pass under the aegis of “battling traffickers” while ignoring the repeated offers of help from the sex-work community. It pretends that rare cases are the norm and is larded with inflammatory language and emotionally-loaded terminology, and could practically serve as a catalog of logical fallacies. The very first sentence of the story is “Selena is a 13-year-old who was sold for sex,” which not only focuses the reader’s attention on an exceptional case but also makes it sound as though she was literally sold as a slave when in actuality the writer means she was pimped; it then attempts to justify the girl’s being treated as a criminal by everyone from the cops to her own mother under the excuse that “she might run away again”. Let that sink in: Both the courts and the CNN reporter want the reader to believe that the certainty of imprisonment in chains is preferable to the possibility of a return to prostitution. It’s a new and disgusting twist on the old “rape is a fate worse than death”.
The article then goes on to quote the usual magic numbers which are spread about by trafficking fanatics without even the slightest proof; first we get the standard guess of “100,000 underage girls being sex trafficked in America today”, which if the US is anything like New Zealand is roughly double the number of underage prostitutes in all, of which it is likely that fewer than half are acting under coercion. But the article then claims this wild exaggeration is a “conservative estimate” and proceeds to present an even wilder guess of 300,000…roughly two-thirds of all American prostitutes, a ludicrous figure by any stretch of the imagination. Those with long memories may recognize these numbers as being very similar to those touted during the “Satanic Panic” as the number of teenage girls enslaved to produce babies for sacrifice; I guess the Satanists must’ve sold them all to the pimps when they packed up shop and went wherever it is pantomime villains go when the moral panics which employ them are over with.
But no moral panic is complete without tying it into some intimidating feature of the modern world, in this case the internet. I expect CNN, despite the fact that its ratings (like those of all other mainstream news media) have taken a big hit from internet news sources, is motivated purely by the highest altruism when it claims that the internet is “the new marketplace for underage sex trafficking” and is completely objective when it accuses Backpage (owned by Time-Warner’s competitor Village Voice Media) of complicity with traffickers. And I’m equally sure that the reporter’s mention of huge profits from escort ads while failing to mention that the fees were federally mandated was just an unfortunate oversight.
The next section of the story contains the usual cherry-picked examples and inflammatory language (i.e. “sold for sex” as though their custody actually changed hands), but that quickly degenerates into an astonishingly Hearstian tactic:
We posted our own ad, using a photo of CNN correspondent Amber Lyon when she was 14 years old. She told the men who called that she was underage; most didn’t care. One man offered Lyon $30,000 to travel to another state and meet a wealthy friend of his to have sex in an expensive hotel. We went to the hotel, confirmed the offer was genuine, but stopped before accepting the money.
Of course, we only have Miss Lyon’s and her staff’s word for this, and it’s just too bad that the reputed “buyer” wasn’t an FBI plant or someone else who could’ve reported them for a flagrant breach of the law. And far be it from me to suggest that Miss Lyon might get much more interesting results by joining an escort board and actually interacting with the girls and clients to see what internet escorting really looks like; after all, I wouldn’t want to get in the way of her irresponsible and unethical participation in the construction of the latest moral panic so her network can make money by selling advertising time to companies who use provocatively-presented women and girls, many of them underage, to sell everything from soap to erectile dysfunction drugs. No, I’m not going to suggest that, but is it too much to ask that reporters go back to reporting the news instead of making it up?