Censoring Debbie Nathan

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Last month Debbie Nathan, an excellent investigative reporter whose work I've cited here before, wrote an essay for Salon about the legal barriers that prevent journalists and academics from double-checking government claims about the child pornography industry. You can still read the piece on Usenet, but it disappeared from Salon almost instantly. According to Nathan, the removal was prompted by legal threats from New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, whose own investigations into "child model" sites were discussed in Nathan's article. In its place appeared a "correction" of questionable accuracy, written without Nathan's input or approval.

For more on this strange story, click here. To see Eichenwald, or someone claiming to be Eichenwald, describe Nathan's piece as "false and misleading," Nathan's argument as "despicable," and Nathan herself as someone "incapable of understanding" his methods, click here.

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  1. The child porn laws are written really poorly. 18 USC 2252A doesn’t even have an exception for law enforcement people to view the stuff. I had never thought about it before, but Nathan makes a great point; if it is illegal to view the stuff under any circumstances there is no way for anyone to fact check whatever outragous claim law enforcement makes about child pronography. I always blamed the idiotic drafting of 2552A on Congressional stupidity, ussually one of the safest bets around. Now I wonder if maybe it is the result of activists thinking, “the last thing we want is a bunch of reporters looking around on the web checking any of our claims, so lets make it illegal.”

  2. The “Dost factors” (which is the majority rule among US circuit courts and state courts) further complicate the issue since they make even images of fully-clothed children with no overt sexual content into “child pornography”.

  3. I guess I am going to hell, but I fail to see what it should be against the law to look at a picture of anything. CREATING a picture, hell yes. It is illegal to murder someone even if it is for the purposes of creating a photo record of it, but if it is done, and somebody else sees the photo, and even “enjoys” it, it is not the government’s goddamned business. The viewer may be a sick bastard who we should disdain if we become aware of them, but the idea of criminalizing viewing or reading anything is completely asinine, and the true problem this article ignores.

  4. …federal law does offer some legal protection for journalists and other researchers. An “affirmative defense” may exist that would protect such work under certain circumstances…

    That’s certainly reassuring.

  5. Tony G,

    I agree with you. The child porn laws are thought crime laws. It is a crime to look lustfully at children. As repugnant as those thoughts are, I don’t think any thinking should be by definition illegal. It is a very slipery slope we are walking down.

  6. 18 USC 2252A doesn’t even have an exception for law enforcement people to view the stuff.
    I used to be friends with a dyed-in-the-wool liberal who worked for a state’s department of “Child Protective Services” (still does AFAIK). He said viewing child porn at work “made life worthwhile” (exact quote) and lamented its rarity. End of friendship, but from a couple of offhand comments he’d made earlier I got the impression that they passed the crap around the office.

  7. And if you get through all of those links, here is more on the dangers of having your photographs developed at photo labs. Assuming you have kids and have ever taken nude photos of them in the bath at age 2, or something.

  8. Ian Hacking had an essay in _Critical Inquiry_ long ago on child abuse. The idea is fairly recent, the 60s I think; and it morphed into child sexual abuse in the 70s, which I gather child porn is an outgrowth of. It’s the variant that turns out to have media legs, I think.

    Probably it’s in one of his books by now.

    That the idea is actually new provides some unexpected perspective.

  9. The broader question is: who exactly qualifies as a “journalist”? When seemingly two out of three Americans have their own blogs, who isn’t a “journalist” these days?

    Do journalists have special civil rights (not to be confused with traditional press privileges) that other citizens do not have? How is “research” by a card-carrying newsperson different from that of a blogger or a private detective or even your run-of-the-mill deviant?

  10. LaMur,

    Your friend is really scary. Ed, the potential for a abuse is certainly there. That said, we allow scientists to do research on illegal drug use, there ought to be a way for someone besides law enforcement to really look at how much child porn is out there.

  11. The fact that there is no exception for law enforcement possession of pornographic images (or possession by judges or juries, for that matter) suggests an interesting defense: child pornography cases must be dismissed because no one – cop, judge, lawyer, or jury — may legally view the evidence necessary to convict the defendant.

  12. Whose head is the exploitation supposed to be happening. The child’s? The photographer’s? The viewers?

    What a morass.

  13. How is “research” by a card-carrying newsperson different from that of a blogger or a private detective or even your run-of-the-mill deviant?

    Ain’t that the truth.

  14. If the Sparkle story is accurate, then apparently, the effects of draconian over-reaching child porn laws aren’t quite as draconian as some of you fear.

    That article also brings up another point. If the government is blowing the child porn problem way out of proportion to reality then how come Sparkle is so got dam popular?

    If would be the operative word here I know.

    And Le Mur, I’d drop a dime on your ex friend because where there’s smoke there’s usually a little flame. Nobody with those inclinations should be working a job like that.

  15. And if you get through all of those links, here is more on the dangers of having your photographs developed at photo labs. Assuming you have kids and have ever taken nude photos of them in the bath at age 2, or something.

    On a similar note, back when I was in high school, a friend of my parents was sent to jail over something kind of like that. He was an amateur artist, and looking for something new to draw, he went through his photo album and fished out a pic of his daughter where she was nude and about four years old.

    Of course, for all I know he was a dirty old man, so I’m not sure what my point is.

  16. A few years ago, a female friend of mine (actually more like a friend of a friend), as a proud new mom, e-mailed to me (at work) a photo (a big one, about 1 MB) of her baby daughter getting her first bath (in a sink). The girl was smiling and obviously enjoying herself, and in a sane world it would have been considered a cute and innocent picture.

    The problem was … it was very obvious from the photo that this baby was a girl, if you get my drift. There was nothing posed about it –just “Splash, splash, here I am, world!” — but, still.

    To be honest, I sort of freaked and deleted it immediately. Call me paranoid, but that’s all I need — an unmarried male around 40 with a giant photo of a very naked, very underaged, very obviously female child on my work computer.

    The problem is, I don’t know who is the bigger idiot — her for sending me the photo, or me for freaking out over it. Probably me — the mother was just innocent and enthusiastic, while overreacting is itself going to seem kind of creepy. But I’ve heard the stories about the photo labs too. Don’t need that grief. In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “We were outed when we were never in!” If I’m ever taken to task over my perversions, let them be the ones I do have. (On that score, how come young mothers never e-mail me photos at work of curvaceous red-haired Japanese women in black leather bikinis?)

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