Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Journalism at its Finest

I caught a glimpse of CNN this morning. I have written off the 24-hour news networks, but my partner Jason likes to watch CNN in the morning. The display I saw this morning only reminded me why I'd stopped watching.

A female anchor followed a group of cops as they set up and arrested a "sex offender." A male cop had posed as a fourteen year old girl in a chat room and had set up a meeting with a man. The blonde anchor narrated the piece, quoting the man as saying, "When no one is looking, you can give your daddy a wet kiss." It was ridiculously funny as read by an annoying blonde anchor.

The anchor and her camera crew were in the police car when the "offender" tried to get away. The cops arrested the man who fell face-down onto the street, and as the cop handcuffed him, the blonde stuck her microphone in the man's face. When the cop asked the man's name, the man responded and the mic caught it. The cop then asked where the man was from and, realizing the camera crew was there, the man refused to respond. This could have had serious repurcussions for the man.

The anchor didn't stop there. Before he was read his rights (as far as we could hear) the female anchor asked, "So you came here to have sex with a fourteen year old girl?" To which the man replied that no, he hadn't. The blonde scoffed and continued the line of questioning.

I know this kind of entrapment is a "hot button issue." But the fact remains that the man did not commit a crime. I know some states have gotten around this, adding crimes like seducing a minor and intent to commit, but I think that is a dangerous way to think. I want sex offenders arrested if they commit a crime, of course I do. But I think we need to draw a clear line and remember that these men and women have rights too.

But this isn't my main issue with this report. Fine, the state has found a way to get around the fact that this man didn't actually commit a crime. But what the hell was the camera crew doing in the backseat of the cop car? The cops actually invited CNN to come along and ruin this man's life before he's had a trial? Innocent till proven guilty. Sure, on paper. But the anchor painted this man's face with a big red S. Anyone who saw that report knows that man's name and face. They know enough information to agree with the anchor. I can smell the fairness and the balance. Mmmmm. Smells like eggs.

I can't believe how quickly people can move from logical human beings to a riot mob. The way we treat accused sex offenders is disgusting. I'm not saying they should roam free, but I also don't think we should victimize them. A man who had sex with his girlfriend when he was 18 and she was 16 is on that database of sex offenders for the rest of his life. Even if he's married to her now. At least that's true in Florida. If someone was released from jail, then theoretically they should be harmless. If they aren't, then they should still be in jail. I know this is a bit of an idyllic way to look at the world. But if the system doesn't work, then we need a new system. What we don't need is worried mothers and vigilante citizens prowling for sex offenders in their neighborhood and kicking them out. We've been down that road before. It is the road best left behind.


Adam Elend said...

Great argument. I agree with you.

Boy, if you're pissed about this, you should watch Dateline, where the reporter actually makes the date online, and confronts the alleged sex offender with a camera when he comes to the house, then turns the guy over to the police.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this issue plays into our culture of fear and our burgeoning outrage industry. Reporters know they can get ratings (and politicians know they can get votes) by grandstanding on this issue. No one with a high profile is willing to take a stand against the kind of demagoguery you described. No public figure wants to be quoted defending a sex offender, even if that person hasn't actually committed a crime or had a trial.