Monday, November 28, 2011

When the Sex Offender is the Media

I was mortified twice yesterday at the way Big Media covered stories about child molesters and child sex crimes.

The first came at 9am on Sunday morning when ESPN decided to broadcast the Bernie Fine tape recording (after having criminally sat on the tape for the past 8 years). It was preceded by a 2 second "this tape contains graphic, sexual content."

You can watch/listen to the broadcast here, but it was somewhere between "did he blow you?" and "it's about the dick" that I heard my kids laughing in the den and raced in to kill the television.

My kids watch ESPN all the time, mainly because I'd rather they watch it than Cartoon Network or some other mindless drivel. You would expect that ESPN would run something like that only in prime time (or late night), but not on a Sunday morning.

My second "D'oh!" moment came Sunday evening, at 6:45pm, when CBS Atlanta decided to run a promo for its "special investigation" during football. The story: "Criminals in the Classroom." Here's the voiceover (replete with creepy looking kids eyeing one another in class) from some reporter named Stephany Fisher:

It's a parent's worst nightmare for a sex offender to have access to their children. But what if that sex offender is another child, who sits in class next to your kid? CBS Atlanta investigates, tonight at 11."
My kids were sitting there watching football! My oldest son said "Dad, is there someone like that at my school?" I said, "No, you have more to be afraid of from that blond zombie on television than you do kids at school."

Look, as a parent, I fully accept responsibility for what my kids consume via the medium of audio/visual. Whether it's the internet or video games or television, ultimately the buck stops with me. I don't even allow my kids to watch anything on t.v. after 8pm because of how slimy and profane the content is on major networks or anywhere else.

But when they are assaulted with these kinds of outrageous stories, at times normally in the "safe zone" for television, I'm almost speechless.

As I've written for years, sex offenders are fantastic television and make for great political capital. Stories like these (and Penn State) get people up out of their chairs, allow for politicians to thump their chests over "getting tough on sex offenders," and bring in boffo ratings and money for Big Media. I get all that.

But stories like this also create unnecessary fear and panic. Kids, after all, are far more likely to be sexually abused by someone in their family than by some weird guy in a trench coat (or coaching outfit).

And these days, the real "predator" who is likely to victimize your kid is Big Media.


MRMacrum said...

The sensationalizing cerainly is counter productive. Resulting in knee jerk accusations, poorly considered law and creating a level of fear that is unwarranted as you just wrote. The Media can be held culpable for making matters worse on a lot of issues we deal with now. I am disgusted with the bunch of them. Even NPR seems to have begun to follow the trend some.

I asked my wife during the Penn State BS if she thought there was more molestation going on now than there wasduring the 1950s when we were kids. My thoughts were there is not more, it is just seeing the light of day more than it used to. Her response mirrored my thought on the matter. What I might think there is more of in relation to child molestation than there used to be is murder after the fact. A dead kid tells no tales.

Todd Krohn said...

I agree. It doesn't appear that rates have changed or that molesters and "predators" are more common than they were 50 years ago. I think victims are certainly more willing to come forward today (which is good), but the rates of offending are probably the same.

Instead, what's changed is our perception of them via the 24-hour news cycle and 100 gazillion channels looking for programming.

A good crime story has three essential ingredients: randomness of the crime (subtext: "it could happen to you!"), virtuousness or purity of the victim (subtext: children, females, blond white females), and an offender with a prior record (subtext: preferably on parole, sex offender registry, etc.)

Throw those three things together and it's a tsunami of bloated media coverage, playing out 24/7, and has everyone tuning in.

Meanwhile, those kinds of crimes are statistically so rare, they're almost immeasurable. But don't let a few facts get in the way when it comes to Big Media and its money.