THE BLOG
01/24/2006 05:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Camwhore Chronicles

undergroundf.jpg I've been fuming ever since I read "Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World," Kurt Eichenwald's recent investigative piece in the New York Times:

Just the headline alone gives you a taste of what's to come, doesn't it? It's all about how an ace reporter rescued an Internet-scarred teen for his own noble motives! He doesn't quite fit the Upton Sinclair role model, though.

At the top of Times' story, we view a sexy picture of the teenage subject, Justin, posing provocatively for his webcam. --This, in a story about child exploitation!

The last photo of the article shows James again, in choir robes, singing in his Christian choir, SAVED AT LAST. You see, you can be born again-- all the effects of child abuse and homosexuality can be cured by prayer and a witness protection program.

(Note: my link to the story does not contain the photos, because I am NOT going to perpetuate this shit).

As far as I'm concerned, the Times is another enabler and exploiter in the "sordid" story. At this point, they're the stinkiest part of it, since they're the only ones not copping either a plea or any responsibility! They've scared ignorant parents out of their wits about their kids using computers, and exploited their victim to sell papers. They should be ashamed of themselves.

If you read the whole saga, you'll find out some second-tier "details" that I find more telling than than the bandwidth connection. Justin's parents are terrifying examples of physical abuse, pimping, and neglect. The father beat his kid senseless into the hospital, and then disappeared for years. The mom "never knew" her son to have any friends, and had "no idea" why he went on long trips with strangers or hid in his room with his computer.

When Justin eventually found his father, and confessed that he was an online prostitute his dad decided to get in on the profits! None of this family picture is analyzed by our brave reporter. The reason the Times believes James went down the wrong path is because he had a fast DSL connection and one thing just led to another. Sure, his parents were awful, but he got great grades in school until that computer made him turn bad!

We've seen these stories before, but this example is the worst. They've created fear and titillation instead of explaining how young people are put at risk for abuse and exploitation-- cycles that can't be stopped by simply pulling a plug.

There are thousands of kids who suffer incest, beating, and profound neglect. 99% of them aren't on a web cam. No one gives a damn-- the Times hasn't called in the calvary.

The extra sicko twist is that this story came out during the Christmas holidays. It was published right after the Times had been disgraced for the Judith Miller Credibility Gap. This was supposed to be their big uplifting redemption! "Sordid" doesn't even begin to describe it.

I'm proud that my teenager, and so many of her friends, know how to navigate the Internet. She is not at any more risk of being conned on the Web than she is taking the bus to school... in fact, I think our local bus system possibly has MORE trolls and predators than the internet.

Of course this confidence comes with knowledge and preparation... but that was a pleasure. I loved turning her onto computers the same way I loved reading to her when she was little. Her computer literacy is just another part of life now.

I like talking to her about music, movies, politics, and professors-- the stuff that we found online yesterday, or the day before. It's one of the few things that young people get to do these days that makes them feel powerful and independent.

If you can teach your kid to "look both ways before you cross the street" you can do the same for them online. But it's not rules and cautions that makes the difference... it's who you are as a family.

Anyone can learn how to use an umbrella-- or a filter-- but you can't snap yourself out of an abusive home. The loneliness, desperation, and self-loathing this kid Justin lived with is indeed heartbreaking. If he hadn't "acted out" on his web cam, you can be sure he would self-destructed in one of the more old-fashioned ways. But then... Mr. Eichenwald wouldn't have taken such a interest.

This coming year we are going to hear more than ever that online pornography is the most serious and profound problem the world faces. Witness the government's recent grab for Google's records in the name of investigating "child pornography" -- cough, cough. They've rendered these words into nothing more than pulp novel manipulation.

Meanwhile, the ice caps melt, the war rages on, and kids all over the world are living in poverty, violence, and disgrace that boggles the imagination. Sexual ignorance is killing people. But "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" --There's a web cam on the loose!

Let's name this con when we see it.

More on this story on my audio show, In Bed with Susie Bright, (#231)