Imagine if reporters actually behaved neutrally when approaching subjects like the government’s efforts to stop child predators. Imagine if they sat themselves down and said: I am going to suspend my natural tendency to side with the accused and control my adolescent rebelliousness towards all authority. I am going to behave as if I am the blank slate I am supposed to be, suspending judgment as I gather and report facts.
No? I didn’t think so.
In the very same issue in which Graydon Carter advances his theory that certain people (his friends) shouldn’t have to go to prison for child rape, but should be permitted to make art expressing the pain of child rape instead, Vanity Fair ran this article ostensibly investigating the “shadowy” world of police stings of internet sexual predators.
Note that the term “shadowy” here refers to the cops, not the suspects.
In every way this is a companion piece to Graydon Carter’s weepy panegyric to Roman Polanski. Author Mark Bowen’s intense effort to paint an entirely sympathetic portrait of child predators is matched only by his presumptions that the police are naturally acting in bad faith:
After months of prowling Internet chat rooms, posing as the mother of two young daughters, Detective Michele Deery thought she had a live one: “parafling,” a married, middle-aged man who claimed he wanted to have sex with her kids. But was he just playing a twisted game of seduction? Both the policewoman and her target give the author their versions of the truth . . .
I’ll save you the trouble of reading it to find out which “truth” Bowden chooses: he completely buys the sex offender’s line — which is, astonishingly, that he didn’t really want to sleep with the children being offered to him on-line, but merely initiated talk of raping the children on a fetish chat line, then spent months planning on-line to have sex with them, and arranging on-line to have sex with them, and fantasizing on-line about having sex with them, and then showed up with a bag of sex toys, handcuffs and condoms to have sex with an 8 and 11-year old because he is really shy and awkward around women and was afraid the mom wouldn’t like him anymore if he didn’t seem like someone who wanted to rape her children.
A great deal of the article is delivered in a creepy first-person narrative, Bowen weaving the sex offender’s “version” in through other details, as if it is the real story, not one of the “two truths” he briefly purports to be exploring. Before long, the predator’s version literally takes over:
Bingo! A woman! The line popped up in a window at the top of J’s screen as soon as he logged in to the chat room. He had peeked into a number of active chats to see how many women were there, and logged on to the ones with a promising ratio. His screen name, parafling, was a nod to paraflying, the tiny parachute/tricycle flying machines he had once or twice enjoyed. It was the only really different, exciting thing about him. He imagined it was like a colorful lure on the surface of a pond.
See. He’s just lonely, and kind of pathetic.
The sun blazed in from the window to his back porch. J had about an hour before his wife would be home from work. She knew nothing of his cybersex life, or if she did, she ignored it. A burly, round-faced man of 42, with a thickly muscled neck and shoulders, thinning hair, and a goatee, he was seated before the computer in their living room in a small, two-story town house in suburban Philadelphia. J had just finished a long day repairing copy machines, driving from one job to the next. This was his time, a quiet interlude before his wife came in the door from her job at the local hospital. He would have to deal with her until about eight p.m., which is when she usually retired upstairs.
J didn’t sleep much. The steroids he was injecting to help him bulk up made his heart race and filled him with explosive energy and lust. He felt like a walking hard-on. The Internet was his only outlet, and it had become a compulsion.
Compulsion, addiction. Not his fault, of course. Now here comes the crux of his “excuse”:
In the years he had been dipping into these chat rooms, he had learned a few things about the women who entered them. They were skittish. J was convinced that everyone, down deep, had twisted sexual desires, and he had reasons in his own life for believing this—his first sexual relationship, as a teenager, which had lasted five years, was with a slightly older girl who liked sadomasochistic play. In this sense, women were no different from men, except they were more reluctant to show themselves. The ones who entered the fetish rooms had desires that were very specific. Men were eager and up for whatever—that certainly defined J—but women were looking to scratch a particular itch. He knew that if he answered the query from heatherscutiepies wrongly, she would simply stop responding. Her question was a polite nibble. The response was critical. He had chatted about this online with other men, comparing notes on opening moves, and the safest approach seemed to be simply to announce that you were into “everything,” right off the bat.
—I am into bondage s/m breeding incest young rape spanking you name it . . .
He had learned from earlier chats that if he said he had never tried a thing the woman would stop responding. It was best to claim to have done everything. Besides, making these things up came easily to him. In the years he had been chatting sexually online, J had learned to ease fluidly into a realm of complete make-believe.
The story goes on, and on, and on . . . and on, about how poor J keeps talking about raping children because he is really, really worried “Heatherscutiepies” won’t like him unless he does, and he’s kind of a lonely guy. Except for having a wife, of course. And, except that he started the child sex stuff. And that he keeps this part of the conversation going when the undercover detective steers away to other subjects. And that he is actually trolling other sites and trying to talk to other women about raping their children, too, a fact that ought to give Bowen a clue but doesn’t:
He had engaged other women online within the last few weeks with highly descriptive talk about sex with their children. So he asked specific questions about how physically able the girls were to have sex, and then slid back onto his own erotic turf . . .
You see, everyone’s making him talk about raping children, and he just wants to be loved in a different way. Isn’t that, like, weird? Mark Bowen, at least, agrees:
Words were J’s game. Perverse ideas. He had never been aroused by images. He was not a porn addict. What gripped him was a woman limning her darkest dreams—for him. This was the essence of his personal fetish, a woman baring all, not the private parts of her body but the private parts of her mind, her unique sexuality, her heart’s most peculiar desire. It drove him wild. He was after heatherscutiepies’ singular taboo. The key to her erotic zone, the thing J sought to provide in return, was complete acceptance. His chatting partner had to feel free to go anywhere with him.
Not even a quarter of the way through this stuff, you really have to wonder if Bowen even gets how much he has lost his way, that he’s utterly riffing on this guy’s justifications, holding up every facet to the light, urging him on and not critically examining a word the sex offender is claiming.
This isn’t journalism: it’s pure advocacy. “A woman limning her darkest dreams for him.” Really? Is that true? Or is it something people say when they get caught trying to solicit multiple children for sex on the internet?
One of the most staggeringly dishonest aspects of this article lies in Bowen’s refusal, after all this chest-heaving, woman-limning stuff, to proceed to show J’s actual description of what he wants to do to the 8 and 11 year old girls. Astonishingly, Bowen throws a veil over this, the heart of the police case. He turns the moment into yet another opportunity for J to claim that he didn’t intend to rape the girls, instead:
If he could get her alone, they could play and he would be long gone by the time she came home with the girls. That could work. Real sex! He was tremendously excited by the idea.
—I have thought about this for so long baby
—yea its been a while for them
“Them.” O.K., he thought, I get it. At this point J plunged in, inventing a sexual encounter with her and the girls, giving heather exactly what he thought she was after. The details are graphic and sickening, and cannot be printed.
The last sentence is Bowen’s. It’s really hard to tell, isn’t it?
It’s also very hard to actually evaluate the police’s case, since Bowen refuses to reveal it. You know, to protect us. So the police are simply hung out to dry, narrated and condemned away by a predator and a journalist entranced by his views.
There are some minor things Mark Bowen gets right: statistics on the prevalence on child internet sexual predators are exaggerated, of course. There is a moderately interesting history of legal entrapment larded in between all the method-acting-stream-of-consciousness child molester stuff, too, though it is, of course, also shamelessly one-sided. I would call it unprofessionally one-sided, but journalism is a profession in which such one-sidedness advocacy for offenders is the professional standard.
Imagine a world where journalists actually bother to report on the vast historical and current predominance of cases where the police do an exemplary job bringing offenders to justice.
No? I didn’t think so.
But all of this pales beside the story Bowen is telling. His article literally mutates before our eyes, into a raw plea for a sexual predator’s twisted justifications for his crime, gussied up with paragraph breaks. The end of the article is an extended sob-fest for J. All pretense of examining the issue is long gone:
J is off steroids. His body has slipped back into a normal shape, slightly pudgy. His manner is subdued, submissive, earnest, eagerly friendly, and polite. He helped several inmates earn high-school diplomas when he was in jail, and he is proud of that.
How touching. Amazing, all the people helping offenders get their diplomas in jail (and how he did this in a year’s time in a county jail, I don’t know, but hey, who has time to fact-check these things?). It’s not like he’d make anything up.
He lives alone in his suburban town house with his dogs. He has joined a church. He says the pastor there has embraced him, forgiven him, and provided him with support and direction. After his arrest he went to every neighbor in his suburban cul-de-sac, knocking on doors to tell each of them his story. He did not want them to know only what they learned from the police.
Yeah, I bet he did that. I often hear from decent people who are shattered that they trusted someone who claimed he was merely framed for prior crimes. Then the person rapes and kills again. We must let go of this fantasy that our prisons are filled with innocent men. They aren’t.
He says they believe him, and he feels accepted. He recently found a new job, after telling his whole story to the man who hired him.
Let’s hope he’s not working with children.
He sees the years he spent obsessed with cybersex as an illness, or a lapse into sinfulness, that drew him deeper and deeper into depravity. He is embarrassed. He has been humiliated.
But he has stayed angry. The classes he attends as a condition of his probation demand that he admit a sexual desire for children. It is considered an essential step toward recovery. J told his instructor that he has no such desire. He never did. He was told that if he persists in this denial he will jeopardize his probation and could be sent back to jail.
So he pretends to be something he is not. He is good at it.
Cue to violins. What the hell is the matter with Vanity Fair? Why are they so up with pedophiles? Isn’t there some less degrading taboo they can go break to make themselves feel all rebellious and brave?