The Elephant in the Room

Ten ways the media has failed to protect kids.

When reporters first began to pound Pope Benedict XVI, spuriously, on the abuse problem, the Internet news outlets of the biggest media companies in the world had to make a tough choice. What to feature: the slideshow of Tiger Woods’ latest porn-star mistress, available to all users regardless of age; the viral video of “Bombshell” McGee stripping before she met Jesse James, so popular with the middle-school crowd; or the hard-hitting critique of how careless the Pope is about children?

The irony of it would have been funny if it wasn’t so disgusting.

Sometimes we are most oblivious to what is most obvious. So let us describe the elephant in the room regarding the abuse scandals and how the biggest players in the media handle issues of sexuality, children, and abuse.

1. Media companies send sex images to your kids for money. All of the networks air shows that dwell on violent, sexual, and pornographic themes during prime time, when kids are watching. Ask kids their favorite television shows over the last decade and you will hear CSI, Law & Order, and other shows that contain sexual themes. Know any Hannah Montana fans? The media has delivered actress Miley Cyrus topless (in Vanity Fair) and pole-dancing on an ice cream truck (at the Teen Choice Awards). She’s 17. Other media companies get rich off of pornography, plain and simple.

Pope Benedict XVI challenged lay people on April 16, 2008 in Washington, DC, when he said: “What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?” His point: the Church is doing what it can, but it’s not getting any help from a culture that has made even the news unwatchable for kids.

2. The media ignores today’s hurricane to report a stiff wind long ago. Federal statistics say that today one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.

US Department of Health and Human Services statistics show that there were 90,000 substantiated abuse cases in 2003 in the United States. The John Jay report found that there were 10,667 abuse allegations total against Catholic priests in the United States between 1950 and 2003, many of them unsubstantiated.

On the one hand, Penn State’s Philip Jenkins, who has studied both anti-Catholicism and sex abuse said, “research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy,” and called the coverage “a gross efflorescence of anti-Catholic rhetoric.”

3. The media looks the other way for predatory teachers. In 2002, after the Boston Globe reported on abuse in Boston, the 61 largest newspapers in California ran 1,744 stories on scandals involving the Catholic Church. In 2004, the author of a Department of Education study said that the sex abuse problem in schools is “100 times worse” than the Catholic Church’s problem, but few in the media paid attention. It took three years for the Associated Press to cover the story in a serious way.

When it did, the results were shocking: “Students in America’s schools are groped. They’re raped. They’re pursued, seduced, and think they’re in love,” reported the AP in a special series. The stories revealed cover-up activities by teachers, administrators, and the NEA union. “Unless there’s a videotape…everyone wants to believe the authority figure,” said a source. The story shared teacher slang such as “mobile molesters” and “passing the trash.” It found 2,500 abusers in the past five years—a number that dwarfs the allegations of abuse in any five years in the Church’s exhaustively researched history.

Only 90 newspapers in the country featured the AP school abuse stories.

No one has covered the school abuse story significantly since. The media could do a service to victims and soon-to-be victims by relentlessly covering this huge abuse story the way they do the Church. They decline.

4. The media shrugs at Planned Parenthood’s abuse cover-up. Two years ago, when activist Lila Rose caught Planned Parenthood workers bending laws to cover up for adults who impregnate teens and then send them for abortions, the biggest players in the media yawned.

The same thing happened when Michigan pro-life sidewalk counselor Anne Norton found 10 unreported child rape victims, including girls as young as 11 years old, treated or given abortions by Planned Parenthood of South Central Michigan in Kalamazoo.

In March 2005, an actress working with Life Dynamics made about 800 calls to abortion facilities across America, primarily Planned Parenthood abortion sites. She said she was a 13-year-old girl and a victim of sexual assault. More than nine out of 10 of these facilities admitted a crime had been committed and agreed to conceal it.

This is one sex-abuse cover-up story you won’t find covered in the mainstream media much at all. Do reporters consider protecting the image of Planned Parenthood more important than protecting the victims of sex predators?

5. The media suggests it’s dangerous to promote sexual morals. The media storyline is that the Church is too sexually repressive. Celibacy leads men to do strange things, they claim.

Did the Church’s strictness drive men to abuse? The facts suggest the opposite. According to the John Jay Criminal College 2003 report of the five decades of cases it studied, more than one in three cases were from the 1970s, when John Geoghan, Boston’s worst perpetrator, used as his excuse, “The whole culture was experimenting with sex.” More than one in four cases were from the 1960s.

The influx of cases in the US Church came at the most sexually lax time in the Church in memory. This was a time when seminaries were not particular about who they allowed in, largely stopped teaching about celibacy, and weren’t strict about rules. Many Catholics—and theology professors—were shrugging off doctrines, particularly sexual ones.

6. The media rarely shares the solution the Church has found. The fact is the Catholic Church has now become an exemplar of how to approach child abuse. The American Church’s Dallas policy goes far beyond what any other institution has done to address child abuse, making the Church now one of the safest institutions in the world for kids. Every single teacher, priest, or volunteer who has contact with children has to participate in abuse training and undergo an FBI background check. What other institution does this?

For instance, 1,000 volunteers ran the recent National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City. All 1,000 had to go through Virtus training and have an FBI background check.

Why don’t reporters call on other institutions to meet these standards?

7. The media isn’t even sure all child molestation is wrong. The Church is very clear about sexual abuse of children. Any abuse is wrong. Always. In the middle of the first feeding frenzy on abuse, newspapers were busy denouncing the Catholic Church…and promoting Judith Levine’s new book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex. On April 17, 2002, USA Today questioned whether molesting children is wrong at all. Under the headline’s creepy euphemism, “Sex Between Adults and Children,” the paper featured a poll with the choices: “Always harmful, usually harmful, sometimes harmful, rarely harmful.” USA Today’s answer: “Child’s age and maturity make for gray areas.”

No wonder it’s also true that…

8. The media celebrates child abusers. Far from rooting out non-clergy child abusers, the media often sees fit to lionize them. Movies celebrate Alfred Kinsey, who suggested that “cultural conditioning” is the only reason we oppose sex with children, and Larry Flynt, who made a fortune creating simulated child pornography and making light of his bat-wielding comic character “Chester the Molester.”

Rock star Pete Townsend, a registered sex offender who was caught paying for child pornography in 2003, headlined the Super Bowl this year. Roman Polanski, who raped a 13-year-old, won an Oscar in 2003 and still enjoys the support of many Hollywood leaders.

9. The media won’t admit to the homosexual underage grooming problem. Headlines often tag sex abuse stories as being about “pedophile priests.” Pedophilia, however, wasn’t the crime in question in most Catholic abuse cases. The victims in 81 percent of the cases were post-pubescent males.

Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, cited the John Jay report’s “bombshell” discovery that the abuse crisis wasn’t pedophilia but “homosexual predation on American Catholic youth. I’m astonished that people throughout America are not talking about it, thinking about it, and wondering about what the mechanisms were that set this alight.”

It’s no wonder: from the Village People’s song “YMCA” to the Showtime program Queer as Folk, the homosexual culture has been very open about the desire to groom teens. When the Vatican responded to the research by instituting a policy that was lenient toward seminarians who had “experimented” with homosexuality but barred those who had “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or who were part of the “gay culture,” many in the media responded to this measured, evidenced reaction by accusing the Vatican of going on a “gay witch hunt.”

10. The media helps give pedophiles cover through selective attention to the problem. About 85 percent of abusers are family members, babysitters, neighbors, or family friends. In 2006, Kurt Eichenwald wrote a hair-raising article for the New York Times about pedophiles. These are men who have convinced themselves that children want to have sex with them, he said. They find way to insinuate themselves into the lives of children. “Pedophiles often discuss their personal lives” online, Eichenwald said. They come from all walks of life, but they like to speak about how close their jobs take them to children.

The force of the media coverage of pedophilia has frightened people about the Church, where they are extremely safe, while enabling people to let their guard down in other places, where kids are less safe.

What to learn from all of this? There is a giant and worsening problem in the world today. The notorious Ted Bundy said he discovered pornography in a dumpster and it launched his sex abuse career. Today’s media companies have put Ted Bundy’s dumpster in living rooms and laptops across America.

Entertainment media objectifies sex, builds prime-time stories around sexual perversions, offers heroes to kids and then sexualizes them, lionizes abusers, and encourages sexual experimentation. The news media raises doubts about the fundamental assumptions of sexual morality, refuses to connect dots between abusers in favored fields such as public schools and abortion counseling, then writes scare stories about the one institution that has comprehensively addressed sex abuse.

So next time the media complains about the Church—in between “celebrity sex tape” and “hottest redheads” slideshows—keep in mind that when it comes to sexual abuse and morality, you’re hearing the fox’s critique of the farmer’s ability to guard the henhouse.

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