January 27, 2004

two simultaneous games of table tennis

So Julianne (whose writing has been pretty extraordinary lately, I have to say) comments over at Sasha's blog in reaction to his reaction to a couple of links I sent him in response to his powerful response to Peter Landesman's article about sex-trafficking rings in America.

Got it?

Anyway: Julianne writes "Why would anyone even care if the sex-slave epidemic was exaggerated, if it's even happening AT ALL?" Well, the implications of that question are that if you're writing an exposť of something terrible and upsetting, you're under no obligation to prove your assertions. The big problem with Landesman's piece is that almost all of its assertions about the presence of sex trafficking in the U.S. proper are non-falsifiable: yeah, it might be absolutely right, and it might be anywhere between slightly and seriously bogus, and there is no way of contradicting it if it actually is wrong. As Jack Shafer puts it, "Landesman's supporting evidence is vague. Where it is not vague, it is anecdotal. Where it is anecdotal, it is often anonymous, too. And where it is not anecdotal or vague it is suspicious and slippery."

The point of Landesman's article is not to prove that sex slavery is horrible (of course it is), or that it exists in the U.S. (Landesman cites one example right up at the top), but that it's epidemic in the U.S.: that it is everywhere here, and condoned by people in a position to do something about it. It's not a "denial" to note that he gets to that point via consistently flimsy evidence and hot-button pushing; similar techniques have been used to make similar cases for ritual Satanic abuse and, not to get all topical, but WMDs in Iraq. I agree that both Shafer and Radosh's tones are unnecessarily snarky, but Landesman's credulity w/r/t all things Internet-related is part of what contributes to his article's fearmongering. "If this article prevents one person being harmed, you can have journalism back, whatever that is," Sasha writes. I suspect that why Shafer and Radosh (and I) are frustrated with Landesman's article is that we believe that good reporting does a lot more to protect innocent people from harm than vague, anecdotal, suspicious, slippery reporting.

Also, Radosh points out that, on CNN, Landesman claimed that sex slaves are being held at "one more address that I couldn't get into the story for legal reasons. But try the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the East 80s, a brownstone nine blocks from where my parents live, actually." Do the police know about this? Could Landesman not have said "in a brownstone in the East 80s" in the Times, if he can say it on CNN? That rings very false to me.

Posted by Douglas at January 27, 2004 10:42 PM