What's Behind TV's Fascination with Child Sex Predators?

The following is a transcription of the May 13, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch", that has been edited for clarity:

ERIC BURNS, HOST: Here's a News Watch quiz for you: I'll tell you the names of four people in the news recently, you tell me what they have in common? Pamela Rogers, Debra LaFave, Sandra "Beth Geisel," Warren Jeffs.

Now all four of these people have either been convicted or are wanted on charges of criminal sex with a minor. What else do they have in common? Well, the exploits of all of them have been all over the national media. This week, most recently, Warren Jeffs was just added top the FBI's Most Wanted list for Jane, what is it, conspiring to rape of a minor...

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: What I read is rape as an accomplice because of contributing to possible rape, and also sexual conduct with a minor — if I read this correctly.

BURNS: The question here is, with the media doing all these stories, and Jim, I will move to you now, about sexual predators, is that a matter of the media's loving sensationalism and feeding prurient interest or doing a legitimate service because we all agree in this society that is such a horrible act?

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: I think the media are trying to have it both ways. They love to sexualize children and adults. The Boston Herald recently had an item about a brand — you couldn't believe it, I'm not making it up, called Pimpfants, P-I-M-P-F-A-N-T-S, Pimpfants, which is like how to dress up your kid, like a two-year-old as a hooker, a stripper, something like that. And they are selling this on a commercial Web site.

Anyway, to me that should be a crime. But they do that, they love to sexual things, they love to show pictures of Debra LaFave and all these hot teachers and then they love to come down like a ton of bricks afterwards and say, oh by the way, this is horrible, this is a crime, we have to punish them, and they get it both ways.

BURNS: Which makes it a public service ultimately, Neal, or not?

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Well, there is an element of public service here. "Dateline" this week had a whole hour showing child predators.

BURNS: Gee, usually they do things that are much more substantive! Surprising to know that...

GABLER: And there was some service in alerting parents to the dangers of chatrooms and whatever. But let's face it, Jim is absolutely right, I mean ultimately this is about ratings, this is about sex. This is about titillation. That is what this is really about. You can cover it with moralism, but the bottom line is, it's about rapes.

ROBERT GEORGE, NEW YORK POST: Well, the other thing is, the general media has two problems. One, they do not like the idea of speaking about morality. OK? They don't — and it becomes moral issue, obviously, when a man is preying on a female minors or male minors.

But, there's this, as Jim was saying, there is this titillation factor when it happens to be you know, the good looking teacher and wink, wink, wink, she is just playing around with a 12-year-old boy. There are two things there, A: they do not want to focus on the fact that there are moral issues of adults preying on young people; but they also do not want to look at the differences between actual and that the sex act between adult males and young girls is different. And these are the issues. Instead they want to make it look like kind of...

HALL: Can I say something? I am disturbed by the sexualizing of our children, as Jim has said. I think the media are fascinated with these blonde teachers. They don't care if they are predators. This is a double standard. And I also think that the linking of sex and violence, rape and sex, rape is not a titillating act except the way it's played in the media you would think it was sexy as hell.

GABLER: You're right.

GEORGE: And they don't call it rape when it's young boys. Young boys with older women.

BURNS: The coverage of Warren Jeffs, it seems to me, is very different. It does not have this, ooh, there's a sexy teacher titillation factor in it.

PINKERTON: And that's another element of it, it's that the religious conservatives, broadly speaking and some deviant mutant sect of them, like the Warren Jeffs people, they love that because it proves their sort of H.L. Mencken point about the hypocrisy of ...

GABLER: Well I knew I would have to disagree with Jim and now I do — I think it has to do with the fact, as "Big Love," the HBO show demonstrates, that this is a weird kind of subculture.

BURNS: "Big Love" which is a show about polygamy.

GABLER: About polygamy, exactly, which follows the "Sopranos" on Sunday night. That this is some kind of weird, interesting, mysterious subculture and that like David Koresh at Waco, that also is interesting for the media.

HALL: But it is prurient. It appeals to people's prurient interests. It's not about catching predators at all.

BURNS: Well, but it has that effect.

HALL: Well, when Oprah Winfrey catches a predator that's different from an HBO show that has gorgeous women having sex with a guy. That's two different stories.

PINKERTON: I'll return the favor and I'll agree with Neal. It is the invisible hand. They do not do it for virtuous purposes but it does have a virtuous end sometimes, people do get caught and go to jail.

BURNS: But what we are discussing here too in part is — that's the end — but what you've been saying is that the means, which is to say the stories that go along toward this end, are serving a different function, serving to titillate, serving to increase ratings.

GABLER: I tell you, Eric, one of the most interesting things I've read was a D.A. who said you know I've prosecuted other teachers who raped their students but they were not attractive and they got no attention. That's interesting.

GEORGE: And of course if it's a man with a 13- or 14-year-old-girl, he is immediately demonized opposed to the women who are looked at...

GABLER: ... and rightfully so.

BURNS: Well, they should both be demonized.

GEORGE: Both be demonized is the point.

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