Month: July 2011

It’s okay, everyone! The Village Voice says child prostitution isn’t THAT big of a deal

(Oh, and they blatantly lied in their reporting.)

So we can all breathe easy now! See? The Village Voice just owned Ashton Kutcher (much in the same way that a pimp owns his 15-year-old prostitute!) A news organization that gets a sizeable chunk of its funding from its prostitution ads (and has been known to hawk underage prostitutes) did the math, and came to the conclusion that child prostitution just isn’t the problem it’s been made to be.

Village Voice Media, who laid off a ton of their best writers a few years ago, apparently found this story important enough to warrant months of investigative research and – does anyone care to guess how much money they spent on compiling nationwide data for underage sex offender arrests? just to write a massive long-form whose nut graf is basically “Isn’t Ashton Kutcher a jerk? Oh, and we’re pretty sure there aren’t THAT many children wrangled into sex slavery in America. Probably.”

They devoted their investigative team to building a nationwide map that looks like the kind of thing you’d see for a massive New York Times expose on cute puppy abuse by CEOs of national banks. In fact, this may be the first time I’ve seen this kind of journalistic tool used to actually argue that things AREN’T as bad as they seem (isn’t that kind of against the instinct of your average investigative reporter?) Here it is, the anti-Woodward and Bernstein – a massive investigative piece revealing LESS wrong-doing than the public was aware of. But that’s not all.

Their reporting is shoddy. Their 827-per-year number (the previous statistic was 100,000 to 300,000) is only the number of arrests per year, not the number of child prostitutes in America. While it’s likely that the previous number was way off, even if 10% of all underaged prostitutes are arrested once a year (ha!) that’s nearly 10,000 hopeless, helpless kids forced into sexual slavery. Not sure a shot at Ashton Kutcher warrants marginalizing them further. And the Voice conveniently limits their study to only 37 cities in America, writing off the children suffering in the rest of the country by saying, “Juveniles can go astray in rural Kansas,” implying that those other cities probably don’t have as much of a problem because they’re not big population centers – equivalent to some farm town in the middle of nowhere.

Atlanta isn’t rural Kansas. St. Louis isn’t rural Kansas. New Orleans (seriously, they didn’t include numbers from New Orleans) is most definitely not rural Kansas. But the Voice study does find room for Hartford, CT, Kansas City, MO, Honolulu, and that hotbed of sin, Salt Lake City. A little skewed, perhaps? Wait, that doesn’t seem right… Let’s look at the numbers closely. Could there be room for suspicion?

Yes, there could, and is. Because they blatantly, painfully lied in their story. They say this: “We examined arrests for juvenile prostitution in the nation’s 37 largest cities during a 10-year period.” They repeatedly say they used the nation’s 37 largest cities. At least three times.

Hartford, Connecticut, one of the cities they sampled, is the third-largest city in Connecticut. Its population as of 2010 is about 124,o00. Its metropolitan population is 1.1 million. And its average of one arrest per year conveniently brings their average number down. A lot.

Atlanta, Georgia has a population of 420,000 as of 2010. Its metropolitan population is 5.2 million. It is factually, undeniably much larger than Hartford, Connecticut. And we don’t know what their yearly average is, because the Voice didn’t include those numbers. Anyone want to take a guess whether Atlanta has more child prostitution than Hartford?

The study also includes Pittsburgh (334,000 people and one arrest per year) and Newark, NJ (277,000 people and one arrest per year.) Not bigger than Atlanta, but low enough numbers to skew data.

So why would VVM do this? Well, the pimping site they own, backpage.com, has “an anything goes reputation,” according to Ars Technica. Underage prostitutes slip through, and as one of the links mentioned, one of them later sued them. The organization has an obvious interest in crafting a certain image of child prostitution in America as not being a problem. Ashton Kutcher (and I’m really no fan of the guy) comes along and challenges that perception. VVM devotes tons of resources to creating a misleading story in retaliation. They’ve made the piece their top story in many, if not all, of their weekly markets across the country. This is, according to one of my anonymous sources (what? it’s a blog) within Village Voice Media, unprecedented.

This is a massive hit piece dishonestly designed to downplay the issue of child prostitution. It comes from an organization whose advertising revenue is based largely on the existence of prostitution and who have a track record of problems with child prostitution.

Doesn’t allowing your revenue stream to influence your editorial stance and your content go against every single journalistic ethic conceivable? Yes. Yes, it does. And, um, it might make it slightly worse when that revenue stream is child sex slavery. Just sayin’.