Shame on the Fear-mongering Washington Post


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Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, has written a very solid, smart article about the recent murder of Nicole Lovell, the 13-year-old Virginia girl allegedly killed by two older teens she met online.

While The New York Times and other media immediately published articles screeching about new apps creating a world where no child is safe, Finkelhor calmly cited studies conducted by his center that prove the opposite: “Youth homicides and abductions committed by a stranger met online are rare,” the studies showed. How rare? They “can be counted on one hand.”

Rare. And actually, when it comes to any sex crimes against kids, Finkelhor continued:

In spite of our collective intuition, it’s not clear that the Internet has increased the number of such crimes. In the years since everyone, young and old, has flocked to the Internet, sex crimes against youth by adults have decreased significantly, as shown by police reports, child protection investigations and population surveys.

But here’s the thing. Even as Finkelhor was explaining that we are living in far safer times than the media would have us believe,  look at the headline the Washington Post gave his piece. (Writers don’t write their headlines. The editors do):

Banning apps won’t protect kids from predators. They’re in danger offline, too.

So an article that is trying to put forth that kids online are not in any greater danger than they are off-line ends up with a headline that sounds as if kids are in danger all the time — online AND off.

What a shameful, misleading and terrifying headline, especially above an article that states that, “Lovell’s horrific case stokes our fear of a misleading archetype: the stranger abductor/molester/killer.”

Gee, I wonder why that misleading archetype still reigns. Could it have anything to do with the most respectable newspapers in our country doggedly stoking that fear? – L


Beware the terrifying copy editor!

Beware the terrifying copy editor!



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28 Responses to Shame on the Fear-mongering Washington Post

  1. Donald February 14, 2016 at 2:51 am #

    The brain is bio-chemical

    There’s a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and it’s like a little mini factory that assembles certain chemicals that matches certain emotions that we experience. Those particular chemicals are called “peptides”.

    In the hypothalamus, we take small-chain proteins called peptides and we assemble them into certain neuropeptides or neurohormones that match the emotional states that we experience on a daily basis.

    There’s chemicals for every emotion including fear, anger, and outrage. This ’emotion drug’ when used too often can become addicting. The networks know this and that’s why, “If it bleeds, it leads” because they target these chemicals and encourage addiction.

    To make a long story short, these stories have a similar effect as cigarettes. However there is a big difference. Tobacco companies are restricted in advertising and by law cannot sell to minors. However, the media can do anything they want!

  2. James Pollock February 14, 2016 at 4:13 am #

    “The networks know this and that’s why, “If it bleeds, it leads” because they target these chemicals and encourage addiction.”

    You’re giving them far too much credit for forethought and planning.

    “If it bleeds, it leads” is simple stimulus-response. News organizations are in it to make money. People tune in and stay tuned in to watch news of a certain type, and it isn’t careful, nuanced discussions. People buy newspapers, well, for a lot of reasons, but the part they see that can influence their decision to buy or not is on the front page, above the fold. Internet news is driven by click-through rate.

    News organizations can be counted on to do the things that increase their profitability in the immediate short-term future.

  3. Donald February 14, 2016 at 4:36 am #

    They do what they do because it developed that way. It became this mess via evolution sort of like Darwinism. Giraffes developed that way because the ones that had the longer necks had an advantage. They can reach the vegetation. They can eat while the shorter neck giraffes starved.

    The showes that survived are the ones that were better at ‘feeding the drama junkies’. I don’t blame everything on the news companies just like I don’t put all the blame on tobacco companies. The person that smokes has to take some responsibility as well.

    I only spouted out that technical blurb to illustrate how bad it’s gotten.

  4. c smith February 14, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    If you search a missing children’s sight for girls missing in the last 3 years by state Virginia has one of the highest rates of missing children in the country. That said, fear mongering is never a good thing and many missing girls are parental abductions and runaways.

  5. Shelly Stow February 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    The total missing children count for a state or nationally is the total number of missing children reports. According to the FBI, in 2015 there were 460,699 NCIC entries for missing children. With similar numbers for most years, the majority were either not really missing or almost immediately found. Of those who were not, the majority were taken by a relative or non-custodial parent. Another significant number of those actually missing were determined to be run-aways, most of whom later returned home or were heard from. A significant number of the run-away group were later determined to be involved in the sex industry, some certainly being kept against their will. The yearly average number of those, nationally, who were actually taken by a stranger or casual acquaintance for a nefarious reason is slightly over 100.

  6. James Pollock February 14, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    The fact of the matter is that pimps are able to find women who’ll work as prostitutes. They’re runaways, or drug addicts, or both, and they stumble into the sex industry because of lack of meaningful alternatives. The pimps do what they can to ensure that they stay that way… cutting off contact with family and others who might help them, making sure they never have money or meaningful assets, in international cases holding their paperwork, generally making sure that they are 100% dependent on the pimp for basic necessities.

    There is (alas) a steady stream of young women who lack meaningful alternatives, and the pimps find them. They are FAR more profitable than would be a middle-class girl snatched off the street. They’d rather find the girl who’s been so beaten down by life that she’d rather work as a prostitute than return home to parents, friends, family… or who doesn’t have them in the first place.

  7. Vaughan Evans February 14, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

    If I were her parents, I would want to meet the people-she met online-before letting her go out with them.
    Where were the parents?
    Why didn’t they screen these people?

  8. JB February 14, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

    All these “young teen lured by older predator to her doom” stories have a common thread, and it’s not the internet.

    It’s that the kid in question is alienated from her parents and doesn’t trust them with the real story of what’s going on in her life. Kids who are trusted by, and trust, their parents don’t sneak off to meet sketchy older dudes. It’s another instance of the unintended consequences of parenting styles overwhelming the intended ones.

  9. James Pollock February 14, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

    “It’s that the kid in question is alienated from her parents and doesn’t trust them with the real story of what’s going on in her life. Kids who are trusted by, and trust, their parents don’t sneak off to meet sketchy older dudes. It’s another instance of the unintended consequences of parenting styles overwhelming the intended ones.”

    I don’t think this is true. Teens that are trusted by their parents can go places and do things without telling their parents, and sometimes they make bad decisions. Most of the time, when they go off (without sneaking, because they’re trusted) with a sketchy older dude, it turns out the sketchy older dude is not a sex pervert, or, if he IS a sex pervert, is able to control his sex pervertedness. And, since this paragraph is full of the same kind of sexism we were just ranting about a couple of days ago, I’ll point out that this is also true of sketchy older women, and sketchy older couples, too.

    The distinction is in actively hiding the fact that they’re going to meet sketchy older dudes, and simply omitting that detail (for whatever reason.)

    I do believe that you’re right that the children with a good relationship with their parents are at far less risk… but it’s because they’re far less likely to be targeted in the first place.

  10. Donald February 14, 2016 at 4:04 pm #

    Remember the McMartin preschool trial? I see the same thing is still going on. Some are caught up in it because the believe in the hysteria. However some don’t believe it but watch it anyway. It’s entertaining just like Jerry Springer or Keeping up with the Kardashians. They don’t comprehend that they are part of the problem!

    The Devil in the Nursery in 2001, Margaret Talbot for The New York Times summarized the case:

    “When you once believed something that now strikes you as absurd, even unhinged, it can be almost impossible to summon that feeling of credulity again. Maybe that is why it is easier for most of us to forget, rather than to try and explain, the Satanic-abuse scare that gripped this country in the early 80s — the myth that Devil-worshipers had set up shop in our day-care centers, where their clever adepts were raping and sodomizing children, practicing ritual sacrifice, shedding their clothes, drinking blood and eating feces, all unnoticed by parents, neighbors and the authorities.”

  11. Donald February 14, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

    In the McMartin preschool trial, children stated that they were forced to drink blood. The said this because they knew that’s what people wanted to hear. Now they make claims of attempted abduction.

  12. Alanna February 14, 2016 at 4:31 pm #

    Make me wonder if the editor who wrote the headline actually read the entire article.

  13. Ron Skurat February 14, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

    I can vaguely remember a time when I was in college and shortly thereafter when the NYT, WaPo, and the Boston Globe were pretty good papers. They had their blind spots, but basically they were OK. But partly because of a general dumbing-down of all media, and partly because of publisher panic about the internet, they’ve all turned into White-Collar Tabloids. The veneer of respectability is still there, but at least for the high-profile pieces they’re not any different from buzzfeed/gawker/what-have-you.

  14. Donald February 14, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    @Ron Skurat

    They were good papers but they changed because the demand was for outrage, fear, anger, bloodlust, sex, or any other type of ‘clickbait’. This is why I don’t put the blame entirely of them. The people that demand such crap must also share the blame.

    I remember the tabloids near the checkouts at the supermarket. I use to enjoy browsing at the headlines, “A TITANIC SURVIVOR WAS FOUND ON AN ICEBERG” or “ELVIS WAS ABDUCTED BY ALIENS FROM NEPTUNE AND IS NOW BEING CLONED!”

    It didn’t occur to me that those headlines were ‘small pox’. The disease spread. Today a large percent of the population seek out the most outrageous headlines all for the sake of entertainment.

  15. James Pollock February 14, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

    “I can vaguely remember a time when I was in college and shortly thereafter when the NYT, WaPo, and the Boston Globe were pretty good papers.”

    A newspaper has two basic tasks. First, it is a delivery mechanism for information. Second, it is a moderator. The news editorial staff take all the information you have, and decide what you need to know about so you don’t have to. (Also true of television news)

    So… the Internet has largely rendered the first purpose of newspapers useless. Newspaper (actual physical newsprint paper) is expensive and heavy to move around, electrons are cheap and can move near the speed of light.

    As for the second, it turns out that people mostly want news that supports the worldview and opinions they already have., as opposed to one that correlates with reality. Thus, you wind up with several subsets of people, each “informed” by “news”, but obtaining completely opposite analysis. Relatively low numbers of people actually want multiple viewpoints, and, today’s media outlets are happy to serve up single-viewpoint news.

    I think the decline came starting with television news, which is inferior for most news coverage but much, much better at covering stories involving immediacy. Then you got news-and-chat shows. Then ESPN carved out the “SportsCenter” niche, cutting into the papers’ distribution. Didn’t watch the game? No matter, SC will give you the most important 30 seconds of it. No need to wait until morning to get the important details or some sports writer’s interpretation of What It All Means. Then the Internet showed up, with another handful of nails for the coffin. People got spoiled… what, you want me to PAY for content?

    Newspapers were always ad-supported, but the value of advertising in the paper was dependent on how many people were reading it, and how many people were reading it depended on the non-ad content and it had to be good enough to be worth the price of a copy. Internet takes “the price of a copy” out of play, and leaves the newspaper websites desperate to get people to read (and thus, support advertising rates). So, they’re chasing eyeballs.

  16. sexhysteria February 15, 2016 at 3:29 am #

    Who was the editor? She should be fired and barred from journalism.

  17. Warren February 15, 2016 at 9:15 am #

    Also let’s be real about dog fighting. They really don’t steal family dogs for this. Not only are they running an illegal fighting ring, but now increasing their exposure and attention by stealing family dogs. Secondly most family dogs could never be turned into a fighting dog.

  18. Warren February 15, 2016 at 9:16 am #

    Sorry, wrong post on wrong story. Need more coffee.

  19. David (Dhewco) February 15, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

    Watched an Unusual Suspects from a couple weeks ago for the first time last night. There were several suspects in the death of an 8yo girl. They checked off all the usual suspects…mother’s boyfriend…check, creepy landlord…check, drifter in the white van…check and then there’s the guy who was ‘hanging out’ in the grocery store parking lot. Some ‘witness’ reported him talking to his two boys previously in the last known location of the girl. No evidence he was a perv other than him talking to two boys in the location (not at the time) of the girl’s last known location. He was cleared but watched for awhile.

    What makes me bring it up is what the investigator said (I might be paraphrasing, but this is really close and true to the gist of it): “Adults don’t talk to stranger kids without their probably being an ulterior motive behind it.” That’s why they had to investigate it. The parent who reported the guy talking to his boys insisted that the man had tried to get his boys to get in his car. No evidence was presented in the show for this other than the parent’s statement and no mention of interviewing the boys either. The man claimed he was there to do some shopping and had greeted the boys to be polite and the father had overreacted.

    BTW, you know who the killer was? The girl’s pastor.

    Stories like that are the reason that I barely smile in the direction of kids I don’t know. I don’t want to take the chance of a parent being paranoid and getting pulled into a police investigation.


  20. Donald February 15, 2016 at 3:31 pm #


    It may have been the wrong post and you need more coffee but it sort of fits into this one as well.

    It’s a good example have how a story gets altered for maximum outrage effect. A dog fighting story is news. However the story must be ‘adjusted’ no matter how unrealistic it becomes. Add a pet kidnapping ring to it in order to make people livid. That’s the objective. Ignore the fact that this will highlight an already illegal activity and increase the chances of getting caught 100 times!

    This reminds me of a story running around Brisbane Australia. The rumor was that pets were being kidnaped for the fur trade. How realistic is that? Is the fur trade so profitable that it can afford thugs to kidnap cats? How many cat’s can these kidnappers get per day?

    What would irk me is that I would be insulted for the news to think that I was this stupid. I wouldn’t reward them for this by purchasing more newspapers or tuning into their channel.

  21. Donna February 15, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

    “Secondly most family dogs could never be turned into a fighting dog.”

    The goal is not to turn a family dog into a fighting dog. Dogs are generally bred specially for that. The goal is to use them as bait for the fighting dogs. While dog fighting rings are not commonly stealing dogs from backyards to do this, it is not uncommon at all for them to take advantage of free dog ads for this purpose. They then put them in the ring with the fighting dogs and allow the fighting dogs kill them.

  22. G4Change February 15, 2016 at 11:46 pm #

    This is why these rags are going out of business left-and-right and/or are going from print to digital-only. People are waking up and are getting tired of being spoon-fed sensationalism and lies!

    After all of the fallout, I hope a bunch of GOOD journalists and GOOD editors get together and create one good true and fair media outlet.

  23. Ater February 16, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    I love things like this. It’s a big slap in the face for her mom – THIS COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED IF YOU’D JUST INSTALLED THIS TRACKER APP.

    I live in the town this happened. It’s funny, a woman in a nearby town has recently been found guilty of felony child neglect because her son disappeared while she was taking a nap (he was found dead 5 days later in the septic tank). It hit the town hard, and everyone was convinced the mom had killed her son (even after the death was ruled an accident). There were extenuating circumstances, sure. Police had found pot in the house, which was “filthy” (although if you ask my mother in law, my house is filthy, so IDK). It was bad enough that she requested a bench trial.

    She was found guilty, and I quote, “for the wilfull act of going to bed.” Mom goes to bed, tragic accident occurs, and it’s her fault.

    I have a 1 1/2 year old who likes to get up in the middle of the night. He’ll quietly make his way to the family room, turn on the TV, and pass out on the couch. No one notices until the morning. If, god forbid, something were to happen, I would be guilty because I went to bed?

  24. BL February 16, 2016 at 8:36 am #

    “for the wilfull act of going to bed.”

    Damn. I’m a criminal. A repeat offender. Like, every day.


  25. EricS February 16, 2016 at 11:54 am #

    “Safe” doesn’t sell. Preying on people’s fears and paranoia does. It seems like people can’t help to feed their insecurities and fears. They would rather feed the dark side of humanity for a “quick fix” to their fears – an oxymoron if you ask me – than encourage the more positive side of us all, for a more lasting, positive, and productive outcome.

    These fears that people hate to love to hate, is just like any addiction. Any obsession. It’s all in people’s heads, and once in there, even facts won’t ease the minds of these people. They are hooked on fear, and most can’t even tell you “why” they are. They just are. And this same mental conditioning, is then passed on to their children. Then these children grow up fearful, with no idea why. Only that their parents told them so growing up, so “it must be true”. No different than the perpetual racial intolerance in some people. It’s learned.

  26. Papilio February 16, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    ““for the wilfull act of going to bed.”

    Damn. I’m a criminal. A repeat offender. Like, every day.


    We should make a list with your names and make sure you’re not allowed to live within 1000 yards of a bed!

  27. Harrow February 16, 2016 at 7:06 pm #

    During the 33 years since the Internet was first activated on January 1, 1983, crime on the Internet has increased an astonishing 100%!*

  28. Alex February 17, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    Why does the “scary man” in the image look like Marvel superhero Moon Knight?