May 2, 2005

Did Dan Rather ever post on Power Line?

In case you haven't gone back to look at comments on recent posts, you might be interested to know that Peter Landesman has decided to respond to my most recent remarks [read the comment thread there before continuing to the thread below] about his work. Extensively.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Here's my point about this character assassination issue. By sarcastically accusing me of essentially making up or stretching details in this world (i.e. 'Andrea' initially fearing me because my appearance reminded her of one of her captors/rapists); by making fun of this, you are demeaning not me, really, but the victims of these crimes and, ultimately, yourself. As I said recently to another columnist at a major American newspaper who came after me for similar reasons, it is akin to making fun of a rape victim; it is akin to saying she asked for it. There you sit, Radosh, in your cubicle/den in Brooklyn, or wherever, nearby safe 7th Ave. among the nannies and the coffee housese, sitting in judgement of a story you really do actually know nothing about; but worse, about a subculture that is clearly beyond your imagination, your experience, your expertise. Of course I take it personally; how could any professional who takes his work seriously not? But more importantly than my feelings: you don't realize, as others have not, that you are denying -- diminishing -- the pain of young women you and others did not know exist. Liberal (I'm guessing), somewhat comfortable (I'm guessing), a parent (according to your website) -- strange qualifications for a man who would like to wear the clothes of an arbiter of journalistic integrity, but who instead stands nakedly cynical and ill-informed, intent on scoring a cheap shot's points over mulling the truth of a thing. Your attack on this, on her, on her experience, is a strange contradiction. Other attacks on this account have been politically motivated. Your attacks seem fueled by a lack of spirit; certainly a total lack of information. It is easy to run a blog in a darkened den (or a glass tower in America's suburbia). It is quite another thing to hit the streets and learn something you didn't know before. You seem to want to go down as the guy who denies the victim her due. Time has a funny way of neutering the blather. It certainly has in this case, and will continue to do so.

RADOSH: "The raids and arrests you cite involve foreign women over the age of 16 (who, based on these cases at least, don't seem at all in short supply). In other words, not the stuff of magazine cover stories or Hollywood films."

Another curious and worrisome comment from you, Radosh. Are not 19-year old Ukrainian women, or 15-year old Mexican women not of equal value to a 16-year old American? What precisely are you saying here? “Oh, they’re foreigners. Well, that’s okay!” Putting ‘Andrea’, the American trafficking victim I interviewed, aside, is not the presence of hundreds of slave houses and brothels in American cities – some within spitting distance of where we live -- where thousands of foreign, young, desperate, entrapped, drugged, infected, disoriented women are forced to have sex with as many as 30 men a day (often without protection) not worthy of a cover story? What is it, a p. 3 Metro story? What precisely are you saying here? By what moral compass are you operating? Is this your point of contention, the color of the girls’ skin, the language they speak, the distance they are from home?


Oh, please. Now you're willfully misreading me. As should have been clear from the very next sentence that you just happened to edit out of your quote above -- "perhaps to our culture's discredit, but that's another story" -- I was making a statement of fact, not judgment: the US media-entertainment complex is less interested in stories about adult foreigners than about American children. Girls next door, you might say. There have been many stories before and since yours about the international sex trade. Most of them do get buried. Would you like me to agree that this is unfortunate? I do. My point was and is that what generated such placement and response for your story was the stuff that you had that nobody else did (or has since): the stuff about American adolescents being kidnapped and kept in suburban basements. Which is why I cried foul when Dan Okrent said, as you are now, that the story is somehow the same if you "put aside" Andrea (which he said you should have).

During the loud back-and-forth among many parties after the publication of this story, 'Andrea''s transcripts of my interview with her, and her case in general, was carefully reviewed and vetted by various people inside and outside the Times. When they saw the truth of what they were dealing with, her credibility and authenticity was absolutely confirmed. The comment about her condition was incomplete and, given the realities of her and her situation (as opposed to the 'Sybil-type' cliche you imagine), irrelevant as to her value as a witness and a source for this story. Should you ever venture off your chair, off 7th Ave., and actually report your way into the world of forced prostitution, the victims, the people who care for them, the streets where they are forced to walk and the buildings where they are enslaved and used, both here and abroad, you would find her story not just credible but not unique. It's right out there, Radosh, just beyond your doorstep. The world.

re: your comment about what made this story a cover for the NY Times Magazine. You might be interested to know that this became a cover story while I was still reporting in Mexico, before I interviewed 'Andrea', and before I began to unpeel the American layers of this onion. So your thesis about 'American culture' is, again, ill-informed. My editors believed what I'd found to be true in Eastern Europe and Mexico sufficiently powerful to be a major story, on the cover of the Magazine. Why would you possibly presume to know what went into the decisions of where, when and how to place this particular story? Now you are the arbiter of not only journalistic integrity, but American culture and the American newsroom?

I don't know what you think the blogging racket pays, but I'm a good two subway stops from 7th Avenue.

For what it's worth, I started reading the Times Mag article because it purported to represent sex slave trafficking in a very nearby locale (NJ), and one ostensibly within our judicial purview. I agree with DR's point (I will admit to having met him once, and being a fan of what one would call his 'legitimate' journalism, though we are hardly friends) that the interest in this story, and its prominent placement, was exclusively due to local angle (and boy, that was a restrained cover concept, no? Too bad we couldn't have gotten a little glimpse of panty in the catholic girl upskirt shot -- but that comment has alread been made). It is absolutely horrific what goes on worldwide, and we are morally charged with intervening with whatever means are appropriate. For myself, it may be seen as unduly tempered -- since I'd be personally pleased to see these people hang -- but established avenues for diplomacy would be sufficient, were there the will in our government.

The salient point that Mr. Landesman has not addressed is that he personally profited (film deal, correct?) from selling what may be an out and out fabrication (sex slaves in NJ -- if there's been a raid there in the interim, I haven't seen it reported; to think the Post would pass on such purility is absurd) of a source. If the resulting film plays up that angle -- with perhaps a little vague titillation (remember the film Angel?) -- instead of what is now being argued as the 'meat' of the story -- sex slaves in Mexico and further abroad -- then I don't see how any rationalization (promoting a perhaps inaccurate story to draw attention to a legitimate one) can be justified, particularly since it may reinforce that attitudes and patterns of behavior that lead to these situations to begin with.

on other thing: Mr. Landensman, could you perhaps then reconcile the statement "My editors believed what I'd found to be true in Eastern Europe and Mexico sufficiently powerful to be a major story, on the cover of the Magazine" with the selected hed ("Sex Slaves on Main Street"). Has copyediting at the Times gotten so poor that story titles are generated in absence of the central thesis of the articles? Fascinating challenge that will present in reading the paper of record from here forth.

That I may preempt PL's outrage, OO, and allow him to respond to the meat of your comment, the story does open with a verified (Mexican) sex slave ring that was broken up in NJ in 2002. Also, he never said the actual coverline was written in advance, so it's certainly possible that the story was selected for the cover of the magazine before the local angle was added, though as an arbiter of American culture, I continue to maintain that it would not have generated the same response without that angle.

The Plainfield, NJ case is well documented, in the public record, convictions had, some girls rescued, (others not), lives ruined. It had both Federal, local and international angles. In this case, a few key-strokes and mouse clicks will easily take you to plenty of information on this case. The network that trafficked these girls into the States (and some of them were believed to be as young as 12) is peripherally connected to the network that was just convicted in the Queens, NY case.

Good reading...

I do find it a little weird that all this stuff that's just a mouse-click away isn't being linked to.

We use the metric system in my country--can someone convert subway stops to mouse-clicks for me?

I'm a sex slave!! Nobody wants to write a story about me. Contact me Peter, I've got a good imagination and we can cook something up. lol.

So, Pete... Care to comment on the film deal? Hmm?

I have to say I've found this exchange quite interesting. It does seem to me that there is a simple solution to the Landesman reporting challenge and the Radosh retort...

Daniel, can you outline what would satisfy you that the 'local girl' angle been sufficiently corroborated? and Peter, can you provide links, scans or pdf's that meet the Radosh threshold?

(disclosure--I know DR and once met PL)

I'd certainly feel like the issue was put to rest if any of the women in the federal or state cases PL mentions involved 'local girls.'

So on the Andrea question: DR (since I might be willing to give PL the benefit of the doubt on this), if Andrea were fully vetted, utterly credible and completely willing to publicly stand by the story, I gather you'd still strenuously object that it was stretched beyond what even a fully credible Andrea could support?

And PL--I don't think there is a dispute about the horror of brothels, or even the pervasiveness of sexual slavery, but DR's essential question seems a valid one--what else is there beyond Andrea?

And by the way--cut out the 'you're insulting the victims' crap. It's nonsense not argument.

Looking forward to what I'm sure will be a festive and collegial end to this most excellent thread.

I appreciate Feige’s questions, and they are valid and important. And my response may or may not satisfy. Those who vetted ‘Andrea’ as a source did so in a position of privilege and confidentiality. She and her case are not a matter of the public record, because ‘Andrea’s’ traffickers and captors are still at large. She knows who they are. So do certain law enforcement officials and some of the community that took her in after her escape. I have certain information about them that I have chosen not to pursue. We’re getting into the realm of confidential sources and the protection of identity and information, and the danger of information and exposure. This is both what makes investigative journalism possible, and also what makes it challenging. In articles of this nature, sources could be compromised or endangered should their identities be revealed. In a number of instances in this story I was ahead of law enforcement, in terms of information. At other times what they knew and what I knew was concurrent. Our investigations were parallel. They were watching what I was watching. Individual reporters make their own decisions, deals with themselves, their consciences, and their sources. Typically, I defer to the needs of law enforcement if an action is imminent. I will always choose to protect someone if his life is in danger. This was the case with the ‘reeds’ north of San Diego. A local operation was in place to raid the trafficking network. Had I given more information than I did (and there was much more that I had to give) I would have scotched the hard and difficult work of one policeman in particular who had – in the face of the ignorance and in some cases hostility of his superiors and colleagues – taken on this issue when others saw nothing. Would I choose to protect a source’s life, or a policeman’s surveillance and his shot at capture, over the complete satisfaction of a casual (or even not so casual) reader? You bet I would. Every time. This is not a position of righteousness or self-satisfaction. This is simply, in my eyes, the right thing to do. And I did, in this story and others I have written. Not, I should quickly add, at the expense of verifiable information or accuracy. Nothing is manipulated. So now a skeptic, like Radosh, will reply: well, why should I trust you? My answer is that you either do or you don’t. Given the context of the rest of the story, the writing, the sense (or lack of a sense) of credibility of character, of place and circumstance, of information, I think one can make that judgment. We judge people based on this information every day. We have gut reactions to situation, to information, to a look in the eye. This judgment is more loaded when a story is exposing the unexposed, when the information is new. The sex slaves story made a lot of people feel bad because they simply didn’t know. It made me feel bad, too. But, once tapped, this underworld and subculture revealed itself almost willingly. I was surprised, but not shocked. Given what we know of human nature, what we do to each other (Rwanda, the Holocaust, slavery in America, Kosovo, Darfur), why, I wonder, would anyone be shocked by this? Sex slavery in Cambodia, Thailand – no one seems to even blanche. But sex slavery in the US? What makes Americans immune from the use and abuse of others? And why, to answer this question more directly, would one assume that of the thousands of young American women and children who vanish without a trace every year in this country (those milk cartons, everyone), some of them, if not many of them, wind up in an underworld on which you (and I, until now) had no window to begin with? The sort of sadism that ‘Andrea’ described (in greater detail than I could report in the article) is, sadly, hardly rare, not at all unique, and, frankly, probably quite commonplace.


can we go back to the playboy pictures thing for a second? that information originally came out at landsman's lecture as an example of why he had to be vague about his sources. but now he's saying that source was an on the record police officer? so why bring it up in the first place? also, what does it even mean that the cop is the source? surely he's not a first-hand source, right? he didn't witness this himself. he must have heard it from someone. who? one of the nine year old girls? how does landsman know she was reliable? more important, why wasn't this in the article? not the playboy pictures necessarily, which is arguably an irellevent details, but just the fact that an police officer was on the record, by name, saying that he had worked a case involving 9 year old girls? it would have been the only evidence in the entire article for child (preteen) sex slavery, outside of andrea.

Yes, yes. Peter Landesman is a very serious journalist who never burns his sources, always helps law enforcement (whom he always knows more than), and helps old ladies cross the street. We get it.

I'll have a new post soon addressing David's reasonable question of what it would take to satisfy me of the complete accuracy of Landesman's work. First, though, let me short circuit one of PL's recurring arguments, which I find particularly condescending: that people who question him just don't want to believe that horrible things happen in the world. I really, really don't think that's what's going on here. In fact, like most people who read widely, I was well aware that slavery exists, even in the US. I never had any cause to doubt the numerous newspaper stories I'd seen on the subject. I did not -- and still do not -- challenge a single word of John Bowe's excellent article on the subject which appeared in 2003 in The New Yorker. Nor was I predisposed to disbelieve anything I read in the Times Magazine, or by Peter Landesman, whom I'd never heard of. Rather, there was something specifically about Landesman's article that set off alarm bells for me -- and I'll lay that out shortly in the hopes that Landesman will be able to quiet those bells.

Also, let's address the Andrea question briefly. I assume that when PL says she thoroughly vetted, he is referring to the process described in the Times editor's note here. All that established was that her story never changed, and that multiple personality disorder is not always associated with false memory -- a far from ringing endorsement.

So what would it take for me to accept Andrea's story as "utterly credible"? Here's what I said a year ago when Times ombudsman Dan Okrent said that Landesman's story holds up, even though he should not have relied on Andrea as a source: "Since you've had the benefit that we have not, of reading the transcript of her interview (perhaps it can be posted online, unedited?), can you explain briefly why you feel 'it is impossible not to believe it in its outlines and in much of its detail'? As you know, there is conclusive evidence that people, especially if they've been traumatized, can have false memories that they believe with utter certainty and can relate convincingly. Given that at least one fact Andrea related turned out to be wrong, it seems impossible NOT to wonder how much else might be. What other details of Andrea's story were checked before the editor's note was written? Did they all check out?"

Let me explain that last bit again for those just joining us: Of all the quotes that PL uses from Andrea in his article, there is exactly ONE that contains a statement of fact that can be corroborated by external evidence (the rest of it may or may not be true, but you basically have to trust her): that her captors kept her at The Radisson Casa Grande in Juarez. As it turned out, however, that hotel had not opened before Andrea escaped. Even if you accept (as I am prepared to) that Andrea believes her story and tells it convincingly, and even were she to come forward publicly (which I can hardly expect her to) there is conclusive evidence that not everything she says is true. The question, then, is how much of it is true? To at least begin answering this qustion, I'd ask Landesman to post the complete unedited transcript of her interviews and allow us to fact-check as much of it as can be. If none of it can be fact checked, that's revealing in and of itself. Fair?

You've missed the point, Radosh. You're snideness is boring. You're a kid. Go get a job.

Oh yeah, also for those just joining us: my reasons for doubting aspects of Andrea's account have nothing to do with not wanting to credit the facts of sexual slavery in and of themselves. She tells numerous specific stories -- the damage group, the Disneyland swap meets, the routine murder, etc -- that seem outlandish on their face, and that are not corroborated anywhere else. PL treats these as gospel. What would convince me that they are true? In addition to the opportunity to read the unedited interview myself, I would accept any evidence, e.g., court documents or on the record quotes from law enforcement, which verify these details using independent sources.

An aside: in looking back through my posts and at PL's article, I note that the article specifically refers to the child sex slaves as being part of "pedophile rings" and that PL cites an expert saying that "younger foreign girls were in demand in the U.S. because of an increased appetite for more aggressive, dangerous sex," and then goes on to discuss the alleged rise in child pornography to back this up. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that in the NPR interview PL quotes Andrea as saying that her captors told her that she and the other kids were being made available to men so that they wouldn't abuse their own children. All of which contradicts PL's recent statements here that men only go to child sex slaves because there are no adults available. Explanation?

Hey, you're the guy who reinvigorated this discussion. Do you want to have it or not? Readers can tell me if I've missed the point, and if so, what it is. But Peter, does this mean that you now won't meet David's "valid and important" challenge? Because I'm not going to bother writing out all my questions if you've now decided to drop it. (Readers can get a sense of what they'd be by reading this old post: http://www.radosh.net/archive/2004_03_01_radosh_archive.html#000009) .

Because, you see, I've decided for now not to take you up on your offer to start calling all your sources. Your clever -- dare I say snide? -- remarks about how comfortable liberal Park Slopers can't possibly understand your work sounds reasonable at first, but it, um, misses the point: that's who reads the New York Times. My reaction to your article was not as a reporter, but as a reader. I'm not half the journalist you are, of course, but I do have enough experience to with editors to know that if I were told that my readers had doubts about my story, an acceptable answer would not be, "Well, let them re-report it themselves." No, the burden is on you to clear up anything that's still unclear, if you can. I will be more than happy to lay out exactly what I'm still having problems with, and you can respond with the aforementioned documents and explanations, but only if I think there's a reasonable chance that you'll respond in the aformentioned festive and collegial spirit. Well?

I'd just like to say that I've always found Dan's snideness to be both festive and collegial.

There's nothing, as you say, "festive" about any of this, this back-and-forth, or the subject of this article. And nothing "collegial", as you're not in any way, shape or form a colleague. As you have proven. (And please don't ask me how.) We are, yes, done here.

One more comment, bc I'm loathe to leave this to your imagination. Regarding the 'Park Slopers' comment. I wasn't speaking of 'Park Slopers'. I was speaking specifically, explicity and only about you. The nature of your questioning, the handful of things you lean on, lead to only one possible conclusion: your lack of life experience beyond your own little crucible of post-college yumminess, and your lack of reporting experience, and really lack of anything and everything having to do with anything complicated, criminal, underworld, un-YOU, makes you the last guy on earth who should be touching this stuff. Stick to what you know best: pre-adolescent girl-bands, the breasts of Lohan (jesus), the bottom-fed internet game of telephone you seem to be playing - with yourself.

So Park Slopers in general have extensive with the criminal underworld? I'm gonna have to start watching my back at Connecticut Muffin.

LOL. Landsman's acceptance of the "reality of the new internet universe" lasted a whole day an a half! *cough*pussy*cough*

Daniel Radosh - Since your original accusations the article in question has been questioned, examined, rechecked, verified and AWARDED by journalists and journalism organizations with more experience, credibility, and, speaking of the New York Times organization here - more at stake in being certain that it is correct or corrected, than you by far. You have engaged since the beginning of this in the very thing you falsely accuse Landesman of - innaccurately reporting, and reporting without verifying or sourcing.

It also speaks to your inexperience? or irresponsibility? that you would expect a full interview with a confidential source to be published on the internet so that YOU can decide if it is credible.

At this point it does not seem to be Landesman's responsibility to continue to verify and reverify. However it is YOUR responsibility to YOUR readers to do what you should have done before the accusations were flung,
many of which you have reported wrongly. (including but not limited to your misinformation regarding arrests since the article) Take Landesman up on his offer since you have not bothered to or if you cannot check the facts and sources of your own volition.

Please be more specific about the many facts you believe I got wrong or did not source and I will try to clear them up. Regarding arrests since the article, I have tracked "sex slaves" and similar phrases using Nexis and have not found a single reported case involving children, kidnapped Americans, or anything approaching Andrea's most startling claims. Landesman says this is because young victims won't testify (though why cops wouldn't even report that there were young victims is left unexplained). I would call that fact disputed but not reported in error.

C'mon Dan, play nice. You're queering the man's movie deal.

Wait, Peter, I still want to know how Daniel proved he wasn't your colleague? Did he use the Pythagorean theorem?

Less facetiously, either you honestly feel Daniel's criticisms aren't worth comment, in which case a brief note to that effect from you would be sufficient, or you feel they are, in which case an actual response would be appreciated. A series of ad hominem attacks isn't really appropriate in either of those cases, and hardly makes you seem professional.

What I want to know is when is Peter (Peter pumpkin eater) going to call Dan an, "ignorant slut." Come on Peter, you know you want to. Peter? Peterpeterpeter!

"You've missed the point, Radosh. You're snideness is boring. You're a kid. Go get a job."

Project much, Peter? Daniel's hardly a child, though one might wonder at your behavior.

To re-cap, for those who've joined us late:

Daniel says that there are serious issues regarding Peter's sourcing and methodology, which give short shrift to an important subject by sensationalizing it beyond the possible bounds of truth.

Peter says LALALALALALALALALAAAAAAAHHHH! I CAN'T HEAR YOU! LAALALAALALALALALALALALALALAAAAH! You're a poopyhead, Daniel! POOPYHEAD! You couldn't POSSIBLY understand what I'm talking about, you big dumb-dumb doody!

Hey, Peter, if I were you, and the rhetoric you displayed here were typical of my writing, I'd ask my college for a refund- scratch that- I'd ask my kindergarten for a refund.

Oh, and *do* tell us all about your movie deal, please? Whom did you ask to play you?

"You've missed the point, Radosh. You're snideness is boring. You're a kid. Go get a job."

This is the weakest thing I've seen written in a long, long time.

It's unreasonable for Radosh to ask for the full transcript of the interview with Andrea.

That said, Radosh raises legitimate points. The fact that Andrea is wrong about the one detail that can be fact-checked does not speak highly about her credibility, and the fact that Landesman has nothing else to offer us in the way of proof takes us the rest of the way.

It's even more telling that Landesman's response has been a series of ad hominem insults, or attempts to paint people who question Andrea's specific story as those who persecute real victims.

No, Peter, the fact that I don't believe that there was a Joseph Adler who wrote "The Book of Hell" doesn't mean that I'm a Holocaust denier, and the fact that Andrea's story seems less than credible does not mean that I don't believe there's some slave trade in the world.

OK, asking for the transcript was a stretch, but recall that it was specifically a response to Okrent who said, If you could read it yourself, you'd (mostly) believe her. It was also my second choice. My first choice was for the Times editors to fact-check Andrea's story themselves (which they apparently never did other than the parts that were published, and then only after questions were raised). If Gerry Marzoratti or Dan Okrent had said, Andrea made 100 statements of fact and 99 of them have been verified, I'd have been satisfied, and more willing to believe that the uncheckable aspects of her story were true.

Oh, and since I'm posting again, I might as well reply to PL's comment that my "thesis about American culture" (ie, we care more about Americans than foreigners) was "ill-informed." When director Roland Emmerich purchased the film rights to the article, he explained his decision thusly: ""I had heard such things might exist in places like Thailand and Russia, but when Peter spoke about how it was taking place in Mexico and America, I was completely shocked." No US-angle, no picture.

And since a few people have asked about the movie, here's Variety's description of the not-at-all exploitative plot, which has three Traffic-like threads: ""One will center on a Ukrainian girl promised a better life in America and coerced to become a sex slave. Another will revolve around a young Mexican girl kidnapped and pressed into prostitution. The third concerns her brother, who joins forces with a cop who discovers he is the father of a young daughter who also has been kidnapped and is likely a sex slave." More here

I always wondered why Hollywood needs to write a check to a Peter Landesman to make a movie where the only real similarity is the tag line "Underage sex slaves in America!" and a shadowy ring of bad guys who are sufficiently sinister to dispose of the evidence of thousands of kidnappings without anyone noticing. Lord knows Law & Order doesn't pay reporters for its fictionalizations of headline scandals.

There was a good piece in one of the slicker men's mags about a bogus tale of Iraqi torture. It was clear that there were some horrible things going on in Saddam's regime, but that this one lady's widely-repeated tale was fabricated. Andrea strikes me in the same category, and in the post-McMartin School era, some more skepticism than has been exhibited appears to be in order.

You know, the press release is syntactically unclear: is the cop who teams up with the Mexican kid a Mexican as well? Or is this where the hotly disputed "American suburban daughter next door" angle comes in? I'm guessing the latter, and not just because of Landesman's piece. Emmerich's a pro, and in this sort of dark and disturbing film, it'll be nice to have a little bit of that mismatched-buddy-picture angle.

For that matter, by the way the quote's last sentence is phrased, it seems to be deliberately implying that the cop doesn't even know he has a daughter until he finds out that she's been kidnapped. This seems like a tough cop to make sympathetic, at least in a tri-threaded movie. But as I said, Emmerich's a pro.

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