August 24, 2006

Gilding the lilly

You'd think it wouldn't be necessary to spin an article about pedophiles in order to make them sound more despicable. But that's apparently what Kurt Eichenwald did.

A comment to one of my earlier posts about Eichenwald prompted me to look a bit more into BL Charity, described in the story like this:

a putative charity that raised money to send Eastern European children to a camp where they were apparently visited by pedophiles"...

"For example, an organization called BL Charity said it was seeking money to send Eastern European children to camp.

The charity’s site, which recently closed, showed scores of images of children at camp and in their homes, supposedly taken by the men running the site. The effort was organized by pedophiles; BL is the online term for “boy-lover.” It eventually shut down, largely from a lack of money, according to a posting from the site’s operators. After the site closed, further details of BL Charity could not be learned."

In my post I called this "the most alarming" anecdote that Eichenwald found, and it would be, if his description of it was accurate. After the story came out, BL Charity posted a statement

Both statements are vaguely true, but also grossly exaggerated to help fill the New York Times' agenda. The article would have you believe BL Charity raised donations for a summer camp in an effort to gain contact with children, which is completely untrue. Yes, BL Charity did raise donations to help fund a summer camp in Eastern Europe after social services asked for our assistance, and did so quite successfully as well. Visiting children simply did not happen though, and we had no intention of doing so. This was especially impossible seeing as how we were 7000kms away in Canada as the camp took place, and while BL Charity was operational. The photographs posted on our web site were taken by social services.

You will notice how the author uses the words "apparently" and "supposedly", meaning he doesn't have any facts to support what he's saying, and instead is just merely printing accusations to increase the value of the article.

That's a shrewd observation about words like "apparently." I used that one myself in the second sentence of this post because I wanted to say something without actually trying to find out if it was true. But I'm a blogger. Eichenwald is a journalist for the the New York Times. He makes the (maddingly passive) claim that "further details of BL Charity could not be learned." That's flatly untrue. It would have been very easy for Eichenwald to e-mail the administrators or look them up in the phone book; they apparently (!) used their real names. According to one of the administrators, Eichenwald never made any attempt to contact them. How do I know? I e-mailed him.

Now, I'm well aware that the folks behind BL Charity could be lying through their teeth. It's entirely possible that they were at least hoping to use their charitable work to gain access to children. But -- and this is the important part -- despite how Eichenwald makes it sound, there's nothing on the site to actually indicate that. I read through the whole thing on Google cache. Contrary to Eichenwald's description the photos were not "supposedly taken by the men running the site"; they are clearly described as having been taken by the "charity's" Eastern European volunteers. Although it's true that sending kids to camp is one of the things the charity said it was doing, it mostly talked about buying food for them, which sounds far less scary. And if the whole thing was a scam to help pedophiles get access to boys, the pedophiles didn't know about it, based on discussions in their forums.

None of this is to say that BL Charity's owners had "the best intentions," as they claimed to me. One of their stated intentions -- and my hunch is that it was their primary one -- was "to make a positive impact on society, by letting them see that we aren't monsters." Anything that polishes the image of pedophiles is inherently ill-intentioned. And yet, that's also not quite as scary as the scenario Eichenwald paints.

I should note that a little more poking around finds that one of the site's owners apparently works for a porn company based in Hungary. That would put him significantly closer to these children than the "7000kms away in Canada" mentioned in the site's new statement. This is certainly a discrepancy worth looking into. The question is, why didn't anyone?

Update: See Eichenwald's reply followed by my (apparently) gracious concession.

Final update: Debbie Nathan has a different problem with the Times series.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


In their statement you quote here, the people running BL Charity state, "Visiting children simply did not happen though, and we had no intention of doing so.''

In their website, which can still be viewed by calling it up on archive, BL Charity states, "Our volunteers have personally visited all families, and taken the pictures you see throughout this section.'' What follows are the pictures described in the article.

Hmmmm...seems reasonable to conclude that the folks from BL Charity may have gone to these locations and taken the pictures, since the folks from BL Charity said that the folks from BL Charity went to these locations and took the pictures.

The reason the story said "apparently" -- even though I saw the pictures and had their own words claiming to have been there -- was because I was not present when the pictures were taken, and received no replies from the operators of this site when I attempted to reach them. I know enough not to believe everything I read on the Internet. It is -- apparently -- a good creed to live by, even for bloggers.

As for your last question -- why didn't anyone look into the discrepancy between their posting you quote and the other information. Ummm...are you serious? They posted the statement in the RESPONSE to the article, so it would be awfully difficult to address their response that they did not provide prior to publication. (Emails to BL charity prior to publication either bounced back or went unanswered.)

So...why didn't I hunt down what they released after publication? Obvious answer. Why didn't I try to prove that they migth have been there? Because i already had. Why didn't I find out the Hungary thing? Wish I had -- but, BL Charity was a small part of a much longer story, that covered information from hundreds of conversations. I promise you, if people follow down each lead, they will come up with more information. But that is hardly a sign of anything except that it is easy to paint a house once someone else has gone to the trouble of building it.

I think Radosh raises good questions here. And, responding to those questions, I have to say Eichenwald clears himself pretty well.

I'll take his word for it that he did try to contact the charity. I bet Radosh would too.

Accepting that, the main point of contention is whether it's fair to characterize "charity volunteers" as "the men running the site". Now, perhaps this would not be fair if the dispute were "men running the site" versus men associated with but not "running" the site. That's not the argument, though. It might not be 100% accurate but it's certainly just as scary to imagine BL volunteers, volunteers who were not operating the site, visiting the families.

And BL themselves aren't asking for this minor, meaningless correction. That would be about as serious as complaining that Eichenwald misspelled someone's last name. Rather, BL is claiming that the pictures were taken by Social Services. This just flat-out contradicts their original "charity volunteers" statement.

I appreciate Eichenwald's civil and careful reply. Yes, I absolutely take his word that he did attempt to contact BL charity. As I think my post made clear, I don't exactly trust the word of pedophiles.

I disagree slightly with his and anno's reading of the site, however. I took "volunteers" to mean the local "social services" people mentioned elsewhere throughout the site, not pedophiles. However either reading is plausible, and of course the whole set-up of the charity is suspicious, making it reasonable to assume (though not, to my mind, to conclude for print) that these "social services" people were in fact visiting pedophiles.

Finally, Eichenwald is right that my kicker was sloppily written.

Close enough for blogging?

Close the bold tag!

If you start with the premise that everything a pedophile does is suspicious, then your suspicions will lead you to interpret any fact in the worst way. It will become impossible NOT to think the operators of the BL Charity were out to molest boys. Isn't that what all pedophiles do?

The imagination of people is incredibly strained whenever the idea of a good act done by a pedophile comes up. If a pedophile were to save a child from a burning building, Eichenwald would report that as an attempted abduction. Nobody could accept that he just wanted to save the child. That is precisely what is happening regarding the BL Charity. Eichenwald cannot imagine that pedophiles might want to help a child, and so, in his suspicion, treats every photo, every word, as evidence of a secret conspiracy.

BL Charity does not deserve the attack Eichenwald made upon it. It is important to note that he has not one shred of evidence that BL Charity was anything but what it said it was, and that his whole case is based on suspicion of a stereotype.

Daniel, check your e-mail for a very detailed explanation of all points raised. Kurt, we never received a single e-mail or contact from you. If you did contact us, there's two reasons we may have never received it:

1.) I took the entire domain down about 60 days ago, give or take. We didn't see the point in keeping that "closed" message up, as it had already been there for several months. If you sent an e-mail in the past ~60 days, it would have bounced.

2. For about the past at least eight months we've received nothing to that address except spam. We used to get about 10 spam e-mails a day, and maybe once every two months we'd have an actual e-mail, so there's a chance it just got mindlessly deleted.

If you'd like, you're welcome to contact us though, admin@blcharity.net. We have not heard a single thing from you though, or else I can gurantee we would have replied.

Sorry for the second post, but actually, you can scratch #2 from the list of reasons. Both of us get e-mails sent ot that address, and it's VERY unlikely neither of us would have noticied an e-mail from you. You must have tried contacting us within the past 60 days, or else you didn't try at all.

BL Charity -- admitting that your email was down for the past two months is a fine explanation for why you didn't get back to Eichenwald, but it sort of proves the point that you "couldn't be reached", doesn't it? (Although Eichenwald seemed to imply above that not all of his emails were bounced, ie, some were sent before the domain was taken down).

Anyway, here's another data point from their FAQ cache that they had -- or at least claimed to have -- their own people down in Eastern Europe who were specifically not social service employees. (No word on whether cameras were involved).

Q: Where exactly do my donations go?

Your donations go directly to our team in Eastern Europe, who have personally consulted with social services to find the children and families who are in dire need of help. From there, our team in Eastern Europe will directly pay for things the children and family require, such as rent, groceries, utility bills, school supplies, and so on. Instead of simply handing cash to the children and families, we go to great lengths to ensure they are healthy, happy, and well taken care of.

So "their team" is in Eastern Europe, consults social services but is not social services, and does directly pay for things even if it may have no direct contact with kids.


Did you know that donations from BLs are rejected by charities? That means that BLs, who ascribe to what is basically a political position on intergenerational intimacy, whether they act on those beliefs or not, are effectively not permitted to participate openly in charitable activities? To be cut off from helping the community as one's self is surely a major restriction in life.

And did you know that BLs typically care for children, and sympathize with them, and want to help them? And have you heard that thousands and millions of children are suffering from lack of food, adequate shelter, and a good education? (I guess the straight world still has some way to go to saving the children.)

From what I understand, the BL Charity was an experiment, to see whether the BL community would be interested in a sustained aid effort. It seems that money was not so easily raised --it's hard to raise money in a community of people pushed to the margins of society. Eventually they decided to close up shop.

Nowhere is there any EVIDENCE that the BL Charity owners used BL Charity to have sex with minors. What has been presented here by yourself and Eichenwald is nothing but suspicion and innuendo. Period. Until you can provide some credible evidence that PROVES that BL Charity was a front for sex with minors, you and Eichenwald should stand down. People who prefer innuendo, suspicion, and conjecture disprove themselves as credible journalists.

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