August 9, 2007

Fools of conspiracy

A week ago I wrote that Debbie Nathan had "destroyed what was left of Kurt Eichenwald's career" by revealing that the Times reporter had made additional payments to Justin Berry, the protagonist and chief source for his high-profile 2005 story on child pornography.

It took until yesterday for the Times to report its own version of the story, adding that the newly disclosed payments amounted to "at least $1,100." This article triggered the pile-on that logically should have come a week earlier.

During that silent stretch, I wondered why no one was writing about what seemed like a pretty juicy bit of media gossip — especially since Eichenwald's practices were reported to be a factor in the recent shake up at Portfolio. [Update: Eichenwald out at Portfolio.] Choire at Gawker was apparently wondering the same thing — although his site was one of the mysteriously silent ones — and weighed in yesterday with a post titled Why no one wants to write about Kurt Eichenwald.

Choire scratches the surface of this question when he says that he hates writing about the case because it invariably triggers a cascade of e-mails, links and comments from creepy pedophiles and their enablers. I got my share of them, and no doubt will again. And Choire's right that reading anything from these smug perverts, who don't understand that their idiot rationalizations and manipulative psychologizing don't work on people older than 14, is enough to drive anyone to a hot shower.

But this "disgusting hassle" is only suggestive of the real reason that people aren't writing more about this story. The problem, I think, is that people, writers especially, can't help thinking in terms of narrative. And that in this narrative, making Eichenwald the Bad Guy seems to require (psychologically) making his antagonists the Good Guys. This is more subtle than saying journalists and bloggers avoid the story out of "fear they may be labeled pedophile sympathizers and or advocates for child porn," as one Gawker commenter says. I don't think it's that conscious a process. Rather our internal wiring tells us that we're turning the creeps into Good Guys, our reasoning tells us that can't be correct, and this causes us to blow a fuse and decide that the story is too messy to say anything about.

Eichenwald attempts to tap into that conflict in his response to the latest revelations: "I have no independent memory of any payments I am alleged to have made in June 2005 through PayPal. If these PayPal payments did occur in June 2005, I am deeply sorry that my inability to remember them has resulted in permitting a series of convicted felons to cast doubt on the nature of my wife’s and my efforts to save a young man who was caught in the grip of a cycle of drugs and abuse.”

Unfortunately, while Eichenwald may think he's shrewd to frame this as the word of convicted felons against that of a paragon of charitable virtue, the statement instead comes off slightly desperate. Hell, it's almost Landesman-esque! When asaked point blank by his editors if there was any other money he forgot about in addition to the $2000, Eichenwald forgets $1,100 made the same month, some under a false name? If he really wants us to buy that he should say it straightforwardly, rather than trying to deflect attention onto the crimes of his accusers and his own noble intentions.

Meanwhile, CrimeBlog turns up the most fun aspect of this scandal yet.

Back in 2005, "Andrew McDonald" — the fake name under which Eichenwald allegedly sent Berry some money — also wrote a rave review on Amazon for Eichenwald's book Conspiracy of Fools. This is above-average sock puppetry for two reasons. First, check out this line: "Full disclosure: After reading The Informant, I emailed Eichenwald with some praise, have swapped messages with him over the years and actually like him."

That's right, McDonald puts in a disclosure about his relationship with Eichenwald that is actually designed to obscure the nature of that relationship. That takes balls. I'm surprised McD didn't say he liked Kurt's haircut. Too much of a stretch?

But here's the really intriguing section of the review, in light of what's the mess Eichenwald is involved in today:

What I find most interesting is the reviews attacking this book. This is really an author you need to judge based on his enemies. I saw this with The Informant, too -- a group of people obsessed with him, obsessed with The Informant, who come online and make all these ridiculous accusations about cover-ups and conspiracies. Once, they even tried to link Eichenwald to the decision to send Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba. I doubt any of them have even bothered to read Conspiracy of Fools before coming on here and raving. For all I know, it could just be one person -- but if not, it is a handful of obsessed people working together. I have seen them before. Just do a google search and you will find that their "reviews'' are just a continuation of a bizarre battle they began years ago.

Of course as the old saw goes, just because you have a paranoid conspiracy theory that your critics are all paranoid conspiracy theorists, doesn't mean they're not! Indeed, this is another reason people don't want to write about this story. My best guess -- and it's only a guess -- is that Eichenwald improperly paid for a story. That's bad journalistic practice, but it's not a federal crime. The problem is that writing about this may fuel the case of Eichenwald's antagonists, who do claim that he committed a federal crime — one that could end with him barred from contact with his own children. The forces arrayed against Eichenwald are truly evil, and no one wants to be even remotely responsible for helping them, especially as Eichenwald is by all accounts a decent guy. (And on a basic tribal level, journalists are inclined to side with one of their own over a handful of raving sickos).

While I'm filling up space, CrimeBlog touches on one more reason that people have been slow to pick up this story, which is that it's being driven by Debbie Nathan, who has a history of "enmity" with Eichenwald. Nathan is an undeniably great reporter, as numerous people who are no longer in jail for Satanic ritual abuse can tell you, but she's not objective in the way the MSM trusts. People are wary of anything she writes because she has an axe to grind. Of course, that's precisely the reason she actually shlepped out to Nashville to sit in on this trial, so the complaint is a little unfair — it's not like anyone stopped The New York Observer, for example, from sending their own reporter to Nashville — but it does explain a bit. Plus, as CrimeBlog adds, there's the sense that Nathan "goes too far towards minimizing the experiences of real victims of child pornography and the dangers it may present." This is a narrative very short on heroes.

Related: Hear Eichenwald sing his original song Cigarettes and Cyanide. First verse:

I took a path of lies
To a place I didn’t recognize
Drawn by that tempting siren’s song.
They promised pretty things
Like polished gold and diamond rings
A dream that didn’t last for very long.

Suggested chorus for mashup:

It's like ray-ee-ain on your wedding day...

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Andrew McDonald also strongly recommends The Informant: "The best thing about The Informant is the way Eichenwald melds the true lies of the main character with the true truth of reality. Time and again, I thought I knew the truth, only to find once again that I had been fooled in this delightful hall of mirrors." Oooh, meta.

Surely you would never use any loaded terms. Or if you do, Surely such amorphous pejoratives safely ensconce evil with bright lines and clear demarcations. One size-fits-all-glittering generalities are so precise, after all. Never mind the Sonderkomando overtones. After all, there's pressure to add banners like this.

I think that we really need to wait for the documents to be unsealed. Eichenwald was ordered to redact all personal information such as credit card numbers. He blacked out the numbers, along with a bunch of other things that the defense objected to. We'll be waiting a while for this to see the light of day. Eichenwald's criminal defense lawyer (the same one Justin Berry used) is working hard to delay this.

There's another reason people don't write about Eichenwald: if you criticize him, he threatens to sue you and everyone else in sight --the editor, the publisher, the organiztions the writer belongs to, the writer's children, lawyers, car mechanics, and pets. Full disclosure: I serve on the board of an organization with Debbie Nathan -- National Center for Reason & Justice (ncrj.org). The last time KE tried to sue Debbie, his lawyer also demanded that our organization and every board member turn over our books, our computers, our records etc. We did not.

To me, the bigger problem with exposing KE is that one is tacitly collaborating with law prohibiting the public from looking at images the govt tells us are harmful, and with the FBI, whose enforcement goes way over the line to entrapment and ropes in many innocent people. If KE made these payments, it was because the law forced him to do so in order to do his job as a journalist. He was trying to prove the govt's case, that the Web is crawling with child pornographers, and may have gotten himself entangled in the same laws he defends. That's pretty much all Debbie's first piece said -- the one he threatened a million-buck suit over: that you have to break the law to do the right thing to inform the public.

But come on, folks, toughen up. If you are going to defend civil liberties you are going to get letters from people you don't like--Nazis, murderers, and yes, pedophiles. And you are going to be attacked as a symp for the bad guys -- it used to be communists, now it's terrorists and child molesters. As someone who was pilloried by the Right as a pedophile advocate when I questioned the sex panic in Harmful to Minors, I can tell you, the death threats from those creeps were far scarier than any pitiful letters I got from sex offenders. And journalists, this is your issue, too. Because, as Kurt Eichenwald may be about to find out, first they came for the pedophiles...

Surely such amorphous pejoratives safely ensconce evil with bright lines and clear demarcations.

Ya know what? No matter how sarcastic you get, "no sex with children" is always gonna be a bright line and clear demarcation. Accept it.

Judith: you've correctly nailed the central irony here. It would indeed be tragic if KE himself becomes exhibit A for why Debbie was right and he was wrong.

Age-of-consent is an arbitrary demarcation and varies broadly in time and place. Anyway, iconoclasts are sceptics of rote sequacity.

The Bush administration's abstinence programs preach abstinence until age 30. There are groups trying to universally move age-of-consent laws all closer to that target age.

Anti-miscegenation laws were believed to be absolute in their time. Pat Robertson was writing about the death penalty being appropriate for the gay community before Lawrence v. Texas, and that position was considered absolute, because it was in the Bible.

"Underage" consensual sex, is of late, being transmogrified into a "violent crime", ergo, terrorism.

Outrages surrounding sex offender registry issues are also ancillary to the matter. Mark Foley tried to outlaw child models in bathing suits, nevermind, child nude modeling. And speaking of nudity, Foley worked to outlaw nudist camps and resorts and communities. Where does one make a stand, or does one always submit to the mob?

Judith Levine is nearly universally recognized as one of the leading authorities in this area. Her remarks on your blog speak to your own prominence.

Not that they need defining, and while perhaps eclectic, my own personal tastes tend to gravitate more toward here.

judith levine. Tim Richards claims that he had no knowledge of Justin Berry uploading CP to the site they both operated. He's sitting in federal prison right now because he is un-willing to cut a deal with the Feds for something he has not done.

The young man who testified against Tim his former boyfriend "Kyle" now wants to recant his testimony because he says the government coerced him to lie on his former boyfriend in court.

Remember the timeline here. Justin was out of the webcam business. Kurt sends him over 3500 dollars and then Justin re-opens is adult site and uploads child porn to the site without telling anyone takes on new members and then turns over those names to the feds. These facts are not in dispute. You can check the records. I don't think Kurt's motives were as altruistic as you claim but that's an argument for another day.

And I am not a conspiracy buff or a closet pedo. child molesters should go to jail. I'm just someone who doesn't like to see the government railroad people.

Before you get in too deep defending the little pervert, Anon, I suggest you read the following.


So can you explain the part about the 13 year-old? Does he get to recant too?

"Dew" as in dew drop. You pedo's have no shame.

Tim Richards never had sex with so-called Dew. The government tried to get Dew to say that he did but he wouldn't. They tried to pressure Dew's mother but that didn't work either and the Judge in Tim's case wouldn't allow any so-called Dew evidence into the case. You should know your facts before you write.

The Richards case documents were unsealed yesterday. Here is Debbie Nathan's take on the info from an article she published today on Counterpunch:

The Nashville court documents unsealed yesterday reveal the following:

• Using a fake name, Eichenwald spent $1,184 to buy digital photos from Berry. It is not clear whether they were pornographic, or if they were made when Berry was under age 18 or older. But PayPal allows purchasers to send memos with their money, and Eichenwald sent Berry several messages discussing the quality of the pictures he bought. "I found a pretty good one but the lighting sucks… still worth 100." "There are just 20 in the file, and most of them are nothing (shots of beds and driveways, or you rolling a joint).” “I found 3 so far that I either didn't already have and were good.” “100…we gotta talk about what the really good ones are." (The ellipses are in the court document.)

• Eichenwald encouraged Berry in his business endeavors while Berry was making child porn. In one PayPal message from June 2005, cited in the Nashville documents, Eichenwald writes Berry that "I'll be online today. Find me and lemme know what to do. And I have other proposals for you that would get you even more money."

• During this same period, Eichenwald sent Berry the $2,000 check. In the Michigan trial, he testified that he assumed when he sent it that Berry was broke. Documents just unsealed in Nashville reveal that hours after receiving the money, Berry videotaped a 14-year-old boy masturbating. A few days later, he uploaded the illegal tape to JustinsFriends.com, his gay porn website that had lain dormant for months. Soon JustinFriends.com was up and running again, with new content, including masturbatory images of the 14-year old.

• Under the pseudonym "Roy Rogers," Eichenwald was signed on as a member of the revivified JustinsFriends.com. But he was no ordinary member: He had administrative privileges, meaning he could enter areas of the internet open only to site managers with an administrative password. He used this privilege to enter an area where one could monitor new subscriptions to the illegal porn site. He visited this area over 20 times in late June, 2005.

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