February 25, 2009

Peter Landesman's big comeback: Not so much Mickey Rourke in the Wrestler as Corey Haim in The Two Coreys

It's been seven months since I've mentioned Peter Landesman even in passing, nearly a year and a half since I wrote anything substantive about the man and three whole years since my last sustained blogging about his work. As far as I'm concerned, he's more gone and forgotten than an ex-Clique Girl.

But Landesman has never let go. He's been holed up in his cave, licking wounds, nursing grudges, waiting for the right moment to exact his revenge. And now he thinks he's found it. Yesterday he sent me (and Jack Shafer and Debbie Nathan) the following e-mail regarding a recent underage prostitution sting.

Dear Radosh,

Though many moons and stories have passed since our last correspondence, this was sent to me a couple days ago and I thought you'd be interested in seeing this. Much has happened in the last few years to support the thesis of the story, that sex trafficking in general - and the trafficking for sex of minors - is a serious and misunderstood problem in the US. But this operation appears to be the last necessary confirmation. 

Sunlight remains the best disinfectant. Even more so in the world of so-called media criticism. The good news for you is that it still costs nothing, both economically and in reporting time, to simply decide that one knows something to be true (or untrue), and to upload it. (Not that that has anything to do with reality.)


Peter Landesman

"Many moons and stories," indeed. It's no wonder you're in such demand as a Hollywood screenwriter. Well, you're certainly correct that it will cost me little effort to respond to this. For the sake of argument, let's agree that the thesis of your New York Times magazine article really was that "sex trafficking in general - and the trafficking for sex of minors - is a serious and misunderstood problem in the US." So... why are you telling me this? From the beginning I've made clear that "No one is saying sex slavery isn't a genuine problem" What I questioned was not your thesis but your facts and your presentation of them. My interest in this matter has never been sex trafficking but journalism — something you obviously haven't gotten any better at if you think the article you sent is at all relevant to our previous debate.

On some level, of course, you must know that the criticisms of your article are valid or you would not still, after all this time, be looking desperately for scraps of retroactive fact-checking to shore it up. Sadly, you'll have to keep searching. This report of sad but ordinary teenage prostitution has little to do with your lurid tales of child slavery, murder and perversion. The girls rescued this week were not kidnapped, broken in bizarre rituals and traded at Disneyland. As the FBI's Daniel Roberts says, "the vast majority of these kids are what they term 'throwaway kids,' with no family support, no friends." There are no big brothers undertaking dramatic rescue missions. Indeed, "throwaway" is a term I first encountered in an article by Debbie Nathan specifically refuting the perception of the sex trade caused by articles like yours.

The truth is, at the time you wrote your article, the prostitution rings busted this week would not even have been considered sex traffic in legal terms. That designation is the result of a 2007 law that expanded the definition of trafficking to cover not just the kind of international smuggling you wrote about but virtually all underage prostitution. Cynics say the expansion was necessary in part because after all the money the Justice Department threw at sex trafficking around the time your story came out, they simply weren't finding the tens of thousands of victims they expected. Maybe the change in the law was good, maybe it wasn't. Like you, I haven't looked into it enough to know.

But let's not get into that, shall we. I have no wish to reengage with you at all, but if we must, let it be over the unfinished business of your original article rather than any extraneous new developments. I have no reason to think you actually want to defend your work so I won't bother listing all the still unresolved questions about it. But just in case, I will start with one very, very easy one. Here's a paragraph from your article:

A neat subdivision and cycling path ran along the opposite bank. The San Luis Rey was mostly dry, filled now with an impenetrable jungle of 15-foot-high bamboolike reeds. As Castro and I started down a well-worn path into the thicket, he told me about the time he first heard about this place, in October 2001. A local health care worker had heard rumors about Mexican immigrants using the reeds for sex and came down to offer condoms and advice. She found more than 400 men and 50 young women between 12 and 15 dressed in tight clothing and high heels. There was a separate group of a dozen girls no more than 11 or 12 wearing white communion dresses. ''The girls huddled in a circle for protection,'' Castro told me, ''and had big eyes like terrified deer.''

It has since been conclusively proven that this scene never took place (according to the local health care worker herself). The girls, the communion dresses, the big eyes — they did not exist. And you could have found that out with a single phone call and a shred of journalistic skepticism. You want disinfectant, Peter? Please explain why you think that paragraph belonged in print, and if it did not, call the New York Times and request a correction. Until then we have nothing to talk about.

On the remote chance, however, that you are unable to keep your mouth shut, I request that all future communications take place in public, on this blog. No more personal contact. Ever.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


god i love this stuff. i know you're tired of it, but i could read it every day.

hmm. This post was a long one. I tried the old skimming technique and read the first and/or last 3 words or so of every paragraph. From what I gathered, you're angry at a farmer who specializes in the prostitution of deer. No worries. The market for that sort of thing has been down since the upper class lost their ability to pay for such luxuries in hard cash. You won't see too many "deer f**king" charges on a credit card statement. That's just bad business.

In Landesman's case, disinfectant appears to be the best disinfectant. Nicely provided.

p.s. Peter Landesman was a favorite at the B&B (Boobs and Booties) strip club. He paid extra for girls with C-section scars and adam's apples.

The deflowerers here are unseen. Oops, wrong post.

Fake journalism supplanting earnest reporting has become the norm. So what is the purpose of making this shit up? There are very real cases of children being sexually exploited, enslaved, tortured and killed on a regular basis. No need for lurid fictions if one is willing to accept the novel concept that the suffering of other races, nationalities, faiths and cultures is no different from that of one's own.

I mean if the guy is so passionate on the subject of child sex slavery, why doesn't he grow a brain (and a pair) and relocate to Bangkok or Mombasa already?

t.a.m.s.y., easy mistake to make - after all, Landesman is famously Haunted by the Faces of... well, somebody somewhere, surely.

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