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11 October 2009

More on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s “Homeless Sex Offenders” Hysteria

via Crime Victims Media Report by Tina on 10/2/09

How easy is it to predict the many ways the media has substituted thinly-disguised advocacy and sheer make-believe for reporting on the alleged “homeless sex offender” crisis?  Painfully easy. 

Before I even read the latest installment of the homeless sex offender soap opera, the one that appeared in the AJC last week, I made up a list of rules for such stories:

Template for Homeless Sex Offender Stories

1.  Open story with bathetic description of the campsite.

2.  Assert that sex offender living restriction laws are the sole cause of homelessness, and that they are “forced” to be homeless.

3.  Do not mention the fact that there are hundreds (or thousands) of other registered sexual offenders living in the same area and abiding by living restriction rules who are not homeless.

4.  Do not question offenders about other behavior that led to their homelessness, such as getting evicted, not paying bills, refusing to work, drug/alcohol addiction, domestic violence, non-sexual criminal acts and criminal history.  Also do not ask if they were homeless before they were forced to register as sex offenders.

5.  Seek out the most seemingly-sympathetic offender to profile; studiously avoid the “hard cases.”

6.  Allow offenders to describe their own crimes: do not check the records for accuracy.  Actually, try to avoid mentioning their crimes at all.

7.  Quote activist groups opposing living restriction laws, but do not seek statements from people who support living restrictions for sex offenders.  Do not cite data on efficacy of post-conviction monitoring of sex offenders.  What, tell both sides of the story?  There aren’t two sides of this story, are there?

Let’s see how I did with the AJC story:

1.  Open story with bathetic description of campsite:

A path leads from a nearby parking lot next to a sign that says: “State Property. No Trespassing. No Dumping.”  Up the hill, camping tents, some with tarps, dot the woods. There are bicycles, a gas barbecue grill and empty bottles. A solar water bag that heats water for a shower is pegged to a tree, and a little mirror is nailed below it.

“Little mirror nailed to tree.”  “No dumping” (except unwanted humans, get it?).  Bathos: check, check.  But nothing matches the way this story ends: with a little Chiuahua named Trista helping her owner Cindy phone for help for her homeless sex offender friend.  What tripe.  Note that the reporter does not bother to mention the victims, nor the offenders’ records or sentences.

But we get to meet Trista the perky Chiuahua.

not Trista

I don’t know whether to shudder or gag.  Who lets reporters get away with stuff like this?  Oh yeah, their editors.

2. Assert that sex offender living restriction laws are the sole cause of homelessness, and that they are “forced” to be homeless:

A group of homeless sex offenders is living in a camp in the woods behind an office park in Marietta — one place that does not violate the many living restrictions that Georgia’s tough sex offender law imposes. . . “This is ridiculous that we have to live like this,” said Marque Miechurski, 30, who has lived in a tent in the woods for about a month and a half.

The reporter insinuates that housing that does not violate the statute is extremely rare — “one place that does not violate” — which is simply untrue, and she lets Miechurski’s claim that he “has to” live there go unchallenged, but, in fairness, she doesn’t come out and say that they have no place else to go.

They’re just whining that they have no place else to go.

These offenders, a mere 12 in Cobb County, a mere 70 in a place as large as Miami, are people who have burned through every other resource — family, friends, employers.  Unsurprisingly, most of them are child molesters, which can put a chill on your relatives’ willingness to help.  Even so, their homelessness sounds transient, unless they are homeless for other reasons as well, such as substance abuse.

The reporter utterly fails to investigate other reasons for their homelessness.

3.  Do not mention the fact that there are hundreds (or thousands) of other registered sexual offenders living in the same area and abiding by living restriction rules who are not homeless:

“We have about 375 sex offenders in Cobb County,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Nancy Bodiford. “We check on most two to three times per year.” Of those, 13 are listed as homeless, Bodiford said.

This gets buried, but at least it’s in the article somewhere.  It also disproves the point of the exercise and the paper’s editorializing on the subject, since 97% of registered sex offenders in Cobb County are not actually homeless after all, but, whatever.  Maybe the AJC should read . . . itself.

Unfortunately, a sampling of the 300+ reprints of this story in national and international media suggests that this paragraph gets left out when the story is run overseas (yes, there is outraged international coverage of these 12 temporarily homeless men: Georgia is now an international baddie for being mean to these 12 sex offenders).

And so the echo-chamber of anti-Americanism nibbles on.

4.  Do not question offenders about other behavior that led to their homelessness, such as getting evicted, not paying bills, refusing to work, drug/alcohol addiction, domestic violence, non-sexual criminal acts and criminal history.  Also do not ask if they were homeless before they were forced to register as sex offenders:

The Southern Center for Human Rights represents Levertice Johnson, 52, who moved to the wooded camp after he couldn’t find a job and couldn’t afford the $60-a-week rent at a shelter in Fulton County. . .

So Levertice Johnson is not homeless because he is a sex offender.  Lervertice Johnson is homeless because he did not pay the paltry $60 a week that was asked of him at the last place he lived.  The reporter does note this, but it does not seem to leave any impression with her or her editors.  The story, after all, is not about Levertice Johnson not paying his rent.

For that matter, if the folks at the Southern Center for Human Rights are so concerned about finding Mr. Johnson a place to live, why don’t they take him home?

Maybe this is why: Levertice Johnson has a very nasty record, including two convictions for child molestation and two convictions for cruelty to children.

Maybe Levertice Johnson is homeless because nobody in his family wants to have anything to do with him, and he is too lazy to get a job.  He got convicted for cruelty to children, which is a hard thing to get busted for unless you’ve actually killed a child or sent them to a hospital.

Somehow, this is not stopping the Southern Center for Human Rights, and the AJC’s editorial staff, from painting him as a victim of the rest of us — of our what, unwillingness to pay his rent for him?  Unwillingness to support him as a man of leisure?  The unwillingness of employers to hire somebody who molests and beats children?  What about the human rights of the children themselves, or Mr. Johnson’s responsibi. . . Wait, look over there: it’s Trista!

not Trista

5.  Seek out the most seemingly-sympathetic offender to profile; studiously avoid the “hard cases.”

Now we get to brass tacks.  I mean, child molesters.  Out of the 12 offenders-living-in-the-woods, seven were convicted of child molestation, one with enticing a child for indecent purposes, one with sexual battery, one with aggravated assault with intent to rape, and one with the distressing crime of “rape and aggravated sodomy-reduced to aggravated assault.”

Lovely bunch.  The reporter chooses one Marque Miechurski to profile, apparently on the grounds that he is willing to publicly wallow in self-pity even after being convicted of molesting a child.  And this is the best she can do.

6.  Allow offenders to describe their own crimes: do not check the records for accuracy.  Actually, try to avoid mentioning their crimes at all.

And here is Mr. Miechurski’s version:

Miechurski says his troubles all started when he “had an itch” and scratched it when he was out smoking in front of his apartment on Franklin Road in Marietta last year. He says a child said that his pants were down, but he denies that.  “I get hit with the worst charge a person could ever be hit with,” said Miechurski.

Even though Marque Miechurski claims to have been merely scratching an itch, and not exposing himself, and not molesting a child, he was convicted of child molestation and indecent exposure.  That’s not an opinion: it is a fact.  That’s not an allegation: it is a conviction.  Two convictions.

Shouldn’t the Atlanta Journal Constitution stick to reporting facts?

Miechurski was found guilty.  He can sit in the woods in a tent and whimper about scratching his crotch all day long, and his creepy pal can sit around whining about the injustice of it all to some daft reporter who doesn’t even bother to go to the courthouse and check the actual criminal conviction but sits around playing with a dog named Trista instead, but none of this changes the fact that Marque Miechurski was not convicted of scratching himself.

He was convicted of exposing himself and molesting a child.  So the reporter should have offered a corrective to this claim, instead of just publishing it.

That’s what reporters are supposed to do.  Not “tell one side,” as if the conviction doesn’t exist.  She  should have gone down to the courthouse and checked the criminal case records and reported what the courts found.  If she was going to give Miechurski and his friend and their dog all those column inches to claim that the child wasn’t really attacked, then why didn’t she interview the prosecutor and the victim’s parents?

not guilty

Why didn’t the reporter do these things?  Because this type of story isn’t about facts: it is about reporters feeling morally superior to the public.

7.  Quote activist groups opposing living restriction laws, but do not seek statements from people who support living restrictions for sex offenders.  Do not cite data on efficacy of post-conviction monitoring of sex offenders.  What, tell both sides of the story?  There aren’t two sides of this story, are there?

Yes Virginia, there are two sides of this story, though you won’t find them in a trumped-up fairy tale about woods-dwelling sex offenders.  In this bias the AJC does not disappoint: they quote the Southern Center for Human Rights and nobody else.  They also quote them without acknowledging that the entire “homeless sex offender” controversy has been manufactured by activist groups like the S.C.H.R., so it’s a little like reading off cue cards.

It is clearly a bygone conclusion to the editors at the AJC that there is only one side to this issue, the side they are on, which is that living restrictions and sex offender registration serve no good purpose at all.

This is called advocacy, not reporting.

Admittedly, it is hard to find data analyzing living restriction and sex offender registration outcomes: how do you measure sex offenses that have been prevented, particularly when such a small percentage of sex offenses and even smaller percentage of child molestations are brought to the attention of authorities?  Sex offender statistics are notoriously inaccurate, not only because of lack of reporting, but also because of the way the justice system telescopes multiple offenses into one charge, or allows offenders to plead to non-sexual crimes, or captures known sex offenders on something like burglary or possession because they’re easier to prove.

But none of this justifies ignoring the arguments of advocates for these laws, particularly when the “reporting” here consists of little more than selectively edited anecdotes in the first place.

Look at those 12 men and their records.  Not so many years ago, they would be able to act with impunity: now they know they are being watched, and because they are child molesters, this is especially crucial.

Look at their records.  And ask yourself this: what is it about mainstream journalism that sends journalists flying to the sides of men like this, irrationally, even hatefully?  There is nothing reasoned about this reporting: it is romanticized, and it is very, very angry.  Not at sex offenders, but at the rest of us for daring to hold sex offenders accountable for their own behavior, for anything.  It is the journalistic equivalent of a finger in the eye, with no recourse to facts.

If anything became clear this week, with the Polanski case, it is that a certain segment of Americans automatically take the side of child molesters over their victims.  Even the anal rape of a drugged child is not too terrible for them.

~~~

And then, something even more troubling surfaces, when you actually look at the criminal histories of these 12 men.  Probation for molesting a child; six months for molesting a child; one year in jail for rape and aggravated sodomy “reduced to aggravated assault.”  Five years for two counts of child molestation and two counts of cruelty to children?  One year for rape?  Six months for molesting a child?

No, these men should not be living in the woods: they should still be in prison.  What is happening in the courts?  And why is the AJC so blandly, utterly incurious about that?

Posted via email from Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition

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