January 29, 2004

A Boy Named Sue

My friend Daniel recently dissected last Sunday's NY Times Magazine article by Peter Landesman about sex trafficking in an attempt to separate out the facts from the, um, other facts used in a sensational manner. Jack Shafer at Slate also has a series on the article; here's where to start reading that if you're interested.

Anyway, say you're Peter Landesman and you catch wind that people are criticizing your article. What do you do? Sigh quietly to yourself, reflect on that pesky first amendment, and craft a reasoned defense of your piece? Or do you make an angry phone call and threaten to sue? Perhaps you have figured out the answer by spotting which of those two questions sports the hyperlink.

Anyway, that's all bad enough on its own (is it actionable to call someone a "twit"? I think that's a statement of opinion rather than fact, so -- not libel!), and doesn't really require comment from me. So I'll just point out this other thing that caught my eye in the latest Slate column on the subject, from an e-mail by Landesman to Shafer:

I spent four months researching a dangerous and complicated story, often accompanied by my pregnant wife (the article's photographer).

I don't know about you, but if I were pregnant (it's a hypothetical, just go with me here), I would not be volunteering for dangerous assignments. Or maybe she wasn't along for the dangerous parts. From part three of Shafer's series:

The captions state that the photos are of rescued women now back in Mexico. But if the story is about sex slaves and sex-slave quarters in the United States, why has the Times Magazine illustrated it with photos of the rescued in their new safe quarters? It's obvious to me that the illustrations were designed to dupe the average reader by representing a sex-slave domicile to the scanning eye.

Maybe I'm unsympathetic to someone who threatened to sue a friend of mine (wait...let me check...yes! I am!), but I resent Landesman's apparent rhetorical attempts to gain sympathy in his apology. ("I worked hard on the piece! It was scary! My wife is pregnant!") Sir: okay. You overreacted. It's understandable that you were upset. But your apology shouldn't be about you, and it means about as much as Pete Rose's if you're not going to make it clear that you plan to step back on the litigation.

Posted by Francis at 11:45 PM