The feature, courtesy of the Houston Press, and I’m not making this up, is headlined “The Ten Hottest Women on the Texas Sex Offenders List”, which is sure to make another list somewhere, “The Ten Most Offensive Ideas for a Feature Story.” The author, Richard Connelly, introduced his list of child-molesting hotties by writing,
“We combed through 15 of the biggest counties in Texas and came up with the ten hottest women in the database. Warning: In some cases, we picked out the best of a series of mugshots. Alternative choices were starkly different. So click on each link before you send any marriage proposals.”
What was wrong with this article, besides the obvious drawbacks that it wasn’t funny or satirical, and that the women weren’t hot (but then, who takes a hot mug shot)?
Let’s tally them up:
1. It trivializes child sexual abuse, by making a diversion (after all, all such lists are diversions) out of the offenders.
2. It reinforces and encourages the public’s tendency, recently on display in the Freeland School District story, to regard sexual abuse of boys by “hot” women as something the boys should regard as a gift, rather than as the crime that it is.
3. Once again, it reduces women to mere sexual objects.
4. It is unfair and gratuitously unfair to the women, whose placement on a registry after they have served their punishment is itself ethically questionable. To take their photos and subject them to this dehumanizing use of their mugshots for no good reason at all is pure exploitation of other human beings, and inexcusable.
After the paper was deluged with objections, Connelly put out an explanation and apology, saying in part:
“…Here was the genesis of the idea. Last week I spoke to two veteran child-porn prosecutors…They talked of how child predators don’t fit any category — the people they prosecuted included successful lawyers and doctors, as well as unemployed losers. It triggered an idea about how people have a preconceived notion of what dangerous predators “always” look like — slovenly fat guys in T-shirts asking kids if they wanted a ride — and how best to shake that notion up.
“An item on “10 sex offenders who don’t look like sex offenders” might have done the trick, but seemed boring…I thought of the ten hottest female sex offenders. “Hottest” because it’s a Web-headline staple for such listicles. I also wrote an over-the-top intro, trusting that the outrageous headline (Anything putting “hottest” near “sex offenders,” I thought, would clearly show over-the-topness) would indicate this was fully intended to shock. That’s why I made the conscious decision to include the victims’ ages: To show that “normal-looking” people, people you could pass any day on the street — or who you might think are “hot” — are capable of monstrous things.
“Glamorizing or trivializing child rape? It did not cross my mind that I was doing that. It should have, it now seems clear. That was never the intent. I hope that would be obvious, but it seems not. No one ever likes apologies to “anyone who was offended” because they seem halfhearted. I can only say the intention was to shock (in what I hoped would be a positive way) and not to offend. To a lot of people, I failed miserably. I can understand that, and I apologize to them.”
This jaw-dropping explanation allows us to add 5, 6, 7 and 8 to our list:
5. The piece was incompetent, so much so that it calls into question the Houston’s Press’s duty not to unleash idiots in the guise of journalists on its trusting public. Since the mug shots could not possibly be “hot” or even attractive, they could not possibly send the message Connelly says he intended.
6. I think he’s lying. Do you believe his convoluted logic? It was a serious piece, presented as a joke, with the assumption that everyone would realize he wasn’t serious about the joke, but joking to be serious. I don’t buy it. I think Connelly thought that the idea was edgy and satirical, a parody of “hottest” lists that are all over the web, and that the stunt had no legitimate purpose other than bottom-of-the barrel voyeuristic humor until reader criticism reached a critical level and he had to retroactively concoct a well-intentioned motive. His official story makes him out to be even dumber and more inept than what I think was the real story—that he attempted a humor piece in horrible taste.
7. He mentioned how apologies to ” “anyone who was offended” are seen as insincere, then in the same paragraph issued exactly such an apology. Instant hypocrisy—and yes, insincerity.
8. He ducked accountability, and blamed his critics. “To a lot of people, I failed miserably. I can understand that, and I apologize to them.” Translation: “Some people weren’t clever enough to comprehend what I was doing, and I apologize for writing beyond their limited capabilities.” No, Richard, you didn’t fail miserable “to a lot of people”—you just failed miserably.
18 thoughts on “How Unethical Is This Feature Story? Let Us Count The Ways:”
So you see the sex offender registry as unethical? Not that I disagree, but can I ask why you feel this way?
Some day I’ll write about it. In brief—it’s a necessary blunt instrument give the medical fact that many child sex predators cannot be cured. But not all sex offenders fall into this category, and the result of registries is to permanently rob these people of the chance to start fresh and earn the trust of their community, though they are fully capable of it.. We argue that bank robbers should be able to vote and hold responsible jobs after they’ve paid their debt to society, but sex offenders are punished forever. It is societal permission for permanent bias against them.
I don’t have an alternative yet.
Neither do I. But what gets me is the restrictions on where they can live and work, especially since in many places it drives them to living under bridges and the like because they can’t live anywhere else.
But as you said, until there’s an alternative, it may be a neccessary evil.
I am sure there is an internment camp near Lone Pine, California where sex offenders can be relocated.
If you’d ever picked up a copy of the Houston Press, you wouldn’t be surprised at this article. The Press, BTW, is not a newspaper in the traditional sense, but a weekly publication that stresses “social events”, hook-ups, “what’s happening in town”, movie reviews… and snide columns which the article in question tends to define.
Note the common phrases by which the author makes his excuses (sneering rebuttals, actually) by way of “apology”. His having talked with detectives about the nature of predators is fine (and the information is true, BTW) but is irrelevant to the issue of what he published. The kicker comes when he devolves into the argument of “it’ll raise awareness of the issue”. When you see that one, you can automatically classify any actual contrition as null and void. The only thing he’s sorry about is that the article gathered a negative reaction from others who weren’t his regular degenerate readers.
I haven’t even read any of this and I like it.
I referred to the Houston Press in a comment about another story you ran a few days ago. Steven’s remarks about it above are basically accurate, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call readers of the Press, or at least Mr. Connelly, as degenerates. Most major cities, I have observed in my travels, seem to have at least one Houston Press, a.k.a. an “alternative weekly” under an appropriate local title. The Houston Press, at its best, has covered stories that were otherwise looking to go “underreported” (love that journalistic euphemism) by the mainstream journalists of our fair city. That is to their credit. But, and as Steven makes clear, the HP also tries very hard to make it clear to its readership that it is independent of The Powers That Be, which very often results in a rather snarky tone to their content or, worse, a sense of humor which they see as hip but is, in fact, often tasteless or offensive (as in the present instance).
Alternative press publications often do very good work…like the Boston Phoenix in its prime, or the DC City paper.
They are best at local issues, especially local muckraking.
OCWeekly did reports on Greg Haidl and Mike Carona.
Lindsey Gayle Evans
This is as bad as telling cheerleaders to cheer for their rapists, and probably comes from an identical mentality.
As a former Houstonian and sometimes reader of the Houston Press, what’s said above of it is accurate: sometimes it actually does some good stuff in Houston, other times it screws up like this. But it’s free, so it gets less notice about it, usually.
As to sex offender registries, my biggest beef with them is that the CRIME is not listed. If a gal were 14 and she her 16-year-old boyfriend were having consensual sex but got caught, that’s statutory rape in some jurisdictions. Let’s say he’s convicted. If those 2 stayed together, since they loved each other adn were HS sweethearts, and then got married and even had normal lives and 2.5 kids, HE IS STILL TECHNICALLY A SEX OFFENDER! But is he a guy we need to ‘worry’ about living down the street from, since he lacks any predatory history? He’s not the same as anyone who stalked and abducted a victim, or some of the other predatory crimes the others on the list MAY be guilty of. We can’t know, because we don’t know WHEN or WHAT the history is. If we have their name, mugshot and location, giving us a little info on the technically public-domain information of their crime, without requiring us to do our own digging, would make more sense. At least in my view. That said, I’ve not spent much time in my life perusing the sex offender registry to find out who in my zip code is ‘dangerous.’
I’m sorry, but I can’t stop laughing because this reminds me of a “Raising Hope” episode called “Blue Dots”.
Seriously worth the donation to iTunes to own this episode (and probably the entire season.)
Haven’t caught the show (except sometimes the first few minutes that are DVR’d after Glee), but it’s not farfetched considering some of the people I grew up with in Houston. Seriously, none of the guys we knew were prosecuted, but some pissed off dads did eventually become fathers-in-law with no grudges.
Don’t you think we’d all be better off though, Tim, if we KNEW what the guy/gal was listed for?
Yes, that’s why the episode is so funny. I seriously don’t want to give anything away.
In MD, the convicted crime is listed. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean much. See this , and tell me the difference between a 1st degree and 3rd degree sexual offense.
Why don’t they have a link to the case itself? For the most part, they’re public record and can be searched for.
I would prefer the registries be removed and the punishment system be overhauled to better deal with serial or compulsive sex offenders (probation independent of jail time, enhanced probation requirements), but I don’t think there’s a chance registries could ever be removed. It would be political suicide. Think of the children!
Sorry this was posted late, tgt…the spam detector pulled it because of the link. My apologies.
Not surprisingly, Jack!