December 19, 2005

The Story

In yesterday's NYT, Kurt Eichenwald reports on one boy's decent into the very nasty world of webcam whoredom.

Justin Berry, who is now 19, first plugged in a webcam at the age of 13 and, doing so, started down a slope that was not so much slippery as it was greased with the shit slick offal of Satan's own army.

Berry starts performing sex acts for his internet audience, is molested by those adults he meets in real life, develops a coke habit with the money he earns through these exploits, and ends up partnering with his abusive father who, ultimately, tapes Berry having sex with prostitutes during a trip to Mexico.

Given this, it's not exactly surprising that in an supplemental video feature, Berry warns parents that all children are susceptible to this kind of abuse and that, if their kids have a webcam thay they should "throw it in the trash."

Beyond the lurid nature of the story istelf, there are two odd aspects of its reporting. One is that the NYT sure loves to hate on the Internet sometimes. There's a graphic published with this story titled "An Easy Path to Trouble" that lists the "Tools of Self-Produced Child Pornography." The primary tools are Computers, Webcams and Instant Messaging. Coupled with Berry's warnings that this can happen to anyone, the whole piece is very much in the vein of The Internet is Coming for Your Children.

More unusual is Eichenwald's involvement in the story. His account of meeting Justin Berry is published as a separate reporter's diary and it's really worth reading. Essentially, Eichenwald was working on a completely different story on Internet fraud, ended up hearing about Berry and posed as a fan in order to get in contact with him.

While that's kind of weird in the Townsendesque "I'm just doing this for research" way of things, the story turns downright curious after Eichenwald and Berry meet. As Jack Shafer writes in Slate:

Eichenwald helped convince Berry to quit porn and quit drugs. He found him a lawyer. The lawyer, in turn, persuaded federal prosecutors to give Berry immunity for serving as the state's witness.
Well, good golly that's an interesting role for a reporter to play. Shafer's discussion of the journalistic issues involved is excellent. What's particularly exciting is that it even includes email exchanges with Eichenwald (who deserves big kudos for being willing to debate his story on the web).

See, sometimes the Internet can do more than molest.

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