COMMENTS: Misleading & Missed the Lead

Operation Innocence Lost was the topic of the anchor's Katie Couric Reports feature on CBS. Sensationalist and sordid it was. It was also misleading and missed the lead.

The lost innocence referred to teenagers turning to prostitution. Couric tried to dramatize her findings, warning viewers that "you may not want your young children to watch" and promising to tell us about "a dark side of this country most of us never see or even know exists." Her statistics were certainly lurid, estimating that there are 300,000 child prostitutes nationwide, "teenage girls mostly."

Couric's slippery use of the word "children" added excess sensationalism to a story that detracted from its credibility. She introduced us to three former sex workers, Jessica, Kayla and Rosita, none of whom one would normally call "children." Rosita turned tricks from the age of 15 through 18, charging $150 per customer, claiming to have serviced eight a day, on average. Kayla had been working for two years when the FBI's Innocence Lost sting operation arrested her at age 17; she was charging men $480 for two hours of sex. Jessica was no child at all, a Michigan student who turned to prostitution for a ten-day period to earn $2,500 to pay her college tuition.

As for the FBI's Innocence Lost, Couric claimed that it has conducted "thousands of sting operations in over 30 cities" yet its grand total of girl prostitutes located in that time is just 700. In Couric's enthusiasm to shock our sensibilities about the depravities of adolescent street sex, she seems to have missed the story. The FBI is apparently throwing extravagant resources at the problem with a puny payoff.


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