COMMENTS: Couric’s Anxiety-Ridden World of Teenage Trauma

CBS anchor Katie Couric filed one of her lengthy Reports on troubled teenage romances. When young love goes bad, she reminded us, it can lead to jealousy, possessiveness, obsession, controling behavior--sometimes to emotional abuse and sexual violence.

What made these unsurprising observations worthy of seven full minutes of the anchor's reportage? Couric offered a bold assertion that there is "an alarming trend of escalating violence in teenage relationships." Yet she offered no data to justify that claim. Her only statistic was that the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline handles five times more volume in telephone calls and online messages now than it did two years ago. She did not inquire whether the helpline is more popular or whether the underlying problem is more severe.

Besides a busier helpline, Couric offered three anecdotes of abuse--a 15-year-old whose ex-boyfriend stalked her; an 18-year-old whose boyfriend raped her; and a girlfriend who was stabbed to death. The latter hardly contributed to Couric's story since the dead woman was 23 at the time of her death. Couric also used a tabloid tale to introduce her report--the abuse of the pop star Rihanna. Again, the celebrity Rihanna was no teenager when her singer boyfriend beat her.

Couric also tried cultural generalizations to make her case. Teenagers "are growing up in a world where violence is everywhere…constantly bombarded with pop culture images objectifying and degrading women…relentless texting, constant instant messaging and virtual mind games played out on social networking sites." These observations may or may not be true but they hardly add up to proof that teenage love is any more cruel and vicious nowadays than it used to be.

Last July, Couric's Reports turned to a related tale of moral panic by worrying about Innocence Lost, a two-part feature (here and here) on under-age prostitutes. Again, Couric offered three anecdotes to illustrate the problem--and again only two of the three turned out to be teenagers and only one younger than the age of consent; a third turned tricks to pay for her college tuition. In the last three years, CBS has filed reports on teenage girls' violence online (here and here), teenage pregnancy (here and here) and teenage browsing of online pornography while ABC and NBC have found none of those topics newsworthy.

Let's all take a deep breath, shall we?

In Couric's defense, her twin anxieties about vicious young love and distorted images of women did find an echo in a pair of stories filed on NBC from Europe. Keith Miller was in Perugia for the closing arguments in the sex-triangle murder prosecution of Amanda Knox, the 22-year-old Seattle coed. Miller told us that Italian prosecutors have changed their theory of the case "from a drug-fueled sex game gone wrong to a brutal act of revenge." Stephanie Gosk was in Paris where the French parliament is set to debate a law that would require Photoshop warning labels. Any magazine that printed a photographic image that had been retouched would be obliged to notify its readers that its models look different in real life.


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