#sextrafficking | Ronan Farrow Is Not a “Resistance” Journalist | #tinder | #pof | #match

Farrow’s “resistance journalism,” then, is not constrained
by partisan politics; rather, as Smith sees it, it is journalism that seeks not
the truth but to take down powerful people loathed by “the loudest voices,” and
it does so with insufficient “fairness and open-mindedness.” Smith’s argument
about Farrow’s alleged lack of rigor is boosted by the fact that the kinds of
allegations of sexual violence Farrow investigates are still held to a unique
standard of proof, whereas the allegations of journalistic impropriety Smith
himself makes, by virtue of appearing in the Times, can take on the
undeserved veneer of objectivity and authority.

Smith doesn’t address this directly, but what are currently
regarded as the rules of reporting on rape can work against the person coming
forward. As Vox reporter Laura McGann described
it recently, the publication of such stories requires “extraordinary amounts of
evidence,” and “not just consistent corroboration but oftentimes multiple
stories, stacked on top of each other.” An allegation may be true, but that’s
not enough to get to publication. And what’s regarded as corroboration can be
subjective. Is there a specific number of people that someone should have
shared their story with contemporaneously? How much of that story did someone
have to reveal to them? How much can their story and their witnesses’ stories
change over time? There is not—and it is difficult to imagine how there would
be—an industry-wide standard for this. In fact, these kinds of rules for reporting
on sexual violence have been the subject of much debate since the Weinstein
stories in The New Yorker and The New York Times. There is a
growing acceptance, among some journalists, that reporting on sexual violence
means negotiating three sometimes competing things: the demands of rigorous
investigative work, the difficulty of producing airtight accounts of trauma
that subjects may have minimized at the time as a way to cope and move on, and
the needs and realities of those subjects in the face of such a story being

Investigative journalism’s roots are partly in stories about
sex, the law, and abuses of power. Men collecting what they considered evidence
of sexual violence against women helped define muckraking, as Gretchen
Soderlund details in her book, Sex Trafficking, Scandal,
and the Transformation of Journalism, 1885–1917
. These men, like George
Kibbe Turner at McClure’s, seized national attention and inspired
high-profile prosecutions with their exposés of the allegedly new phenomenon
that Progessive Era reformers called “white slavery”—prostitution. They were
“new journalism” when it actually was new, the first decade of the twentieth
century, the first time there was a national media in the United States. And
their work, far from being received by all as unadulterated journalistic truth,
kicked off intense debate, including in the pages of The New York Times. 

At first, writes Soderlund, the paper shied away from
following up on Turner’s popular stories of girls sold into brothels—muckraking
was not their style—until a new district attorney launched an undercover
investigation through which the paper could “discover” the story itself (“White
Slave Traffic Shown to Be Real
,” April 30, 1910). The Times faithfully
covered the ensuing trial, but when it found that the women had largely sold
sex of their own accord, the paper looked as untrustworthy as the muckrakers.
“The public relations solution to this predicament,” Soderlund writes, “was to
portray the Times as a detached observer and recorder of a story that
was in the midst of unraveling, while projecting a retrospective delight that
‘reason’ had prevailed over anecdotal sensationalism.” The story was no longer
about women who were or weren’t forced into brothels but about which reporters ought
to be believed—the Timesman or those muckrakers who led their readers astray.
The paper’s “detached observer” role was cemented.

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