THE PAROCHIALS: From milk carton kids to teenage dates!


Part 3—Whatever turns journalists on:
Of what does Roy Moore stand accused as tomorrow's election approaches?

Ever since November 10, the press corps has focused on charges about his alleged behavior from the late 1970s. His crazy public behavior is ignored as scribes thrill to this earlier era.

That said, of what does Moore stand accused?

Many journalists have had a very hard time answering that question. Last Friday, though, the analysts cheered! In her column for the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg got it almost exactly right:
GOLDBERG (12/8/17): While Franken is on his way out of the Senate, Roy Moore, Republican of Alabama, may be on his way in. Moore stands credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old whom he picked up outside her mother's custody hearing and of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old after offering her a ride home from her waitressing job.
We agree with every word, although we'd add the word "violently" to the latter description.

Leigh Corfman has accused Moore of molesting her in 1979, when she was 14. Gloria Young Nelson has accused Moore of committing a violent sexual assault on her person in 1977, when she was 16.

Moore stands accused of molesting one teen and of sexually assaulting another. How hard is it to say that?

For many major journalists, it has been amazingly hard. Major scribes have stumbled about, attempting to describe the accusations.

Goldberg made the task look easy. But here's the way Kathleen Parker described the charges in yesterday's Washington Post:
PARKER (12/10/17): Moore, far from being a comedian, is known for his affection for the Ten Commandments. Clearly, there should have been an amendment to the commandment that thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife: or his little girl, either. The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is alleged to have fondled or otherwise behaved in sexual ways with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Say what? Parker has heard of Corfman's accusation. It isn't entirely clear that she has heard about Nelson's. Where Goldberg describes these charges with specificyty, Parker ends up offering this murky description:

Moore stands accused of "having behaved in sexual ways with teenage girls." Will readers have any clear idea what that means? From what post-Victorian usage manual has Parker cobbled this murky description?

The Washington Post launched this topic with a November 10 front-page report which was built around Corfman's accusation. From that day to this, we've been fascinated by the peculiar ways in which journalists have described the charges against Ol' Roy.

In part, we suspect the problem stems from the parochialism of our upper-end journalists. We'll guess it stems from their parochialism, but also from their self-involvement. That said, the problem tracks to that original November 10 report, in which the Post displayed a rather peculiar bit of editorial judgment.

We'll admit it! We're fascinated by the way the press corps has handled this matter. As we wait for the inevitable start of Mister Trump's War, we think this episode sheds a lot of light, anthropologially speaking, on the mental and moral habits and skills of our upper-end press.

What was journalistically strange about that initial Post report? As noted, the Post featured Corfman's accusation—her claim that Moore molested her when she was 14 years old.

So far, so good, although we thought there were a few points where the Post's journalism was spotty. But as a second part of its report, the Post featured statements by three other women. They claimed that Moore had dated them, or asked them out, during that same time period, when they too were teenagers.

In this way, it seemed that Moore stood "accused" of two "crimes." He stood accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl, which would seem to be a criminal act. He also stood "accused" of having dated two older teenagers—and of having dated them with their mothers cheering him on!

What was the logic of the implied connection between these two types of conduct? Did the fact that Moore dated Gloria Thacker Deason when she was 18, then 19 serve as supporting evidence for the claim that he molested Corfman when she was 14?

The Post made no attempt to explain the logic of this implied connection. From that day to this, people like Parker have stumbled and flailed as they try to describe the very serious crimes with which Moore does in fact stand accused.

Dating Deason wasn't a crime; if Moore violently assaulted Nelson, that rather plainly was. Still and all, people like Parker fumble about, seeming to understate the degree of offense with which Moore stands charged.

Can we talk? In their typical parochial way, our journalists sometimes seem to be more concerned about the dating than about the violent assault!

Behind that concern stands a list of domestic panics. First, we had the public concern about the missing "milk carton kids."

The practice of putting the faces of missing children on milk cartons started in the 1980s. It's credited with helping authorities locate some missing children in the years before better organized tracking systems existed.

On the downside, this campaign also led to wildly exaggerated claims about the number of missing children in the United States. Before the practice faded away, "psychologists, social service workers and other child advocates, including celebrated pediatricians T. Berry Brazelton and Benjamin Spock, [argued] that the onslaught of photos and publicity ha[d] evolved into a sort of hysteria, producing a new anxiety in young children." Or so reported the Post.

Was that a bit of a moral panic? We'll guess it possibly was—and not long after, something similar happened.

Before long, comedians were soon mocking the widespread placement of "Baby on board" signs in the rear windows of cars. These signs suggested that it was OK to rear-end a car if no baby was present.

Was that episode a moral panic? As a courtesy, we'll vote no, but a genuine panic was coming on fast, with disastrous consequences.

We refer to the wave of cases in the late 1980s and 1990s in which day care workers were falsely accused of abusing children. The leading authority on the phenomenon describes it as "Day-care sex-abuse hysteria." Innocent people went to prison as a full-blown, genuine moral panic swept across the land.

We rarely hear about these remarkable cases any more. Our guess would be that it's a point of journalistic and national embarrassment. For that reason, the episode is best ignored, in spite of the lessons the episode can teach.

In the May 1990 Harper's, Dorothy Rabinowitz produced a brilliant piece of journalism in which she confronted this deeply consequential moral panic. (We believe this is the full original text.) She wrote about the Wee Care Nursery School case in Maplewood, New Jersey, a Salem Village-level travesty in which a young woman, Kelly Michaels, was initially sentenced to 47 years in prison.

(After Michaels had served five years, her conviction was overturned. Among other things, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that "the interviews of the children were highly improper and utilized coercive and unduly suggestive methods." These travesties occurred in other cases as this panic occurred.)

Rabinowitz's piece appeared beneath this headline in Harper's: "From the Mouths of Babes to a Jail Cell." She described the lunacy which had sent Michaels to prison. Along the way, she said this:
RABINOWITZ (5/90): We are a society that, every fifty years or so, is afflicted by some paroxysm of virtue—an orgy of self-cleansing through which evil of one kind or another is cast out. From the witch-hunts of Salem to the communist hunts of the McCarthy era to the current shrill fixation on child abuse, there runs a common thread of moral hysteria. After the McCarthy era, people would ask: But how could it have happened? How could the presumption of innocence have been abandoned wholesale? How did large and powerful institutions acquiesce as congressional investigators ran roughshod over civil liberties—all in the name of a war on communists? How was it possible to believe that subversives lurked behind every library door, in every radio station, that every two-bit actor who had belonged to the wrong political organization posed a threat to the nation's security?

Years from now people doubtless will ask the same questions about our present era—a time when the most improbable charges of abuse find believers; when it is enough only to be accused by anonymous sources to be hauled off by investigators; a time when the hunt for child abusers has become a national pathology.
A similar atmosphere exists in one or two of our current stampedes. Sadly, our upper-end journalists rarely display the requisite intellectual skills and moral perspectives which can help undermine such panics.

Concerning Roy Moore, we'll only say this. Based upon the ways they describe the accusations about Moore, many of our journalists seem more concerned about the dating than about the alleged assaults. We'll guess that this is related to a common human failing—to the interest in what might happen to one's own children or grandchildren, as opposed to what may have actually happened to somebody else.

The Post enabled this stampede with a rather peculiar initial report. From that day to this, journalists have often seemed to be more concerned with the idea that Moore dated teenagers than with the charge that he committed two criminal assaults. Somehow, Goldberg described both alleged assaults. Few other journalists, Parker included, have.

As with Patty Duke's famous hot dog, so too here—the thought that Ol' Roy dated teens has made them lose control! Inevitably, as part of their standard practice, our journalists took immediate steps to heighten the sense of outrage:

First, they barred use of the term "dated," substituting "pursued." The latter term sounds more menacing. It helps move the charge (and excitement) along.

Second, they adopted the use of term "pedophile." Have we learned nothing from Chuck Todd? By standard definitions, the term is inappropriate here, but it sounds extremely scary, so it's been widely used.

Their third move was most striking. Our journalists completely disappeared the mothers who had cheered Moore on. They didn't want the public to know that the mothers of the two teens in that first Post report hoped the dating might lead to marriage.

Just a guess! That isn't what they want for their own kids today, so they had to block the ugly thought. They had to take arms to defeat it.

Given the norms of the time and the place, the mothers of Gloria Thacker Deason and Debbie Wesson Gibson were thrilled that Moore was dating their teenage daughters, or so the women told the Washington Post.

It was right there in the Post's initial report. But from that day right through to this, we've never seen a single journalist mention that fact. As always happens in cases like this, this basic fact has been disappeared. Our "journalists" have all agreed that you must never hear it.

Why were those two Alabama mothers cheering Ol' Roy on? Tomorrow, we'll offer an information dump about dating and marriage practices during the era in question. For today, we'll only say these things:

Candidate Moore stands accused of two very serious crimes. Dating isn't one of those crimes. Just as a matter of fact, it wasn't a crime at all.

Goldberg had no trouble describing those alleged crimes. Two days later, Parker joined the long list of troubled practitioners who have had a very hard time explaining what Moore is accused of.

As scribes like Parker play this way, a basic fact remains—the mothers of those teenage girls were cheering Ol' Roy on as he dated their daughters way back when down there. Also this:

Elvis started dating Priscilla when she was 14 years old! Could that be some small part of this cultural tale, which took place long ago?

Tomorrow: Information dump! "The best love story, ever"


  1. Is Kathleen Parker one of "OUR upper-end journalists", in the standard sense in which Somerby uses "our" to mean "liberal"? It's hard to tell. However, Parker describes herself as a right-of-center conservative.
    Secondly, why no link to Parker's column? It was an op-ed. It's main point was to portray Al Franken as a sacrificial lamb to the current hysteria, a point one would think Somerby might *agree* with. She thinks what Moore is accused of is far worse than what Franken is accused of. She twice refers to Moore as a "child molester", i.e.:
    "Republicans would seemingly rather vote for an accused child molester than let a Democrat enter the Senate chamber."

    (Now, Somerby may take issue with the term "child molester", although that seems a debatable objection on his part. )

    Also, it's good to know that Michelle Goldberg, the "pseudoprogressive careerist" (as TDH recently called her) describes Moore's alleged transgressions in a way that meets with Somerby's approval.

    Finally, it's interesting to note (for the umpteenth time) how Somerby views the alleged behavior of the media entities that he follows as an interesting anthropological case study (in the Moore matter), but ignores the other side of the coin, where sanctimonious disapproval of sex stuff has always found a comfortable home, until a sex scandal rocks their world, in which case they either ignore it (O'Reilly), or, as in this case, try to discredit the accusers. And this last is coming from the President on down to "R" Congress members. And that's pretty chilling.

    1. (Now, Somerby may take issue with the term "child molester", although that seems a debatable objection on his part. )

      No, it's not. Moore is not an accused child molester, or a pedophile.

      Anyone who claims this lacks total credibility -- which includes the entire MSNBC crowd, Digby, Boehlert, Charlie Pierce, the whole lot. Even Krugman now.

      And why do people need to make such claims anyway? He's bad enough.

      Such deliberate misrepresentation will lead to his victory down South tomorrow. It's overkill and a matter for sympathy in many voters.

      Just watch.

    2. You're right, Anon 1:27pm. It's much worse than child molester. He's accused of sexual assault and violent sexual assault (hey, don't take my word for it; it's in Somerby's column). Thanks for pointing that out.

    3. As a 16 year old, I lusted after scores of women 25 years or more my senior. One time I fantasized about Bea Arthur.

    4. Bea Arthur's characters btw are constantly groping and leering at men.

    5. @2:02 -- and today you cannot tell reality from fantasy?

      A TV show with Bea Arthur is fantasy, for example. Bea Arthur herself is reality.

      Having sex with a much older woman at age 16? Fantasy. When it becomes reality, it is a crime called statutory rape, even when the sex is between a minor boy and an adult woman. Because it is bad for the child.

    6. 10:14

      No, I can't tell the difference.

      Thanks for your knowledge and wisdom on the subject.

  2. Somerby doesn't understand the basis for the daycare hysteria. He seems entirely ignorant of the recovered memory movement of the 1980s and the huge debate between clinical and experimental psychology about whether memory could be subverted by suggestive questioning, even about very serious things such as child sexual abuse, and whether recovered memories were being implanted by therapists. This so-called hysteria died away because experimental psychologists thoroughly investigated the issue and revised standards for questioning children and for discussing sensitive topics in therapy. That's why this disappeared from public view.

    Are women believable? Are children believable? How do you tell the difference between a real memory and something concocted? These are important questions that have been answered since the 1980s -- that's why the debate receded -- not because there is no such thing as child sexual abuse or because women's memories of abuse are faulty or overblown, or because people get all worked up over nothing. We now know how to tell real memories from false ones.

    Somerby thinks the milk carton days made people afraid of stranger abduction. To some extent that's true, but those kids pictured were actually abducted. They were abducted by people they knew, usually non-custodial parents.

    In CA, the practice of betrothing young teens to older men has some grounding in culture. When the teens or parents rebel, the older man sometimes abducts the young girl and tries to take her to Mexico. The modern equivalent of the milk carton, the amber alert, helps law enforcement return these girls to their homes.

    Somerby thinks the only two crimes were the 14 year old's molestation and the 16 year old's assault. He is wrong. It was also a crime to serve wine to a girl who was 17 (not of drinking age), something that is not clearly remembered by the girl herself. It was not a crime then, but is now a crime to stalk young women at their workplaces and school. Those other people who reported Moore's behavior describe numerous instances of Moore stalking teen girls, to the point of his being banned from the mall and being on police watch lists -- one officer's responsibility was keeping him away from the cheerleaders at high school football games.

    These additional accounts try to place the two actual assaults into a context -- that Moore was attracted to and tried to "date" young teens as a pattern of behavior, not a one-off or a misunderstanding or an opportunistic occurrence, but as something he did regularly. Even his own colleagues attested to that. This matters because this election is about what kind of person Moore is. As an officer of the court, he engaged in illegal and wrong behavior toward young girls at a time when he was charged with upholding the law.

    No one is going to prosecute Moore this long after his actions. But they are going to decide whether to elect him or not. That's why the press would not be doing its job if it did not tell the full story about who Moore was and who he is today, when he will not acknowledge having known any of the women who have come forward.

    Somerby, of course, continues to be an asshole.

    1. Nice try.

      McMartin was about day care insecurity and hysteria. And a proven conspiracy between Wayne Satz of KABC and people/lovers inside Ira Reiner's D.A. office. Satz later drank himself to death.

      Recovered Memory Syndrome was used as the convenient rationale for that insane witchhunt.

      Believe the Children? Not always.

      What are you people so AFRAID of? Sure things happen, but all this angst and outrage is crazy. It's completely irrational.

    2. @Anon 1:21:
      Our society went from always or mostly Disbelieve the Children to "evaluate each situation on its own merits", a marked improvement.
      And yes, "things happen", like, say, rape or sexual abuse, you know, "things", which can now be investigated and prosecuted to provide, you know, "justice."

    3. Evaluate each on its own merits?

      When? Like Miramonte School in LA, where they paid off the children before a trial? And certainly not now, with every other claim of sexual outrage. I can only imagine what would happen today if another child panic broke.

      Every other teacher in America would get immediately arrested.

    4. "Every other teacher in America would get immediately arrested."
      Only if their in the union. You don't seem to know who Trump/ Mao's establishment elites work, do you?

  3. Also, exactly when did "petting" or attempted "petting" become "molestation"? Weren't they "dating" a well, as sick as it was.

    Bob's guilty of this same name game as well.

    No one's approving of these "dates," but come on. Also, Moore was never accused of picking her up at a court hearing and then trying to molest her. The allegation was from a later time.

    Does anyone still believe too the Gloria Allred client? She has no credibility after that stunt they both pulled of trying to pass off her "notes" as his inscription.

    Which they DID try to do.

    Let's stick to the real things to go after Moore about, ok?

    1. Sure, Anon 1:16 pm. Let's leave aside the credible allegations of violent sexual assault. Let's discuss instead Moore's bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, Christian dominionism, disdain for the rule of law, his Putinesque loathing of America, his fraudulent use of a charity. Help me out...I must be missing something.

    2. Wait, what makes them credible? What's the evidence?

    3. You were invited to leave that aside, Anon 1:54. Why not address Moore's bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, Christian dominionism, disdain for the rule of law, his Putinesque loathing of America, his fraudulent use of a charity?

    4. "Also, exactly when did "petting" or attempted "petting" become "molestation"?

      This happened when the girl in question was 14 YEARS OLD, YOU ASSHOLE.

      Stop trying to normalize sex between adults and children.

  4. McCarthy was right about the communist threat, but he told many falsehoods in his campaign.

  5. No rebuttal on the "commie kikes that should've been gassed" bullshit, David?


  6. McCarthy wasn't right. If there were spies, he didn't catch them. Instead he ruined a lot of innocent lives. He went after Eisenhower, For God's sake!


  8. Bernie Sanders was one of the senators calling on Al Franken to resign.

  9. The real threat was the lethal threat played upon 58,220 precious American souls by the paranoid and misguided overreaction to a non-threat perpetrated by Trump’s ideological predecessors.

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