Saturday, October 07, 2006

To Define a Predator

I once wrote a joke for a pilot that went like this: a guy is meeting a militant feminist. He offers to shake her hand. She refuses. "You know, a handshake is just a tiny little rape."

Underneath the joke, my point was that by applying the word "rape" to anything and everything we cheapen the word. We do a disservice to real victims of that horrible crime.

Now I think the word "predator" is being devalued. We can't reasonably apply the same word to:

1. A guy who has sexual online chats with 16-year-olds.

2. A guy who is invited to a house by Dateline NBC to have sex with an imaginary teenager.

3. A guy who kidnaps, imprisons, sodomizes and kills a child.

IMHO, these are three very different crimes. (And I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why #2 is a crime, since there was no actual teenager involved.)

All are creeps, and I'm not calling for leniency toward anyone who engages in any kind of sexual congress (no pun intended) with a minor...

But even if #1 and #2 are precursors to predatory behavior, we really shouldn't call all three by the same word.

And, on a sidenote: I have not written about Congressman Foley, because while his story is creepy and sad, it's all too familiar and it's not the main issue. Hastert and anyone anyone else who covered this up is the issue. It's a bloodboiling issue. The care of these pages is a trust that should not have been violated, and any threat should have been reported and dealt with immediately.

But I've been fascinated by how charitable the news media has been toward the participants in this story, compared to, say, the pervy schnooks who show up at the Dateline NBC house. Foley is repeatedly described as "inappropriate" or "familiar"... or "overly friendly," as if he were Ned Flanders. Can you imagine NBC describing one of the Dateline skeevs as "overly friendly"?

And the Today Show only uses phrases like "story Hastert wishes would go away" or "Republicans try to stop the bleeding"... Genius! As if they're characters on ER, staggering in with a gunshot wound... AND they're also the heroic doctors trying to save the patient!

Never mind that they're actually the shooters, and that it's the American people and the pages that are really the victims. That narrative is too messy. And subliminally, what does this metaphor suggest? That enforcement of legal and ethical standards is a disease? That the Democrats are an opportunistic infection?

A story you "wish would go away" is when you hit a rabbit with your oar, or you accidentally go to a locked door, or when you throw up on the Japanese Prime Minister. Sexual misconduct and a coverup conspiracy is not a "wish you would go away" thing. It's a "throw the bums out" thing.

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