Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lazy reporters are main constituency for sex-offender registry

Increasingly I've come to believe the sex-offender registry only serves one real purpose and at the end of the day just has one constituency that actually uses the information: It's a crutch for lazy reporters to produce bullshit stories aimed at inciting the mob instead of informing them. Voyeurism is the driving impulse behind public support for the registry. Criminal background checks would already pick up sex-offenses for employers and others, and as a practical matter there's nothing private citizens can do with the information except gin up pointless fear. But with 64,000-plus people on Texas' sex-offender registry (relatively few of them posing a significant risk) and a slew of errors in the database, the list doesn't give average citizens a tool they can actually use for any practical purpose.

For reporters, OTOH, the sex-offender registry is like a Swiss Army knife - there are dozens of things they can use it for. None of them are productive or benefit anyone out in the world, but hyping fear attracts readers and thus advertising, whether or not the hype is actually newsworthy.

A couple of recent stories drive home that point. First, at the Houston Press, Richard Connelly published an article this week titled "The 10 Hottest Women on the Texas Sex Offenders List." To grasp why this is not just pointless demagoguery but offensive, imagine the parallel story: "Meet Texas' 10 Most Handsome Rapists." The story got national play (for it's wrongheadedness, not because the sex offenders were so "hot"), and Connelly apologized later in the day, admitting when he wrote it he "fully intended to shock."

The same could be said for a story from KDFW-TV reporter Becky Oliver out of Dallas in a story, "Nursing Home for Criminals Concerns Neighbors." Neighbors in Lake Worth are complaining because a local nursing home accepts parolees including people on the registry, with 27 sex-offenders registered at the address. This has got the usual NIMBY types up in arms, though the nursing home is privately owned and there's nothing they can do about it. Most of the concern is misplaced: In reality, very few people on the sex-offender registry commit more sex crimes, and the vast majority of molested children are assaulted by family members or trusted acquaintances.

The only actual criminal incidents Oliver reported resulted in parolees being revoked, and the neighbors main concern is the ex-offenders walking to the store or riding a bike down the street. She cites a couple of men caught on camera engaged in activities (drinking beer in a park, urinating outdoors) that may result in technical parole violations, but mostly this is about guilt by association, taking isolated NIMBY complaints and pretending everyone in the nursing home is guilty of such activities. In the next to last paragraph of the long story, Oliver finally gets to the heart of the matter: "The nursing home is not breaking any laws by housing the offenders," she says flatly, in contrast to the breathless hype in the rest of the article. In other words, there's no story here at all, just another lazy journalist who turned to the sex-offender registry and hyping fear to spice up a slow news week.


Anonymous said...

What a crock of stuff. Too bad the editors don't have the cajones to axe these kind of articles and publish real journalism.

Eric Knight said...

Re the following: "In the next to last paragraph of the long story, Oliver finally gets to the heart of the matter: "The nursing home is not breaking any laws by housing the offenders," she says flatly, in contrast to the breathless hype in the rest of the article."

You miss the point, or at least didn't articulate it in your story. The actual result of this story is that some lawmaker who wants to make a name for himself will NOW come out with a law banning RSO's from living in group homes. Most probably, they will come up with "anti-clustering" laws to break up the joint.

To me, THAT is the REAL goal of the media source.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Eric, do you really think the reporter cares about laws against "clustering"? While that could be the result, IMO that gives the TV station way too much credit for having a public policy motive for the story. I think it's as simple as crime hype sells ads; if it bleeds, it leads.

Anonymous said...

I rarely watch or read local news because it is mostly Bullhockey. As a professional person, I have been involved in a number of newspaper and TV stories over the years. These stories have NEVER correctly recounted the facts surrounding the situation of interest nor have they correctly quoted or paraphrased any comments I have ever made.

On one occasion, I was contacted by a reporter wanting to get my opinion regarding how I thought the public would react to a soon to be aired docudrama TV movie about the aftermath of a nuclear war on the U.S. When I replied that I expected no significant reaction at all because the public could distinguish between fact and fiction and was unlikely to panic in the streets, the reporter quickly ended the conversation.

Several days later I saw a newspaper article stating that an MHMR hotline set up to field calls from individuals distraught after viewing the movie had received only one or two calls.

Anonymous said...

Out here in the cultural center of the universe, the city hall cable channel shows photos and addresses of all RSO's in their spare time.


Anonymous said...

The sex-offender registry serves only one real purpose. Reporters use it to inflame and incite the mob against those on the registry.

Anonymous said...

Yet another good reason not to become a sex offender!

Anonymous said...

All this inflamin' and incitin' the mob against the Romeos.

rodsmith said...

maybe 8:38 but i doubt it! More likely it's an even better reason to SHOOT most news reporters! who try and pass off crud like this.

Anonymous said...

Two of the ladies on that 10 hottest list were juvies when they were put on it.. I wonder if something can be done to that ass hat? They eventually will get off the registry.

Jan said...

Thank you Scott.

Anonymous said...

Yet again sensationalism to scare the public and putting these women's pictures in the paper? That did no purpose other than make their lives harder. But also the families are hurt with this. And what are these old guys going to do chase you down with a walker or wheelchair? Let's get real people. This is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for helping get the truth out about the SO registry. Lawmakers wake up!!!

Lynne said...

Thank you, Thank you for calling these guys out. The registry serves no real purpose, it fuels the hype and has got to go!

Unknown said...

Well, I will comment on the registry that it defiantly serves no purpose other than to prevent RSO's that have served their time and wish to get on with their lives; become a benefit to society and to themselves(JOBS and Security).

As far as the "Lazy Reporters" they are just capitalizing an inflammatory situation that sells their garbage style of reporting that incites the public into making rash decisions based on fears that are not viable.

Anonymous said...

What are the odds that one or more of these women were wrongfully convicted? Anyone have a link to the actual articles when they were tried or took their pleas?

DEWEY said...

Looks like somebody (NOT GRITS !!) has been watching too much Faux (sic) news.The faux (sic) channel (26) here in Houston LOVES stories like this. I went there to protest one of their SO stories, did a 20 minute interview, got edited to about 10 seconds on the air. Did all they could to make me look bad.
P.S. I'm an SO, been out for over 22 years, no re-offense, STILL have to register for the rest of my life.

Anonymous said...

DEWEY is right. The Houston news station is horrible BIG TIME. I have stopped watching it because every time I hear "sex offender" I get sick at my stomach and nearly lose it. My son is on that registry and he touched no one, harmed no one and has to live on it who knows how long because they continually change the laws. As someone who taught their children right and wrong, and my son did nothing no other young man doesn't do, he just got "caught", I find it disgusting that a registry even exists.

You are right Grits, it does NOTHING for public safety, it just makes the lawmakers look like they are doing something, when they are actually killing innocent people or harming their families!

Anonymous said...

In respect to a law against "clustering", the city of Dallas already has an ordnance which prohibits more than one RSO from residing at the same address. So, there should be not more than one RSO residing in a nursing home in Dallas. This effectively eliminates anyone from trying to offer a little assistance to someone trying to get their life back together.

Diane Dimond said...

I enjoy your column. And I agree with much of what you say.
Interesting that you and I chose this week to write columns about the same topic.

But I like that YOURS also goes after the small minded in journalism today for whom there is no sensational subject they can't apply some critical thinking to! (Alas...)

Carry on!

Diane Dimond

Anonymous said...

There are two reporters who crossed the line. You jumped all over that. On the other hand, in Texas, there are hundreds of thousands of victims of sex offenders. Why is it that you have never shown any concern for these people? In the country, there are hundreds of thousands of sex slaves controlled by vicious pimps. I don't believe this bothers you.

These people never get a moments concern by you "social activists."

Anonymous said...

All this registry is a "Cottage Industry" for lawyers and the state to flees money.

I have asked this question over and over and yet got any answer.

Show me one person, child, dog, pig, sheep or any this registry has saved????

Anonymous said...

5/15/2011 10:10:00 PM

I haven't seen anyone on this blog deny there are dangerous and violent offenders on the registry. There are real victims and some of us were real victims. But the truth is the majority of offenders arent predatory.

The registry is not overblown with pimps and human traffickers. Nor is it overblown with violent and predatory offenders. Resources are being wasted by montitoring teens for life who had sex with teens or young people who had sex with the 16 year old they met at the bar. There are young kids on the registry for behavior that is well within the norm but determined otherwise by court appointed psychologist.

Then there are individuals who did commit heinous acts. Problem is when it comes to the registry, no one knows the difference.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:10, there are 22,000 untested rape kits dating back decades just in Texas' three largest cities. You'd do a lot more to help victims if you removed from the registry all but high-risk offenders and spent the savings on testing backlogged rape kits to actually catch more rapists. Instead our public policy is to leave those untested and demagogue over the few who are caught, including hounding them in the media into old age, decades after their crimes.

10:26 is right, there's no evidence the sex offender registry helps victims in the slightest and in some cases (family abuse cases, in particular) may even cause the victim pain and embarrassment. So you and I just have different views on what helps victims. You think for some reason that bashing elderly men in the media helps them, while I think they'd be helped more by identifying and capturing their assailants. That's okay. Different strokes for different folks.

Diane, excellent column, thanks for sharing it. Here's the link in html.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Knight - its not a group home, its a nursing home.

Scott - who you calling lazy reporter?

Oliver's story clearly pointed out many of these independent men biking and peeing thru the neighborhood are on the medicaid ok with that?

Oliver is lazy? You say sex offenders dont reoffend? Go read the current crimes of the 27 registered offenders (God only knows how many thru that revolving door over the years) you will see sex crimes against children repeated over and over by the same criminal.

If you don't think a "cluster" of felons and sex offenders of that magnitude literally feet from swingsets and small children ain't a problem its you who don't have the cajones to face the truth.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:33, at least I have the cojones to sign my name to my opinions. What's more, I can spell "cojones."

Oliver's story cited one man on a bike and one man allegedly peeing outdoors, not "many." The fellow on the bike doesn't bother me, nor the ones walking to the store, which appears to be the main concern of the NIMBYs.

You may be right that "God only knows" what other crimes those men were guilty of, but we can be certain YOU do not. You and Oliver paint with a broad brush because finer strokes would require more work and skill. Like I said, "lazy."

Anonymous said...

Your childish and elitist tirade about signing names to the posts is getting pretty lame and tiresome. If you want names then take the anonymous off the list of choices. Otherwise shut up about it and give a proper argument for the point.
Yours truely.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:54, first, learn to spell. It's "truly," not "truley." "Cojones," not "cajones."

Second, unlike credible people willing to sign their names to their opinions, anonymous comments must be judged solely on their content. Yours are fact free, full of hyperbole, vitriol and spelling errors. As I've said recently, I allow anonymous comments because there are some people who comment on topics that would get them in trouble at their job. That's not you, though. You're just a coward who needs a remedial spelling class - that's a totally different deal.

And if you don't like my views on the cowardice of anonymous trolls, troll somewhere else. Nobody forced you to come here or read what I write.

wisdom of solomon said...

Once again "Grits" is on top of it's game. They highlight another example of how the media (the fourth branch of Gov'ment) abuses it's influence. RSOs are to the media what Buffaloes were to the early settlers of the West---easy pickins! And sex crimes are the new gold standard now--remember the Drunk Drivers hype of the late 80s? It has even replaced murder as the number one crime. Think about that. This is no joke, a famous comic who was embroiled in sex scandle a couple of years ago lamented on a radio talk show about the issue stated "...I would rather been on trial for a capital murder case than be labeled a sex offender. That way at least I would have public sympathy." This person actually said this for real. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

Typical Bully...You mark people cowards because they hit a button you supply so you do not have to argue the points.
While I have never agreed with the registry concept your arguments are inept on the face because you beleaguer those who don't agree with your story anonymously. I will take your advice however and leave, never to foul your site with a voice of reason again. I hope not to may others will follow your advice.

Anonymous said...

One day I would like to start a church for sex offenders. The majority are in a 'recovery' state and need all the support they can get.
The so registry is handy when trying to find a place to live. I look for a neighborhood with a couple SO's. A neighborhood like that is good for me because I am married to one.
I think what they are doing to Sex Offenders is a virtual Holocaust. The government doesn't round people up and gas them, but they make rules that are almost impossible to live by.
Our government is taking the cheap way out.

Anonymous said...

NO anonymous,

He disagrees with your posting due to the lack of integrity, lack of fact, and the bias in which you state your view.

Given that 27 RSO folks live in that nursing home, yet 2 is 'many' leads to a lack of commitment to look at the issue at hand, and leads to a generalization that does not sufficiently categorize the majority of offenders that live there.

As far as your estimate that the 'revolving door' has allowed god knows how many to re-offend, I think that making this statement in itself shows your ignorance of the subject.

I would imagine that you fall into the sheep category of individuals believing the guy in the bushes is running rampant. The shameful fact is that the facts are out there supporting all reports of lower than average re-offense rates for offenders on the list.

Another idea that you do not broach is that you have a neighborhood full of people that do not like the RSO's living there, and they claim several instances of non-compliance; However where are the police reports to back up these claims.

I AM a registered offender, and I will be the FIRST to call the cops if I witness another RSO offending or breaking the law. Why you ask? because their one instance becomes 'many' in the eyes of the un-informed such as yourself.

Anonymous said...

I’m a fan of Becky Oliver, and I was disappointed in that story. The top 10 was a gas, a real stab at the foolishness of the uptight who so desperately want to control and make a name for themselves.
If the state REALLY wanted to do something about sex offenders they would stop covering up for Texas youth commission employees.
Back in the day the Building Tenders had the chesters taken care of. That’s how it should be. At least those guys knew the difference between a Romeo and a chester. Shame these right winged hypocrites and the fool hearted minions they employ have to have such a costly system of government these days.
With media hype and the nimby’s its like yelling fire in a crowded theater. Anyone who harass a Romeo or Juliet on that silly list should have some sex offences done to them. These people who harass a Romeo or Juliet are the ones with a sickness. They are the perverts.
If the state runs its systems like they run their agencies we can all be hopeful of a SOR database crash with no recovery. No recovery, how they foolishly judge sex offenders.
And what are you saying about a church for SO’s. Is this because the religion of the church is so sexually repressive they are responcable for creating both the SO’s and the hypocrytes who judge them? Interesting, that could explain tyc’s Brownwood unit.
Sex is a good thing, get married and have lots of it. Leviticus tells us who we can and can’t have sex with. We don’t need any uptight hypocrites dicktating who we can screw or how. It’s a waste of tax money, like spending time of legislation to criminalize the size of your fish.

mitymike said...

Grits, your so right,tell it like it is, the whole sex offender registry is a joke.How about this, a young boy who at ten was charged
with a sex offence, on the registry
at eleven, then was listed in several local newspapers including
the city he was born in and went to school,as he grew older one local newspaper reporter put an article out before Halloween,(KNOW
and humility was far to great for him and his family,he quit school
became an angry young man and went down the wrong path, which involved
drugs and a few near death overdoses,our justice system has taken a sinister turn,and the so called journalists and news reporters thrive on doing nothing
but putting fear in the community.
By the way this young man who is now 24 yrs. old NEVER,EVER COMMITTED ANY OTHER SEX OFFENCE.
But the damage has been done,and those responsible should be held accountable. And Scott, love your work, but spare me on the spelling check.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:17, you accused me of cowardice, i.e., not having "cajones" (sic), and I only pointed out that you're the one too cowardly to say such things under your own name. I did respond to what little argument you made, but you had nothing to contribute but misrepresentations and fact-free generalizations. Don't let the virtual door hit you in the ass on the way out.

2:17, even the best journalists have lazy moments. It's partially a function of daily journalism, and partially how journalism, particularly crime reporting, is taught.

Unknown said...

I do not believe that anyone fully understands why the article and its accompanying list, complete with pictures and charges, is such an outrage.

Some people use the public sex offender registry to verbally or physically harass, assault, threaten, and intimidate those on the registry. Some registrants have even been murdered by vigilantes not content with a lesser degree of harassment; at lease one of those murdered was not the individual on the registry at all but someone bearing the same name.

Such use of the registry is illegal, and each state’s site warns of the consequences.

The Houston Press’s use of the registry in this situation is identical. Due to this article, these women are being attacked, ridiculed and verbally assaulted, and the population being invited to share in this sport is limited only by one’s lack of a computer or inability to read.

Each of these women has dealt with and is continuing to deal with her offense and her situation as dictated by the courts and the judicial system. Anyone with any sense knows that each of them may or may not be guilty of the charge as given. Many feel that a charge of sexual misconduct with a willing teenager should not be viewed nor treated the same as sexual misconduct with a young child. Regardless, it is impossible for anyone to have certain knowledge as to guilt or innocence, yet the creation of what amounts to a hit list now holds these women up to the wildest and most cruel speculation, verbal assault, humiliation, and ridicule; it has made them targets of the most uneducated, misinformed, cruel, and ignorant taunting and demonizing.

Apology and self-serving explanation notwithstanding, The Houston Press has broken the law in its blatant misuse of the public sex offender registry and should be held legally accountable.

Shelly Stow

Unknown said...

And I have just realized that I posted that comment on the wrong column; mea culpa; Scott, if you can, please forgive me and remove it.
Thank you, Shelly

Anonymous said...

The sex offender registry, how/why it was put in place and how it is used is a very Southern White Christian thing, think about it!?

Anonymous said...

Politicians are the other main constituency for the sex-offender registry.

There is absolutely no evidence that the sex-offender registry does anything to protect people from sexual crimes. In fact there is evidence that the current registry policies actually increase risk due to wasted resources and an overwhelming of the system such that truly dangerous perpetrators are able to be released from prison and keep victims trapped in their homes and backyards undetected due to inability to effectively monitor them because so many are being monitored unnecessarily.

Rock on Grits keep it Ballzy!

Anonymous said...

My question is how do we get the registry changed? Who will take on the fight?