In the wake of revelations that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was involved with a prostitution ring, the mainstream media have seen fit to offer countless breathless features on high-priced call girls. It has taken three days for the press to stop glamorizing the world's oldest profession and start telling some of the hard truths. Kudos to ABC's World News with Charles Gibson for being the first evening newscast to get real.
Until the March 13 broadcast of World News, the network news stories on prostitution painted very rosy pictures about the lives of women who choose to sell their bodies for sex. Because prostitution is illegal in every state except
March 12 was a banner day for prostitution. The two days of coverage of the scandal up to that point dealt primarily with the shock of the allegations, Spitzer's political career, speculation about resignation and armchair psychology about why powerful men cheat. But on March 12 every network changed focus and featured stories on high dollar call girls. Every network interviewed current or former prostitutes. The feature stories dealt lightly with legality and completely ignored issues of morality, danger or the social costs of prostitution.
On CBS's Early Show Maggie Rodriguez interviewed Tracy Quan, a former call girl and author of Diary of a
RODRIGUEZ: It's, you know, rare that we get a chance to talk to somebody who's done this for a living. Why did you do it?
QUAN: Well, for me it was a way to be independent, to have a livelihood. I was a teenager when I started, and I wanted to be able to support myself. I had a boyfriend who was taking care of me, but I wanted to make my own way in the world.
RODRIGUEZ: Do you eventually get to the point where you see the same guy over and over again, especially when it's these powerful men who crave privacy and discretion?
QUAN: Well, that is considered to be for most call girls, that's the best, is to have, like, maybe 10 regulars who are -- or 15 regulars, who are kind of trustworthy. You know that they're not cops. You know that they're not Eliot Spitzer. And you know, they're not, like, going to get you in trouble.
RODRIGUEZ: Does it ever get to the point where it feels like you're dating?
QUAN: Not really, because in the dating game, especially if you're a hooker, you never feel that the guy can take for granted that he's going to go to bed with you, you know?
QUAN: It's more of -- it depends on your mood. Whereas, obviously, in the sex industry it's a professional decision.
On NBC's Today Show, Peter Alexander reported a feature with prostitutes at a
PETER ALEXANDER: Brooke Taylor is one of the newest members of the world's oldest profession.
ALEXANDER: Brooke is 26, college educated and a star of the HBO series Cat House. A revealing look inside
CAT HOUSE CLIP: We can do it by time or we can do it by activity. (Video shows topless prostitute on bed as john comes in and lays what appears to be cash down on the bed.)
ALEXANDER: Lots of money. Brooke's services run clients up to $3,000 an hour. For $3,000 an hour, what does someone get?
ALEXANDER: She makes up to $10,000 for an entire night, much more than she was earning as a social worker just two years ago.
After the adventure in the brothel, NBC returned to the studio, where Today host Meredith Vieira interviewed a former madam and escort. Vieira displayed remarkable liberal tolerance to the prostitute.
VIEIRA: Natalie, you were a call girl for -- and I know you don't like to use the word prostitute. You say you're a call girl making $2,000 an hour. I don't know quite what the difference is there. But you're also somebody, you come from
NATALIE MCLENNAN, FORMER NY ESCORT: What happened to me? It's something that I just fell into and decided to do it for a short period of time. I saw it as a means to improve my own personal financial situation. And, you know, as a result, I'm now writing a book. So, you know, I've made something of the whole situation more than what it just seems or could be.
ABC's Good Morning America took a different tack, featuring a former pimp who described how to easy it is to set up an escort service.
JASON ITZLER: No powerful, winner man in
ITZLER: Either to fake out your wife or boss.
Later on March 12 The New York Times revealed the real name of “Kristen,” the prostitute involved in the Spitzer scandal. The networks hopped all over that, running feature stories on her journey to becoming a prostitute. Some, like ABC, included interviews with psychoanalysts who noted that the young woman's history of abuse at home, running away and being homeless is typical for many prostitutes. Finally, a kernel of reality.
Finally, at 6:45 p.m. on March 13, three full days after the scandal broke, someone got serious about reporting on prostitution. Jim Avila, ABC's senior law and justice correspondent, used Ashley Dupre's (aka “Kristen”) personal history to dive into the real truth behind prostitution. He reported that 100,000 women are full time prostitutes in
There is still much of the reality of prostitution that the mainstream media are not reporting. In an excellent column for the Portland (ME) Press Herald, Mike Harmon writes:
The home page (for the Emperors' Club) is a block of photos of women in various stages of undress, about as revealing as you'd see in a
That's right, no faces. Why would men be interested in who these women are?
That's not what they're looking for.
If the word “dehumanizing” has popped into your mind, there's probably a
good reason. Yet, it gets far worse than that.
Some experts say that slavery is more prevalent now than it has been for centuries. And most people, the estimates range from 700,000 to 2 million per year, forced into bondage all over the world are sex slaves, many of them young
teens or even younger children, girls and boys alike. Even when prostitutes are “free,” they are where they are because of their past.
… Prostitution is a particularly vile branch of Organized Crime, Inc., and its
core idea is that women are a commodity who can be bought and sold.
Interestingly enough, this means the worst criminals involved here aren¹t
the prostitutes but the pimps and johns, who often escape prosecution.
Buying and selling people was wrong in the pre-Civil War South, and it's
Harmon is spot-on. The mainstream media would be well advised to take these points and do some real reporting, rather than filling air time with mindless features that serve no other purpose than to titillate viewers.