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When Journalists Threaten to Sue

I was Disappeared by Salon

by DEBBIE NATHAN

On August 24, the online magazine Salon published my opinion piece "Why I Need to See Child Porn." It argued that we need a government system to vet researchers’ and journalists’ qualifications, allowing them to test government claims about the prevalence, content and profitability of internet child pornography images without fear of legal sanctions.

The next morning, August 25, Salon received communication from New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, threatening to sue Salon and me for libel if my article were not immediately removed from Salon’s site. Among other things, my piece had discussed Eichenwald’s August 20 Times article, "With Child Sex Sites on the Run, Nearly Nude Photos Hit the Web."

Within hours after receiving Eichenwald’s threat of a lawsuit, Salon pulled "Why I Need to See Child Porn," along with dozens of letters responding to it. My piece was not archived on Salon’s site and neither were the letters. All the material was irretrievably removed. A correction was run stating it was "inaccurate" that journalists and other researchers have "no protection from prosecution if they viewed visual depictions of child pornography." On August 26, Salon’s editor, Joan Walsh, wrote on Salon’s forum for subscribers, Table Talk, that my article was taken down because its "central premise" was "impossible to just correct." She did not mention that Salon had been contacted by Eichenwald and threatened with a lawsuit.

I was not consulted about the decision to irretrievably remove my opinion piece and the letters. I had no input into the language of the correction.

After Salon pulled the article and ran its first correction, Eichenwald continued to threaten a suit unless another correction was run. On August 31 Salon ran a second correction, based primarily on language supplied by Eichenwald and his lawyer. I had no input into the decision to publish this correction, nor any input into its wording. Salon gave me no opportunity to respond to the correction.

The first correction had been published in a format allowing the public to respond by clicking a link on the same page the correction appeared on. People could read the responses sent in by clicking on the same page, just under the correction. During the next few days beginning August 25, Salon posted over 150 responses.

When Eichenwald demanded a second correction, he specified it must be "locked" so no public response could be submitted on the correction page or be readable from there. Subsequently, Salon formatted the second correction so it is impossible to send or read responses on the same page as the correction. Postings now can be made only by paid subscribers, to Salon’s "Table Talk" section. No discussion topic links in "Table Talk" are marked as having anything specifically to do with "Why I Need to See Child Porn."

I am extremely disappointed with Salon’s handling of this incident. Nevertheless, I trust public discussion will continue about the issues my article raised.

For more information, see:

Alia Malek, "Child Pornography: To See or Not to See?" (Columbia Journalism Review CJRDaily, September 21, 2006)

Judith Levine letter to the New York Times Public Editor

DEBBIE NATHAN is a New York City-based journalist who writes about sexual politics and immigration. She can be reached at naess2@gmail.com