Youngsters' curiosity about sex used to be sated by late night, soft-core flicks on premium cable channels. Now, they simply have to tune into ABC.
ABC news programs have featured 76 segments about sexual activity in the last six months. The majority of these reports were related to political sex scandals or crime cases that contained a sexual element, but 11 promoted alternative sexual arrangements such as men who become women, Web sites dedicated to helping married people cheat on their spouses and even people who carry on romantic relationships with objects like F-15 fighter jets and the Eiffel Tower.
"World News Sunday" even considered the opening of a sex shop in historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, worthy of a news segment.
In his March 29 report, correspondent David Wright didn't feature any residents upset about the controversial new business in the historic district, but he did feature store owner Bo Kenny. Kenny told ABC, "We have sold several cages. Our puppy cage is the most popular cage."
Neither Kenny nor Wright explained that people who assume the roles of master and pet use the cages as part of their sex play, but Wright concluded, "It turns out, Alexandria is home to a thriving community of fetishists."
Like Wright's report, many of these ABC segments lacked a critical voice. This refusal to provide balance in its reporting of such topics promoted acceptance of all types of proclivities, no matter how strange.
Pregnant "man" Thomas Beattie received more than an hour airtime courtesy of ABC in 2008. This year, the network has pushed the gender boundaries and even the boundaries of human love to the outer limits.
A July 21 "Primetime" special focused on the journey of the Prince family, who watched father and husband Ted transition into a "woman" named Chloe. Ted and his wife Rene have two sons, Logan, 7 ½, and Barry, 6.
Correspondent Juju Chang previewed the special on "Good Morning America" and contended, "Developmental psychologists will tell you that if you have honest, open, frank and age-appropriate conversations, the boys will be just fine. Now, Rene, their mom, tells us they are doing great socially." Neither the preview nor the full special featured an opposing opinion.
In fact, the only real critic of Prince's decision that Chang featured was Ted's father, who at first was upset. But he dutifully told Chang he would "try and understand this." Prince visited his former high school girlfriend, who claimed, "It doesn't affect me at all because you're still the same person, you know? And that, to me, is what really matters."
Chang also ignored Prince's utter selfishness in wanting his wife to (in effect) change her sexual orientation to engage in a physical relationship with him, or of expecting her and his sons to accept his decision.
Instead, viewers heard how "torturous" it was for Prince to see his wife recoil from him physically.
But for ABC, men turning into women is pretty hum-drum. "Good Morning America" went out and found a whole new sexual orientation on April 8 - people who love objects.
"Objectum sexuals," as defined by ABC's Kate Snow, are people whose "intimate life revolves around objects, not people." Snow focused her report on Erika Eiffel, a woman who changed her last name to Eiffel as a reflection of the commitment ceremony she had with the famous Parisian landmark.
Eiffel offered a deeper explanation of her condition. She said "we feel an innate connection with objects. It comes perfectly normal to us, to connect on various levels, emotional, spiritual, and also physical for some." Convinced she was born this way, Eiffel told Snow, "when other teenagers were dating each other, I was dating a bridge."
Snow redefined normal in the nearly five minute segment by only featuring a member of the medical community who equated "objectum sexual" relationships with fully human relationships. San Fransisco sexologist Amy Marsh told ABC:
[Objectum sexual relationships] are real. They are complex. And they are no less and no more of value than other romantic relationships. I can tell you that what I'm finding is not much history of sexual abuse. And actually not much in the way of psychiatric diagnosis, either. I'm also finding out that quite a few of them have a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome or autism but not everybody.
Host Diane Sawyer implied that "objectum sexuality" was strange when she said there was "a wide variety of reactions here among all of us watching it," but that wasn't enough to counter the deferential treatment Snow gave the topic during her report.
Nightline, the New Skini-max?
"Nightline," once a production of the driest sort, has in the past six months promoted the modernized version of "The Joy of Sex," sugar daddies, prostitution and adultery.
"Sections on foursomes and moresomes, becoming more socially easy to arrange, we were told. Sex on a moving motorcycle, which called for the wearing of a hard hat. The flanquette [a sexual position], unclear. A lot of it seems quite European and too shocking for some," was how correspondent Nick Watt described "The Joy of Sex" in his January 22 "Nightline" report.
As for the updates in "Joy of Sex," Watt stated, "There are 43 new sections on such modern phenomena as phone sex, Internet sex, sex in parking lots and sex toys." Sexologist Susan Quillam, who revised the manual, argued it "is about love and dedicated sex," but nothing was said if the book included updates about the sexually transmitted diseases rampant now that were not in 1972, when the manual was originally released.
Watt highlighted the titillating sexual details over one particularly radical update - that sex and love cannot be separated. Quillam wrote about love:
When this book was first written, the world was in the middle of the most radical rethinking of sexuality ever - and the subsequent rethinking of love. The prediction then was that sex and love could be divorced, and no-strings sex is certainly now more common. But most of us still require a connection before we can do any more than simply perform; love may not be all you need, but it's an essential for any except the most basic satisfaction.
According to "Nightline," sex could also solve an economic crisis.
Correspondent Neal Karlinsky's Febuary 6 report portrayed prostitution as the answer to Nevada's financial woes. Democratic State Senator Bob Coffin proposed to decriminalize prostitution. Karlinsky reported that "the senator estimates the state could bring in an immediate $2 million a year from taxing the existing brothels. And up to an astonishing $200 million a year if the brothel business is allowed to expand into Vegas." Karlinsky later asked Coffin if he had ever "partaken of this industry." Coffin feigned memory loss.
Dennis Hof, owner of the infamous Bunny Ranch brothel, appeared in Karlinsky's report shopping for more property in case Coffin's proposal passed. Predictably, Hof defended the idea. "If they put prostitution into Las Vegas or Reno, it's going to be in certain areas, controlled," he said. "The signage is going to be certain sizes. It's not going to be in your face."
One of Hof's employees told Karlinsky "There's no way that you can establish a place like this and not make money and help the economy. It's impossible."
Three critics featured said they were concerned decriminalizing prostitution would negatively affect the state's chances of attracting families and corporations to Nevada, but nobody expressed moral concern about trading flesh for a sound economy.
Just a few years ago Vegas tried to portray itself as a family-friendly vacation destination. Decriminalizing prostitution would surely put Vegas back on the map as Sin City.
If "Nightline" didn't have a problem with actual prostitution, nobody can expect it would find fault with perceived prostitution. On the May 19 edition, host Martin Bashir explored the world of sugar daddies - those wealthy men who lavish gifts and money on attractive young women in exchange for their company.
Melissa, an out-of-work actress, and Kyle, a television producer "who makes around half a million dollars a year," discussed their relationship with Bashir. Melissa claimed, "It's nice to be able to have a partner that understands where you're going and helps support that." For Kyle, he couldn't understand why people would view his relationship with Melissa as prostitution, despite his spending nearly $10,000 for his third date with her.
Simone Cohen, CEO of EstablishedMen.com, a Web site that matches beautiful women with wealthy men, and where Melissa and Kyle found one another, also denied that this was a form of prostitution. But "relationship expert" Bridgette Lang told Bashir, "Without a doubt it is prostitution." Bashir accused Cohen of being "the CEO of a pimping Web site," but despite the inclusion of a critic, the segment ultimately presented sugar daddies as just another arrangement.
ABC's Diane Sawyer called these arrangements "interesting" during a January 29 "Good Morning America" segment. Four of the six women asked about sugar daddy/baby relationships insisted it is not prostitution. Author Alicia Dunams maintained, "This is just like dating. It's dating with perks."
Chris, a married "daddy" interviewed by correspondent Andrea Canning, claimed, despite not revealing his last name and changing his voice, that he and his sugar baby Melanie are "pretty upfront about what we're looking for." As for Melanie, she asserted that sugar daddies "want you to actually, like, achieve something and do something good."
Sawyer expressed concern over Chris's marriage, but Canning said Melanie "doesn't have too many concerns about that" and that Chris "said he wants to feel young again. He doesn't want the drama, he has millions to go around. So, they feel like for them, it's a, it's a good situation."
Nobody discussed the effects this would have on the people involved in these relationships during the two segments. Nor did anyone mention sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, the emotional ramifications and the self-worth of the women who allow themselves to enter into these relationships.
For viewers unable to afford sugar babies, "Nightline" and "Good Morning America" turned the spotlight on new Web sites designed specifically to provide opportunities for married people to begin affairs.
"Life is short. Have an affair" is the tag line for one such site, AshleyMadison.com. The site also offers an "affair guarantee." Members will be refunded their $249 membership fee if they don't find someone within three months.
"Good Morning America" devoted a March 19 segment to cheating wives, one of which used AshleyMadison. Karen, a cheating wife, told ABC her affair "improved" her marriage. She stated, "I feel good about myself. I don't feel overweight. I don't feel unattractive. I feel like there's somebody out there that's very definitely interested in me sexually. And I don't argue about sex anymore."
Deanna, another cheating wife, told ABC, "I was shocked to see how many unhappy marriages are out there. It's sad, in a way. But it is what it is. And before the Internet, you know, people just struggled through their marriages."
Noel Biderman, CEO of AshleyMadison, claimed, "if you poll most people, they would still call it taboo or immoral to cheat. But if you step back for a second and put people under a different condition and say, now if you could cheat with no repercussions, a lot of people confess to wanting to do that or, or being open to doing that."
The May 19 "Nightline" broadcast also featured a report on cheating spouses. Bashir confronted Biderman about his role in potentially destroying families, but didn't challenge him when he responded, "I think if anything I've helped them preserve their family." Biderman also claimed that whether adultery is good or bad "depends on the circumstances." He continued, "I think there are some cases it's probably very destructive and in some places it's very constructive."
A woman who engaged in adultery with a married man after her husband cheated on her told Bashir she didn't feel at all bad about it until she saw her partner's wife. At that point, she admitted to feeling "uncomfortable."
Although psychologist Seth Meyers told "Good Morning America" that affairs do not work out well for relationships, nobody on the programs discussed the loss of trust or the implosion of the family unit that can result from an affair.
Patrick Schneman, a private investigator, was the only unequivocal defender of marriage to appear in either segment. "To me, there's nothing more important that that relationship between a husband and a wife. That's a sacred vow to me," he told Bashir.
Ratings Up, Morals Down
In the short term, ABC's preoccupation with sordid sexuality may be paying off. A July 26 New York Times article reported that "Nightline's" viewership is "up 14 percent in the last six weeks compared with the same week a year ago." David Westin, the president of ABC News, told the Times, "The network is very pleased with what they are getting with "Nightline."
ABC executives must believe that covering abnormal sexuality can help "Good Morning America" too. The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism's State of the News Media report found GMA's audience decreased 8 percent between 2007 and 2008. But that's nothing a little perversion and a sprinkling of promiscuousness can't fix.
Since ABC is determined to present prostitution, objectum sexuality and transgenderism on its "news" programming, it would be nice if the network felt obligated to produce voices that question the healthiness and consequences of such behavior. Otherwise, ABC is just airing propaganda for progressive sexual mores, and abnormal sexual predilections and relationships.