Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The fast and the spurious

Kevin Clash, who has provided the voice for Sesame Street's beloved Elmo character for 20+ years, has resigned in the wake of sex allegations, the New York Times has reported.

The story, which first broke last Monday, has not been a big one, so don't feel bad if you've missed it. But it has been a fast-moving one.

Mon., Nov. 11 - an anonymous 24-year-old man accuses Clash of having had a sexual relationship with him when he was 16.

Tues., Nov. 12 - the accuser recants as part of a settlement for $125,000, saying through his attorney that "his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship."

Mon., Nov. 18 - the accuser, Sheldon Stephens, goes public to recant the recantation, saying that he was pressured into signing the settlement, that he was indeed 16 rather than 18 when he and Mr. Clash became intimate, and that he would give the $125,000 back to clear his name (from what?).

Today - a second man, Cecil Singleton, accuses Mr. Clash of having had sex with him when he was underage. Mr. Clash resigns.

The coverage of the story is interesting, if discouraging for those who view gossip sites like TMZ with disdain.

First, because non-traditional media are kicking mainstream media's butt. As of 12:27, the New York Times update on the story reads:

Mr. Clash was first accused last week of sexual improprieties by a 24-year-old man who later recanted. That man has remained anonymous.

Hey, Times - Mr. Stephens stopped being anonymous yesterday. Not only his name, but images of his face (and body - he's a model) are all over the place.

Second, because with all of the coverage being generated, no one seems to be asking an obvious question. It seems clear that Kevin Clash had a relationship with Sheldon Stephens. The accusation-recantation-recantation recantation sequence leaves it unclear whether Mr. Stephens was 16 or 18 at the time.

The overlooked question is, "What is the age of the consent?"

Mr. Stephens is said to be living in Pennsylvania; if he was living here when the relationship happened, then guess what? Both the accusation and the recantation could be true, because in Pennsylvania a 16-year-old can have an adult, consensual relationship - 16 is the age of consent. 

I find it astonishing that no one covering the story regarding legal actions seems to be asking whether or not Mr. Clash violated any laws.

So while the New York Times is showing itself to be slow, TMZ and other sites with the story so far are showing themselves to be sloppy.

The fact that I don't see anyone handling this story well so far makes me afraid to trust them for bigger, more complicated stories.

As it happens, I just watched this morning, this clip of Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," with Fox News' Chris Wallace, in which Mr. Stewart says of the Times, "I think their bias is towards sensationalism and laziness." I have learned to take sensationalism as so much of a given that it doesn't bother me much. Laziness does.

What do you think? Is there some bad journalism going on here re the Kevin Clash story, or am I off my gourd?


Sis PD said...

You are on target as usual. Gaze fighting, fiscal cliff gamesmanship and other stories have made this attention fall through the cracks. I wonder if it would have been news if it wasn't nearing the big shopping season and Elmo wasn't such a huge brand.

Elwin Green said...

Thanks for your comment, Sis PD. I think this would have been news even if we weren't at a major shopping season, precisely because Elmo is such a huge brand. That, and the bias toward sensationalism Jon Stewart describes.

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