I went to bed angry last night.
My final tweet of the night was this, “Congratulations, @WashingtonPost, you’ve taken link baiting to a new low.”
I tossed and turned as I thought about the state of the fourth estate. I went to bed fuming about media’s unbridled desire to sensationalize headlines with little regard for the implications, with almost no regard for their potential impact on people. And I awoke to find this headline in my Twitter stream, The Secret To Sensationalizing Your Headlines Like Matt Drudge. And so here I sit, furiously typing at my local Starbucks.
Why? Because of this article: Sex between students and teachers should not be a crime.
The writer’s point is clearly stated early in the piece, “I don’t believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape,” Betsy Karasik wrote, “and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized.” No, this is not a post from The Onion. This is the Washington Post.
To be clear, I vehemently disagree with Karasik’s argument. A 14 year old is NOT emotionally capable of engaging in a truly consensual sexual relationship with a teacher. Teacher-student sex is predatory. Period. If you want to give this kind of “statutory rape” a different name, fine, but the behavior is criminal. If there is an exception, it would be extremely rare and I’m not even going to try to think of one I can stomach. The writer’s anecdotal approach to this issue is ridiculous on its face.
One commenter stated my feelings well, “Teenagers are, according to the author, “sexually mature,” English_teacher wrote. “I suppose that depends on one’s definition of sexual maturity. But I would beg to differ with the writer’s viewpoint. Experts know that while teens may have bodies that are capable of having sex, they totally lack the maturity to understand the act, especially when it is between themselves and someone who is in a position of power over them. Throw in the lying, deceit, shame, and guilt that goes along with such a twisted relationship, and how can a child (yes, teens are still children, Ms. Karasik) not come away damaged.”
Is this discussion even warranted? Who at the Washington Post thought this was a conversation worth having? Are there really enclaves of people, outside of predators themselves, who think loosening laws around teacher-student sex is a topic worthy of consideration? The warranted discussion is one that involves how we do a better job of protecting our youth in the first place.
You may be reading this and thinking, “How is this link baiting? The title is accurate. That’s exactly what the writer is saying.” You’re right. It does accurately reflect what she is saying. But I felt last night that the Washington Post was not attempting to be accurate with their headline. They used that headline specifically to gain attention and to encourage people to link to the website. That is the definition of link baiting.
The Washington Post fully understands that most people don’t actually read the articles they spread via Twitter and other social media. And they also understand that a headline shapes the way you read a post. My bedtime feelings were validated when I was told the headline for their print edition for the exact same article is “Sex happens, even in school.” Print obviously doesn’t need links.
So, for those of you looking for the latest, greatest example of how to drive traffic to your website, look no further than this disgusting display by the Washington Post. They have sunk to a new level of low. In fact, it’s kind to simply call this link baiting. I think the correct description would be “dangerous and irresponsible journalism.”
I’m still angry. Writing this hasn’t helped. I’m going to post it anyway.
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Edit: After the publishing of this post, the Washington Post changed the headline of this story to, “The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students.” A Google search is not turning up any explanation for why they changed the headline. I have my guesses.