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Blowjobs and Snow Jobs | The Nation

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Blowjobs and Snow Jobs

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If the sixties were the age of the war reporter and the seventies the age of the investigative reporter, then the late nineties may go down in history as the age of the blowjob reporter. Well, OK, that's an exaggeration. But when it comes to blowjob reporting, exaggeration is OK. So is almost everything else. To hell with evidence, objectivity and all that stuff they teach in journalism school. Ever since the word "Lewinsky" entered the lexicon, nothing makes an editor's pencil perk up quite so much as the word "oral" next to the word "sex."

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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The Washington Post has twice succumbed to fellatio fever in recent months. One of its best columnists noted that Gore adviser Naomi Wolf "brags in her book 'Promiscuities,' [that] she was rather adroit" in the oral arts as a teenager. This is slander--Wolf "brags" about no such thing. She does say that as a young teenager she listened to her girlfriends' older sisters brag about their abilities, but she makes no claims for her own prowess. When I contacted the columnist in question, he admitted that he had never seen the book and was quoting someone who made this claim on Imus, who in turn had not read the book but had seen it "in a wire story." When the subject is blowjobs (or Naomi Wolf), that's good enough.

An even more egregious example of journalistic promiscuity occurred in the Post this past summer when Laura Sessions Stepp wrote a lurid front-page story titled parents are alarmed by an unsettling new fad in middle schools: oral sex. Apparently, in the "upper-income community of elegant brick homes, leafy sycamores and stone walls," some teenagers were said to be fooling around. I write "said to be" because while the story contained any number of hysterical pronouncements by people with no particular knowledge of the incidents described, it was light enough on evidence to float on air.

The Post report was inspired by a meeting at which a school principal informed shocked parents that their daughters were "at risk." (The sons, presumably, were at risk only of getting lots of high fives from their buddies.) According to the principal, as many as "a dozen girls and two or three boys had been engaging in oral sex through most of the school year. The teens, 13 and 14 years old, were getting together at parties in one another's homes."

Two or three boys and a dozen girls? Does something sound fishy already? I mean, who are these guys? Well, it doesn't really matter. After all, nowhere in the story are these numbers corroborated. (Also, nowhere does the reporter mention that her son attended the school.) Stepp quotes a Mr. Michael Schaffer, a health education professional in Prince George's County, Virginia, who said, "It's now the expected minimum behavior." But unless this school has fewer than thirty kids, the vast majority appear to be defying that expectation with remarkable fortitude. Beth Knobbs, a director of pupil services in Talbot County, observes that "adolescents as young as 11 are not prepared for its emotional repercussions." Tough quote; too bad no one in this story, or anywhere else, for that matter, is arguing the contrary.

Deep into her story, Stepp shows that she knows next to nothing about just how many blowjobs are being given to whom when she admits that "there's no way to know the proportion of younger teens who are behaving similarly." The story quotes exactly one teenage girl who admits to having done the dirty deed. In this great newspaper, we are treated almost exclusively to second- and thirdhand accounts from sources like "a boy who just finished ninth grade at a private school in Baltimore," "the student grapevine" and "two boys who ran with the Williamsburg crowd in Arlington."

Don't get me wrong. Family newspapers should be covering the changing sexual mores of young people. But they should do a better job than, say, Matt Drudge does with President Clinton's imaginary love children. Much of the media's fellatio fixation derives--as do so many trends in media today--from the influence of the Internet. Online editors, who are able to track with alarming precision the number of readers each story attracts, have discovered that nothing pulls in readers like the prospect of a vicarious blowjob. Salon, whose editors claim to be addicted to daily hit counts, is a trailblazer in this category. Again, I'm not complaining about the subject matter. Hiring the eminently sensible "sexpert" Susie Bright as a columnist to write about her specialty is a fine idea (particularly when compared with her lunatic companions, Camille Paglia and David Horowitz). But one can see the Web magazine straining to bring home a blowjob no matter how far afield it must stray. Recently, for instance, a silly item about Alanis Morrisette's sex life discovered in a gossip column in an Ottawa newspaper led a writer to wonder whether any of the bestselling artist's "conquests include going down on a theater companion" as she sings about in "You Oughta Know." Another Salon story titled "Drop 'em, babe!" found a California freelance writer touting endless blowjobs as the ticket to a happy marriage. "Some friends think I fail to please my husband by not preparing his favorite foods, even using recipes from his mother. Each describes the appreciative, loving look on her man's face when he comes home to a table laid out with these special dinners.... How many men actually moan over a rib roast?" she wrote in not-so-Good-Housekeeping-like prose.

Well, obviously, journalism will never be the same since that fateful night in early 1998 when the august Ted Koppel bantered back and forth with his correspondent over the President's alleged assertion that "oral sex is not adultery." Koppel and the rest of the media had little choice but to obsess over sex during impeachment, but in the rush to sexploitation since, reporters have gotten careless. It's a bad sign when even respected journalistic institutions like the Washington Post are publishing shoddily sourced stories that exploit parents' fears and readers' prurient interest in sex stories about young people. Inevitably, these have the effect of leaving reporter and editor looking a great deal sillier than any two teenagers, alone in the dark, doing what teenagers have done since time immemorial.

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