Salon published an opinion piece headlined "Why I Need to See Child Porn,'' by Debbie Nathan, on Aug. 25. The piece incorrectly characterized the law pertaining to child pornography, and the facts surrounding the reporting of a recent published story in the New York Times.
The piece pointed to a recent story on "child model" sites by New York Times writer Kurt Eichenwald. That story described the Times as having located at least 200 sites, and described the content of certain sites. However, the Times story did not state that Eichenwald or the Times visited and viewed those 200 Web sites.
The story indicates, and Eichenwald confirms, that the portrayal of the content of those sites was primarily based on the written descriptions of them on certain advertising portals, which contained links to the sites, and not based on reviewing the content of the sites themselves.
Eichenwald said he located the portals through links on a conversation forum operated by a company described in his story. In describing that forum and the related sites, the Times story states:
"The Times did not subscribe to any sites, which it first saw referenced in online conversations among pedophiles. The Times followed a link posted in those conversations to forum postings and images on freely accessible pages of the modeling sites. Because those sites appeared to be illegal, The Times was required by law to report what it had found to authorities. Federal law enforcement officials were notified in July about the sites."
The story did not indicate that anyone at the Times deliberately viewed any potentially pornographic images, or visited any sites believing they contained pornographic images. An editor's note accompanying the story confirmed that the Times reported all of the potentially illegal content it inadvertently viewed to federal authorities and made it clear that the paper did not copy or retain any illegal images. Salon has no reason to doubt Eichenwald's and the Times' account of these actions.
The piece that appeared on Salon asserted that under child pornography laws, journalists and researchers have no protection from prosecution if they viewed visual depictions of child pornography, even inadvertently, in the course of their work. In fact, federal law appears to offer legal protection for inadvertently coming into possession of child pornography. A federal statute provides an "affirmative defense'' under certain circumstances, if the discovery of child pornography is limited and is reported to a law enforcement agency.
The assertion that there was no law regarding inadvertent discovery with which the Times could comply was incorrect. Any implication that the conduct of the New York Times or Mr. Eichenwald was illegal was also incorrect.
Salon regrets the errors and has removed the article from the site.
[Correction made 8/31/06]