MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
Two weeks ago, The New York Times ran a lengthy investigation into the booming business of child pornography that's transmitted over the Internet with Webcams. These are minors using Web cameras in their own paid pornography sites, hundreds of them. The Times story profiled Justin Berry, who's now 19. He described a lucrative business he started when he was 13, disrobing and later performing sex acts on camera from about 1,500 paying customers, some of whom he met and some of whom assaulted him. One of them rented Justin an apartment to use for his sexual performances on the Web. At the urging of The New York Times, Justin Berry gave information to federal prosecutors about the teen-age Webcam industry and the adults who support it. In exchange, Berry was given immunity from prosecution. Kurt Eichenwald is The Times reporter who wrote the story. I asked what's happened to the industry since his report appeared.
Mr. KURT EICHENWALD (The New York Times): I've actually been delighted. The industry has been massively disrupted. There are such things called portals, and what those are are central Web sites that list where the teen Web sites are located. Every large portal connected to teen sites, at least every large portal that was associated with Justin, has shut down. Somebody compared it to turning the lights on in the kitchen when the cockroaches are all in the center; they have scattered.
BLOCK: But do you figure that that is a short-term thing going on? In other words, there's a lot of attention on this right now. You wrote this big story; law enforcement's paying attention. People shut these things down in the short term, but come back in six months, a year, and they'll be right back up.
Mr. EICHENWALD: It is certainly a short-term phenomenon that the portals are shut down. There is an enormous amount of money to be made in this business. And so really there's only so much that the news media can do; there's only so much that law enforcement can do. Really what it comes down to is the parents. You know, Justin said it very well in one of my interviews with him when I asked him what parents should do. He said, `Take the Webcams and throw them in the garbage.' And you're right, that the portals will come back up if there are kids with Webcams out there, and so the only thing that's going to stop this is good parenting.
BLOCK: You know, I can hear in the language you use that this seems to have become something of a crusade for you. And The New York Times did get very highly involved with Justin Berry. You got him to give up drugs; you got him medical help and psychiatric help. You hooked him up with a lawyer who then contacted prosecutors. It's a very unusual relationship that you set up with your source here.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, to a degree, on some levels, yes, on some levels, no. I mean, I write normally about corporate fraud. It is not unusual for me to go into the bowels of a company, find some executive who knows something and get him to turn against his business, to become a whistle-blower. Justin was physically in a lot of danger. I could not stand by and simply say, `Well, here's a source, and I'll get his information and throw him back in the ocean.'
And there was a point at which Justin, in our interviews, began what was the most horrific revelation of my career when he began to identify children, other children, who were in the hands of active predators. I knew who these children were. Justin showed me the evidence. I knew what they looked like. I knew where they were located and I knew who was committing the crimes against them. I've never believed that being a newspaper reporter requires us to check our humanity at the door. There was nothing I could do to stop that other than persuade Justin to give his information to law enforcement.
BLOCK: You've been having a running debate with Jack Shafer, who's the media critic for Slate, who's been writing that you became the legal advocate and protector of Justin Berry, who's now an adult and who's actually complicit in some crimes himself. At the end, he was recruiting other minors to appear on his Web site. And Jack Shafer says you went too far. What do you say to that?
Mr. EICHENWALD: I say Jack Shafer needs to read the story. He doesn't mention the fact that the reason we sought out law enforcement, the reason I persuaded Justin to become a federal witness, was because there were other children at risk. That was the sole driving issue. There were many, many Justins that I interviewed in the course of the story. I did not persuade or attempt to persuade anyone else to become a federal witness, and they are still out there; they are still doing this business. And it is an element of enormous guilt for me that my profession does not allow me to do anything else. At some point, you know, journalists have to recognize that we are citizens of this country and we cannot stand by and simply allow a horror to unfold, allow children to be sexually abused and possibly killed, simply so we don't get the criticism of our peers.
BLOCK: Kurt Eichenwald of The New York Times, thank you very much.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: Kurt Eichenwald says so far three people have been arrested since his story ran. As for Justin Berry, Eichenwald says the teen-ager has been off drugs for six months and he passed his college entrance exams on his second try. He plans to begin college next week.
You can hear more of my conversation with Kurt Eichenwald at npr.org.
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