Controversial author Levine addresses sexuality, media bias

Michael Krieger

Before her book even appeared on the shelves, author Judith Levine attracted media attention for her views on children’s sexuality.

In her book “Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex,” published in April by the University Press, Levine argued shielding adolescents from sex might have detrimental effects.

But the media focused only on the controversy surrounding the book rather than its content, the author said during a panel discussion at Open Book bookstore in Minneapolis last week.

Speaking before a crowd of more than 100 people Monday night, Levine said sensationalism, laziness and bias contributed to inadequate and inaccurate media treatment of the book.

“It’s either pedophilia coverage or no coverage,” she said.

After publication, Levine became the center of national criticism for her writings on adolescent sexuality. The University ordered an external review of University Press policies.

Some conservative and religious groups labeled Levine a pedophile. Others – including Minnesota House majority leader and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty – wanted the University to halt the book’s publication. These slurs and denouncements, Levine said, illustrate how the mainstream media often caters to a conservative, right-wing agenda.

“Most of the press let the right’s claim go undisputed,” she said.

The author also said academics are often criticized when presenting complex ideas because the media tends to reduce issues to good versus evil.

Levine said her book never advocated sex between
children and adults but rather argued that society needs to begin discussing the issue.

Cordelia Anderson, a Minneapolis-based sexual health consultant, said people are socialized to view children’s sexuality as bad, a thought that often pervades the media.

“Children and adolescents – we’re all sexual beings,” Anderson said, “and you need information to make the healthiest choices.

“We don’t really have the good debates,” she said.

Jane Kirtley, a University media law professor, said much of the criticism against Levine came from media outlets such as talk shows, which should not be confused with traditional journalism.

“If you take a controversial stance, you’re going to get beaten up on. That’s not to say it’s right or good journalism,” Kirtley said.

Kirtley, the University Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law director, also said she had concerns about the recent scrutiny of the University Press publishing guidelines.

The review, completed in July, concluded University Press policies are “more rigorous than most.”

“The review determined that the press’ policies and procedures were in order and that they were in many ways exemplary,” said Christine Maziar, the University’s executive vice president and provost.

Douglas Armato, University Press director, said Levine’s book has already sold more than 17,000 copies and some schools are incorporating the book in their curricula.

“We thought that the response to this book got some issues discussed, but in a way it didn’t,” Armato said.

Michael Krieger welcomes comments at [email protected]