Horny dads at a prom: Too juicy to get the whole story

Let's talk about Clare, the homeschooled teenager in Richmond, Va., who was thrown out of a prom because of her dress. The facts are ...

Well, actually, we don’t know many of the facts, whatever you may have read in "news" accounts. Nearly all of them are based purely on her blogging rant about the flap.

In one of the most shameful abuses of social media ever, story after story takes as gospel truth how the girl conformed to the dance dress code, yet was thrown out by horny dads and intolerant chaperones. Even The Telegraph in London had to get in on the act, from across the Atlantic.

The Telegraph's may be the cheapest, most garish version:

A teenager in America says she was forced to leave her prom after fathers complained that their children would experience “impure thoughts” towards her.

The fathers, who were acting as chaperones at the dance, complained that she was dancing provocatively and her skirt was too short.

Clare Ettinger from Virginia, described how her dress was checked to see it met the dress code requirement of being longer than the fingertips when her arms were by her side.

However despite meeting the requirement a female chaperone told her to keep her dress "pulled down" down so it didn't look too short.

She then gets told by a female chaperone that "some of the fathers had complained that her dancing was too provocative, and that she would cause the men at the prom to think impure thoughts," the Telegraph says. Clare says she felt "violated," that it was "sick and wrong," and she wants ticket refunds for herself, her date and the friends who came with her.

The Telegraph then contacted the school authorities and the prom chaperones for their side. No, sorry, I mean they didn’t call anyone. They quoted no one but Clare -- effectively lowering news to the level of gossip.

Not that most other media did better. In many cases, the very headlines were tainted.

"Virginia teen: I was booted from prom because male chaperones checked me out," says one of the milder headlines in the New York Daily News.

"Teen Is Kicked Out Of A High School Prom Because The FATHERS Couldn’t Control Their Impure Thoughts!", rages Perez Hilton.

"Teen Girl Ejected From Prom Because Horny Dads Can't Stop Staring," reports the aptly named Gawker.

"This Girl Was Kicked Out of Her Prom for Dancing Provocatively, Blames Creepy 'Ogling' Chaperone Dads," says E! Online.

"‘Christian’ Homeschool Dads Get Girl Kicked Out Of Prom Because They Can’t Stop Lusting After Her," sneers Crooks and Liars.

"Teen girl kicked out of prom because dads said her dress conjured ‘impure thoughts’," echoes The Raw Story -- which, despite its motto of "independent journalism," pretty much pasted the story together from The Gawker, Crooks and Liars and Clare's blog post.

None of those media attempted to get the other side. And who can blame them? After all, if you can't trust a 17-year-old with a grudge to give an objective account ...

Among the few outlets that did try to reach anyone else was NBC News. They asked Callie's friends and family, who unsurprisingly backed her up. Prom organizers didn’t return NBC's calls -- yet another lesson for sources who try to freeze out the media. Still, NBC ran with less than the whole story.

Because it's pretty clear what's going on here: sensationalism, feeding frenzy, the usual suspects. Men blaming a female for their own lusts. Homeschoolers trying to keep a thumb on their kids. A religious group enforcing stupid, outmoded modesty codes. It's a juicy story. And if we don’t run it, the competition will.

CNN's Kelly Wallace was somewhat smarter. She opened her Thursday column with a brief recap of the dustup -- all from Clare's viewpoint, of course -- then offered her own mild rant:

Really? That isn't much of a stretch from "she asked for it" when we blame victims of sexual assault for what they were wearing. Are the thoughts and actions of young men and their fathers really her responsibility?

Then Wallace allowed her readers to give their opinions and experiences in choosing prom dresses. Their remarks were more balanced than hers.

For more of that, try clicking our friend and fellow blogger Rod Dreher of The American Conservative. On Tuesday, he appeared to take Clare's side, decrying the bullying over a dress code.

I know that people who hate homeschooling think we’re all like this. We’re not, not by a long shot. But this kind of thought and behavior does exist within religious homeschooling circles, and when we see it, we should have no hesitation to criticize it.

However, Rod also reported that Clare's screed appeared on the blog of her sister, a self-described survivor of "fundamentalist Christian homeschooling." And he was back the next day with "Another Side to the Story."

That time, he linked to the blog of Callie Hobbs, who says she's a fellow student and was at the prom. Callie's angry, 1,296-word column says that no men said anything about Clare's appearance, only women, and that Clare was ejected for being disrespectful. And Callie slammed as "yellow journalism" all the articles that took Clare's word for it.

"Another Side" got 38 reader comments, which sliced 'n' diced the matter as finely as a Cobb salad. Some readers believed one girl or the other. Some waved it off as "she said/she said." Some complained of a double standard, that boys aren’t thrown out of proms for dressing provocatively. And some gave Rod a well-deserved hat tip for following the issue further than most.

For myself, I liked Comment #8 by one Andrew Alladin, though not for the same reasons he gives. He criticized Rod and other conservatives who want to distance themselves from fundamentalists:

"There are tens of millions of Christians in America and somewhere one or more of them is saying, thinking, planning thinking, and doing something stupid. Go get 'em witch hunters! Happy hunting!"

I agree with the sentiment, but I would aim it instead at media who join the pack attack on anything that might make conservative Christians look bad -- even if they have to shed journalistic integrity en route.

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