Justin Berry

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Justin Berry (born July 24 1986) is an American who operated pornographic websites featuring himself and other teens, beginning at age 13.[1] In 2005, at the age of 18, he cooperated in a New York Times feature article, was granted federal immunity and became a witness for both federal and state authorities.[2] Despite his enterprise as a child pornographer, Berry went on to pronounce himself a victim, making multiple media appearances. Berry now works as a paid speaker on child safety promotion.

Eichenwald and the New York Times

New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald became aware of Berry as part of what he claimed to be an eight-month-long fraud investigation involving INTERPOL agents.[2] In June 2005, Eichenwald discovered Berry via a post made by Berry to a Yahoo! message board for his fans[3], auctioning a face-to-face meeting or "date" with Berry to the highest bidder.[2]

Eichenwald contacted Berry anonymously on-line, telling Berry he was a songwriter (Eichenwald writes songs as a hobby) and asking to meet with him. Despite concerns that the anonymous contact might be a law enforcement officer, Berry accepted payment of $2,000 from Eichenwald on June 8, 2005.[4] After receiving and depositing the check the next day[2], Berry agreed to the meeting.[3]

At the meeting, Eichenwald identified himself as a reporter and explained the true nature of his interest in Berry. Although Berry continued in the Internet pornography business after their initial meeting, in subsequent meetings, Eichenwald was able to gain Berry's confidence and an entry into his world.[2][3]

Eichenwald requested demonstrations of the workings of Berry's online business which Berry provided, including live conversations with subscribers. After Berry revealed the identities of children who were being exploited by adults, Eichenwald persuaded him to discontinue the business and turn his information about those minors over to the authorities.[1]

Federal authorities have since learned that only one minor was actively being abused at the time Berry was negotiating with them, and that abuse was committed by Berry himself[2]. Eichenwald contacted an attorney, who agreed to represent Berry, and who obtained an immunity agreement from the government in exchange for his cooperation.[5] As a consequence, Berry is immune from Federal prosecution for any and all crimes he committed in the course of operating his Internet child pornography businesses. The immunity agreement does not extend to state charges, and can be nullified if Berry's information proves untruthful.

Eichenwald completed his research and writing, and, on December 19, 2005, the New York Times published "Through His Webcam, A Boy Joins A Sordid Online World," a feature-length story focusing on Berry's experiences as a "target" for "online pedophiles."[1]

Praise and criticism for Berry and Eichenwald

Justin Berry at 15
After the story broke both praise and criticism were directed at Berry and Eichenwald. In February, 2006 an article in The Guide Magazine, a monthly gay publication, repeated these concerns. Calling Eichenwald's story "broadsheet journalism marinated in tabloid ideas” and “an alarmist exercise,” the article asks: "To what extent was Justin, who had made a career out of catering to men's fantasies, cravings, and projections, telling Eichenwald just what he wanted to hear? Did Justin, confronted with an authority figure who had cast himself in the dual role of savior and cop, cooperate mainly out of fear of prosecution?" The article also draws attention to the possibility that some of the subscribers to Berry’s sites may not have been aware that they were viewing illegal material.[6]

Others raising this possibility have pointed to web archives and Google caches[7][8] of Berry’s websites, showing that they were advertised as offering legal pornography.[9]

Eichenwald subsequently won awards for his reporting on this subject, including the prestigious Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. Based on subsequent disclosures which called into question the ethics of the methods by which Eichenwald came to report Berry's story[4], the Payne Award committee reviewed Eichenwald's award, ultimately allowing it to stand.

On March 6, 2007, The New York Times stated that Eichenwald had paid Berry $2,000.00 via cashier's check before Berry met with Eichenwald or revealed much of the information used in the story, and that Eichenwald had subsequently asked for the money back before committing to write the story but had failed to disclose the payment. Members of Berry's family did repay the money before the story ran. The Times also noted that he had not identified himself as a journalist when he first contacted Berry.[4] This disclosure was made after the information was exposed at trial by the defense attorney for Kenneth Gourlay, one of the men who stood accused by Berry. When Eichenwald's initial $2,000 payment was revealed in June, 2007, Eichenwald claimed that Berry's family had later repaid him that amount, and that the only other payment he had made to Berry had been $10 via PayPal. In August, 2007, Court documents connected to the case against Timothy Ryan Richards — a former employee of Berry's — revealed that Eichenwald had made additional payments in June, 2005 via PayPal, some made under pseudonyms, totaling at least $1,100. Eichenwald has denied lying about the additional payments, claiming that he has no recollection of having made them.[10] Subsequently, on August 10, 2007, Eichenwald resigned his post at Portfolio.

After Eichenwald's payment to Berry became public knowledge, Eichenwald's ethics as a journalist were questioned by several sources. Michelle Malkin, a syndicated columnist writing in the Stockton Record, questioned Eichenwald's conduct and the lack of condemnation on the part of the Times, saying that:

"Eichenwald and the Times have offered explanations for the payment that don't pass the sniff test. These rationales certainly wouldn't get past the Times' own editorial olfactory nerves if any of its competitors had committed the very same sin."[11]

Malkin rhetorically asks "can you imagine how loudly the media ethics mavens would moan if anyone other than the New York Times provided such convoluted justifications for checkbook journalism?"[11] The Times never provided any such explanations for Eichenwald's conduct, stating simply in an editors' note that "Times policy forbids paying the subjects of articles for information or interviews." [4]

Interviews and Congressional testimony

Berry appeared with Eichenwald on the February 15 2006 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss his story.

On April 4 2006, Justin Berry appeared before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce to give testimony on "Sexual Exploitation of Children Over the Internet: What Parents, Kids and Congress Need to Know About Child Predators." In this testimony he stated that "My experience is not as isolated as you might hope" and went on to detail his ordeal. He expressed frustration that more was not being done to bring the perpetrators to justice, specifically those who molested him. Members of the committee said his testimony had fueled a new effort to toughen up the laws against the producers and purchasers of child pornography. They also praised his courage in stepping forward, with one Congressman going so far as to suggest that any new legislation that emerged from this new effort to combat child pornography be named "the Justin Berry Act."[12]

Media appearances and other references

Berry, Eichenwald and Ken Gourlay (accused of molesting Berry) appeared on C-SPAN, an American cable television network, giving testimony before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce.[12]

Berry and Eichenwald were interviewed on Larry King Live by its host, Larry King, on April 4 2006. [13]

Further notoriety came when Berry & Eichenwald were interviewed by Katie Couric for NBC's morning talk show, Today.[11]

They also were interviewed by Kathleen Brooks on the October 25 2006 episode of The Darkness to Light Show: Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence.[14]

Berry has appeared on other television shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and CTV CanadaAM. In July 2007, Berry created InternetSafety.tv as a world-wide anti-child pornography resource.

The NBC television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit aired an episode called "Web" on May 9 2006 that may have drawn inspiration from this case.[15]

Criticisms and alternative perspectives

Berry's account of these events is not without its critics. In April of 2007, the political newsletter CounterPunch published an article by author & journalist Debbie Nathan entitled "The New York Times, Kurt Eichenwald and the World of Justin Berry: Hysteria, Exploitation and Witch-Hunting in the Age of Internet Sex" regarding what it considers the "serious mishandling" of the reporting of this story by Kurt Eichenwald, calling his reporting "...the pop-culture battering ram for a government-sponsored war against humane, constructive treatment of sex offenders..."[2]

The piece, in short, poses open questions of whether Berry is at least somewhat culpable, whether or not his immunity deal was appropriate, and whether or not people who've since gone to prison for crimes related to this case were justly sentenced. The article also calls into question the tactics used by the FBI, the New York Times, and the criminal justice system as a whole in handling this case.[2]

In addition, online queer news magazine GenerationQ has posted open letters from two people who've already been imprisoned: Timothy Ryan Richards and Kenneth Gourlay, both convicted of crimes connected to Berry. In these letters, both inmates maintain their innocence and concur with CounterPunch's questioning of America's justice system.[16][17]

Friends and family of Timothy Ryan Richards have also begun their own websites, including TheTruthAboutJustin.com, in which they refute Berry's claims and attempt to establish Richards' innocence.[18] Richards' supporters have also purchased, scanned, and uploaded thousands of pages of trial transcripts detailing the testimony of government witnesses and of Richards himself.[19]

Current activities

Speaking engagements

Starting in 2006, Berry has worked as a paid public speaker and has secured professional representation. He now speaks to various groups regarding alcoholism & drug abuse, computers, current events, education, generation issues, & image/self-esteem. His engagements have included:

  • International Violence, Abuse and Trauma Conference at Alliant International University in San Diego, September 14-19, 2006.
  • Second Annual Cyber Security Awareness Conference held in Albany, New York on October 4 2006.
  • Press Conference Roundtable Discussion held April 25, 2007 as part of the "National Victims' Rights Week Commemoration" held in Florida's capital, Tallahassee.[20]

Internet proxy business

In an editor's note dated May 29, 2007, the editor in chief of GenerationQ broke the story that concurrently with his public speaking concerning his experience as an Internet sex victim, Berry had also been running an advertising-supported for-profit network of open proxy websites, enabling users to bypass content-control software and visit websites otherwise off-limits, as well as hide their IP addresses while doing so[21].

The seven similar domains, such as www.fastassproxy.com, advised, "Do school or work computers limit your web browsing? Can you only see certain websites?" ... "All you need to do is type the website you want to go to in the search box below, your IP Address will be hidden and you will be allowed to go to the site!"

On April 20, 2007, Berry sold the domain names and the proxy software that runs on them via a 24-hour auction for a reported $620. Berry posted earnings records from the sites reporting an average $200 monthly income, and offered to assist the new owners in running them.[22]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World. Kurt Eichenwald. New York Times. 19 December 2005.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 "Hysteria, Exploitation and Witch-Hunting In the Age of Internet Sex: The New York Times, Kurt Eichenwald and the World of Justin Berry", by Debbie Nathan for CounterPunch
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Reporter's Essay: Making a Connection with Justin. Kurt Eichenwald. New York Times. 19 December 2005].
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Editor's Note." The New York Times, March 6 2007 revealing the $2,000 payment
  5. "Story Unfolds of Minors and Web Camera Porn" - NPR
  6. Cop, Prosecutor, Hangman Jim D'Entremont. News Slant column, Guide Magazine. February 2006.
  7. Google cache of JustinsFriends.Com, one of Berry's pornographic websites
  8. Internet archive of MexicoFriends.com, one of Berry's pornographic websites
  9. Letter to the Editor Salon.com
  10. "Court Papers Said to Show Added Payments", The New York Times, August 8, 2007
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Why aren't media ethics mavens screaming now?. Stockton Record. Stockton, CA. Mar 21 2007.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Sexual Exploitation of Children Over the Internet: What Parents, Kids and Congress Need to Know About Child Predators Testimony of Justin Berry before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce. 4 April 2006.
  13. Transcript of Larry King Live. CNN. April 4 2006.
  14. Streaming Audio. Kathleen Brooks. The Darkness to Light Show: Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence. October 25 2006.
  15. Season 7 Episode List from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
  16. A Letter From Casey. GenerationQ. July 15, 2006.
  17. A Letter From Casey. GenerationQ. November 20 2006
  18. TheTruthAboutJustin.com
  19. Trial transcripts from United States of America vs. Timothy Ryan Richards, Case 3:05-00185
  20. Justin Berry's official website
  21. Justin Berry Selling to Predators article in GenerationQ
  22. SitePoint.com auction of Berry's commercial open proxy websites

External links