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Kurt Eichenwald: "Emotionally Damaged, Significantly Damaged"

Kurt Eichenwald

If you do not already know the saga of Kurt Eichenwald -- who, long story short, more or less rescued an underage Internet porn star named Justin Berry and spawned myriad congressional hearings -- there are plenty of places to begin. You should read the original December 19, 2005, story -- in which Eichenwald, then a Dallas-based New York Times investigative writer, inserted himself as a character. Later that same day, Slate's Jack Shafer wrote a lengthy criticism of the piece -- "I'm astonished at how he loses control of his 6,500-word investigation when he appears two-thirds through it to serve not as a reporter but as the legal advocate and protector of the now 19-year-old Berry" -- to which Eichenwald responded. Then, earlier this year, there came news that Eichenwald got Berry to open up to him by sending him a $2,000 check, prompting even more media hand-wringing.

Ten days ago, Eichenwald revealed to National Public Radio that he has severe epileptic seizures that trigger "significant memory disruptions." But telling Justin Berry's tale has taken an enormous toll on Eichenwald, who tells New York magazine in a story published yesterday that "I am emotionally damaged -- significantly damaged" by what writer David France describes as a campaign being waged by "the convicts he’s exposed, other child molesters he doesn’t even know, random anonymous bloggers, and journalists, specifically the advocacy journalist Debbie Nathan, who has written several long pieces questioning his reporting methods and whom he calls 'the high priestess of pedophilia.'" It has gotten so bad that Eichenwald -- whose "career is in tatters," France writes -- has "bunkered himself in his Dallas home." As the story describes it:

He has family members answer his doorbell. As our talk began, he closed the doors of his home office, which is tightly shuttered against a beautiful morning, though there is no one in the house but the two of us and the family’s three-legged dog, Maggie.

Eichenwald says now that once he discovered Berry on the Web, he "should have e-mailed the CyberTipline, a project of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children." Instead, France writes, the writer discussed the story with his "spiritual advisor," an Episcopalian minister named Kevin Huddleston -- who, as it happens, has been the chaplain at St. Mark's School of Texas since 2003. Eichenwald thought he was trying to do the right thing; now he worries, to this day, about his own safety and the safety of his children:

Now Eichenwald is in a trap at least partly of his own making, and he sees danger everywhere. “I was told these people are relentless, that they never stop,” he tells me in his Dallas office. “That they will torture you till you are destroyed or dead,” he says. “I put my son at risk! Because I chose to save somebody else’s kid! Do you have any idea how guilty I feel?” He thought about installing a panic button in the house or buying a gun. Instead, he got a second dog. “A three-legged dog was not enough protection,” he confided a few days ago. “My children are scared all the time, because they see me falling apart. My wife holds together. But that doesn’t keep her from sobbing in the middle of the night, ‘I wish to God we’d let him die.’ ”

--Robert Wilonsky

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