Was CNN Reporter Amber Lyon’s Reporting Unethical or Pandering?

Posted on September 11, 2010

Prostitution And News Reporters

Was CNN Reporter Amber Lyon’s Reporting Unethical or Pandering?

By Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology)

Amber Lyon calls herself an Investigative Journalist, but is that accurate when you need to fudge the story’s premise? Is that what she did?

Amber filed a story that accused Craigslist of failing to properly flag an adult service’s ad as child prostitution. Ads they had promised to manually screen. According to Amber one slipped by. An ad she wrote and posted. This “failure” was the basis of an interview with Craigslist’s founder Craig Newmark while he was at an event at George Washington University. An interview that was characterized by some as an ambush interview.

Click to Tweet This Post ★ Was CNN Reporter Amber Lyon’s Reporting Unethical or Pandering?

Mr. Newmark handled the interview very poorly, and afterward he drew more attention to his deer-in-the-headlights moment by blogging that he has an almost Asperger’s Syndrome-like personality, is far too trusting, and that she took advantage of him.

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When Craig Attacks

Several bloggers, including Craigslist’s CEO Jim Buckmaster and Newmark portrayed her interview as an ambush. Frankly, that seems unfair to me. I’m sure he wouldn’t have granted the interview if he knew what story she was working on, but she identified herself and he agreed to be interviewed. Just because an interview goes bad, and you are caught off guard by questions you don’t want asked, doesn’t allow you to call foul.

And really, if you say others describe you as almost having a borderline personality disorder, like Craig does, then maybe you shouldn’t talk to the media…ever. I’m just saying.

However, she used what seemed to me like fake evidence to make her accusation. That’s what I have a problem with.

She created an ad that said, “New girl in town; Blond Hottie.” It went on to say, “Sweet, innocent, new girl with a WILD streak…” In her CNN piece she says that is clearly code words for child prostitution. I was taken aback at her pronouncement since there is nothing intrinsic in those words that says the poster is underage.

Anderson Cooper pointed this out when he interviewed her on his show. He noted that personal ads often have these words. She avoided answering his question directly by shifting her response, declaring advocate groups say that these words could mean underage. She fails to acknowledge that the majority of the time these words are used by adults for other adults, and that her self-serving interpretation is extreme at best. Frankly, I think her point of view is insincere. I am at a loss to her motivation. Was it to create higher ratings as opposed to bringing insight into an important issue? I hope not.


My concern is based on more than just what seems her mischaracterization of the Craigslist ad’s words, and here is what makes me question her veracity: In that same ad there is a cropped photo of a women who is clearly well past 18 years of age.

Copyright Steve Farnsworth 2012

Fake Amber Lyon’s Ad Used For Ambush Interview And Fake News Story

Amber Lyon’s Fake Ad “Proving” Craigslist Fails To Screen For Child Prostitution

Citing common words found in adult profiles and a photo of a much older woman as proof that Craigslist is failing to screen ads for child trafficking seemed like shoddy journalism and sensationalism to me, and I said so in a tweet. When tweeting the video of the Craig Newmark interview I said, “Craig (of Craigslist) poorly handles interview by unethical and intentionally pandering “Journalist” @AmberLyon.” She sent me a tweet saying, “Thank you for your feedback, Mr. Farnsworth.”

I felt I owed her an explanation for my snarky quip. I tweeted her, “Just amazed that you call yourself a journalist given that you produce titillation and sensationalism instead of news. Let me be clear. My comment comes from the fact that you used an adult image in your fake ad, and then used ad copy that supported that adult photo. Then reported that it was clearly an ad that should have been flagged as child prostitution. Why? Because you made up their secret double meaning? This is disingenuous at best and fraudulent at worst. We, I, need you to have higher standards than that.” (You can read those here, here, here, here, and here.)

She responded to me that, “I understand how you are confused, this is an extremely complex topic– I am going to put you in touch with some of my sources.” (You can read that here.)

The only thing I’m confused about is what she is talking about. What do her sources have to do with her creating an ad that is clearly not offering child prostitution, but then reporting on national news that Craigslist failed to flag it as such?

But, I want to know what you think.

Watch Amber Lyon’s report on CNN HERE and let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Amber Lyon was terminated from CNN and is no longer a correspondent. She has gone from national news to freelancing for local radio in L.A.