Thursday, April 19, 2007

Immoral Liberties and Operation Respect in Bexley

Update- I mention below that I did not have access to the full text of the Washington Post articles. I have it from someone who does have access that I was missing some key details. The accusation did involve physical contact.

ThisWeek Bexley is reporting that Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame, opted not to perform a scheduled concert in Bexley earlier this week, sending his daughter to perform in his stead. According to the article, several parents of Bexley Middle School students protested to school administrators that the invitation to Yarrow was inappropriate. Why, you might ask?

Peter Yarrow, in recent years, has been championing a cause called Operation Respect, in an effort to reduce bullying in schools, with the ultimate goal of reducing school violence. The topic seems particularly salient this week, but that's neither here nor there. The parents weren't complaining about the message, sponsored by Bexley Schools, they were complaining about the messenger.

During the summer of 1969, Peter Yarrow was in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. He was in the District to perform with his group, Peter, Paul, and Mary. At some point, two sisters, one 14 and one 17, were there as well. On March 27, 1970, Mr. Yarrow pled guilty to taking "immoral liberties" with a minor, referring to an incident between Mr. Yarrow and the 14-year old.

In May of 1970, the girl's family sued Yarrow for $1.25 million dollars.

In September of 1970, Yarrow was sentenced to 3 months in jail on the Immoral Liberties charge.

In November of 1970, a judge reduced the sentence by three days, allowing Yarrow to be at home with his wife for Thanksgiving.

In January of 1981, Yarrow was pardoned by President Jimmy Carter.

In 2004, Yarrow's conviction became news once again as Republicans criticized candidates Martin Frost in Texas and John Kerry for allowing Yarrow to campaign on their behalf.

All of the unlinked facts above are given in articles by the Washington Post or New York Times published as the events unfolded in 1970. I have access to the full text of the NYT pieces, but only the first hundred words or so of the WaPo articles. If you search the internet, however, you will find many more "facts." I absolutely cannot stand when folks repeat allegations without sourcing, and I especially hate it when people out and out plagiarize, cutting and pasting without indicating that the words are not those of the poster. This is why I put "facts" in quotations. Let's start with Wikipedia. This is what they have to say about the incident in question:

In 1970 he pleaded guilty to taking "immoral and improper liberties" with a 14-year-old girl. The girl and her 17-year-old sister went to Yarrow's hotel room seeking an autograph. Yarrow answered the door naked and made sexual advances that stopped short of intercourse. Yarrow served three months of a one- to three-year prison sentence and was pardoned by President Carter in 1981. The singer has acknowledged the incident as "the most terrible mistake I have ever made."

This account adds several pieces to what I listed above. First, the girls went looking for Yarrow. Next, Yarrow answered the door naked. Following that, he made sexual advances. He did not have sexual intercourse. He was sentenced to 1-3 years and served 3 months. He later claimed the incident as his worst mistake.

The first thing that pops out of that list is the sentencing. Both the Times and the Post assert, at the time that Yarrow was sentenced, that the sentence was 3 months. So Wikipedia has got at least part of it wrong. Where did they get the wrong idea? I don't know, there is no citation in the article.

When I used to have students turn in obviously plagiarized work, I would simply Google strings of words that were likely to be unique to the source. So in this case, I googled "Yarrow answered the door naked." I got 75 hits. Almost none of them gave any citation. Some cited Wikipedia. One cited The Awareness Center. The Awareness Center has details on hundreds of cases. Peter Yarrow's case link leads to a missing page. At least one source cites World Net Daily, a conservative mouthpiece on the web. WND has a 'copyrighted story' that uses the quote, so I assumed that the more salacious details were coming from less-than-reliable sources.

Oops. You know what they say about assuming. The World Net Daily 'Exclusive' from 10/31/04 plagiarizes heavily from a New York Post piece that came out 01/15/04. Which hard-hitting News Corp. journalism was the source of the story? The Page Six gossip columnist. Now, where did our gossip columnist get the info? It was still primary season, so there's lots of candidates, but more importantly, where did they go for confirmation? Reports at the time.

That's as specific as it gets. "As reported at the time..." I can tell you that it wasn't reported that way in the New York Times, and it doesn't look like those details were included in the Washington Post's account of the arrest, the plea, or the sentencing. It's possible that the details came out in reports about the girl's family's lawsuit. It's possible that it was reported in the New York Post gossip column.

So, one day in 1969, Peter Yarrow answered a door. He may or may not have been naked. He proceeded to say or do something that would be considered by common sense to be improper, but the impropriety seems to stem from the age of the victim, not the act itself, as charges were filed only in connection with the 14-year-old, not the 17-year-old who was also present.

So here's a guess. He showed up at the door naked. He explained that the human body is natural and other 1969 hippy-dippy stuff. The sisters agreed, took their clothes off and hung out naked. End of story.

Maybe not. If anyone has better information from a reliable source, I'd be happy to follow up. If I were to be convinced that the guy was a sexual predator, I'd help to make sure that he wasn't getting himself invited into Middle Schools. Until then, however, I hope folks can take info from anonymous plagiarists of partisan gossip columnists with at least a grain of salt.


Jill said...

But were the girls at least six feet from him?

Anonymous said...

its a shame but is still lewd behaviour

Anonymous said...

believe it or not those 2 girls were my 1st cousins. i knew all about it . the oldest one was president of pp@m's fan club in D.C. they were not the brightest.and in no way does that excuse his behavior. but to feign indignation for lots of $$$ well,their mother called it "peter money"

Anonymous said...

The parents got paid, did they give any to the young girl who was the actual victim?

Anonymous said...

I know Peter and he has a long history of improper contact with young girls. He should not be allowed to be around young children.

Ann4mation said...

I know Anonymous and he has a long history of improper allegations regarding the facts. He should not be allowed to be around Internet discussions.