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CBS’ Showing of Luster Video Redefines ‘Journalistic Integrity’

He sits on the edge of the bed, leering into the camera with lizard eyes.

She lies behind him, passed out, her face turned away and her dress drawn up high.

I lost count of how many times this sicko scene was repeated Wednesday night on a CBS “news” show called “48 Hours Investigates,” but I’d say at least a half dozen. As if viewers might have forgotten seeing it six minutes earlier.

“I dream about this,” says the man, Andrew Luster, who was convicted last month of 86 rape-related charges and remains on the lam. The wealthy great-grandson of Max Factor drugged his victims and then videotaped his assaults on them.

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In the video shown Wednesday, the woman on the bed lies there utterly defenseless against Luster, and against “48 Hours,” too.

“A strawberry blond beautiful girl passed out on my bed,” Luster says with a leer, “and basically there to do whatever I choose.”

He moves toward her and begins lifting her dress, and that’s where “48 Hours” cuts away.

An executive producer told The Times that CBS was “extremely judicious in what we are showing.” A CBS exec added, “We would never do anything to compromise our journalistic integrity.”

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Journalistic integrity?

It might not even be journalism. As for integrity, you be the judge.

It’s still not clear how it happened, but the tapes mysteriously ended up back in Luster’s possession after his conviction. When he skipped town, CBS got hold of them from Luster’s mother, who claims she didn’t know what she was handing over.

Then, says the Ventura County prosecutor who nailed Luster, CBS interviewed her without bothering to mention that it had the tapes. Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox believed they were sealed by the court.

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“This is worse than the worst hard-core porn you could ever imagine. They’re horrifying,” she told me, and she was rabid about protecting the victims.

If the tapes got into public circulation, she feared, they might end up on the Internet or in video distribution. National television exposure wasn’t even a consideration.

After watching the show Wednesday, Fox told me she was relieved “48 Hours” didn’t show more footage than it did, and she was glad CBS made Luster out to be the monster he is.

Well, no kidding, but here’s what she’s missing:

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This wasn’t a news “investigation,” it was a shameless tease.

CBS took a few minutes of footage with this lecherous surf boy and turned it into 60 lurid minutes of something that looked like another idiotic reality show. Except here were real victims.

As Fox herself told me, CBS didn’t bother telling the women it had the tapes before interviewing them, either. It was like being raped all over again, one said when she found out that a portion of the tapes might appear on national TV.

“I think it is appalling,” said her mother.

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Her daughter, by the way, was the woman who was passed out on the bed in the video CBS used over, and over, and over.

CBS acts as if it ought to be congratulated for not showing more. The truth is that it couldn’t possibly show more, because this stuff was so graphic. But that didn’t matter. This is television, where it’s all about the tease.

In much the same way that Luster preyed on his victims, CBS was luring a TV audience -- in the middle of a ratings sweep, by the way -- and it was using rape victims as bait.

Guess what, it told America. We’ve got the “secret sex tapes.” Here’s a show you won’t want to miss.

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There’s nothing “secret” about the tapes, by the way. They were shown at trial. But now here was “48 Hours” anchor Leslie Stahl pitching CBS’ big exclusive from a stage inside New York’s Grand Central Station.

Unless they were expecting Andrew Luster to go racing for a train, and nab him on live television, I have no idea what that location had to do with anything. But I guess if you’re selling “secret sex tapes,” it doesn’t matter where you make the pitch.

And by the way, they weren’t “sex” tapes,” if I might make a distinction for the benefit of network news execs. Sex is something that happens between consenting people. When someone drugs victims into unconsciousness, then defiles them in unspeakable ways while videotaping the whole sorry affair, it moves beyond any definition of sex.

But this is only the latest chapter in a long sad tale about the death of decency. Last year in West L.A., I stood in front of a billboard that depicts a guy sitting on a toilet to promote a rap album. Months later, I watched the media rob what was left of the innocence of two raped girls within hours of the crime.

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It’s not just creeping up on us. We’ve been steamrolled.

Entertainment passes for news. Rape passes for sex.

Next up, Barbara Walters gets the real story from Robert Blake.

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Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve. lopez@latimes.com.


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