Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Insufficient Scepticism

This story has been generating a fair amount of outrage among conservatives, especially those buy into the "merica Good/Europe Bad" meme. (Full disclosure: I count myself in that category most of the time.)

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.

She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her "profile'' and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did the woman, who has not been identified for legal reasons, realise that she was calling a brothel.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.
Sounds pretty bad, eh? Just what you would expect from those degenerate Europeans. In fact I was planning on writing a post pointing out how this is a perfectly predictable result of value-free Liberalism that traces its roots to Enlightenment Rationalism.

Turns out the story isn't quite accurate:
The article in the Daily Telegraph seems to have been cobbled together from several German sources.

The information about the waitress who was told to interview for a job that turned out to be at a brothel was taken from an article on "," which calls itself a "leftist weekly." That article was posted July 30, 2003 (!!). The 25-year-old waitress was told to contact the company "Reni Massage." The woman found the company's website and figured out that it was a brothel and decided to not get in touch. According to the Berlin employment center, the job posting had been sent to the woman by mistake. The job offer had been for bar staff (not for "sexual services," as the Telegraph article claims) and it hadn't been obvious from the information that the employment center had received that the company was a brothel.

The second part of the Daily Telegraph article contains information also found in an article from the leftist alternative Berlin daily "tageszeitung," filed on December 18, 2004. Both articles quote a Hamburg lawyer called Mechthild Garweg (note that the Telegraph misspells her first name). In the "tageszeitung" article, Ms. Garweg notes that there is nothing in the law regulating unemployment benefits that would prevent an employment center to force a woman to work as a prostitute if she wants to keep her benefits. It is clear from the article that this is merely a theoretical possibility. German employment centers have meanwhile asserted that they would not be passing on job offers for prostitution.
We have learned recently that we shouldn't trust the media to get the story straight. It is useful to note that this rule applies even if the story seems to vindicate our own suspicions. In fact, scepticism in circumstances where we want to believe the story is even more crucial than in cases where we feel insulted or falsely accused. People are not often fooled into believing things that they don't want to. But if a story sounds too good to be true... it probably is.

(Via Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspiracy)

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