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If Elmo's Taught Us Anything, It's That Newsnight Taught Us Nothing

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The dust will settle. In a few weeks the BBC will have a new director general, Newsnight will have a new editor, and everything will be back to normal. Maybe we'll even have learned something.

Or perhaps not.

On Monday afternoon, ITV News sent a genuinely shocking tweet out about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Sesame Street's Elmo, and star of the heartwarming documentary Being Elmo.

Wow. Elmo's big, softly spoken friend has reportedly got a touch of the Saviles about him. Truly nowhere is safe, paedophiles are everywhere. They even know how to get, how to get to Sesame Street.

And that's about as far as most people read.

But as those who have been paying attention over the weekend may have guessed, it's not as simple as all that. Drilling down the brief ITV story reveals a little more - there was an internal investigation carried out by Sesame Workshop, Clash's employers, which decided the claims were "unfounded" - but Clash had been disciplined, ominously for having "violated company policy regarding internet use."

Follow the tale around a bunch of other news sources - and more details emerge. Clash, 52, admits to having had a relationship with his accusor, now 23, but maintains that it was a consenting, adult relationship. However, his accusor alleges they had sex when he was 16. The age of consent in New York is 17.

In it's longer form, the statement from Sesame Workshop, Clash's employers, gives the story a whole different character.

"In June of this year, Sesame Workshop received a communication from a then 23 year old man who alleged that he had a relationship beginning when he was 16 years old with Kevin Clash, a Sesame Workshop puppeteer who performs as Elmo.

"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated. Although this was a personal relationship unrelated to the workplace, our investigation did reveal that Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding internet usage and he was disciplined."

Further reading of the TMZ story, (and guys, when your story has fewer facts in it than a TMZ story, you've got problems) even takes the murky edge off the "internet usage" angle, specifying the disciplinary was to do with "inappropriate use of company email."

I use company email inappropriately every day, and so do you. And as far as we know, that's all Sesame Workshop are talking about. As far as we know.

As far as we know, Clash is telling the truth. As far as we know, he's a gay man who had sex with another gay man. There was an age gap, certainly, but that's not a crime as far as I know. There's no suggestion there was any coercion involved, and in this country we would consider a 16-year-old to be mature enough to decide who they want to have sex with. In this country, even the parts Klein denies wouldn't be a crime, and in New York, he's still innocent until proven guilty.

With all that in mind, and after the week the BBC have had, you might have been surprised to find most UK media outlets - including Sky News, who have had plenty to say about the Newsnight affair - carring the story with something along the lines of the Daily Mail's headline.

Voice of Elmo on leave from Sesame Street after he was accused of having ’sexual relationship with underage boy'

Even the most daring of these headlines don't accuse Clash of anything outright, but they don't tell the whole story either. And a quick scan of @itvnews' mentions and retweets will give you an idea of how many readers made it beyond the headline:

In this country, with it's loopy libel laws, if you call someone a paedophile, or even report that someone else has called someone a paedophile, you're expected to be able to back it up. And even as the expected lifespan of directors general fast approaches days rather than weeks, nobody the British media seems to have worked out why.

Except the BBC, who as you might expect, have been a little more circumspect with this one. They ran with the much more subtle: Sesame Street puppeteer disciplined over relationship

There's no denying the story has news value - he's no elderly former Tory lord, but Elmo's a pretty big deal in the states - and it's certainly big news over there. But over here, it looks an awful lot like a cynical attempt to mould a story to fit an existing narrative. Stories about paedophile children's TV presenters are the big thing right now, after all.

If ITV News' desire for cheap internet traffic has in any way contributed to the death of Elmo, they should be truly ashamed.