Read All About Lolita!

How the New York tabloids titillated readers by turning a bizarre tale into a Fatal Attraction parable of teen prostitution

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The 10-minute ride from Amy Fisher's waterfront Long Island home to the academically elite John F. Kennedy High School, where she is in her final year, is a montage of Middle American normality: flags fluttering over front porches, hand-painted signs tacked to trees announcing weekend garage sales, white-haired elders watering lawns, teenage boys working on cars. But somehow, as Fisher traveled that brief and reassuring stretch of terrain day after day, her life took the sort of detour that is every parent's nightmare. She is accused of becoming a prostitute by age 15, meeting customers through an escort service and sustaining contact via a beeper that she showed off in the high school girls' room. Far worse, she is charged with falling in love with an alleged client, a 38-year-old auto-body-shop owner, and shooting his wife in the head. Fisher insists she is an innocent 17-year-old who wants only to attend her graduation on June 28. Indictment for attempted murder and bail of $2 million are barring her way.

If the sad charges against her are true -- and even her attorney does not seem to dispute her career as a pubescent prostitute -- Fisher's sordid story still would seem to have little to reveal about the norms of her community. Her town of Merrick is a place where success is equated with discipline, exemplified in the manicured lawns and shrubbery of Berkley Lane, where she grew up, and with drive and ambition, epitomized in the way the high school carries grade-point averages out to four decimal places for precision in class rank. This is where the American Dream still works, where crime is something glimpsed on a newscast, where the next generation prompts hope and not despair. Neither neighbors nor teachers nor her perhaps more candid peers see the girl's fall from grace as typical. To her fellow townspeople, Amy Fisher's life offers no moral alert, no cautionary lessons. She is just a postcard from beyond the edge.

None of this doubt about larger meaning has deterred the press by a nanosecond. The story had elements to push almost anyone's emotional buttons. The Oedipal tinge of an affair between an adolescent and a man old enough to be her father. The Fatal Attraction echoes of a woman who supposedly would stop at nothing to possess the man she craved. The perennial conundrum of how a daughter from a nice and prosperous family might have gone so thoroughly wrong. New York City's three tabloid newspapers have covered the "Long Island Lolita" story with a thoroughness and imagination that they rarely bring to stories about the city's politics or its $29 billion budget. One Daily News photographer was staked out full time as close as he could get to the house of Fisher's alleged lover. His hope: that the victimized wife, home from the hospital, would come out onto the deck for a moment of sunshine -- and an unintended photo opportunity.

Back at the city desk, headline writers have outdone themselves. A story about the unverified claim of a Long Island chef that he was recruited by Fisher to commit the murder, only to renege once he had been serviced by her, was billed by the News as paid me in sex. The rival Post topped that for titillation, peddling the same story as amy's horny hit man.

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