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Saturday, July 12, 2008

SAVING CINCINNATI

I came across an interesting story in Editor& Publisher, the web site that keeps track of the newspaper business. It seems a little free alternative weekly, CityBeat” published every Thursday in Cincinnati, Ohio (circulation about 323,000 each month) has filed suit in Federal Court alleging a right-wing political/religious conspiracy to restrain trade and violate the paper’s freedom of speech, committed by 39 defendants acting under the coordination of the “Citizens for Community Values” (“Protecting Families since 1983”). It looks likely to turn into quite the little legal contretemps.
The case as laid out in CCV’s press conference is pretty straight forward. “The majority of ads in CityBeat’s adult classified section clearly appear to be outright or thinly veiled advertisements for prostitution or other sexual services, many which are in violation of state criminal laws. The Organized Crime Division of the Hamilton Country Sheriff’s Department and the Vice Control section of the Cincinnati Police Department report that many of the arrests made relating to prostitution, solicitation and promoting prostitution offenses result from phone calls placed to numbers listed under the adult services…of CityBeat and CityBeat.com. These ads are promoting illegal activity and are contributing to the exploitation and trafficking of women. Responsible corporate citizenship demands that they be eliminated. And that’s what we’re asking for…we, the undersigned….”
In fact, according to a letter from the C.P.D.’s Organized Crime Division, over the past five years the total number of prostitution cases connected to ads in CityBeat is twenty – or an average of five per year. But it is not the facts of the case against CityBeat that make this letter significant, it is the undersigned. Beyond the eleven openly avowed pastors, bishops and other religious and pseudo-religious figures, and various community activists and professional guardians of public morality who endorsed the letter there is also the Hamilton County Ohio Sheriff Simon Leis Jr., the attorney for Campbell County, Kentucky, Justin Verst, the attorney for Kenton County, Kentucky, Garry Edmondson, the attorney for Dearborn County, Indiana, Aaron Negangard, the Cincinnati Chief of Police, Thomas H. Streigher, Jr., and Cincinnati city councilman Chris Monze. And the press conference at which the letter was released was held right in the middle of City Hall in Cincinnati.
Now, there are a couple of interesting things about the CCV letter. First, no where in the letter does it claim that any of the editorial content of CityBeat encourages or endorses prostitution. The content of CityBeat has been pretty merciless in attacking several of the signers of the letter (in particular Simon Leis, the Hamilton County Sheriff, Thomas Streicher, the Police Chief of Cincinnati and Garry Edmondson, the Kenton County Attorney) for their alleged political shenanigans, but that is what any good newspapers would be expected to do. And although the letter alleges that “many” of the phone numbers listed in advertisements in CityBeat do promote and encourage prostitution, the letter fails to identify so much as a single one, or even to define how many constitute “many”. Also none of the politicians who signed the letter hold statewide offices. That’s important because the letter specifically accuses CityBeat ads of violating “state criminal law”. But if the Chief of Police of Cincinnati thinks CityBeat is encouraging or promoting prostitution, why doesn’t he just arrest the publisher and editor and charge them with pimping? Their offices are at 23 East Seventh Street, Suite 617, in Cincinnati, and their telephone number is 513-665-4700. I’m sure if the Chief called they would be happy to give him directions. But the signers of the letter did not do that, either.
And that is the second interesting element to the story. It appears the much ballyhooed letter was never actually sent. When the editor of CityBeat, John Fox, mentioned this at his own press conference the CCV dismissed the charge out of hand and then announced they had sent CitiBeat an e-mail copy. But that still begs the question: where is the original letter? Perhaps they should have sent it via registered mail. But what are the details of how this letter was allegedly sent? Who actually addressed the envelope? Did they take it to the Post Office or just drop it in a mail box? Did they check to make sure the letter was inside? Did they check to make certain they had the correct address? I have a suggestion; why don’t we simply address a letter to “CityBeat, Cincinnati” and see if the Post Office delivers it. It may take them a couple of extra days, but I’ll bet they do. People who work in the Post Office know how to do their jobs. I wonder if the Chief Streigher does.
There is a third element to this situation that CityBeat lays out in its lawsuit. “,City Beat’s printed classified advertisements have included a section for adult services for more than ten years…None of the advertisements…either explicitly or implicitly offer sexual activity for consideration,…Over the past ten years, City Beat has carried approximately 15,000 such classified ads in print, largely without incident or complaint.” And yet now these 39 community figures feel the need to declare economic warfare against CityBeat in a way they have never done against cigarettes or racism or beer companies that advertise their products specifically toward that market group that is involved in the most traffic fatalities involving alcohol, young male adults.
The problem is you can not get elected or reelected running on a platform of doing something effective to save either lives or souls if it is non-photogenic.
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