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Publicity Stunt Targets CityBeat

By John Fox · June 11th, 2008 · Editorial

On June 9, a coalition of clergy, law enforcement officials, right-to-life organizations and other serious people held a news conference in a City Hall conference room to denounce CityBeat's adult-oriented advertising. Led by Citizens for Community Values (CCV) and fronted by the Rev. Charlie Winburn, the coalition claimed that CityBeat's adult ads are the primary engine driving the Tristate's prostitution racket.

CityBeat Co-Publisher Dan Bockrath was alerted to this coalition and this news conference late last week when a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter called to get a response to the claims about our adult ads. The reporter indicated that CCV representatives had met earlier with The Enquirer's editorial board to discuss their problems with CityBeat.

CityBeat wasn't invited to the June 9 news conference, which was covered by the local TV, radio and print media. And thus the stated goal of this coalition -- to request that CityBeat stop running adult-oriented ads -- turned into a publicity circus that left CityBeat as the last media organization to hear the actual request.

When Enquirer reporter Rebecca Goodman asked why the coalition didn't approach CityBeat directly, CCV Vice President David Miller said they simply "decided against it." CCV President Phil Burress told WLW's Mike McConnell that CityBeat "hates our guts" and so he thought contacting the paper directly wasn't worth the trouble. Miller told The Enquirer editorial board that the coalition preferred the "more confrontational strategy" of a public news conference.

Thus it's clear what this situation is really about: publicity for CCV, Winburn and their coalition.

On the same day as the press conference, The Los Angeles Times reported that Burress cut off contact with Sen.

John McCain's presidential campaign over McCain's perceived lack of enthusiasm for right-wing social causes. Burress and CCV had a huge hand in the 2004 ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in Ohio, a calculated political maneuver that helped President Bush win the state.

Today, Burress is a moral crusader looking for an issue, a presidential candidate and some face time in the media -- and it's not working out so well. Desperate for attention, he drags out the sex industry for another lap around the track and decides to pick on CityBeat.

Granted, the issue that Burress and his coalition profess to be concerned about -- human trafficking and forced prostitution -- deserves more media attention and law enforcement attention. CityBeat's Margo Pierce recently wrote an excellent cover story detailing how the problem has taken hold in Ohio ("Of Human Bondage," issue of Feb. 13).

CityBeat's adult ads, however, aren't the cause of human trafficking in the Tristate, and their elimination isn't the solution. And CCV's request really isn't about ads they claim are fronts for prostitution.

In a letter to Bockrath and me, the CCV coalition asks that CityBeat "eliminate the adult services category, and refuse to accept ads elsewhere for sexual services, in both your print and online editions." Many local businesses have run ads for adult services over the years in CityBeat -- and that includes everything from escorts and dancers to 1-900 chat lines to the Hustler store.

Many of those same businesses, and others like them, run ads in the Yellow Pages, The Enquirer, Cin Weekly and other area print publications. Our adult community classified ads on citybeat.com are similar to what anyone would find at Craig's List or by Googling "Cincinnati adult services."

But instead of trying to launch a comprehensive assessment of how adult advertising intersects with illegal activity or a community discussion of the tragedy of human trafficking, CCV decides to pick on CityBeat. Then CCV lets the other media in on their scheme in advance, and CityBeat is the last to find out about the attack.

It's a cowardly, mean-spirited attempt at intimidation, and we won't stand for it. I hope you'll stand with us to fight these bullies.

As usual, I wish we were fighting over something truly important for this community. Arguing about the right to advertise body rubs and "exotic delights" isn't high on my list of crucial issues that define and shape Cincinnati, but someone needs to stand up for local people who engage in these types of businesses. They need to have outlets for promoting their admittedly alternative goods and services, and CityBeat is proud to be one of those outlets.

CCV wanted this confrontation to be a public spectacle, and they've gotten their wish. Too bad a lot of energy will be expended in this struggle without accomplishing much of substance.

Contact John Fox: jfox@citybeat.com



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