Over the past few weeks, the Queens Chronicle has written an editorial, blog post and three articles about the Queens Tribune running “adult services” ads and the hiring of Multi-Media, its political consulting affiliate, by Grace Meng for Congress.
We certainly hope the Tribune will not attempt to damage the campaigns of Rory Lancman or Elizabeth Crowley, Meng’s main opponents, or, if she wins the Democratic primary, GOP opponent Dan Halloran, as it did in 2009. That year, Multi-Media consulted for Kevin Kim in his race against Halloran for the 19th Council District. “Queens Council Race: Democratic Victor vs. Pagan Lord” was the headline on the front page prior to the general election.
But whether the Tribune plays its campaign coverage fair or not, it’s high time for these ads that promote prostitution to go.
Three weeks ago, Assemblywoman Meng and Ann Jawin, head of the Center for the Women of New York, held a press conference at Borough Hall to highlight the plight of sex trafficking victims in Queens. One of my editors asked Grace how she justifies hiring Multi-Media for her campaign when the Tribune that week had 37 ads for “adult services” including 23 specifically naming Asian girls, while also holding such a press conference.
Grace answered that she has spoken to Tribune management about her concerns and would do so again. She said that Multi-Media is only doing printing for her campaign, even though one of the first press releases from the campaign listed Michael Nussbaum, associate publisher of the Tribune and president of Multi-Media, as a senior consultant.
Last week, Michael Schenkler, publisher of the Tribune, a man I respect otherwise, wrote a column in his newspaper titled “Sex Trafficking, Newspaper Advertising and Leadership.” I was glad to read that Meng had gone to the Tribune offices and spoken to Schenkler.
Before I respond to some of the main points in his column, I looked through recent copies of the Tribune to view some of the “adult services” ads. Here are a few examples:
1) Asian Purple Dream. $120/Hr. Special
Service by Chinese and Korean
2) Asian Dream Girls.
Fulfill All Your Fantasies.
3) Half Price 5 Boros In/Out Call
$40 Quicky-$100 Hour.
4) Hot Asian Youngest Sexy Girls.
Lowest Rates in NYC. Party Girls
Available. Multiple Girls Special.
5) Asian Hot Kiss, Voted #1 in NY.
Hot & Spicy.
6) Secret Necessities, Where Your
Fantasies Are Met. Where Your
Secrets Are Kept.
I understand in this difficult business climate that no newspaper is looking to eliminate a large source of revenue. But in this case that’s being penny wise, dollar foolish.
About five years ago, my newspaper ran a couple of escort ads, and soon after a church in Howard Beach stopped advertising with us. Shortly after, I stopped taking any type of escort ads, realizing that in the long run, they would cost me more in dollars and sullied reputation than they would ever be worth. It took more than four years for that church to resume advertising in the Chronicle.
Two years ago, Ms. Jawin came to my office and asked me to sign a pledge to never accept these types of ads. I was proud to do so, and even prouder a few months later when she gave me a “Good Guy” award at her annual luncheon. I was not expecting any accolades for signing the pledge, since as far as I know, no Queens weekly newspaper besides the Tribune runs escort ads.
The City Council recently held hearings about sex trafficking and the online ads promoting it posted on Backpage.com, an affiliate of Village Voice Media. Backpage.com became the leader in adult services ads after Craigslist decided to stop accepting them in September 2010.
On Tuesday, the Council approved, by voice vote, a resolution calling on “Village Voice Media to stop accepting adult services advertisements on its online classified site, Backpage.com, because it serves as a platform to traffic minors and adult victims for sex.”
Five Queens Council members were among the sponsors: Liz Crowley, Julissa Ferreras, Jim Gennaro, James Sanders Jr. and Eric Ulrich.
The issue has also gotten federal attention.
Last week I received a press release from Congressman Bob Turner saying he had introduced HR 646, putting pressure on Backpage to eliminate the adult entertainment section of the website. Turner also held a press conference on Friday in front of the Village Voice office demanding the removal of the website.
On May 4 Congress members Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler sent a letter to the CEO of Village Voice Media imploring him to shut down Backpage.com.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand recently signed a U.S. Senate resolution, along with six others, against Backpage.
None of these measures mentioned the Tribune ads, but that may just be because the Village Voice is a vastly larger operation.
We’re proud of our local legislators from both parties for taking a strong stance and doing what is right to protect trafficked women. My hope is that Congressman Gary Ackerman, founder of the Tribune, also takes up this cause prior to the end of his term.
Last month, Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed in The New York Times highlighting how an arm of Goldman Sachs was an investor in Village Voice Media. Within a week, Goldman sold back its investment, reportedly at a steep loss, so as to not be associated with sex trafficking in any way.
Back to Schenkler’s column from last week. He wrote, “All kidding aside, one of the important and valued roles of a free press is to provide an outlet of expression for those we don’t believe in or agree with-as long as the activity is legal.” I wonder how many of our readers believe that what’s being sold in any of the six above ads is legal. Are we to believe these women are just providing lonely men with “someone to talk to”?
He also wrote, referring to Meng and himself, “We both will take whatever steps that are within our power to end sex trafficking here and/or abroad.” A simple way to reduce sex trafficking in Queens is to STOP TAKING ADS that are obviously fronts for prostitution.
It is clever to hide behind the “freedom of speech” argument that he makes, but the bottom line is that these ads lend legitimacy to an illegal, truly sordid business.
In summary, it appears from Schenkler’s column that the Tribune will only stop taking these ads if the state Legislature passes laws forcing it to do so.
Why can’t he just make the same decision I did? He needs the government to legislate morality for him? That’s the opposite of personal responsibility.
Truth be told, I would be better off not advocating for the Tribune to stop taking these ads or promoting the young “Models of Queens” who appear on the page after the adult section. Many advertisers have said to our salespeople that is the main reason they will not advertise with them.
I cannot do that because it is the wrong stance to take and I respect women. My mother, Susan Merzon, founded this newspaper 33 years ago at a time when women rarely started businesses themselves. She has been a role model for me over the years, so it was easy to take this stance.
Last week my son took copies of the Chronicle to his second-grade class for a project he had. If my newspaper ran adult services ads, I would be embarrased for him to bring it to school. I would be ashamed to show his teachers and classmates what I do for a living. Does the management of the Tribune feel any shame?
Some have said that the Queens Chronicle must be supporting Lancman or Halloran and that our coverage has been “biased.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Grace came into the Chronicle offices last Friday for an interview, as we are planning to have with all of the major candidates in the race. Readers can view the story about her interview in this edition or at qchron.com. She is certainly qualified to represent our great borough. We may or may not endorse in this race. The decision will be made after all the candidates are interviewed.
“Not 4 Publication,” is the title of Schenkler’s column every week. I humbly suggest that it is the “adult services” ads in the classified section that are really “not for publication” in a community newspaper.
In closing, I hope that Schenkler will invoke the last word of his headline — “Leadership” — by taking a stand for women in Queens and ending the running of these despicable ads.