Bill Donohue heads up the Catholic League and you’ve probably seen him on CNN and Fox News usually arguing against Gay Marriage and complaining about coverage of priests who sexually abuse kids and the higher ups who cover for them. Donohue is now taking aim at Village Voice Media, who publishes the OC Weekly, for it’s adult advertising and Backpage.com site by targeting and questioning the manhood of new editor Gustavo Arellano.
Below is the text of an email sent by The Catholic League:
ARELLANO’S DIRTY HANDS
December 5, 2011
Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments as follows:
Most people on the west coast have never heard of Gustavo Arellano, even though he is a writer based in California; elsewhere, he is invisible. He has come to our attention because we fight anti-Catholicism, and this is something he has learned to perfect. He’s also a rank hypocrite.
Arellano writes for one of those newspapers that no one will pay for, OC Weekly. It is owned by Village Voice Media, owner of the Village Voice, another paper that no one will pay for (it used to feature outstanding writers like Nat Hentoff and Wayne Barrett, but now no one save for the likes of Arellano will write for it).
Arellano is perpetually exercised about allegations of priestly sexual abuse, but it is not the issue that interests him, just the offenders: he has never published a piece on the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy of any other religion. Nor has he written about the epidemic of sexual abuse in the public schools. Though Planned Parenthood learns of cases of statutory rape all the time, he has never written about this either.
More telling, Arellano has never written an article about human trafficking. Nor has he ever written a column about Backpage.com. Where am I going? Backpage.com is the Village Voice Media’s online classified advertising service that is very popular with those in the business of human trafficking: it’s where they get their leads. That is why 53 leading anti-trafficking experts and organizations have demanded that Village Voice Media immediately put an end to this magnet. Indeed, 51 Attorneys General have condemned Village Voice Media for its role in facilitating this barbarism.
Arellano won’t go near it. Maybe that’s because one out of every seven dollars raised by Village Voice Media comes from this sordid advertising. Besides, he’s too busy writing about Father Murphy’s alleged groping in the 1950s to comment. He’s simply not man enough to turn his guns on the purveyors of human slavery, namely his boss.
Pretty powerful condemnation. The Catholic League says it is the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization defends the right of Catholics – lay and clergy alike – to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination. Doesn’t say much about the victims of child sexual abuse by the church.
We’re not sure what prompted Donohue’s outburst at Arellano but perhaps it was this story by Jim Rainey of the LA Times that ran on November 28. From the story:
The subject of their wrath has been Village Voice Media’s backpage.com, an online classified advertising service that critics say is a too-easy platform for predators intent on offering underage victims for prostitution. Since August, protests have included a letter by 51 attorneys general, a full-page ad in the New York Times by religious leaders, and picketing of the Village Voice offices in New York — all demanding the shuttering of the company’s “adult” online listings.
Village Voice, the Phoenix-based publisher of the L.A. Weekly and a dozen other publications, has launched an exuberant counterattack. The owners — who say they assiduously monitor online ads to prevent abuses that go unchecked on other sites — have hired a lawyer and a public relations firm. But their most striking rebuttal has been issued by their own journalists, who have produced two cover stories and multiple blog posts that attempt to knock down what the papers call a “sex-trafficking panic” trumped up by “sex prohibitionists.”
The chain’s coverage has been so aggressive that two experts cited in its articles — who agree that the scope of child prostitution has been mischaracterized and, in some cases, overblown — said in interviews that Village Voice appears to be making the opposite mistake: understating the problem, as it appears to be bolstering its commercial interests.
The controversy pits legal rights against moral suasion. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 encourages communications between third-parties, by assuring publishers won’t be held legally liable for the missives. But religious leaders and other activists say they have an obligation, beyond the law, to fight against any forum that potentially exposes children to danger.
“A lot of people in this country think that children are trafficked in other places in the world and they aren’t aware that children are in danger in this country, right in their backyard,” said the Rev. Katharine R. Henderson, the president of Auburn Theological Seminary.
It’s not hard to find news accounts of additional allegations of underage prostitutes whose services are sold on other websites. Craigslist is among those cited in the stories — the listings apparently appearing under headings other than the “adult services” category shuttered 14 months ago. Craigslist declined to comment.
A Village Voice executive, who asked not to be named for revealing confidential information, said that backpage.com, where online escort ads and the like go for about $10 each, produces at least one-seventh of the company’s revenue.
It has spared little editorial muscle in trying to debunk the suggestion of a crisis in child sex trafficking. It has run two lengthy stories, publishing them in all 13 of its publications, which most often choose to cover topics locally.
The stories suggested that nonprofit operators gain financial support by inflating the magnitude of the child sex trade. One pointed out, correctly, that activist actor Ashton Kutcher had erred last spring when he said there were “between 100,000 and 300,000 child sex slaves in the United States today.”
A study had found, instead, that 100,000 to 300,000 children are “at risk” of falling into prostitution because they are runaways or part of other vulnerable groups. The Village Voice article taunted Kutcher for getting the fact wrong and for inflating “the supposed appetite for underage prostitutes.”
The second cover story cited social science researchers to debunk the idea that the principal threat comes from predators, who force teens into the sex trade. One of those quoted was Ric Curtis, chair of the Anthropology Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who found after hundreds of interviews that the majority of youths selling sex made the transactions themselves, without a pimp or other intermediary.
Well, we have a First Amendment right of free speech in this country, freedom of the press and the freedom to practice religion. We have the right to pick up OC Weekly or not (work on your disbution in Irvine guys), and they you have choices about what pages to read when reading the newspaper. The OC Register is hardly immune to “adult” advertising (the sports page fellas, really?).
To go after Gustavo directly and by name strikes me as cowardly for Donohue when he’s been largely silent on the cases of child sexual abuse in OC documented by the Weekly.
Besides, if you really want to criticize Gustavo, it isn’t his coverage of the church or the sex abuse scandals, or the advertising policies and web properties of the company that publishes OC Weekly and other alt-weeklies around the country. It’s Gustavo’s lack of baseball knowledge and occassional stories on the Angels that are his Kryptonite to readers.
As for Donohue’s criticism, it’s closer to the Pot calling the Kettle black but even that analogy isn’t a fit. When Donohue can affect real change in how the church deals with child sexual abuse, then he can criticize Arellano’s manhood all he wants.