Recently I co-taught a course to upcoming sexuality education professionals on Sexuality and Media at my alma mater. In the course, we discussed how to talk to reporters. One of the many take-aways from this conversation, probably the most important point I hoped to get across to my students, was:
- Reporters rarely contact experts to find out new information. They contact them to validate the perspective they already had.
And I knew this while speaking to the Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky, but still had real high hopes that some part of him, perhaps the young lad who first went into journalism, had interest in learning new things.
So, some background if you’ve just entered. The Daily News wrote a stupid article in late March of 2012 where, instead of just reporting that a prostitution sting had occurred at a local strip club, they waxed philosophical about how strippers are all drug addicts and they bring crime and violence.
To back up this perspective, the reporter asked an academic who has built her career on being sex-negative, anti-porn, and anti-stripping to chime in. In what was a surprise to zero people, the academic, Dr. Mary Ann Layden, doled out her particular brand of unscientific moralizing. She was quoted repeatedly, never countered and presented without any context that might allow a reader to understand she is not an average sexologist. Here is my rundown on why she’s dangerously wrong.
And when the article ran, a number of local strippers, burlesque performers and allies were infuriated at the condescending, insulting treatment and the fact not one dancer was asked for her take on the situation. And so, coordinating with other activism planned for May 1st (May Day was originally about worker’s rights) a protest was planned outside the Daily News offices. Some local news sources were encouraging of the cause, the Daily News blog, predictably, was mocking.
WHAT HAPPENED YESTERDAY
Yesterday, in must be in accordance with the spirit International Workers Day, a small crowd gathered and protested. Signs were held, people chatted with reporters.
- Annie A-Bomb, of Cabaret Red Light, read a list of standards and ethics of journalism that included rules about making sure slandered parties have a right to defend themselves, multiple sources of information should be consulted and presented in context, admonishments against editorializing, and a general urging to avoid focusing on the lurid.
- Melissa Bang-Bang Forgione, who has been a stripper since the late 1990s, read a pointed letter about the gross inaccuracies of the reporting and the damaging nature of further marginalizing an already silenced group.
- I read a letter about how Dr. Layden’s stance is not representative of social science and detailed the logical fallacies of linking stripping and violence.
I spoke at some length with multiple reporters, gave them a copy of my letter and my contact information and followed up with a few via email later. The majority of the conversation was my attempt, as an academic, to refute Dr. Layden’s assertions and to identify specifically how the newspaper had erred and in what ways it could be corrected.
WHY STU BYKOFSKY IS NOT INVITED TO MY BIRTHDAY PARTY
You wouldn’t know that from reading today’s condescend-a-thon of an article by Stu Bykofsky. You’d think I stood on a street corner wearing pasties and jumped up and down shouting “I’m a feminist! *Giggle!*”
Again, none of this is surprising, given that it is the Daily News. But I would like to respond with a few more factual corrections and clarifications.
- Bykofsky completely missed the correlation between International Workers Day and the protest, making the timing sound ludicrous.
- He falsely states that cops were the source of the anti-stripper statements in the original article. In reality, “Philadelphia Police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers declined to speak about strip-club issues and canceled an interview that the Daily News had scheduled with Lt. Charlie Green, who heads the citywide vice unit, citing an “ongoing investigation.” His assertion attempts to deflect responsibility from the paper for its editorializing.
- Making the case that they are “not a science journal,” Mr. Bykofsky abdicates all responsibility for finding multiple sources or providing context for their expertise.
And then, the comments section. Oh, sweet god, the comments section. But while it’s probably their fault that they cultivate such a group of winners in one place, it’s not the Daily News‘ responsibility for what their readers think. It is, however, Stu Bykofsky’s fault that they didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision on the situation.