Shocked — shocked! — over the hookers

How dare we stigmatize those delicate soiled doves of the street by publishing their booking mugs on the front page of this past Sunday’s newspaper? How could we report in a Family Newspaper such salacious information as the fact that there are prostitutes in Sin City, lest the children be sullied?

How dare we commit such a brazen act of journalism?

The story by special projects reporter Alan Maimon on the law enforcement crackdown on the Strip’s 50 most prolific prostitutes caused a stir. There were 2,800 more papers sold in stores than the previous week. At last check the online version of the story had more than 500 reader comments appended to it. The number of online page views appears to have topped half a million as word of the story swept the Internet.

Maimon’s story detailed a plan by which police would target the most frequently arrested prostitutes in the resort corridor, often on charges of trespassing or loitering for the purposes of prostitution. The district attorney’s office then would seek plea deals that would include agreements by the women to stay away from the Strip or face serious jail time.

Prostitution is a serious problem on the Strip, especially when many of those arrested engaged in what is commonly called “trick rolls.” Such targeting of hard-core hookers has proved in the past to be effective.

This law enforcement tactic sometimes is called an “order out.” It has been criticized for not solving the problem but simply moving it to another jurisdiction. In fact, a police officer quoted in the story suggested that if the arrested did not change their ways, at least they might “take their lifestyle to a different city.”

There are also questions of civil rights and due process — and these too were addressed in the story. It was a fair and thorough exploration of important legal and social issues in our community, if I do say so myself.

I did not anticipate the level of consternation and angst over the display on the front page of two dozen booking mugshots of those women who have been arrested since the crackdown began. There were all sorts of ulterior motives ascribed to the paper.

On his KNPR-FM public radio gabfest Wednesday morning, Dave Berns asked me about a bunch of middle-aged and older white men deciding to publish photos of arrested women.

“Is this a misogynistic move?” Berns asked accusingly.

“No. Absolutely not,” I replied. “This illustrates the program. This tells people what is going on in a dramatic fashion that shows these are real people involved in a real issue. And it is a social issue, not just whether or not, you know, it is a victimless crime. Arguments can be made on and on. But this tells the story. It caught your attention.”

“It sure did. Was that the purpose?”

“If you’re going to sell newspapers, you’ve got to catch people’s attention.”

“Commerce, good business?” Berns asked.

“Sure.”

“Is that troubling?”

“We’re talking about issues that affect our society. We’re not baking cookies here. We’re in the news business. We’re telling people what’s going on. And this is serious business.”

Later, after I’d left the program for an editorial board meeting, one of Berns’ guests picked up on my unapologetic remark about selling newspapers and accused me of “pimping out” the women.

On the other hand, a caller who described himself as a bartender at a major Strip resort said 15 of the women portrayed had frequented his bar, but they all disappeared after the newspaper published their photos.

After all the on-the-air wringing of hands and sobs of anguish, Gary Peck, executive director the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, reached this rather obvious conclusion: “I find it ironic that the publication of these photographs, whether or not it was a smart decision to do it, has opened up a lively, interesting, important conversation, a public conversation about an array of issues that couldn’t be more important and that bring into question the integrity of the entire justice system.”

(By the way, the editor who designed the “misogynistic” front page layout is a young woman.)

We’re not social workers. We are journalists.

We sell newspapers to discerning readers who wish to keep themselves informed. We don’t have pledge drives.

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal. com. Read his Weblog at www.lvrj.com/mitchell.

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