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Larry Platt's Response to Stu's Sex Tourism Column
I have been sitting on this, trying to write a response, but, Larry Platt did eventually respond to my email about Stu Bykofsky's sex-tourism column. While trying to write out a response to the email, the days rolled by, and I was busy being obnoxious with Rick Santorum. Leaving this hanging is unfair to Platt, so, I am going to just publish his response in full, with only minimial comment.
On the whole, I find the response-- while nice- dismissive and unresponsive to the real concerns the column raised.
First, again, my email to Platt:
I (sincerely) apologize for asking this while the Daily News is taking the hit of the Bill Conlin morass, and, I find it encouraging that the paper is now also actively investigating Conlin and pursuing the story. But, I am writing mainly to follow up to Helen Gym's op-ed from this morning about Stu Bykofsky's column from last week.
While the timing might make this more painful for the paper, it seems that questions about the Bykofsky column are even more important this week than they were when the column ran. I am going to write something for our little blog, piggybacking on Helen's piece, but, I would like to ask the Daily News a few questions first (with the understanding that I will publish these in full on our blog). If there is someone more appropriate to ask, please forward this on to them.
First, given the paper's experience over the last few days, would the Bykofsky column run if it were submitted today? If not, will the Daily News issue any statement about the efficacy of that column actually running? Obviously, running the piece by Helen is an important step, and shows some willingness to deal with this issue, but, this is not the same as the paper itself responding.
Second, Stu's column dances around whether he did or did not have sex with a Thai prostitute. In the submission process of this column, was Stu directly asked this by an editor? If this conversation did occur, was the column changed as a result of this discussion?
Third, will the Daily News issue corrections for the column? Obviously, the paper cannot run a 'correction' for the racist views of its columnist. But, the column did simply have factual errors. For example, Stu's assertion that 'there are no pimps in Thailand' is false, and refuted by any number of reports from Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and others which document that many prostitutes in Thailand are children, and in conditions resembling slavery (or, simply, slavery). It goes without saying that these children are not in slavery without someone... keeping them enslaved. Similarly, "each woman is an independent contractor" is false, for many of the same reasons, and this too could be easily refuted. If these corrections have been issued, and I missed them, please let me know.
Finally, and more fundamentally for the Daily News, is any view whatsoever appropriate for publication by its columnists? Stu's column danced around whether he did, or did not, in fact have sex with a Thai prostitute, and then referred to Asian women with bizarrely outmoded racial stereotypes. Is there any limit to what the Daily News would not publish along these lines? For example, would the Daily News run an entire column discussing how cheap Jews are?
Thanks in advance for your consideration. It goes without saying, but, one reason this kind of piece angers so many of us is that we greatly value the role of an active, vibrant local paper, generally, and of an institution like the Daily News generally specifically. So, when it publishes something this offensive and destructive, it sets off all kinds of alarms. As I said, I will put any answers in writing in full, and can wait until tomorrow if that is helpful.
He then responds:
Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner — still digging out from the Conlin mess.
I take it your deadline has by now passed, but let me just respond to a couple of general points and you can do with this what you will.
First, there is no connection between Stu’s first-person observations about something he witnessed in Thailand and the Conlin tragedy. To suggest such a connection is to demean the victims who have come forward with their stories of Bill’s horrible misdeeds.
Second, I think in the aftermath of Stu’s column, both in our paper and on philly.com, there has been some really valuable back and forth. In particular, there have been, as you point out, some important reporting addendums offered by readers that would have strengthened the column. (For example, placing Stu’s slice-of-life observations in the larger context of the human trafficking issue and quoting from UN reports before zeroing in on what he witnessed would have preemptively addressed many of the concerns now being raised.)
That said, I don’t think the evidence exists on the page for some of the conclusions being drawn from the column. He doesn’t promote the sex tourist trade, for example. Instead, as a number of philly.com commenters pointed out, he has penned a column about a “sad first impression he’s gotten about what life is like for one part of the Thai population.” Certainly, this expression of sadness may not square with the moral outrage you or I might have responded with, in which case I invite you to answer upsetting speech with more speech and write a letter that I’d be happy to publish. (As we’ve done a few times in the past week). As for “corrections,” I have yet to see any factual assertions requiring correction, though I’m happy to look at specifics. (As to the two you suggest, they are not, in fact, assertions made in the piece: Stu never posits that there “are no pimps in Thailand” or that prostitutes in Thailand are independent contractors. The paragraph in question actually refers only to the women — not children — who work in bars). So far, what I’ve heard from people wouldn’t qualify as corrections so much as additional information that would have provided a context for Stu’s slice of life peek at this world.
Finally, let me say that the days when publishing occurs solely upon publication are (thankfully) over. This piece — with its ongoing discourse — strikes me as an ultimately healthy, if occasionally messy, exercise. Our pages, and philly.com, will happily continue being a forum for readers to express their reactions and, yes, for columnists to sometimes piss off said readers. My old friend Nat Hentoff once wrote a great book called “Free Speech For Me, But Not For Thee” and it touched on the all-too-human instinct to want to silence those who offend us, rather than engage the argument. I invite you, and your readers, to engage.
OK, so, I expected this for the most part. Let me just say one thing that I think is really, really, really ridiculous about the last paragraph-the 'all dialogue is good dialougue' canard. Basically, Platt absolves the paper absolves itself of any responsibility whatesover, because there is back and forth. In other words, we can say whatever crazy, destructive, criminal crap we want, because we allow people to respond... I just don't buy it.
Anyway, there it is. I will write some more about it- but, please give your thoughts below.