[In response to “Non-Profits Ruining Neighborhoods,” an important posting on Jane Murray’s blog (click here), I am reposting (below) a 2005 River Vices article “Prostitution Culture.”]
Perhaps reacting to criticism that it does not do investigative reporting, that it leaves that to the Shawnee Sentinel while it masters the art of cover-up journalism, the Portsmouth Daily Times ran a four-part series on prostitution in Portsmouth by staff writer Phyllis Noah. The title of the series was “Naked Truths: the Story Behind Portsmouth’s Prostitution Culture.” Wow!
Let the hooker who is without sin write the first 4-part series on Portsmouth’s prostitution culture. For a reporter on the Daily Times to write an expose of Portsmouth’s prostitution culture is like Winona Ryder writing on the sins of shoplifting or Monica Lewinsky on the evils of oral sex.
There is a limited definition of prostitution, which is selling one’s body for money, and a general meaning, which is selling one’s soul for an unworthy cause or corrupt group. The phrase “prostitution culture” suggests something more than hookers on John St. It suggests the more general definition of prostitution. Given its notoriety and conspicuousness, prostitution is the best metaphor for the political culture of Portsmouth, and I have used that metaphor a number of times in this blog.
Perhaps to bolster flagging circulation, the Daily Times marketed the 4-part series by calling it in a touch of tabloid titillation “The Naked Truth.” It sounds like the front page not of the Portsmouth Daily Times but of the New York Daily News. Naked? You would no more want to see the prostitutes of Portsmouth naked than you would want to see former councilwoman Carol Caudill, the Sassy Lassie of the Internet, as the centerfold in Playboy Magazine. Truth? The Daily Times will do everything it can to increase its sclerotic circulation except tell the truth about Portsmouth’s “prostitution culture.” The prostitute culture of Portsmouth consists of far more than the hookers of John St. TheDaily Times fears the truth the way Dracula does the cross because telling the truth about Portsmouth’s prostitute culture would mean ending its role as the prostitute to the over-privileged Johns who control the city. The over-privileged of Portsmouth turn as many tricks as the prostitutes on John St., but they do it in the name of philanthropy and public service.
The Master Plan: The Worse the Better
The way the master plan for Portsmouth works, the worse things get in the city and the more blighted it becomes, the better it is for the over-privileged who profit from the pork that the city becomes eligible for. As shown on 3rd St., where Hatcher’s abated student dormitories were built, the temptation to declare healthy streets and neighborhoods blighted is too hard to resist when millions of dollars of pork and profits can be accumulated. One of the economic side benefits of prostitution in Portsmouth is that it provides public sector employment for those whose jobs are to deal with the many streetwalkers. It is another illustration of the rule that where Portsmouth is concerned, the worse things get the more public funds will be pumped into the city. The economy of Portsmouth relies heavily on the public funds that can be appropriated to incarcerate criminals, house addicted prostitutes and their children, house the aged and college students, and welcome tourists and, possibly, gamblers.
There is precious little about prostitutes in the series “The Naked Truth” and a lot about drugs and drug counselors and drug authorities. The message of the series is that Portsmouth’s prostitution problem is really a drug problem. Of the dozen people Noah interviewed, few of them were prostitutes, and those few were discussed in relation to drugs. Honesty in advertising requires that if you are going to run a 4-part series on drugs that you call it a four-part series on drugs, and not try to pruriently imply it has anything to do with nakedness.
Going in Circles
If you explain the prevalence of prostitution in Portsmouth by drugs, how do you explain the prevalence of drugs in Portsmouth? Noah’s explanation is that prostitution is a serious problem because of drugs. What Noah offers is not an explanation but an excuse of why there is so much prostitution in Portsmouth. But as Municipal Judge Schisler told Noah, the drug problem is no worse in Portsmouth than elsewhere. If that’s the case, then why is there so much more prostitution in Portsmouth? Drugs do not explain why Portsmouth is, per capita, the prostitution capital of Ohio. To explain Portsmouth prostitution by drugs and Portsmouth drugs by prostitution is to go in circles.
Prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession because it has been around for thousands of years, thousands of years before there was a drug culture. The economic, social and psychological reasons for prostitution – the sexist attitude toward women, the chronic lack of employment in this area, the failures of the public education system, the breakdown of the family, the salaciousness of popular culture – theDaily Times does not consider these among the causes of prostitution. Everything is attributed to drugs, a neat and simple explanation that implies drug dealers are the cause of prostitution.
Are there no other culprits than shadowy drug dealers? What about real estate developers? Prostitutes play an important role in Portsmouth “redevelopment.” They accelerate the deterioration of declining neighborhoods. Along with eminent domain, they spell doom for neighborhoods in which they are allowed to exercise their constitutional rights. They are already beginning to drift away from the bulldozed John St., which no longer offers much cover for johns or prostitutes. A lonely tree is all that is left for them for soliciting. How many hookers can one tree provide shade for? Hookers are drifting further and further into surrounding neighborhoods, neighborhoods where their constitutional rights are not likely to be as protected as they were on John St. About all that’s left standing on John St. is that tree under which smoking prostitutes wait for Johns. Tobacco dwarfs all other drug problems in the U.S., but because it is legal and highly profitable the news media focus on other drugs.
I first began talking to people in the John St. area several years ago. They were reluctant to talk to a stranger, because they feared that they would be targeted for retaliation by the police and the powers-that-be. Many residents had moved out of the area by that time because prostitutes and drug-dealers had moved in, making life impossible for ordinary families. Count on it, there will be near zero tolerance for prostitution and zero support for constitutional rights in the John St. area once ground is broken there for Neal Hatcher’s shopping mall.
One resident of John St. told me several years ago that it appeared to him the police and city officials were turning a blind eye to the prostitution and drug-dealing in that neighborhood because it served developer Neal Hatcher’s purposes. Drugs and prostitutes were being ignored, this resident suspected, because their activities supported Hatcher by driving down property values and driving out residents. If this resident had expressed his views to a Daily Times reporter, I doubt they would have gotten into its pages. When it comes to these kinds of “naked truths” about the over-privileged of Portsmouth, or about the shenanigans of the SOGP, or SSU, or the SOMC, or its other clients, the Daily Times prefers a cover-up, or at best one side of the story.
Exploiting Prostitutes by Protecting ThemThe respect that law enforcement officials have for the constitutional rights of the prostitutes of Portsmouth, as reported in the 4-part series, is nothing short of astonishing. Who would have thought that the Portsmouth police department and the local courts were such hotbeds of civil libertarians? If only the police and city officials were as determined to protect the constitutional rights of those who attempt to exercise the right of free speech at city council meetings where citizens are ejected by the dictatorial president of the city council if they so much as mention the name of a particular councilman or a particular developer or a particular lawyer. If only they were as determined to protect the rights of those who attempt to exercise their right to recall elected officials, and of those who offer themselves as candidates in recall elections, as they do to felons who are advised of their right to run for and hold public office by the city clerk and the city solicitor, even when those rights are reportedly misrepresented and misinterpreted.
If there were a Pulitzer prize for cover-up journalism, for not unearthing local corruption and incompetence, for not exposing Portsmouth's prostitution culture, the Daily Times should have won one by now for reporting like that in “Naked Truth.”