Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The 'Village Voice' Prepares for Strike While Ashton Kutcher Rages

Tonight at midnight, the three-year contract at the Village Voice expires, so Voice workers held a strike benefit at Williamsburg's Public Assembly last night. The bands were really loud and the crowd drank a lot.

The crowd was heavy with, yes, Village Voice staffers and their friends, as well as a handful of former-Voice employees there to show their support. Ex-employees in attendance included: Zach Baron (who left The Voice for The Daily back in March), Foster Kamer (of the New York Observer), and Tom Robbins (the influential writer who left the paper after the departure of long time columnist Wayne Barrett). Robbins' appearance was perhaps the biggest "screw you" move of the night and was a reminder of the ever-more-corporate Village Voice. As was the arrival at the paper of Nick Pinto from the Village Voice Media's (the parent company of The Village Voice) Minneapolis weekly City Pages.

Back in March, Pinto wrote the nationally printed and murky Voice cover story "Women's Funding Network Sex Trafficking Study Is Junk Science." The story defends Village Voice Media's ownership of the classified site allows "adult ads" to be posted; last year a 15-year-old sex trafficking victim sued VVM for aiding and abetting prostitution. This week's piece, by Martin Cizmar, Ellis Conklin and Kristen Hinman—which doesn't have a lot of fans on the staff—was called "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight." Billed online as "The Truth Behind Sex Trafficking," it targets Ashton Kutcher's "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" campaign against U.S. underage sex trafficking.

The piece also pokes fun at estimates of underage sex workers, using arrest records from American cities. Because obviously the number of minors arrested for prostitution must somehow explain the number of minors in the sex business, right? A sidebar to the piece also blamed "feminists, religious zealots" and others for bringing Craigslist's adult services section to a Congressional hearing.

A while after attendees of the benefit stumbled home from last night's party, Ashton Kutcher took to Twitter to berate the Voice for their cover story.

Hey @villagevoice REAL MEN DON'T BUY GIRLS and REAL NEWS PUBLICATIONS DON'T SELL THEMless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Kutcher's 11 angry tweets to his seven million followers were apparently only the beginning.

Hey @villagevoice I'm just getting started!!!!!!!! BTW I only PLAYED stupid on TV.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

The Voice answered back this morning.

Wow, @aplusk having a Twitter meltdown! Hey Ashton, which part this story is inaccurate? than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Meanwhile, Voice editor Tony Ortega took the time to joke about the union negotiations.

Going back into negotiations soon. Gotta be quicker with my jabs and uppercuts. Didn't know Hoberman could move that fast.Thu Jun 30 14:58:34 via TweetDeck

We hear Village Voice Media's Executive Editor Mike Lacey is going to take control (has taken control?) of the Voice's Twitter account today to fire back at Ashton. [UPDATE: We are told we hear wrong.]

Disclosures: Myles Tanzer worked previously at the Voice; The Awl is happily pro-labor.

14 Comments / Post A Comment

Harry Cheadle (#6,316)

"Because obviously the number of minors arrested for prostitution must somehow explain the number of minors in the sex business, right?"

The thing is, the arrest numbers are so much lower than the "estimates" that people throw around that either the estimates are wrong or police are unbelievably terrible at investigating underaged prostitution. If I understood that sentence right, I might be confused.

@Harry Cheadle I think we can all agree at least that there are somewhere between 800 and 200,000 underage sex workers in the US. (I've personally met a few hundred!) And yes, the Voice stops well short of claiming there are merely just the ones arrested–but offers zero other metrics. (And you know: I don't care for the hysteria either! But come on.)

NinetyNine (#98)

This is a really hamfisted way to complain about your ex-boss.

Myles Tanzer (#13,698)

@NinetyNine I love Tony, not complaining about him at all.

Bettytron (#575)

If the numbers are inflated, that's a problem, yes. And those PSAs were pretty goofy. But the Voice's take seems to be that sex slavery isn't a problem in the US at all? And that to try to take action against it is the equivalent of a First Amendment violation??

This paragraph sums up, for me, everything wrong with the piece:
"The actors were watching TV in bed when they saw a horrifying documentary about sex slavery in some faraway foreign land and decided they needed to get involved."
"Actors", to discredit them as any kind of authority. "watching TV in bed" which implies this 'from the comfort of their own home' privilege. "horrifying" is intentionally hyperbolic. "faraway foreign land" which I guess is meant to imply that it doesn't happen here? The whole article is written this way, to make their cause seem so frivolous!

Nick Douglas (#7,095)

@Bettytron How does "sex slavery isn't a problem" jibe with lines like these:

"Although Congress has spent hundreds of millions in tax-generated money to fight human trafficking, it has yet to spend a penny to shelter and counsel those boys and girls in America who are, in fact, underage prostitutes."

"The lack of shelter and counseling for underage prostitutes—while prohibitionists take in millions in government funding—is only one indication of the worldwide campaign of hostility directed at working women."

I increasingly suspect that the article's harshest critics gave up before the end.

Bettytron (#575)

@Nick Douglas I did read the whole piece, though I did pull that quote from page 3 when I ran into it, before finishing the article. I stand by my comments, though, because the overall thrust of the article is to downplay the seriousness of the issue in order to smear Ashton Kutcher's motives and protect their own interest in the sex trade. That they accurately characterize the government's ignoring the problem doesn't make the tone of the article any less distasteful to me.

joeclark (#651)

I freelanced for the Voice the last time it had a strike, sometime in the ’90s.

What do I win?

Fearlessleeder (#2,618)

Wow has the Voice completely lost it's ability to have a finger on the pulse of anything anymore.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

That reminds me, the unionization meeting for Awl writers is happening Friday at that place where we meet.

runsinbackground (#10,344)

Isn't Ashton Kutcher rich enough to hire a professional rhetorician to run his Twitter?

@yesquite (#14,682)

I know it's fun to pick on famous goobers, but this one means well. You'd think the Voice could focus their critical eye on something actually sinister. What? They're worried we'll end up pouring too many resources into keeping kids safer? The horror.

Tony Ortega, Village Voice Editor on Child Trafficking, Child Prostitution:

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