A dark cloud started to move over downtown around 6:15 p.m. June 20, just as CityBeat staff were gathering beside the stage on Fountain Square. We were about to deliver our official response to the pressure group that had been attacking the paper, and the sun disappeared and the wind kicked up. After so many had come out to support CityBeat and our collective First Amendment right to free speech, I thought, "Great, we're going to get rained on."
Then, just like that, the cloud was gone and the sun came back out. More than 25 CityBeat staffers and freelance writers got up on stage between songs from another CityBeat staffer, Tracy Walker. Co-Publisher Dan Bockrath read a prepared statement.
My favorite part of his remarks was when Bockrath countered the pressure group's appeal to our "integrity as a corporate citizen" to stop running adult services ads. He went through a list of "CityBeat beliefs" that demonstrated CityBeat's positive role as a corporate citizen of Cincinnati.
"CityBeat believes in tolerance, diversity, creativity and progressive ideals," Bockrath said.
"We believe in the repeal of Article 12 and in gay pride. We believe in Downtown, city living, light rail and streetcars. We believe in the Fringe Festival, all performing and visual arts, the Contemporary Arts Center and the Freedom Center. CityBeat believes in environmental responsibility, local farms and organic foods, and the wonderful place that is Findlay Market."
Applause greeted each sentence.
"We believe in the power of making a difference and affecting change for a better Cincinnati, and we've been actively engaged in these efforts for the better part of 14 years," he continued. "If these ideals don't reflect our integrity as corporate citizens, then we don't know what does.
"Most importantly, CityBeat believes in and values freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Government interference with these inalienable rights disturbs us greatly."
Ultimately, this public feud isn't about adult-oriented advertising. CityBeat has run these kinds of ads for more than 10 years. They're legal ads for legal activities. You can find the same thing in the Yellow Pages, Craig's List online and elsewhere in Greater Cincinnati.
This is about government officials coordinating an intimidation campaign with conservative advocacy groups to coerce a small media business into bending to their will. They oppose adult ads on moral grounds, and they seek to impose their brand of morality on CityBeat, our advertisers and our readers.
They tell us that because a tiny fraction of our adult services advertisers have faced prostitution charges over the years, CityBeat should treat every business and individual who places ads in those categories as a prostitute.
In other words, they want us to assume everyone is guilty until proven innocent.
That's simply not the American way. We won't stand for it.
Contact John Fox: [email protected]