Sometimes you get picked on. That happened to CityBeat in 2008. It all started when City Councilman Charlie Winburn held a news conference in which he demanded we stop selling adult-themed ads. Citizens for Community Values, a conservative group, also called us out for the ads. It was par for the course for the group, which has campaigned against everything from gay marriage to pornography, and at first we weren’t that worried. Then the letter came.
The missive called on CityBeat to exercise “integrity as a corporate citizen” and asked that we “eliminate the adult services category, and refuse to accept ads elsewhere for sexual services, in both your print and online editions.”
The letter also accused CityBeat’s print publication and website of being the “primary avenues through which the sex-for-sale industry in Greater Cincinnati markets their destructive services.”
At a time when many other publications ran similar advertisements (including the Yellow Pages) and Craigslist was already a force in terms of online listings, the accusation was absurd. But a recent prostitution sting had captured some criminals using a CityBeat listing to sell sex, and that was all it took. The letter ended by requesting a reply, though no point person or return address was listed. But 39 people representing CCV, conservative lawmakers and law enforcement officers, including then-Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis, signed the letter. It felt like a threat: Stop selling adult-themed ads or face the wrath of law enforcement and conservative politicians in the city.
“There were plenty of mornings after the June 9 news conference when I wondered if I’d see police cars parked in front of our building, officers carrying out computers and file cabinets,” CityBeat founding editor John Fox wrote at the time. “A raid like that, shutting down the paper for an issue or two, would have seriously damaged CityBeat.”
The First Amendment isn’t something we take lightly here, and Fox wasted no time firing off a lawsuit against CCV, the city of Cincinnati and various law enforcement entities in July 2008, accusing the groups of threatening CityBeat’s right to publish freely. CityBeat staff at the time also held a rally on Fountain Square to remind the city what we’re really about: loving Cincinnati, promoting tolerance and understanding, and courageous, independent journalism.
A year later, we emerged victorious. CCV and the city settled our lawsuit out of court, agreeing to drop the posturing.