The Power of One Open Mind

On May 7, 2003, Joseph Platt of White Oak wrote a letter to the CEO of SuperValu, which owns the Bigg's stores in Greater Cincinnati. Platt asked the CEO to remove CityBeat from Bigg's or "restrict

On May 7, 2003, Joseph Platt of White Oak wrote a letter to the CEO of SuperValu, which owns the Bigg's stores in Greater Cincinnati. Platt asked the CEO to remove CityBeat from Bigg's or "restrict access to it as a store owner might when he sells Hustler or Penthouse."

CEO Jeff Noddle responded by writing that he and Bigg's President of Store Operations Pierre Wevers would "look into relocating the newspaper rack to a less conspicuous location." Shortly thereafter, CityBeat was removed from the front-of-store racks we'd been using and notes left behind directing shoppers to ask for CityBeat at the customer service desk.

Just a few months before, Wevers had interceded on CityBeat's behalf when a sudden surge of letters complaining about the paper caused someone at Bigg's to drop us altogether. We explained to Wevers that the letters were part of a thinly veiled campaign by Citizens for Community Values (CCV) — one letter-writer complained about being offended by CityBeat at her Bigg's in Dayton, where the paper isn't distributed — and he reinstated us.

This time around, Bigg's officials told us they were impressed by the tone and tenor of Platt's letter. Clearly, they said, this wasn't some CCV nut but a thoughtful individual who threatened to stop shopping at Bigg's unless something was done about CityBeat.

Left unsaid was that Platt had pushed the right button by getting to the Big Man in Minneapolis, who has the power to make any problem go away.

"I am writing to you to bring to your attention the presence of obscene and questionable material which can be found just inside the door of one of your stores ...," Platt wrote to Noddle.

"Given the reputation of Biggs (sic) in the community and the many charitable and community activities that you participate in I find it difficult to believe that you are aware of the situation."

(It's funny what passes for a well-written letter these days — Platt misspelled the corporation name, the store name and Noddle's name, calling him "Noodle" — but, hey, I'm an editor.)

Platt attached a copy of a Savage Love column to his letter as his sole example of CityBeat's "obscene and questionable material" — reducing the paper's almost nine years of existence down to one 800-word writing sample. And, of course, he chose the most outrageous Savage Love he could find — the one about "snowballing" (i.e., passing semen back and forth through kissing) — instead of excellent recent columns on date rape and safe sex practices.

In the absence of any knowledge of the political picture in Cincinnati, however, Platt served as the Thoughtful Tristate Everyman for the SuperValu CEO. The public had spoken — one of them, anyway — and CityBeat was banished as a Hustler/Penthouse knockoff.

Imagine our surprise to see CCV's February newsletter, where Joseph Platt is profiled as "a local dad" who, in order to protect his kids against "offensive" material, recently convinced Meijer stores to stop carrying CityBeat. In the article, Platt is called "a friend who donates time and special skills to CCV," and an accompanying photo shows him sitting with CCV Vice President David Miller.

A boxed "Call to Action" under the profile article directs readers to "follow Joe Platt's lead and take a moment to make a contact that may improve your community." CCVers are provided with addresses and other contact information for Meijer and Bigg's and told to write or visit the stores in person.

Finally, they're urged to "watch for other stores where CityBeat may be distributed. Ask the management of those stores if they are aware of the objectionable material in the paper."

So Platt has been outed as the CCV agent who single-handedly might be responsible for getting CityBeat kicked out of both Meijer and Bigg's. Amazing what one person can do, isn't it?

"To Joe, shrugging off what he considered a threat to his children and an affront to his community was not an option," the CCV newsletter says in its tribute to Platt. "A man of faith, Joe considered his exposure to this offensive material (CityBeat) a personal call to action, and was prepared to take whatever steps were necessary. His first step was to write one letter. And as a result of that one letter, approximately 1,500 fewer people weekly are being exposed to offensive, morally degrading material."

Platt's actions are "a classic 'power of one' story," CCV says, and they're right. He's exercising his right as an American and a consumer to voice his opinions and shop, or not shop, where he wants.

He's the kind of person CityBeat writes about on a regular basis — someone who steps out of his comfort zone to stand up for his political beliefs, be they personal, social or civic issues. From CityLights event postings to news features to arts stories to band listings, every week CityBeat attempts to engage you in your community, encourage participation and remind you that you can make a difference.

Platt has made a difference in his own small way and deserves acknowledgment for it.

On the other hand, he purposefully misrepresented CityBeat in order to accomplish his goal of blocking others from reading the paper — that must be acknowledged too. It's a classic story of open minds vs. closed minds.

An open-minded person, I support Platt's right to protest CityBeat and write letters to all the CEOs he has time for. A closed-minded person, Platt doesn't want anyone else to read a newspaper he finds objectionable.

Because he seems unable to control his children's behavior in public — he writes to SuperValu that "I do not want my young children to find out about these 'acts' (in Savage Love) just because I went grocery shopping" — Platt has decided that no one shopping at a large chain store should have access to CityBeat. It reminds me of CCV President Phil Burress, a self-described porn addict in his earlier life, deciding that all sexual material is objectionable because he can't handle it.

(Note to Platt: CityBeat is not written for children, offers nothing of interest to children and children don't read it. If your children pick it up, tell them "No." If your children are wandering Bigg's stores unattended, you have bigger problems than CityBeat.)

Several weeks ago I wrote about our decision to remove Savage Love from the paper, explaining that circulation was stagnant and the column was an impediment to reaching more readers. With the loss of distribution at Meijer, Bigg's, Media Play, Subway and others, CityBeat's business future was at risk.

I asked readers for feedback, and I got it. I got it good.

I had my say. You had your say. Platt had his say.

Now hear this: Meijer and Bigg's have set the ground rules for making decisions about CityBeat distribution, and they seem to revolve around letters written to key officials. So that's where the battle shifts.

I ask you to take a few minutes and write a letter in support of CityBeat. Write to SuperValu Chairman and CEO Jeff Noddle at P.O. Box 990, Minneapolis, MN 55440 — ask him to reinstate CityBeat distribution in the front of Bigg's stores. Write to Meijer CEO Hank Meijer at 2929 Walker Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49544 — thank him for reinstating CityBeat here, which happened recently. While you're at it, write CCV at 11175 Reading Road Suite 103, Cincinnati, OH 45241. And check their activities by downloading newsletters from their Web site, CityBeat from Bigg's or "restrict access to it as a store owner might when he sells Hustler or Penthouse."

CEO Jeff Noddle responded by writing that he and Bigg's President of Store Operations Pierre Wevers would "look into relocating the newspaper rack to a less conspicuous location." Shortly thereafter, CityBeat was removed from the front-of-store racks we'd been using and notes left behind directing shoppers to ask for CityBeat at the customer service desk.

Just a few months before, Wevers had interceded on CityBeat's behalf when a sudden surge of letters complaining about the paper caused someone at Bigg's to drop us altogether. We explained to Wevers that the letters were part of a thinly veiled campaign by Citizens for Community Values (CCV) — one letter-writer complained about being offended by CityBeat at her Bigg's in Dayton, where the paper isn't distributed — and he reinstated us.

This time around, Bigg's officials told us they were impressed by the tone and tenor of Platt's letter. Clearly, they said, this wasn't some CCV nut but a thoughtful individual who threatened to stop shopping at Bigg's unless something was done about CityBeat.

Left unsaid was that Platt had pushed the right button by getting to the Big Man in Minneapolis, who has the power to make any problem go away.

"I am writing to you to bring to your attention the presence of obscene and questionable material which can be found just inside the door of one of your stores ...," Platt wrote to Noddle.

"Given the reputation of Biggs (sic) in the community and the many charitable and community activities that you participate in I find it difficult to believe that you are aware of the situation."

(It's funny what passes for a well-written letter these days — Platt misspelled the corporation name, the store name and Noddle's name, calling him "Noodle" — but, hey, I'm an editor.)

Platt attached a copy of a Savage Love column to his letter as his sole example of CityBeat's "obscene and questionable material" — reducing the paper's almost nine years of existence down to one 800-word writing sample. And, of course, he chose the most outrageous Savage Love he could find — the one about "snowballing" (i.e., passing semen back and forth through kissing) — instead of excellent recent columns on date rape and safe sex practices.

In the absence of any knowledge of the political picture in Cincinnati, however, Platt served as the Thoughtful Tristate Everyman for the SuperValu CEO. The public had spoken — one of them, anyway — and CityBeat was banished as a Hustler/Penthouse knockoff.

Imagine our surprise to see CCV's February newsletter, where Joseph Platt is profiled as "a local dad" who, in order to protect his kids against "offensive" material, recently convinced Meijer stores to stop carrying CityBeat. In the article, Platt is called "a friend who donates time and special skills to CCV," and an accompanying photo shows him sitting with CCV Vice President David Miller.

A boxed "Call to Action" under the profile article directs readers to "follow Joe Platt's lead and take a moment to make a contact that may improve your community." CCVers are provided with addresses and other contact information for Meijer and Bigg's and told to write or visit the stores in person.

Finally, they're urged to "watch for other stores where CityBeat may be distributed. Ask the management of those stores if they are aware of the objectionable material in the paper."

So Platt has been outed as the CCV agent who single-handedly might be responsible for getting CityBeat kicked out of both Meijer and Bigg's. Amazing what one person can do, isn't it?

"To Joe, shrugging off what he considered a threat to his children and an affront to his community was not an option," the CCV newsletter says in its tribute to Platt. "A man of faith, Joe considered his exposure to this offensive material (CityBeat) a personal call to action, and was prepared to take whatever steps were necessary. His first step was to write one letter. And as a result of that one letter, approximately 1,500 fewer people weekly are being exposed to offensive, morally degrading material."

Platt's actions are "a classic 'power of one' story," CCV says, and they're right. He's exercising his right as an American and a consumer to voice his opinions and shop, or not shop, where he wants.

He's the kind of person CityBeat writes about on a regular basis — someone who steps out of his comfort zone to stand up for his political beliefs, be they personal, social or civic issues. From CityLights event postings to news features to arts stories to band listings, every week CityBeat attempts to engage you in your community, encourage participation and remind you that you can make a difference.

Platt has made a difference in his own small way and deserves acknowledgment for it.

On the other hand, he purposefully misrepresented CityBeat in order to accomplish his goal of blocking others from reading the paper — that must be acknowledged too. It's a classic story of open minds vs. closed minds.

An open-minded person, I support Platt's right to protest CityBeat and write letters to all the CEOs he has time for. A closed-minded person, Platt doesn't want anyone else to read a newspaper he finds objectionable.

Because he seems unable to control his children's behavior in public — he writes to SuperValu that "I do not want my young children to find out about these 'acts' (in Savage Love) just because I went grocery shopping" — Platt has decided that no one shopping at a large chain store should have access to CityBeat. It reminds me of CCV President Phil Burress, a self-described porn addict in his earlier life, deciding that all sexual material is objectionable because he can't handle it.

(Note to Platt: CityBeat is not written for children, offers nothing of interest to children and children don't read it. If your children pick it up, tell them "No." If your children are wandering Bigg's stores unattended, you have bigger problems than CityBeat.)

Several weeks ago I wrote about our decision to remove Savage Love from the paper, explaining that circulation was stagnant and the column was an impediment to reaching more readers. With the loss of distribution at Meijer, Bigg's, Media Play, Subway and others, CityBeat's business future was at risk.

I asked readers for feedback, and I got it. I got it good.

I had my say. You had your say. Platt had his say.

Now hear this: Meijer and Bigg's have set the ground rules for making decisions about CityBeat distribution, and they seem to revolve around letters written to key officials. So that's where the battle shifts.

I ask you to take a few minutes and write a letter in support of CityBeat. Write to SuperValu Chairman and CEO Jeff Noddle at P.O. Box 990, Minneapolis, MN 55440 — ask him to reinstate CityBeat distribution in the front of Bigg's stores. Write to Meijer CEO Hank Meijer at 2929 Walker Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49544 — thank him for reinstating CityBeat here, which happened recently. While you're at it, write CCV at 11175 Reading Road Suite 103, Cincinnati, OH 45241. And check their activities by downloading newsletters from their Web site, www.ccv.org.

Many readers who criticized our decision to drop Savage Love said CityBeat cowardly folded against the forces of intolerance and entered a slippery slope where everything in the paper could be negotiated away to save our business ass. We tried to ignore CCV, hoping they'd move on to other targets, but instead they've trained guerilla fighters to snipe at us.

So we made a strategic decision to back a few steps down that slippery slope, and now we turn to face the fight. We're digging in. We need your help.

We're taking a huge risk. I'm announcing publicly that we're taking on CCV at their own game. They've been at this type of thing for 20 years; we've never done it before.

We're risking that, like most open-minded people, your desire for "live and let live" will distract you from writing a letter. And we're risking that dozens or hundreds of pro-CityBeat letters could be trumped by one anti-obscenity letter from Joseph Platt.

But big risks often produce big rewards. We will not shrug off this threat to the future of CityBeat, and we will take whatever steps are necessary.

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