Friday, June 24, 2011

Has The Hartford Advocate Stopped Human Trafficking Advertising? "Not Yet."

It was a tense moment in the courtroom, the jury listening to every word spoken by the witness on the stand.

During the 2007 human trafficking trial of Dennis Paris, in which he was charged with sex trafficking of a minor among other crimes, his defense attorney, Jeremiah Donovan, asked him a key question about what he called his ‘escort’ business. The question dealt with how Paris advertised the girls he was selling to the men of Connecticut. At this point his attorney asked him about one victim in particular, Marianne.

According to the court transcripts, the line of questioning went like this:
    “Did you from time to time send Marianne out on dates?” Donovan asked.
    “Yes,” Paris said.
    “How did it come about that you had people who wanted to go out on dates with Marianne?”
    “They would call numbers that I advertised,” Paris explained.
    “And where would you advertise?” Donovan asked.
    “Hartford Advocate. It’s like a local, I don’t want to say trade paper, but it’s a free paper. They have a section in the back called the Back Room. They have an escort section.”
    “Now, the Hartford Advocate has never been charged so far as you know with promoting prostitution, right?” Donovan asked.
    “Not yet,” Paris replied.

“Not yet” indeed. And four years after the end of that trial, in which Paris was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in federal prison, has the Hartford Advocate stopped running these advertisements

Not yet.

Recently, the weekly alternative paper ran an article about the Paris trial, briefly mentioning their central role in Dennis Paris’s crimes. The story quoted Joshua Mamis, the paper’s publisher. (The Advocate is published by “New Mass Media, which is owned by the Tribune Company's Hartford Courant and publishes the Hartford Advocate, New Haven Advocate and Fairfield County Weekly.”)

Mamis’s comment on the continuation of these ads, proven to promote human trafficking by the Dennis Paris trial, only brings up more questions: “Like most alternative publications, we legally provide advertising services to a wide variety of businesses with diverse and sometimes controversial messages, services and products. When questions arise about the lawfulness of an advertiser's operations, we fully cooperate with the investigating law enforcement agency that has the expertise and resources to make those determinations. We routinely examine our advertising standards and practices, including advertising relating to adult businesses, to ensure that we meet the needs of the community that we serve.”

After I sent an email inquiry to Mr. Mamis, his response was limited to the exact statement that had appeared in the paper. My second email to him posed the following questions:
  • “Are we to take this as the Advocate's final word on the topic?”
  • “Are we to gather from this that the printed 'Escort' advertisements will continue to be published in the Advocate papers?”
  • “Why were they pulled from your website and Facebook?”
  •  “Will there be any further acknowledgment of the Advocate's extensive role in the Dennis Paris case or an explanation as to why the paper's standards and practices missed his ads?”
After being mentioned more than 60 times during the Paris trial, neither Mamis nor the Advocate responded. Though they have taken down their ‘escort’ ads’ Facebook page and emptied the contents of their “Back-Room” website, the printed ads continue to run each week.

So what kind of ‘escort’ advertisements do the Advocate’s “standards and practices” allow? Here is a recent example from Lullaby Escorts: “What is GFE? And Do Your Connecticut courtesans offer it? GFE stands for girlfriend experience. It is the passionate kissing, hugs, love, and romance that you would expect from your girlfriend. It is you, being the center of the universe to this girl!! Only most girlfriends and wives don't even know about GFE!! Our exceptional ladies do, and they will always offer it for any escorting occasion. You will never feel lonely or like a number when in the presence of our stunning companions, that's a guarantee."

Fortunately, pressure is building on the Hartford Advocate. Vanity Fair published an article on the Paris case and an extensive new book, “The Berlin Turnpike: A True Stoy of Human Trafficking in America,” examines the case and the Advocate’s role in detail.

And recently, the popular activist website, ran an article exposing the Advocate’s refusal to take responsibility for these ads and crimes. They also initiated a petition which you can sign here.

Dennis Paris, the man convicted of human trafficking, can say “not yet.” The Hartford Advocate, which continues to profit from advertising trafficking victims, can say, “not yet.”

Can you?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tribune Owned Newspapers Complicit in Human Trafficking Advertising

Dennis Paris
Photo courtesy Vanity Fair

(The following story is based on an excerpt from The Berlin Turnpike: A True Story of Human Trafficking in America.)

The hypocrisy of human trafficking runs deep in America.
A prominent “Vision” and “Values” plaque hangs in the spacious lobby of the Hartford Courant offices on Broad Street in Hartford, Connecticut. The proud display is a public declaration of their corporate philosophy and mission so all the world will know the Tribune owned newspaper is devoted to work that “will change our culture.”
Indeed, the Hartford Courant has a long history of cultural change. It has been the paper of record in Connecticut for more than 200 years. With a modern-day circulation of 200,000-300,000 it began as a weekly, the Connecticut Courant, on October 29, 1764. The paper now claims the title “America’s oldest continuously published newspaper” while adopting the slogan, “Older than the nation.”
According to its website, “It’s the newspaper in which George Washington placed an ad to lease part of his Mount Vernon land. It’s where Noah Webster’s “Blue-Backed Speller” was first published. Thomas Jefferson sued this newspaper for libel – and lost. And Mark Twain tried to buy stock in this paper but his offer was turned down.”
It also claims that, “During the Revolutionary War, the Courant had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the colonies and was an influential backer of the rebel cause.”
When the nation became divided over the issue of slavery, “The Courant was inspired by a visit Abraham Lincoln made to Hartford.” Becoming a staunch supporter of Lincoln’s campaign to become president, the paper printed the headline, “‘VICTORY, VICTORY, WE’VE GOT ‘EM.’” upon his election.
However, the Courant was not always opposed to the idea of slavery throughout its long history. In 2002, the paper published a self-expose entitled, “Complicity: Slavery And The Courant - Promoting And Protecting Human Bondage.” The extensive and well researched series of articles reported that, “On April 29, 1765, the Connecticut Courant published its first slave-related ad: ‘Joseph Enos of Union seeks the return of Bristol, his 30-year-old runaway slave.’ The next week, an anonymous advertiser offered for sale a ‘likely, healthy good natured NEGRO BOY, about 15. Inquire of T. Green.’ T. Green was Thomas Green, the first publisher of the Courant.”
For the next 58 years, according to the article, the Courant ran “slavery advertisements” and “that by publishing these ads, the newspaper was promoting and protecting the very institution of slavery.”
114 years after Emancipation, the Courant was purchased by Times Mirror in 1979, and after winning Pulitzer Prizes in 1992 and 1999, was sold along with Times Mirror and two local television stations, WTIC and WCCT, to the Tribune Company in 2000, one of the largest multimedia companies in the world. One year prior to the Tribune purchase, the Hartford Courant acquired the Valley Advocate collection of “alternative” weekly papers including the Hartford Advocate.
Founded in 1973 by two former employees of the Hartford Courant, the weekly paper provides investigative journalism from a mostly liberal or countercultural perspective often criticizing and exposing important stories focusing on corporate, political, and media corruption in greater Hartford and throughout Connecticut.
Like hundreds of similar papers in America, the Hartford Advocate has received criticism for accepting advertisements like those in the Federal Human Trafficking Trial of Dennis Paris. During the trial, the Hartford Advocate was mentioned over 60 times as the exclusive channel of advertising human trafficking victims. The Hartford Advocate’s “Escort” section was used by the pimps to sell - and the johns to buy - young women in and around one of America’s wealthiest cities.
In 2000, referring to its advertising from over 150 earlier, the Hartford Courant issued a public apology “for its role in slavery.” Perhaps it was an attempt to “Apply high standards of ethical behavior in all that we do,” as stated on the “Vision” and “Values” plaque hanging in their lobby.
Eleven years after their apology, and four years after the conviction of a human trafficker who used the Hartford Advocate to sell young women, the weekly paper continues to run advertisements for “Escorts.” Though prosecutors from the US Department of Justice proved these advertisements were used to promote human trafficking, the Tribune owned Hartford Advocate still receives money every week from those who exploit the most vulnerable among us.
Right now, you can comment on this stunning hypocrisy. Go to the Hartford Courant’s “Mission” page and comment on their complicity in this violation of human rights. If this one newspaper takes a step in the right direction by removing these advertisements, then pressure may build against the Tribune Company to discontinue them across their corporate owned publicationsRemind them that among the declarations on the plaque hanging in the lobby of the Hartford Courant is the statement, “We are responsible for our own destiny.” Tell them it is unfortunate they do not allow the same freedom of choice to the citizens of the city they serve.

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