Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Hartford Courant Should Apologize for Slavery . . . Again

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.”
In 2000, referring to its advertising from over 150 earlier, the Hartford Courant had already 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 their “Vision” and “Values” plaque.

Seven years after their apology a landmark Human Trafficking trial was held in the Hartford, Connecticut Federal Court. In the testimony of that trial the Hartford Advocate, a local newspaper owned by The Hartford Courant and typical of alternative weeklies across America, was mentioned over 70 times. Why? Because Dennis Paris, the defendant in the trial, used the newspaper’s classified “Back Room” advertisements for what he – and the Advocate - called an "Escort" service. These ads were his sole channel for selling his victims, one of whom was 16 years old, another just 14.

This was not an isolated case. Since the 1970’s, the Hartford Advocate's “Escort” section had been used by the pimps to sell - and by “johns” to purchase - young women in and around Hartford, one of America’s wealthiest cities.

In June, 2007 Dennis Paris was convicted of human trafficking crimes including “sex trafficking of a minor.” He is now serving a 30 year sentence in federal prison. The Department of Justice proved his was not an “Escort” business. It was a human trafficking ring operating out of motel rooms south of Hartford on the Silas Deane Highway and the Berlin Turnpike.

Yet, even after the DOJ determined these ads were doubtlessly used to promote human trafficking, the Hartford Advocate continued to run their weekly "Escort" listings in print, online and on their exclusive Facebook page. They refused to stop taking money from the pimps who were buying the ads and selling their girls. In fact, for decades the Hartford Advocate and The Hartford Courant made money from human trafficking - or as President Obama simply calls it, “slavery.” This was a practice no different from those ads the Courant ran in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In 2010, several of my colleagues and I began a campaign to force the Advocate to remove these ads. These efforts included articles, news reports, radio and television interviews, public awareness events, and successfully writing and passing legislation in Connecticut that was designed to pressure media from publishing human trafficking advertisements.  

The Hartford Courant was, of course, opposed to this legislation. The paper went so far as to publish an embarrassing letter calling the effort “doomed to failure.”

No matter, the law went into effect on October 1, 2012. On November 2, 2012 I was informed the ads were being pulled by the newspaper.

Since they had recently published our efforts as “doomed” I was a bit confused. After requesting clarification I received this email from the Courant’s Communications Manager, Jennifer T. Humes, “For more than a year, we have been in the process of re-positioning the Advocate Weekly newspapers - which includes the Hartford Advocate, the New Haven Advocate and the Fairfield Weekly – moving them from an “alternative” publication and to a go-to ‘entertainment’ resource. The most recent step in that process was the decision to no longer publish classified advertising which consists of massage/escort and adult spa ads. In order to remain relevant to our readers, the Advocate Weekly newspapers will continually evolve to meet the changing interests of those we serve.”

One advertising account representative at the company told me she was informed of the decision this way, “They told me they were cleaning up the back pages of the Advocate.”

It is an important moment in the life of the Hartford Courant, a proud Connecticut company. There is no question these were profits often taken from the sexual victimization of young people. Will the Courant’s “high standards of ethical behavior” once again move them apologize for “promoting and protecting human bondage?” Or will they say nothing about their money-making relationship today’s slave masters – the pimps?

Right now, you can go to the Hartford Courant’s “Mission” page and comment on this violation of human rights. Tell them to do as they did the last time they were complicit in slavery - apologize. The only difference now is that the people to whom they owe the apology are still alive and waiting for justice. Remind 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 that for so long they did not allow the same freedom of choice to so many of the citizens they serve.

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