Stu Bykofsky

Larry Platt's Response to Stu's Sex Tourism Column

I have been sitting on this, trying to write a response, but, Larry Platt did eventually respond to my email about Stu Bykofsky's sex-tourism column. While trying to write out a response to the email, the days rolled by, and I was busy being obnoxious with Rick Santorum. Leaving this hanging is unfair to Platt, so, I am going to just publish his response in full, with only minimial comment.

On the whole, I find the response-- while nice- dismissive and unresponsive to the real concerns the column raised.

First, again, my email to Platt:

Larry:

I (sincerely) apologize for asking this while the Daily News is taking the hit of the Bill Conlin morass, and, I find it encouraging that the paper is now also actively investigating Conlin and pursuing the story. But, I am writing mainly to follow up to Helen Gym's op-ed from this morning about Stu Bykofsky's column from last week.

While the timing might make this more painful for the paper, it seems that questions about the Bykofsky column are even more important this week than they were when the column ran. I am going to write something for our little blog, piggybacking on Helen's piece, but, I would like to ask the Daily News a few questions first (with the understanding that I will publish these in full on our blog). If there is someone more appropriate to ask, please forward this on to them.

The questions:

First, given the paper's experience over the last few days, would the Bykofsky column run if it were submitted today? If not, will the Daily News issue any statement about the efficacy of that column actually running? Obviously, running the piece by Helen is an important step, and shows some willingness to deal with this issue, but, this is not the same as the paper itself responding.

Second, Stu's column dances around whether he did or did not have sex with a Thai prostitute. In the submission process of this column, was Stu directly asked this by an editor? If this conversation did occur, was the column changed as a result of this discussion?

Third, will the Daily News issue corrections for the column? Obviously, the paper cannot run a 'correction' for the racist views of its columnist. But, the column did simply have factual errors. For example, Stu's assertion that 'there are no pimps in Thailand' is false, and refuted by any number of reports from Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and others which document that many prostitutes in Thailand are children, and in conditions resembling slavery (or, simply, slavery). It goes without saying that these children are not in slavery without someone... keeping them enslaved. Similarly, "each woman is an independent contractor" is false, for many of the same reasons, and this too could be easily refuted. If these corrections have been issued, and I missed them, please let me know.

Finally, and more fundamentally for the Daily News, is any view whatsoever appropriate for publication by its columnists? Stu's column danced around whether he did, or did not, in fact have sex with a Thai prostitute, and then referred to Asian women with bizarrely outmoded racial stereotypes. Is there any limit to what the Daily News would not publish along these lines? For example, would the Daily News run an entire column discussing how cheap Jews are?

Thanks in advance for your consideration. It goes without saying, but, one reason this kind of piece angers so many of us is that we greatly value the role of an active, vibrant local paper, generally, and of an institution like the Daily News generally specifically. So, when it publishes something this offensive and destructive, it sets off all kinds of alarms. As I said, I will put any answers in writing in full, and can wait until tomorrow if that is helpful.

Best,

Dan

He then responds:

Hey Dan,

Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner — still digging out from the Conlin mess.

I take it your deadline has by now passed, but let me just respond to a couple of general points and you can do with this what you will.

First, there is no connection between Stu’s first-person observations about something he witnessed in Thailand and the Conlin tragedy. To suggest such a connection is to demean the victims who have come forward with their stories of Bill’s horrible misdeeds.

Second, I think in the aftermath of Stu’s column, both in our paper and on philly.com, there has been some really valuable back and forth. In particular, there have been, as you point out, some important reporting addendums offered by readers that would have strengthened the column. (For example, placing Stu’s slice-of-life observations in the larger context of the human trafficking issue and quoting from UN reports before zeroing in on what he witnessed would have preemptively addressed many of the concerns now being raised.)

That said, I don’t think the evidence exists on the page for some of the conclusions being drawn from the column. He doesn’t promote the sex tourist trade, for example. Instead, as a number of philly.com commenters pointed out, he has penned a column about a “sad first impression he’s gotten about what life is like for one part of the Thai population.” Certainly, this expression of sadness may not square with the moral outrage you or I might have responded with, in which case I invite you to answer upsetting speech with more speech and write a letter that I’d be happy to publish. (As we’ve done a few times in the past week). As for “corrections,” I have yet to see any factual assertions requiring correction, though I’m happy to look at specifics. (As to the two you suggest, they are not, in fact, assertions made in the piece: Stu never posits that there “are no pimps in Thailand” or that prostitutes in Thailand are independent contractors. The paragraph in question actually refers only to the women — not children — who work in bars). So far, what I’ve heard from people wouldn’t qualify as corrections so much as additional information that would have provided a context for Stu’s slice of life peek at this world.

Finally, let me say that the days when publishing occurs solely upon publication are (thankfully) over. This piece — with its ongoing discourse — strikes me as an ultimately healthy, if occasionally messy, exercise. Our pages, and philly.com, will happily continue being a forum for readers to express their reactions and, yes, for columnists to sometimes piss off said readers. My old friend Nat Hentoff once wrote a great book called “Free Speech For Me, But Not For Thee” and it touched on the all-too-human instinct to want to silence those who offend us, rather than engage the argument. I invite you, and your readers, to engage.

Best,
LP

OK, so, I expected this for the most part. Let me just say one thing that I think is really, really, really ridiculous about the last paragraph-the 'all dialogue is good dialougue' canard. Basically, Platt absolves the paper absolves itself of any responsibility whatesover, because there is back and forth. In other words, we can say whatever crazy, destructive, criminal crap we want, because we allow people to respond... I just don't buy it.

Anyway, there it is. I will write some more about it- but, please give your thoughts below.

Four (Unanswered) Questions for the Daily News about Stu's Sex Tourism

(For background, see this post from me, and Helen's column from yesterday.)

Yesterday, the Daily News ran Helen's wonderful op-ed on the horrible Stu Bykofsky sex tourism column.

But, even after Helen's column, there are some unanswered questions that need to be answered by the Daily News as to how this all happened, and what they plan to do about it. Last week the paper might have been able to shrug this off, and be happy with the increased page views they probably saw due to the controversy. But, now that one of their own has been forced into retirement for alleged sexual crimes against children, I don't think this can really go unanswered.

With that in mind, I wrote to Larry Platt, and asked him the questions that I think the Daily News should answer (and, I am sure there are more). He has not responded. If he does, I will post his answers in full.

The email:

From: Dan U-A
Date: Thu, Dec 22, 2011 at 11:15 AM
Subject: Questions about Stu Bykofsky Column
To: Larry Platt
Cc: Helen Gym

Larry:

I (sincerely) apologize for asking this while the Daily News is taking the hit of the Bill Conlin morass, and, I find it encouraging that the paper is now also actively investigating Conlin and pursuing the story. But, I am writing mainly to follow up to Helen Gym's op-ed from this morning about Stu Bykofsky's column from last week.

While the timing might make this more painful for the paper, it seems that questions about the Bykofsky column are even more important this week than they were when the column ran. I am going to write something for our little blog, piggybacking on Helen's piece, but, I would like to ask the Daily News a few questions first (with the understanding that I will publish these in full on our blog). If there is someone more appropriate to ask, please forward this on to them.

The questions:

First, given the paper's experience over the last few days, would the Bykofsky column run if it were submitted today? If not, will the Daily News issue any statement about the efficacy of that column actually running? Obviously, running the piece by Helen is an important step, and shows some willingness to deal with this issue, but, this is not the same as the paper itself responding.

Second, Stu's column dances around whether he did or did not have sex with a Thai prostitute. In the submission process of this column, was Stu directly asked this by an editor? If this conversation did occur, was the column changed as a result of this discussion?

Third, will the Daily News issue corrections for the column? Obviously, the paper cannot run a 'correction' for the racist views of its columnist. But, the column did simply have factual errors. For example, Stu's assertion that 'there are no pimps in Thailand' is false, and refuted by any number of reports from Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and others which document that many prostitutes in Thailand are children, and in conditions resembling slavery (or, simply, slavery). It goes without saying that these children are not in slavery without someone... keeping them enslaved. Similarly, "each woman is an independent contractor" is false, for many of the same reasons, and this too could be easily refuted. If these corrections have been issued, and I missed them, please let me know.

Finally, and more fundamentally for the Daily News, is any view whatsoever appropriate for publication by its columnists? Stu's column danced around whether he did, or did not, in fact have sex with a Thai prostitute, and then referred to Asian women with bizarrely outmoded racial stereotypes. Is there any limit to what the Daily News would not publish along these lines? For example, would the Daily News run an entire column discussing how cheap Jews are?

Thanks in advance for your consideration. It goes without saying, but, one reason this kind of piece angers so many of us is that we greatly value the role of an active, vibrant local paper, generally, and of an institution like the Daily News generally specifically. So, when it publishes something this offensive and destructive, it sets off all kinds of alarms. As I said, I will put any answers in writing in full, and can wait until tomorrow if that is helpful.

Best,

Dan

No response so far...

In the meantime, lets remember what officials from the Daily News said in the wake of the Conlin accusations:

“I can’t even begin to express the shock, sadness and outrage I feel by what Bill Conlin is alleged to have done,” said Daily News editor Larry Platt Tuesday.

“I am sickened by these allegations,” added Gregory J. Osberg, CEO of Philadelphia Media Network, which owns both the Inquirer and the Daily News.

“We have always taken tremendous pride in the ethical and moral standards we operate from at Philadelphia Media Network.”

Moral standards? Sorry, that will continue to ring hollow when the Daily News publishes factually incorrect, racial stereotype laced, amoral columns that meander through the pros and cons of having sex with children.

A child does not magically lose her humanity because she lives in Thailand. It is time for the Daily News to start explaining how this type of thing is acceptable journalism.

If you haven't read Helen's op-ed on Bykofsky...

... do so now.

The Daily News, like many papers, has passionately decried the abuse of vulnerable children by a child predator in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. There should be no double standard when one of its own columnists witnesses, then justifies, acts of comparable magnitude and casts it as a "journey" of healing.

Federal law prohibits sex tourism. Laws in Thailand prohibit prostitution. Nothing could be more stark than the hypocrisy of a columnist known for ranting about illegal crossings into the United States simultaneously crossing national borders to leer about illegal activity - all the while ducking and weaving about whether he himself engaged in such acts.

It isn't OK in State College, Pa. It's equally sickening to crow about it in Thailand.

Meanwhile, I sent Larry Platt, Editor of DN a list of follow up questions, building on this. I will post them, along with any response, tomorrow.

Stu Bykofsky: Law is law, and must be followed. Unless it involves exploitative sex tourism.

In August, in one of his xenophobic, anti-immigrant rants, Stu Bykofsky argued against humane immigration policy for the city:

Some ideas are too simple for the high-minded to comprehend. Illegal immigration is illegal. They don't seem to get it.

Stu Byskofsky, man of laws!

Fast forward to today, where Sheriff Bykofsky let fly a rambling, bizarre column about his friend’s fun times with sex tourism in Thailand. In it, Stu says this:

My journey reconnected me with my college friend Paul DeCeglie, who ran here to something, not from something. It's now his permanent home.

He ran to weather he liked, a lower cost of living, a laid-back Thai lifestyle and low-cost, no-guilt sex.

Ah, what?

He continues:

An endless supply of girls with no marketable skills, but rentable bodies, heads for cities to work in the sex trade. Although prostitution is officially "illegal," it flourishes and Thais tolerate it.

So, to recap: Sheriff Bykofsky doesn’t care if a poor Mexican was sleeping on a dirt floor or if NAFTA destroyed much of the ability of Mexican farmers to earn a living farming, making them "head for cities" to work really hard to make their lives better. He doesn’t care that immigrants- undocumented and documented- are now revitalizing entire sections of Philadelphia. He doesn't care if families are being ripped in half. Laws are laws!

However, when an illegal but accepted practice involves Stu’s college pal having his way with vulnerable Thai women? Pass the blue pills, because this sex is guilt free, baby!

Next, re-read this passage:

If you want contradictions, Thailand doesn't disappoint.

DeCeglie finds Thais simultaneously friendly and infuriating, polite and cunning, sometimes shiftless and lacking intellectual curiosity. He'd been inviting me to visit for a long time, and for a long time I couldn't or wouldn't. Finally, to help heal, I ran here.

Thai women tend to be slim, with soft features and thick black hair.

Does the Daily News even have editors anymore? Did they really read this and say “sounds good!”?

Let’s have a little thought exercise here. Take that above passage, and instead of his friend authoritatively discussing Thai people, imagine him instead describing Africans as ‘shiftless and lacking intellectual curiosity.’

How would that be received?

Or, instead imagine Stu channeling his ‘friend’s’ visit to Israel, saying something a little like this:

Israelis are walking contradictions. They are both a generous people and stingy with their money. Their women are pretty, with prominent noses and dark, olive skin.

Would either of those fly? I don't think so. Stu would be fired. Yet he gets away with the above, because it is apparently more socially acceptable to use bizarre, crazy, racist imagery when discussing Asians, or Mexican immigrants.

How does this continue to happen? It is time for the Daily News to answer why this man still has a column, and how something this horrible even made the paper's pages. Stu Bykofsky, friend of sex tourists everywhere, needs to be relieved of duty.

Philly Needs to Ignore the Hate of Stu Byskofsky, and Make a Smart, Humane Decision to Change our Immigration Policies

Stu Bykofsky is a man in search of enemies. This is old news from the man who suggested that another 9/11 style terrorist attack would benefit America, or when he is rallying Philadelphians to stop the incipient evil doers of our time (bike commuters).

Fresh off of eulogizing his recently deceased, charitably minded, anti-immigrant, racist friend, Joey Vento, (Vento said things like “[Illegal Hispanics] are killing, like, 25 of us a day … molesting about eight children a day … All we’re getting is drug dealers and murderers.”), Stu struck again. This go-round of Stu's is truly hate-filled, and appears to be the work of a zealot, or more charitably, a man fearful of the world changing around him, lashing out in any way he can. The target this time? Those same brown folks Vento hated, and a City Councilwoman that he has a disturbing level of vitriol for-- María Quiñones-Sánchez-- and her efforts to lessen harm from the city's participation in the so-called "Secure Communities" program. (Secure Communities is the federal program that encourages local law enforcement to share data with ICE, letting the feds deport a lot more people than they otherwise would be able to. While Pennsylvania has not yet signed on, Philadelphia has at least one contract to allow ICE real-time access to our arrest records system, called "PARS.")

Before we discuss some of the substance of Stu’s ridiculous column, it is probably worthwhile to quickly dress down his continued xenophobic rants against Councilwoman Sánchez. (Note: for those that don’t know me, I am truly biased in favor of María. I have loooonng supported her, I have donated money to her campaign, I have volunteered for her, and, one of the most important people in my life now works for her. My bias, of course, comes from believing in María, like many other progressives in the city. We would need a lot more of those fabled psychiatry sessions to find out where Stu’s biases come from.)

For many progressives, María is one of ‘ours.’ But, despite the supposed exalted status of incumbency, the party did not support María last May. Instead, most of the structure lined up to support Danny Savage, the young, white, connected ward leader who they had placed in office once before. (If you haven't, please read this piece from a few months ago.)

I go through all of that for Stu, who asks this:

Who is Quinones-Sanchez working for?

Um:

Seventh Councilmanic District, Primary Election, May, 2011
Dan Savage: 39.6%
Maria Quinones Sanchez: 60.4%

Yeah, that happened. It was even in the newspaper.

Stu then goes onto to say other ridiculous things about María, such as "when she puts those here illegally - including ex-cons - above her own constituents, she is unfit to hold office.”

"Unfit to hold office" is probably better than the time he seemed to basically say that she was un-American. But, if you wonder whether the rest of his hate filled, xenophobic rant against María hit its intended audience, check out the ever embarrassing Philly.com comments.

....

Substantively (if we can call it that), Stu’s latest problem is the devastating report by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The report is based on case summaries from immigration lawyers, who provided the author with vivid examples of why local and state governments need to seriously consider their participation in Secure Communities. As the report states:

Anecdotal case data collected by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) from its attorney members, representing 127 cases from across the country, offers clear evidence that the way in which DHS engages state and local law enforcement (LLEAs) in immigration enforcement is distracting the department from its stated priorities.

Stu implies that the 127 case studies listed (9 from PA), many of which are totally horrific, are somehow the entire universe of wrongful deportations. This would be clarified if Stu looked up the meaning of the word ‘anecdote,' or bothered to speak with lawyers at places like HIAS or Nationalities Services Center who see these cases first-hand.

Of course, a couple of actual Philadelphia journalists have looked at the data, and it is worrisome, at best:

According to ICE data, 238 of the 421 Philadelphia suspects transferred from Philadelphia Police to ICE custody between October 27, 2008 and February 28, 2011 were never convicted of a crime, one of the highest rates under Secure Communities in the country. Another 86 were classified by ICE as level 2 or 3 offenders and 97 were convicted of level 1 offenses, which are the most serious crimes.

Denvir and Ferrick's article also has those meddlesome anecdotes:

One moment Teresa Garcia's son was there, the next he was gone.

Garcia said her 25-year-old son was deported to Mexico last year after being arrested by Philadelphia police for allegedly making threats against a friend who had failed to repay a loan. Her son was innocent, his mother said. He never got a chance to prove it.

Once arrested, information about him and his case was instantly turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who determined that he was an undocumented immigrant and removed him from the U.S.

The young man had lived in America since he was two. He had no memory of his homeland. Still, back he went.

The City’s response to the above?

Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison sympathizes with critics of the program, but he says that the Mayor is unlikely to change his mind.

"They are supposed to target those in the level 1 [high-level crime] area. We've looked at these, and we have asked them why a lot of people getting deported are in level 2 or level 3. But on a case-by-case basis, that's not really our call," says Gillison. "I can suggest to you that you will find any number of stories that will break my heart, I'm sure. But I'm not dealing with a perfect situation."

I respect Gillison a lot. But that is a totally ridiculous response. Yeah, we know this doesn’t work like it is supposed to. Yeah, you will find cases that break my heart! But, sorry, on we march!

There are a lot of problems with participating in something like Secure Communities.

On the most basic level, we don’t need to participate in the government’s schizophrenic, cruel deportation game (see, for example, these three articles which ran in three days earlier this month: here, here and here), which is targeting human beings who are looking for better lives, and contributing to their communities.

I have personally seen (anecdote alert!) how unscrupulous people threaten immigrants with deportation in order to take advantage of them- oftentimes in explicitly criminal ways. Other stories abound too, including immigrants literally being targeted and attacked on our streets, the cops coming out, not getting interpreters, arresting everyone, including the victims, and before anything is actually sorted out, guess what happens? In other words, not only may witnesses not come forward, but victims may not either, because police make snap judgments, arrest people, and boom, the Deportation Machine, rings the bell, as another life is ruined.

But, even from a pure self-interest angle, in a city with a 'stop snitching' culture, putting up barriers between immigrant communities and the police is a really bad thing. The further we go down this road, the worse this relationship will be, and the less people will talk to the police, no matter how many times the Mayor refers to wanted criminals as cowards or assholes. We don’t want that, right?

Opting out of participation in Secure Communities is what we should do. Period. It is a bad program, that does not work. Opting out is not a crazy position. Officials across the country, including the recently departed, long, long time DA of Manhattan, the Governor of New York and the Mayor of Boston, have lined up against this program. Meanwhile, in Philly, the Mayor’s office admits the program isn’t working right, yet on we go, with the Deportation Machine chugging along.

But, even if we decide to participate in Secure Communities, there is a compromise that could probably work. Strangely, it was proposed by that brown woman that (Daily News Columnist) Stu Bykofsky loves to hate, and it was approvingly endorsed by ... the Daily News editorial board:

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez proposes the city delay the time it allows ICE to access records, until after a preliminary hearing when it is clearer who might be a victim and who might be a defendant. This seems like a reasonable compromise to a tough issue.

How un-American of them. The Daily News Editorial Board is clearly unfit to hold office write editorials.

Our participation in this cruel program hurts the city, hurts good people, and, frankly, it is just really stupid public policy, from a city that makes enough mistakes as it is. The rants of tired old men aside, this compromise is the least we could do.

Syndicate content