Censorship In The Name Of Morality p. 14

By: M.L. Stein National right-wing group is pressuring Sacramento
retailers to stop letting an alternative weekly
newspaper be distributed through their stores sp.

A SACRAMENTO ALTERNATIVE weekly newspaper and a national right-wing group are locked in a battle that so far has pushed the paper out of several major retail establishments, the paper reported.
Jeff VonKaenel, publisher of the Sacramento News & Review, claims that the local chapter of the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association (AFA) has pressured five supermarkets and several local franchises of three fast-food restaurant chains, Taco Bell, Burger King and Denny's.
David Woodel, an insurance agent who heads the Sacramento area's AFA unit, acknowledged in an interview that he and other members "have talked to a few places" about ejecting News & Review racks. The free news and entertainment tabloid, which reports a readership of 293,000, is distributed through 1,200 locations.
The outlets that have banned the News & Review, according to VonKaenel, include Safeway, Lucky, Raley's, Albertson's and Bel Air supermarkets, 25 Burger King and Denny's franchises and 33 Taco Bell restaurants.
However, News & Review said in one issue that Safeway turned out the newspaper after it ran a story headed "Slaveway," an account of the market's alleged union problems.
"The situation with Safeway is a little more complex," said News & Review editor Melinda Welsh.
But she and VonKaenel said there is nothing oblique about AFL's efforts to pressure businesses to keep the News & Review from being displayed inside their premises.
The publisher described AFA as a "right-wing extremist group that is threatening a boycott of a newspaper that reaches 24% of the population here."
He said some of the stores have denied kicking out the tabloid because of its content, telling him that the move was made because they wanted to eliminate rack clutter or because they don't carry publications with editorial content.
"There are certain places that will do anything to avoid controversy," VonKaenel maintained.
AFA's contentions that the weekly's gay and lesbian personals are pornographic and an incitement to sexual crimes are "scare tactics," the publisher charged.
To Woodel, the personals are only partial reason for AFA's objections to the News & Review.
"Most of their stories are yellow journalism," he complained. "They try to legitimize gay life and and publicly want to change community standards."
Woodel also expressed outrage over a News & Review piece about nude dancing in so-called juice bars.
"It told how these dancers do prostitution during their off hours, and how they dance during their [menstrual] periods. It glorified a prostitute's life," he asserted.
The News & Review recently ran a story headed "Sacramento's Leather Underground" about gay lifestyle, and another entitled "Virtual Sex" describing E-mail sex conversations.
Woodel likened the newspaper's coverage of these stories to that of a "pimp for the sex porn industry."
He said his main concern was the paper's availability to children since it is distributed free.
"If the News & Review were a paid newspaper, we would not have a problem with it," he added.
The AFA leader dismissed VonKaenel's accusation in a house ad that stated the organization was engaging in censorship in its "McCarthy-era attempt to ban the News & Review in Sacramento."
"What about my First Amendment rights and the rights of parents who don't want their kids assaulted by this kind of trash?" Woodel asked.
VonKaenel retorted that the News & Review offers a wide range of content and is aimed at a college-educated readership.
"If parents don't want their children to read us, they can prevent that," he continued. "And there also are ways to stop them from calling 900 numbers. Kids with a TV set can watch much more explicit material than they will ever see in the News & Review."
VonKaenel defended the nude-dancing story, asserting that it revealed how the dancers, who work only for tips, are exploited by the bar owners and lead sordid lives.
"Only David Woodel would conclude that we glamorized these women," he added.
Connie Miotell, the News & Review's development manager, contended that Rolling Stone, which is sold by the stores that ousted the weekly, "has covers that are a lot more lurid than ours."
VonKaenel said the News & Review also has done several investigative stories and has won an award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association for its literacy program to help school-children with low reading and writing scores.
"It's ironic that these grocery stores sell cigarettes and alcohol, but bar our paper," VonKaenel said.
E&P's attempt to contact the businesses that have removed the News & Review drew only two return calls.
Joe Lal, CEO of Lal Enterprises, which owns a number of Burger King and Denny's locations, said that, to his knowledge, neither Woodel nor any other AFA member approached him about banning the News & Review, but that he had been requested by customers to do so, "because they didn't think it contained proper material for their children.
"After all, we are family restaurants," he went on. "We also are a private business and are under no obligation to carry any newspaper or magazine."
Lal agreed with Woodel that the News & Review's content was largely unsuitable for children. "Would you want your kids to see this stuff?" he asked.
Lucky stores spokeswoman Judith Dash said the News & Review has never been available in its market locations. She explained that the company maintains an outside rack for free publications but excludes those containing "sexual material."
VonKaenel disputed her statement, saying that Lucky carried his paper until about two years ago and subsequently ordered it out.
A memo from another Burger King owner to his franchisees termed the News & Review "trash." It said the Northern California chapter of AFA was "threatening to tell its members to boycott all Burger King restaurants if this publication is not removed."
The owner, Dick Brening of Brening Enterprises in Sacramento, added: "I agree completely with the AFA's position and hope that we will pull this trash, if it's there, out of our restaurants immediately."
VonKaenel is fighting back. He said the newspaper recently launched a campaign to collect 10,000 signatures from residents supporting the paper.
"We want to demonstrate that, contrary to the AFA's claims, a majority of Sacramentans support the right of a free press to reflect a variety of viewpoints and oppose this fringe group's efforts to censor us," VonKaenel said.
The mainstream Sacramento Bee has come down on the side of the News & Review in an editorial that said AFA's tactics set, a worrisome precedent. The News & Review . . . while sometimes explicit in its language and often caustic in its content, is not prurient
. . . Once retailers are successfully pressured to remove one legal and legitimate publication for its supposedly objectionable content, there is no certainty where the demands will stop . . . .
"No one is required to patronize a publication that the reader regards as offensive, but pressuring businesses to make it inaccessible to others is to start down a path that offends the very same constitutional principles that protect the rights to free speech and worship that are being exercised by those who want to shut this paper down."
The Bee also ran an op-ed piece by Woodel and an associate, who praised Burger King and other establishments that "care about protecting children from adult material and pornography."
Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr. issued a "Freedom Week" proclamation, which implicitly backed the News & Review by extolling "the right to free speech through the media and newspapers . . . . "
Nationally, AFA, which is headed by the Rev. Donald Wildmon, has attacked book publishers, television networks, the National Endowment for the Arts and other institutions it deems harmful to the morals of Americans.
Its specific targets have included the TV shows, "NYPD Blue," "The Simpsons," and "Beavis and Butthead." AFA also conducted an unsuccessful boycott against Waldenbooks to stop it from selling Playboy, Playgirl and Penthouse, as well as campaigned against Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.
?( "One of the Sacramento News & Review's more controversial front pages. Said the newspaper's publisher, Jeff VonKaenel, "It's ironic that these grocery stores sell cigarettes and alcohol, but bar our paper.") [Photo & Caption]
? ( This front page of the News & Review looks harmless enough, but objections were raised over the words 'female condom' (bottom right), which were used to tease an inside story) [Photo & Caption]
? (Sacramento News & Review's five-year anniversary issue picturing assorted front pages) [Photo & Caption]
?( The News & Review battles back with a front-page article on 'God's Right Wing.' [Photo & Caption]


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