Orlando Vice

by Wendy Kaminer      
        Freedom to publish ads for escort services may seem like a peripheral perquisite of a free press, as well as a source of entertainment for readers, but prosecuting newspapers for selling the ads is serious First Amendment business – especially if the prosecution constitutes retaliation for the paper’s editorial policies.  This is not a subtle or obscure point, but it’s about to be tested in Orlando, Florida, where the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI) has just arrested 3 employees of a local weekly for selling classified ads while indicting the newspaper, the Orlando Weekly, for racketeering and multiple counts of aiding prostitution.  Characterizing the paper as “an advertising company making money off of prostitution,” MBI Director, Bill Lutz, said, “I don’t see a First Amendment issue here."  Naturally, the publisher disagreed, pointing out that the arrests followed the paper’s critical reports on the MBI’s activities. 

        With luck, a little respect for a free press, or disapproval of government thuggishness, the prosecution of the Orlando Weekly will fold as quickly as the prosecution of Phoenix New Times editors, who published a grand jury subpoena seeking information about everyone who visited the paper’s web site.  (The Phoenix New Times prosecution also appeared to be retaliatory.) The idiocies and abuses of anti-prostitution crusades are bad enough without prosecuting newspapers for exposing them.

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