By Sandra Kobrin
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
For a few days Ashley Alexandra Dupre was a valid news subject. But Sandra Kobrin says media outlets--however financially struggling--had no business showing and peddling pictures of the prostitute at the center of the Spitzer sex scandal.
(WOMENSENEWS)--No one should have been surprised to learn that Joe Francis offered Ashley Alexandra Dupre a million dollars to pose in his debut Girls Gone Wild magazine next month, only to recant his offer when he found something better: five-year-old videos of her stripping for his "Girls Gone Wild" video series when she was only 17.
After all, Dupre is the prostitute who serviced "No. 9"--aka former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer--and peddling porn is how Francis makes his money.
He sells videos of mostly inebriated--sometimes under 18--young women pulling up their shirts, dropping their pants and simulating sex with each other. Just two weeks ago, through a plea bargain, he was convicted on child abuse and prostitution charges and sentenced to time served (339 days).
Nor should it have been considered shocking to see Larry Flynt make a standing offer of $1 million to Dupre to appear nude in his magazine. After all, he's the publisher of Hustler.
Under the circumstances, it was barely even worth mentioning that Georgi Vodka was negotiating with Dupre for the privilege of pasting the image of her rear end on buses all over New York for around $100,000, according to AdAge.com. Georgi even considered naming a vodka "No. 9," the FBI's code name for Spitzer. But that's about selling booze.
We can expect a commercial carnival after a scandal this sensational. According to Newsweek, three days into the Spitzer story, the bidding was underway for the Client9.com domain and CafePress.com was offering 260 scandal-themed T-shirts for sale.
Who wasn't hoping for hundreds more obscene T-shirts in time for Mother's Day?
No, none of that was the problem.
What's been upsetting is the spectacle of the news media following the lead of Francis and Flynt, using sleazy sex and underage soft porn to sell newspapers and generate hits to their Web sites.
Google Dupre and it takes hours to count how many sites offer links to stories and semi-naked pictures, many from publications who used to take their fourth estate responsibilities very seriously. Just the other day, the results totaled 1.86 million.
Initially Dupre was a worthy news subject. She brought down a governor in one of the biggest--if not the biggest--sex scandals of this young century. People wanted to see what she looked like.
But countless media outlets were still posting pictures of Dupre after the governor resigned, lingering over the salacious photos and in some cases succumbing to the marketing fever the story set off.
As Women's eNews has reported, the august Orlando Sentinel, owned by the Chicago-based Tribune Company, posted more than a dozen photos of the then-underage aspiring singer topless and looking like she had a few too many at the bar. It offered readers the option to e-mail or buy the pictures, which range in price from $30 to $320, depending on size, and newspaper staff were happy to ship them anywhere.
Forget the T-shirt. Sounds like my Mother's Day shopping is done!
Other media giants such as Us Weekly have run multi-page semi-nude pictorials of Dupre entitled "Portraits of a Prostitute," which generated millions of Web site hits.
The New York Post has made its reputation on reporting sleaze and scandal, but the tabloid seemed to cross the line between covering smut and selling it by publishing three semi-nude front page covers in a row and backing that up with a multitude of pictorials inside and online.
Did the Post ever think about worrying its readers about the looming fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, the creeping recession, perhaps even an intense presidential primary season?
No. Soft porn makes money and news media are apparently trying to cross into that income stream.
The Huffington Post also dove into the porn pool with pages devoted to Dupre, some with stars on her nipples. This site was supposed to be about truth in journalism, not selling out.
These newspapers, Web sites and magazines are competing with each other to cater to the same interests that have made Joe Francis a millionaire and probably doing the same for Dupre.
It's estimated that Dupre will make from $2 million to $5 million for all her "appearances."
But what is really sad is that media companies are looking to make much more by peddling porn and passing it off as news.
Even AARP magazine is not above the fray. No pics of Dupre, but there is celebrity Jamie Lee Curtis shirtless on the cover of its May-June issue.
When an entire cottage industry springs up around the 15 minutes of fame of a prostitute, something's very wrong.
In 2006 pornography generated revenues of $13.3 billion a year in the United States and over $97 billion worldwide, according to a Brigham Young University study, compiled from numerous media sources.
Journalism, by contrast, is struggling along. Newspapers are consolidating, cutting back and even closing. The economy's troubles are probably making the loss of ad revenue even worse. A recent piece in The New Yorker noted that independent, publicly traded American newspapers have lost 42 percent of their market value in the past three years, according to the media entrepreneur Alan Mutter.
Foreign bureaus--at a time when the world seems incredibly small and threatened by problems that are planetary in scope--are a thing of the past.
But as desperate for money, income and Web site traffic as editors and publishers may be, they should try to remember they're supposed to be in the business of informing the public, not smut mongering.
Sandra Kobrin is a Los Angeles writer and columnist.
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