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“Pathetic,” “unconscionable,” “inconsiderate,” “sick,” “crude,” “horrific,” “disgusting,” “vulgar,” “slanderous,” “degrading,” “sad…”

It’s been hard to tell if the adjectives were being hurled at the Independent or at prostitute J.C. Nouveaux, the subject of our June 22 cover story. It seems likely, sadly, that the letters’ writers weren’t interested in drawing such fine distinctions.

Not-for-attribution e-mails have raised several interesting topics, including our story’s use of vulgar language (find us anyone who learned a new word) and its assuredly toxic impact on teenage girls, who will supposedly be drawn to mimicry of J.C.’s clearly glamorous and shamelessly aggrandized world.

“…this article seems to be showing women and girls that it is all right to become a prostitute...” one reader wrote.

Many such letters were sent by teenage girls, who apparently heard about the story through the ministries of the South Hills Evangelical Church and Community Center. But their undisguised disgust with the topic betrays the hole in their logic. Just because you read about it doesn’t mean you have to like it.

A disturbing and wrongheaded theme emerges from the deluge. The idea is that by putting J.C. Nouveaux on our cover, the Independent is promoting, implicitly or explicitly, her ideas.

Well, no. We hoped to introduce readers to someone they probably wouldn’t meet anywhere else, someone interesting and unusual, someone relevant to their lives in Missoula because, acknowledged or not, J.C. Nouveaux shares our world with us. We had no intention, as any reasonable reading of what we wrote will confirm, of suggesting that young girls start acting like her.

In response we got missives from readers along the lines of “YOU WILL NOT GET ANY SUPPORT FROM ANY OF US WHO READ THIS THAT DO NOT AGREE.” More than a few respondents promised never to pick up the Independent again.

Well, fair enough.

We are sorry, certainly, to have offended some readers—there’s no profit in that for us—but we certainly don’t apologize, as a few have suggested we do, for a story of which we’re proud. We’re mostly sorry to see that so many people jumped on us for showing them who their neighbors are. They apparently can’t recognize the difference between description of our world and promotion of an agenda, and that bodes ill for journalism.

On June 27, Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg joined 71 of his constitutionally impaired colleagues in signing his name to a letter calling for rescission of The New York Times’ White House press credentials in retaliation for the Times’ “abuse of power” in publishing true facts about federal surveillance programs the White House didn’t want people to know about.

About our story, a 16-year-old wrote, heartbreakingly, that she “didn’t even think papers where [sic] allowed to put something like that in them.”

If someone doesn’t teach her, and Rehberg for that matter, the critical distinction between message and messenger, by the time she grows up there may not be any. And that, more than exposure to any uncomfortable fact of life, will be truly sad.

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