Censorship in the Name of Morality: National Right-Wing Group Is Pressuring Sacramento Retailers to Stop Letting an Alternative Weekly Newspaper Be Distributed through Their Stores
Stien, M. L., Editor & Publisher
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 con, tent 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. …