Las Vegas Sun

December 21, 2014

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Jack Sheehan blasts ‘parachute journalists’ who lob grenades after a brief visit to Vegas

One of the functions of a newspaper column is to muse on events of local concern. Today I find myself in a musing kind of mood.

Over the past few weeks I've been at various times irked, provoked and occasionally even angered by all the grenades lobbed at Las Vegas by the The New York Times and The Arizona Republic.

No. That's too strong. Let me take back "angered" and use "accustomed to." That's because at least once or twice a year those of us who've been here darn near forever will read a damning report about our city, always filed by a "parachute journalist" who dropped in from New York or Chicago for a few days to pass judgment on us .

Of course, the Big Apple and the Windy City are far older and more sophisticated cities than ours and therefore light years beyond us in intellect and culture, so the prevailing wisdom of their opinion makers is that they have every right to look down their noses at us. They also have more charming and less vulnerable nicknames than our own Sin City.

These visiting reporters typically wander the Strip for a day or two, chat with a few people who can help underscore their thesis, then return to their desks and detonate Las Vegas.

We acknowledge that there's no easier target than our own booming burg in the desert, and reporters aren't lost to the notion that one of the sure ways to get any reader's attention is to slap a Las Vegas dateline in front of the opening salvo. (After all, it might be another scoop about Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan. And who isn't interested in those two party animals?)

These recent columns - the first one filed by The Times' Bob Herbert, with a heavy reliance on researcher Melissa Farley's treatise on prostitution in Nevada; and a subsequent editorial in The Arizona Republic, which stated that our city's moral decay is contaminating the entire country - decry Las Vegas as a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. From on high, these scribblers lambaste us for our blatant promotion of sexual freedom, our desecration and dehumanization of women, and our constant pandering to the basest human appetites.

As is typically the case, Herbert's harpoons were thrown at us on a slow news week in New York. We didn't read this sort of on-the-road criticism when the paper of record was spending months cleaning up its own house from all the internal management problems and messy plagiarism scandals that it was forced to address. (Does the name Jayson Blair ring a bell?)

It's been going on for years, this tradition of getting the national editor to pay for a romp in Las Vegas, then nuking the city once safely home.

I remember when the former CBS news magazine show "48 Hours" came here a few years back, called George Knapp and myself and a few other grizzled veteran writers and reporters to get our perspective on the culture here, then totally ignored our input. The final edited show revealed the breathtaking news that showgirls in Las Vegas had actual lives away from the stage and that kids here had nothing to do in their off hours. (You mean showgirls don't shop for groceries after work in their G-strings and feathered headgear? Who'd have thought it?)

Several of the interviews that were aired on "48 Hours" were conducted with teenagers loitering on the Strip after midnight, and none had much good to say about our city. It was revealed weeks later that two of the young subjects who appeared on camera didn't even live here, but were visiting from Phoenix. It was nice of their parents to let them run wild and free while they were in the casino gambling, but of course none of that news made the final cut.

Even though I did more than 100 interviews with people involved in the adult scene in Las Vegas for my book "Skin City," Bob Herbert never bothered to ask me what I had discovered in my research. It could be that he thought my book totally sucked, or that I was too soft on the subjects I interviewed . Whatever the case, Herbert's gone now and is not likely to return until he can mine another juicy Vegas nugget some years down the line.

Let's face it: Our city clearly drew a bull's-eye on our surgically enhanced chest when we issued the campaign slogan "What happens here stays here." It's the equivalent of saying , "Catch me if you can."

Although I like the ad campaign, which is done with a wink and a nod and is neither blatant nor distasteful in its message, and although I think the positive economic impact from which we all directly or indirectly benefit far outweighs the negative repercussions, it clearly rolls out a red carpet for these parachute journalists to jabber away at us. But the idea that our campaign and our city's bawdy image contaminate us all, as stated in The Arizona Republic, is ludicrous.

Las Vegas' emergence through the decades as an adult playground has more to do with supply and demand than any political position we're staking out on the moral landscape. Every continent has its locales where adults can indulge and where sexual mores are more relaxed. Europe has Amsterdam, Asia has Bangkok, and South America has Costa Rica and Rio de Janeiro.

America has Las Vegas.

It's obvious that one area of law enforcement that needs amping up here is legislation against the trafficking of young people in the sex trade. Teenage prostitutes should be treated as victims and not criminals, and jail time should be reserved for the pimps who lure them to Las Vegas and the conventioneers who hire the m.

Manipulation or exploitation by adults is the only reason I can imagine a young person getting into that profession. The sad fact that Las Vegas is the final destination for so many of these kids is far and away the biggest drawback to our image and our marketing campaign.

Metro detective Brian Evans said in an interview for "Skin City": "Seventy-five percent of these young girls are working out of hotels. These aren't home grown girls, but they're brought here because there is so much more money to be made here than in San Francisco or L.A."

Former Clark County Sheriff Bill Young told me : "It's a sign of the sickness in our world that the younger the girl is, the higher price she fetches. In some countries and some cultures, for example in Canada and some countries in Europe, a prostitute that is over 17 is too old to work and so they come to the States. And in my tenure as sheriff, I sadly was seeing more and more young girls, and boys, come to Las Vegas."

Any dollars that can be moved into stopping this flow of exploited teens into our city will be well spent , and any additional efforts the hotel industry can make to police this problem, will be worthwhile.

One final musing: It's a good thing that O.J. Simpson and his posse decided to break the law again the week after all this negative publicity about Las Vegas popped up. I was starting to get really concerned about our image.

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