Hot Air: A Quieter Voice

Sad news out of NYC: The Village Voice will shut down its print operations sometime in the near future. The paper hasn’t announced the date of its last hard copy edition just yet but its impending demise is official. Oh, sure, the Voice will live on as an online entity but for those of us like me, d’un certain âge, this latest casualty is a marker that, yep, we’re getting a bit older every day. A damned bit older.

I started reading the Voice about the same time I started writing for the Chicago Reader, another independent, alternative weekly. (In fact, the success of the Voice and the Reader gave birth to a shorthand term for a whole genre of left-leaning, muckraking, non-dailies: alt-weekly. How ironic, then that today’s ultra-rightist, white supremacist loon groups have swiped the prefix for their own nefarious self-dubbing.) The Voice was the loud, aggressive, even pushy New Yorker while the Reader was the more easy-going Midwesterner. The Voice actually broke news. And, as the New York Timespre-obituary put it yesterday:

The print paper fostered the careers of such journalistic luminaries as the investigative reporters Jack Newfield and James Ridgeway, and the music critics Lester Bangs, Ellen Willis and Greg Tate. It was the launchpad for The New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als and the novelist Colson Whitehead, both recipients of the Pulitzer Prize.

I became a devotee of the paper thanks to its coverage of civil rights and women’s rights issues as well as the excesses of the Age of Reagan, both on Wall Street and in Washington. But what clinched it for me was the Voice‘s coverage of what was then all the rage — the reputed baby kidnapping/satanic ritual/child care center abuse scandal.

There’d been a spectacular scandal at a New Jersey child care center wherein a young aspiring actress, Kelly Michaels, who taught there was accused of systematically sexually abusing her charges. Little kids proffered the most lurid testimony, up to and including recounting incidents when, supposedly, this young woman skewered them up their butts with long swords. And so on. Their testimony became so outlandish that even the most trusting soul should have given the accusations a second thought. From the National Registry of Exonerations:

[S]he was indicted on charges of performing sex acts on and with children, as well as inserting knives and forks into their bodies and forcing them to eat human feces and to defecate on her.

Michaels went on trial in 1987. Over a 10-month period, a jury heard children testify that she engaged in oral sex with them and forced nude children to pile on top of her while she was naked, or pile on top of each other while she played the piano. Some children testified that Michaels urinated in a bucket in front of them and then drank it.

But because the entire nation at the time was awash in paranoia about child care workers snatching babies and tots by the tens of thousands the young woman was convicted on 115 felony charges and sentenced to 47 years in prison. Only the Voice said, Hey, wait a minute now, don’t these tales sound the slightest bit outlandish?


They did. And eventually, the whole narrative of a network of wild-eyed sex maniacs creating catacombs and underground dungeons beneath day care centers, a trans-continental cabal of devil-worshipping kidnappers, and phalanxes of slobbering, insatiable molesters lurking around every street corner collapsed. Kelly Michaels’ convictions were overturned in 1994 after Michaels had spent five years in prison. It was determined that investigators not only had planted ideas and images into the minds of their 3-to-5-year-old subjects but that they rewarded the kids for giving ever more gruesome testimony and shook their fingers at those who didn’t.

The general public, I realized while reading the Voice‘s stories on the Michaels case, can become dangerous when it loses its capacity for rational thinking. It took an outsider gang like the staff at the Voice to counter the conventional wisdom of the day. For that reason and more I loved the paper.

Soon, it’ll be just another click, another bookmarked site to glance through in the flood of…, well, voices shouting at us from our computer screens every single goddamned day. Too bad.

Big Talk

I sat down with Rob Chatlos yesterday in the WFHB studios. He’s the independent candidate for US Congress from Indiana’s 9th District. He’s a truck driver — he and his partner own a couple of rigs — and he’s never run for office before. That, he says, is one of his assets. Funny thing is, Chatlos is disenchanted with the Democratic Party — join the club, pal! — even though his platform is as progressive as if George McGovern has come back to life to lead the Dems into the 2018 and ’20 campaign seasons. My Big Talk episode with him will run Thursday, August 31st,

This week, Thursday, at 5pm on WFHB, 91.3FM, we’ll run the Kate Hess Pace chat that was supposed to air last week but didn’t. Don’t ask.

Do listen, though, if you would. Would you?

One thought on “Hot Air: A Quieter Voice

  1. Janis Starcs says:

    Don’t forget Nat Hentoff, a hero of free speech and civil liberties.

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