Lawyer: Spitzer met regularly with prostitutes

By LARRY NEUMEISTER | Associated Press Writer
June 1, 2009

NEW YORK – A lawyer for a former escort service booker says his client revealed that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer met regularly with prostitutes over an 18-month period before he resigned.

The lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, spoke outside court after his client, Temeka Lewis, was sentenced on Monday to one year’s probation.

She worked for the Emperors Club V.I.P. escort service when she set up the February 2008 meeting between the prostitute and “Client-9.” Spitzer was referred to as Client-9 in court papers. Continue reading

Ashley Dupré Exclusive: ‘My Side of the Story’

Escort at Center of Eliot Spitzer Scandal Talks to Diane Sawyer


Nov. 19, 2008—


The young woman at the center of the historic downfall of the governor of New York is finally speaking out.

Ashley Dupré, the 23-year-old former escort who was the target of intense media scrutiny in the days after Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s resignation from public office, has stepped forward to give her first television interview. Dupré told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that she does not feel responsible for Spitzer’s downfall.

“If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else,” she said. “I was doing my job. I don’t feel that I brought him down.”

In March, the media discovered Dupré was “Kristen,” her alias at the Emperor’s Club V.I.P., the high-end escort service that had arranged her rendezvous at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., with Spitzer. Soon after the story broke, Dupré sought refuge at her family’s home in New Jersey.

“I felt like it was surreal, like it wasn’t happening,” she said. “But it was.”
Continue reading

Ex-Call Girl Ashley Dupré: I’m a ‘Normal Girl’

By Mark Dagostino

Originally posted Wednesday November 19, 2008 08:00 AM EST

She was the tabloid sensation at the center of the sex scandal that brought down New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. But in her very first interview, Ashley Alexandra Dupré tells PEOPLE, “I am a normal girl.”

“Everyone knows me as ‘that girl,’ but I’m not just ‘that girl,’ ” the 23-year-old former escort says in the new issue of PEOPLE, on sale Friday. “I have a lot of depth, a lot of layers.”

Enduring a media spotlight that included seeing her MySpace photos splashed on front pages “has been really hard,” the New Jersey native explains. “But I’m a survivor.” Continue reading

CNBC’s ‘Dirty Money: The Business of High End Prostitution’ Premiers on Tuesday, November 11th at 10pm & 1am ET

There’s one business thriving in this treacherous economy–especially on Wall Street. – October 30, 2008

(PRNewsChannel) / Englewood Cliffs, N.J. / The stock market plummets, unemployment soars, housing prices sink, but one business is sheltered from the rest of the country’s financial storm: high-end prostitution. Who are these “escorts” to the rich and powerful? And why do members of the “business elite” risk it all for their services?  

CNBC, First in Business Worldwide presents “Dirty Money: The Business of High-End Prostitution” an original one-hour production anchored by Melissa Francis (co-anchor of CNBC’s “The Call”) airing on Tuesday November 11th at 10PM & 1AM ET.
Continue reading

Spitzer Won’t Face Charges for Scandal

No Evidence That Ex-Governor Used Public or Campaign Money for Prostitution

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 7, 2008; A02

Former New York governor Eliot L. Spitzer will not face criminal charges for his role in a prostitution scandal that drove him from office this year, prosecutors announced yesterday.

Investigators for the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service uncovered no evidence that Spitzer had misused public or campaign money to pay women employed by the Emperors Club VIP, a high-priced New York prostitution ring.

Justice Department guidelines disfavor indictments against clients of prostitution rings, even those who transport women across state lines to have sex in violation of the Mann Act. Spitzer acknowledged making payments to the service, which amounted to “acceptance of responsibility for his conduct,” said Michael J. Garcia, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“We have concluded that the public interest would not be further advanced by filing criminal charges in this matter,” he said in a statement issued yesterday.

In all, four people connected to the Emperors Club as bookers and organizers pleaded guilty to criminal offenses for their roles in the scandal. Authorities looked closely at building a case against Spitzer based on his withdrawals of money and his payments to a shell company called QAT Consulting Group. But they ultimately determined that there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed against him, Garcia said.

Spitzer, a Democrat who had crusaded against Wall Street abuses as New York’s attorney general, encountered a rockier path in Albany, where he clashed with the Republican majority leader and even members of his own political camp.

In recent months, Spitzer receded from public view, working at his father’s real estate investment company and maintaining an unusual silence for a man who once dominated the headlines and used his office as a bully pulpit. Behind the scenes, defense attorneys Theodore V. Wells Jr. and Michele Hirshman provided financial data to prosecutors in an effort to persuade them to drop the case.

Yesterday, Spitzer made a statement through a New York public relations firm saying that he appreciated “the impartiality and thoroughness of the investigation.”

“I resigned my position as governor because I recognized that my conduct was unworthy of an elected official. I once again apologize for my actions, and for the pain and disappointment those actions caused my family and the many people who supported me during my career in public life,” he said.

The disclosure in March that Spitzer was “Client-9” in a seamy affidavit involving an international prostitution operation set off a media firestorm. Room 871 of Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, where Spitzer had a rendezvous with prostitute Ashley Alexandra Dupre in February, became a minor tourist attraction. FBI agents previously had trailed Spitzer to the hotel in an unsuccessful effort to catch him in the act.

Don Buchwald, an attorney for Dupre, said yesterday that she is “pleased the matter is behind her.”

Prosecutors said their investigation began as an effort to determine whether the governor was engaged in public corruption. They noticed unusual payments from Spitzer into the QAT Consulting bank account, an account that had been used to launder more than $1 million from the prostitution ring.

Investigators obtained wiretaps in which Spitzer and other customers arranged liaisons with women, sometimes paying more than $4,000 per night.

Spitzer resigned in the middle of his first gubernatorial term, at a news conference in which his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, stood gravely by his side.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Link to original story

Trading on America’s puritanical streak

Prostitution laws mean-spirited, penalize women

Published on: 03/14/08

Eliot Spitzer, one of the nation’s most gifted and dedicated politicians, was hounded into resignation by a Puritanism and mean-spiritedness that are quintessentially American.
My European colleagues (I write from an academic conference in Belgium) have a hard time understanding what happened, but they know that it is one of those things that could only happen in America, where the topic of sex drives otherwise reasonable people insane. In Germany and the Netherlands, prostitution is legal and regulated by public health authorities. A man who did what Spitzer did would have a lot to discuss with his wife and family, but he would have broken no laws, and it would be laughable to accuse him of a betrayal of the public trust. This is as it should be. If Spitzer broke any laws, they were bad laws, laws that should never have existed.
Why are there laws against prostitution? All of us, with the exception of the independently wealthy and the unemployed, take money for the use of our body. Professors, factory workers, opera singers, sex workers, doctors, legislators — all do things with parts of their bodies for which others offer them a fee. Some people get good wages and some do not; some have a relatively high degree of control over their working conditions and some have little control; some have many employment options and some have very few. And some are socially stigmatized and some are not. However, the difference between the sex worker and the professor — who takes money for the use of a particularly intimate part of her body, namely her mind — is not the difference between a “good woman” and a “bad woman.” It is, usually, the difference between a prosperous well-educated woman and a poor woman with few employment options.
The sliding stigma scaleMany types of bodily wage labor used to be socially stigmatized. In the Middle Ages it was widely thought base to take money for the use of one’s scholarly services. Adam Smith, in “The Wealth of Nations,” tells us there are “some very agreeable and beautiful talents” that are admirable so long as no pay is taken for them, “but of which the exercise for the sake of gain is considered, whether from reason or prejudice, as a sort of publick prostitution.” For this reason, he continues, opera singers, actors and dancers must be paid an “exorbitant” wage, to compensate them for the stigma involved in using their talents “as the means of subsistence.” His discussion is revealing for what it shows us about stigma. Today few professions are more honored than that of opera singer; and yet only 200 years ago, that public use of one’s body for pay was taken to be a kind of prostitution.
Some of the stigma attached to opera singers was a general stigma about wage labor. Wealthy elites have always preferred genteel amateurism. But the fact that passion was being expressed publicly with the body — particularly the female body — made singers, dancers and actors nonrespectable in polite society until very recently. Now they are respectable, but women who take money for sexual services are still thought to be doing something that is not only nonrespectable but so bad that it should remain illegal.
What should really trouble us about sex work? That it is sex that these women do, with many customers, should not in and of itself trouble us, from the point of view of legality, even if we personally don’t share the woman’s values. Nonetheless, it is this one fact that still-Puritan America finds utterly intolerable. (Note, however, that we no longer allow a woman’s sexual history to be used in a rape trial because we know that the fact that a woman may have had sex with many men does not mean that she has become a debased character who cannot be raped.)
Exploitation the sordid partWhat should trouble us are things like this: The working conditions for most women in sex work are extremely unhealthy. They are exploited by pimps, and they enjoy little control over which clients they will accept. Police harass them and extort sexual favors from them. Some of these bad features (unhealthiness, little control) sex work shares with other job options for low-income women, such as factory work of many kinds. Other bad features (police extortion) are the natural result of illegality itself.
In general we should be worried about poverty and lack of education. We should be worried that women have too few decent employment options and too little health and safety regulation in those that they do have. And we should be worried if men force women to do things sexually that they do not want to do. All these things are worth worrying about, and it is these things that sensible nations do worry about. But the idea that we ought to penalize women with few choices by removing one of the ones they do have is grotesque, the unmistakable fruit of the all-too-American thought that women who choose to have sex with many men are tainted, vile things who must be punished.
Spitzer’s offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations. The hue and cry that has ruined one of the nation’s most committed political careers shows our country to itself in a very ugly light.
Martha Nussbaum is a professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago.”

Death and the D.C. Madam


Call girls speak out about the suicide of Deborah Jeane Palfrey and the complicated truths it reveals about their lives.

By Susannah Breslin

May. 05, 2008 | On May 1, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, better known as “the D.C. Madam,” was found dead in a shed located behind her mother’s Tarpon Springs, Fla., mobile home. Apparently, Palfrey, 52, hanged herself from a metal beam with a length of nylon rope. When her 76-year-old mother, Blanche Palfrey, called 911 just before 11 a.m., the emergency operator asked if her daughter was still hanging from the rafter. “Yes,” said the madam’s weeping mother, who had regularly accompanied her daughter to court the month previous, “I can’t move her. I’m 76 years old.”

Palfrey’s was one of a recent spate of high-profile political sex scandals, from Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s toe-tapping routine to the fall of New York Gov. Eliot “Luv Guv” Spitzer. It was also another chapter in our ongoing fascination with prostitution — that mysterious and yet still little-understood profession. (Palfrey entered the business as an escort. Later, she became a madam, claiming she was “appalled and disgusted” by the way women in the sex business were treated.) Sex may be everywhere these days — heck, adult movie star Jenna Jameson’s autobiography, “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale,” was a New York Times bestseller — but what life is really like inside the American sex trade remains a mystery. Mostly, Americans have been fed one of two myths about sex workers: the “Pretty Woman” story about a hooker with a heart of gold, or the Jezebel tale about a woman who leads moral men astray by virtue of her sexual wiles.

In more recent years, thanks to a growing number of call girls, strippers and other sex workers using blogs to tell their stories in their own words, we’ve seen a more complex and nuanced tale. And it’s one we don’t seem to be able to get enough of. HBO and Showtime are launching competing series focusing on working girls — “Sex and the City” creator Darren Star is turning Tracy Quan’s “Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl” (which began as a column on Salon) into a dramatic series for HBO, while Showtime will begin airing the U.K. series “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” based on the blog turned book by Belle de Jour, next month.

Though Palfrey’s death is complicated, not to mention controversial, it does offer us some insight into the experience of sex industry workers, who bear the burden of a double life and the toll of secrecy. I contacted three women, currently chronicling online their past and present lives as sex workers, to speak to them about their reactions to Palfrey’s harrowing tale and how sharing their own stories might keep them from a similar kind of darkness.

Melissa Gira is a San Francisco-based sex worker and Valleywag reporter who last year co-founded Bound, Not Gagged, a group blog written by and for sex workers, because of the Palfrey case. Tired of so-called experts speaking for sex workers in the mainstream media, Gira created the site as a forum where working women could express their opinions, reactions and frustrations. The day the blog launched, Gira found Palfrey’s phone number, called her and spoke with her briefly about the project. “I was shocked she picked up the phone, she knew what a blog was, and she wasn’t immediately distrustful,” Gira says.

Upon hearing of Palfrey’s death, Gira felt a jumble of emotions: confusion, anger, sadness. “Her story represented our story,” she says.

Gira is angry about the way female sex workers are vilified when stories like these go public, while the men involved “go back to their job or they quietly leave.” From among the 15,000 names in Palfrey’s potent little black book, only three boldface names surfaced: Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, a married Republican and father of four who apologized for his “very serious sin” and kept his job; U.S. ambassador Randall L. Tobias, who as Bush’s “AIDS czar” had publicly denounced prostitution and resigned after his outing; and Harlan K. Ullman, a retired Navy commander known for developing the shock-and-awe doctrine and who told Brian Ross of ABC News that he had gotten only massages from the women involved, not had sex with them, and stated that the experience was “like ordering pizza.”

“If I was in her position I would have papered the walls of that shed with the sheets of my client list,” says Gira.

Although Gira is frustrated by the media’s relentless representation of sex workers as victims, she is also suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Palfrey’s death. It has been a question circulating since: Did Palfrey actually kill herself? In fact, Palfrey had stated in numerous interviews with members of the press that she would rather commit suicide than return to prison. Washington, D.C., writer Dan Moldea, who got to know Palfrey while considering writing a book about her, told reporters that Palfrey had told him, “I am not going back to prison. I will commit suicide first.” At the time of her death, she was awaiting her July 24 sentencing, and authorities in Florida have reported that several suicide notes were found at the scene. Either way, Gira says, Palfrey’s death has had a “chilling effect” on at least some sex workers, who, now fearing for their own lives, are more reluctant than ever to reveal themselves.

Another sex worker I spoke with, who writes online about her call girl experiences but requested anonymity for this story, was pained by the news of Palfrey’s death as well as the related older news of the death of University of Maryland professor turned call girl Brandy Britton, 43, who killed herself in January 2007 while awaiting trial on prostitution charges. Britton was a one-time employee of Palfrey’s; after Britton was found hanging in her living room, Palfrey pronounced, ironically: “I guess I’m made of something that Brandy Britton wasn’t made of.”

The call girl I interviewed was struck by the emotional stories behind these public deaths. “The first thing I thought about was the incredible isolation that both of them probably felt,” she said. “Because you’re doing something that’s perceived to be so morally wrong that you’re immediately outside society, as a prostitute or a madam. You’ve got this secret life or a compartmentalized life, and then to be pushed out there and villainized — I can only imagine the incredible isolation they must have felt.”

As a sex worker, she went on, you live a “double life.” A madam whom she worked for before she went freelance was intensely paranoid, “crazy,” prone to anxious late-night phone calls. “It got to her. She would call me up and panic, thinking they were out to get her. It was the psychology of sex work, the fear of being outed.”

When the call girl I spoke with worked at an agency, she says, she was kept isolated from other women. Then, when she started writing online about sex work, all that changed. “I know the moment I started blogging about it at length, I started connecting to other women online. It made a huge difference. I stopped feeling alone. I stopped feeling like I had to hide everything from anybody. It felt as though I had a connection to the outside world that I didn’t have before.” After all, sex work is not easy. “You have these very intimate connections, but you’re totally disposable with clients. You’re a ghost moving through their world.”

Palfrey’s story, she says, is “heartbreaking,” but at its core, she believes, Palfrey’s final act reveals more about America than the madam. “It’s sort of unsurprising that somebody like Palfrey could feel driven to suicide — because of the shame of being in the sex work world.”

Bree Daniels, a former call girl who named herself after the prostitute who helps a private detective catch a call girl killer in the 1971 film “Klute,” blogs at One Shady Lady about the three years she spent as an escort in New York and California. Or at least she blogged until recently. (Her boyfriend isn’t crazy about her blogging in the present tense about her past life.) She launched her site after the Spitzer story broke because she was sick of the way sex work and sex workers were being depicted in the media. “I think I was feeling extremely angry at all the misinformation and the double standard that it’s acceptable for boys who will be boys, but women who do this are basically like the devil’s minions.” Instead, she says, “I wanted people to understand more about the business from someone who had been in the business.” Daniels worked in the corporate world before getting into escorting for the money. “I think there’s a misconception that women in the business are all sexually louche, and that we’re damaged. When I started I’d had sex with eight people.” In high school, she could have been voted least likely to become a call girl. “Most people always said I looked like a librarian.”

When Palfrey was indicted, Daniels wrote her a letter. “I wrote to her when it all broke out last year, just saying if you hadn’t made a copy of your records, you should leave them with everyone you know, just in case.” The dangers inherent to sex work are very real, Daniels underscores. “You can lull yourself into a false sense of security, and then when something happens, you realize that you’re totally expendable, that nobody cares. You feel so powerless. And I think a lot of women just choose not to think about it — because it’s the only way that you can get through it and do the job.” In the beginning of her escort career, before setting out on her own, Daniels worked for a madam. “I came to two realizations,” she says about that experience. “I could do what she was doing myself and keep all the money. And the second thing was if I turned up dead, she would be calling up her Mafia buddies to have my body dumped in Jersey. She didn’t care about me.”

Madams — who are, essentially, female pimps — can be “the most mercenary individuals on the planet,” she says. She adds, however, “Not all of them are that way.”

In the end, Daniels quit the business because she was “burned out.” Sometimes, she misses the camaraderie among the women she worked with in the sex business. “They say there’s no honor among thieves, but there’s a lot of honor among these women. And that to me is the best thing that I take away from all this.”

Melissa Gira, for one, is optimistic that one day Americans will see sex work as real work and sex workers as real people. After all, she says of Palfrey’s death: “I don’t think this was a suicide of concession. If anything, it’s ‘You’re not going to take me alive.'”
— By Susannah Breslin



April 24, 2008

A second call girl has provided federal investigators with details of Eliot Spitzer‘s fondness for high-priced hookers, law-enforcement sources told The Post.

The lady of the night, who was intimately acquainted with the disgraced governor’s pay-for-play sessions, backs up details given to the feds by Ashley Alexandra Dupre, 22, a bombshell brunette who allegedly was a favorite Spitzer hooker, the sources said.

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It’s unclear whether the second woman was associated with Emperors Club VIP – the brothel that dispatched Dupre to entertain Spitzer in Washington, DC.

The owner and three employees of Emperors Club were indicted a week before word of Spitzer’s involvement broke.

Spitzer – identified in the Emperors Club criminal complaint as “Client-9” – was caught Feb. 13 on a federal wiretap arranging for Dupre, whom he knew as “Kirsten,” to be delivered to his room at the Mayflower Hotel.

In the complaint, “Kirsten” insisted she didn’t find the ex-governor very “difficult,” even though her madam warned that he might want “unsafe” sex.

Law-enforcement sources said Spitzer didn’t like to wear a condom.

The second hooker-informant also told investigators Spitzer was fond of using sex toys to enhance his own pleasure, the sources said.

“The full portrait of Mr. Spitzer’s sexual interests has yet to be told,” one source said.

Spitzer’s spokeswoman, Anna Cordasco, had no immediate comment.

The feds found the second hooker in the course of reviewing records, following the money and checking out the mountain of tips in the case.

She expanded on the portrait of Spitzer’s sexual fetishes in graphic detail, the sources said, also divulging that he had a penchant for props.

Sources said the second hooker also noted that Spitzer liked to keep his socks on during sex – a claim previously made by Republican political operative Roger Stone.

Stone said a November letter he wrote to the FBI about Spitzer and prostitutes included details of the bizarre habit.

In addition to the Emperors Club VIP, Spitzer has been linked to an East Side escort service run by busted alleged madam Kristin “Billie” Davis, law-enforcement sources have said.

The scandal erupted on March 10, when Spitzer admitted he had “acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family.”

The feds began investigating after Spitzer’s bank tipped them about irregularities in an account that he used to pay for his sex romps.

Additional reporting by Andy Geller

MORE: ‘Madam’ Lawyer Wants DA To Bare All In Indictment

Why is David Vitter Still in Office and Not Eliot Spitzer?


By Steve Kornacki, New York Observer
Posted on April 15, 2008, Printed on April 22, 2008

The news that David Vitter may soon be called to testify at the trial of Deborah Jean Palfrey — more commonly known as “the D.C. madam” — serves as an important reminder: He’s still in office. And, really, in light of the bipartisan frenzy to expel Eliot Spitzer from the governorship when his ties to the Emperor’s Club were revealed, you’ve got to wonder why.

It was last July that we first learned that Vitter’s name and phone number were part of Palfrey’s client records between 1999 and 2001. The revelation came just after the statute of limitations had expired, and the Louisiana senator escaped legal liability. Instead, he acknowledged committing “a very serious sin in my past” and declared the matter settled on the grounds that he had “asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife.”

Initially, there was some clamor for Vitter’s resignation, but he rode the storm out until the news media’s interest in the case dissipated, something that took about a week. Now, nine months later, Palfrey’s lawyers have included his name on a list of defense witnesses at her trial, raising the possibility that he will be forced to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Again, there are some calls for him to go; but again, he figures to ride the storm out. He won’t face the voters until 2010.

That’s a far cry from the price that Spitzer paid for committing, essentially, the same crime. It was a matter of days from the first reports of his high-priced hook habit last month to his resignation and, presumably, the end of his political career. Vitter’s return to the news in the wake of Spitzer’s fall highlights the fact that the Louisiana senator has, so far, gotten away with it.

Yes, it’s true that the practical realities of politics account for some of the disparity between Spitzer’s punishment and Vitter’s. Spitzer was the central political figure in a large state, vested with a level of day-to-day responsibility and subject to a degree of scrutiny that far exceeded anything ever confronted by Vitter, a legislative backbencher. The distraction of a sex scandal called into question Spitzer’s ability to govern effectively. Vitter’s ability to cast floor votes and to show up for committee hearings, it could be argued, was not similarly compromised — although he failed to perform either function for a few days when the scandal first broke.

And it’s also true that there are technical, legal differences between the cases. Vitter, as far as anyone knows, was caught too late to be prosecuted; Spitzer’s actions fell well within the statute of limitations. Plus, Spitzer, because his hooker traveled from New York to Washington for their rendezvous, was in violation of the obscure Mann Act, a rarely enforced 100-year-old statute that makes it a federal crime to traffic a prostitute across state lines.

But these differences are not very meaningful. After all, would those who urgently and heatedly called for Spitzer’s head have really felt any different if the tryst had taken place in Syracuse instead of Washington (meaning that no federal crime would have been committed)?

What is significant is the common ground between each man’s transgressions, both legally and morally.

Both, obviously, broke the law in soliciting the services of a sex worker. And since both utilized escort services — for Spitzer it was the Emperor’s Club; for Vitter, Pamela Martin and Associates — they can both be said to have entered into a business relationship with a criminal enterprise.

And both are guilty of profound hypocrisy. Spitzer, as was endlessly noted last month, built his political career — and his landslide election campaign in 2006 — on his “Mr. Clean” image — he was the ramrod straight law-and-order man who would bring some much-needed adult supervision to Albany. There’s also the fact that, in one of his headline-grabbing maneuvers as New York’s attorney general, he had very publicly taken down an upstate prostitution ring. That only made it too easy to gin up public outrage when Spitzer’s own off-hour habits were revealed.

“The reality is that no one, over the years, has been more self-righteous and unforgiving than Eliot Spitzer,” said an opportunistic Peter King, the Republican congressman from Long Island who is now eyeing a potential gubernatorial bid in 2010.

But Vitter’s hypocrisy was just as galling as Spitzer’s. The young senator, first elected in 2004, built his political rise on his image as a Christian conservative and champion of “traditional” family values, tirelessly using his wife and children as campaign props and loudly decrying those who didn’t meet his standard for moral purity. (He once likened same-sex marriage to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.)

Spitzer lost his job, and he probably deserved to. But as David Vitter nervously waits to find out if he’ll have to come face to face with the D.C. madam in a D.C. courtroom, it’s fair to ask: Why hasn’t he paid the same price?

© 2008 New York Observer All rights reserved.
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Sexist Language, Not just for the Right Wing Anymore

by kellie bean  

March 21, 2008 at 14:36:10

This month, Rob and I agreed I would begin serving as a “topics editor”; I will be tracking and reporting on media coverage of women. I expected at the time to have my hands full covering such things as the roles spouses play in the Presidential campaigns, McCain’s fluctuations on abortion, and questions concerning the whereabouts of Michelle Obama’s Princeton thesis. (By the way, it was never actually unavailable, as reported; I Googled her and found the document instantly way back in February.)

Then the Spitzer hubbub. It pains me to offer as my first post a critique of language used against the woman involved, language appearing here at OEN.

Let’s be clear. The woman now being called “Spitzer’s whore” will not achieve the wealth and notoriety so much media commentary predicts. At best? She’ll further disempower herself by posing for notoriously, aggressively misogynist glossies like Hustler and Penthouse. If these issues outsell all others, her body will have further enriched male-defined industries. What about a potential book deal? Well, do we imagine she has secured a literary agent—or, rather, that one has approached her, knowing full well the money people will pay to read her story. Wait. No one would pay to read her story; it’s Spitzer’s story the publisher will actually be selling, using her to, again, further enrich others. Surely no one imagines that this woman has been entertaining literary aspirations, hoping to one day pen a memoir of her life as a prostitute.

Many others, likely men, will make money mocking, ridiculing, reporting on her behavior (see: Penthouse, O’Reilly, Schlessinger, et al). One DC escort service did. MSM is as we speak, churning out the Spitzer “news” and updates of the day. So why the anxiety over the woman making a few bucks? Indeed, this scandal may put money in her pocket, but wealth does not translate into a safe, happy or promising life to come. Just ask the drunken young women routinely exploited by the titanic Girls Gone Wild enterprise and the many who have filed abuse charges against its owner/founder/pimp Joe Frances. Young women are offered t-shirts and trucker hats in exchange for the product (salacious videos/women’s bodies) that has made Frances a billionaire.

Why begrudge the “whore” a few hundred thousand dollars when the particular man in question could afford to spend thousands on a single encounter? Further, someone else is earning lots of money pimping her services under the kinder gentler moniker: escort service.

And this brings me to language. Dictionary definition of whore: “a woman who engages in promiscuous sexual intercourse, usually for money; prostitute; harlot; strumpet.” There is no synonym in our language for a man who does similar things. We’re stuck with “male whore”—which proves my point here about sexist language. Only women can utterly debauch themselves where sex and money are concerned. Men, particularly powerful men, on the other hand, take and sell pictures, stand with brittle wives behind podiums explaining how their actions are nobody’s damn business and painting themselves as devoted public servants. These men frequently recover both their reputations and their careers. Who can forget Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Arlen Spectre, George H. W. Bush? The list is long. But who remembers the names of their female cohorts? Let’s disabuse ourselves here and now of the myth that women seduce powerful men for fame and career.

Finally, a word about the use of the possessive. Today in my inbox this tag line appeared: “Spitzer’s Whore? What about Cheney’s?” These women do not belong to these powerful men. They simply don’t. But the possessive doesn’t function at the denotative level in this case. That is, it doesn’t indicate literal ownership. Operating at the connotative level, the phrase exposes ideology. “Spitzer’s whore” renders the unnamed woman invisible while highlighting her guilt as greater than the named man’s.

As grown men and women, we’re smarter than we sometimes sound when it comes to women, sex and morality. Discovering sexist language on a site like OEN disappoints but does not surprise, not because I believe Rob or any other contributors/commenter entertain truly misogynist politics, but because the syntax of gender bias so saturates our culture and language that too often in moments like these language fails. Language—politicized, gendered, vexed—exposes not just what we do not love about our culture, but sometimes ourselves as well.


Dr. Bean is an Associate Professor of English at Marshall University. She is the author of “Post-Backlash Feminism: Women and the Media Since Reagan/Bush” (McFarland & Co. 2007).

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