Fight! Ashton Kutcher Versus the Village Voice Over Sex Ads

On the Eve of Labor Negotiations, Paper Finds Itself in a Twitter Debate Over Sex Trafficking

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The Village Voice, mother of alternative weeklies and longtime muckraker, has picked a fight with an unusual target : Ashton Kutcher, "Punk'd" producer and Charlie Sheen's replacement on "Two and a Half Men." And Mr. Kutcher has predictably fired back on Twitter.

The spat started yesterday, when the Voice published an article -- "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight" -- attacking Mr. Kutcher and others' assertion that the U.S. sees 100,000 to 300,000 children become prostitutes every year. Mr. Kutcher and Demi Moore are conducting a "Real Man" campaign against child sex trafficking and human slavery.

"There are not 100,000 to 300,000 children in America turning to prostitution every year," the article said, citing juvenile prostitution arrests in the country's 37 biggest cities over 10 years. "The statistic was hatched without regard to science. It is a bogeyman."

The Village Voice, of course, has long been a venue for what are internally referred to as "nasty ads," the pages of escort and massage services that appear in the back of the paper and on Village Voice Media's Backpages.com. "It is true that Village Voice Media has a stake in this discussion," the Voice noted in an editor's note accompanying the "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight" story. "But the facts speak for themselves."

These ads have long been a source of tension even within the ranks of the paper, but its staffers never looked to tackle the issue as a piece of journalism. (Disclosure: I worked at the Voice from 1994 to 1999.)

After the Voice broke with past practice on Wednesday, however, Mr. Kutcher fired back on Twitter:

hey @villagevoice hows the lawsuit from the 15 year old victim who alleges you helped enslave them going?less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

He then went on a tirade against the Voice, with 11 successive tweets including this one:

Hey @villagevoice REAL MEN DON'T BUY GIRLS and REAL NEWS PUBLICATIONS DON'T SELL THEMless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

The Voice Twitter account took the bait:

Wow, @aplusk having a Twitter meltdown! Hey Ashton, which part this story is inaccurate? http://tinyurl.com/3nme6l8less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Then Daniel Radosh, a writer for The Daily Show, jumped in, paging Sate media columnist Jack Shafer:

Hey @jackshafer. I assume you saw @villagevoice's takedown of @aplusk's ridiculous sex slave numbers? http://t.co/03lNslzless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Which @jackshafer then dutifully re-tweeted. It continued, with each side egging the other on:

No Response @villagevoice ? Oh I forgot U work business hrs. Maybe that 's Y you sell girls on ur platform. they tend 2work the night shift.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Where's your fight now, @aplusk? Did you sleep in, or are you just tuckered out from last night's Twitter tirade?less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

It's still going on.

Ashton Kutcher's Twitter account has more than 7 million followers, and The Village Voice has just more than 33,000.

Village Voice Media declined to comment on the battle, perhaps preoccupied with its effort to reach a new labor contract with staffers before their contract expires at midnight, but Voice editor Tony Ortega promised to discuss the issue of the ads -- in the Voice itself. "Look to next issue for my own column about the ads issue," he said in a direct message on Twitter.

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