By Published on .

April 9, 2001

"Giuliani makes choices for a decency panel on art"
-- The New York Times, March 31, P. B1
"The Times to publish personal ads"
-- Same paper, same date, P. B6

It surprised few on Madison Avenue or, indeed, in the boroughs encircling it, when late last week

Randall Rothenberg
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani gave his new Panel on Decency in the Arts supervisory power over The New York Times' forthcoming personal-ads section.

Art and advertising, once as inhospitable as peanut butter and linoleum, have become familiar bedfellows in this era of TV commercials directed by Jean-Luc Godard. And Rudy Giuliani's own history long indicated a growing willingness to put the two on equal footing. This is, after all, the mayor who attempted to ban a magazine ad campaign that mentioned his name, and who tried to pull a depiction of a dung-splattered Virgin Mary from the walls of the Brooklyn Museum.

It's all offensive
In Rudy's realm, all speech is art -- and it's all offensive (the very reason, no doubt, he proposed appointing 1960s poster painter Peter Max, whose work has never been considered either offensive or art, to the panel). With personal ads ranking among the more artful of communication forms, it was only a matter of time before they fell under his decency board's jurisdiction.

Few were aware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that preceded Mayor Giuliani's latest squabble with the First Amendment. City Hall sources said the move, which would almost certainly limit the New York Times' supply of personal ads, was vigorously opposed by decency-council member Raoul Felder. The well-known divorce lawyer, who represents the mayor in his disentanglement from his wife, was said to favor no restrictions, reasoning the more personal ads, the more work, ultimately, for him. Mr. Giuliani overruled him, reportedly saying, "I'm the mayor, nyaah, nyaah."

Publicly, Times executives denounced the incursion on their right to publish. Privately, however, newspaper executives are said to be eager for the decency panel's guidance. The Times, whose ad restrictions are so tight it has been known to alter the titles of movies it deems racy, has been attempting, without success, to devise a distinct brand identity for its personals section. The ads cannot be too raunchy, lest they violate the newspaper of record's own standards and, more important, stray into territory owned by Screw and the Village Voice. They cannot be too literary-the New York Review of Books has a corner on those. Nor can they appeal to lonely suburbanites yearning for a replay of their lost youth at Gerde's Folk City, as do the personals in New York Magazine.

Only romantics need apply
The Times, meanwhile, placed numerous constraints on the types of ads it would take. In an article in the newspaper disclosing the introduction of personals, the Times told itself it would accept "advertisements from readers seeking romance," thus precluding advertisements from readers seeking sex. A Times spokeswoman also said that all personals would be screened by the paper's advertising acceptability department, and that "any language or phrasing that is suggestive or in questionable taste in the opinion of the Times will be declined."

According to sources inside the Times' 43rd Street headquarters, newspaper officials considered and rejected such proposed personals categories as "Men seeking mensches" and "SMF (single multicultural female)." The Times will also ban anything stimulating, continuing a policy it has long followed in its news pages.

The paper denies that it ever considered calling the personals section "Lonely Cardiovascular Systems."

Even before their appointment became official, some decency-panel members began weighing in on the Times' plans.

Leonard Garment, a former aide to President Nixon, was said to object to any personal advertisements from Democrats. Two clergymen, Roderick R. Caesar Sr., the pastor of the Bethel Gospel Tabernacle in Jamaica, Queens, and Rabbi Shea Hecht, the chairman of the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education, said they would vigorously oppose ads from each other.

The mayor did not name a Catholic priest to the panel, presumably to allow himself the freedom to place an ad should his own extramarital romance with Judith Nathan come to naught.

Copyright April 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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