Phoenix New Times Under Fire for Kiddie Pics


Contrary to the normal dynamic of alternative weeklies antagonizing cops, the Phoenix New Times is defending its decision—in the face of another police investigation—to run nude pictures of staff photographer Betsy Schneider's kids:

The Phoenix Police Department is looking into whether it should open a criminal child pornography investigation into photographs shot by a Tempe artist and published last week by a Valley newspaper.

Experts in the department's sex crimes unit have asked for the opinions of city, county and state prosecutors on whether artist Betsy Schneider or the Phoenix New Times newspaper violated any laws by showing artistic, nude photographs of Schneider's children in print and online, Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill said Monday.

The photographs accompanied a story written by New Times editor Amy Silverman about how Schneider's work pushes the envelope of cultural acceptance.

The artist's work includes numerous photographs of Schneider's children in various states of dress. In some, the children are wearing no clothes at all….

Barnett Lotstein, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, acknowledged that the office has been contacted by Phoenix police and is looking at the issue closely.

"It concerned me," Lotstein said. "It concerned people in this office that maybe there was some exploitation of children going on."…

Lotstein, who called the photographs published last week "very disturbing," emphasized that there was no investigation on his office's end.

However, Lotstein added, "There's not a blank slate on free speech."

Overkill? Unquestionably. Broadening the definition of child pornography to include artistic nude photographs of one's children is itself an act of perversion. The PPD is wasting its own resources as well as the wellspring of public outrage—both of which serve a purpose in cases of genuine child pornography—in its quest to bully an artist, who is also a parent, into compartmentalizing her two identities for the sake of propriety. (Not to mention that Schneider's photography is hardly cause for worry—unless of course, you find contortionists distasteful.)

A successful case against the Phoenix New Times, or Schneider, would likely resonate with alternative weeklies everywhere, as no publication pushes the obscenity envelope quite like my favorite hometown, sex-worker-accomodatin' rag, the Orlando Weekly. If the New Times has anything going for it (besides, you know, the First Amendment, artistic integrity, and clear evidence that Phoenix cops are out for revenge) it's that the paper knows its way through the Arizona court system. My guess/hope is that the investigation will end with no more than a staunch finger wag. 

Radley Balko blogged about the ongoing battle between the forces of light (Phoenix New Times) and darkness (Sheriff Joe Arpaio) here.