No, the May 22 issue featured a story by CW senior staff writer Stephen Dark, headlined “Taylorsville 911!” Dark spent several weeks investigating a case in the southwest Salt Lake County suburb, which started with the theft of an aging and flatulent Boston terrier, then drew Taylorsville police ire because one of the players in the two-year legal battle was a fellow cop (a narcotics officer in Midvale). Two years later, a case that began with a stolen, unpedigreed dog worth $300 is headed to U.S. District Court, where the pooch’s original owners are alleging federal civil rights violations by the Taylorsville cops.
Besides the story (for which Dark repeatedly sought comment from the officers involved, as well as Taylorsville city officials, and was refused), we ran a photo illustration on the cover of two models in a send-up of the television parody Reno 911!
We get it. That’s the kind of story someone might not want taxpayers in the southwest valley to read. But is that any reason, we wondered, for more than 700 papers to mysteriously disappear overnight from 15 street racks along busy streets in West Valley City, Kearns, Taylorsville and unincorporated Salt Lake County? Drivers reported the discovery to circulation manager Larry Carter early in the morning of May 22. It’s particularly odd when you consider that newspapers throughout the rest of our circulation area were moving at their typical rate, copy by copy, during the week.
We did a little detective work. We learned that every issue had been stripped from Beans & Brews coffee houses in Taylorsville and West Valley City, as well. That meant someone had to go inside a private business, scoop up the papers and walk away.
“It’s weird,” said Toni Fries, who manages Beans & Brews locations in Taylorsville, West Valley and West Jordan. “We always have enough papers to last the whole week, but they were all gone that morning.” When I explained to her the content of the cover story, Fries gave a little laugh. “I guess I can see why that might make the police a little mad.”
Unfortunately, the surveillance cameras at the Taylorsville shop weren’t working, Fries told Carter.
Readers with long memories might recall City Weekly has been down this road before. In September 1997, then-Salt Lake County District Attorney Neal Gunnarson walked into a Cottonwood Heights restaurant, picked up 80 copies of the paper, put them in his car and drove away. We knew this because a couple dining there reported the theft to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Gunnarson later admitted he stole the papers, which featured a cover story about his investigation of former Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini that he didn’t much like. “I was infuriated,” Gunnarson told the Deseret News.
Ultimately, Gunnarson apologized for the theft, and for City Weekly owner John Saltas, that was the end of it. “We had gotten all we needed, we didn’t need to pursue it any further,” Saltas recalled.
Shortly after the newspapers disappeared last week, circulation manager Carter filed a police report with West Valley City and the Salt Lake County Sheriff. Taylorsville police told Carter none of the missing papers were within their jurisdiction.
It’s been fascinating to take in some of the public reaction to this dust-up. An anonymous poster on The Salt Lake Tribune blog Salt Lake Crawler wrote: “I’d say I’m sorry for the City Weekly, but it won’t hurt them in the pocketbook, since they are a free publication. I am sorry that folks didn’t get to read the story, though, which is pretty good.”
And Carter tells me of a rather astonishing response from the county sheriff’s deputy who took his report on the missing papers. “He was more or less trying to talk me out of [filing the report],” Carter says. “He said ‘you can do this if you want, but you’re not really out anything. The papers are free.’”
Actually, it’s one paper to one person. There’s a note saying as much on page 4 of the paper every week and on the front of each newspaper rack.
There’s nothing no-cost about what happened. Who knows how many ads (our sole revenue source) went unread? We’re out the cost of newsprint, fuel costs for delivery vans, even a percentage of salary costs for writers, editors, ad sales staff and drivers.
Not to get too Thomas Jefferson on you here, but what kind of cash value do you attach to free speech anyway? I take umbrage, and so should you, at the deputy’s cavalier suggestion to Carter that the missing papers cost us nothing. The guy’s gotta be wearing his badge upside down. Whoever stole those copies practiced the purest form of censorship. It cost you and me plenty.