Like mortar fire, reporters the world over are lobbing in embarrassing questions about Utah’s new Porn Czar. News organizations are focusing on the identity of our so-called “pornography ombudsman” and how she will measure her authority to snip, cut and otherwise black out material she deems too sleazy for consumption by upstanding citizens and their innocent offspring.
People from places like New York and California, of course, think we’re absolutely nuts. The specter of a state-sponsored censor triggers an involuntary response in them to roll the eyes and shake the head. Bob Guccioni at Penthouse magazine, of course, is having a field day with this. But even more staid pillars of American journalism, like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, also are wondering what’s up in Zion this time.
The latest collective gasp in the saga comes thanks to a pair of keen young police-beat reporters at that bastion of straight-laced journalism, The Salt Lake Tribune. Kevin Cantera and Michael Vigh teamed up to interview Paula Houston, the porn czar designee, on the eve of her first day as official censor. Accolades for their profile of the former West Valley City prosecutor were plentiful, if kept under wraps, after the boys announced in a Sunday front-page story that Houston is, at 41, a virgin.
Actually, all hell broke loose in the Tribune newsroom before the story went to press. But eventually Managing Editor Vern Anderson and even his boss, James E. Shelledy, signed off on what many saw as an inappropriate invasion of privacy of the porn czar. The phone of the morning paper’s “Reader Advocate” Shinika Sykes wouldn’t stop buzzing. People didn’t want to know about Ms. Houston’s personal experiences or lack thereof and didn’t think it necessary, as qualifications go, to her new and unique post.
Perhaps feeling a bit naked in her new celebrity, Houston blasted off an op-ed piece that ran in the Tribune one week later. “The reporters did not ask me if I was a virgin,” she wrote. “I told them my sexual experience is not relevant to do this job.”
The reporters did ask if, as a never-married LDS woman, she had followed the tenets of the church—that is, no sex out of wedlock. The answer seemed to indicate that was true, they thought. But they didn’t ask outright, “Are you a virgin?” Then, according to Sykes’ printed version and other sources, as the interview ended, the boys took a move right of the James E. Shelledy playbook. On the way out the door, Vigh turned to Houston: “Thanks for being so candid. We appreciate your answering the tough questions, including whether or not you are a virgin.” Houston replied, “No problem.”
They had her dead to rights. But when the enterprising reporters brought the story back to the newsroom, there was a lot of sighing and hand-wringing and at least one Trib editor was heard to say something like, “Ah, shit.”