You've seen her. The woman with the surgically enhanced breasts overflowing from her lacy teddy as she coos to Weekly Planet readers to "unleash your wildest fantasies." And you've seen him, the guy in the personal ad, who wants to help you if you "need a spanking." Looking for a menage a trois or quatre? Weekly Planet will help you get laid.
I haven't seen this paper take the high road when it comes to accepting money for ads, so I wasn't surprised that we ran an ad for white supremacists. The tiny ad from the hate group didn't catch my eye — even though it ran right next to my column last week. It said that our support of Israel and our immigration policy are killing us. It listed a Web site for more information.
The 2-by-2-inch ad cost that group $194, but the attention it could bring could be worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Talk about manipulating the media.
Do you know how we found out about the source of that ad? Nobody here noticed it. No offended readers called. We heard about it from a reporter at WTVT-Ch. 13 who was doing a story on it. Someone had called Fox 13's assignment desk to point it out.
The paper had been in the racks only a few hours, yet Fox 13 already knew about the ad and was calling for an explanation. I was thrilled they were doing the story and holding the paper accountable. But, something wasn't right about how all of this was coming down.
Who called Fox? If someone was offended by that ad, wouldn't we have gotten the first call?
It made no sense. We pulled the advertising contract, and I called the self-described "bag man," Tampa's Ralph Raperto, who placed the ad and charged it to his credit card. He seemed happy to hear from me, assuming I was one of his friends at the Planet, a publication he said he just knew was open minded enough to run his garbage. Considering the other ads he'd seen in our paper, he figured he wouldn't hit the same resistance he'd gotten from other papers.
"Hey, did you happen to call Fox 13 about it?" I asked.
He hesitated a few seconds.
"I called Channel 13," he said. "I was hoping to give Weekly Planet some publicity and get some for ourselves for doing a public service by putting the ad in the paper." Raperto stressed that he was only speaking for himself, not for his organization. I'm not naming the group here because it's already gotten enough help from us.
What brilliant marketing. Place a cheap ad, tip off television, then get thousands of dollars worth of publicity.
We were so careless and irresponsible! Do you know what our advertising policy is on this kind of thing? We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. What does that mean? Who knows. But we're not running the second ad Raperto bought.
Not that it matters. He's got my whole column.
Raperto told us he didn't bother to try to place his ad in The Tampa Tribune or the St. Petersburg Times because he knew they wouldn't touch it. The Flyer rejected it, and even USF's student paper, The Oracle, held onto it for a few days, then kicked it back.
"Nobody takes our ads," Raperto lamented. "We always get to the point when our money is no good."
As readers, you should know that there is always tension between news and advertising people. Advertising people make the machine run. Without them, we can't publish or get paid. The news people insist on a firewall between our departments to ensure that advertisers do not influence our content. The people who sell our ads can be frustrated by our seemingly sanctimonious insistence that we be left alone to defend the First Amendment, but this ad for white supremacist philosophy generated some genuine grief within the ranks of the ad department.
Unfortunately, I'm not so sure that grief stretched up to the place where the buck stopped, on the desk of our advertising chief. He said we screwed up and will be more careful and vigilant in the future. But, he doesn't seem to care about it. "I'm kind of blase about it," said Philip MacMonagle, Planet ad director. "I'm on vacation the last two days. I haven't thought about it."
Well, he should. This is not the time to be making this kind of mistake.
Americans are nervous. Fearful. We want the threat of terror to go away. We want to understand how such unexplainable, powerful evil invaded our simple lives.
"If not for the Jews, the World Trade Centers would still be standing and the Pentagon would not be under construction," Raperto said. "None of it would even have happened."
Blame the Jews for causing trouble with the Arabs. Blame the immigrant Arabs seeking retribution over here for what the Jews caused. Raperto disparages Jews, Arabs, blacks and "sodomites."
Who do you hate most? I asked. Rank the top five.
"Organized Jewry," he said. "You can put that at the top. No, put organized Jewry in all five places ... We have to disenfranchise the Jews. At some point, I would deport them. To Uganda, not Antarctica, because cold weather makes their genes stronger ... I want them outta my country. They are like a cancer."
But, it all starts and ends with the Jews, said the 54-year-old man who said he is an Army retiree.
"We have all these hassles at the airport and nothing but problems because of the Jews. We cannot keep making American interests subservient to Jewish interests."
The majority of Americans don't get it because we are duped by a "propagandized," "kosher view" of the world that's so tainted by the media, which are controlled, distorted and manipulated by Jews at every level, he said.
So, he and his brethren get the word out their own way, doing what they can to get coverage by newspapers like this one or television stations like Fox 13.
"When we appear in mainstream media, we have more value, more credibility," he said.
After that conversation, I called Phil Metlin, Fox 13's news director, a journalist I've always respected because he considers the human consequences of what he's doing.
"I'm not going to be used," he said, when I told him about how we'd both been set up. "I'm going to kill the story." At least, for the moment, he said. They might come back to it later.
These are big issues that need to be digested, and they go well beyond a tiny ad in our paper.
The message of the organization involved is despicable. But are we as a nation more open to such a message in a time when we are worn out by terror fatigue? Raperto said yes.
I've heard more anti-Jew and anti-Israel rhetoric in the last six months than in my entire life. Not just from fanatics like Raperto but from people I respect. In our nation's most vulnerable moment, how desperate are we to place blame, and what will it cause us to do? Raperto said this is the moment he and his cohorts have waited for, and they will seize it.
It makes me think of another time a fanatic seized the moment when his country was vulnerable and looking for a scapegoat.
It's especially important that we remember that and don't start looking for one ourselves.
Funny how much a tiny little ad can teach you.
Contact Fawn Germer at fawn.germer @weeklyplanet.com or 813-248-8888, ext. 134.