January 4, 2013

Magazine opus: Scandal in a Maine town exposed anew

Illicit sex in a quaint New England town? It's no surprise Vanity Fair was drawn to Kennebunk.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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The prostitution scandal in Kennebunk is the focus of a feature story in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, going on sale nationally Tuesday. “This article puts the spotlight back on Kennebunk,” said one Portland lawyer.

Courtesy of Vanity Fair/Ellen von Unwerth

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"Even though we know all about it, the readers of Vanity Fair will get a really good look at what's going on up here," he said. "I'm guessing that the Vanity Fair type reader might be the type who might vacation in New England."

Zerillo said he thinks the piece tells the story from a perspective that will give outsiders a look inside the town and the scandal, in broader strokes than local news outlets may have taken.

He described interest in the story as a fire in a fire pit that someone is trying to put out. "You may not see it at the surface, but there are some burning embers below that may flare up at any time," Zerillo said.

The Kennebunk town manager, the Maine Office of Tourism and another attorney quoted in the Vanity Fair story did not return phone messages seeking comment Thursday.

Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member who specializes in ethics at the Poynter Institute, an organization in Florida that teaches journalism and advises newsrooms around the world, said Kennebunk residents may not see the international appeal of the scandal, but the story is compelling for many reasons.

McBride said most news stories about prostitution focus on very low-income people and are scant on titillating details.

"Prostitution is not really uncommon," she said, "but it's not too often that we get to see it documented" and involving people with middle to high incomes.

"Because you have local law enforcement that is insisting on prosecuting so many people, you have the story of prostitution laid bare," she said. "Your law enforcement agencies are making the choice to pursue all the charges against all the people. They are opening the story up to everyone."

McBride said a magazine like Vanity Fair can tell the story from a different perspective from other news outlets.

"Vanity Fair has a very distinct journalism function with a very distinct journalism audience," McBride said. "It may very well seem to the people of Kennebunk that this is too much. But it's more for Vanity Fair's audience worldwide.

"The frame that they put on the story is the juxtaposition of a prostitution ring to a very picturesque, coastal New England town. You can't argue that this frame is inaccurate, but it probably glosses over some of the nuances of the story," she said.

McBride said she consulted early on with newsrooms, including the Portland Press Herald's, regarding whether to publish the names of accused prostitution clients, but has not followed the step-by-step developments.

She said extensive coverage of the case in the local media makes sense because local authorities have devoted so many resources to investigating and prosecuting the case.

Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

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