Dennis Prager Opposes Publishing The Names Of The DC Madam’s Clients Nor The Hookers

From The Los Angeles Times:

She’s playing it beautifully," said Robert Hogan, former psychology professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who runs a leadership consulting business. "These pols she has on her list are not above squeezing those prosecutors to lay off."

Palfrey is fighting prosecutors at every turn, including their contention that she threatened to make life miserable for her clients should the government persist in its case.

On the contrary, Palfrey said, making clients miserable was never the goal, which she explains on her website under the heading, "The Full Story Behind Jeane’s ‘Threat’ to ‘Make Life Miserable.’ "

Likening her agency to a strip club, she said clients paid $300 for 90 minutes of "legal high-end erotic fantasy service."

She explained the complexities of the law to the Associated Press this way: "You can pay an escort to come to your home, get naked and get a massage and you haven’t broken any laws, assuming you stay on your stomach."

All of this could have been avoided, of course, if only Washington’s officialdom could remember the oldest rule in politics: Don’t do anything you don’t want to see in tomorrow’s headlines.

Or, as Washington gossip columnist Patrick W. Gavin recently noted: " … if you make a stink, everyone in this small town will eventually smell it."

On his radio show April 30, Dennis Prager said: "This subject has always intrigued me on a moral basis."

In 2004, Prager decided against running for the U.S. Senate, in part, he said, because he did not want his private life investigated and publicized.

At the time of Prager’s show, this D.C. madam story was the top story on the Drudge Report.

There are few people who have listened longer and more carefully to Prager than I have (I bought tapes of his radio show going back to 1985). Without a doubt, Prager gets more topics for his radio show from the than any other source.

And without a doubt, the is the number one gossip site on the internet (I do not mean that as a criticism, only as a description, in my view gossip is morally neutral, sometimes it is right and sometimes it is wrong to gossip).

If publicly shaming non-evil people is so horrible, why does Prager make his number one source of information the most shaming website in the world?

Apparently 132 women worked for the madam.

Prager (who in the past said on his radio show that he used a prostitute while in Europe during college) initially claimed that ABC news had paid the madam for her client list. He later retracted that.

I suspect that the ABC News operation that Prager lambasted for an hour will be more careful with its facts than Prager was.

Prager laments that much of society is more concerned with prostitution than murder. If so, I doubt that is unique to our society. If such a preoccupation is widespread, it simply indicates that the preservation of certain sexual norms is of paramount importance in many, if not most, societies.

As a learned religious Jew, Prager knows that Judaism holds that a Jew should surrender his life rather than commit various sexual sins (sleeping with a prostitute would be regarded as just such a sin by many rabbis).

Prager keeps saying that publicizing the madam’s client list will destroy lives. Yet this is the same Prager who says that divorce need not be a trauma. It depends on how you handle it.

Well, does it not depend on how you handle this prostitution publicity? I know that if such a thing were to happen to me (and I have never paid for sex), I’d try to laugh it off. I’d blog about it.

I’m not sure that in this day and age, getting caught hiring a hooker is not such a big deal. I suspect that most politicians commit adultery. The more successful the politico, the hotter his girls. Wives of politicians (and other stars) make that sacrifice in exchange for being married to a powerful man.

Prager often says that he does not expect people to become saints, only that they be decent. Yet it would take a herculean effort for many not to indulge their interest in the madam’s clients. And what would be the payoff for such efforts? Very little. And future johns would feel more secure about indulging themselves.

DP: "I see no moral good in publicizing the names of her johns."

Well, that’s an easy one. Of course there are benefits to publicizing people who break the law (not that those benefits necessarily outweigh the harm done to innocents by such publicity). Publicizing the names of people who do shameful things discourages those people from doing them more often and discourages everyone else from engaging in such activity.

If you raise the cost of gasoline (ceteris paribus), people will use less gasoline. if you raise the cost of using hookers (ceteris paribus), people will use fewer hookers.

One problem with getting a good moral read on these types of situations is that the list of people hurt by publishing such information is small and concentrated and thus those people and their supporters have motivation to fight against the publicizing of their crime, while all the people who are benefited by this upholding of social norms are only benefited indirectly and minutely and thus have no motivation to support the outing of these johns.

One of the primary functions of gossip is to reinforce social norms without the painful cost of telling a wrongdoer to his face what’s what.

A person is not a member of a community until he is gossiped about. We don’t gossip about people who do not matter to us (and rarely about people who are below us in social status). There’s a high incentive for people in high status to act decently to those below them precisely so that when the high-flier falls, people will not rejoice.

There’s little gossip in the tabloids about people who act in a fundamentally decent way. Serious actresses such as Meryl Streep don’t generate much malicious gossip.

While listening to Prager denounce the media for publicizing shameful information, I think about Prager’s longtime friendly relationship with predator-rabbi Mordecai Gafni.

Prager often greeted Gafni with a hug. Prager asked Gafni to look after his step-daughter Anya when she went to Israel (circa 1998). Prager had Gafni on his radio show to discuss his book Soul Prints. Prager was scheduled to have a public dialogue with Gafni at Prager’s temple, Stephen S. Wise, which for years had Gafni as a scholar in residence and gave him tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for bestowing his wisdom.

Two of Prager’s closest friends, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Dr. Stephen Marmer, led a take-no-prisoners attack on Vicki Polin and myself for accurately reporting on Gafni’s predatory ways.

When Gafni confessed that he was predatory, Telushkin made only the most circumscribed apology to The Jewish Week and Marmer, to the best of my knowledge, made no public apology.

Prager has never publicly mentioned the matter.

Yet you’d think for someone so obsessed about goodness he’d rethink his views on when it is appropriate to share shameful information. Yet neither Prager nor Telushkin have changed their thinking in this regard one iota, despite being on the wrong side of a big mess.

You’d think that intellectual and moral honesty would compel Prager to say that he’d been completely wrong on this issue in the past and had had to rethink his views in the light of reality.

But no.

Prager says that the media should not mention people who commit the crime of prostitution. But why should that be the one crime for which one gets a free pass? There are all sorts of other embarrassing crimes, such as public urination or smoking marijuana, etc, should they all be exempt from reporting? Why should people who break the law expect that it will never be mentioned?

All human societies have evolved sexual norms and all human societies stigmatize prostitution (to varying degrees) and gossip about people who use prostitutes and people who work as prostitutes. You show me a society that doesn’t talk about johns and hookers and I’ll show you one sick society.

Prager repeatedly lambasts ABC News for planning to publicize the madam’s client list during sweeps week yet it is not at all clear that ABC News will do that. ABC News has not said that they will name the madam’s clients yet Prager repeatedly says they will.

If ABC News is circumscribed in its publicizing of the johns, will Prager apologize for defaming ABC News?

I often get the sense when I listen to Prager that he is on repeat. He skims a news article and then offers the same pre-recorded message he’s given  dozens of times in the past (without respect for the facts of the current story).

The madam plans to name names. If ABC News does not publish those names, other places will. It does not matter much whether or not ABC News names the names. The nature of human communities is that if the madam is determined to publicize the names, they will get out.

In contrast to Prager’s portrayal of the press, reality suggests they are being circumspect in this matter. According to the trade publication of the industry:

NEW YORK As the so-called "D.C. Madam" case unfolds in the nation’s capital, with alleged prostitution ringleader Jeane Palfrey claiming a list of thousands of prominent clients, Washington-area editors say they are following the story, but remain reluctant to print such a list, were it available, without serious scrutiny.


 Part of the reason why the “20/20” segment may end up being so tame is that there were serious discussions within ABC News over the legal and ethical questions involved in identifying men on Palfrey’s client list. Questions such as: What makes a public figure a public figure (and worthy of mention on the broadcast)? Does merely having your phone number appear in Palfrey’s phone records prove that you used her service? What if you called Palfrey’s service only for a massage (as Tobias claims) or female companionship? How can the network prove that sex actually took place? And is ABC being used by Palfrey to do her dirty work?

“I think it’s a difficult story,” says Peter Prichard, president of the Newseum and former editor of USA Today. “And it’s right on that line about whether or not you should cross it. … If you don’t have a lot of witnesses to what actually happened, it’s not entirely fair to just connect a phone number and say something happened. … I’m glad I’m not the editor deciding whether to run it.”

Jeffrey Schneider, executive vice president at ABC News, told Yeas & Nays, “We are proceeding very thoughtfully and very carefully, as we do on any work that we do. Obviously, there are sensitivities here and we are very mindful of that. If a name is going to be included in our report, it would have to rise to a certain level of newsworthiness.”

Prager’s main point is that johns don’t deserve to have their names dragged through the mud.

I have two questions: First, why should accurate reporting be described as dragging somebody’s name through the mud? Second, why should johns be exempt from having their criminal acts reported? For what other criminal acts should there be such exemptions?

Prager says that this punishment is the equivalent of cutting off the hands of a thief.

I don’t have a problem with the cutting off hands for some theft (such as breaking into somebody’s home or car).

I don’t have a problem with the publicizing of people convicted of committing a crime, but what bothers me here is the position that people who commit certain crimes should be exempt from negative publicity. Anybody justly convicted of a crime should not complain about people talking about them. That’s chutzpah. That’s saying that I knowingly chose to break the law and violate society’s norms in an area of crucial importance yet you should not talk about me doing so.

Getting publicized for illegally using a prostitute does not have to destroy you nor your family. Like other forms of gossip, you can shake it off and do something worthy with your life.

When Britain’s Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, was revealed to have lied to parliament in 1963 about using prostitutes, he devoted the rest of his life to good works. Do you think he would’ve done that if he hadn’t been publicly humiliated for lying about his use of hookers?

How many haughty cruel people (are a disproportionate number of johns are cruel and haughty?) would turn their lives around if a mirror was held up to their behavior?

Prager: "What’s more exciting than destroying lives?"

"Why don’t we publicize the names of people who don’t honor their parents?"

Well, we do. Just look at the negative publicity Dr. Laura Schlesinger received for ignoring her mother (who died alone).

From Wikipedia: "In December 2002, Schlessinger’s mother Yolanda was found dead in her condominium, her body having been there for months. Schlessinger’s estrangement from her family was again highlighted in the media, as she had often chastised listeners who said they had broken off contact with their families, calling them selfish. When asked about her estrangement from her own mother, Schlessinger claimed she had tried to mend fences but that "Some things you take from broken to bent and leave there.""

DP: "The press has no conscience. It only has a conscience when it is politically correct, such as not naming the woman [who made the false rape allegations against members of the Duke lacrosse team]."

"The news media is governed by what will bring revenue, only, and politics. Their agenda and making money."

These monolithic accusations seem ridiculous to me. The news media has different attitudes towards publicizing such johns. Or does it?

A caller to Prager: "How do they know that this woman didn’t make up these names?"

Prager: "Don’t know and don’t care. It’s sweeps week for ABC News."

The press is a reality check. If you are famous and you act badly and/or break the law, you may be reported on.

If you choose to illegally patronize a prostitute and you have a high position in society, you open yourself up to blackmail.

Prager wonders why the news media don’t refer to the madam as "the alleged madam."

Dennis says that if the johns used public funds to pay for the prostitutes, then let it be known.

I do not give my views on this matter from the perspective of one who believes himself impervious to sexual sin. Quite to the contrary. Few sins tempt me more than certain sexual sins, particularly ones with wallabies and my childhood friend Wayne Chery.

MAY 29 2007 UPDATE: The news media did not publish the names of the madam’s clients (with one or two exceptions).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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