Andrew Shelffo is a resident of Northampton who has a blog on MassLive, The Prospect Perspective. Since July, Mr. Shelffo has been vigorously advancing many of Capital Video’s arguments and attacking our own.
On November 8, NoPornNorthampton asked him if he was being compensated in any way by Capital Video or its affiliates. We were expecting a quick denial, but still felt the question worth asking. To our surprise, what followed has been 20 days of evasions, bluster and counterquestions, sometimes absurd ones. Here are excerpts from our dialogue on NoPornNorthampton:
NPN, 11/8/06: Andrew, while I am impressed by your doggedness, I don’t really
understand your motivations. On July 1 you wrote on your blog,
“My instincts tell me that the proposed ‘pornography store,’ as the
Republican refers to it, won’t happen on King Street. And to me, that’s
a good thing. I drive past that location a lot and I can imagine a lot
of conversations that I don’t have with my kids if it does open.” On
July 13 you wrote,
“For the record, I don’t want the store to open, and I don’t think it
will. I don’t say that based on any inside information, just on a gut
Despite these sentiments, you have been trying for months to
confuse the issues, question the validity of mountains of evidence,
dispute common sense, oppose modest, well-tested adult-use regulations, belittle citizens who care about their neighborhood, sidetrack a debate about adult businesses into a debate about Wal-Mart, and minimize bad behavior
on the part of the porn merchants (e.g. Anthony Nota). Please state for
the record whether you are being compensated in any way by Capital
Video or its affiliates or agents.
Shelffo, 11/8/06: Now you accuse me of working for Capital Video. I suppose that’s the
next logical step for you after accusing people of being “pro-porn.”
motivation here is my hatred of dishonesty. By cherry picking evidence,
you have led people to believe that the zoning ordinances will save
Northampton from all kinds of bad things, but you know that’s just not
true. The zoning ordinances will not lessen the amount of pornography
in Northampton. Even if the correlation between adult businesses and
secondary effects can be proven, the zoning ordinances will not protect
Northampton from secondary effects; they will just move them to a
different area of town. The zoning ordinances will also likely not even
prevent Capital Video from opening a store on King St.
your campaign has succeeded in doing is scaring people for no reason
and opening up Northampton to litigation that could be costly.
you’re confused about my position, it might be helpful to keep the
words of Emerson in mind: “A foolish consistency is the hob-goblin of
little minds.” Like most people, when I first heard that Capital Video
was opening a store on King St., I was afraid. However, instead of
finding evidence to support my fears, I decided to see if my fears had
any basis in reality. I realized that my first reaction was wrong.
I’ve also realized that you’re really engaging in a lot of fear mongering, and I think that’s just wrong. As I said at the City Council meeting the other night, don’t tell me that I need to be afraid of something without solid evidence that it’s a real threat.
I note that you have not given a clear denial of being compensated by Capital Video.
are the cherry picker. You highlight a tiny handful of outliers in the
study of secondary effects and dismiss the clear preponderance of the
evidence substantiating them. It would appear that only 100% certainty
would satisfy you. As we have discussed before, that is an unreasonable and inappropriate standard to apply to the study of human cities.
Some of our opposition is definitely pro-porn. Look at their signs.
Shelffo, 11/9/06: You’re twisting things again. I am not demanding 100% certainty, though
that would be nice. I’ve asked for evidence that Capital Video has
impacted the towns where it has stores in the way that you say it will
impact Northampton, but you haven’t provided it. I’ve asked for
information about Hadley’s experience with secondary effects, but you
haven’t provided that, either. Your response is that your evidence is
“good enough.” I don’t see it that way, so you accuse me of working for
Capital Video. If I did work for Capital Video (and I’m not saying that
I do), would that mean that I am not worthy of asking questions? That
sounds like an ad hominen argument to me.
Capital Video’s impacts in Kittery have been obvious, resulting in court-approved legislation. Clearly many citizens of Springfield
are also unhappy with their presence. Moreover, the ordinances approved
by Northampton’s City Council don’t just apply to Capital Video, of
course, but to a wide range of adult enterprises. It is enough to show,
as we have, that secondary effects are commonly seen around these enterprises.
is unreasonable to expect small municipalities, let alone private
citizens, to produce local scientific studies on demand. Fortunately,
the courts agree. The evidence is in, there’s plenty of it, and
conclusions can be drawn.
If you are receiving compensation from Capital Video, then you are a web journalist
with an undisclosed conflict of interest. Paid content belongs in the
advertising section of the Masslive website, not the editorial portion.
In your public statements, you have gone to considerable efforts to portray yourself as “a husband and father who lives near the King St. location”–i.e.,
as authentic family-friendly grass-roots opinion. I imagine people
might perceive your arguments and credibility differently if you were
in fact being paid to advance Capital Video’s cause.
Capital Video is welcome to state their case, but not to present it in a deceptive wrapping through false fronts.
Shelffo, 11/9/06: If you’re going to accuse me of working for capital video and of being
a liar, please provide proof. Short of that, I will expect an apology
for your attempts to besmirch my reputation.
I’ll ask again: how do I know that you’re not working for Capital
Video? You’ve certainly done a lot of promotion for them over the past
couple of months.
NPN, 11/9/06: I accuse you of nothing. I asked you to state clearly whether you were
receiving any kind of compensation from Capital Video. So far you have
made no clear denial. I find that interesting.
you are not in fact being compensated by Capital Video, surely it would
be easier for you to affirm this than for me to monitor all your
financial transactions, something that, being a private citizen and not
a government investigator, would be hard for me to do, if not illegal.
my part, I can state that neither I nor my wife have received
compensation of any kind at any point from Capital Video, its
affiliates, or its agents. Considering Mr. Nota’s attitude towards us
on October 26, it’s absurd even to suggest it.
…You are a journalist on Masslive. As such, certain standards are expected of you. As the BBC puts it:
“It is essential that the integrity of the BBC and its programmes is
not undermined by the outside activities or financial interests of any
of its journalists… The onus is on the journalist to let the BBC know
if they have any interests that could give rise to an actual or
perceived conflict of interest.”
Your obligation here is to the public, to not withhold material information that has a bearing on your credibility.
Shelffo, 11/9/06: I understand now. When someone from Capital Video calls you a name,
it’s a a horrible thing and evidence that the name-caller is not fit to
be a part of the Northampton community. But when you call someone else
a name (because, to paraphrase you, no matter how you dress it up,
that’s what you’re doing) it’s okay.
I’m surprised that you would lower yourselves in this manner.
NPN, 11/9/06: Here’s the situation: I asked a journalist if he is being paid by a
company he has been vigorously defending for weeks. He refuses to give
a straight answer and responds with bluster and counterattacks. What
should I conclude?
Let’s recall last year’s controversy when it was disclosed that commentator Armstrong Williams was paid $240,000
by the federal Education Department to promote the No Child Left Behind
Act. When journalists might be motivated by more than seeking the
truth, the public is right to be concerned.
I’m not a journalist. You should really educate yourself on what blogs are all about…
enlightening that the only conclusion you can come to is that I must be
working for Capital Video; that certainly shows a lack of imagination
on your part. Is this what you mean by “common sense”? Once again you
engage in fallacious thinking here, specifically the either/or dilemma,
as in, either someone agrees with you, or they must be working for
And I’d also like to point out that I have not
been vigorously defending Capital Video for weeks. Instead, I’ve been
pointing out the weaknesses in your argument. It is possible to be
against NoPorn AND to be against Capital Video, another point that you
just can’t seem to grasp…
me: how does one go about proving a negative? How would you have me,
someone you’ve accused of being a liar, prove to you that I don’t work
for Capital Video?
if you were a private citizen, it would be fair for me to ask if you
had financial ties to Capital Video. Since you are a journalist, and
Masslive profits by selling advertising next to your content, even
higher standards apply. One of Masslive’s major assets is the
credibility of its content providers. Without that, why should people
go there, if their trust might be taken advantage of?
Capital Video attorneys Lesley Rich and Michael Pill, I can think of
few people in the region who have been advancing Capital Video’s
arguments and defending their behavior as stridently as you, whether on
your blog, Your Stories Northampton, Talk Back Northampton, or in comments to this blog.
am not accusing you of lying. I am observing that a journalist is
refusing to clarify whether a corporation might be improperly
influencing his coverage.
To prove you aren’t being compensated
by Capital Video, it would help if you would state clearly that you are
not in fact being compensated by them. Short of that, it would appear
that this is indeed a live possibility.
Shelffo, 11/10/06: Wow. Now you get to define what I am. Brilliant. One of the criticisms
of pornography is that is objectifies people and deprives them of their
humanity. Apparently, you’re not above doing this yourselves,
preferring to define me as you would like, not as I would like.
I don’t answer to you. If the general public is interested in my line of work, they’re free to contact me.
I guess by extension, the people who work/post at MoPorn and TalkBack must be working for Capital Video, too.
you get a chance, please provide me with Capital Video’s address so
that I can send them an invoice. If you’re going to accuse me of
working for them, I might as well hit them up for some money.
Shelffo, 11/13/06: Now you’re going to offend me by suggesting that I’m not who I say I
am. Can you explain what you mean when I say I’ve gone to “considerable
lengths” to portray myself as a husband and a father who lives near
King St.? Are you now suggesting that I’m not a husband and father who
lives near King St.?
another question for you: If I were some kind of a secret Capital Video
plant hire to rail against NoPorn, do you really think I would hesitate
to deny working for Capital Video?
NPN, 11/20/06 (responding to an outside comment): …I was surprised that Mr. Shelffo has not denied a financial tie to
Capital Video, and that he responded to the question with bluster and
counterquestions. For someone whose writing is presented as editorial
content on Masslive, his stonewalling is unacceptable. If Masslive does
not make it clear that its blogs are not to be used for Astroturf,
other businesses might feel free to pay bloggers to advocate their
views and products. The credibility and value of Masslive to the region
would come into question.
Citizen journalism is great, unless it’s fake citizen journalism.
NPN, 11/26/06 (responding to an outside comment): …I am having a hard time understanding Mr. Shelffo’s goals or
motivations. I would like him to rule out one possible
motivation–money. It is unacceptable for journalists to be coy about
conflicts of interest. It doesn’t matter if Mr. Shelffo doesn’t like
the question or the questioner.
NPN, 11/28/06 (responding to an outside comment: A good investigator keeps their assumptions to a minimum. We don’t
understand Mr. Shelffo’s stated motivations, since his actions could
make his neighborhood less safe for his family for little benefit. His
arguments are poorly founded in logic and evidence. His evasions and
absurd counterarguments over the past 20 days have done little to
reassure us of his authenticity.
Shelffo is a web journalist, who enjoys the privilege of publishing on
MassLive. As such, he has a duty to disclose material conflicts of
interest. We asked him a straight question, with no bias one way or the
other, and he refused to answer. Far from doing something wrong, we’re
doing what a healthy press ought to do routinely. Must investigators
always know in advance the answer to the questions they ask? As any
police officer knows, it can be of great value to observe the reaction
to a question.
If the public doesn’t require clarity on this
issue, it opens the possibility that interested parties of all kinds,
from businesses to political factions, could infiltrate citizen
journalism on MassLive. This would subvert what we understand to be one
of MassLive’s goals for its blogs and features like Your Stories
Northampton, which is to provide a forum for authentic grassroots
reporting and opinion.
Advertising should be confined to the
clearly marked advertising areas of the MassLive site. If there is
concern that advertising has infiltrated editorial portions of
MassLive, that can diminish the credibility and value of the site. Mr.
Shelffo’s bluster and evasions raise that concern.
or public relations disguised as grassroots opinion, is a well-known
phenomenon in Washington, DC. It would be a shame to see it grow in
Here are excerpts from our dialogue on The Prospect Perspective, conducted in Shelffo’s post, “I Have A Confession To Make”:
Shelffo, 11/20/06: …I went to their website [NoPornNorthampton.org] and asked them a question and before I knew it, they accused me of being a liar and a pornographer with connections to organized crime. Oh, and the good people at NoPorn have also insinuated that I might not be the husband and father that I say I am.
Now I guess I have to find another family to have Thanksgiving dinner with because, to quote NoPorn, I’m not really a husband and a father; rather, I’ve only been going to “great lengths to portray myself as a husband and a father…”
The NoPorn people have concocted this theory that I am in the employ of Capital Video which is paying me to post anti NoPorn material on my blog. What’s their evidence for this? The fact that I have the temerity to question their evidence and their methods…
Oh, they’ll also probably tell you, if you asked, that the fact that I won’t come out and deny that Capital Video is paying me is also evidence that I must be working for Capital Video. I won’t deny it to them because I don’t want to respond to unfounded accusations. If anyone else reading this is interested in asking me, feel free to email me at Andrew@capitalvideo.com. Just kidding; you can send me an email by using the “contact the author” link on the left.
…[T]hey’ve questioned the credibility of all Masslive Bloggers because somehow my stance has called into question “the credibility and value of Masslive to the region.” That stance conveniently overlooks how often NoPorn takes advantage of Masslive’s forums and Your Stories. I guess Masslive is only credible if it can blindly support NoPorn.
The second thing that NoPorn has done recently is misrepresent some
“reporting” on their defeat of Capital Video. They recently posted on
their website that several adult websites have “reported” on NoPorn’s
battle with Capital Video.
It’s also worth noting that these adult websites found this content [NPN’s press release of 11/6/06] because NoPorn is working with a company to get their press releases more exposure. In other words, they’re paying someone to promote their point of view, something they’ve accused Capital Video of doing…
[B]eing of Italian descent, I take offense at NoPorn’s implication that somehow I’m involved with organized crime… I think it’s a chilling effect on free speech when anyone will try to undermine someone who chooses to speak up with attacks on his credibility, his ethnicity, and his family.
NPN, 11/22/06: …We have accused Mr. Shelffo of nothing. We did ask him, a web
journalist, a straight question about whether his content was sponsored
by Capital Video. To date, he has refused to deny it. We find this
disturbing and unacceptable in a journalist, a person whose reporting
and opinion appears in the editorial portion of MassLive.com.
Mr. Shelffo enjoys the credibility and audience-gathering power of
MassLive, a major journalism site serving Western Massachusetts,
without appreciating the responsibilities that come with it. If
MassLive does not make it clear that sponsored content is unacceptable
in the blogs it features, then, yes, the credibility of those blogs
would come into question.
Mr. Shelffo has responded to our question with bluster and
counterquestions. It seems plausible to us that Capital Video might
like to have its arguments presented by a local family man to make them
more acceptable to the community. Mr. Shelffo needs to state clearly
that he is not being used in this way.
Shelffo, 11/22/06: Here’s a question: If I were the type of a person who would enter into
such an arrangement with Capital Video, do you think I would hesitate
to deny it?
NPN, 11/22/06: As we noted in the case of Armstrong Williams, the public does not
smile on commentators who are being secretly paid to advocate for an
interested party (see
http://www.csmonitor.com…). Please give us a
straight answer about whether your content is sponsored or otherwise
inappropriately influenced by Capital Video or its agents or affiliates.
Shelffo, 11/22/06: So now I’m being compared to Armstrong Williams. Not that you’re accusing me of anything, though.
NPN, 11/23/06: Your position, Andrew, is that you have the privilege of posting
editorial content to MassLive, yet you refuse to deny that you have
conflict of interest with respect to Capital Video, at a time when you
have been extensively reporting on and commenting about issues that
Shelffo, 11/23/06: If I had to spend my time denying the accusations of everyone who
perceived a conflict of interest, I wouldn’t have any time to write
anything else. I’ll ask it again: if you can find proof that I work for
Capital Video, beyond what you read into my posts, feel free to let the
NPN, 11/24/06: Andrew, since November 8 you have gone to heroic efforts to evade
answering the simple question I posed to you. Surely, if you had no
conflict of interest with Capital Video, it would have been easier to
make a straight denial. I have looked through various posts on your
blog going back to 2004. I haven’t yet come across another accusation
of a conflict of interest. Do you really receive that many?
Shelffo, 11/24/06: Umm, you do know that readers have only had the ability to make
comments on my blog for the last few weeks. right? So, how would you
see the accusations?
NPN, 11/26/06: I’m glad you have recently added a commenting feature to your blog.
Besides that, I notice there is a link to contact you at the top of the
page, and of course people can always contact the MassLive editor. So I
ask again, how many accusations of a conflict of interest have you
received since you began blogging on MassLive?
To summarize, Andrew Shelffo has claimed:
- That he’s not a journalist
- That he has no obligation to answer NPN’s question about a material conflict of interest
- That by merely asking a relevant question we have tied him to organized crime and besmirched his ethnicity
- That in opposing deceptive PR we oppose Capital Video’s right to express itself at all
- That we are required to know the answer to a question (have proof) before we ask it
- That NoPornNorthampton itself could be working for Capital Video (saying, “You’ve certainly done a lot of promotion for them over the past
couple of months”)
- That the obligation is on the citizen to prove a journalist has a conflict of interest, rather than the journalist having a duty to disclose a conflict
- That we have claimed he’s not a father
- That paying a web service to distribute a press release that prominently identifies the sponsor is equivalent to secretly paying a journalist to promote a certain point of view
- That he receives so many accusations of a conflict of interest he can’t be bothered to respond to them
On November 27, we spoke to MassLive editor Ed Kubosiak about Mr. Shelffo’s obligations. He said that he had corresponded with Andrew, and that he believes Andrew is not in fact being compensated by Capital Video. He seemed disinclined to pursue the matter further.
We ask Andrew Shelffo to clearly state if he has a conflict of interest with respect to Capital Video. We ask MassLive to clearly state that all its journalists, including its bloggers, have an obligation to disclose material conflicts of interest, and that stonewalling on the question is unacceptable.
While Mr. Shelffo won’t tell NPN if he has ties to Capital Video, he has invited the public to ask him about it. Please take him up on the offer. His blog has a Contact link at the top.
Mr. Shelffo comments on this post in “I’ve Hit The Big Time”. He characterizes a citizen giving feedback to an editor as “they tried to tell on me”. Northampton is no schoolyard, Mr. Shelffo. Journalists, even citizen journalists, have obligations to the public. They can’t expect shelter from uncomfortable questions or from phone calls to their editors. Words, and porn shops, have consequences.