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Wednesday, February 20, 2013 Responds to SF Weekly Cover Story, and SF Weekly Responds to That Response

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 1:38 PM

Editor's Note: In response to this week's cover story, "Gag Order,"'s CEO Peter Acworth issued a statement which suggests that SF Weekly's Kate Conger used unreliable e-mails as the basis for much of her research and that the story was hastily assembled. In fact, Kate has been working on the story since June 2012 when she was researching the controversy over Kink's "cam girls." As for the e-mails, the story was reworked to remove any mention or discussion of those e-mails or the allegations they contain.

Below is a statement from Kink in italics; our responses to those points are in bold.

Today the SF Weekly chose to knowingly and carelessly publish a cover story with serious flaws and dubious sourcing -- including forged emails and false accusations. Despite the fact that we proved, to the satisfaction of the journalist, that major factual problems existed with the piece, the article was run with few changes.

I do not feel that the sourcing is dubious. I think the main area of contention in this article is the models' accounts of their experiences. I was told by Kink's spokesperson and Mr. Acworth himself that they were not interested in devaluing anyone's story of their own experience. I sought out models who reported good experiences at Kink and we printed their stories as well. 

As far as "forged e-mails" are concerned, none of that content appears in the article. Kink did raise serious doubts about the veracity of the e-mails in question, which I am now looking into, and will write about when I feel that I can represent the issue with the highest accuracy. 

There is also an insinuation in the paragraph above that I find it very important to correct -- that Kink had been provided with early drafts of the story. This is absolutely not the case. I would consider it unethical to provide anyone, aside from my editors, drafts of a story. There is no truth to the statement that the story was run with little changes -- no one at Kink saw drafts and therefore could not say what was changed and what was not. 

The story "Gag Order" paints a bleak picture of life at Kink. It's not rooted in reality -- nor in the tenets of ethical journalism. When we originally agreed to speak with the Weekly, they began asking questions that, to those of us who work here, did not seem to have any basis in fact. When we asked for support of those claims, the Weekly quoted e-mails they'd received from a source who'd originally tipped off the investigation. The emails turned out to be forged, and the journalist admitted to Kink management that the e-mails were fabricated. 

I don't think it paints a bleak picture at all. I think it points to the extreme differences in experience from one model to the next. Several longtime models and directors are quoted about their positive experiences at Kink. 

Again, the content of the e-mails does not appear in the story. I certainly did not fabricate the e-mails in question. Until I have consulted further with e-mail forensics experts, I am not prepared to make any statement about the veracity of the e-mails.

We invited the journalist in to review the original e-mails on our servers, and speak with several of our employees about some of the other accusations. She was visibly distressed to find out that that she'd been lied to, and we suggested that she contact other people to verify the rest of the claims.

This is true. Once again, however, these e-mails are not mentioned in the story in any way. I did review Kink's copies of the e-mails and am now consulting with several e-mail forensics experts in order to fully understand the issue.

Though we'd been told repeatedly that it was a tight deadline, we expected that it would be held until the rest of the claims in the piece could be double-checked for veracity. Unfortunately, only hours later, the piece went live. Sections related specifically to the forged e-mails were excised -- but there was no further verification of other, similarly sensational claims in the article. In fact, there was no mention of the forged e-mails, or the fact that readers might have good reason to question those other claims as well.

There was no reason to expect the story to be held. I informed Mr. Acworth of the printing time when we arranged to meet. We never discussed altering that time, and I told him that, regardless of the e-mails mentioned here, we still intended to print a story about models' varied experiences. Because one source may have lied to me does not mean that every other source has lied as well. 

Instead, "Gag Order" is rife with inaccuracies, misrepresentations and sometimes blatant falsehoods. Many of them could have been disproven (or proven, for that matter) with a simple phone call. To a doctor. To a director. To other models on a shoot. A review of our HR records could easily have shown that models who were allegedly "blacklisted" after a complaint continued to work with us for months afterward. Models who were supposedly "paid off" for silence could be checked against actual payment records in accounting. There are many such examples. Unfortunately, none of that was pursued. 

We understand that as a company that employs over 130 people and shoots over 1000 scenes a year, that we can't make everyone happy. We're not perfect, and we do our best to correct mistakes when they happen. We don't expect everyone to love us or what we do, and we don't expect that everyone will think a BDSM porn company can have ethics. What we do expect is that a major alt-weekly, upon realizing that there was at least one major source with an agenda and outright fabricated claims, would hold a story until other sources could be verified as well.

I do not know why this would be an expectation. This supposed "major source" does not appear in the article at all. In fact, my most "major source" is Acworth himself, who is quoted from beginning to end. I have worked hard over the last nine months to verify the claims brought to me and feel confident in the story as it stands. I was never asked by Mr. Acworth or anyone else at Kink to hold the story, and I brought the issues raised in the article to his attention.

We were told repeatedly that this was a tight deadline, but that's no excuse for shoddy journalism. We welcome the chance to engage with the Weekly now that said deadline is past. In the meantime, we ask that they take down the story in its current form, and work with us to correct it. We also expect an apology.

Peter Acworth
CEO and Founder,

I also hope to continue to work with Kink in the future. In this statement, they have brought to light the allegedly forged e-mails. I am currently trying to determine if they are indeed the subject of an elaborate digital attack and they have been extremely helpful in this research.

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