Pittsburgh City Paper retracts photo of woman in T-shirt promoting white power band
The editor of Pittsburgh City Paper apologized Wednesday for publishing a photo of a local female tattoo artist wearing a T-shirt promoting a white power band whose lyrics celebrate killing blacks and Jews.
“We cannot apologize enough for the situation,” said Charlie Deitch, editor of the alt-weekly newspaper, in a video posted to City Paper's Facebook page shortly after 2 p.m. “This woman's ideology obviously is in no way reflective of City Paper's, and we are sickened by this development.”
An internal investigation has led Deitch and his staff to believe that the subject of the photograph in question — tattoo artist Lettia Suchevich (Meikle) of Murrysville — purposefully tried to “tarnish” the cover story in which she was one of 16 women profiled, “Women Ink.”
“There's no middle ground here in terms of support for white power activists,” Deitch told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday evening shortly after providing a detailed explanation on City Paper's website.
Earlier in the day, City Paper yanked from its website the “Women Ink” story, a piece by contributing freelance writer and photographer Kat Rutt that aimed to explore the trend of women-owned tattoo businesses by profiling 16 women from the region. The story was also featured Wednesday on the cover of City Paper's first print issue following a redesign.
Shortly after the story published, several readers alerted City Paper that Suchevich appeared to be wearing a shirt in support of a neo-Nazi band, Aggravated Assault.
The black shirt included the band's name and featured a red, rounded Celtic Cross above a row of skulls — a logo attributed to the Atlantic City Skins , a New Jersey-based racist skinhead group with a history of violence and hate crimes, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The band's lyrics explicitly promote white supremacy and the beating, burning and killing of non-whites, with song titles such as “Kill a Red,” “The Eternal Jew,” “Krystallnacht,” “Fetch The Rope,” and “Hey (N-word)!”
The song, “We Salute You!” praises infamous Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler, Rudolph Hess and Joseph Goebbels.
A Tribune-Review call to Suchevich went unreturned.
In response to a call from Rutt on Wednesday, Suchevich told City Paper that her husband, Warren, is the lead singer of the band Aggravated Assault.
“He is the nicest guy I know,” said Suchevich, according to Deitch. “I figured I was probably gonna (anger) a few people. I don't mind. Personally, however, I hate what modern tattooing has become. It's just a business like everything else. I was taught by skinheads, and I'm not ashamed of that.”
After confronting Rutt, Deitch said he further learned that Rutt had altered Suchevich's photo to delete a small swastika tattoo on Suchevich's arm.
The altering was done without editorial permission and against City Paper policy, Deitch said.
“Rutt stands by her story in full, but we do not,” Deitch said.
Rutt — who posted a copy of the story to her blog, but later removed the portion about Suchevich — did not respond to a request for comment from the Trib.
In a statement to City Paper, Rutt emphasized that she did not speak to any of the women she interviewed “about their personal politics” and admitted to removing a symbol that “looked like a swastika” while processing the photos she took of Suchevich.
“I made the decision to airbrush this symbol out of one photo where the symbol was particularly prominent because I believed if published it could be unnecessarily triggering or inflammatory, which would detract from the purpose of this article,” Rutt told City Paper.
“The airbrushed photo was not published in any version of the story.
“I stand behind this article 100 percent, went to great lengths to put it out in the world, and am forever grateful to all the women who shared their stories with me.”
Deitch countered that “ignoring someone's racial ideologies to celebrate their achievement as a female small-business owner is not a trade-off that should have been made.”
Deitch told the Tribune-Review that he does not believe Rutt acted maliciously. “Women Ink” was her first major story for City Paper.
Deitch lamented that neither he nor at least a half dozen copy and layout editors caught the hateful references before publication.
“Kat (Rutt) made a mistake that she's going to have to live with, but she's not the only one here that made a mistake, and I told her that,” Deitch said. “We didn't catch it. Here it wasn't an intentional mistake, it got by. And unfortunately you don't necessarily learn the big lesson until you make the big error. I think she can learn from this and I think she can move on, and I certainly wish her luck.”
Edited version to reappear
By noon Thursday, Deitch said he plans to re-post an edited version of “Women Ink” that omits Suchevich but retains the other 15 profiles.
“The thing that bothers me the most is this really takes away from a great Pittsburgh story, which is women entrepreneurs doing what they want to do in a male-dominated industry,” Deitch said. “I don't want to have to completely scuttle the story, because I think that they've already had a lot of their moment ruined and tarnished by this, and I don't want to completely take it away.”
UPDATE: About 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Deitch changed his mind and decided to retract the story in full. Find out why .
New guidelines for reporters
The incident prompted Deitch to tell his reporters, “From now on, if there's a name or a logo or something that you don't know, from here on out, you look it up, you figure it out, you find out what it is.
“In photos, we are going to start zooming in on tattoos to make sure what we're dealing with,” Deitch added. “It may not lead to changes, but you need to be informed to make an informed decision.”
Deitch said he'd never dealt with a similar issue in 25 years in journalism.
“It stinks that this happened on our redesign, and it stinks that it happened on what should have been a great story,” Deitch said.
“But I'm the editor, and any content decision ends with me,” Deitch added. “We work together, but ultimately I'm responsible for the final content, so I take every ounce of the blame for this.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.