Where'd Elmo Go? NYC Takes Down Entire Online Fatherhood Campaign
The website of the New York City mayor's office contains a feature called "10 Ways to Be a Better Dad." It's part of a campaign, called NYC Dads, that seeks to help fathers get tips on being a more present parent.
Well, it was.
Back in early November, the Voice was idly scrolling through the site when we noticed that NYC Dads' fatherhood tips included recommendations from Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind the beloved Sesame Street Muppet Elmo -- the same man who made front-page headlines in 2012 after several men accused him of dating them when they were minors.
Clash, now 54 years old, vehemently denied the sexual-abuse allegations, coming out as gay and saying he'd had consensual relationships with his accusers when they were of legal age. Three men sued, but New York judges threw out the cases, citing a statute of limitations that held that a lawsuit must be filed within six years of the event or three years after a plaintiff turns 21. An appeals court judge later upheld the rulings. But in the wake of the allegations, Sesame Street accepted Clash's resignation from the post he'd held since the mid 1980s.
The NYC website honored Clash under the tip "Earn the right to be heard:"
Despite the fact that Clash was cleared, the whole thing seemed, well, weird. We called the mayor's office for the lowdown.
They didn't call back.
The mayoral site credits the National Fatherhood Initiative as the source of the tips:
The National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has been working to reverse the devastating trend of father absence since 1994. Through their years of research and work with dads, doctors, and psychologists, they've put together the following list of ten tips that'll help you be the best dad possible.
So we called the NFI. A spokesman said, "It looks like the city took our list and added their own local people."
Thanks to the efforts of a nonprofit organization called the Internet Archive, inquiring minds are able to search the Wayback Machine, which preserves cached website pages for posterity (and nosey parkers like us). According to the Wayback Machine, the NYC Dads feature dates back at least to 2007, and thus to the administration of Michael Bloomberg. Clash's fatherhood tips were first posted in 2011 at the latest. Another page on the site, a Q&A that lauds Clash as a "notable dad," was first posted in 2010 at the latest.
None of which explains why NYC Dads would continue to tout Clash after the allegations against him came to light nearly three years ago.
But what the hey. We chalked it up to lax website maintenance -- that and the fact you have to click around a bit to uncover the pages in question -- and turned our attention to more pressing matters, like mass protests and Bill de Blasio's choice of workout wear.
Then, early this month on a whim, we checked in on the mayor's website and the NYC Dads pages.
They were gone!
We again reached out to the mayor's office, as well as to the Human Resources Administration, which -- according to the contact information on the NYC Dads website and a spokesman for the mayor -- ran the NYC Dads program.
They haven't called back.
NFI president Christopher Brown, however, did respond to our queries.
"After reviewing the program's integration of the comments by Kevin Clash, it's clear that they used his comment, as they did other well-known dads, to reflect how a father might apply a specific tip from our brochure," Brown says diplomatically. "We don't have [an explicit partnership] with the NYC Dads program. As a result, we didn't work with the NYC Dads program on any aspect of their website."
Adds Brown: "Because the program used our content without permission and because National Fatherhood Initiative does not have a relationship with Kevin Clash, we don't have a concern about the association of his comment with one of our tips reflecting on NFI's reputation."
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