Chicago vs. Bed Bugs

Advocating policy to control the spread of bed bugs in the City of Chicago

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L.A. Times Article: Taking One for the Cause

Posted by Jessica on January 4, 2009

Renee Corea, I give you a whole lot of credit.  If I had been so badly misrepresented by a journalist in a national news publication, I doubt that I would have handled it with even a fraction of the dignity and character you demonstrated in your response to P.J. Huffstutter’s recent L.A. Times article.

Readers, Renee Corea is a co-founder of New York vs. Bed Bugs, the non-profit organization we used as a model for our own organization, Chicago vs. Bed Bugs.  The purpose of New York vs. Bed Bugs, as stated plainly on its website, is this:

We advocate a city-wide bed bug control plan and we believe that rational bed bug control policies can be modeled on the plans and strategies in development or already adopted in other cities.

Renee was contacted by P.J. Huffstutter, a reporter for the L.A. Times, and agreed to interview with Huffstutter for an upcoming article about the spread of bed bugs in Cincinnati.  Renee is something of an expert about bed bug policy, you see, and she and her comrades at New York vs. Bed Bugs have amassed a wealth of information– available to the public, free of charge, on the organization’s website– about policies that cities have adopted to control the spread of bed bugs.  Cincinnati is one of those cities; Cincinnati’s Joint Bed Bug Task Force is heavily emphasized on the New York vs. Bed Bugs website because it is a brilliant example of the type of action Renee and her fellow advocates encourage the City of New York to take.

Renee was a great resource for P.J. Huffstutter.  Like I said, Renee has become something of an expert about policy to control the spread of bed bugs.  She and the other members of her organization have experienced bed bug infestations, and they have all– especially Renee– chosen to volunteer a lot of time and dedicate a lot of effort to helping their city and their fellow New Yorkers prevent the spread of bed bugs.

I spoke with Renee after her interview with Huffstutter.  She was excited about the upcoming L.A. Times article because she believed that it would help draw much-needed attention to the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Joint Bed Bug Task Force.  She told me that she shared a lot of important information with Huffstutter about the ways in which a city can take action to control the spread of bed bug infestations.  Renee told me she and Huffstutter discussed– at length– the stigma associated with bed bugs, and that Renee intentionally emphasized how critical it is for the public to understand that cleanliness has nothing to do with bed bugs.

Renee told me that she did not discuss her personal experience with bed bugs– which ended a long time ago– with Huffstutter because she wanted to be clear about her role in New York vs. Bed Bugs and because she wanted to be clear about the function of the organization as a whole.  Renee’s role is that of a policy advocate.  The function of the organization is policy advocacy.  Members of the organization spend their time researching and writing and interviewing– working!– to advocate policy to control the spread of bed bug infestations in New York City.  They do not provide online support, nor do they discuss or encourage discussion about dealing with bed bug infestations.

Here is what P.J. Huffstutter chose to write about Renee Corea and New York vs. Bed Bugs in More bedbugs are biting in Cincinnati, in the National News section of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times:

Renee Corea has battled the bugs in her New York apartment for months but shies away from talking to friends about the details. “My home is clean. It’s always been clean,” said Corea, who helps run the online support and policy advocacy group “I have lost a lot of belongings because of this. The whole experience was emotionally draining and exhausting. It still is.”

And here is what Renee Corea chose to write in response to the article:

I spoke to P.J. Huffstutter of the Los Angeles Times for this story and must clarify and correct the statements attributed to me, from a familiar position of regret. I am not still fighting a bed bug infestation, although other members of our group certainly are, and for much longer than anyone should. My bed bug infestation was in the end, long ago, finally eradicated by a good NYC pest control company.

I would not ever defensively speak about home cleanliness because I know, better than most, that such statements increase the stigma of bed bugs.  The shame and stigma of bed bugs, their perennial association with poverty and filth, make everything about bed bugs more difficult.

I don’t like to talk about my own bed bug experience because a) it was an unhappy one, and b) it detracts from the work that we are doing. This article confirms it. The reporter and I spoke about numerous policy questions, the difficulties of ascertaining the scope of the problem in urban areas, the good work being done in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and the various challenges posed by infestations. But my personal experience with bed bugs, or more precisely my unwillingness to talk about it, clearly trumped all of that.

Renee, I commend you for responding with such dignity and eloquence.  I commend you for responding without anger or contempt.  I commend you for agreeing to interview with Huffstutter in the first place, because, as the article clearly demonstrates, it’s easy to get good and burned when we give someone the power to manipulate our words and use them as they choose.  It takes a lot of courage to do that– to put yourself out there, for better or for worse, and to take a gamble that it turns out to be for better– especially in cases such as this, when the details of your work and your mission and your private life are in the hands of someone who has the power to manipulate those details and use them as they choose in a national news publication.

It’s a shame that P.J. Huffstutter chose to exclude from her article all the valuable information about policy to control bed bug infestations that Renee Corea offered up to her.  It’s a shame that Huffstutter chose to portray Renee and New York vs. Bed Bugs as she did.  It’s a shame, all of it, except one thing:

Any publicity– good, bad, or ugly– is good publicity.  Here’s hoping that people all across the country are reading the L.A. Times article, and are making their way over to New York vs. Bed Bugs to see what this Renee Corea is up to.  If nothing else, P.J. Huffstutter contributed to the spread of good information about bed bugs simply by attracting the attention of the public to a website that’s overflowing with expert interviews and professional research and scientific data and document after document about existing public policy, all related to controlling the spread of bed bugs.  I guess this is a good example of what it means to “take one for the team,” isn’t it?  In this case, Renee took one for the cause.  And her fellow advocates here at Chicago vs. Bed Bugs really, really appreciate it.


2 Responses to “L.A. Times Article: Taking One for the Cause”

  1. Thanks for sticking up for me, Jessica. You don’t know how much I appreciate it. I could tell you, but then your head would explode. Thanks for being there for me.

  2. Jessica said

    Renee, you are quite welcome. It was the right thing to do. Period.

    *We are all in this together*

    P.S. I think my head exploded when I read this article. It’s probably best that we don’t risk it happening twice in twenty-four hours, for any reason, good or bad.


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