Was the New York Times Tone-Deaf in Reporting Matthew Camp's Arson Attack?

Sunday January 24, 2021

Matthew Camp on the steps of his Poughkeepsie home that was recently destroyed in an arson attack
Matthew Camp on the steps of his Poughkeepsie home that was recently destroyed in an arson attack  (Source:Instagram/Matthew Camp)

Was the New York Times tone-deaf in reporting the arson attack on adult male performer's home last week?

Matthew Camp, its owner, thinks so and struck back at the Times in social media: "@nytimes please stop with these sensationalist headlines," he wrote on his Instagram story over an image of the actual piece. "Someone tried to kill me and it's all about 'Halloween houses'".

In a story published on January 19 with the headline "Church of Satan's 'Halloween House," the focus is on the colorful history of the Poughkeepsie, NY house, not the attempt on the life of its owner and its implications.

When asked by the local newspaper the Poughkeepsie Journal why he thinks his house was targeted, he said: "It's 2021, so pick any topic and you'll find all kinds of internet hatred about it," the 36-year-old actor, model and adult performer said. "I am a very open and public gay man, and open about my career as an OnlyFans content creator — along with the political climate, and the perception of the house as 'haunted' or 'witchy' — it could go in any direction to receive hate."

There is no such quote from Camp or the term "hate crime" mentioned in the Times, instead it is mostly about the house's past. While a similar piece in the Poughkeepsie Journal headlines with: "Halloween house: Owner Matthew Camp calls Poughkeepsie fire 'apparent hate crime'".

Instead the Times writes the crime's aftermath with:"Now local Church of Satan members are mourning the loss of their main gathering place, a local landmark known variously as the Halloween House, the House of Netherworld and the Witch House."

Nor is any of the talk of "Satan" as sinister as it sounds. "Despite its name, the Church of Satan is not based on Devil worship, members said, but on an atheist philosophy emphasizing individualism, liberty and self-fulfillment," writes the Times.

Screenshot from Matthew Camp's Instagram stories on the New York Times story about the recent arson attack on his home  

The house's former owner was the late Joseph Mendillo, "a popular local figure and a priest in the Church of Satan known as Joe Netherworld. Mr. Mendillo, a retired stage prop designer, had cultivated the house as an exotic homage to the campy filmmaker Ed Wood, who was born in Poughkeepsie."

While he decorated the house — described by the Times as looking like "a set from the 1960s sitcom 'The Addams Family'" — as a homage to the late, closeted gay actor Vincent Price, it was more of a welcoming place for members of Poughkeepsie's LGBTQ community.

"The house became a social center for the local gay community, and Mr. Mendillo's annual Winter Frolic parties attracted quirky characters from the neighborhood and from other states, Mr. Camp told the Times.

"All these misfits would gather in the home and share stories," said Mr. Camp, adding that it was not uncommon to walk in and see Mr. Mendillo serving a meal to a group of transgender homeless people."

Mr. Mendillo's house became something of the center of Poughkeepsie's Witchcraft District — a slice of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., popular with members of the Church of Satan, writes the Times.

"Outside, the 120-year-old house was painted dark green with purple embellishments and copper ornamentation. Inside, the décor was "decrepit luxury" and full of Victorian furniture and kitschy décor, Mr. Camp said. There was a red ballroom, candelabras, a rotating chandelier, an Elvira pinball machine and respectable tiki cup collection."

"It wasn't necessarily a Satanist house — it was Joe's house," Mr. Camp said. It was a place where Mr. Mendillo enjoyed meeting with like-minded atheists not for Devil worship but to enjoy a cocktail.

"Joe used to say, 'I'm too gay for the Satanists and too Satanist for the gays," Mr. Camp said.
The colorful history of the Times story appears to miss the point: that an adult male performer's house was deliberately destroyed, he nearly lost his life, and it is likely a hate crime.

There is no mention of the YouFundMe page put up by Camp's friends and its contents in the Times. Or any mention of its Instagram he posted with a photo of the house burning down with text: "An arsonist poured gasoline on the front porch of my home and set it on fire in an apparent hate crime. I was asleep inside. I am alive to face this person one day but everything I have ever owned is gone. Share this story because queer people are still under attack all over the world. Our voices will not be silenced.

"Right now I'm just living day to day trying to piece together what's left. If you are able to help theres a link in my bio. Thank you for the love and support and continued fight to keep our queer families safe."

The Times piece has all the dots (arson attack, gay adult male performer, gay history of the house) but do not connect the dots. They quote the Poughkeepsie police, who say "have no idea what the motive is," and "are still investigating and trying to identify the person in the video." But don't ask them the obvious question: do they believe it was a hate crime against an adult male performer?

For more on Camp's GoFundMe page, click here.

Comments on Facebook