Backpage: Like Rats Fleeing a Sinking Ship

“They love to inflate the numbers by talking about children ‘at risk’ of exploitation.”

That was how Backpage boss Michael Lacey characterized the work of the experts at the Crimes Against Children Research Center on the subject of child sex trafficking. In that statement, Lacey highlights his callous indifference to suffering victims and blinding concern for his own self-interest. If there were any question about Larkin and Lacey’s desire to help authorities put out the fire Backpage started, let this quote serve as a reminder to their true state of mind on the subject.

Lacey claimed it was ‘fear-mongering in the interest of fundraising’ that motivated activists and politicians because, in his mind, it was only ever all about the money.

It was tantamount to saying ‘anyone speaking up for child sex trafficking victims is lying for personal gain, just like we are’.

Is it any wonder then that immediately thereafter Tony Ortega over at the The Village Voice began to run articles declaiming the ‘fishy data’ on child sex trafficking, parroting this same ‘we’re the real victims here’ his bosses spoon fed him?

James Larkin tried desperately to give the illusion he was playing nice with the authorities—at least until he and Lacey could cash out. Backpage, their crown jewel, had begun causing too many headaches as it became clearer that Tony Ortega’s propaganda push to shove Lacey and Larkin’s ‘Backpage as victim’ narrative down its throat wasn’t working.

It was then they became like rats fleeing a sinking ship. They wanted out. And fast.

Initially it seemed that Backpage would be the easier business to unload. By September 2011, a private-equity firm focused on “out-of-favor industries” had agreed to buy it for $150 million. But the deal fell apart after the National Association of Attorneys General announced an investigation of Backpage.

Needless to say Larkin and Lacey hit the roof. The loophole they had long used to evade authorities, Section 230, provided that websites could be prosecuted only under federal criminal law. Lacey and Larkin considered a state-level investigation an ‘extralegal’ personal affront.

The following fall, Lacey and Larkin sold their beloved alt-weeklies to a group of their own editors for just over $32 million, about 8 percent of what the chain had been valued at only a few years before. (Even this amount was later negotiated down, after the buyers defaulted.)

In a farewell letter, Lacey (apparently without irony) wrote that the reason they were leaving was to carry on their jihad “over the First Amendment, free speech on the Internet and Backpage.”

Today we can see this for exactly what it was: just another of their lies, dressed up in their tired ‘tough guy’ shtick to make it appear they weren’t being run out of town on a rail once their scheme had been exposed.

The lawsuits were coming. They could see the writing on the wall. And Lacey, Larkin and Tony Ortega were all running scared.

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