Backpage Vs Feds: An Inside Glimpse “Civil Libertarians of the Year” Part IV

Last week we took an insider’s look at two sex peddlers behind the online trafficking empire known as Backpage.

Today we continue our deep dive into the perverse path Backpage blazed without a thought to the host of victims it would leave in its wake to become the undisputed worldwide heavy-weight champion of human sex trafficking.

James Larkin had decided early on in his partnership with Michael Lacey that the fasted way to set their scheme in motion was to concentrate maximum effort on expanding their advertising market, specifically through increasingly risqué sex ads in the site’s personal’s section.

And in this he more than exceeded expectations. Larkin kept the money coming in, embracing each new fad in sexually explicit classified advertising. In 1989, for example, the New Times group launched its first adult section, then appropriately dubbed Wildside. (The ads, they brazenly claimed, were ‘closely’ moderated by sales staff to ensure no sex-for-money propositions that might raise red flags for authorities made it into print.)

And without question, the racy ads fueled the company’s explosive growth exponentially.

By the close of 2001, Lacey and Larkin owned 11 papers, which raked in more than $100 million a year. But the “good times” were not to last long. Craigslist had begun expanding into cities outside the Bay Area, offering free ads in all categories except jobs and erotic services. Larkin and Lacey’s classified revenue tanked as a result.

Then, in 2003, Larkin was approached by Carl Ferrer, an ad salesman he’d hired away from a small paper in Louisiana and installed as classified ad director at the Dallas Observer. Ferrer, a short, emaciated man with a goatee and a perpetual look of fear in his eyes, proposed that they create an in-house version of Craigslist.

Larkin put him in charge of building and running the website, which launched in 2004. It was the birth of the official Backpage experiment in human misery.

The following year, Lacey and Larkin landed the ‘white whale’ of alt-weekly newspapers—The Village Voice— which they’d been chasing for years.

When the New Times group merged with Village Voice Media, the two companies formed a 17-paper mega-chain valued at roughly $400 million, with an estimated $180 million in annual revenue.

Needless-to-say, Lacey and Larkin, the pair Tony Ortega would later laud as “the men smart enough to start Backpage”, could not have timed their ill-fated purchase any worse.

According to the Pew Research Center, between 2006 and 2012, American news papers lost more than half their advertising revenue.

Backpage, however, grew steadily, even if it wasn’t nearly enough to offset the failing papers’ declining receipts.

To this day, Lacey and Larkin make the bald-face claim they were advised by counsel that what Backpage was doing in promoting prostitution was 100 percent legal. Blinded by their greed and their insensitivity to the suffering of others, they stubbornly maintain their work to help spread sex trafficking around the globe was all protected speech and that all of it was ‘mission-critical’ to the keeping their shady operation in business.

Many saw the lie for what it was, but a few fell for it hook, line and sinker. In 2008, for example, they were honored by the Arizona chapter of the ACLU as “Civil Libertarians of the Year”. In his acceptance speech, Lacey decried “the gentrified instincts of soccer moms,” which led ‘demagogues’ to crack down on the ‘press freedoms’ he’d arrogated to himself. He vowed that both he and Larkin would continue to oppose these “forces of offended decency” wherever they found them, whatever the cost.

Even today, Tony Ortega’s sleazy bosses remain defiant. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” Lacey declares. “I didn’t do what they say. And if they think they’re gonna punk me, they got the wrong fucking guy.” But as we will continue to demonstrate tomorrow when our story of the Federal Government’s case against Backpage continues, nothing could be further from the truth.

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