Turning a Blind Eye

Frequent readers of this blog will know by now the sordid unprofessional history of Tony Ortega. Between 2011 and July 2012, Tony Ortega, then Editor-in-Chief of the Village Voice, launched a biased oppo-research campaign on organizations and individuals who attempted to report on sex trafficking in the United States.

Clearly Ortega was tasked by his employers, James Larking and Michael Lacey, to do damage control against the numerous accusations being levied against Backpage.com. Unsurprisingly, Ortega obediently complied.

In fact, on July 6, 2011, Ortega wrote:

“A small group of political activists is quite ready to provide the answer. In the second decade of the 21st century, we are being told that there’s a widespread, growing, and out-of-control problem to fear in our country. And it has a catchy name: “trafficking.”

“In cities across America, we are told over and over, like a mantra, that “100,000 to 300,000” underage sex slaves have been stashed away from public view, with more joining them every day. It’s a problem growing so quickly that the United States soon will be no better than Moldova or Nepal in regard to child sex trafficking. Why go to the third World looking for this nightmare when our cities and suburbs are bursting with children in bondage?

“The actual data behind this “epidemic” is wanting in the extreme. It involves guesses by activist professors, junk science by nonprofit groups trying to extract money from Congress, and manipulation by religious groups hiding their real agendas about sex work. And one of the most visible enablers in this national fantasy has been young CNN reporter Amber Lyon.

“Seven years ago, the people I work for were smart enough to start Backpage.com, a competitor to Craigslist. While other newspapers were doing little more than publicly condemning Newmark for the way Craigslist has, for years, eaten into their classified ads revenue, we decided to fight back. That’s just how we operate.

“Backpage.com has since inherited some of the adult business that left Craigslist. The Village Voice itself has been taking such ads since the mid-1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, the adult business was a large part of the paper. Today, it’s a smaller presence in the print edition, and the Voice‘s website has no adult advertising—that business appears only at Backpage.com.

We’ve spent millions of dollars putting in place strict policies and monitoring services to make sure that it is only adults finding each other through Backpage.com‘s adult pages. Not only do we have security specialists making constant searches for keywords that might indicate an underage user, but we’re quick to cooperate with law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children when we find suspicious ads.”

Not long after Ortega’s ridiculous defense of the indefensible, New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof wrote that he was dismayed by how misleading the Voice piece was. Having seen the paper go after other Backpage.com critics like CNN’s Amber Lyon and celebrity activist Ashton Kutcher, however, he was anything but surprised.

Needless to say, this did not deter Ortega in the slightest from his campaign to defend Backpage at all costs. Indeed, on June 29, 2011, he levied his position as editor to publish a piece in the Village Voice ridiculously entitled, “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight”:

“Congress hauled in Craigslist on September 15, 2010. There, feminists, religious zealots, the well-intentioned, law enforcement, and social-service bureaucrats pilloried the online classified business for peddling “100,000 to 300,000” underage prostitutes annually. Those same numbers had already inspired terrified politicians, who let loose hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade to prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession. The Craigslist beat-down was absurdist theater. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking” culminated with the humbled attorneys from Craigslist announcing that they would close down their adult classified business. The First Amendment was shouted down in the name of children. Village Voice Media watched with more than passing interest. From its earliest days, the Village Voice has run adult classifieds. Today, those classifieds are hosted online at Backpage.com. Having run off Craigslist, reformers, the devout, and the government-funded have turned their guns upon Village Voice Media. Solicited by advocates, such websites as Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and others in the mainstream media raised the alarm that America’s children have been enslaved in prostitution, thanks to the Internet. It is true that Village Voice Media has a stake in this discussion. But the facts speak for themselves.”

Tony Ortega makes no secret he is (and remains) a staunch advocate for the Backpage. What is truly disturbing, however, is the conspiracy of individuals standing in the shadows behind him who knew exactly what Ortega was up to, yet turned a blind eye the many lives destroyed by Ortega and his employers.

It is worthwhile to name and shame a few of those complicit through their silence:

Arielle Silverstein

Karen de la Carriere

Jeffrey Augustine

Leah Remini

Mike Rinder

Amy Scobee

Mark Bunker

Rod Keller

Paul Haggis

Marc Headley

Aaron Smith-Levin

How many times have these individuals spoken a single word against Backpage? How many times they have supported the victims of child prostitution? How many of them pressed Ortega for answers on these crimes after he went silent once he was fired from the Village Voice or paid to keep his mouth shut?

Those whose lives were ruined by the reckless greed of Tony Ortega and his employers deserve an answer.

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