Can Senator-Elect Harris Beat Backpage.com where AG Harris Couldn’t

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In October, California AG and US Senate candidate Kamala Harris filed charges against senior executives of Backpage.com, a leading online ad platform that some say carry as many as one million new ads a day promoting adult services, for running an online brothel.  The vast majority of sex ads for Backpage.com were allegedly promoting prostitution services and a number of ads were used to sell underage girls forced into sex trafficking.

What is Backpage.com?  It’s the world’s largest classified ad company with localized sites in more than 400 US cities and nearly 450 other cities worldwide.  Dawn Hawkins, executive director for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, is on record reporting that Backpage posts one million sex ads a day.  One million.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), 71% of all suspected child sex trafficking cases have some sort of connection to Backpage.com.

A federal judge, in October, ruled the site did not violate the Communications Decent Act which protects platforms like Backpage from liability about content posted by others.  This editorial in Sunday’s LA Times suggests the September order from now Senator-elect Kamala Harris was futile in going after the site last September.

From the editorial:

Law enforcement agencies — which have used Backpage’s ads repeatedly to identify and prosecute prostitutes, pimps and sex traffickers — have tried several times to shutter the company and jail its executives, only to have the charges thrown out in court. That’s because of the broad immunity Congress provided in 1996 to online services that publish content submitted by their users. Under a section of law known as the Communications Decency Act, interactive computer services are not liable for content they host online if it’s supplied by someone else. This protection is based on an important principle: Responsibility for illegal content should rest on the people who create it, not on a general-purpose sites used to distribute it.

Granted, Backpage’s critics aren’t so fond of the Communications Decency Act. In 2013, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and 46 other state attorneys general complained to Congress that the provision prevented state and local law enforcement officials from prosecuting companies like Backpage that profit from child sex trafficking. They urged lawmakers to repeal the part of the Communications Decency Act that provided immunity to state criminal laws, but the suggestion went nowhere.

That’s a good thing. Requiring online companies to scrutinize everything that their users post for compliance with umpteen ever-expanding state and local laws would impose a burden so daunting, it would effectively close the door to a wide range of online sites and services.

Instead, Congress amended federal law last year to make it illegal to advertise a commercial sex service or benefit from advertisements for such a service knowing (or recklessly disregarding the fact) that it involves a minor or a victim of human trafficking. According to the measure’s author, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), the goal was “to end facilitation of sex trafficking by websites like Backpage.com.”

In Southern California, Voice Media once owned by LA Weekly and OC Weekly and VoiceMedia derived as much as one seventh its revenue for years from Backpage.com.  So for years, all employees at these publications had a portion of their paycheck derived from the backs of sex trafficking victims — many under the age of 17.

Harris’ response to Backpage.com should now transition from the courts to the halls of Congress.  How successful she’ll be in carrying this ball with Republicans holding the House and the Senate is dicey at best.  Assuming she gets a bill passed through Congress, would this warrant a veto from President Trump?

This leads me to another point regarding election night.

OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano decided to take this blog and AnaheimBlog to task for a story both of us wrote about independently about a March 2016 letter drafted by Anaheim city council candidate Dr. Jose F. Moreno asking a judge for leniency for Moreno’s brother-in-law who was convicted on a number of charges stemming from domestic abuse.  The brother-in-law was sentenced to jail time.  OC Weekly writer Gabriel San Romain chimed in to criticize the blog stories as well, ignoring pages and pages of court statements and police reports that should make anyone sick to their stomachs, in order to criticize the PR firm that developed the news release that had significant documentation all because the firm once had ties to Anaheim city council member Jordan Brandman.

The weight of Moreno’s sister-in-law’s charges barely register with these two.

Gustavo writes:

2:46 P.M. And the award for the Most Pathetic Hypocrite in the 2016 local elections goes to a familiar CHAVALA rat face: Matt Cunningham, a long-disgraced blogger who’s still at it for the corporate interests that run (and are ruining) my hometown of Anaheim. They’re running scared this election, the first with district elections, so Matty published yesterday afternoon a slimer that his masters no doubt thought would torpedo their main antagonist: Anaheim District 3 city council candidate (and 2012 OC Scariest People) Jose F. Moreno. He was one of the plaintiffs that sued Anaheim into instituting district elections, a proud democratic socialist, and Mexican—everything Matty’s daddy, Curt Pringle, loathes.

Matty’s supposed scoop? Earlier this year, Moreno wrote to a judge requesting leniency in sentencing for his wife-beating brother-in-law. At the end of the story, Matty threw in a press release in which Moreno’s wife’s sister—the spousal-abuse victim—said she had just heard about Moreno’s candidacy and that she was “fearing for her safety,” along with police reports, letters, and the like substantiating her charges.

Only problem? The reveal was all a carefully orchestrated farce. The person that put out the press release works for Communications LAB, run by Rancho Santiago Community College District trustee Arianna Barrios, who just happens to be senior policy aide to councilwoman Kris Murray, a longtime opponent of Moreno and prime Pringle puppet. Barrios is listed as an endorser of Anaheim councilmember Jordan Brandman, Moreno’s main opponent. Her Communications LAB accepted $1,800 from Brandman earlier this year for “website/email services” on his laughable congressional campaign. Communications LAB also lists as one of its clients the Orange County Taxpayer’s Association, which just so happened to put out anti-Moreno mailers this election cycle, and Barrios’ firm has has previously done work for the Disneyland Resort, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Anaheim’s election funding mailers that have savaged Moreno.

But the biggest laugher about this latest anti-Moreno effort? Matty (and his ever-loyal seal, ostensible liberal blogger Dan Chmielewski, who also wrote about the issue, even writing “As I was drafting this, AnaheimBlog beat me to the story”—SURE they did…) went on and on about the horror of Moreno’s sins, with Matty asking “Why would Moreno request no jail time at all for someone with a history of violent, alcoholic domestic abuse?” Meanwhile, Dan wrote “I need a shower after reading the reports of abuse and the letter.”

Pots, meet kettles. Matty remains despised among survivors of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal because he stood by John Urell, a man who covered up for the Diocese of Orange’s pedophile priests for decades. Back in his OC Blog days, Matty openly asked why people weren’t leaving Urell alone, and Matty’s love for his priest was such that he ended up publishing an unredacted deposition that put out the names of survivors for the world to see, running the the shelter of Wylie Aiken’s son when he realized his fuckup. Somehow, this has never bothered Dan one bit—far from it, the two openly call each other friends and have previously worked on campaigns against a common Latino enemy.

Why wasn’t Matty and Dan asking for jail time for Urell back then? Because they’re sniveling CHAVALAS. And also completely ineffectual: if Moreno loses his race, it won’t be because of Matty and Dan’s posts: they’ve gone nowhere on social media. (GA)

For those who don’t know, Gustavo’s use of the word “CHAVALAS” suggests that Cunningham and I are…. “pussies.”

In comments, Gustavo asks why I never questioned where Cunningham got the unredacted court documents to begin with?  Because I’m likely to get an answer “none of your business.”  Journalists and bloggers are leaked a number of documents — sometimes anonymously and sometimes not.  When the Register was going through its troubles, Gustavo received a lot of information — anonymously or off the record.  Ask him who his sources were, go ahead.  He won’t tell you and no one who reports news and gets information from an anonymous source will reveal that source.  If I had a dollar for every anonymously crafted pitch that turned into nothing, I could afford a really nice vacation.  For the record, if Cunningham were to ask me who my source was on a story, I’d tell him to pound sand.

Whenever he writes about Cunningham, Arellano has to bring up how Cunningham posted unredacted court documents.  And that’s fair game I supposed.

But if you really want to express outrage at Cunningham’s actions then, that’s fine.  But that expression that people in glass houses not throwing stones applies.  The senior team at OCWeekly knew what Backpage.com was all about for some time.  Voice Media made tons of money from Backpage.com until 2012 when the publisher divorced themselves from the site. The New York Observer reported:

In the month after Craigslist closed its erotic services sections under pressure from Congress and state attorneys general, Backpage enjoyed a half-million-visitor bump in traffic, according to Quantcast, and became the No. 1 publisher of escort ads on the Internet. The Aim Group, a media consulting firm, estimated that in January, Backpage brought in $2.1 million in revenue from erotic services ads alone.

According to Adweek, nearly $29 million in revenue for Voice Media was brought in during the 12 months prior to the separation from Backpage in September 2012.

So go ahead and express outrage of Cunningham’s outing of underage victims of priest sexual abuse — something Cunningham apologized for.  And in the next breath, admonish Gustavo and the management team at the OC Weekly for taking a regular paycheck with 1/7th of it coming off the backs of sex trafficking victims for which no apology has even been issued.

 

 

  4 comments for “Can Senator-Elect Harris Beat Backpage.com where AG Harris Couldn’t

  1. Gustavo Arellano
    November 21, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    You think you’re Phil Jackson with your triangulation? You ain’t. It’s all good: the record will show you and Matty tagged-team on a story designed to take down Jose at the last moment, while the Weekly—a paper that has criticized Jose more than most—was the only publication to see right past y’all’s trick and call it for the sham that it was. PS, tell Arianna Barrios she brings shame to Jerez.

    • November 21, 2016 at 7:35 pm

      No, the record is I got an email from a young man at CommunicationsLab and read the release. I wrote my story very differently from Matt’s. Moreno’s sister-in-law came forward when she did. Sorry to burst your conspiracy theory bubble. But thanks for your reminder to contact Arianna Barrios. I owe her lunch for a lost bet on Syracuse-St. John’s basketball last year and don’t feel like doubling down this winter.

      Note, you never address BackPage.com once. Not. Once.

  2. junior
    November 23, 2016 at 9:02 am
  3. junior
    November 23, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Election year stunt – said so at the time.

    “Backpage and its executives are protected by federal law that shields website operators from legal responsibility for content posted by their users ..”

    Where have I heard that before …. hummm ….

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