Summer ends, politicians rail, schools open (except in Chicago, where the highest-paid teachers in the nation go on strike in defiance of mighty Rahm), debts mount, the economy staggers, and Village Voice Media continues to pimp daily and by the thousands the bodies of fourteen year old children on backpage.com.
But not without notice. A steadily-rising tide of nausea encroaches on their perimeter. Protests in the media, from state and national public officials (including 48 state attorneys general), on the streets, and from civic organizations are slowly taking their toll. Most recently, advertisers (of a more mainstream and respectable stripe) have begun withdrawing their business in increasing numbers.
We first began following the curious behavior of Village Voice Media and the Village Voice when it published a series of slanders asserting that one Bruce McMahan, a prominent hedge fund manager and a highly-respected philanthropist, had married his own daughter — in Westminster Abbey, no less. Subsequent investigation by The Daily Cannibal revealed that the whole thing was an out-and-out extortion plot on the part of McMahan’s ex-wife and said daughter, in which the Voice was either an unwitting dupe — hard to believe, given the flimsiness of the “evidence” — or simply completely indifferent to whatever pain it might inflict on an innocent victim and his family, as long as it sold ads.
And at Village Voice Media, ads are all that matter. The company had already been convicted and fined $24 million for its illegal attempts to ruin its competitors in San Francisco. But that was before Mssrs. Larkin and Lacy, the twin Sith Lords behind Village Voice Media, discovered the mother lode — online child prostitution.
The McMahan debacle pales in comparison. We were appalled by the viciousness of this single attempt at character assassination, and the horror it could visit on one family. But McMahan was not the helpless pushover the Voice usually victimizes, and the whole sorry episode ended reasonably happily, in a sense. After years of litigation, a NY State Supreme Court justice awarded McMahan complete custody of their two young children, restricted his ex-wife’s access to the children to a couple of hours a week, and, even then, only under strict supervision (including telephone calls), required the wife to undergo mandatory weekly counseling, and, in a wonderful kind of closing flourish, dismissed the Voice’s stories with a single sentence: “These allegations lack a credible basis.”
Way back when we first got wind of the McMahan story, we smelled a rat, and when we started looking around, found three. In our view, this was about as bad as it could get. An accurate recap of the whole thing might go:
First rat: A pretty Ukrainian emigre in London meets an older, very wealthy man, and marries him. After extracting several hundred thousand dollars from him with a tangled story involving the restoration of a church in her home town, her fib is discovered, and a separation of rapid and unpleasant nature is effected by the defrauded husband.
But a new actress, Linda Shutt, entered the picture, in the form of a “long lost daughter,” who shows up on McMahan’s doorstep with similar intentions — working her way into Daddy’s good graces with an eye towards a life of comfort and ease. Her serial misadventures with various married employees of Daddy’s staff bring her to the attention of his human resources staff, who finally advised him that his daughter was lending new dimensions to the term “sleeping around.” He tried on at least two occasions to dissuade her from these adventures, but finally was left with no recourse but to ask her to leave his employ. This resulted in a great deal of unpleasantness, threats and demands for cash in return for “silence”, in which it shortly became clear that while she may have had the morals of an alley cat, her appetite was more in line with that of a Bengal tigress. Rat number two.
Third rat: the Village Voice itself. After Elena and Linda threatened to go to the media with their improbable and in many ways hilarious mixture of fables and fairy tales (Westminster Abbey? Really?) McMahan, in the tradition of strong-willed people not unaccustomed to bluster and threats, told them to “publish and be damned.” It seemed to him to be beyond possibility that any repsonsible media organization would buy such a wagonload of cotswollop. And he was right. Not one did. What he did not figure on was the Village Voice.
The Village Voice, once the vanguard of progressive thought, had fallen on hard times, and was near to closing. But Lacy and Larkin, owners of the then-captioned New Times Media, had an idea that the future lay in online advertising. Craigslist had pointed the way, and Larkin and Lacy had ideas along similar lines. But one of the dirty little secrets of online advertising — like “surfing the web” — was the very high concentration of what the bluenoses used to call “purient content.”
This did not particularly bother Larkin and Lacy. In fact, we suspect they welcomed it, and saw the makings of a bonanza. In fact, the nature and extent of this kind of advertising impelled Craigslist to drop its personal advertising altogether, as they preferred to forego its impressive revenue rather than endure the inevitable stigmata such practices would inflict.
But Larkin and Lacy bought the Village Voice for a song, fired almost every respected journalist it employed, reached down to the very bottom of the global editorial barrel and snatched someone named Tony Ortega out of the swaps of Broward County and installed him as the new Editor-in-Chief of the newly-configured Village Voice. And one of Ortega’s first moves was to reprint a story written by Kelly Cramer, a reporter at his previous employer, also a New Times media property, called “Daddy’s Girl,” as well as a follow up piece, “Daddy’s Dog.”
These stories presented the outlandish allegations concerning McMahan and his daughter, and got Ortega what he so badly craved — a huge audience. No other article he has published has come close to getting the readership these sweating bags of phlegm produced, but a swift survey of the comments on the online version will give some indication of the quality of that audience. Let it suffice to say that one of the least interesting aspects of the whole thing was the denial, sworn to under oath, of Elena McMahan that she ever spoke to the Voice or anyone associated with it, which is surprising, given that the second article was completely devoted to Kelly Cramer’s personal interview of Mrs. McMahan.
Ortega may have had dreams of media stardom, but further attention eluded him; the Voice readership sunk, and, in any event, Larkin and Lacy had other ideas. They couldn’t care less about the Village Voice and national media fame and fortune — there was no money in it. Their focus was on this whole online adverting thing.
And this is how the Village Voice went from being an American icon to a national disgrace in a matter of weeks. New Times Media became “Village Voice Media,” and with the Jolly Roger of the American progressive movement now flying from the standard of their corporate headquarters, Larkin and Lacy felt free to exploit the seamiest possible underbelly of American media — online prostitution, and, in particular, teenage prostitution.
The Voice is just a front. That’s all it was intended to be. Its costs have been slashed to the bone, its editorial staff annihilated, but behind it stands the single largest online purveyor of schoolchild sex slaves — its bashful little brother backpage.com.
Tony Ortega has emerged as the chief apologist for this sordid venture. His themes are:
1. The “problem” is vastly exaggerated by a sensationalist media. It’s not 40,000 kids a day — it’s actually much smaller than that. (Well, even granting that, and we don’t by any means, does this make pimping kids somehow acceptable?)
2. We spend millions “policing” our sites to avoid running illegal ads. (And you make an estimated $30 million a year on the ones that somehow manage to squeak through.)
3. We have a first amendment right to do this. (So did the Nazis in Skokie.)
4. I’m not associated with backpage.com. (No — its revenues just pay your salary and your bar tabs.)
5. Even if we suspended our “personal” advertising, someone else would do it. (Well, you ought to know. When Craigslist killed theirs, your revenues suddenly tripled. Get out of here with that. When was that ever an acceptable reason for swinish behavior?)
Ortega began his Voice career with personal character assassination for profit. Now he stands as the apologist for a national organization that defiles kids by the tens of thousands every day. That’s quite a step up by some measures — but in the days to come, we will be telling you in some detail about:
- how Village Voice Media has steadily ramped up its child prostitution advertising empire
- the current impressive size and scope of online child prostitution soliciting in the US
- the exponentially-rising tide of protest, activism and outrage at backpage.com and Village Voice media, and
- a new website that serves as a reference resource for all those who want more information about backpage.com, Village Voice Media and Tony Ortega. You’ll love the name.
In the mix will be some interesting features on other Voice misadventures, including a surprising and probably highly unwelcome (to some) revisit with Kelly Cramer, the author of the original two Bruce McMahan stories.
Stay tuned. Especially you, Tony. As the man said in the movie, “I ain’t done with you yet.”