For immediate release

July 13, 2019

Backpage Enabler Tony Ortega Skates on Thin Ice

“Here is an example of someone who directly is involved in a business that directly sells girls and boys and others and are human trafficking victims, and I am sick of it.”

That impassioned comment from the head of an anti-human trafficking organization, published in 2011 in a California university newspaper, the Daily Titan, could have been aimed at any of several key executives connected to The Village Voice and its notorious sex trafficking feature, Backpage.com.

Students of Cal State Fullerton protesting against Ortega when he came there to speak

Indeed, two of the principals involved in The Village Voice and Backpage, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, are among those now facing a multitude of federal charges, with a trial scheduled for May 2020.

Like one oversized mudball, any action against Lacey, Larkin and their key cohorts would seemingly be inseparable from Ortega, their chief apologist and defender.

The comment about trafficking in girls and boys, however, was not aimed at Lacey and Larkin, but at a third man about to speak at the university who has somehow dodged and evaded all responsibility for the crimes spawned by Backpage, Tony Ortega, longtime Editor-in-Chief of the Voice.

Like one oversized mudball, any action against Lacey, Larkin and their key cohorts would seemingly be inseparable from Ortega, their chief apologist and defender.

Lacy, Larkin and Ortega share a long record. Ortega was hired by the Phoenix New Times, owned by Lacey and Larkin, in 1995. After Lacey and Larkin acquired The Village Voice, they made Ortega its Editor-in-Chief in 2007.

Turning the Voice, winner of three Pulitzers, over to Ortega was not unlike turning Sansa Stark over to Ramsay Bolton—nothing good was going to happen.

Indeed, Nat Hentoff, the iconic journalist who had written for the publication since 1958 and was revered as “The Voice of the Voice,” was among the many staff terminations. In 2008, Ortega fired Hentoff via telephone but the news was public. “I’m 83 and a half,” Hentoff told The New York Times. “You’d think they’d have let me go silently.”

But respect for others is certainly not the Ortega way. Indeed, one of his passions at the Voice became supporting Backpage.com and painting a false picture about the brutal consequences of its thinly veiled (at best) ads. While examples abound, these quotes from a 2011 article show the Doberman role he enjoyed, savaging a CNN reporter who had exposed lives destroyed by child sex trafficking. Note his use of “we” in these examples.

“The whole point of Backpage.com is that we aren’t involved after two consenting adults find each other through the community bulletin board….”

“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.”

Backpage.com website as it exists today

The federal indictment states: “BACKPAGE DEFENDANTS have utilized a variety of strategies to make it appear that the prostitution ads appearing on Backpage are actually ads for ‘escort’ services, ‘adult’ companionship, dating, or other lawful activities. For example, Backpage purports to bar customers from offering illegal services and has periodically used computerized filters and human ‘moderators’ to edit the wording of (or block) ads that explicitly offer sexual services in return for money. … These strategies are a fiction designed to conceal the true nature of Backpage’s ads and customers. … The BACKPAGE DEFENDANTS have taken pains to mislead the public, regulators, and law enforcement officials concerning the supposed sincerity of Backpage’s efforts to prevent the publication of prostitution-related ads. …”

In the next paragraph of the indictment, it states, “Many of the ads published on Backpage depicted children who were victims of sex trafficking. Once again, although Backpage has sought to create the perception that it diligently attempts to prevent the publication of such ads, the reality is that Backpage has allowed such ads to be published while declining—for financial reasons—to take necessary steps to address the problem.”

“Ortega was instrumental in creating and perpetuating that false perception, and to prolong the abuses perpetrated by Backpage,” said Edward Parkin, STAND’s International Director. “Children were forced into lives of sexual slavery through Backpage. For the sake of the many victims, including those who were murdered, all involved must be brought to justice.” 

Take Action

COMBAT HATE SPEECH
& DISINFORMATION

If you have encountered hate speech and disinformation online, in the media, or in any public venue, take action by reporting it here.

PROMOTE
FREEDOM OF RELIGION

Urge adoption of the Charter on Journalistic Ethics in Relation to Respect for Religion or Belief. Make your voice heard.

ABOLISH DISCRIMINATION
OF ANY KIND

The first step in fighting intolerance and discrimination is raising awareness. Report discrimination of any kind to STAND here

Sign Up for Updates