Let’s Take Out the Garbage, Like Tony Ortega

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the topic of “expertise.”

I have a friend I’m helping with her business, and she’s having a hard time promoting herself as an expert. She has a degree in her field, years of experience—lots of successful experience—and has even taught workshops that have been very well received. Still, she points to her own mentors and says, “That’s expertise.”

Oddly enough, in our society, the opposite is often true.

Expert book

I’ve met people with zero experience, very little study (even self-study) and no real knowledge of a topic, who yet call themselves experts. Sometimes they become very successful that way—you tell people you’re an expert enough and they might actually start to believe you!

Unfortunately (and appallingly) even our media will turn to such “experts” on topics about which the speaker has little to no experience firsthand. Some even have interests—honest or dishonest—that give them reason to provide incorrect data.

For example, you wouldn’t go to a Ford dealer to ask them about Toyotas. You probably wouldn’t even trust the Ford dealer, since he has a vested interest, or at the very least a conflict of interest.

What would you do instead?

If you really wanted to know about Toyotas, you would probably go check them out yourself. Take one for a test drive. Drive more than one model. Check out the specs and see if they meet your needs.

To take the analogy one step further, what about someone who did buy a Toyota, but had a bad experience? Well, you’d at least want to have that experience put in some context, right? Was it a manual transmission and they never learned to drive one? Was it a pickup truck and they really needed better gas mileage?

So I am amazed and more than a little confounded when someone is held up as an “expert” on a topic who really has no genuine, factual knowledge of the topic—like some of the supposed “experts” on Scientology, Tony Ortega being one of the more ludicrous of them.

Willing to Do Anything to Make a Buck

Some people will do anything for money. And I do mean anything.

The very bottom of the money-making barrel, in my mind, would be selling drugs or people. I don’t know whether Ortega has done the former, but he has definitely had a big hand in the latter.

While the exact numbers are not known, tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked in the United States. Unfortunately, human trafficking wasn’t a federal crime in the U.S. until the year 2000.

In 2018, the U.S. scored a major victory against human trafficking when it seized the website Backpage.com. Prior to that, according to FBI data, Backpage operated as a “Craigslist” for all kinds of illegal activity, especially human trafficking and the trafficking of children. Children were bought and sold across the country using Backpage as the “middle man.” Backpage got paid for each of those ads, reportedly making over $500 million on young girls like the one who was forced to perform sex acts at gunpoint, or a victim who jumped from a moving vehicle to escape her pimp, and got run over and killed.

Using people for profit is the M.O. of bullies and pimps like Ortega.

I spoke to an FBI agent on a human trafficking task force. She laid it out for me and said, “The bottom line is this: without people willing to pay for these services, human trafficking wouldn’t exist.”

The FBI went after Backpage to go directly after the people who paid for the use of other humans.

Who was at the helm, making money off the exploitation of those children?

Well, for about their biggest five years of operation, that was Tony Ortega.

As senior editor of The Village Voice from 2007-2012, Ortega promoted and defended Backpage. Human trafficking was already illegal when Backpage started in 2004, but it took years to put the case together for the Department of Justice to close it. Fortunately, shortly after he got ousted from The Village Voice, the DOJ won and Backpage closed. The Village Voice also found new ownership, having severed all ties with Ortega, as well as with its former parent company Voice Media Group (VMG).

So, a weekly alternative newspaper found new life after dumping Tony Ortega and Backpage. It’s an American success story.

Ideally, the rest of the world would also see Ortega’s garbage for what it is, and sever all ties with the man.

Garbage man
Photo by Paolo Bona/Shutterstock.com

No More Victimhood

I started down this road in honor of the #MeToo movement.

It’s time for the oppressed to refuse to be victims anymore. And that very much includes victims of trafficking and victims of bullying for profit, through supposed “expertise.” Using people for profit is the M.O. of bullies and pimps like Ortega.

Some people just seek to do harm. They stir up controversy, and when they can’t find it, they make it up. Then they make money off that “controversy,” regardless of the people who might get hurt along the way.

You’ve probably seen this, too. (You may even have been the victim of it yourself, which is the underlying connection in our “MeToo” hashtags.) You may have wondered: what can I do about it?

Well, you can stop listening to bitterness, lies and supposed “experts,” for starters. To go back to the car analogy, if you want to find out about Toyotas, you can talk to people who have driven one for a long time. You can test-drive one. If you make that your own M.O., you learn for yourself and put a stop to lies, misrepresentations and the pimping of the information age.

I’m advocating for taking out all the garbage, like Tony Ortega. 

Let’s stop letting people be used. 

A. E. Hansen
A.E. Hansen lives and writes in the drizzly Pacific Northwest, where the coffee is warm, if not the weather.