The Phoenix New Times champions itself as an advocate for the oppressed. It turns out the paper also has a history of oppression, or at least making money from it. At least according to prosecutors in California and a congressional investigation. The story is finally being told. It just took a while.
Until recently, it was an underreported fact that New Times founders Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin launched the now infamous Backpage as a section of the New Times. Indeed, when the New Times was in its heyday gunning after mostly conservative targets, it was making some serious coin from the Backpage.
It has never been a secret that the Backpage made a substantial amount of money advertising “Adult Services.” It has been consistently alleged that some of the ads tragically involved pimps and underage girls. That, one could say, would be the ultimate oppression.
In 2011, the parent company for the New Times and the Backpage started taking heat for this practice, which led to this article in the Village Voice called “Real Men Get Their Facts Straight.” The article criticized a campaign to deal with sex trafficking by disputing figures and making sport of its spokesman Ashton Kutcher.
Lacy and Larkin would later sell their journalistic enterprises and retain Backpage. Its current ownership is the subject of debate but Lacey and Larkin’s ties to it must be strong enough that criminal charges and congressional investigations have been brought against the duo. The criminal charges were later dropped but Backpage suspended its adult section in January. And when Lacey and Larkin recently found themselves in the legal crosshairs, their former employee, New Times Columnist Steve Lemons dutifully wrote in their defense.
But something unexpected has happened. Traditional media outlets and Arizona reporters started covering this story. Richard Ruelas’ recent article didn’t pull any punches. Here is a link.
And then some student journalists from Cronkite News covered political contributions Lacey and Larkin have been making. Here is a link.
Lemons has left the New Times to work for the Southern Poverty Law Center. His victory lap following Joe Arpaio’s loss in the polls was anything but humble. But Mr. Lemons should be humbled by his consistent support for his former bosses who made millions operating Backpage. Sure it’s a free speech issue; but how could Lemons not have been troubled by the allegation that Backpage was used to pimp women and underage girls.
Likewise the Arizona Republic should be humbled by the fact that it took this long to shine a spotlight on what has been a very dark side of the New Times’ storied history in Arizona and the fact that it took two student journalists to make the political connection.
And finally, the New Times needs to atone for the potential past sins of its founders. For years the people who cashed a paycheck from Lacey and Larkin must have known that some of those dollars had some tragic if not illegal origins.
There is hope. A New Times article penned by Sean Holstege recently acknowledged the Backpage’s role in drumming up business for a local brothel. Here is the link. The creative writing and style that the New Times is known for is there. Absent is the snarky denial and rationalization over the practice of selling women on Backpage.