This morning, Mike Seely, editor of Seattle Weekly, went on KUOW to defend against the mayor's charges that Seattle Weekly, its affiliate Backpage.com, and their parent company Village Voice Media are minimizing the severity of the problem of child sex trafficking. (Back story here.)
On today's program, Mayor Mike McGinn reiterated that "there's a minimization of the problem that's occurring" and said that since 2010, the city has recovered 22 children from child prostitution "who we know were advertised through the Backpage.com site." He added that there are "stricter rules in place to prevent this" at Naughty Northwest, an adult site affiliated with The Stranger.
Seely called the issue of child prostitution "very serious" and said that Seattle Weekly and its parent company aren't minimizing the problem, but his defense... kind of sounded like it was minimizing the problem. He said that comparing Backpage.com to the likes of Naughty Northwest is "a little like comparing a freight train to a tricycle" because Backpage.com operates "in the United States and beyond," and that there are "logistical challenges" to reviewing 30 million ads on Backpage.com every year, 25 percent of which are adult advertisements. He likened reviewing those ads to checking ID for minors attempting to buy alcohol: "If it were 100 percent effective, you'd never have a minor buy a bottle of beer or get drunk in any bar anywhere."
Seely said that the problem of child sex trafficking has been overstated and that "when you overstate a situation, money and attention and too much heat goes to an issue. It's like taking a billy club and trying to just kill an ant. And what ends up happening is that very, very worthy causes end up getting short shrift."
Scher asked which causes were getting short shrift because officials were focusing on child sex trafficking and Seely said, "I don't know off the top of my head, but I mean there's plenty of problems the city deals with even in government that probably are more worthy of their fair share of attention rather than so much attention being focused on this problem. Which, again, is very serious."
Later, Seely said he believes Backpage does a service for law enforcement: "I believe that if you got rid of Backpage.com, you make law enforcement's problem that much harder. It's kind of like if you've got fruit flies in your house. Are you more effective running around the house clapping at them and trying to get rid of them, or putting out a bowl of fruit and attracting them? That's what it boils down to."
McGinn said that he was "taken aback by the suggestion that we should encourage criminal activity to make it easier to catch criminals."
You can listen to the debate here.