Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Attorney General Rob McKenna are a bit of an odd couple in the debate over what to do about Backpage.com, the online classifieds operation owned by Village Voice Media, LLC (and used by the VVM LLC-owned Seattle Weekly).
Both the Democratic mayor and the Republican attorney general agree that there's a problem with underage sex trafficking on the site, and both cite law enforcement statistics to buttress their moral disapproval of the way Backpage's operators are behaving.
Also, they both clearly want voters to hear them speaking out on this issue. (Politically, it helps McKenna seem tough on crime and sensitive at the same time, while for McGinn it does the same with the added bonus of not being a conversation about a tunnel, a bicycle, or a budget cut.)
So on Tuesday, McKenna offered his latest public condemnation of Backpage, saying its written response to concerns expressed by himself and 50 other attorneys general was insufficient. Then on Wednesday, McGinn noted McKenna's announcement and added his own update.
While Backpage was busy responding to McKenna, McGinn said in a statement, "We recovered three female children who were being advertised for sex on Backpage.com. Rescuing children from being sexually exploited is a top priority for our police department, but we can never get ahead of this crime while a company like Backpage.com profits from the sexual exploitation of children and uses their newsrooms to minimize the extent of the issue. This is unacceptable. How many more children will be exploited for profit on Backpage.com before this company changes their policies?”
McKenna agrees: Unacceptable.
But here's where the two differ: The remedy.
McKenna wants Backpage to drop out of the escort ad business altogether. "The adult services section should be shut down,” McKenna said. “Prostitution disproportionately harms kids, runaways and former victims of child sexual abuse. It’s unfortunate that businesses like Backpage.com profit from that kind of exploitation.”
McGinn wants Backpage to institute more controls—mainly in-person age verification—to make sure that those placing escort ads aren't exploiting minors.
That's no small difference.
McKenna is making a sweeping demand that a private company get out of an entire line of advertising because of the potential damage associated with that advertising. Take that to its logical conclusion, and it's not hard to imagine McKenna making similar demands on all kinds of other purveyors of online classified ads.
McGinn is making a more targeted demand that a private company institute specific changes to limit the potential damage associated with a certain type of advertising. Take that to its logical conclusion and you have—well, a targeted demand for specific change.
One might say that in the distance between the demands of these two men, McKenna and McGinn, we see the difference between the conservative and liberal instinct.