The libertarian free-speech stalwarts of Reason magazine drop a video vivisection of the feds' case against Backpage and why it deserves to perish.
When it comes to freedom of speech in this country, who can you count on to defend it? Civil liberties organizations like the ACLU? The media? Big tech? The Democrats?
Oh, hell no.
Yet, libertarians of the brand embodied by Reason magazine consistently stand up for the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech, assembly, petition and the press, even when it involves speech that others fear to defend, such as sexual expression, which is always under attack by religious elements, self-serving moralists, anti-sex work feminists or some noxious aggregation of the above.
Reason‘s writers and editors have the courage of their convictions. They are unafraid to call BS on the hypocrisy of the U.S. government, the cynical campaigns of powerful politicians and activists, like John and Cindy McCain, or the entreaties of entrenched lobbies that claim to work for the oppressed, but instead are just another grift, what anthropologist Laura Agustin calls “the rescue industry.”
Reason magazine senior editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown and the mag’s award-winning filmmaker Paul Detrick have been reporting on the Backpage saga since its beginning, decrying the government’s vendetta against Backpage as a gross abuse of authority and prosecutorial power, and pointing out the larger ramifications for free speech, both online and off.
Their latest video collaboration, expertly produced by Detrick, centers on the government’s epic fail last month at the trial of former Backpage owners and lifelong journalists Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin.
“We don’t think it’s the government’s job to be telling us what to print, okay?” — Michael Lacey to Reason
On Sep. 14, federal Judge Susan Brnovich declared a mistrial just eight days into the proceedings, after the prosecution, led by the DOJ’s “obscenity” expert, Reggie Jones, repeatedly accused Backpage of involvement in child sex trafficking. (Brnovich recently reset the start date of a new trial to Feb. 9, 2022.)
That was a grotesque, steaming pant-load, one Jones repeated ad nauseam before the jury in his opening statement and in his questioning of witnesses.
Lacey and Larkin are not criminals. They owned a Craigslist-like website where people posted ads for all sorts of things, including legal adult services, such as escorts, erotic massage, striptease, and the like.
They are charged, not with sex trafficking, which involves minors engaged in commercial sex, or adults through force, fraud and coercion, but with something else entirely: facilitating misdemeanor state prostitution offenses in violation of the U.S. Travel Act.
You got it, prostitution, which is treated as a nuisance in most jurisdictions and involves consensual adult activity that most Americans believe should be legalized.
As a California cop, a witness for the prosecution, admitted under cross-examination during the government’s initial go-round, the vague language used in the adult ads on Backpage’s site involved legal speech. The cop conceded that he could not make a bust based on an ad alone, also the ad could have been for legal sexual activity — striptease, sex shows, etc.
Reason points out in its new video that, “Lacey and Larkin’s determination to fight all the way to the end is laying bare what Reason has been reporting for years: The government’s case against Backpage is a house of cards.”
Brown then weighs in on prosecutor Jones’ disastrous performance in court.
“The federal prosecutor Reggie Jones, who makes the opening statement, is just like, ‘Child sex trafficking! Child sex trafficking!'” she says. “Like just sort of harping on that. Not trying to tie anything he’s saying to specific allegations.”
Brown speculates that the defense will move to dismiss the case, but she thinks a dismissal is unlikely.
The mini-doc ends with a quote from Lacey, spoken like the First Amendment warrior he is:
“We don’t think it’s the government’s job to be telling us what to print, okay? And that’s just like, it’s not a start. There’s no discussion, you know?”
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- Backpage Trial: 4th Mistrial Motion Fails, Lacey Slimed, Prosecutors Say ‘Moderation, Bad’ - September 20, 2023