Wag the Dog: How to Change the Conversation from Dirty Politics to Sex

There’s no denying it. I was a horrible baseball player as a kid. In my last season, I had one hit—an incredibly lucky double to deep centerfield. I got picked off shortly after reaching third base.

The only other thing I remember about that season was a near fistfight between opposing managers. One man got the upper hand in a debate about something, maybe balls and strikes, and the other manager decided to deflect. He changed the subject and told his adversary that he was nothing more than a pimp, loud enough for everyone in the stands to hear. It was a risky move, but the inflammatory accusation redirected every player and parent’s attention away from the game, as one manager now found himself on the defensive.

A similar attempt to obfuscate and discredit is now taking place in the local press, only the teams in this spat involve a weekly newspaper and a collection of political entities/aspirants intent on silencing free speech under the pretense of endangered children.

County prosecutor Chuck Gillingham Jr., son of the former county sheriff, called a press conference Wednesday accusing Metro of being an accomplice to prostitution and underage sex trafficking. Noting an online classified site, Backpage.com, that is linked through Metro’s URL—the newspaper has a licensing agreement with the site but no control over the content—Gillingham explained that there are “pictures of women exposing their privates, and making very obvious what they will and won’t do.” In addition to escort ads, Backpage also has real estate ads, cars for sale and job listings—more than 38,000 jobs at last count.

Saying he was speaking as a public citizen, and not in his official capacity, Gillingham doubled down by adding that Metro is responsible for a countless number of children who have been forced into prostitution.

The reason the number is countless? Well, as Gillingham knows in his gig as a prosecutor of gangs and formerly working sexual assaults, it’s hard to build a case without evidence. Nobody at the press conference bothered to submit a single shred of proof that Metro has had any role in underage sex trafficking.

Gillingham brought along LGBT activist and San Jose State professor/counselor Wiggsy Siversten to back up his claims. One can only speculate that her presence was required because a 6-foot-5 block of a man talking about how he’s been scouring the net for young naked women in classified ads lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

So what’s really happening? On the heels of a number of investigative reports Metro and San Jose Inside have conducted over the last year, from George Shirakawa Jr. to this week’s Family Health Fiasco, it seems certain political factions—generally aligned with organized labor—have started a campaign to retaliate and change the discussion.

Gillingham, who is rumored to be a possible candidate in the 2014 District Attorney’s race, has refused to talk about his interest in the job. He also denied that Wednesday’s press conference had anything to do with payback for Metro’s reports on Cindy Chavez. Gillingham did, however, recently sit down for lunch with Government Attorneys Association (GAA) president Max Zarzana and GAA treasurer Kevin Smith. The GAA, which employs political consultants Tom Saggau and Dustin DeRollo, has stepped up its rhetoric in recent months in a clash over administrative leave time granted by DA Jeff Rosen

Contacted via text message Friday, Gillingham refused to talk about his lunch with Smith and Zarzana, the latter of whom abruptly canceled an interview with Metro last week and now refuses to meet.

But just two days after Gillingham held court at Bellevue Park, Jim Unland, president of the San Jose Police Officers Association, jumped into the fray and wrote a column calling Metro and me out for “questioning” Gillingham and Siversten. Leaving aside the fact that reporters tend to ask questions, Unland—whose union also employs Saggau and DeRollo—blamed Metro for human trafficking. What Unland and NBC Bay Area left out of their reports was this recorded exchange:

“Just to be clear then, are you alleging that Metro is facilitating the exploitation of children?” I asked Gillingham.

“Absolutely, when you have advertisements in there, when you have people who look like their 17 years old,” Siversten jumped in and answered.

“So, you’re saying they look 17, but you don’t have any proof they’re 17?”

“I don’t have proof,” Sivertsen said.

Unfortunately, citing how old someone looks is a common talking point when the society’s moral arbiters tackle an issue everyone opposes: sexual abuse of children. They rely on folk wisdom that’s been repeated so many times it becomes dogma. Evidence collection now stops at paging through online escort ads and trying to determine a person’s age from a photo. Aside from the fact that this is completely unscientific, giving credence to an older person’s judgment of age is a slippery slope.

More than a dozen years have passed since I graduated from high school, and I can no longer distinguish the difference between someone in their late teens compared to someone who can buy their first beer. So, how can Gillingham and Siversten, who let’s be polite and say have a combined age of roughly 100, accurately know the difference between 17, 18 and 19 year olds?

Chris Kelly, the third person recruited to speak at Wednesday’s press conference, seems to have backed out at the last minute. Founder of the Safer California Foundation and a former chief privacy officer for Facebook, Kelly apparently wasn’t fully apprised of the political machinations at work when his name appeared on Gillingham’s release, and he decided to stay away.

Metro has put in a request for statistics on underage prostitution to the San Jose Police Department to find out how big of a problem exists. Siversten argued that one child sold into sex slavery is too many, and on that we agreed. Unfortunately, her passion blinds her to the possibility of ulterior motives. Why not take on Lovings.com, Craigslist, MyRedBook—or AT&T, which has a robust escorts section on its YellowPages.com. In fact, the phone company directly accepts money from sex workers for its online ads, while Metro only provides a single HTML link to Backpage.

The answer’s obvious. Metro reports on political groups, such as the South Bay Labor Council, which for several years paid a political consultant who operated a site called San Jose Revealed. That now defunct site also tried to discredit Metro by linking it to paid sex.

“I just don’t believe in those conspiracy theory things, that everybody who is running for office has some kind of conspiracy going on to get somebody else,” Siversten said. “I think that’s hiding under the covers.”

There certainly is something lurking underneath the surface here. Unfortunately, the behind-the-scenes players have yet to reveal themselves.

In the meantime, we’ll keep reporting.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

29 Comments

  1. Go Metro, Go! 

    You surely are on to something to be making such big waves.  If your reporting were inconsequential they wouldn’t be reacting this way.  It is clear they never expected George Shirakawa to go down in flames the way he has after all his illegal activities were exposed by your investigations.  Your reporting and questioning also has prompted the investigation into Xavier Campos and the recent pieces cause voters to pause before blindly following Cindy Chavez and who knows if there will be a formal investigation and potential illegal activity there as well.  Nora Campos & her hubby Neil Struthers couldn’t have been pleased with their pictures showing up in an investigative piece either.

    Some are trying to act as if the reports are a vendetta against labor and leaders but dirty is dirty.  If they stopped acting illegally, breaking laws, stealing funds, skirting issues, refusing to provide public documents or be clear about their alliances then there’d be no story.  But they do act like bullies which they futher prove by trying level “charges” of their own.

    Keep going Metro, you’re the only real news source San Jose citizens can count on to tell the truth.

    • If they stopped acting illegally, breaking laws, stealing funds, skirting issues, refusing to provide public documents or be clear about their alliances then there’d be no story.

      And beating up Rose Herrera’s husband.

      I’m actually with Unland on this.  Long before Metro/SJI hazed me I never really thought much of the hooker ads, simply because prostitution anywhere outside of places that legally control and regulate prostitution are always avenues for human trafficking.

      Watch this documentary.
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1327628/

      In it you’ll see prostitution in 3 countries, Thailand, India, and Mexico.

      In Thailand it’s regulated.  Girls seem to really enjoy going to work at the whorehouse.  Getting paid well, meals, lodging, hair, nails, makeup, and clothes. They’re not forced into indentured servitude by any stretch of the imagination.  Everything is regulated by local police officers (protection)

      India is a sad sad place.  It opens up to one hooker begging a man to visit her, and later shows a 14 year old girl being sold to the madam for $100. 

      The latter happens in THIS country.  There is a lot of human trafficking of juvenile girls up to Portland.
      http://www.portlandonline.com/saltzman/index.cfm?c=54076

      If it was a legal operation, somewhat regulated by law enforcement, the majority of the sex trade workers would outweigh the black market supply, thus drying it up. Certainly Metro/SJI has done it’s fair share of investigative reporting, but just because someone does good, doesn’t mean that they’re exonerated from bad deeds. 

      In that sense, they’ve made major contributions to the local human trafficking scene. 

      In that sense, they’ve needlessly cost taxpayers untold millions of dollars for policing the vice they have caused.

      Playing devils advocate.

      One might argue that Metro thinks that this is OK, because people choose this lifestyle, but this train of thought is flawed because if it’s juveniles, our most defenseless portion of the population, they are not old enough to make this choice. 

      While you might play the political science game of deflection here (read, rich robinsons article) you cannot equate this as a numbers game of approval ratings.  You get paid at the expense of some serious human rights violations.

      If I was your political consultant, I’d say eat some crow here and just drop all the hooker ads here and now.  You would be showing guys like me you’re not going to take the unions crap (winning man points) Yah, it’s going to sting like hell in the pocketbook, but you’ll get it back in other ways.

      Metro will never grow and be respected as a legitimate news outlet until it leaves this binding activity behind.  It is a corset upon your credibility.

      Yours Truly,
      Robert Cortese

  2. > Gillingham brought along LGBT activist and San Jose State professor/counselor Wiggsy Siversten to back up his claims.

    Yikes!

    WIGGSY SIVERSTEN!!!!

    Oh the horror!

    It’s over.

    I say sue for peace and give them whatever they want.

  3. Wiggsy Sivertsen: Just goes to show that the feminists are lockstep with the Religious Right when it comes to being anti-sex.

    Gillingham Joonya: They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but in this case, the tree was near a cliff and the darn thing rolled off the edge and took a few bumps on the way down. Doesn’t seem too bright. Not that his dad was the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he makes pops look like Einstein. Must’ve taken a few hard knocks playing football without a helmet. Wonder who he’s taking his orders from…

    Jim Unland: The guy who wasted a lot of money on a school district race to punish Magdalena Carrasco? Who pointlessly wasted his union members’ dues on the failed attempt to unseat Rose Herrera? And then gave us Johnny Khamis when with not much heavy lifting we could have had Brownstein? Amazing he kept his job as union chief with such an incompetent strategy. And now he’s buying Twitter ads to punish Metro for publishing Cindy’s memos.

    With clowns like Gilly and Jimmy in our law enforcement establishment, no wonder crime’s going up. They obviously didn’t do their homework before asking Metro to take down a site they can’t even take down. Backpage is number one for the “san jose escorts” search so the little charity ad buy they give Metro hardly makes a difference.

    Why don’t these crime fighters do some real law enforcement work?

  4. A dangerous line has been crossed when a county prosecutor (who claims he is acting only as a private citizen) uses his position and stature to make such serious accusations against a newspaper. 

    If Prosecutor Gillingham truly has evidence of such crimes, why is he jeopardizing this case by going public as a private citizen before charges are filed?

  5. If Gilligan has been a prosecutor for awhile and never complained before then he is either very dumb or part of the recent attack on Metro for its reporting as you suggest.

    • Good point, and why do it as a private citizen rather than in an official capacity if it is in fact an actual threat to children?  He is a lot of hot air and a badge.

      Cindy Chavez must be fuming she’s getting stink all over her and her thug tactics don’t seem to be working to make it all go away.  I sure hope the rest of the voters in this area aren’t as stupid as she always counts on them to be.

  6. A few comments on the Protect San Jose Facebook page urging people to sign the petition and not exactly what they were expecting I am sure:

    Why blame the printer? If SJ has a prostitution problem its because of bad policing and law enforcement.

    I signed this petition. I also want to thank METRO for its investigative reporting on George Shirakawa. It was METRO that blew the whistle. But, please remove the prostitution ads.

    The gang activity and vandalism in San Jose is far more concerning than a victimless crime such as typical prostitution.

    The Metro has always had a Perv page so why is everyone getting their panties in a bunch now?

    I am more concerned that they cut pensions for our sjpd and county workers . I have lived here for 43/43 years and I am gone in 2014 because of all the crime and gang bs

    By the way so does el “Avisador” and two others along with craigslist and Backpage plus thousand of personal classified ads, along with guess? Facebook! Thats right innocent Facebook is used to market prostitution!

    that last one makes an interesting point.  If Facebook lets ads for the same type of stuff be in their midst then doesn’t Protect SJ and all the other law enforcement pages owe the public an apology for promoting the trafficing of girls and boys.  Shouldn’t Wiggsy and Chuck be calling a press conference soon to rail against law enforcement who knowingly participate in this behavior by having both personal and group/organization FB pages? 

    Oh the tangled webs we weave.  This whole mess is obviously a Wag the Dog situation.  Metro must be on to something for them to work this hard at deflection.

    Interesting how the news channel that gives so much coverage to the anti-Metro stuff but covered almost NONE of the Shirakawa felony blow up is reporter Damian Trujillo. Interesting resume his wife has lots of jobs tied to the Shirakawa perks.  One more thing to investigate Josh.

  7. What bothers me about all of this is that according his biography on the Santa Clara University site, Charles Gillingham’s current assignment is the sexual assault unit.

    If something illegal is going on he should prosecute.  If he isn’t prosecuting, then just what the heck is he doing?

    I found a quote from Mr. Gillingham that might shed some light on his thought processes:

    “There is not a great body of knowledge on our bench,” he said—meaning prosecutors can expect defense attorneys to fail to protest and judges to fail to exclude some forms of evidence that should not be admissible. “So what the hell,” Gillingham told the prosecutors, “keep doing it.” As laughter rang from the audience, Gillingham went on: “Right? If they don’t object, it’s all good.”

    http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_5127914

    So according to Mr. Gillingham himself, “So what the hell, keep doing it.  Right?  If they don’t object, it’s all good.”

  8. Everybody knows that the owner of this website hates the SJPD and Cindy Chaves, that’s a known fact.

    Every chance you get, your blog slams SJPD. Now you got a taste of your own medicine and you didn’t like it.

    To hide behind the first amendment on the issue is pretty week.

    The reporters of this blog have been hanging out in the office’s and getting coffee with Constant, Licardo and PLO. Clearly their is no biased reporting here, ” ya right.”

    I’m sure these mayoral candidates will be staying clear of your blog now that this has hit the T.V. airways and Murky news.

    Stay classy. Metro.

    • Not sure where this poor speller came up with the unsupported statement that “everyone knows” and “that’s a known fact.” I’d like to see some examples and proof.

      I guess the partisans can’t accept critical reporting. It must be based on personal hate, because their leaders can do no wrong.

      On the other hand, given the police union leadership’s despicable attack this week, jumping on Gillinham’s idiotic petition and buying Facebook ads to promote SJPOA’s infantile smear campaign on journalists, there’s now good reason to “hate” the people who are putting the safety of journalists at risk by fanning the flames of division, all because they place their personal economic interests before the general well being of the community.

        • You can’t hate an organization, especially one that employs so many fine people who put their safety on the line each day to protect the citizens of this community. I sincerely appreciate what our public safety workers do. I’d like to see these fine men and women get some good leadership, leaders who can negotiate a pay and pension deal that would allow San Jose to get back to business. One that’s practical enough to work with players rather than polarize; one that doesn’t align itself with kleptocrats like George Shirakawa, Xavier Campos and Cindy Chavez; one that has better judgment than to waste money attacking Magdalena Carrasco and Rose Herrera while letting the Robert Braunstein opportunity slip by; one that doesn’t attack local media for doing its job; one that doesn’t employ political consultants to engage in stupid adventures like last week’s failed press conference; one that doesn’t post nasty comments under pseudonyms to this blog to call politicians juvenile names or try to convert the discussion of every single issue into a pay negotiation. Sensible strategy dictates that if your tactics aren’t working, try a new one. And if your leaders can’t adopt a more practical strategy, then maybe the membership needs to look for leaders who can deliver the goods. I look forward to the attacking comments in response to this reasoning.

        • Sensible strategy dictates that if your tactics aren’t working, try a new one. And if your leaders can’t adopt a more practical strategy, then maybe the membership needs to look for leaders who can deliver the goods

          If only our elected officials were that sensible (or our voters!)

        • Are you no less capable of hate?  Using a term like “Black Sheep” is nothing short of hateful. That is truly wanting to cause someone harm. You were really trying to get in my head weren’t you?

            Those that would spread such rubbish may be related, but have no right to call themselves family, nor do they understand the concept of it.Family is acceptance of people, despite their faults, and not pulling stuff like a 20 year protest of no longer attending or inviting people to family functions for fear they might run into a relative they hate.  How do you handle yourself with your SJPD brothers and sisters that you hate?  Do you try to hurt them by getting in their head as well?

          Hate is blind.  It’s so obvious you’re too blinded to be introspective enough to realize this.  A lack of introspection can be construed as a delusion.  So if you are capable of lying to yourself, how do we know you’re not lying to us?

          I merely corrected a spelling mistake of yours, which I have done many times over.  As one ex detective told me, “Some of these guys reports look like they were written by 5th graders”

          You must be one of the guys.

        • Nice flip flop. The leadership at the POA is just fine, but the so called leadership at city hall needs changing.

          Sounds like your happy with the so called leadership of this fine city, I don’t have to attack you. You show your own ignorance by the blog you write.

        • Quoting Spock from Star Trek into Darkness:

          “Your name calling indicates you are defensive, therefore you must find validity in my opinion”

  9. “Noting an online classified site, Backpage.com, that is linked through Metro’s URL—the newspaper has a licensing agreement with the site but no control over the content..”

    Welcome to the latest twist in smear politics: guilt by weblink association. It has, as a result of our rising technology and declining intelligence, proven itself a very effective tactic. Identify an enemy—even an innocent one, scour his/her/its website for a connection to any questionable activity, unpopular group, or individual bogeyman, and apply the smear with a thick brush of shock and indignation. If, by chance, no exploitable connection is found, then extend your search to include any questionable webpages that cite, endorse, or link to your identified enemy, and use their sins for your smear. No need to worry about degrees of separation or stretching your credibility, because if you’ve got a cooperative media outlet to spread the outrage, they’ll generate enough hyperbole to blur the weakness of your case.

    Don’t like the Minutemen? Brand them dangerous vigilantes, find a nut group that’s linked its site to theirs, then use the hatred and frightening rhetoric found there to unfairly stain the law-abiding citizens you abhor. Gay marriage zealots have used this tactic, as have Zionist fanatics, self-appointed tolerance watchdogs (Southern Poverty Law Center), and even governments (a Canadian citizen spent two years in solitary confinement after his government branded him as dangerous, based not on his actions but on its dislike of him plus the unsettling reputation of a group whose website posted a link to his).

    Any American familiar with the oppressive conditions of life in the USSR should be very concerned about the exponential growth and increasing power of slander by association. The Soviet people were cowed via the unchecked freedom of an arbitrary and contradictory government that answered to no one and brutalized its people with impunity; we Americans are being cowed via the same mechanism, only here the power is in the hands of an unrepresentative and grossly irresponsible news media. In America today, the media decides which citizens, and which aspects of its culture, are in need of brutalization.

    In the local case at hand, it’s quite obvious the Metro is being attacked due to its rat terrier-like grip on Cindy Chavez’s deceitful body of work. And yes, the attack did originate from the mouth of a politically ambitious local prosecutor—one no doubt currying favor with organized labor, but the teeth of the attack—and there is no bite without the teeth, were provided by the Mercury News. Subtract that paper’s self-interest from Mr. Gillingham’s insipid pronouncement and no one beyond earshot hears it. Giving teeth to that story had nothing to do with serving the public and everything to do with serving the interests of the Merc—a political organization still posing as a newspaper, one whose credibility rating is now rubbing shoulders with Al Sharpton’s.

    • > Welcome to the latest twist in smear politics: guilt by weblink association.

      Nothing new about this tactic.

      It’s just another variation on “creating a narrative”.

      The left has been doing this almost since the first steam powered website.

      The internet is vast and it’s no problem to find a link to a link to a link to a “white supremacist” website.

      To save themselves work, sometimes they’ll just create a fake “white supremecist” website and link someone to it.

  10. Ok no reponse, let’s discuss our corrupt mayor and city council.  Can we discuss the millions spend to defeat a unlawfull Measure B and then discuss how the city hides millions of dolllars in secret funds.  And how an idoit on the council wants to spend a mere million on crazy idea.  (thanks Sam)  What fund is that coming out of?

    This city hides so much money then breaks the backs of hard working employees. I hope all looks at Chucks contract proposal to city workers!  Zero on every thing, and take away on many items, going to arbitration.

    But lets build 2 parks for Wolfe at a discounted or free land deal.

    • > Can we discuss . . . how the city hides millions of dolllars in secret funds.

      OK.  Speak to me. How does the city hide millions of dollars in secret funds?

      > And how an idoit on the council wants to spend a mere million on crazy idea.

      OK.  What’s the crazy idea and who’s the idoit? (By the way, what’s an idoit?)

      • The crazy idea is that of abdicating their responsibilities as elected representatives by giving as-yet-unidentified members of their council districts a pool of $100K per district to spend as the members see fit.

        Why not give them $85 million per district, then we wouldn’t need the council!

        • > The crazy idea is that of abdicating their responsibilities as elected representatives by giving as-yet-unidentified members of their council districts a pool of $100K per district to spend as the members see fit.

          Sounds kind of crazy.

          Was the $100K in small unmarked bills in a briefcase?

          Or, did this scheme have some fancy do-gooder, touchy feely name that everyone but a Scrooge would support?

  11. Legalize and regulate prostitution so that sex workers don’t have to fear the police.  Or pretend like you care and try to prevent ads in a local news paper, like it will have any effect on the market.