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.