Nick Kristof and the New York Times' Ties to Child Sex Trafficking

By op-ed columnist Nick Kristof's own standards, he and the New York Times are earning money, indirectly, from child sex trafficking. 

Late last month, Kristof targeted Goldman Sachs with farcical allegations of supporting child sex trafficking via its minority stake in Village Voice Media, which owns Backpage.com. He repeated those allegations yesterday on CNBC (which called its story "Goldman's Ties to Sex Trafficking"--video below).

Kristof’s real target may have been GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, whose wife Ann owns a blind trust that had invested in Village Voice Media through a Goldman Sachs fund.

Ironically, Kristof’s own newspaper profits from the sort of advertising for escort services, strip clubs, and other forms of adult entertainment that Kristof has linked to the underworld of child sex trafficking. 

Unlike Backpage.com, only 16 percent of which was owned by Goldman Sachs, About.com is “a wholly-owned subsidiary of the New York Times Company,” according to About.com’s contact information page.

Moreover, the About Group--including About.com and other websites--accounted for 5% of all revenues to The New York Times Company in 2011, roughly $100 million.

In addition, according to its 2011 Annual Report to shareholders, the Times also owns a 49% stake in Metro Boston, a free daily newspaper with left-leaning coverage whose parent company also happens to make money from adult advertising

One ad, for example, posted for Detroit, MI but visible through Metro.com’s online classified section on April 9, seeks “Girls all ages, races, and body shapes...for Adult Entertainment jobs" (screenshot above).

"All ages."

On Mar. 31, Kristof wrote: 

The biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com. This emporium for girls and women--some under age or forced into prostitution--is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are. That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake.

Left-wing bloggers pounced, including one who aimed a question directly at the Romneys: 

What inquiring minds would like to know is, GOP Presidential front runner Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, have investments in nearly three-dozen various Goldman funds together valued at between $17.7 million to $50.5 million, according to a financial disclosure form (PDF) filed in August 2011.  Did Goldman sink any of that money into the warm, willing bank accounts at Backpage?

He answered his own question the next day, after Goldman Sachs sold its stake (original emphasis): 

The answer now seems to be a clear... yes.  Although [the Romneys] can certainly argue they didn't know about it, and Goldman Sachs has frantically sold off all its interest in Village Voice Media after Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof brought their (ahem) attention to their slimy little holding.

Yet as RawStory.com pointed out, Kristof had some very basic facts wrong: 

Two weeks ago, for example, Kristof wrote about a former teenaged prostitute who alleged that at the age of sixteen, she was routinely pimped out on Backpage.com. The Voice notes, however, that in 2003, when the girl was sixteen, Backpage did not yet exist. Even in 2005, it still did not exist in the cities where she said she had worked.

More embarrassing for Kristof, however, is that his salary partly comes from the same ads, and the same allegedly criminal activity, that he tried to pin on Goldman Sachs and, possibly, the Romneys as well.

Though Goldman Sachs immediately divested itself of its stake in Backpage.com, that was not enough for Kristof, who told CNBC he would have preferred to see the company apply its investment towards "bringing about change" in the online advertising industry. He added that Goldman Sachs should have sold its 16 percent stake in Village Voice Media to "an anti-trafficking organization."

Will Kristof apply that same standard to the New York Times--and himself? The newspaper and its shareholders must give up over $100 million in annual revenue; are they ready to contribute to the cause? And if not, will Kristof devote his column to campaigning against his employer? Will he appear on CNBC to report "The Times' Ties to Sex Trafficking?"

If not, why not?


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