Stand Firm Craig (and Jim)

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South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster is giving even the normally sleazy Attorney General title a bad name. This is an office that has little to do with protecting the public and everything to do with making high profile attacks on targets that will generate a lot of positive press. All that press leads to a run for higher office.

Eliot Spitzer was the alpha male Attorney General, attacking the securities industry, Internet fraud and the mortage industry, among others. He was rewarded with the governorship of New York until his spectacular resignation.

Which brings us back to the subject of hookers, and South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster. Earlier this month McMaster, who is of course eyeing a run for governor, threatened criminal prosecution against Craigslist management if pornography and ads for prostitution were not removed from the site. Craigslist took extraordinary measures to comply.

But quiet compliance isn’t what McMaster is looking for. He wants handcuffs and a trial, the kind of stuff that Spitzer got. He issued the following statement on Saturday “As of 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, the craigslist South Carolina site continues to display advertisements for prostitution and graphic pornographic material. This content was not removed as we requested. We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution.”

Craigslist fired back in an uncharacteristically emotional post that noted how tame the current Craigslist site was compared to a number of other listing services in South Carolina, including one run by Microsoft.

Seriously? The craigslist adult services section for Greenville, SC has a total of 1 ad for the last 3 days, featuring a photograph of a fully clothed person. The “erotic services” section for Greenville, which we recently closed, has 8 ads total which will expire in two days, and even for these ads the images and text are quite tame.

Meanwhile, the “adult entertainment” section of greenville.backpage.com (careful with link, NSFW), owned by Village Voice Media, has over 60 ads for the last 3 days, and about 250 in total. In sharp contrast with craigslist, many of these ads are quite explicit, quoting prices for specific sex acts, featuring close-ups of bare genitalia, etc.

Of course, no one in mainstream legal circles thinks either company should be subject to civil suit, let alone a criminal investigation. But if for whatever reason you were so motivated, would you target a venue with 9 PG-13 rated ads, or one with 250 XXX rated ones?

And FWIW, telephone yellow pages and other local print media have both companies beat hands down as adult service ad venues for South Carolina.

Any interest in targeting them for criminal prosecution? Didn’t think so.

As we wrote previously, Craigslist is the hot site right now that triggers an immediate response from the press (it used to be MySpace, then Facebook). There is no public saftey issue in targeting Craigslist. The only issue is politics, and McMaster sees an easy target. I think he made a serious mistake, though, in targeting Craigslist. Not only are the allegations absurd, but he’s failed to realize the huge community of rabid Craigslist supporters. Spitzer always went after deeply unpopular targets. He would never have touched Craigslist.

I say to founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster: Stand firm. Don’t back down. In fact, just turn off the South Carolina site entirely and ban IPs from that state. Forever. And if they press criminal charges, fight it with everything you have.

The community will support you, and that’s one hell of a community, with 46 million U.S. unique visitors a month (Comscore, April 2009). Get 5 million of them (less than 1 in 9) to sign a petition calling for McMaster’s resignation (that’s more than the population of South Carolina). It won’t get him to resign, but it may get enough voters to remember how irresponsible he is when the election for governor comes around. And I’m pretty sure that petition will be the top search result for his name for a long, long time.

And if you do end up in jail, don’t worry. I promise to visit at least once a month, even though it will be in South Carolina.

More on the story at TechMeme.

Update:
Buckmaster demands an apology. Well played.

Update 2: Take the poll.

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