On a recent airing of 60 Minutes Australia, we watched aghast as reporter Tara Brown introduced American religious hatemonger Tony Ortega as a journalist, and still more unbelievably, as an expert on religion. This is the same Tony Ortega who rode shotgun for notorious sex ads site Backpage.com when he was ostensibly editing The Village Voice newspaper.
It was hard to believe Brown was serious as she blithely represented this blatant and proven liar as a credible source in what certainly was a gross disservice to her audience.
This is the same Tony Ortega infamous for his faux stories, hoax pieces that were so twisted that New York journalist Gay Talese said of one of them, “Oh my God. That’s disgraceful…”
It goes beyond disgraceful. In one instance, Ortega parodied two teenage girls who—in real life—had been abducted and raped. Exploiting the national news of their life-and-death ordeal, he concocted a fictional announcement that NBC TV was starting up a new reality show the two girls would host, featuring teenage contestants pursued by convicted sex offenders and given 48 hours to reach safety.
As one journalist described it: “Tony Ortega takes two teenagers, already brutally raped, and editorially sodomizes them by appropriating their identities, putting lies in their mouths, and pimping them as shameless opportunists.”
This is the same Tony Ortega who, in yet another blog, added to a long record of deriding religions and the religiously devout when, in Spring of 2020, he saw the pandemic as the opportunity to publish his 13-part takedown of the “damn” Bible. As many Americans sought solace in religion during escalating losses of loved ones to Covid-19, Ortega mocked the devout for “buying” passages in the Old Testament and proclaimed God a “conniving, underhanded and petty biatch” and “small-minded wanker.”
And this is the same Tony Ortega who revealed how low he could go in his last steady journalism job as editor of The Village Voice.
It was in this capacity that Ortega gained notoriety as the vocal defender and victim-shamer for the highly lucrative child sex trafficking business on the classified advertising site Backpage.com. The site, eventually shut down by the feds in 2018, was the revenue engine for Village Voice Media (VVM), which published the Voice and a chain of other alternative weekly tabloid newspapers.
Backpage.com was cofounded in 2004 by VVM’s owners, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, who had employed Ortega at their weeklies since the mid-1990s. Ortega answered to the pair who dropped him into his final newspaper, the Voice, as editor in chief in early 2007.
Over the next several years, as Backpage.com grew into a hundred-million-dollar-a-year enterprise, Ortega, like the entire VVM empire, thrived off Backpage revenue—more than 90 percent of which came from its “adult” ads.
“The people I work for were smart enough to start Backpage.com,” Ortega said in 2011, as evidence mounted of pimps being allowed to traffic underage girls through its listings.
Backpage.com and VVM came under increasing fire from law enforcement agencies, members of Congress, journalists, human rights and religious organizations—the Church of Scientology in particular took the lead in shedding public light on Tony Ortega as a chief enabler through his role with VVM. While ostensibly editing The Village Voice, he neglected the paper and wrote hundreds of blogs vilifying Scientology. And when he was finally fired in 2012 by Larkin and Lacey, he continued his unfounded attacks on Scientology and remains a paid-for propagandist to this day.
Ortega defended Backpage’s advertising policies in a string of deceptions, as long-term Village Voice veteran, the late Wayne Barrett, first revealed in an interview with the Church of Scientology’s Freedom magazine in 2011. Speaking of the operation’s sex ads revenue, Barrett said, “changes made by Ortega to the ad sales form have allowed the underage ads to flourish.”
The potential implications of that statement were revealed in January 2017, when the U.S. Senate culminated a 20-month investigation in a damning report, “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking.” Senate investigators detailed how Backpage made changes to its ad sales procedures that allowed pimps to covertly sell underage girls through the site.
So why did Tara Brown and her bosses ignore Ortega’s lack of credentials and unethical record and, in particular, his role in vocally and aggressively defending the sex ad site Backpage.com?
And especially so, with the trial of Ortega’s old buddy and Backpage cofounder Michael Lacey now well underway in Phoenix, Arizona. (Lacey’s partner and Backpage cofounder James Larkin committed suicide just before the trial was to start.)
A Freedom reporter reached out to Tara Brown, her producer Sammi Taylor, and Caitlin Lynch, senior communications manager at Nine, the Australian commercial television network that broadcasts 60 Minutes. Phone and email requests for explanation of featuring Ortega went unanswered. Ortega is inarguably no reliable source but a rabid hired-gun writer, committed to and remunerated for defaming Scientology and Scientologists.
Freedom was also curious about what vetting had allowed a clearly hostile voice—in the guise of “journalist”—to go on air and spew invective with not the slightest attempt to even appear rational or objective. They obviously know all about Ortega, and for putting him on the air, they should be ashamed—and apologize to their audience for the deception.
When 60 Minutes’ Tara Brown offered up Ortega as a “journalist” and an “expert” on religion, Scientology in particular, she had to know both were enormous lies. Brown and the show deceived viewers by using a thoroughly discredited, paid propagandist and misrepresenting him as a journalist. And featuring him, with his background of defending child sex trafficking, took the show’s credibility to a new low.
As to being a “Scientology expert”? Ortega was never a member of the Church, has never toured a Scientology Church, and in truth has no firsthand knowledge of Scientology—his only sources are the distorted rants of rabid anti-Scientologists.
But all that was apparently perfectly acceptable to Brown, 60 Minutes Australia and its producers.
In truth, Ortega today is reduced to a one-trick monkey who makes some sort of living through an anti-Scientology blog. He apparently depends on donations from other anti-Scientologists and his wife’s salary for his living.
Not a journalist.
Not a Scientology expert.
Just an apologist for underage sex trafficking and a paid-off antireligious hatemonger.