By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
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By Leif Haven
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As it turned out, fate had other plans, and Blumenthal's ascension would have to wait. In the meantime, he took on various crusades with a zeal that ingratiated him with law-and-order types and progressives alike. He banned ATM fees, sued Microsoft and Big Tobacco, and orchestrated a national campaign against misleading sweepstakes mailings. His enthusiasm for the national spotlight brought the occasional criticism of attention-seeking — "The most dangerous place in Connecticut is between Dick Blumenthal and a TV camera," Slate.com quipped back in 2000 — but he remained more or less popular in his state. Currently, the tanned 63-year-old is laying the groundwork for a 2012 Senate run.
Rather than disregard the unassuming two-page letter on his desk that fall day, Blumenthal found a new cause at which to throw himself with characteristic vigor.
"Every brick-and-mortar establishment has a responsibility to protect the safety of its employees, patrons, and the general public," he says. "And so, too, does an Internet site."
The first thing he did was fax Craigslist a short missive on Connecticut attorney general letterhead, appended with a copy of the mother's original complaint. "I am certainly concerned that children may have access to such explicit material," he wrote. "I would appreciate your review and response to the complaint, as well as any suggestions for improvement."
Twenty-four days after Blumenthal's first fax, an attorney for Craigslist replied with a four-page letter that effectively said, "Thanks, but no thanks." Lawyer Barry Reingold made clear that Craigslist was sympathetic to the woman's "desire to protect her children from personal advertisements that are intended for adult eyes only," but said it was quite frankly out of the company's hands. He suggested that she install a Web content filter, which, he pointed out, is "freely available, easy to use, and effective."
The law-and-order East Coast prosecutor and the Left Coast live-and-let-sin entrepreneur couldn't have been cut from more different cloths. Blumenthal was a sergeant in the Marine Corps; Newmark adopted a purple peace sign as the logo of his company. Blumenthal, a Brooklyn native, hails from a well-to-do family and holds degrees from both Harvard and Yale; Newmark, a Jersey boy, is more humble in stature as well as pedigree, having earned his computer science degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
But when a Connecticut woman was arrested on March 19, 2008, for prostituting herself on Craigslist, Blumenthal jumped back on the case, livid that sex-worker ads were still polluting the site.
"I am astonished and appalled by Craigslist's refusal to recognize the reality of prostitution on its Web site—despite advertisements containing graphic photographs and hourly rates, and widespread reports of prostitutes using the site," he wrote the company. "Craigslist must determine now what type of site it is. If it's truly concerned about the issue, it must devote resources and technology to eliminate these postings from its site."
Frustrated by what he perceived to be stonewalling, Blumenthal went public. He was quoted in the daily New Haven Register as accusing Craigslist of profiting from prostitution. He then laid into Buckmaster and Newmark for allegedly dragging their feet in implementing the agreed-upon changes.
In July 2008, the sides arranged their first face-to-face sit-down. Buckmaster, along with two Craigslist attorneys, made the cross-country trek to Rye, New York, just beyond the Connecticut border, halfway between Hartford and New York City. They met Blumenthal and a few of his subordinates in a coffee shop and, over the course of a few hours, hashed out an agreement.
Under the accord, Craigslist began asking advertisers to provide valid identification, in addition to charging Erotic Services advertisers a nominal credit card fee ($5 to $10) per ad, enabling the company to confirm users' identities and establish a digital fingerprint. Craigslist also vowed to donate all profits from the sex category on the site to various charities, particularly those that address child exploitation and human trafficking.
The agreement, honed and refined throughout last fall, was made public in November. A total of 40 attorneys general endorsed the deal, including those from Tennessee, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona (notable exceptions include Florida, Texas, California, Missouri, Minnesota, and New York).
Craigslist CEO Buckmaster says the company is doing its best to comply with the attorney general's concerns. "There are far more — and far more graphic — images on all of the general-purpose Internet portals and general-purpose search engines than anyone is ever going to find on Craigslist," he says. "That said, we aren't comfortable with any pornographic images being posted on Craigslist, and we're committed to eliminating that."