By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It was a day of joy, but the trial of Katherine’s killer still loomed ahead.
In November 2007, a month after Katherine Olson’s murder, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal received a letter from an irate mother. Upset by salacious language she had read on MySpace.com and Craigslist, the mother of two demanded something be done.
“Due to the fact I have a 13-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son, it is my duty to sensor [sic] the material they are exposed to,” she wrote. “MySpase [sic] and Craigslist do not only make this task difficult, but virtually impossible.”
Any other attorney general might have relegated the missive to the recycling bin, or perhaps gotten back with a canned response. But Richard Blumenthal is not your run-of-the-mill attorney general.
A gritty, ambitious fixture of the Connecticut Democratic Party for decades, Blumenthal was the youngest U.S. attorney in history when Jimmy Carter tapped him for the post in 1977. He made his name prosecuting drug traffickers and organized crime, and in 1990 was elected state attorney general, a position he would hold through four re-elections. In 2000, when Sen. Joe Lieberman opted to continue his senatorial campaign during his vice-presidential bid, it hampered Blumenthal’s career trajectory—had Lieberman bowed out, Blumenthal was a shoo-in to become his successor in the Senate.
As it turned out, fate had other plans, and Blumenthal’s ascension would have to wait. In the meantime, the man took on various crusades with a zeal that ingratiated him to 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 courting the national spotlight brought the occasional criticism of attention-seeking — “The most dangerous place in Connecticut is between Dick Blumenthal and a TV camera,” quipped Slate.com back in 2000 — but he remained more or less a popular figure 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,” says Blumenthal. “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 with the woman’s “desire to protect her children from personal advertisements that are intended for adult eyes only,” but it was quite frankly out of their 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 entrepreneurs 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. In March, he appeared in the daily New Haven Register to accuse Craigslist of profiting from prostitution, and then laid into Buckmaster and Newmark for allegedly dragging their feet in implementing the agreed-upon changes.