The short answer is: sure, of course they do. They’re an enormously influential company that nearly everyone uses. So as long as the money rolls in and the influence is still to be had by association, they’ll always have friends, regardless of how creepy they get.

But something…uh, interesting is beginning to happen. We’ve told you before about Google’s association and backing of a site called Backpage, considered by many to be the main perpetrator of child sex trafficking. That story is now starting to break out into the mainstream.

Then there’s the matter of the $2.73 billion EU anti-trust fine the company said today they would be appealing.

That fine led to the recent firing of a researcher from the Google backed, liberal think tank New America when he dared suggest the EU was correct to fine the company over a suspected anti-trust violation:

Barry Lynn, formerly the director of the antitrust-focused Open Markets program at New America, charged Wednesday that Google pressured the think tank to fire him and drop his program after he wrote a statement in June praising European regulators for fining the search giant $2.7 billion for abusing its market power. In that statement, Lynn said Google’s “market power is one of the most most critical challenges for competition policymakers in the world today.”

After Lynn published the statement, Eric Schmidt, chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, contacted New America, and “communicated his displeasure,” Lynn told the New York Times on Wednesday.

It’s that last part that’s so fascinating. The New York Times gave an open forum to the fired researcher, proving they may still know how to do journalism, while writing the following about Google:

After initially eschewing Washington public policy debates, which were seen in Silicon Valley as pay-to-play politics, Google has developed an influence operation that is arguably more muscular and sophisticated than that of any other American company. It spent $9.5 million on lobbying through the first half of this year — more than almost any other company. It helped organize conferences at which key regulators overseeing investigations into the company were presented with pro-Google arguments, sometimes without disclosure of Google’s role.

Among the most effective — if little examined — tools in Google’s public policy toolbox has been its funding of nonprofit groups from across the political spectrum.

Not an overly flattering collection of sentences. And then there’s that same publication’s recent decision to pick up on the Backpage story by running an op-ed entitled: “Google and Sex Traffickers Like Backpage.com.”

The first line reads thus: “Sex traffickers in America have the police and prosecutors pursuing them, but they do have one crucial (if secret) ally: Google.”

Oof.

It’s nice to see a very liberal media outlet finally cover stories somewhat more objectively, but the cynic in me thinks it’s less likely the New York Times has rediscovered real journalism than it is Google has done something to irritate a major player somewhere in the liberal world.

Jonathan Soros, son of progressive billionaire George Soros, sits on the Board of New America. He disputed that New America was pressured by Google to fire the researcher Lynn, but also said:

[T]he Times article was the result of “a targeted communications campaign,” by Lynn and Zephyr Teachout, a New America fellow who published a related op-ed the same day that the story broke in the Times.

One thing is clear: when the New York Times gives a soapbox to a fired researcher over the son of the king-daddy of progressivism and the powers-that-be at Google, there’s some strange division in the ranks.