Saturday, November 2, 2013

You never go full listicle

Last year, Albert Burneko posted a 1,873-word essay all about Halloween candy.  Near the end, he gave a ranking of the eight best Halloween candies, with a description of each food.  (He also fast-forwarded to the 72nd- and 73rd-best choices:  A wadded Party City receipt and a Hershey bar.)

This year, Albert again posted about Halloween candy.  But since he had nothing new to say, he went the listicle route: 47 Halloween candies, ranked 1 through 47.  Total word count:  158.      

If you ever wanted to see a clear example of "perfunctory writing," this was it.

Although maybe I'm missing the bigger picture.  Maybe Albert was paying homage to that new "Buzzfeed minus gifs" tumblr by writing a Buzzfeed article without any gifs.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reports of multiple errors

Barry Petchesky over at Deadspin wrote an article about the rowdy behavior in Boston following the World Series.  He said conditions that night created a "perfect storm," because, I guess, the Red Sox took an early lead in the game.

This "perfect storm" resulted in 9 people getting arrested for unruly behavior, although there were no major injuries reported.  However, multiple vehicles were flipped over!  Barry wrote:          
"Cars were flipped, because that's what you apparently do when your team wins a World Series. Here's a frightening one, just outside of Fenway, with the poor driver still inside"
He then embedded this YouTube video of a car being flipped.

Next, he added:
"And here's another, location undetermined (though reports indicate that most of the property damage took place around Fenway and Kenmore Square, then moving up Boylston toward Copley)"
And he embedded this other video of a car being flipped.

If you play both videos, you'll hear the cars making a similar crunching sound when they topple over. Both cars are black.  And if you pause the videos at the right moments, you'll see both cars have the same license plate: 281 LX2.

It's the same goddamn car!  These weren't separate incidents.  Did this guy not bother watching the videos that he himself posted?

Barry also said the driver of the first car was inside when it got upturned.  That sounds like an important detail, and something which other news reports would've mentioned.  But the owner of the car, Chad Duncan, was asleep when the incident occurred.  Additional news reports make no mention of a person being inside the car.

A hat tip goes to commenter "smrtsmrt," who pointed all of this out in the comments section. Naturally, his comment is still buried in the "not yet approved" area.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A rat in the cellar

Last month, the Charlotte Observer reported that Gawker was unsuccessful in getting a libel suit dismissed.  The plaintiff in this case was an 18-year-old girl who'd recently graduated from Lake Norman High School.  Her senior yearbook had published a photo in which her upper thighs were visible beneath a graduation gown.  A parent who saw the photo freaked out, mistakenly thinking the student was flashing the camera.

A local station, WSOC-TV, picked up the story, followed by Gawker.  Gawker didn't help matters at all, calling the yearbook a "crotchbook" and using a screenshot from WSOC-TV which wrongly suggested the girl was lifting her gown.  WSOC-TV later retracted their story and issued an apology, however when Gawker was asked to do the same, they of course refused.

And so the girl sued.

The article in the Observer also included part of an e-mail sent to them last year by Gawker's attorney, Cameron Stracher, who was explaining why Gawker's actions weren't a big deal:
"...Gawker merely reported the controversy, never identified the girl, and the only ‘altered’ photo it posted was a smaller version of the original yearbook photo with a black bar obscuring the girl’s face and thighs that had already been published by (WSOC-TV)." 
The part that caught my attention is where Stracher said the student was never identified.  I wondered whether, hypothetically, showing the girl's face would've counted as "identifying" her.  I downloaded the PDF of the judge's order, and noticed this line in the "Analysis and Discussion" section:
"Defendant has responded with a general denial of all allegations in the complaint, and asserts...(3) the article never identifies Plaintiff by name, face, or circumstance, and thus cannot be “of and concerning” her, thus precluding an action for libel per se..."
It's true that Gawker never identified the student by her name.  And the writer, Neetzan Zimmerman, did not post a photo showing her face.  However, if you go read the story in question, and scroll down to the comments section, you'll notice something interesting.  The very first comment, made by Gawker user rraattbbooyyy, shows the girl's face plain as day.  The upstanding rraattbbooyyy writes:
"Because you know you were going to Google it anyway, here's a link to the NSFW-slash-optical illusion photo.  Doesn't look like bunched together thighs to me, but then it is a bit fuzzy."
(To clarify:  He wasn't really sharing a link.  Rather, the photo was embedded in his comment for everyone to see.)

The comment was posted back in May of 2012.  Erasing a comment isn't a lengthy process, and I presume John Cook or A.J. Daulerio could have zapped it within seconds had they chosen to.  Yet the photo remained up even after the girl filed her lawsuit last September in which she claimed emotional distress.  It remained even though the girl specifically said she'd been harassed and ridiculed by strangers because of the story.  So Gawker clearly has no issue with having the girl's face displayed on their site, as long as it was a commenter who posted the photo.  It's a weird little distinction.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Crackstarter follow-up

On July 18th, John Cook announced where Gawker would be donating the money raised from their "Crackstarter" campaign.  The sum of $184,782.61 will be evenly distributed among the following four charities: The Somali Canadian Association of Etobicoke, the South Riverdale Community Health Center, the Ontario Regional Addictions Partnership Committee, and Unison Health and Community Services.

So it seems all the major players in this controversy made out okay:  Gawker got a couple million pageviews for their anti-climactic coverage, some Toronto reporters had a fun little trivia night, and Rob Ford still gets to run the city of Toronto on a daily basis.  (I'm aware the video might surface eventually...But I would rather see The Star or a similar outlet recover it first, since they're actually invested in local politics.)

The only real loser here is Mohamed Siad.  He's the crack dealer who was attempting to sell Gawker the Rob Ford crack tape, and he was among the gang members arrested back on June 13th as part of the "Project Traveller" raids.  Things got worse for him, however, because two days after his arrest, Siad was the victim of a jailhouse shanking.  According to the Toronto Sun, some of Siad's fellow gang members blamed him for bringing heat down on their community.

I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned from all this.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Don't forget: You exist here forever

I used to think Gawker had a pretty handy commenting system.  Not only were the comments easy to browse, but the user profile pages themselves were set up in a very logical way.  When you clicked someone's profile, you would see, uncut, all of the person's previous comments.  Another tab had all the replies sent to that person.  And you could even send and receive private messages.  All those features have gone away now, but one "feature" that remains is that you can't ever delete your account.

JustDelete.me is a new site that gives information for how to erase your profile from hundreds of popular websites.  I learned about the site thanks to RYOT.org, which broke down the numbers and showed just how Gawker stands out in terms of inconvenience:
Out of the 241 web accounts databased in JustDelete.me’s directory, 146 are categorized as "easy" to delete, 18 are considered "medium" in difficulty, 36 are "hard" to delete and 41 are "impossible" (10 of which are Gawker sites). 
Other websites with impossible-to-delete accounts include GoDaddy, Pastebin, and, somewhat randomly, Starbucks.com.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Denton loses a bet

Back in February of 2011, Nick Denton made a friendly bet with digital consultant and socialite Rex Sorgatz.  The bet was to see whether Gawker's websites could reach 510 million global pageviews during the month of September.  The loser would subsequently pay the winner ten dollars for every million pageviews that Gawker was over/under that mark, and the handover had to be done in public. Gawker ended September slightly under that mark, and Denton paid up.  

Sorgatz used the occasion to renew the bet for another year:
Official terms: We will check Quantcast on October 1, 2012. The goal is 700MM pageviews/month. It’s $10 for every million over/under. (So $1000 to me if it’s 600MM.) Lockhart is the judge...And again, the money handover is to be done in public and photographed.

As the following September rolled along, it became clear Denton would lose the second bet by a much wider margin, and Sorgatz seemed to be licking his chops in anticipation.  But when October arrived, I didn't see any follow-up:  No announcement on Twitter.  No Tumblr post.  No public event with an inebriated Felix Salmon snapping photos.

I remembered the bet recently, and e-mailed Sorgatz to ask what happened. He sent a link to this photograph from his Instagram account which shows, indeed, Nicholas G. A. Denton lost the bet and made a bank transfer for $680.  I asked whether Denton had backed out of signing the check in public.  Sorgatz said that wasn't the case; he just didn't want to gloat upon winning.  And I believe him.

So let it be known that Rex Sorgatz is a magnanimous fellow who doesn't need to brag.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ethics will vary

As mentioned Friday, there were other tech sites besides Gizmodo that Brian Hogan and his friend approached when they were trying to sell the stolen iPhone prototype.  When Wired was reporting on the story, they mentioned they'd "received an e-mail...offering access to the iPhone, but did not follow up on the exchange after the tipster made a thinly veiled request for money."

Another website Hogan and his friend approached was Engadget, and in fact Peter Rojas chimed in during the Reddit AMA to explain why they hadn't purchased the iPhone, either:  
"Engadget was offered the phone, but declined. Usually as a journalist you're allowed to use and publish confidential information if someone gives it to you (which is why Glenn Greenwald is in the clear), but if you do anything to induce someone to give you something (like paying them or offering them other form of compensation or consideration) you are potentially liable. 
In this instance the phone did appear to be stolen property, or at the very least that it was not the property of the person offering it, so it made sense not to buy it despite how newsworthy it was."
So if you're wondering why Gizmodo got the scoop in this instance, it's because Gizmodo doesn't mind paying for stolen goods, whereas other sites apparently have qualms about it.

Friday, September 6, 2013

iPhone leaker: "Gizmodo took advantage of me."

Unless you’re a person who gets his news exclusively from Will McAvoy, you probably remember back in 2010 when Gizmodo reported the details about a stolen iPhone 4 prototype.  It was found in a Redwood City bar by a man named Brian Hogan.  After trying to shop the device around to a few different tech blogs, Hogan sold it to Gizmodo for $5,000.    

Hogan was eventually charged with misappropriation of lost property.  He was sentenced to one year of probation and 40 hours of public service, and he had to pay $125 in restitution to Apple.  During a Reddit AMA this past June, he reflected on the whole ordeal and also had some unkind words for Gizmodo.  On whether he profited from the incident:
“Gizmodo told me they would give me $5,000 for the story, and another $3,000 after it was confirmed by Apple to be real.  They knew that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to ask for the $3,000 after the story aired, but I didn’t.  I ended up having to hire and expensive lawyer and had to pay him much more than $5,000.”
Hogan obviously took a gamble, and he lost, so of course he's going to sound bitter.  His words should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.  However I do find it interesting how Gawker treats their sources in the wake of a controversy.

On how his experience compared with that of Gizmodo:  
"Actually nothing happened to them.  Jason Chen got his door knocked down during a police raid, but no criminal or civil charges were filed.  My friend and I were the ones that took the heat.  From my perspective Gizmodo took advantage of me." 
It isn't unprecedented for Gawker to cover their source's legals bills.  It happened earlier this year in the case of Joe Muto, aka the "Fox Mole."   I asked Hogan whether or not Gizmodo made any such offer in his case.  He replied:
"No, when the shit hit the fan I asked them to 'step up to the plate for me' and they basically said F U and I never heard from them after that."

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Deadspin way

1.)  Get a tip which says an ESPN anchor had sent a slimy tweet to Erin Andrews.
2.)  Share the image of the purported tweet without bothering to contact anyone at ESPN.
3.)  Call the ESPN anchor a "dick."
4.)  Collect 30,000 pageviews.
5.)  Realize the photo was fake.
6.)  Issue an apology.
7.)  Try to do better the next time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Warning: Titles may be misleading.

This week's Entertainment Weekly has a long interview with Joss Whedon, conducted by James Hibberd.  An excerpt was posted on their website, and what's interesting is how Hibberd wrote a little disclaimer at the top of the page.

The two men were discussing different movie sequels, and Hibberd wrote:
"Make no mistake: It’s not that Joss Whedon doesn’t like The Empire Strikes Back...But The Avengers writer-director does have an issue with Empire‘s ending – or its lack of one, to be exact."
Whedon's issue is that the movie ends with a cliffhanger.  He feels any movie, even a sequel, should be a self-contained whole.  (A fair enough criticism.)  Rob Bricken over at io9 read this excerpt, along with the opening paragraph.  So what did Rob choose as the title for his post...?

Here's why Joss Whedon doesn't like Empire Strikes Back.

In what sort of world does the statement, "It's not that Joss Whedon doesn't like Empire Strikes Back" get translated as:  "Joss Whedon doesn't like Empire Strikes Back"?  That title is only possible if Rob willfully ignored his source.  It isn't a "lie" in the usual sense of the word, but I feel like it's similar. I'm not sure if there's a phrase for this.  It's being deliberately obtuse for the purpose of generating more pageviews.

Now, it occurred to me maybe a different io9 editor selected the title—someone who didn't read the original article.  When I e-mailed him to ask that question, Rob politely replied:
"All me. For the record, we have a hilariously small character limit for headlines that allows almost no room for any kind of qualification, and I felt that if Whedon doesn't like part of Empire Strikes Back then the headline isn't technically inaccurate, and I could go into more detail in the article itself."     
Nick Denton did release a memo in April saying Kinja headlines would henceforth be limited to 70 characters.  Yet, even if Rob had chosen the lengthy headline: "Here's what Joss Whedon doesn't like about Empire Strikes Back," that still only would have used up 63 of the 70 characters.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Jezebel is not even trying

I made fun of Jezebel recently for goofing up Bette Midler's birthday in the title of their "Tweet Beat" feature, however last night they managed to up the ante.

Wednesday's "Tweet Beat" has the usual introductory line about David Lynch and Amanda Bynes. And then it's blank.  It's just fucking blank till the end.  And the post has already been up for 17 hours.

(H/t to "Empress Foofypants")

Image after the jump:

Sunday, June 30, 2013

32 days later

GigaOm got in touch with John Cook on Friday to ask what will happen with the over $184,000 raised from the Crackstarter campaign.  The response:
"I'm presently reaching out to potential recipients to find a good home for the money. Hope to have something to announce soon," Gawker editor, John Cook, wrote in reply to an email query.
So he's still in the "reaching out" phase, which admittedly can take a while.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sam Biddle is tardy

Yesterday (Friday, June 28th), Sam Biddle wrote about AOL's open casting call for an online news host. He included the video of a woman giving an awkward audition, and he made a few other snippy remarks.  Then at the bottom, Biddle wrote:
If you're interested in maybe humiliating yourself on the internet for $700 (really not a bad deal at all), here are the details:
     
Thursday, June 27 and Friday, June 28, 2013
Casting location - 770 Broadway in Manhattan.  (Enter East 9th Street between Broadway and 4th Avenue)
5 AM Casting Call opens
10 AM Casting Call closes
The post went up on Valleywag at 10:41 A.M., or a full 41 minutes after the casting call had already closed.

So what even was the point?  By comparison, when PCMag wrote about the casting calls, they had enough common sense to post it on June 27th.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

30 days later

A month has passed since Gawker successfully raised $200,000 in order to purchase the alleged Rob Ford crack tape.  Back on May 28th, John Cook told the Globe and Mail that he would wait a month for delivery of the tape:
"I'd say give them a month," said Mr. Cook, who is editor of Gawker.com.  "If I hear nothing but silence, then I can only conclude that for whatever reasons, the people who have it are no longer motivated to sell it even though we've got a huge amount of money that we've raised and that was what they asked for."
Gawker's "Plan B" was always to donate the money to a Canadian non-profit if they couldn't procure the tape.  Will an announcement come tomorrow?  Or will Gawker come up with a reason to keep holding onto the money?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I'm going to tell Romenesko about that!

If spotting typos were a form of watchdog journalism, Jim Romenesko would be head of the pack.  Romenesko runs a personal website where he aggregates stories about the journalism industry.  It’s a useful site.  He also has a penchant for pointing out copy-editing mistakes.

Sometimes the mistakes are egregious.  But other times they’re just sort of random.  (For example, pointing out the misspelling of “border patrol” in the Houston Chronicle.  It’s a mistake for sure, but don’t those errors happen a hundred times a day?)  I normally don’t care about Gawker’s copy-editing mistakes, however there was a boner on Jezebel a few months ago that deserves mentioning:  

On December 1st, they wished happy birthday to Bette Midler.  She was turning 67.











Then on March 19th they wished her happy birthday again!














Wrongly announcing a celebrity's birthday--and with a duplicate headline, no less?  That's Romenesko bait if I've ever seen it!  Hopefully he'll have some snarky comment about the decline of the newspaper industry or whatever.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tailored tweets

Why, yes, this is another post about how Deadspin covered the Manti Te'o hoax.  And this time, I'm going to mention some of the specific clues that Deadspin had uncovered during the course of their investigation.  What I find interesting is how some clues can be presented differently, depending on who's telling the story.

Hours after the Deadspin story went live, a Twitter user named Justin Megahan began looking for tweets in connection to the hoax.  Megahan searched through Twitter archives from the previous month using the sites Topsy and Twicsy, and he soon discovered a group of about half a dozen people openly discussing the hoax. Megahan compiled 17 of these tweets on his blog.  (In addition, there was a tweet he found on Twicsy which wasn't part of that collection.)

Taken as a whole, the tweets strongly suggested that Ronaiah was the man behind the catfishing scheme, and not a single account implied that Manti had knowingly taken part.  Megahan himself surmised: "...they seem to believe that Manti was being misled, and was not in on the scam."

At this point, most sportswriters were still trying to determine whether Te'o had perpetrated the hoax, and so Megahan's work was treated as a mini-revelation.  The catch, of course, is that Deadspin knew full well about those tweets.  Deadspin had actually alluded to some of the tweets in their original article, but any references to Te'o being catfished were left out.  For example, they had written:
"...two now-suspended Twitter accounts had alleged that [Lennay's sister] was a fraud, that the same person behind Lennay was operating the U'ilani account, and that the images of "U'ilani" were really of a woman named Donna Tei."  
That sounds like a comprehensive description.  But was it really?  There's only a limited number of tweets that Deadspin could have been describing, and I think the two suspended accounts were @catfishhhhhhhh and @iCaughtaCatfish.

This is the one tweet sent from the @iCaughtaCatfish account:








Those last 4 words ("He did @mteo_5 dirty!!!") are kind of important.  If you include them, the message is that Te'o was a victim.  If you cut them out--and also ignore the name on the account--the situation gets a lot murkier.  Now here are the three tweets sent from the @catfishhhhhhhh account:













I doubt Te'o would have personally noticed any of the tweets sent to him by the two "catfish" accounts.  Topsy shows about 1,500 tweets were sent to Te'o during the first week of December. Nonetheless, whoever was behind those accounts had cracked the mystery, and they were trying to get the word out to Nev Schulman, producer of MTV's "Catfish." 

There was one other tweet Justin Megahan posted which I couldn't find, but it appears to have belonged to the same @catfishhhhhhhh account: 







The Deadspin article mentioned catfishing only one time, and that was in a paragraph about Donna Tei--a peripheral character who had no direct connection to Manti.  Deadspin said that Donna had "reached out" to Nev Schulman, but they didn't explain why Donna was reaching out to him in the first place, nor did they show the tweet.  This is the tweet that Donna sent:








I don't consider these tweets as evidence, per se, of Te'o's innocence.  But they are very compelling clues, and they might have altered the narrative if Deadspin had shown them.  I realize, too, that a couple of Deadspin's unnamed sources were part of the group tweeting out their suspicions.  (For example, @jayrahz.)  It's possible Deadspin agreed not to show his specific Twitter handle.  However that still wouldn't answer the bigger question:  Why did Deadspin omit all of the references to Te'o being catfished?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

And now they're gone

This blog has been around for several months, and it's not surprising that some of the writers whose articles I've criticized are no longer working for Gawker.  So I should acknowledge those changes:

A.J. Daulerio, mentioned in this post, left in January.
Jordan Sargent, mentioned in this post, left in February.  
And Isaac Rauch, mentioned in this post, left in April.

Update: 6/29:  Daulerio is back for about three months as a "consultant" for the Defamer subdomain.      

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The one thing that didn't add up in Deadspin's coverage of Manti Te'o

When Manti Te'o was drafted last month by the San Diego Chargers, it marked a natural transition point in the catfishing saga.

Deadspin broke the story in January that Manti's dead girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed, and that a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was behind the online persona.  Te'o quickly became one of the most disliked athletes in the country—not just because "Lennay Kekua" was a fraud, but because people now assumed Te'o had knowingly lied about her death to garner sympathy.

Deadspin never explicitly said Te'o perpetuated the hoax.  However, they presented several clues that Manti and Ronaiah were friends, and they repeated a rumor which implied the two men collaborated together.  As Vanity Fair's Ned Zeman explains:
Then came the money shot: “A friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told us he was ‘80 percent sure’ that Manti Te’o was ‘in on it,’ and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind.”
The sentiment was widely shared. That afternoon, ESPN’s on-air news ticker shrank the story to a headline: deadspin reports: 80 percent chance te’o involved in hoax. The ticker failed to mention that the claim was based on speculation by an unnamed source who proved to be wrong. Given that ESPN is to sports media what tass was to the Soviet Union, nightfall brought a riot of screaming media attacks on Te’o.
The general consensus now is that Te'o was very gullible, but that he never participated in the hoax. From the start, I suspected Te'o wasn't in on it.  I didn't know much about Te'o's reputation, but I noticed who Deadspin had assigned to the story:  Jack Dickey and Timothy Burke.  This told me the story would probably wind up being 50% true and 50% B.S.

Now, before going further, I should explain something:  I personally don't trust Timothy Burke, and the reason is because I've caught him lying in the past.  He was using sockpuppet accounts on the website Reddit to spam his own sports articles.  After he got banned for spamming, he went on Twitter and tried pinning the blame on an imaginary pedophile conspiracy.  I exposed him when he tried using yet another sockpuppet account.

When you catch someone pulling that type of stunt, it gives you a clear sense of their ethics.  This is the man whom the media trusted to explain the Manti Te'o hoax.  And it turned out that Te'o was actually a victim.  So the question I want to raise now is:  Did Timothy Burke have proof that Te'o was not complicit in the hoax?  In other words, did he allow the story to be published even though he knew the implications about Te'o were wrong?

Maybe Burke really was being objective in his reporting, and maybe my suspicions are completely unfounded.  But considering how much Deadspin has heckled Te'o these past four months, I think it's worth a second look.
                                 ________________________________________

I'll start with Deadspin's justification for using what Ned Zeman called the "money shot."  During an interview with the National Sports Journalism Center, Deadspin's editor-in-chief Tommy Craggs was asked about the wisdom of including the "80%" quote--which by then had been attributed to a man named J.R. Vaosa.  Craggs responded with typical disdain:  "This is a concern troll's complaint.  It's moronic.  That's a quote from a source who knew both the hoax and hoaxer better than anyone we'd spoken with."

That really was an interesting rebuttal.  J.R. Vaosa knew Ronaiah for a one-month period in 2008, when Vaosa's cousin was being catfished.  According to Vaosa's twitter feed, he caught on to Ronaiah and cut off all ties with him.  In other words, Tommy Craggs is saying the person who knew the "hoax and hoaxer" better than anyone else was also someone who apparently hadn't spoken to Ronaiah in over four years.

However, there was a woman who had spoken with Ronaiah much more recently and who'd heard Ronaiah's confession, and whom Deadspin relied on as a primary source:  Diane O'Meara.

Diane is the woman whose photos were stolen by Ronaiah in order to impersonate Lennay Kekua. Diane was referred to as "Reba" in Deadspin's article, and they located her thanks to reverse-image searches. She and Ronaiah briefly attended the same high school together, where they didn't really interact, although they were friends on Facebook.  In interviews conducted by ProPublica and ThePostGame.com, it's explained how Timothy Burke handled most of the key phone calls during Deadspin's investigation, including the calls made to Diane O'Meara.
                               __________________________________________

Timothy Burke first spoke with Diane on Monday, January 14th.  Diane confirmed it was her in the photos of Lennay, and she was shocked to learn about the hoax. She also revealed that Ronaiah had sent her a Facebook message one month earlier. (This part was included in Deadspin's story.) Ronaiah had requested that she take a photo while holding up a sign saying "MSMK," in order to help cheer up a cousin who'd been hospitalized following a car accident.  Diane had complied, even though she thought the request was strange.

Deadspin never tried to explain what Ronaiah's reason was for contacting Diane out of the blue.  What we know now is that Ronaiah had tried "resurrecting" Lennay in early December to continue the relationship with Manti.  And Manti, being skeptical, asked for a proof-of-life photo with Lennay's full initials and the date.  That's why Ronaiah broke from the script and contacted Diane:  He needed her to pose in that photo.

The original "MSMK" photo, including the date.


(Of course, Deadspin couldn't have known all those behind-the-scenes details.  They never spoke directly with Manti or with Ronaiah, nor with anyone who personally knew Manti.  So I'll go back to what Deadspin would have known...)

After getting the news, Diane called up Ronaiah to confront him about the photos. Ronaiah acted strangely, told her not to worry, and he hung up.  Diane then immediately called back Timothy Burke to describe how Ronaiah had responded.  The Deadspin article reflects on that moment:

"Then, in a series of lengthy phone calls, Reba told us everything she knew about the classmate, a star high school quarterback turned religious musician named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo."

More succinctly:  "Then, in a series of lengthy phone calls, [Diane] told us everything she knew about....Ronaiah Tuiasosopo."

The article then gives a biographical sketch of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, but there's no indication any of the background info comes from Diane.  It's all of a general nature that could have been discovered by looking at news archives and social media websites.  (According to the interview with ThePostGame, Jack Dickey handled most of that research.)  So the reader never learns specifically what Diane said during those lengthy phone calls.
                                     ______________________________________

In the weeks to follow, Diane appeared on several TV shows--including Access Hollywood, Today, and Anderson Live--and gave interviews to the AP and the L.A. Times.  In these interviews, she revealed lots of new details about the hoax, including the the fact Ronaiah had continued contacting her during the first week of January, and she described three requests which Ronaiah had made:

1.)  A photo of Diane holding up a sign saying "MSMK" and "December 21st, 2012."
2.)  A video of Diane saying, "Good luck on the 7th."
3.)  A photo of Diane saying, "Good luck number 5."

The BCS championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame took place on January 7th, and Manti Te'o wore number 5 on his uniform.  It's hard to picture any scenario in which those messages weren't intended specifically for Te'o.  For any competent reporter, this should have raised huge red flags about whether Te'o was actually participating in the hoax.  It's clear that, even into early January, Ronaiah was still trying to mess with Manti's head.  And yet, Deadspin never mentioned these additional requests.  They didn't show the original, dated "MSMK" photo.  And they haven't mentioned "Diane O'Meara" or "Reba" a single time since the original story ran, despite the fact she kept appearing on TV.

Furthermore, Ronaiah called Diane on the evening of Monday, January 14th, and during a 45-minute phone conversation he confessed his role in the hoax.  Previously, Diane had called Deadspin immediately after talking to Ronaiah, so it would make sense that soon after hearing the confession, Diane would again call Deadspin and relay the information.  Diane would've had a window of approximately 40 hours to share this info with Deadspin before the article was published.

When Ronaiah confessed to a church friend back in December, he made it very clear that Manti was innocent and that he played no role in the hoax.  Did Ronaiah tell the same thing to Diane when he was confessing to her?

If so, then did Diane relay that information to Deadspin?  Based on Diane's interviews, it's clear that she personally would have been skeptical of anything Ronaiah told her on the evening of the 14th. However, what would matter is simply whether she relayed what Ronaiah said back to Deadspin.  It would then be Deadspin's obligation to repeat what their sources told them.
                                  ___________________________________________

Burke has insisted several times--when asked about Deadspin's responsibility to make sure their story was accurate--that he was simply repeating whatever his sources told him.  But if Diane had strong circumstantial evidence as well as testimony which implied Te'o was an innocent victim, and if she told Burke everything she knew about Ronaiah, then why didn't that appear in Deadspin's reporting?

There is one caveat here that I'm well aware of:  When Deadspin says Diane shared "everything she knew" about Ronaiah, it shouldn't be taken 100% literally.  My assumption is that Diane shared the same story with Deadspin which she later shared with the AP and the L.A. Times.  And the fact Ronaiah kept hounding her with requests during January was a pretty big part of that story.  (Big enough so that the L.A. Times used it in their headline.)

Maybe that's where I'm mistaken.  If prompted, Diane could simply say, "No, I really only spoke with Timothy Burke for about 30 minutes, and we didn't discuss that part."  This could easily prove to be a waste of time.  Nonetheless, I'm surprised that no one else has tried filling in the blanks in Deadspin's investigation.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sloppy tackling or sloppy journalism?

When Deadspin broke news of the Lennay Kekua hoax last January, it quickly became one of the biggest stories in the history of the website.  This opened them up to plenty of praise as well as some criticism for how they covered the story, but I noticed something strange that actually happened in the midst of their investigation.  Deadspin got their tip about Manti Te'o and Lennay Kekua on Friday, January 11th.  Within hours, the editors knew they had something big, and the reveal happened on Wednesday, January 16th.

In between, Deadspin made one post about Te'o, titled:  "Manti Te'o's Father Wants You To Unsubscribe From The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Because It Printed A Picture Of His Son Missing A Tackle."  As the title implies, Brian Te'o was upset because the Star-Advertiser had run a front-page photo of Manti getting "bowled over" by  Eddie Lacy during the BCS title game.  It was an embarrassing photo, but you can't deny that is summarized how the game went for Notre Dame. Boycotting the newspaper was an absurd response, and Brian Te'o deserved to be mocked for it. However, Deadspin then took things a step further.  The author, Isaac Rauch, wrote:

You have to give the paper credit: they had plenty of opportunity to show pictures of Te'o missing tackles, getting lost in coverage, committing penalties or otherwise fucking up before the final game of his senior season. They had heretofore shown impressive restraint:

Rauch then posted a collection of seven photos that supposedly showed Manti Te'o "fucking up."  By doing so, Deadspin was symbolically kicking Te'o while he was down.  Many commenters joined in on the heckling, but a few pointed out errors with the post.  One commenter, JokeonYou, was annoyed because some of the photos weren't from the 2012 season.  Another, AnonDeadspinCommenter, said the picture with Denard Robinson was misconstrued.

I found six of the seven photos that Deadspin used in this Zimbio album, and most of the original captions did not reflect poorly on Manti Te'o.  In fact, most of them said Te'o was either making a tackle or breaking up a pass.  As an exercise, I tracked down the game footage for each of the seven plays shown in the photos in order to see whose interpretation was accurate.


1.
Game:  Notre Dame at Michigan State

Date:  September 15th, 2012.

Footage of the play.

Verdict:  Te'o makes an immediate tackle on Bell.








2.

Game:  Michigan at Notre Dame

Date:  September 22nd, 2012

Footage of the play.

Verdict:  Te'o is grabbing at Toussaint's facemask during the tackle.  No penalty was called, but even the Zimbio caption mentions the facemask.





3.

Game:  Navy vs. Notre Dame at Aviva Stadium

Date:  September 1st, 2012

Footage of the play.

Verdict:  Te'o makes the tackle on Miller.








4.

Game:  Notre Dame at Stanford

Date:  November 26th, 2011

Footage of the play.

Verdict:  Te'o trips up Luck during a 4-yard gain.








5.

Game:  South Florida at Notre Dame

Date:  September 3rd, 2011

Footage of the play.

Verdict:  Te'o grabs Murray's heel, causing him to stumble after gaining 7 yards.  So it's a sub-par tackle.







6.

Game:  Stanford at Notre Dame

Date:  September 25th, 2010

The game is available on Hulu.  Advance the tracker to 1:09:21.

Verdict:  Te'o successfully breaks up the pass.











7.

Game:  Michigan at Notre Dame

Date:  September 11th, 2010

Footage of the play.

Verdict:  Te'o drags Robinson down for no gain.













Overall, 5 of the 7 photos definitely show Manti Te'o in the process of making a tackle or breaking up a pass.  Another shows Te'o grabbing at an opponent's facemask.  Another shows Te'o making a last-ditch attempt to grab an opponent's heel--which technically would count as a tackle.  

In the grander scheme of things, Rauch's post isn't a huge deal.  But it's just weird how Deadspin would show photos of Manti Te'o sticking tackles and say, 'Here are photos of Manti Te'o missing tackles.'  Tommy Craggs, the editor-in-chief of Deadspin, was asked about the site's correction policy during an interview with the National Sports Journalism Center.  He replied, "Our corrections policy is to correct our mistakes.  Is that a good enough answer for you?"  Well, here are some proven mistakes.

I'm not suggesting all the photos be removed.  The ones I feel should be removed--based on the evidence--are photos one, three, four, six and seven.

Friday, March 22, 2013

More NSFW material

Remember:  According to Gawker, it is incredibly creepy for a website to post nude photos of women without their consent.

Meanwhile, Gawker continues to rake in pageviews by posting leaked celebrity nude photos.  The latest, posted on Tuesday, is a full-frontal shot of actress Shiri Appleby.  It has 451,000 pageviews so far, and 211,000 of those are from new visitors.  The rules about being creepy clearly don't apply when celebrities are involved.

I don't want to go into a spiel right now, but I'll recommend another blogger's essay that closely mirrors my own stance towards Gawker.  The writer is named Freddie de Boer, and the post is titled, "I'll take honest depravity over depravity masked as righteousness."

There should be a couple new posts published here before the end of the month.  Hopefully they're worth the wait.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

And now he's gone

Mobutu Sese Seko has left Gawker.  He revealed his true name in the process, and several commenters pointed out that, in fact, this blog revealed Mobutu's identity back in December.

Was there a direction connection between my blog post and Mobutu's decision from earlier today?  I have no idea.  

But I nailed it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

6,000+ pageviews


Thanks again to the people who have checked out this blog so far.  Also, thanks to the Daily Dot for providing this blog with its very first reference in the media.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hey Jordan Sargent: Fix your article!

I've lurked quite a bit in the comments on Reddit, and one complaint I often read about Gawker is that their writers have a habit of lifting content straight from Reddit.  Usually this doesn't make much sense, since Reddit itself is an aggregator.  Yet other times that's exactly what happens, like when Jordan Sargent wrote an article on December 20th titled, "The 'What is the Sexiest Thing Someone Has Ever Said to You?' Reddit Thread is Reddit Perfectly Encapsulated."

For his research, Jordan scrolled through a bunch of answers from a popular AskReddit thread.  He then wrote snide remarks about the Redditors who had chimed in.  There was a guy with hairy arms; there was a "banal" guy who was complimented on his member; there were some guys asking for tips in bed, etc...  He finished with a story about a Redditor named CaptHerpDerp:



















Boy, Redditors sure are disgusting!  Not only are they dorks, but one of them just admitted to masturbating at work!

Except...that isn't really what happened.  There was no health code violation.  CaptHerpDerp's comment received quite a lot of upvotes, and when a few people misinterpreted his story and took offense with it, he made a clarification:

EDIT: Removed quotations on 'readjustment.'  To clarify, I did NOT fap in the bathroom.  I was wearing a button-down shirt and dockers, so that unexpected trip to Bonertown was both obvious and uncomfortable.

However, the Gawker article was already posted by then.  An honest mistake, perhaps, and I wouldn't fault Jordan Sargent for the confusion. In fact, CaptHerpDerp's clarification was spurred by a Redditor who also thought the word 'readjustment' meant fapping, and maybe that's what convinced Jordan to include the anecdote in the first place.

A few commenters, such as -______- and justsaying1313, pointed out the misinterpretation.  Later that night I sent Jordan a tweet about the error.  Six days later, I wrote a comment reply to Jordan, again highlighting the error for him.  Still there was no correction.

When you're working as a journalist, and someone from your story contradicts your take on the events, don't you owe it to him to get the story straight?  I know that Jordan never contacted CaptHerpDerp, because I contacted CaptHerpDerp myself and he was unaware that Gawker had quoted him.  He told me:  "Wow.  That author took me completely out of context....I'm relatively new here, so I'm a little surprised this happened, but I'm aware now and will be more careful with any future posts."

So if nothing else, I've successfully made somebody more cynical about the internet!  CaptHerpDerp said he didn't work at the same job anymore, and I told him I would try not to feign outrage on his behalf.  But there is still the principle of the matter.

On January 5th I sent Jordan this e-mail:
Dr. <sic> Mr. Sargent, 
Could you please edit the Gawker article you wrote Dec. 20th titled The 'What is the Sexiest Thing Someone Has Ever Said to You' Reddit Thread is Reddit Perfectly Encapsulated.
The waiter from Reddit who you quoted, CaptHerpDerp, clarified that he did NOT masturbate in a restaurant bathroom, as you had said.  You can see his explanation here
In fact, "adjustment" is defined on Urban Dictionary in exactly the way the Redditor meant "readjustment." 
Regardless of who "CaptHerpDerp" is in real life, he doesn't deserve to be misrepresented that way on such a high-profile site as Gawker.

The e-mail was sent at 3 P.M. on a Saturday, smack-dab in the middle of Jordan's work shift, and I made it as easy as possible for him to verify the error.  Still nothing.  A few hours later, Jordan acknowledged a spelling correction sent to him via twitter.  By now, I have to assume Jordan's failure to fix his article is deliberate.

If you Google "CaptHerpDerp," an RSS version of Jordan's article appears on the first page of results. Hypothetically speaking, what if the Redditor behind the account could be matched very easily with his username--if, say, it was his handle for both Reddit and Twitter?  What if a Google background search on the guy brought up the article for everyone to see?  Would Jordan Sargent or anybody else at Gawker care that they got the story wrong?

I doubt it.  For Gawker employees, it's far more important to get a cheap dig in at their target than to get the facts correct.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Some spam notes

There were several Gawker-affiliated Reddit accounts that I chose not to include in my list last week.  

A smattering of accounts that I had found were already banned, likely because they were marked as spam. Some examples are ahavalotion, alpastorrevv and mattchew03.  Their profiles are gone, but you can still see their submission histories.  The 218 accounts I listed had all yet to be banned.  

Other accounts were created by Gawker interns or employees who promoted others domains besides Gawker.  The account Ryanjleone matches up with ex-intern Ryan Leone.  Fifty-four of his links are for Gawker sites, but the final forty-eight links are for theskweesh.com.  I wanted to keep the focus on Gawker domains.    

I haven't received any feedback yet from Reddit admins about the list, which could mean:
A.) It's under review
B.) It is not under review
C.) They are silently granting my wish to study these accounts for a while longer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Catalogue of Gawker's alleged Reddit accounts

These are Reddit accounts I suspect were created by Gawker employees or Gawker interns for the purpose of promoting articles on Reddit.

Most of these are shell accounts with no commenting history.  They aren't sockpuppets in the usual sense.  Argon-aschleman is an exception, and I exposed him earlier.  Also of note, the deleted Twitter account "Turnipsun" belonged to a Christopher Mascari, and Gizmodo's Christopher Mascari was Gawker's editorial marketing manager from 2010 to 2012.  Therefore, these accounts appear to be the result of a company policy.


argon_aschleman
Created:  October 21st, 2012.  02:47:26 UTC
Links: 6
URLs:  All Deadspin


argon-aschleman
Created:  November 16th, 2012.  05:44:42 UTC
Links: 7
URLs:  All Deadspin


turnipsun
Created:  March 2nd, 2010.  20:50:31 UTC
Links: 76
URLs:  Gizmodo--42; Deadspin--8; Gawker--7; Jezebel--7; Kotaku--6; Lifehacker--3; Jalopnik--2;
io9--1.

3 DOWN, 215 TO GO...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

3,000+ pageviews

Thanks to everyone so far who has checked out this blog.  This is still a new undertaking and I'm determining what tone it will finally take--i.e. are there enough secrets about Gawker left to uncover, or will I settle into more of a FireJoeMorgan-type tone?

In the meantime, should anyone wish to contact me with feedback, criticism, tips, etc...I can be reached on Twitter at Alphadog_33, on Reddit at Alphadog33, or on Gmail at DrewJo1981.