You’ll Regret the Error: On the Trail of the Elusive Press Correction
A week back I wrote a post in which I noted how much Dallas Observer’s Jim Schutze has done for Dallas while serving as a much-needed icon for aspiring journalists such as myself, pointed out a couple of crucial errors in the column he wrote about my case a few days after my 2012 arrest, and used this example of an exceedingly skilled journalist putting out exceedingly flawed reporting to make the case for crowd-sourced research networks. The practice of using a few dozen rotating volunteers assist journalists with generating crucial but easily-overlooked story ideas or compiling and evaluating data on assigned topics is still rare because some journalists can’t really imagine that their accuracy needs a boost, while others may not even care. Luckily, the dramatic incidents surrounding my old outfit Project PM and my wacky buddies in Anonymous helped to bring wider attention to the successes that prompted that drama to begin with — the SWAT team was a particular hit with the press, and the gag order the DOJ managed to obtain even after admitting in open court that they were unhappy about an article I’d written that was “critical of the government” clarified matters even among those journalists who had no idea I was a journalist because they themselves were a bit lacking in the relevant skills, or even just the modesty that prompts caution. Schutze, for instance, responded to my original post with a comment reading, in its entirety, “Huh?”
We all make mistakes; that’s why newspapers have those “Corrections” boxes. But the problem with those boxes is that they can give readers the impression that media outlets are diligent about correcting errors; and when one sees it noted therein that the publication is very sorry to have misspelled the name of a city council staffer or misidentified someone in a photo they ran at a film premiere, even cynical types will tend to assume that the basic press framework of editor, writer, and (maybe) fact checker that we’ve inherited largely intact from 17th century London is sufficient. That’s why I usually start the talks I give on media reform by refusing to introduce myself, and instead spend two or three minutes listing some of the mutually-exclusive and occasionally bizarre characterizations of who I am and what I do that have appeared in the world’s most respected outlets — Reuters, BBC, The New York Times, and all the other institutions by which any new enterprise must be measured.
Let’s start with measuring Schutze, who -
- claims Anonymous “became famous” in 2008 over the attacks on MasterCard and Visa attack in defense of Wikileaks, which occurred in late 2010
- somehow manages to take away from the D Magazine profile on me that he refers to over and over again that I “claim to be a spokesman for Anonymous” and makes this the premise of his column even though that very issue is addressed at length in this single article he appears to have read on me where I’m quoted pointing out that I’d consistently denied that designation in the months since the press had begun calling me that, and which is verified by the guy who’s looked closely into these matters
- somehow manages to be unclear on why I would be openly affiliated with that group even though this, too, is explained therein by Gregg Housh, the other guy openly affiliated with the group and who oversaw the Scientology campaign that Schutze does decide is real Anonymous business and who brought me in to help with the Tunisian support campaign and take on some of the press work
- airs the idea that my work with Anonymous is something I’d perhaps just “claimed” when it had been pretty firmly established since January 2010, when the NYT interviewed me about Tunisia, Egypt, and the lawyers I was arranging for those just raided over the Visa attacks (somehow these had occurred recently even though Schutze, who claims to be affiliated with this timeline, remembers them occurring in 2008), and since there was actually an internet relay chat server from which these operations were conducted and journalists could come into many of the chat rooms, which is why some of what I’d been involved in had been recorded for posterity, if not for The Dallas Observer
- speculates as to what LulzSec might be as if this had not been established in even slow-on-the-uptake soccer mom outlets for about a year by that point;
- had to talk to his “source” to determine what my FBI raid was about even though Michael Hastings had run it on super-secret dark web site Buzzfeed six months prior and explained that it was about my work investigating firms like HBGary and Endgame Systems, which I wrote about in The Guardian and compiled on the Project PM site we’d made available to other journalists (the warrant lists PPM, the website, two of the firms we’d caught planning to target journalists like Glenn Greenwald and look up the children of labor leaders to find dirt, things that not only made the news but which would be covered in several documentaries in which I’m interviewed at length
- is either unaware that I was a journalist who’d written for things like Vanity Fair or finds this irrelevant, though it would have helped to answer the pressing question of why oh why some guy would work with the group under his own name — or maybe not, but he does seem very interested in whether I am perhaps some sort of man-child
- decides that I’m “either a weak link or, if he’s not really linked to anything, just weak”. I’d say the guy who’d been revealed to have been turned by the FBI six months prior in a Fox News exclusive might be a better candidate (of course this was a few months before I’d been charged with 100 years worth of nonsense including one multi-count charge carrying a 22 year mandatory minimum, but rejected a plea deal making that two because it would entail signing to an offense involving linking to data that every major journalist defense outfit explained would set a dangerous precedent putting journalists and researchers at risk thereafter, except for Jim because he’s not one of those “internet people” who “search” for things
- thinks my raid occurred in March 2011 rather than a year later
- discovers some possible connection between me and those mysterious LulzSec people that actual Fox News producers could tell you all about, on the grounds that I was raided in March and some of them were too. Had he discovered that all of this actually occurred on the VERY SAME MORNING, he would have been right up there with everyone else who’d covered this, but he’d probably get the year wrong so who knows
- decides that I’m on drugs in the video. In fact I was in a manic state caused in part by sudden withdrawal from Paxil, which I wasn’t aware of until court shrink explained this was common; I did know I was rather emotional due to reducing my intake of Suboxone in recent days, which made the whole “HBGary thing has led to them to prepare charges against your mom thing” that DOJ made sure to tell my lawyer two days after the original raid, and anyway I was naive enough to believe that explaining this would provide some, like, clues
- decides that I am specifically on heroin, or at least that referring to me as a “heroin addict” in the first paragraph based on the references to the heroin I got off two years prior is just common sense
- other things involving whether or not I threatened to kill the FBI special agent (hint: not even the DOJ maintained that I threatened to kill him; instead they helpfully cut up the sentence in question to remove the reference to doing what Aaron Barr did — another huge mystery discussed at length in that D article but still mysterious anyway).
- reads that my mom came over to give my place a thorough cleaning before NBC’s Michael Isikoff arrived with a camera crew to interview me about our role in Tunisia’s successful democratic revolution, and decides that the real story here is that my “benighted mother is still cleaning up his apartment for him”.
- writes this:
“My first thought was, ‘The paper should hire this guy.’ (That was before I got to the part about him being a heroin addict.)”
I was, of course, a heroin addict for two years, and have since been on Suboxone maintenance (as I had for over two years at the time Schutze decided otherwise). I’ve been candid about my addiction issues, because I think it’s important to be able to run it in everyone’s face when I do things like win the National Magazine Award for commentary while I’m being illegally held in a segregation cell. Also I wrote my book proposal from prison and, wouldn’t you know it, I was back on Suboxone at the time. And when it comes out a year from now, and it turns out to include a mistake, I’ll apologize and make sure it’s corrected in the next edition. But I’ll be content to know that I’ve never added to someone’s difficulties, and that of his mother, in the way that all three of this city’s outlets did in September 2012 when they decided that I wasn’t worth the effort needed for accuracy, and neither were their readers. And then I’ll steal some shit out of Jim Schutze’s garage and sell it for heroin.