WaPo Vs. BoingBoing?

This is a live story, with several updates. Please read it all, it takes many turns, and you won’t know what happened unless you do. There are several updates, which are listed at the bottom of this story and are crucial to understanding the context and content of this story.

By now, I’m sure, there are many people who have heard of Christopher Soghoian. Chris is a PhD student at IU, working on a PhD in Informatics, and recently published a PHP-based system that could fake a Northwest Airlines Boarding Page, in an attempt to show how TSA is more “security theatre” than “good security”. It’s no surprise, then, that BoingBoing picked up the ball and ran with it both before and after Soghoian was visited by the FBI and a Congressman had called (wrongfully and idiotically) for his arrest. What’s interesting here, and what’s applicable to our local jurisdiction, is that Brian Krebs, security blogger for the Washington Post picked up the same story, and it reads in similar tone, with similar information.


While I wouldn’t call it “irresponsible journalism,” in the vein of plagiarism, or anything like that, let’s pause for a moment and take a look at Brian Krebs. Back in August, Brian Krebs put out a piece called Hijacking a MacBook in 60 Seconds or Less which, full of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, was taken apart handily by Blogger Jon Gruber, including a rehash, or two, or three, in which Krebs’ account is challenged by other writers. Should we be at all surprised if he did take the story from another blogger and repurpose it as his own? Probably not. Hey, those new media bloggers for the Post have to make their shiny nickles somehow, why not do it on the backs of other bloggers?

An Update: After looking at Jardin’s story on BoingBoing, and looking at Krebs’ tale on the Post, I’ve got a major objection here, perhaps someone else can figure this out for me?

The timeline appears odd. BB’s story goes up at 5:30pm on Friday, an hour and forty-five minutes after the form was taken down by the FBI. Krebs wrote in the comments of his post at WaPo: “When I phoned Soghoian Friday evening, he abruptly ended our conversation shortly after it began by saying that two FBI agents were banging on his door asking to speak with him. A short time later, the tool he had posted on his site vanished.” If the timeline holds that the site was offline at 3:45p Eastern Daylight time, how was it that Krebs was still at the site three hours later? That doesn’t fit. The FBI visited Soghoian at 3:45 and the site was taken down around then. If Krebs hears about this at 6:50, calls Soghoian at that instant and only just then is the site taken down, we have a major discrepancy between Krebs’ account and Jardin’s account.

I trust the earlier story. [Further updates cast these stories into interesting light. Read on]

Further Updates Behind the Cut

Another Update: I’ve been sent to Chris Soghoian’s own blog to take a look at his chronology, which seems to fit with Jardin’s account and not Krebs’ account. Chris recounts The FBI at the Door at 3:54pm on Friday, where they are not to return until late in the night with a search warrant. This pretty much debunks Krebs’ whole column as an out and out fabrication. There’s no way that he heard about this story at ten til seven on Friday night and caught Soghoian before the site was taken down. Sorry, Charlie, this doesn’t wash at all. Not with a major 3 hour gap in the time. [Read the third update. There may be truth in here yet. –TB]

Between the iPod Jeer Payola and this, it’s been an ugly week for the Washington Post. Hat Tip to Sean Bonner for talking with me about the timelines.

Update The Third: I’ve now had a personal conversation with Brian Krebs, in which Krebs has demonstrated he did a wget of Soghoian’s site at 5:55pm on Friday, and a conversation via his Treo at 6:51p on Friday with Chris Soghoian. At question still, is Krebs’ contention that Soghoian hung up to deal with further FBI agents when that’s not confirmed by Soghoian’s blog (Visit 1 at 3:54p, Visit 2 some time early Saturday morning, with no intervening visit). So, Either one of two things happened, and these hypotheses are entirely mine: either Soghoian didn’t want to talk with Krebs any further and gave an answer to Krebs that would be plausible (The FBI are here again), or, Krebs’ call to Soghoian was misreported. There’s plenty of reasonable doubt here, plenty of weak links. We won’t know who was right until Chris emerges, which if I were him, would be in early 2096.

Update Four: I’ve now had a conversation with Brian’s editor, Russ, at WPNI. Russ is concerned with a few things in this story that he feels need to be addressed, specifically my treatment of Brian. I use some strong language in this post, including words like Fabrication, which I have left standing only to allow for continuity’s sake, and to preserve the timeline here, but they turned out not to be so. Do I have questions? Yes. Are there (many) answers that aren’t ascribeable to Brian’s reporting? Yes, there are. Perhaps I was unfair to Brian, and for that I apologize. I saw a hole and I reported it zealously using tools at my disposal, but that left out the personal aspect. Next time, I’ll be able to ask Krebs himself, as well as talk with his editor. I apologize to Brian for my mischaracterization of his work. Questions remain, but they’re not his fault.

10 Comments so far

  1. Dave (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 5:15 pm

    Tom, I have to say that your bias against Krebs for what he wrote about Apple *clearly* tainted your analysis of the situation and led to rush to judgement. After all, since the Macbook column, you — and many, many other reactionary Apple bloggers — have been watching Krebs and waiting carefully for your chance to say “gotcha”!

    Your barely concealed glee over what you saw as a chance to get back at Krebs is really one of the biggest reasons why bloggers will never be accorded the same level of respect as the media. I also find it laughable that you find the time to call out the minutiae of Krebs’ reporting timeline, when Brian was probably spending that time, you know, actually researching and reporting for his next column.

    And finally, about your grudging apology at the end: Kudos for manning up and admitting you were wrong. However, frankly I think you’re deluding yourself by saying next time you’ll be able to quiz Brian or his editor on his reporting strategy. I don’t mean for this to sound harsh, but who are you to question — or flagrantly accuse — a respected journalist? Do you really think they care what you think, or what any bloggers think?

  2. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 5:32 pm

    Dave, my only experience with Mr. Krebs has come from his reporting on the MacBook issue. Take a look at Jon Gruber’s pieces, linked above, and tell me that Mr. Gruber doesn’t have some incredibly valid points? I’ve no beef with Mr. Krebs, and I don’t think your characterization of my tone as “barely concealed glee” is an accurate one from my perspective.

    Who am I to accuse a journalist? Well, I’m just another dude. I wasn’t aware you needed to have special status to criticize the media. Perhaps you can tell me where I need to get those credentials, because I’m interested. My real issue here is transparency. Mr. Krebs’ initial reaction to my comment on his blog concerning the time gap was defensive and not forthcoming. There’s still the big question of the problem in the timeline, but I suspect that as long as Chris Soghoian isn’t talking with reporters, we won’t know whether or not he was blowing off the reporter, or whether Mr. Krebs reported inaccurately.

    Perhaps you’d like to submit another theory?

  3. mns (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 9:01 pm

    You could save yourself a lot of embarrassment in the future by not running off at the mouth when you don’t know what’s going on. I’ve used that method for years, and it’s saved me a lot of hassle.

    It’s really pretty awesome being right all the time. You should give it a try, blogger.

  4. OMFG (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 9:16 pm

    Oh, he wrote an Apple column and somebody later corrected him on its technical issues. Therefore, it’s highly likely that he fabricated an unrelated FBI story later on!

    You fucking morons are unbelievable.

  5. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 9:21 pm

    Thanks for the advice, MNS. Good questions, though, are part of open and transparent journalism.

  6. mns (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 9:30 pm

    “Open and transparent journalism” is what people with no real problems sit around and think about. The ones that seem most obsessed with it seem to be the least informed about the subject. Funny how that works.

    I miss the days before all you people ruined the Internet. Ahh, the good old days.

  7. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 9:38 pm

    Open and transparent journalism is what keeps folks honest, MNS. If you want dishonest reporting, I’m sure it’s out there, you just have to keep looking.

    Also, would love to know how you classify “you people”.

  8. OMFG (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 10:39 pm

    “Open and transparent journalism” is a meaningless catchphrase; give it content or stop throwing it around.

    Ethical reporting independently verifies facts and sources those facts. And I’m very sorry, Xeni’s blog post is not a source. Blogs are hearsay, as your amazing parade of corrections, accusations, irrelevancies, and 180 reversals above ably illustrate.

    Even if Krebs DID get the idea for the story from BB (and I highly doubt he did), he independently researched and sourced his story, contacted the subject, and quoted government officials with whom he spoke. As he should have. I can’t imagine what else you think “open and transparent journalism” requires. A fucking livejournal link? What does that add to the conveying of news?

  9. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on October 31st, 2006 @ 12:10 am

    Says the one who won’t even own up to his (her?) own words. Xeni’s a reporter in her own right, who by all accounts did her homework in its entirety. She’s a legit journalist, employed by NPR and by BoingBoing. Don’t believe me? Check out Quinn Norton’s account of the story. I’d say Xeni’s at least as credible as Krebs, without a recent fiasco under her belt, to boot. No one’s asking for a livejournal link, OMFG, if that is your real name, we’re asking for credit where credit is due.

    As Violet has pointed out on her side of the story, time and time and time again the mainstream media has taken story ideas from bloggers and repurposed them for their own use without so much as a hat tip or a thank you. Bloggers are tired of being used by MSM, and so there’s some frustration that the storymaking process isn’t transparent and honest in giving credit to inspirations and sources when they’re due.

  10. Don (unregistered) on October 31st, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

    Blogs are inherently hearsay? Why is Xeni’s work on BoingBoing rather than for NPR somehow inherently less worthy than Krebs’ online work?

    I never fail to be amazed by people who claim that blog postings that contain additional information, retractions, and clarifications are prima fascie evidence that they’re less worthwhile than print journalism. The only thing those are proof of is that an online article has the potential to evolve and expand in a way than print does not. Print runs their corrections – and lord knows they’ve got em – days later and far removed from the original material. Ours are in-line.

    Beyond that, why is anyone who puts words out there above being questioned about them? If it’s a statement of incontrovertible fact that Krebs “independently researched and sourced his story, contacted the subject, and quoted government officials with whom he spoke” then why is it a problem for him to be questioned on any and all of his statements of fact, in particular the ones that he makes based purely on his own experience?

    When a reporter uses himself as a source he should be prepared to be questioned on his accuracy. Probably with greater scrutiny than a quoted source, particularly if in the past s/he has demonstrated “ready fire aim” behavior.

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