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Victim of Sloppy Journalism?
May 12, 2002 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Victim of Sloppy Journalism? Wired News Intern Danit Lidor wrote a sensational, one-sided story about one of Rod Montgomery's employer's customers. Rod was quoted accurately, but he is not WordRecords.com's webmaster, was not responsible for the less-than-swift marketing campaign, and didn't know the context of Lidor's question at the time.

Lidor's sloppy journalism implies that Rod and his employer are spam-generators, when this is very far from the truth.

What would you do if you were misquoted or misrepresented in an article printed in a large Internet news site? Should Lidor post a formal retraction?

Rod's full letter to Wired can be found here.
posted by quonsar (18 comments total)

 
We actively enforce an anti-spam policy," he said. "I have received one spam-cop complaint regarding this mailing. We don't have a policy specific to 'chain letters,' as they're typically forwarded about by end users, not organizations."

Seems to me that this quote defends the spamming, as Montgomery refered to "this mailing." As I see it, he got the official policy (which I presume is entirely correct), exactly as if he had found it on the company's website. So his only journalistic problem was the misrepresentation of Montgomery, which to me is not a terribly big deal if the rest of the story is accurate. Print a correction.

On the other hand, if Lidor somehow misrepresented himself in a way not apparent from Montgomery's website, this probably constitutes libel.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 6:59 PM on May 12, 2002


The original request, "I'm hoping to get some feedback from you about an Amy Grant promotion contest that is going on through one of your clients - Word Records. Can you give me your official policy on chain-letters and or spam mail?" is definitely poorly-worded, unless Danit was intentionally trying to be vague. Of course, Danit also identified himself(herself?) as a reporter rather than an intern when they're clearly two distinct titles according to Wired's staff page, so maybe it was intentional.

The finished piece does imply that Rod is defending a chain-letter mass-mailing campaign. Identifying Rod as the Webmaster is clearly incorrect. I would expect that a polite request for a correction would settle the matter. If it failed to do so, then would be the time to be upset. Not now.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:13 PM on May 12, 2002


Well, quonsar, I think you're being one-sided yourself by framing quotations as facts. As feature writing it's entitled to take a point of view, in this case labeling a gray area as spam, as long as they're otherwise factual. Really, the misidentification of Montgomery is the only severe problem I see with the piece.

Montgomery, though, may have been unwise to speak with a self-identified reporter without clearing his response through his superiors. (Particularly if he's a contractor.) It's flattering to get an invitation to respond, but if he wasn't in an official position to speak for the company he could really have stepped in it. I don't think he did, but the impression given is that he is speaking for the company, and those questions should have gone to an IT director, along with similar queries of the PR/marketing director. Chances are, if asked, they may have responded "no comment".
posted by dhartung at 9:21 PM on May 12, 2002


On the other hand, if Lidor somehow misrepresented himself in a way not apparent from Montgomery's website, this probably constitutes libel.

ok, it's been awhile but doesn't libel require the victim prove the reporter had knowledge that the information was false and had willful intent to harm? maybe that's only if the libeled is famous. but i'm pretty sure you have to prove knowledge of falsity, regardless of who you are.
posted by jodic at 9:45 PM on May 12, 2002


It isn't clear from Mr. Montgomery's post what email address Lidor used to contact him. Lidor does address Montgomery as "Rod", therefore we can assume that some interaction has happened between Lidor and Montgomery previous to this exchange. The "feedback" link (from Word Records) leads to "webmaster@wordrecords.com".
Here's the relevant parts of the exchange:

Lidor:Can you give me your official policy on chain-letters and or spam mail?
Note : official policy specifically requested.

Montgomery: Sure, Danit -- we actively enforce an anti-spam policy. I have received one spamcop complaint regarding this mailing.
That looks like an official policy to me; and since Montgomery states that he receives Spamcop complaints, it would strongly imply that he's either "webmaster@wordrecords.com" or "postmaster@wordrecords.com".

Montgomery (on Uxmaal) : I didn't represent myself as a WordRecords spokesperson or webmaster,
If it went out from "webmaster@wordrecords.com" in response to a reporter's request for official policy, this is BS.
posted by swell at 9:45 PM on May 12, 2002


What would you do if you were misquoted or misrepresented in an article printed in a large Internet news site? Should Lidor post a formal retraction?

The only thing Lidor should do is print a correction stating Rod Montgomery is not the Webmaster of World Records. Why would he have to retract the whole story?
posted by jodic at 9:52 PM on May 12, 2002


Crash - Regardless of the "about" page, the usual practice for stuff prepared by interns is to attribute to "Wired Staff Reports", or something similar. Lidor's the bylined author of the report - identifying him/herself as a reporter is 100% correct, whether he/she is a seasonal hire or not.
posted by swell at 10:09 PM on May 12, 2002


Montgomery (on Uxmaal) : I didn't represent myself as a WordRecords spokesperson or webmaster,

swell (on Metafilter): If it went out from "webmaster@wordrecords.com" in response to a reporter's request for official policy, this is BS.

Note that the headers in the email Montgomery quotes on Uxmaal clearly says, "From: Rod Montgomery" not "Webmaster." On the other hand, the "To:" header in the email he quotes in that email are not included.

Best guess? It was recieved via "webmaster@worldrecords.com" by Mr. Montgomery. The webmaster address is usually used for technical questions and communications, and is therefore often forwarded to the person responsible for the machine/site in a technical sense, and in instances where a site is hosted or colocated often to the technically responsible party at the colocation/hosting facility. Mr. Montgomery's response is in line with that sort of setup. This is getting old-fashioned, though, and nowadays many companies' webmaster address goes directly to marketing.

However, given that M(r|s). Lidor clearly stated that he/she was a reporter and was requesting this information as a part of a news story, Mr. Montgomery should have forwarded this on to the Corporate Communications department at World Records (or, failing that, his contact there) and not taken it upon himself to answer it.

If I were World Records, I'd have some words for Mr. Montgomery's employer.
posted by hob at 11:23 PM on May 12, 2002


Montgomery probably should have been more careful about responding, but he's entitled not only to be quoted accurately, but also in context.

Lidor asked Montgomery for a comment about the spam policy, and then turned around and said Montgomery had "defended" the campaign. The story would look different if Lidor had said Montgomery

...expressed concern about the company's campaign. "We actively enforce an anti-spam policy," he said. "I have received one spam-cop complaint regarding this mailing. We don't have a policy specific to 'chain letters,' as they're typically forwarded about by end users, not organizations."

But then again, this is also a mischaracterization. Sometimes I wonder about how email exchanges affects reporting, for exactly this reason. It seems like email exchanges are much easier to mischaracterize than genuine conversations; I feel certain that a phone conversation (which Montgomery DID try to encourage) would have allowed both sides to be more clear.
posted by coelecanth at 12:31 AM on May 13, 2002


"What would you do if you were misquoted or misrepresented in an article printed in a large Internet news site? Should Lidor post a formal retraction? "

Great question!
What should Drudge do each day with the lies he prints on his web site? He brags about never doing fact checking and then ruins people's lives with his rumor mill. I say he should be sued completely out of business. But that is difficult so long as Scaife is his sugar daddy. And so he remains a right wing hit man.
posted by nofundy at 7:04 AM on May 13, 2002


Rod has posted some clarifications:

* I am API Digital Communication's Chief Geek. Yes, that's my real title, filling the highest technical position in an admittedly small company. (It seems a bit stilted to call yourself a CIO or IT Director when you have less than 25 employees.)

* I can speak for API Digital and was doing so in my first and only email with Wired News via Danit Lidor. If you read my previous post, then you saw the entire communication, sans mail headers and sigs. Lidor did not provide any details about the story and did not followup via email or the provided phone number.

* The network I built supports many thousands of customers, and we do actively enforce an anti-spam policy. Obviously, I must have knowledge of an infraction to take appropriate action. Please note I asked Danit: "Is there some bigger story I should know about?"

* Neither I nor API Digital is responsible for Word Records' astroturfing campaign. Other music-related customers frequently ask their readers to aid in promotion, i.e. "call your local radio station to request our new single being released Tuesday." Tying a reward to the quantity of email sent sounds sinister to anti-spam activists, but WordRecords promised to withhold any prize from anyone that used automated means to distribute the message. It's not spam, but there are other ways to get your message out and still look good.

* I am not webmaster@wordrecords.com. I can easily put you in touch with the people that are "webmaster@wordrecords.com" and was not asked to help do so. I assumed Lidor was doing the job properly and had successfully contacted a Word Records representative.

I'll try to contact Lidor today to get the rest of the story published on Wired News. Lidor seems only interested in publishing sensational lines such as, "Jesus preached the gospel of turning the other cheek, but what would he have said about spam?" We'll see if Wired is interested in the truth.
posted by Unxmaal at 1:57 PM on May 13, 2002


Unxmaal--the stuff you're posting here is in first-person form, without a byline, on unxmaal.com. Are you and Rod the same person?
posted by rodii at 2:25 PM on May 13, 2002


No, I'm Unxmaal. Unxmaal.com is my website. Rod just posts there.

The posts on Unxmaal.com do indeed have bylines, located at the end of each article.
posted by Unxmaal at 3:05 PM on May 13, 2002


Also note: I am posting Rod's comments to MeFi because Rod has no MeFi account, is unable to obtain one, and is therefore unable to defend himself against those in this forum who accuse him and his company of being spam-friendly.
posted by Unxmaal at 3:07 PM on May 13, 2002


Thanks for the clarification. (But I don't see any bylines, except for "Jeremie"s on the comment. Am I going blind?)
posted by rodii at 3:30 PM on May 13, 2002


The byline doesn't actually say "By ___". It says, for example, "roderickm [little U image] X comments", where 'roderickm' links to Rod's (barren) website, the U links to the article's hardlink, and 'comments' pops up the comments window.
posted by Unxmaal at 3:51 PM on May 13, 2002


(I've taken this offline, but just in case anyone else is having the same problem as me, I'm not being deliberately dumb, there's some kind of display problem (for me, at least) with the URL above. That's what caused all my confusion. Sorry for the thread hijack.)
posted by rodii at 4:19 PM on May 13, 2002


Is it just me, or has the text of the article changed? Now Mr. Montgomery is correctly identified...nice how they've just rewritten history without offering a correction. Hardly respectible journalism that lends itself to trusting Wired, is it? Sheesh. Yep, I think Wired may have just joined the ranks of the Weekly World News as far as trustworthy is concerned. (Although less entertaining...at least the WWN had Bat Boy.)
posted by dejah420 at 7:37 PM on May 13, 2002


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