October 25, 2021

The Media Equation: A Journalist-Agitator Facing Prison Over a Link

Barrett Brown makes for a pretty complicated victim. A Dallas-based journalist obsessed with the government’s ties to private security firms, Mr. Brown has been in jail for a year, facing charges that carry a combined penalty of more than 100 years in prison.

Professionally, his career embodies many of the conflicts and contradictions of journalism in the digital era. He has written for The Guardian, Vanity Fair and The Huffington Post, but as with so many of his peers, the line between his journalism and his activism is nonexistent. He has served in the past as a spokesman of sorts for Anonymous, the hacker collective, although some members of the group did not always appreciate his work on its behalf.

In 2007, he co-wrote a well-received book, “Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design and the Easter Bunny,” and over time, he has developed an expertise in the growing alliance between large security firms and the government, arguing that the relationship came at a high cost to privacy.

From all accounts, including his own, Mr. Brown, now 32, is a real piece of work. He was known to call some of his subjects on the phone and harass them. He has been public about his struggles with heroin and tends to see conspiracies everywhere he turns. Oh, and he also threatened an F.B.I. agent and his family by name, on a video, and put it on YouTube, so there’s that.

But that’s not the primary reason Mr. Brown is facing the rest of his life in prison. In 2010, he formed an online collective named Project PM with a mission of investigating documents unearthed by Anonymous and others. If Anonymous and groups like it were the wrecking crew, Mr. Brown and his allies were the people who assembled the pieces of the rubble into meaningful insights.

Project PM first looked at the documents spilled by the hack of HBGary Federal, a security firm, in February 2011 and uncovered a remarkable campaign of coordinated disinformation against advocacy groups, which Mr. Brown wrote about in The Guardian, among other places.

Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern and a fan of Mr. Brown’s work, wrote in The Huffington Post that, “Project PM under Brown’s leadership began to slowly untangle the web of connections between the U.S. government, corporations, lobbyists and a shadowy group of private military and infosecurity consultants.”

In December 2011, approximately five million e-mails from Stratfor Global Intelligence, an intelligence contractor, were hacked by Anonymous and posted on WikiLeaks. The files contained revelations about close and perhaps inappropriate ties between government security agencies and private contractors. In a chat room for Project PM, Mr. Brown posted a link to it.

Among the millions of Stratfor files were data containing credit cards and security codes, part of the vast trove of internal company documents. The credit card data was of no interest or use to Mr. Brown, but it was of great interest to the government. In December 2012 he was charged with 12 counts related to identity theft. Over all he faces 17 charges — including three related to the purported threat of the F.B.I. officer and two obstruction of justice counts — that carry a possible sentence of 105 years, and he awaits trial in a jail in Mansfield, Tex.

According to one of the indictments, by linking to the files, Mr. Brown “provided access to data stolen from company Stratfor Global Intelligence to include in excess of 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders’ identification information, and the authentication features for the credit cards.”

Because Mr. Brown has been closely aligned with Anonymous and various other online groups, some of whom view sowing mayhem as very much a part of their work, his version of journalism is tougher to pin down and, sometimes, tougher to defend.

But keep in mind that no one has accused Mr. Brown of playing a role in the actual stealing of the data, only of posting a link to the trove of documents.

Journalists from other news organizations link to stolen information frequently. Just last week, The New York Times, The Guardian and ProPublica collaborated on a significant article about the National Security Agency’s effort to defeat encryption technologies. The article was based on, and linked to, documents that were stolen by Edward J. Snowden, a private contractor working for the government who this summer leaked millions of pages of documents to the reporter Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian along with Barton Gellman of The Washington Post.

By trying to criminalize linking, the federal authorities in the Northern District of Texas — Mr. Brown lives in Dallas — are suggesting that to share information online is the same as possessing it or even stealing it. In the news release announcing the indictment, the United States attorney’s office explained, “By transferring and posting the hyperlink, Brown caused the data to be made available to other persons online, without the knowledge and authorization of Stratfor and the card holders.”

And the magnitude of the charges is confounding. Jeremy Hammond, a Chicago man who pleaded guilty to participating in the actual hacking of Stratfor in the first place, is facing a sentence of 10 years.

Last week, Mr. Brown and his lawyers agreed to an order that allows him to continue to work on articles, but not say anything about his case that is not in the public record.

Speaking by phone on Thursday, Charles Swift, one of his lawyers, spoke carefully.

“Mr. Brown is presumed innocent of the charges against him and in support of the presumption, the defense anticipates challenging both the legal assumptions and the facts that underlie the charges against him,” he said.

Others who are not subject to the order say the aggressive set of charges suggests the government is trying to send a message beyond the specifics of the case.

E-mail: carr@nytimes.com;

Twitter: @carr2n

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/09/business/media/a-journalist-agitator-facing-prison-over-a-link.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder: Tooth Fairy Site Angers Anti-Commercialism Group

LOS ANGELES — The Real Tooth Fairies have encountered a pair of fangs.

The advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood typically goes after the likes of Disney and McDonald’s, but its newest crusade centers on an unusually tiny company: TheRealToothFairies.com.

Aimed at girls 5 to 10 years old, the site sells themed merchandise (lost tooth organizer, $12.99) and offers games meant to promote kindness. For a fee, users can enter a role-playing world.

In a July 16 news release and Huffington Post column, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Susan Linn, criticized the Web company for what she termed its “sexualized” fairies, whom she found to be “largely preoccupied with appearance, shopping, boyfriends — and leg hair!”

Ms. Linn argued that exploiting a childhood institution was particularly crass.

But what made her really angry was an investor video she discovered in the recesses of the Web.

Prepared by the start-up for nonpublic use, the video discusses revenue opportunities associated with lost teeth, emphasizing the number of baby teeth that girls lose annually, about 200 million. “And biology guarantees that will never stop,” a voice says.

TheRealToothFairies.com had YouTube remove the video, and hoped to move on. The site’s founder, Marilyn Bollinger, a North Carolina social worker and children’s book author, did not want to discuss the video when reached by telephone.

“Our focus is on the positive,” she said. “We have such a sweet, sweet brand. We hear from parents that we’re making a lot of happy memories.”

But moving on can be difficult in the Internet age.

Last week, Ms. Linn kept up the attack on Twitter and Facebook, nudging bloggers and the news media to pay attention. She noted, for instance, that a shorter version of the video appears on the investment site Gust.com.

Her campaign might seem akin to shooting a flea with a cannon. Ms. Linn conceded that it was unusual for her organization to go after a start-up, but she said that the site was focused on growth, and that the stature of the people involved with it required her to take the site seriously.

Ms. Bollinger’s husband, Howard, a former Hasbro executive who is the start-up’s chief financial officer, and Paul Yanover, a former Disney executive and now president of Fandango.com, appeared in the video.

A spokesman for Mr. Yanover said he only had a brief consulting role and no longer had anything to do with the site.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/business/media/outcry-against-a-tooth-fairy-web-site.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: How Brill’s Health-Care Opus Jumped From The New Republic to Time

As Time Magazine’s 36-page cover story “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us” started to attract a storm of attention online and on television on Thursday, so did the story about how the article’s author Steven Brill came to write it for Time magazine.

In recent weeks, it was well-known in journalism circles that Mr. Brill’s comprehensive look at the health care industry was scheduled to be the cover story for the relaunch of The New Republic on Jan. 28th. (Michael Calderone at The Huffington Post first described the behind-the-masthead intrigue here.) Mr. Brill who has been reporting the story since June said he had agreed to work with The New Republic because he said he was promised by The New Republic’s new owner Chris Hughes that he would invest a lot in promoting that issue and ultimately Mr. Brill’s story.

“When I realized all the good stuff I had, I said ‘Listen this piece is going to be a big deal,’” said Mr. Brill in an interview about his conversations with Mr. Hughes about publishing the article. “Chris Hughes said ‘It’s absolutely going to be the cover. We’re going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on it.”

But when Mr. Brill learned that his story was going to be bumped to The New Republic’s second issue because Mr. Hughes had landed an interview with President Obama, Mr. Brill pitched the article within hours to four other magazines. While The Atlantic, The New York Times and The New Yorker considered the article, Mr. Brill said he ultimately worked with Time because the magazine’s editors agreed to publish the article as a single story, rather than partly online and in print.

Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time Magazine, said he that while he first had some reservations about Mr. Brill’s story pitch because he thought the article would be “a tough story to read”, he was quick to snap it up once he read it. Mr. Stengel also used the story as a way to experiment with presenting and promoting stories. He said that it was the first time he dedicated an issue to one article and promoted the articles across platforms, like CNN.com and Anderson Cooper 360. He noted that during lunchtime 32,000 people were reading the article at one point.

“This is going to be a famous piece for Steve Brill, a famous piece for Time and nobody is going to care about the provenance,” said Mr. Stengel.

As Mr. Brill managed television interviews and letters from readers on Thursday afternoon, he still questioned the benefit of featuring an article with President Obama on a relaunch issue. Mr. Brill said that when Mr. Hughes described the interview with Mr. Obama, “he must have said Oval Office nine times.” Mr. Brill also remained disappointed that Mr. Hughes promised to place his story on the cover and said “no way” when asked if he would write for The New Republic again.

“No editor needs to make a commitment to someone that your article is going to be on the cover of that magazine. But he made that commitment,” said Mr. Brill. “He did because he wanted to get me to write this for them.”

Franklin Foer, The New Republic’s editor, wrote in an e-mail, “It’s a great piece. I’m sorry that we weren’t able to run it and I’m glad that it ultimately found a home.”

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/how-brills-health-care-opus-jumped-from-the-new-republic-to-time/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder: The Atlantic Apologizes for Scientology Ad

The Atlantic on Tuesday issued a simple three-word apology for publishing an advertisement by the Church of Scientology that resembled a normal article from the acclaimed magazine: “We screwed up.”

The Web page, published around lunchtime on Monday, was labeled as “sponsor content,” but otherwise looked like a sunny blog post about the church’s expansion. The page was titled “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year.” It was noticed by reporters at other news organizations on Monday evening and was stripped from The Atlantic’s site by midnight.

“It shouldn’t have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we’ve made a mistake, possibly several mistakes,” The Atlantic said in a statement. “We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way.”

In other words: The Web site published Scientology’s ad without considering all the consequences.

The Atlantic is far from the only digital publisher pitching advertisers on what is known as sponsored content. Gawker and BuzzFeed are among the other Web sites that have gained attention for the practice, which places an advertiser’s words and visuals (the content) within the frame of the site. The Huffington Post has a whole section front for sponsored content.

But no instance of sponsored content has come under as much criticism as this one. Gawker called the sponsored Web page “bizarre, blatant propaganda for Scientology.” Others raised questions about why all the comments on the page were supportive of the church, indicating that critical comments were being deleted. A spokeswoman for The Atlantic said that the comments were moderated by its marketing team, not by the editorial team that moderates comments on normal articles.

At the same time, others defended the arrangement as a smart business move. The church’s ad buy comes at a time when it is trying to blunt the impact of a new book about the secretive religion by Lawrence Wright, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.” The book will be published on Thursday.

On the same day, the NBC newsmagazine “Rock Center with Brian Williams” will broadcast an interview with the writer and director Paul Haggis, described by the network as “the most famous Scientologist to leave Scientology and speak out against it.”

The Atlantic said on Tuesday that it deleted the Scientology ad “until we figure all of this out,” meaning the policies that govern sponsored content.

“It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand,” the magazine said.

The magazine indicated that it was not backing away from sponsored content altogether, far from it: “We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge — sheepishly — that we got ahead of ourselves.” The statement concluded, ”We are sorry, and we’re working very hard to put things right.”

The Atlantic spokeswoman said that the handling of comments on sponsored content is one of the issues it is going to review.

Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/the-atlantic-apologizes-for-scientology-ad/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Anne Sinclair Named Editorial Director of Huffington Post in France

While neither Le Monde nor The Huffington Post directly announced the appointment of Ms. Sinclair, a well-known TV  journalist in France, they sent out a notice Wednesday inviting reporters to the introduction of ‘‘Le Huffington Post’’ on Monday.  

The invitation was signed by several executives, including Arianna Huffington, the founder of the site, and named Ms. Sinclair as ‘‘editorial director.’’

‘‘I am very happy to resume my career, amid the euphoria of taking part in something new,’’ Ms. Sinclair said in an interview with the French edition of Elle magazine that was posted on its Web site Wednesday. ‘‘I think I still have something to bring to the profession.’’  

The choice of Ms. Sinclair, which has been the subject of speculation in the French press for several weeks, will bring immediate attention to the new site, but also carries potential risks.  

Ms. Sinclair has been in the limelight for other reasons lately, as she stood by her husband’s side when he faced charges, later dropped, that he had sexually assaulted a chambermaid in a New York hotel last year.  

Those charges prompted Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s resignation from the I.M.F. and dashed his hopes of being named the Socialist candidate for the presidential election this spring, when President Nicolas Sarkozy is widely expected to seek a second term.

Some French critics have questioned whether Ms. Sinclair could remain an objective journalist at a time when her husband and their relationship has become a continuing story. In November, the couple filed lawsuits against several French newspapers over their coverage of a new sex scandal, in which Mr. Strauss-Kahn has been drawn into an investigation of an alleged international prostitution ring centered on the city of Lille. Mr. Strauss-Kahn has denounced what he called a ‘‘media lynching.’’  

Ms. Sinclair, a wealthy heiress, was the host of a popular television interview program during the 1980s and ’90s. She gave up that job in 1997 when Mr. Strauss-Kahn was named finance minister of France.   

The new version of The Huffington Post will enter a busy market for online journalism in France, where sites like Mediapart, Rue89, the French edition of Slate and others have gained a reputation for aggressive news coverage and attracted significant audiences.

Some of these sites have struggled to attract advertising in France, where online spending is lower than in the United States and Britain.

The new site is a joint venture of AOL, the Internet company that owns The Huffington Post; Le Monde; and Matthieu Pigasse, a banker who acquired Le Monde in 2010 in partnership with two other investors.  

The French version of The Huffington Post is not the first foray outside the United States for the site. A British version of The Huffington Post, which aggregates news, opinion articles and blogs from its own journalists and outside sources, was started last year.

There is also a version for Canada, with an edition for the French-speaking part of the country also in the works.

The site has also announced plans for a Spanish edition, in partnership with Grupo Prisa, publisher of the newspaper El País.

In the interview with Elle, Ms. Sinclair fired back at critics who have questioned her continuing support for her husband, after he admitted to a liaison with the chambermaid, which he insisted was consensual.

‘‘I am neither a saint nor a victim,’’ she said. ‘‘I am a free woman.’’

‘‘Unconditional support does not exist,’’ she added. ‘‘One supports if one has decided to support. Nobody knows what happens in a private relationship, and I deny anyone the right to judge mine. I am comfortable with my decisions, my actions, I made them independently.’’

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0eabb1811956f5b426180e0b7479f6a1

Media Decoder: Huffington Post Is Target of Suit

The Huffington Post is the target of a multimillion dollar lawsuit filed in United States District Court in New York on Tuesday on behalf of thousands of uncompensated bloggers.

Jonathan Tasini is leading a $105 million lawsuit against the Huffington Post on behalf of unpaid bloggers.Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times Jonathan Tasini is leading a $105 million lawsuit against the Huffington Post on behalf of unpaid bloggers.

The suit seeks at least $105 million in damages for more than 9,000 writers.

The case raises significant unsettled questions about the rights of writers in the digital age and, at the very least, promises to offer a palette of colorful characters on each side.

The legal battle is being led by Jonathan Tasini, a labor advocate who was the lead plaintiff in a pivotal freelancers’ rights ruling in 2001. On Tuesday, Mr. Tasini unleashed his outrage over The Huffington Post’s practices, likening the Web site’s founder, Arianna Huffington, to a slave owner.

“The Huffington bloggers have essentially been turned into modern-day slaves on Arianna Huffington’s plantation,” Mr. Tasini said in a conference call with reporters. He vowed to picket Ms. Huffington’s house and turn her into an outcast in the liberal circles where she made her blog so prominent.

“It’s very important to understand the hypocrisy here,” he continued. “We are going to make Arianna Huffington a pariah in the progressive community.”

He concluded the call by addressing Ms. Huffington directly. “Until you do justice here, your life is going to be a living hell.”

Ms. Huffington’s spokesman, Mario Ruiz, said the suit was without merit and disputed the claim that the bloggers deserve compensation. “As we’ve said before, our bloggers use our platform — as well as other unpaid group blogs across the Web — to connect and help their work be seen by as many people as possible,” Mr. Ruiz said. “It’s the same reason people go on TV shows: to promote their views and ideas.”

The Huffington Post became a popular and potentially valuable target for people seeking compensation for unpaid blogging after AOL purchased the site for $315 million this year. That deal enriched Ms. Huffington and many of her business partners, much to the dismay of people who had worked for the site when it was just a start-up.

Mr. Tasini said Tuesday that the sale was what motivated a lot of bloggers to speak up and demand payment.

Mr. Tasini has long been active in politics and labor rights issues. He ran against Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in 2006 on an antiwar platform. He was the lead plaintiff in a case against The New York Times that led the Supreme Court to rule in 2001 that newspaper and magazine publishers had infringed the copyrights of freelance contributors by making their articles accessible without permission in electronic databases after publication.

Mr. Tasini is himself a Huffington Post blogger, though he has not written for the site since Feb. 10. Mr. Tasini said Tuesday that he would consider anyone now blogging for Ms. Huffington a “scab.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8abb235d7c05198d8d933682e27c9118