Tag Archives: Year of birth missing

Clint, Veganism, and Maligning the Net

Great interview in the International Herald Tribune/NYT with Clint Eastwood, but once again, it’s old media slagging off new media and ending up looking the worse for it.

The interviewer, presumably, asks Clint to confirm that he’s a vegan. Turns out he’s not.  Apparently the writer did his research on Wikipedia, because that’s what he cites as a source:

Despite what you might have read on Wikipedia, Eastwood is not a vegan, and he looked slightly aghast when told exactly what a vegan is. “I never look at the Internet for just that reason,” he said.

Trouble is, the source is not Wikipedia. As anyone who uses Wikipedia knows, any information on there must be sourced. A glance at the actual Wikipedia page would reveal that the source for this ‘fact’ about Clint is, in fact, a fellow old media source, The Los Angeles Times:

People ask him to autograph rifles, but Eastwood is no Charlton Heston. A vegan, he was distressed to hear Hillary Rodham Clinton boast recently about bagging a bird.

This piece was subsequently run in the San Jose Mercury News, the Providence Journal and PressDisplay.

In fact, you won’t be able to see this on the Wikipedia page anymore because it’s been removed. That’s because some new media moves faster than old media: on December 11, the day the NYT piece was first published, a Wikipedian spotted the reference and prompted a discussion, and the removal of the reference on the grounds that a direct denial from Eastwood trumps an LAT piece. (You can see the discussion here.)

In other words, from what we can judge, the journalist involved researched Clint on Wikipedia, and was ready enough to accept that as a source on which to base his questions. When the fact in question turned out to be wrong, he allowed Clint to make a familiar sideswipe at the Internet, and not further research the origin of the myth.

But the story doesn’t stop there. The LA Times doesn’t cite a source. But there are plenty of them—apparently. Clint is quoted on dozens of sites as saying

“I try to stick to a vegan diet—heavy on fruit, vegetables, tofu, and other soy products.”

Sites like GoVeg.com have been happy to include him in their Animal-Friendly Celebrities (although, to their credit, they seem to have removed him. Compare this page with this cached version.)

What’s perhaps most intriguing is the source of this quote. I’ll admit I can’t find it. But it’s been bouncing around the net for a couple of years; this forum cites it in September 2006. I found a  piece in Glasgow’s Daily Record on May 23, 2006 that also listed Clint as vegetarian, although the web site does not seem to contain a record of it. The oldest reference I can find is in the Miami New Times, on October 13 2005, which lists Clint among a number of (supposed) vegans.

In other words, a myth arose on the net, without any straightforward way of establishing its provenance or authenticity, which was then happily picked up by websites, businesses, and organisations whose purpose it served, then found its way into a mainstream news article, before finally being authoritatively quashed.

So yes, in a way Clint and the NYT reporter are right. The Internet isn’t reliable. But Wikipedia is. Or at least, it’s no less reliable than the sources it cites. Which in this case, happened to be old media itself.

Lesson? As a journalist I guess I might too have fallen into the trap of trusting the LA Times. But it’s a timely reminder that there’s no fact too small or apparently established that it can’t stand to be fact-checked.

Just don’t blame the net if you get it wrong. It’s cheap and it’s old wave.

The veteran power of Clint Eastwood – International Herald Tribune

How to Flatter 100 Bloggers

Do portraits of them as ASCII art. Amit Agarwal, an India-based blogger of impeccable test and refinement, does some very cool pictures of 100 bloggers. Including that picture of me looking smarmy in the middle of the kampung:

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ASCII Art: Colored Text Paintings of Your Favorite Bloggers – Digital Inspiration

The Wrong Guy Goes to Hollywood

The ‘Wrong Guy’ story just keeps going. The Congo-Brazzaville man who was interviewed on the BBC mistakenly as a computer pundit back in May could have his own movie, according to the BBC:

The incident involving Guy Goma is the basis for a film being planned by Alison Rosenzweig, who produced the 2002 Nicolas Cage film Windtalkers. “If they want to do a movie, I don’t mind talking with them,” Mr Goma, 38, told the Associated Press news agency. .. “He’s a fun, kind of internationally famous person that I think is an interesting source for movie material,” Ms Rosenzweig said. “We’re developing the project, and hopefully we’ll be able to set it up on a major studio.” She added that the amount of money Mr Goma could make would depend on the financing of the project.

Lovely stuff, although I’m not sure the one incident may suffice for a movie. Anyway, he’s big enough to have his own Wikipedia entry, his own web-page, and lots of half-baked news stories that turn out not to be true. No one loves a celeb more than the Brits.
 

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Is Guy The Citizen Pundit In Danger?

Disastrous news for instant celebrities everywhere: Being mistaken for an Internet pundit on the BBC can bring you to the attention of the wrong people. Our hero Guy Goma, whom we (mistakenly) called a taxi driver when he was in fact an expert in data cleansing when the BBC mistook him for an Internet pundit and interviewed him live on TV, is in fact an illegal immigrant, according to UPI. (In turn, the BBC has possibly taken my suggestion that he be given his own showed too literally and has also mistaken him for a TV celebrity who can be wheeled on to answer questions about EU membership for Bulgaria and Romania. Painful stuff. (Here’s the clip. ) )

Anyway, the UPI story, which could take a lesson or two from my rather pompous diatribe on sourcing) rather brushes over the fact that that the Mail on Sunday story is not based on any interview with any British officials:

LONDON, May 21 (UPI) — BBC’s fake interviewee — an illegal immigrant from the Congo mistakenly plucked from the lobby and interviewed as an expert on British TV — may be deported. <snip> Goma — who coincidentally has a master’s degree in business from the Congo — tried to blunder through the question and answer session, the Sunday Mail reported. <snip> But it also brought the immigrant to the attention of British authorities who may deport him. That would be unfortunate because Goma recently applied for a technology position and wanted to capitalize on the publicity he’d received.

I may be missing something but I don’t see anything in the Mail on Sunday report suggesting the UK authorities are after him. Indeed, the entire story is based on an interview with Goma himself, which itself makes for hilarious reading (he’s hired a PR person to cope with the fame). True, he may be skirting on the wrong side of the law given he only has a tourist visa, but until the Immigration folk actually finger him, or say they’re about to finger him, I don’t see how one can say, as UPI said, his fame has “also brought the immigrant to the attention of British authorities who may deport him.” The Mail on Sunday didn’t say that, so why did UPI?

Anyway, I’m hoping that even if the authorities do start to think along those lines, they will recognise Mr. Goma as just the kind of addition the Brits could do with, and grant him whatever is necessary to keep him on our streets.

BitTorrent’s First Victim

Hong Kong man jailed in landmark world web piracy case – INQ7.net:

HONG KONG– (UPDATE) A Hong Kong man believed to be the first person to be prosecuted for sharing movie files over the popular online Bit Torrent network was jailed for three months in Hong Kong Monday.

The jailing of 38-year-old Chan Nai-ming marks an international landmark in the fight against illegal online sharing of intellectual property, which movie, music and software makers claim is losing them billions of dollars annually.

Unemployed Chan, who called himself “Big Crook,” was found guilty two weeks ago of illegally distributing three Hollywood movies on the popular peer-to-peer Bit Torrent (BT) system.

Our Nasty Internet

It sometimes boggles my mind at how messy and nasty the Internet has become.

The Canberra Times (no URL available, can’t find it on their website) quotes Peter Tippett, a member of United States President George W.Bush’s Information Technology Advisory Committee and chief technologist at Cybertrust, as telling a media briefing in Sydney last week that in the first six months of this year “the proportion of total e-mail traffic classified as malicious – including spam and phishing – rose from 20 per cent to 85 per cent.”

What does this mean? Well, for one thing it means that most folk trying to download the Windows XP SP2 update without already having a firewall in place didn’t stand a chance: “In a test undertaken in 10 cities last month, Cybertrust found that only 40 per cent of new computers were able to download a Windows update before they were successfully hacked.” Says Tippett: ”The average time before a successful hack is under an hour on an average high-speed Internet connection in the world today.”

We have got to find another way of doing all this. The Internet has become one, big, bad neighborhood. Ordinary folks just shouldn’t have to be vulnerable when they plug in.

(Tippett, by they way, recommends setting up a wireless network. He plays down the dangers of sniffing and eavesdropping and plays up the fact that over 80% of attacks can’t get through a netted router. ”If you did only one thing for home security, you should add wireless to your home network,” said Tippett. I’m certainly no expert, but wouldn’t adding any kind of router that has NAT, or Network Address Translation, built in do the same thing for you? Why does it have to be Wi-fi?)

Scobleizer, Microsoft And Waggner

Robert Scoble, the Microsoft blogger whom I wrote about in a recent column, has scaled back his accessibility to the media (thanks Steve Rubel). From now on, journalists’ requests for interviews are forwarded to Microsoft’s main PR company, Waggner Edstrom.

Robert and the other bloggers at Microsoft have been a breath of fresh air for journalists like me trying to get a bit of a grip on a company that has, I have to say, been somewhat patchy in the way it deals with media questions. I do hope that the transparency of Scobleizer and other Microsoft blogs will not be tempered, and that Redmond understands the extraordinary benefits of making employees part of the company’s PR machine, not just farming it out to people who are always saying they’ll get back to you, and never do.

The Yoga Of Cellphone Reception

I love this posting, which seems in some way to lead on from my earlier posts about Mobile Manners:

Rael Dornfest posts about the problems of getting a decent signals indoors on MobileWhack (via blueserker) and explains how he has dealt with the ‘Last Yard’, where ”mobile users [are] scrambling for the nearest exit or pressed up against the windows in a particular direction–that depending on the direction of their carrier’s nearest cell tower.” His solution: a wireless headset and the cellphone resting on a window ledge, or wherever the signal is clearest. I know the feeling. My 27th floor office/home is not the kindest to reception, which is why I love SMS.

Of course, there are funny looks, prompting the obvious question: Why have we come to the point where technology helps us communicate better, but we have to contort ourselves into strange positions to do it?

The Digital Fallout Of Journalistic Plagiarism and Fakery

How do you correct the Internet?

All these reports of plagiarism and fakery in U.S. journalism — at least 10, according to the New York Times — raise a question I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere. What should newspapers and other publications which have carried the reports do about setting the record straight?

A USA Today report says of disgraced reporter Jack Kelley that it has “found strong evidence that Kelley fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major stories, lifted nearly two dozen quotes or other material from competing publications, lied in speeches he gave for the newspaper and conspired to mislead those investigating his work.”

Here’s a taster: ”An extensive examination of about 100 of the 720 stories uncovered evidence that found Kelley’s journalistic sins were sweeping and substantial. The evidence strongly contradicted Kelley’s published accounts that he spent a night with Egyptian terrorists in 1997; met a vigilante Jewish settler named Avi Shapiro in 2001; watched a Pakistani student unfold a picture of the Sears Tower and say, “This one is mine,” in 2001; visited a suspected terrorist crossing point on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 2002; interviewed the daughter of an Iraqi general in 2003; or went on a high-speed hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2003.”

That’s quite a lot of correcting to do. USA Today says it will withdraw all prize entries it made on Kelley’s behalf (including five Pulitzer nominations) and “will flag stories of concern in its online archive”.

But is that enough? Correcting the “online archive” would have to include all secondary databases such as Factiva (part-owned by Dow Jones, publisher of the Far Eastern Economic Review, The Wall Street Journal, and my employer; There are 1,495 USA Today stories with Jack Kelley’s name either on them or in them prior to this year). Strictly speaking, it should also include all Internet copies of those stories on the Internet (a Google search of [“Jack Kelly” and “USA Today”] threw up 3,470 matches; while many of those are accounts of the plagiarism charge, many precede that). And what about blog references to Kelley’s stories?

I’ll take an example. In 2001 Jack Kelley wrote about a vigilante Jewish settler named Avi Shapiro in 2001. According to USA Today, this was one of the stories where “the evidence strongly contradicted Kelley’s published accounts”. That story has been posted on dozens of websites (I counted 60). Who’s going to correct, or raise flags on all those?

Then there’s the doubt. With Kelley claiming, according to the USA Today report, that he was “being set up”, there’s no way that even a serious investigation by the paper (which included a eight-person team, a 20-hour interview with Kelly by three veteran journalists from outside the company and extensive use of plagiarism-detection software) is going to confirm with any sense of certainty what was faked or plagiarised. So what, exactly, do you correct? Do you delete his whole oeuvre?

It’s a tough one, and perhaps a sober reminder for journalists (and bloggers) using the Internet as a source that it’s not just emails that appear to come from our bank that we need to double check. Is there a technological solution to this? A digital watermark or trace that can allow someone to instantly correct a story, or at least notify those hosting the material that there’s a problem?

Electronic Voting And The Criminal Connection

The story of electronic voting machines, and the company that makes many of them, continues to roll along. I wrote in a column a few weeks back (Beware E-Voting, 20 November 2003, Far Eastern Economic Review; subscription required) about Bev Harris, a 52-year old grandmother from near Seattle, who discovered 40,000 computer files at the website of a Diebold Inc subsidiary, Global Elections Systems Inc, beginning a public campaign against a company she believed was responsible for a seriously flawed e-voting system., already in use in several states.

Anyway, now she’s turned up more explosive material, it seems. The Associated Press yesterday quoted her as saying that managers of Global Elections Systems “included a cocaine trafficker, a man who conducted fraudulent stock transactions, and a programmer jailed for falsifying computer records”. The programmer, Jeffrey Dean, AP reports, wrote and maintained proprietary code used to count hundreds of thousands of votes as senior vice president of Global Election Systems Inc. Previously, according to a public court document released before GES hired him, Dean served time in a Washington correctional facility for stealing money and tampering with computer files in a scheme that “involved a high degree of sophistication and planning.”

Needless to say this is all somewhat worrying. When I followed the story I tried to concern myself merely with the technological aspects, which were pretty worrying in themselves; The e-voting system being pushed by Diebold seemed to have too many security flaws to be usable in its present state. But Ms. Harris’ digging seems to reveal a company that is, to put it tactfully, less than thorough in its background checks.

So what’s Diebold’s version? AP quoted a company spokesman as saying that the company performs background checks on all managers and programmers. He also said many GES managers left at the time of the acquisition. “We can’t speak for the hiring process of a company before we acquired it”. Acccording to Ms. Harris’ website, however, that’s misleading. Quoting a memo issued shortly after Diebold bought GES in early 2002, Dean had “elected to maintain his affiliation with the company in a consulting role”. Diebold, the memo says, “greatly values Jeff’s contribution to this business and is looking forward to his continued expertise in this market place”. AP said Dean could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon and I cannot find any subsequent report online.

It’s hard to see how Diebold is going to recover from what has been a series of body blows to its credibility in such a sensitive field as voting. The same day as Ms. Harris revealed her latest bombshell, the company announced “a complete restructuring of the way the company handles qualification and certification processes for its software, hardware and firmware”. Diebold hopes the announcement will “ensure the public’s confidence that all of our hardware, software and firmware products are fully certified and qualified by all of the appropriate federal, state and local authorities prior to use in any election”.

Clearly the whole fracas has done serious damage to public confidence in electronic voting. But it’s important to keep perspective. There’s nothing wrong intrinsically with e-voting — it’s a sensible way to speed up the process, make it easier for citizens and, perhaps, to extend the use of such mechanisms to allow the population to have a greater and more regular say in how their lives are governed. But like every technological innovation, it’s got to be done right, by the right people, with the right checks and balances built in, and it can’t be done quickly and shoddily. Most importantly, it’s got to be done transparently, and those involved in building the machines must never be allowed to conceal their incompetence by preventing others from inspecting their work and assessing its worthiness.

For details of Ms. Harris allegations, check out her website Blackbox Voting. A summary of the press conference is here, as are the supporting documents (both PDF files.)