He says, “I’ve never heard of any reporter using pretexting. It’s a slimy tactic and the information gained wouldn’t be worth the effort and ethical taint. A list of phone calls may be useful to a corporate leak investigation or a prosecutor, but reporters want to know what was said and why.”
I posted a reply to his blog’s moderation queue a few days ago, but it hasn’t been approved. So I’m posting it here for posterity:
Thanks Brier; I hope readers to my blog can detect a bit of dry sarcasm in my writing (e.g. the “bigger resumes” part), since that’s what I’m trying for.
Regarding the Dunn thing, I think the “prove” comment came across wrong. It sounds like I’m accusing journalists of pretexting, and that’s as ridiculous as accusing Dunn of pretexting.
When Dunn or a journalist talk to an information source who have access to phone records, they can never be sure if the phone records were obtained through pretexting, or through other means (such as dumpster diving). Note that Larry Ellison didn’t lose his job when he hired people to go through Microsoft garbage cans looking for records. As it is, even though pretexting is quickly becoming illegal, people’s phone records are still often obtainable in other ways, and journalists will continue to rely on sources who have information about phone calls.
The journalists jump on Dunn when she says “I didn’t know how the PI was getting the info”; but I think it’s a kind of misdirection. Pretexting was going on for several years; and nobody cared. The sheer immensity and scope of the phone-records stealing (and not just by pretexting) was staggering. It’s hard for me to imagine an investigative journalist who never profited from tainted information, simply because it was too widespread. Every single PI on the planet had accounts with these people. I give kudos to the journalists who first started breaking the stories earlier this year. But I wonder why nobody cared before? And I wonder why nobody is honest about the fact that much of the information is still available?
It honestly reminds me of the Newt Gingrich cellphone eavesdropping controversy. Everyone knew for 5 years that eavesdropping was going on. It’s only when the plebes found out about it, and a senator got hurt, that it suddenly became a big ethical problem. IMO, it was rather hypocritical.
As I’ve blogged several times, I think journalisms role is to shine the light on people who don’t want the light shining. And transparency is absolutely necessary for a free and civil society. So I feel investigative journalists have an important role and responsibility to “violate privacy for purposes of good.” I’ve been very consistent in that view.
So when journalists act like violating expectations of privacy is a “bad” thing across the board; I think it’s hypocritical. Illuminating stuff that powerful people would rather keep hidden is the JOB of an investigative journalist. I guess it’s things like this that make me doubt the press though. Like I said, the press didn’t get so excited when Ellison dumpster-dove for Microsoft records. The press didn’t get so excited every time a spouse hired a PI to get their ex’s phone records. We run very calm and civil articles on “industrial espionage” twice per year. It’s only when someone gets a reporter’s phone records that it’s a CRISIS!! Now the press circles the wagons, convinces a few people to take board positions elsewhere, everyone hems and haws about how privacy violation is bad — and tomorrow the press will be back to ignoring the elephant in the room.
NYT today reporting that Hurd was a victim, he’s only a detail guy, how was he supposed to know what that crafty Dunn was doing?