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5/16/2005
10:03 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Maureen O'Gara's Big Sin: She Didn't Get The Goods

Sure, Maureen O'Gara's "expose" of Groklaw author Pamela Jones was sleazy and mean. But when Maureen utterly failed to deliver the goods on PJ, she committed the only sin that matters.

Maureen O'Gara's big expose of Groklaw author Pamela Jones was sleazy and mean-spirited.

But there's nothing wrong with that. Journalism is often mean-spirited and sleazy. A journalist is supposed to shine a light in a dark place; when you do that, often when you uncover is maggots, worms, and eyeless, leprous monsters covered with slime. Spend a lot of time hanging around with maggots, worms and eyeless slime-monsters, and you run the risk that you will yourself become something unfit for polite company.

Being charming is not a requisite for being a journalist. Sure, some of the best journalists get their information by charming their sources. But others are bullies and con-men.

No, Maureen's big sin is that the article did not deliver. She failed to provide any information that would lead a reasonable reader to trust Groklaw less than they already do.

Let's review what Maureen claims to have uncovered about PJ.

First of all, she does not convince me that she has, in fact, uncovered the author of Groklaw. The proof she provides is unconvincing. The woman in question is named "Pamela Jones." Groklaw changes its phone numbers frequently, but one of the numbers was traced back to an apartment in Westchester owned by a Pamela Jones, and some calls from that apartment went to the courts in Utah and to the Canopy Group.

If I were Maureen's editor, I'd want a couple of more corroborating details than that. What if the Pamela Jones who has an apartment in Westchester is a relative of the Groklaw author? That's been known to happen.

It's likely that Maureen has uncovered the identity of the real Pamela Jones. But it's not certain.

But let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that this Westchester woman is the author of Groklaw. What has Maureen told us about her?

- PJ is (to use an old-fashioned word) a "spinster." She's 61 and lives alone. According to her super, she's demanding and unpleasant.

- She's a Jehovah's Witness.

- Her apartment is "shabby genteel" and "in desperate need of an interior decorator."

- She lives in Westchester, which is the county where IBM is headquartered. Maureen describes it as "IBM territory."

- The woman Maureen believes is PJ has lived in that apartment for 10 years. During that time, other tenants have moved into the building, had children, and moved away.

- She changes her cell phone number frequently. She believes she has made enemies who are out to harm her.

- The apartment complex (or building) is one where the tenants all know each other and look out for each other. Nonetheless, Jones is reclusive, and the super apparelty doesn't like her.

- Lot of rambling stuff about how Jones is "paranoid," somewhat panicky, and once disappeared for weeks at a time without letting anyone know where she was. The super tracked her to the home of another woman. The other woman seemed mentally unbalanced.

- Her son has a software business in Manhattan which started being successful around the time she started Groklaw. Maureen insinuates that the timing of the son's success is somehow nefarious.

- She was involved with her son in an ISV called Metabilili.

None of this adds up to ANYTHING that would make anybody evaluate Groklaw any differently. If everything Maureen says about PJ is true, then the worst we can say is that PJ is an unpleasant person who you wouldn't want to have as a neighbor or tenant. None of this has any bearing on Groklaw. Even Maureen can't demonstrate any connection between IBM and PJ, so she resorts to a lot of handwaving about how PJ lives near the IBM headquarters, and her son's software business came into money around the time when PJ started writing Groklaw.

What Maureen needed to do — and did not even come close to doing — is provide some information that woudl cast doubts on Groklaw's credibility. But she didn't. She didn't, for example, demonstrate a secret financial link between Groklaw and a pro-Linux company, she didn't demonstrate that PJ has a history of secret animosity to SCO or Darl McBride personally (beyond what PJ has already published).

Since Maureen published her article, her publishers have severed their relationship with her and taken the article down. You can read the article here, though, on Slashdot.

One of the most unflattering elements of the profile is that PJ is supposedly "paranoid." She thinks that people are out to get her.

Thing is, PJ is right. She does have people out to get her. One of them is Maureen O'Gara.

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