July 16, 2009
By publishing documents stolen by a hacker, Michael Arrington has proven he doesn't have the judgment necessary to run a news organization. He should have the decency to step down.That said, decency probably isn't in his vocabulary, as even erstwhile friends like Leo Laporte discovered -- however late in the game.
Yesterday, Arrington made the decision to publish documents stolen from Twitter and supplied by a cracker (by which I mean an unethical hacker). Arrington goes through a putrid show of hand-wringing over the ethical "dilemma" over whether or not to publish the documents, and then offers a truly nauseating justification for doing so. There is clearly an ethical line here that we don't want to cross, and the vast majority of these documents aren't going to be published, at least by us. But a few of the documents have so much news value that we think it's appropriate to publish them. News value? This is an example of what Michael Arrington considers news value: "the original pitch document for the Twitter TV show that hit the news in May, mostly because it's awesome." "It's awesome." Arrington is a thirteen year old. Wait -- I take that back; most thirteen-year-old kids have a surer moral compass than Arrington. You have to be pretty jaded and corrupt to think it's okay to publish stolen documents because they're "awesome." Arrington also justifies publishing the documents by saying he's not publishing the "vast majority" of them -- but those words are especially empty given that publishing anything close to a "vast majority" of over 300 documents would be more than unethical -- it would be commercially suicidal. The "at least by us" line is supposed to buy Arrington some kind of ethical high ground, but that high ground becomes quicksand when you consider that TechCrunch is the only highly trafficked news site to publish any of it at all. Finally, by publishing documents stolen by a criminal hacker, Arrington is giving comfort to that guy and all other like-minded black hats. This isn't at all the same thing as getting documents from a disgruntled employee, or picking up a briefcase someone left carelessly at the train station -- those are fair game because the acts themselves reflect on the organization. And this isn't a matter of national security. Michael Arrington isn't the heir to Daniel Ellsberg. Arrington is giving enormous satisfaction to the scourges of the Internet for a fistful of dollars. Back in the infancy of online news, I worked for a venerable news organization that was about to hire a well-known industry gossip columnist. During a meeting, our editorial director cautioned us to watch her work carefully. "She comes from the (New York) Post, and they have no standards," he said. It's too bad for the people who work for Arrington that the same thing is going to inevitably apply to TechCrunch reporters. He should step down for their sake if no other.
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