More on Orlowski’s Emailgate

Scobleizer: Microsoft Geek Blogger Last week I published an article “Andrew Orlowski, Sloppy Journalist or Bold Faced Liar,” and the story has drawn a bit of criticism. I thought today I’d examine some of the criticism.

To give a bit of background, thus far the story goes like this: An allegation is made by Andrew Orlowski and his publication The Register that an IE7 beta (yes beta) does not allow Yahoo! or Google Toolbars to work. Robert Scoble, Microsoft employee and blogger, calls the Register on this and says that in fact it does work. Orlowski publishes an alleged email from Scoble where Scoble allegedly writes that it doesn’t work. The problem? According to Robert Scoble the email was never sent by him as published by the Register. I’ve also personally seen the email in question and it is clear that it has been modified, tampered with, and that extra text not in the original has been added.

Orlowski published this email (from an anonymous source no less) and offered it up as proof that Scoble was lying and then went on to disparage Scoble’s character publicly in print saying, “But one ethic should hardly need to be spelled out. You try and tell the truth. Is this the end of the road for Scoble’s Redmond adventure?”

Now I’m no fan of Orlowski’s. The basis for my original article was a piece that Orlowski had written back in January of 2004 when mere days before Microsoft was set to launch the largest marketing push for their Media Center PC at that time to date, Orlowski had come out saying that Microsoft was going to shelve the Media Center PC entirely (once again citing more of his anonymous sources). Orlowski got the story wrong in a big way and neither the Register nor Mr. Orlowski ever bothered to explain how they could have gotten things so backwards.

My own personal view is that as a journalist when you choose to use anonymous sources you bear an added degree of responsibility for getting your story right. And if you get it wrong (as in the case when CBS and Dan Rather got some rather famous memos wrong recently) you come out afterwards and admit that you got it wrong and hopefully provide some kind of explanation.

So my backdrop on the whole recent Orlowski Emailgate thing is that my previous experience with this journalist was bad — that I found him to be unprofessional and I stopped reading his publication, The Register.

But the more recent allegations that Orlowski published a fraudulent email go beyond even the tenets of bad journalism. This is simply about as low as a journalist can go.

Now let’s address the criticism that I’ve recently received over my coverage of this situation. First off, an anonymous commenter writes, “Media Center WAS going to be canned. But the OEM outcry forced it back out. Haven’t you ever heard of backtracking? You don’t know the full story there. So don’t assume you do. Blogs makes mistakes too, but journalists have tend to have tons of sources that aren’t just echoing blog rumors.”

Ok, yeah right. So Microsoft was going to completely can Media Center and then (all due to the supreme power of The Register) they decided to do a 180 mere days later and change course and give the product line a huge push including a $20 million “Digital Joy” marketing campaign and having this product be the lead product at CES for them.

I don’t think so. Jeremy Wright, who was working on the Media Center team at the time, also denies that the product was going to be shelved.

Next we have someone named “kuri” who suggests that my article is “probably libelous.” Uh, ok. First the truth is always the best defense against libel, but secondly I have been careful to choose my words when it comes to Mr. Orlowski. “Possibly” “Maybe” etc. Is it “possible” that Orlowski made up a story out of thin air when the events that he suggested were going to take place never took place? Sure it’s possible. It’s not libel to suggest it’s possible. Orlowski has not even denied that he made up the story. He certainly has never provided us an explanation on how he got his original story so wrong? In order to prove libel, Mr. Orlowski would need to prove that it was in fact impossible that he made up the story and that I knew this. Unlikely to happen.

Kuri then takes issue with the following quote: “So MAYBE Orlowski was played or MAYBE he makes things up or MAYBE he is actually a nefarious tool being used to spread lies and propaganda, or who knows, MAYBE he just likes to load up a big bong full of bud before sitting down at the keyboard.” Note the word “maybe” Kuri. I did not say that Orlowski loads up a big bong full of bud before writing. I said MAYBE he loads up a big bong full of bud before writing. There’s a difference. The point is that obviously I’m using inflammatory language because I feel strongly about the case and obviously I’m taking a bit of literary license here. Still not libel though. And I don’t even know if Orlowski composes his stories at a keyboard. For all I know he still may compose his writing on an old manual typewriter.

Here’s what I do know. I know that Orlowski got a story wrong in the past and never offered any explanation why. I do know that Orlowski published a private email and never bothered to confirm the accuracy of the email with the alleged author who has denied the email. I do know that Orlowski himself has turned his missteps into personal attacks on someone else’s character in print. And I do know that all of the above included so called “anonymous sources.” I think if there is a libel case to be had here it’s by Scoble against Orlowski. And if Orlowski feels that I’ve libeled him I’d love to hear it. I’d love to see this guy defend himself as a journalist.

I also wrote to Orlowski’s editor Joe Fay voicing my concerns and have yet to hear back from either him, Orlowski or The Register. Making up an email is a serious charge as is publishing fraudulent emails. Rather lost his job over it. I’d hope that this issue would not go ignored by the Register and I would hope that the rest of the tech journalist community also would not let The Register off so easily on this one.

I’d encourage anyone else to contact Joe Fay as well and ask for more clarification on this issue on behalf of The Register.

Hey at least my article “Andrew Orlowski, Sloppy Journalist or Bold Faced Liar” shows up on the first page of Google results for both Orlowski and “Andrew Orlowski.”

Update: It’s been pointed out to me that Rather did not actually lose his job over his now famous memos. Four other people at CBS did though and Rather “retired” volutarily a few months later. Fair point.

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5 Comments

  1. Kent says:

    Great post. I think anyone who is attacking you over your prior posts either has some other axe to grind and/or relationship to protect.

    When this guy quoted a private email with that sort of content, he knew it was going to create a reaction (that’s probably why he did it). He should have been prepared from minute one to back up his quotes and assertions with proof. Maybe he has (to his editor), but there’s no public response that I’ve seen.

    Scoble ought to ask the recipients of the email he did send (assuming it’s not a huge number) to confirm whether or not they forwarded it. If he can figure out who sent the email to the reporter, then he’d be one step away from determining if it had been altered.

    The bottom line is that whoever’s telling the truth here probably has a way to prove it, if he wants to.

  2. Kent: let’s be clear about this. I did send an email But it didn’t contain the words that Andrew said it did.

    He didn’t check with me to verify that I, indeed, sent the email.

    He now has proof that I didn’t send it. My lawyers now have that proof. He still hasn’t retracted it.

  3. Kent says:

    I think it will be interesting to read his response, if any. Your lawyers (or just the presence thereof) will put him in the position of either having to take the heat for his “anonymous” source or torching his “anonymous” source by claiming the email was altered before he got it.

    I am 100% in your court on this one. My earlier comment, like Thomas’s posts, was just carefully worded.

  4. The source isn’t anonymous. Christopher Coulter was the guy I emailed.

  5. Anonymous says:

    For all the pedants out there, the phrase should be “bald-faced liar” or “barefaced liar”, as in “done without shame: barefaced, blatant, brazen.”

    As for Mr Orlowski’s status in the bald-faced lying stakes… It would seem that, at best, he is guilty of using purportedly verbatim quotes without checking their accuracy. At worse, no whiskers on him.