Andrew Orlowski and The Register = Bad Journalism

I have been critical of the publication The Register and one of their writers Andrew Orlowski for quite a while now. Ever since back in January of 2004 when The Register published an “exclusive” on the eve of CES on how Microsoft planned to shelve their Media Center product (and got the story wrong in a big way) I’ve questioned what this publication has written. Not only was Microsoft not shelving their Media Center product in 2004, but at CES Bill Gate’s himself personally gave the products one of it’s biggest pushes to date and it was the centerpiece of Microsoft’s public CES Demo.

Although any journalist can be “played” and fed bad information (for any number of reasons), neither the Register nor the article’s author Andrew Orlowski ever bothered to either correct their story or share with us where they might have received this bad information. This in my opinion was sloppy journalism.

When sloppy journalism happens over and over again though, you begin to wonder if something else might not be at play.

Earlier this year in July, The Register once again published a highly suspect piece suggesting that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7.0 contained a “nasty surprise” that “Nuked” the Yahoo! and Google Toolbars. While a sensationalistic piece of journalism, these claims were quickly disputed. In their article about IE7 the Register claimed that “one user who saw their toolbar vanish in IE7 was none other than Microsoft PR Punchbag (their words) Robert Scoble.” The article went on to state that The Register hoped that Microsoft’s PR professionals had “ample supplies of duct tape at the ready, to prevent the talkative blogger from causing even more damage.” Again their words. Scoble denied these claims.

To say nothing of the flagrant bias and extremely unprofessional personal attacks in this article, the Register then went on to publish an email that they claimed was from Robert Scoble as proof that he in fact experienced trouble with IE7 and ended their article with this ironic little quip: “Much has been made of blogger ethics, with conferences set up to discuss the legal implications of corporate blogging, charters and codes of conduct drawn up, and even honor tags suggested. But one ethic should hardly need to be spelled out.

You try and tell the truth.”

The problem with the Register’s article was that the email that they published and attributed to Robert was not sent by him. Robert quickly denied the legitimacy of this email and others, myself and Ed Bott included, quickly took issue with the sloppy reporting by the Register.

Personally I think that printing a fabricated email and reporting it as fact is highly unprofessional. But mistakes do happen and I was willing to give the Register the benefit of the doubt that they had in fact made a mistake. After their publishing of this email falsely attributed to Robert I began asking The Register for explanation and a correction or retraction on their article. Unfortunately I received no response from their Editor Joe Fay (over three months ago).

Sometimes things stick with me. Although Robert Scoble is a friend, I felt that a more important principle was at play here. For all the criticism that bloggers receive for getting our facts wrong I think we usually do a pretty good job of correcting our mistakes when they are pointed out. The Register which is supposedly a “legitimate” tech news publication though seems to have no problem with reporting lies and misinformation and then not correcting these stories.

So I didn’t give up on asking for my correction to this article. I continued to regularly send messages to the Register’s Editor Joe Fay and also started posting negative comments to articles and posts where Mr. Orlowski’s writings were being published reminding people of his flaws as a journalist (this is not that hard with Technorati). Finally, on October 25, I received an email back from Joe Fay, Editor of The Register.

The email I received back from Joe is below:

“Hi Thomas,

Robert Scoble has not contacted Andrew or myself, so, as far as I am concerned, there are no charges at hand.

Robert is free to contact me if he has an issue with our coverage.

Regards,

Joe”

I found the fact that The Register would not have known about the controversy regarding this issue or the fact that Scoble had denied the published email questionable as the email had received quite a bit of attention and Scoble had publicly denied it. Still. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Within one hour of Joe’s email. Robert Scoble sent an email directly to Joe denying this fabricated email. Although Robert had sent an email on the subject to Christopher Coulter (Robert has previously identified this individual on my blog) the email did not contain what the Register published.

Subsequently since last Tuesday I have sent multiple emails to Editor Joe Fay asking him for a retraction and clarification. To date I’ve received no further correspondence from him and corrections still have not been made.

It is important to note that although I consider Robert a friend, he has not in any way asked me or encouraged me to pursue this matter for him. I simply see an injustice and a huge lapse in journalistic ethics and hope to see a wrong corrected that I have seen done.

So I send your own words back to you Joe, and I hope that you do in fact in the end do the right thing:

“Much has been made of blogger ethics, with conferences set up to discuss the legal implications of corporate blogging, charters and codes of conduct drawn up, and even honor tags suggested. But one ethic should hardly need to be spelled out.

You try and tell the truth.”

If after reading this post, like me, you find it difficult to stomach a supposedly professional journalistic publication chiding bloggers on their ethics and suggesting we “tell the truth,” feel free to link to this article and add your own thoughts.

Personally I think Joe owes us not only a retraction, but an apology and an explanation for how this bad email came to be published. If the email came doctored from this Christopher Coulter fellow then they should say so. I’d also be interested to hear from Christopher Coulter himself on this as to his version of what happened here.

As for me? I’m pretty bitter about The Register’s total disregard for the truth and at this point not only feel negatively towards them, but also feel negatively about the advertisers who would choose to advertise on their site. So Micron Technology and HP, know this, you are not doing your brands any favors by being associated with such an unprofessional site.

If you’d like to share your thoughts with Joe Fay as well he can be reached directly at: joe.fay@theregister.co.uk.

By the way, if you’d like to digg this story you can here.

Andrew Orlowski can be reached at: andrew.orlowski@theregister.co.uk.

Update: It would appear that The Register has finally printed a correction on this story. This is good news. Still, it would be nice to know how they came to be in possession of an email that is disputed by it’s alleged author. Personally, if they were “played” and sent a fraudulent email then I think they should tell
us where that email came from. Then the sender could either confirm or dispute it’s accuracy. At minimum they should confirm in writing that this is the way they receieved the email as it leaves one to wonder in a worst case scenario if they in fact were played or whether or not Orlowski simply made the email up.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The “correction” doesn’t even sound very sincere at all…

    “Robert Scoble emailed us on October 25. Scoble said “Andy Orlowski…printed an email that he claims came from my hand, but didn’t”. Scoble also said he was not contacted about this story: “Andy never checked with me to see if I, indeed, did write that email.” We are happy to print his comments.”