=========== (fyi, this was sent out on June 6, 2002)
What's In A
by Kelley K
I just read the Salon piece 'Rabid Watchdog' about the media accountability website Mediawhoresonline.com.
I read it assuming the article was about the website.. what they do and
why they do it, and maybe some insight
on how they hold the media accountable. Or possibly a review of the accuracy of the website. The article did start
out that way, maybe a little bit, by relaying the experience a CNN reporter had when the MWO website advised
their readers to contact him. The Salon article reprinted quotes from two 'of the worst emails' sent to the CNN reporter.
But after a few short examples of what the MWO website says or does, Salon
writer Jennifer Liberto then decides
there is no way of knowing what the website does unless you have the name or 'true identity' of the person who
owns the website.
The Salon writer then reports her quest to find the identity of the owner
of the website. After extensively researching
this she is unable to determine the 'true identity' of the owner. The author then goes on a research binge to prove that
if a website doesn't reveal the owner then there is no way to know what the website is doing, or what the motives are
of the website.
Ms. Liberto spends the last half of the four page Salon article attempting
to prove this point. And it appears the author
spent a LOT of time and effort to research this issue.
After contacting numerous Washington 'insiders' who all denied having any
connection to the owner of MWO,
the author then contacts every MWO contributor she can find, and questions them about who owns the website.
After an exhaustive search, Ms. Liberto is unable to find any MWO contributors who share her extreme concern
of 'who owns the MWO website' and is left with this quote from a contributor: "You definitely get the impression
that she's [MWO owner] just an angry citizen, like the rest of us," .
The Salon author then goes on a detective research project to find the
name of the website owner from
.com registration records and anything related to purchasing a website.
After this detective work fails, Ms. Liberto then researches the 'legality'
of someone owning a website anonymously.
She contacts an intellectual property attorney at the New York law firm of Gibney Anthony and Flaherty for advice
on why it is wrong to be an anonymous owner of a website.
Again, Ms. Liberto is left with this quote from the expert attorney:
"Any person can publish anything anonymously any time in any medium,"
and "That is a very fundamental corollary to freedom of the press."
Unhappy with that response, Ms. Liberto then queries her legal source about
a possible lawsuit to force the owner
of MWO to be revealed, and gets this reply: "You've got to do more than merely file a lawsuit and use it as a fishing expedition,"
Still unhappy with here findings the author obviously checked with more
sources on filing a lawsuit when she states:
"Besides, as several experts also pointed out, a miffed journalist would have a hard time proving that being labeled
a "media whore" constitutes defamation."
Hmmm, go figure.
Undaunted, the author continues here research quest to get the answer she
desires. Ms. Liberto then contacts Verisign,
who handles .com registration on the Internet, and inquires about the legality or a possible 'false identity' lawsuit against
the MWO owner. But the Verisign spokesman tells her "the requirement is in effect voluntary".
Still unhappy with the response of yet another source, Ms. Liberto then
contacts Chris Hoofnagle, legislative counsel for
the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. Who tells her: "Many, many people provide false information to
the registry, even those who are not publishing anonymous Web sites, simply to avoid spam".
But this sources next comment does, finally, provide a slim ray of light
for Ms. Liberto .. "Verisign hasn't the time or the energy
to verify a few million sites, Burns said, so false domain contacts are usually only examined upon inquiry by a third party, often an attorney."
Having finally found a source who reveals a longshot chance at a lawsuit,
Ms. Liberto runs off to research this and comes up with
proposed legislation that would make false .com registration a criminal offense. But after looking into this bill she unfortunately
finds that "Passage, however, appears unlikely."
Ms. Liberto then decides to drop the 'legal' angle and adopts an 'ethical'
angle against owning a .com anonymously.
She contacts Aly Colon on the ethics faculty of the Poynter Institute, who tells her "I think every citizen should feel free
to hold the media accountable; it's better for the media."
I have to tell you, Ms. Liberto starts to sound like someone who is uncontrollably
obsessed, I wouldn't go as far as
using the word 'stalker' but it does give you a little bit of a creepy feeling after reading the lengths this person is willing to go,
just to satisfy her curiosity.
But the thing that bothers me the most, is the authors original idea that
you have to know the exact identity of the owner
in order to know what the website is up to or its 'agenda'.
I wish Ms. Liberto would have contacted me during her research frenzy,
I probably could have saved her a lot of time...
If you want to know what a websites agenda is, why not just READ the website? Its not a 'secret' website in any way,
actually it's available from any phonejack on the entire planet earth, literally!
This may come as a huge surprise to Ms. Liberto, but I read my local newspaper
all the time and I have no idea who owns it.
And I don't have to know the Social Security number of the writers to know what their 'agenda' is either, all I have to do
is READ what they write.
I do it all the time and haven't spent one dime on attorney fees.
Ms. Liberto should try that sometime, if nothing else, it might save her from weeks of legal research.
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