Category Archive 'Journalism'
19 Jul 2010

Best Headlines of the Day

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Glenn Reynolds: John Galt was unavailable for comment.

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Ed Driscoll: The Road to Perdition is Becoming Increasingly Rather Bumpy.

13 Jul 2010

The Swiss Were Right

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In the aftermath of the Swiss decision to reject the American bid to extradite Roman Polanski, the predicatable indignant editorials are beginning to appear.


Eugene Robinson
, in the Washington Post, is not at all satisfied with the outcome.

It’s relevant that Polanski has never shown remorse. He claimed in a 1979 interview that he was being hounded because “everyone wants to (have sex with) young girls.” It’s irrelevant that the victim, now a middle-aged woman, has no interest in pursuing the case and reliving a traumatic episode. What matters is what Polanski admitted doing to her 33 years ago — and the fact that Polanski decided to run away rather than face the music.

Swiss officials noted the obvious: that Polanski never would have visited Switzerland if he had thought he was putting himself in legal jeopardy. Since he’s not a legitimate candidate for kidnapping and rendition by the CIA, he’s now home free — unless he somehow makes another mistake. He’ll always have to look over his shoulder.

That’s punishment of a sort, but not nearly enough. How about this: As long as he steers clear of U.S. justice, why don’t we steer clear of his movies?

I strongly disagree with the majority of the journalistic community on this one, and since I’ve already explained why at considerable length, today I plan to take pleasure in quoting myself.

The most interesting aspect of all of this is the fact that Roman Polanski’s flight thirty one years ago was precipitated by precisely the same sort of journalistic feeding frenzy which has been replayed all over again recently. A firestorm of sensationalized accounts of Polanski’s misdeed alarmed the publicity-conscious judge who intended to set aside the conventional processes of justice and overrule a plea bargain already agreed to by both the prosecution and the defense.

Polanski did not escape justice. He had already served a 42 day term of imprisonment, which was supposed to constitute his actual sentence. Polanski also settled privately with the young lady, paying her a sum of money of a specific amount never publicly disclosed. What Polanski escaped was injustice.

He escaped a breach of the normal, impartial, and objective processes of justice, which were in the process of collapsing due to official cowardice and unwillingness to resist a wave of public indignation, mischievously created by irresponsible journalism.

Long-standing cultural restraints on sexual expression and activity have been dwindling away in America for all of the last century, but one powerful prohibition not only survives, but continues to be able to turn ordinary Americans into something very much resembling belligerent Muslims bent on wiping out any stain upon the chastity of their females in blood: the issue of age.

Underage sex is still a kind of priapic third rail. And like Nabokov’s Humbert, Roman Polanski proved to be another sophisticated European gentilhomme d’un certain âge susceptible to the charms of the knowing nymphette. His sin happens to be relatively unique in being capable of getting Americans in general worked up into a lather of righteous indignation just as effectively in 2009 as in 1978 or in 1955 (the publication date of Lolita).

In exactly the same way that the idea of black sexual aggression directed at white women was once upon a time so horrifying an idea to the general community in certain American states that any close resemblance to that supreme phobia could suffice to set into motion the processes of storytelling which would fit the details of the actual case into the terrible archetype, frequently with lethal results, so too today is the idea of adult sexual aggression directed at children a compelling, and potentially dangerous, archetype.

Let’s try another literary trope. Picture Roman Polanski, not as Humbert Humbert, but as Tom Robinson, the black defendant in To Kill a Mockingbird. Just like the Polanski case, To Kill a Mockingbird features a public frenzy of indignation at a defendant accused of being a sexual aggressor toward an innocent victim, who is supposed to be protected from the advances of anyone like the defendant by powerful social taboos. Just as in the Harper Lee novel, adjudication of the Roman Polanski case revolved around issues of just who was the actual initiator and whether female consent had been given. Fearful archetypes and framing narratives can work in exactly the same in either case, can’t they?

09 Jul 2010

Weasel Words Headline Award

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To CNN:

“Washington and Russia agree to swap intelligence gatherers”

I can just see the historical headlines:

“British hang American intelligence gatherer Nathan Hale.”

“Intelligence gatherers Julius and Ethel Rosenberg electrocuted at Sing Sing.”

08 Jul 2010

The End is Always Near

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Matt Ridley points out that predictions of imminent doom have been with us for a long time, in the Huffington Post of all places.

When I was a student, in the 1970s, the world was coming to an end. The adults told me so. They said the population explosion was unstoppable, mass famine was imminent, a cancer epidemic caused by chemicals in the environment was beginning, the Sahara desert was advancing by a mile a year, the ice age was retuning, oil was running out, air pollution was choking us and nuclear winter would finish us off. There did not seem to be much point in planning for the future. I remember a fantasy I had – that I would make my way to the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, and live off the land so I could survive these holocausts at least till the cancer got me.

I am not making this up. By the time I was 21 years old I realized that nobody had ever said anything optimistic to me – in a lecture, a television program or even a conversation in a bar – about the future of the planet and its people, at least not that I could recall. Doom was certain.

The next two decades were just as bad: acid rain was going to devastate forests, the loss of the ozone layer was going to fry us, gender-bending chemicals were going to decimate sperm counts, swine flu, bird flu and Ebola virus were going to wipe us all out. In 1992, the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro opened its agenda for the twenty-first century with the words `Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being.’

By then I had begun to notice that this terrible future was not all that bad. In fact every single one of the dooms I had been threatened with had proved either false or exaggerated. …

I now see at firsthand how I avoided hearing any good news when I was young. Where are the pressure groups that have an interest in telling the good news? They do not exist. By contrast, the behemoths of bad news, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year and doom is their best fund-raiser. Where is the news media’s interest in checking out how pessimists’ predictions panned out before? There is none. By my count, Lester Brown has now predicted a turning point in the rise of agricultural yields six times since 1974, and been wrong each time. Paul Ehrlich has been predicting mass starvation and mass cancer for 40 years. He still predicts that `the world is coming to a turning point’.

Ah, that phrase again. I call it turning-point-itis. It’s rarely far from the lips of the prophets of doom. They are convinced that they stand on the hinge of history, the inflexion point where the roller coaster starts to go downhill. But then I began looking back to see what pessimists said in the past and found the phrase, or an equivalent, being used by in every generation. The cause of their pessimism varied – it was often tinged with eugenics in the early twentieth century, for example – but the certainty that their own generation stood upon the fulcrum of the human story was the same.

I got back to 1830 and still the sentiment was being used. In fact, the poet and historian Thomas Macaulay was already sick of it then: `We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason.’ He continued: `On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us.’

25 Jun 2010

Beware: Journalists at Work

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David Brooks writes General Stanley McChrystal’s epitaph.

Who could possibly imagine that a military commander’s staff had unkind things to say about members of the president’s staff?

Rolling Stone sold a lot of copies, reporter Michael Hastings made a big splash, and General McChrystal had his career ruined, it was all just a day’s work for the news business.

Most people in government, I find, are there because they sincerely want to do good. But they’re also exhausted and frustrated much of the time. And at these moments they can’t help letting you know that things would be much better if only there weren’t so many morons all around.

So every few weeks I find myself on the receiving end of little burst of off-the-record trash talk. Senators privately moan about other senators. Administration officials gripe about other administration officials. People in the White House complain about the idiots in Congress, and the idiots in Congress complain about the idiots in the White House — especially if they’re in the same party. Washington floats on a river of aspersion.

The system is basically set up to maximize kvetching. Government is filled with superconfident, highly competitive people who are grouped into small bands. These bands usually have one queen bee at the center — a president, senator, cabinet secretary or general — and a squad of advisers all around. These bands are perpetually jostling, elbowing and shoving each other to get control over policy.

Amid all this friction, the members of each band develop their own private language. These people often spend 16 hours a day together, and they bond by moaning and about the idiots on the outside.

It feels good to vent in this way. You demonstrate your own importance by showing your buddies that you are un-awed by the majority leader, the vice president or some other big name. You get to take a break from the formal pressures of the job by playing the blasphemous bad-boy rebel over a beer at night.

Military people are especially prone to these sorts of outbursts. In public, they pay lavish deference to civilian masters who issue orders from the comfort of home. Among themselves, they blow off steam, sometimes in the crudest possible terms. …

McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.

By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him.

The reticent ethos had its flaws. But the exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important.

Another scalp is on the wall. Government officials will erect even higher walls between themselves and the outside world. The honest and freewheeling will continue to flee public life, and the cautious and calculating will remain.

The culture of exposure has triumphed, with results for all to see.

23 Jun 2010

The Cover of the Rolling Stone

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“If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world but I am sure we would be getting reports from hell before breakfast.”

–General William Tecumseh Sherman

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We take all kind of pills, that give us all kind of thrills
But the thrill we’ve never known,
Is the thrill that’ll getcha
When you get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone,
Wanna see my picture on the cover,
Wanna buy five copies for my mother,
Wanna see my smiling face
On the cover of the Rolling Stone.

— Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show

2:54 video

General Stanley McChrystal must now wish that he had listened to General Sherman and not Dr. Hook, and never agreed to give access to his command team or be interviewed by reporter Michael Hastings for Rolling Stone.

As Hastings unsympathetically explained to Newsweek, McChrystal should have understood that his interests and career meant nothing to the reporter he admitted into his inner counsels. If somebody cracked a joke or made an unkind remark about a rival government official or a superior, however embarrassing or damaging it might be, a reporter would consider it his own good luck and publish it with delight.

I was walking around with a tape recorder and a notepad in my hand three-quarters of the time. I didn’t have the Matt Drudge press hat on, but everything short of that it was pretty obvious I was a reporter writing a profile of the general for Rolling Stone. It was always very clear.

Career-ending Rolling Stone article

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The unfortunate General McChrystal was flown back to Washington to apologize to Barack Obama and to tender his resignation. The predictions are that it will be accepted.

21 Jun 2010

The Drums Are Talking, The Natives Are Restless

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We have a much larger journalism pollution problem than the current oil spill represents. Government responses, costs to government and private industry, and public interest in the matter have all been massively inflated by orders of magnitude beyond anything rational or appropriate, all for the self interest of journalists and news organizations. The American public is simply led around by the nose by people with the resources and ability to exploit and exaggerate the significance of certain kinds of unfortunate events.

Who cares about those oh-so-terribly-fragile, fishy-smelling, mosquito-infested marshes? What about the impact of all the journalism pollution on energy costs, people’s jobs, American due process, the rule of law, our political decision-making processes, and the ever-expanding role and power of government and the immense regulatory burden we all have to pay for?

Take sensationalist reporting out of the equation, and we have an unfortunate industrial accident with some serious economic costs and a few seasons of regional environmental impact. Add in the media and we have a circus of emotional Sturm und Drang fueling stupid policy choices and lawless governmental behavior, with devastating long-term costs to every consumer in the country, the entire economy, and the trajectory of American government.

My understanding is that there are something like 4000 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The last major accident was in 1979. One oil spill every 30 years, one serious problem in a generation, strikes me as a pretty decent record.

Exactly how many gazillion dollars of extra energy cost would it be worth to reduce by some undefinable percentage the itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, remote possibility that every so many decades there could be an accident, fouling so many miles of beaches and inconveniencing the fishing industry (and a certain number of pelicans) for several seasons?

Perfection, of course, is unobtainable, even if regulations and costs are piled to the sky, there is always going to be
happenstance, human error, and acts of God.

What happens in America when something goes wrong is that the press sees an opportunity to run with the story and to play heroic watchdog of the public interest. A scapegoat is always required for our civic religious ritual. The press gets to identify some business entity as heartless, irresponsible, and greedy, and one or more public officials as incompetent or corrupt. The press can do whatever it pleases with the data. Words are easy. Capping leaking wells is hard. There is always the same moral. We need bigger and more active government. We need to spend more in taxes and regulatory costs. Then, once we have punished the scapegoat(s) and made due sacrifice to Leviathan, all will be well. The Great Big Nobodaddy Government will see to it that life will be perfect and nothing will ever go wrong again.

19 May 2010

What Happened to Newsweek, CBS, and CNN?

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Ed Driscoll rubs in the fact that the Internet changed the news and information business permanently, causing establishment media outlets like Newsweek, CBS, and CNN, all notorious for partisan reporting, to wonder where their audience went.

Silicon Graffiti 7:55 video

07 May 2010

Some News Events Are More Equal Than Others

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Flooded neighborhood, Monday, May 3

4:17 video

The flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 obsessed the media and produced a storm of criticism for an insufficiently massive and rapid federal response that turned national opinion finally against George W. Bush, making him into a lame duck for the rest of his second term, and presaging democrat recovery of both Congress and the White House. The New Orleans flood was treated as terribly important.

Recently, the Cumberland River crested Monday at 51.9 feet, 12 feet above flood stage, spilling over its banks into the city of Nashville, Tennessee, flooding a historic downtown, producing billions of dollars in damages and killing at least 30 people. Meanwhile, national news coverage has focused instead on an oil spill in the Gulf which had not even yet reached shore, and a car bomb in Times Square that did not even explode.

Why the differences in perceived significance and coverage? Andrew Romano explains that it’s a herd thing. They all cover what everybody else covers and they have a seriously limited attention range.

As you may have heard, torrential downpours in the southeast flooded the Tennessee capital of Nashville over the weekend, lifting the Cumberland River 13 feet above flood stage, causing an estimated $1 billion in damage, and killing more than 30 people. It could wind up being one of the most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history.

Or, on second thought, maybe you didn’t hear. With two other “disasters” dominating the headlines—the Times Square bombing attempt and the Gulf oil spill—the national media seems to largely to have ignored the plight of Music City since the flood waters began inundating its streets on Sunday. A cursory Google News search shows 8,390 hits for “Times Square bomb” and 13,800 for “BP oil spill.” “Nashville flood,” on the other hand, returns only 2,430 results—many of them local. As Betsy Phillips of the Nashville Scene writes, “it was mind-boggling to flip by CNN, MSNBC, and FOX on Sunday afternoon and see not one station even occasionally bringing their viewers footage of the flood, news of our people dying.”

So why the cold shoulder? I see two main reasons. First, the modern media may be more multifarious than ever, but they’re also remarkably monomaniacal. In a climate where chatter is constant and ubiquitous, newsworthiness now seems to be determined less by what’s most important than by what all those other media outlets are talking about the most. Sheer volume of coverage has become its own qualification for continued coverage. (Witness the Sandra Bullock-Jesse James saga.) In that sense, it’s easy to see why the press can’t seem to focus on more than one or two disasters at the same time. Everyone is talking about BP and Faisal Shahzad 24/7, the “thinking” goes. So there must not be anything else that’s as important to talk about. It’s a horrible feedback loop.

Of course, the media is also notorious for its ADD; no story goes on forever. Which brings us to the second reason the Nashville floods never gained much of a foothold in the national conversation: the “narrative” simply wasn’t as strong. Because it continually needs to fill the airwaves and the Internet with new content, 1,440 minutes a day, the media can only trade on a story’s novelty for a few hours, tops. It is new angles, new characters, and new chapters that keep a story alive for longer. The problem for Nashville was that both the gulf oil spill and the Times Square terror attempt are like the Russian novels of this 24/7 media culture, with all the plot twists and larger themes (energy, environment, terrorism, etc.) required to fuel the blogs and cable shows for weeks on end. What’s more, both stories have political hooks, which provide our increasingly politicized press (MSNBC, FOX News, blogs) with grist for the kind of arguments that further extend a story’s lifespan (Did Obama respond too slowly? Should we Mirandize terrorists?). The Nashville narrative wasn’t compelling enough to break the cycle, so the MSM just continued to blather on about BP and Shahzad.

03 May 2010

The Arizona Emergency

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Yesterday, our friend Bird Dog at Maggie’s Farm linked the generally admirable Clarice Feldman at American Thinker who was editorializing from the perspective opposite to my own on immigration.

Ms. Feldman quoted some alarming, and authoritative sounding, statistics from “the Law Enforcement Examiner.”

On April 7, 2007, the US Justice Department issued a report on criminal aliens that were incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails.

In the population study of 55,322 illegal aliens, researchers found that they were arrested at least a total of 459,614 times, averaging about 8 arrests per illegal alien. Nearly all had more than 1 arrest. Thirty-eight percent (about 21,000) had between 2 and 5 arrests, 32 percent (about 18,000) had between 6 and 10 arrests, and 26 percent (about 15,000) had 11 or more arrests. Most of the arrests occurred after 1990.

They were arrested for a total of about 700,000 criminal offenses, averaging about 13 offenses per illegal alien. One arrest incident may include multiple offenses, a fact that explains why there are nearly one and half times more offenses than arrests. Almost all of these illegal aliens were arrested for more than 1 offense. Slightly more than half of the 55,322 illegal aliens had between 2 and 10 offenses.

More than two-thirds of the defendants charged with an immigration offense were identified as having been previously arrested. Thirty-six percent had been arrested on at least 5 prior occasions; 22%, 2 to 4 times; and 12%,1 time.

Clarice Feldman ought to have inquired a little more more closely.

“The Law Enforcement Examiner” is actually an editorialist named Jim Kouri. Mr. Kouri’s biography identifies him as a former chief security guard at a housing project in Washington Heights and the “fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police” which, I expect, must be roughly on a par with being First Guard of the Tent at one’s local International Order of Oddfellows chapter.

Mr. Kouri is renowned on the Internet for his expertise on Satanism and for the exoticism of the views of some sources he has in the past relied upon.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kouri is not himself a reliable source. He tells us that his statistics come from “a report on criminal aliens that were incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails” issued by the US Justice Department on April 7, 2007.

It is not accidental that Mr. Kouri does not link the original report.

The report in question was really released on May 9, 2005. It is GAO report number GAO-05-646R entitled ‘Information on Certain Illegal Aliens Arrested in the United States.’

The figures cited all pertain to 2002-2003. Mr. Kouri (and the study’s authors) deliberately selected the best figures for making certain kinds of arguments in the quoted paragraphs.

In reality, this study pertains to 55,322 individual illegal aliens who are the portion of the illegal alien population that wound up arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail.

55,322 out of the seven million illegal aliens estimated to be present in the United States by this same study is the 0.0079 portion of that illegal immigrant population, well under 1%.

And the character of their crimes?

Forty-five percent of illegal alien offenses were for drugs and immigration;

8% for Traffic violations;

7% for Obstruction of Justice.

60% of the under 1% of illegals in jail in 2002-2003 were not even in jail for any form of theft or violence.

And, more recently, both illegal immigration and violent crime have actually been declining (even while la patrie est en danger reports are dramatically increasing).

CNN:

[S]tatistics from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and the FBI indicate that both the number of illegal crossers and violent crime in general have actually decreased in the past several years.

According to FBI statistics, violent crimes reported in Arizona dropped by nearly 1,500 reported incidents between 2005 and 2008. Reported property crimes also fell, from about 287,000 reported incidents to 279,000 in the same period. These decreases are accentuated by the fact that Arizona’s population grew by 600,000 between 2005 and 2008.

According to the nonpartisan Immigration Policy Institute, proponents of the bill “overlook two salient points: Crime rates have already been falling in Arizona for years despite the presence of unauthorized immigrants, and a century’s worth of research has demonstrated that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born.”

If we really looked at the facts, we could only conclude that illegal immigration is not the same thing as narcotics smuggling and, by and large, illegal immigrants tend to be more law-abiding and less violent than us native-born Americans. The public panic and the draconian laws represent responses to misinformation, commonly disseminated by sensationalizing journalists.

Look at AP and Matt Drudge yesterday. or check today’s Wall Street Journal, which blares Killing Stokes Immigration Debate, in reference to Deputy Puroll getting slightly grazed in a minor skirmish with marijuana smugglers. Nobody got killed, and the incident had nothing to with illegal immigration.

01 May 2010

How Do We Get Bad Laws?

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Bad reporting using sensationalistic headlines incorporating gross exaggeration and downright misinformation is how.

Look at how various news sources headline a basically trivial injury to a law enforcement officer received in the course of a minor skirmish with drug smugglers near the border.

What actually happened:

Pinal County Deputy Louis Puroll patrolling alone in a wilderness area about 50 miles south of Phoenix exchanged fire with five armed smugglers carrying bales of marijuana. A shot fired from one of the narcotrafficantes’ AK-47s apparently grazed Deputy
Puroll’s back. He called for assistance and was airlifted by helicopter to a regional medical center where his injury was treated, deemed to be non-serious, and the deputy immediately released.

So the Associated Press shrieks:

Deputy shot; illegal immigrants suspected

Matt Drudge echoes AP:

AZ deputy shot in stomach by suspected illegal…

ABC15:

Deputy shot by suspected immigrant released from hospital

There isn’t really much to report here. A deputy was slightly grazed by a bullet, sustaining insignificant injury, in a minor confrontation with bad guys engaged in smuggling marijuana.

The incident really has nothing to do with illegal immigration. The marijuana smugglers were not, in reality, on their way to pick fruit, wash dishes, mow lawns, or hang sheetrock at all. They were delivering a shipment of pot and once they delivered it, doubtless they were going to illegally emigrate the same way they had illegally immigrated. Undocumented aliens are not in fact arming themselves with AK-47s and shooting it out with police in order to get their hands on American leaf blowers.

It’s unfortunate, of course, that Deputy Puroll was shot at and slightly injured. This incident causes me to marvel at the futility of it all. You’ve smoked pot. I’ve smoked pot. Pretty much everybody in America has smoked some pot. Certainly every single one of the last three presidents has smoked pot.

Why do we insist of making things illegal which most of us still do anyway? And why do we tolerate a state of affairs that rewards crime bounteously while jeopardizing the lives of law enforcement officers to no useful purpose?

And finally, why do we insist on confusing the innocent people coming here to do hard work at low pay with the armed criminals crossing the same border?

Studies show that illegal immigrants commit violent crimes at a rate between four to eight times less than native born Americans.

27 Apr 2010

The Empire Strikes Back

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Darth Jobs in mufti

Blogging is the kind of ivory tower intellectual activity resembling college that seems to take place at one level of remove from ordinary reality. Bloggers don’t really typically think of themselves as possible subjects of police raids and lawsuits by giant corporations.

And that is, doubtless, why Gizmodo thought that purchasing an iPhone prototype lost in a Redwood City bar and reviewing the prototype would not be a major problem as long as they offered to give the prototype back to Apple in the end.

Clearly, they did not reckon with the rather old-fashioned kind of influence large employer corporations have over certain California counties. (Who even knew that the San Mateo county sheriff’s office possessed a “Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team?”)

I recall thinking myself that, yes, Gizmodo can just give back the prototype, and Apple cannot really prove damages from Gizmodo’s story, so the whole incident will simply fade away, but that theory failed to take into account Apple’s corporate cult of secrecy and and the propensity of Apple management (Steve Jobs) to be vindictive.

CNET:

Police have seized computers and servers belonging to an editor of Gizmodo in an investigation that appears to stem from the gadget blog’s purchase of a lost Apple iPhone prototype.

Deputies from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office obtained a warrant on Friday and searched Jason Chen’s Fremont, Calif., home later that evening, Gizmodo acknowledged on Monday.

In an article on Friday, CNET was the first to report on the criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the iPhone prototype and Gizmodo’s acquisition of it, including that Apple had contacted local police. A San Mateo County judge signed the search warrant, which said a felony crime was being investigated, a few hours later.

“When I got home, I noticed the garage door was half-open,” according to an account by Chen. “And when I tried to open it, officers came out and said they had a warrant to search my house and any vehicles on the property ‘in my control.’ They then made me place my hands behind my head and searched me to make sure I had no weapons or sharp objects on me.”

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told CNET on Monday: “This is such an incredibly clear violation of state and federal law it takes my breath away. The only thing left for the authorities to do is return everything immediately and issue one of hell of an apology.”

Dalglish said that the San Mateo County search warrant violated the federal Privacy Protection Act, which broadly immunizes news organizations from searches–unless, in some cases, the journalists themselves committed the crime. The 1980 federal law requires police to use subpoenas to obtain information instead of search warrants, she said.

Editors at Gizmodo, part of Gawker Media’s blog network, last week said they paid $5,000 for what they believed to be a prototype of a future iPhone 4G. The story said the phone was accidentally left at a bar in Redwood City, Calif., last month by an Apple software engineer and found by someone who contacted Gizmodo, which had previously indicated that it was willing to pay significant sums for unreleased Apple products.

CNET has not been able to confirm whether the investigation is targeting Gizmodo, the source who reportedly found the iPhone in a bar, or both. Apple has acknowledged that the lost device is its property. Calls to law enforcement sources on Monday were not immediately returned.

Gizmodo said on Monday:

    Last Friday night, California’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team entered editor Jason Chen’s home without him present, seizing four computers and two servers. They did so using a warrant by Judge of Superior Court of San Mateo. According to Gaby Darbyshire, COO of Gawker Media LLC, the search warrant to remove these computers was invalid under section 1524(g) of the California Penal Code.

Darbyshire was referring to the portion of California law that prevents judges from signing warrants that target writers for newspapers, magazines, or “other periodical publications.”

In 2006, a California appeals court ruled that the definition of “periodical publication” protects Web logs. “We can think of no reason to doubt that the operator of a public Web site is a ‘publisher’ for purposes of this language…News-oriented Web sites… are surely ‘like’ a newspaper or magazine for these purposes,” the court concluded.

The federal newsroom search law known as the Privacy Protection Act is broader. It says that even journalists suspected of committing a crime are immune from searches–if, that is, the crime they’re suspected of committing relates to the “receipt” or “possession” of illegal materials. (Two exceptions to this are national security and child pornography.)

The police hauled away three Apple laptops, a Samsung digital camera, a Seagate 500 GB external hard drive, USB flash drives, a HP MediaSmart server, a 32GB Apple iPad, an 16GB iPhone, and an IBM ThinkPad, according to documents that Gizmodo posted.

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