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Friday, May 25, 2007

Of sex scandals and journalistic plagiarism

Nothing like a little intrigue to start one's day. On the off chance that someone came in late to the movie, let us first provide some background:

For weeks, Wayne Madsen has reported that Vice President Dick Cheney was a client of "DC Madam" Jeane Palfrey. Unfortunately, many people consider Madsen irresponsible.

Palfrey's lawyer, Montgomery Sibley, issued a cryptic not-really-a-denial of the Cheney rumor.

Out in Las Vegas, "Domina" Leola McConnell has -- for some time now -- claimed to have personal knowledge of a tryst between George W. Bush and his former roommate (and current ambassador to Poland), Victor Ashe. Leola claims that witnesses, as yet unnamed, can back her story.

About a week ago, a strange email entered my inbox, sent to me by someone named "David Anderson." I have no idea who he is. The email contained the text of a letter sent by Palfrey's lawyer, Montgomery Sibley, to Leola McConnell. He wanted her as a possible expert witness in the case.

I found out that other bloggers received the same missive.

I contacted Leola, who confirmed that the letter was real. I decided to keep the matter under my hat until Sibley said something about it. Apparently, the other bloggers came to a similar decision.

Except one.

A site called BigHeadDC has been scambling after every available scrap of info on the scandal. They published the Leola connection here. After they did so, I decided to talk about the matter, on the theory that the toothpaste had already exited the tube.

Here's where things get odd.

BigHeadDC ran a follow-up story: EXCLUSIVE: Rationale for “DC Madam” / “DC Domina” Connection. Within that article, these words appear:
A credible source tells us that Montgomery Blair Sibley, the “DC Madam’s” civil layer, did not have to reach across the entire country to find an expert in BDSM, as Big Head DC revealed last night. Obviously, there are plenty of folks with an advanced knowledge of the subject on the east coast.

So, why?

“I think Sibley is hoping that Leola McConnell can verify some specific allegation made by Deborah Jeane Palfrey or one of her ladies,” our Beltway source says. ”And since Leola has spoken about Bush and William Bennett — well. The possibilities become interesting, no?”

DC insiders, including investigative reporter Wayne Madsen, have said for weeks that Vice President Cheney likely used Palfrey’s services in the past. Our source is certain that Sibley contacted McConnell to “spook” a high-level VIP into making the government’s case against Palfrey go away.
Big problem here. The "credible source" is me. And Rob Capriccioso, the main man behind BigHead, never talked to me.

Basically, Rob swiped a couple of speculative paragraphs from my own story (compare the above with what you read here). The wording of the text is far too similar to allow for the possibility that the BigHead team had any other source. Here's what I wrote:
“I think Sibley is hoping that Leola can verify some specific allegation made by Palfrey or one of her ladies. And since Leola has spoken about Bush and William Bennett — well. The possibilities become interesting, no?”
Now take another look at Rob's "scoop," quoted above. This is as clear a case of plagiarism as you ever will find.

Furthermore, in my original work, I made sure to label my musings as speculation. That was the word. You couldn't miss it. I have no problem with surmise as long as it comes clearly labeled as such.

It appears that a very irresponsible blogger took my attempts at tea-leaf reading and repackaged them as inside info from a "beltway" source.

This story is already slippery enough. Misrepresentation of this sort is inexcusable.

So who the hell are the clowns behind the BigHeadDC site? The editor is, as noted, Rob Capriccioso, and the publisher is BHR Omnimedia LLC. Rather odd for a mere blog to feel obligated to incorporate as an LLC. Capriccioso has worked for some big-deal operations -- Politico and, it seems, the Hill. I have contacted the former and will soon contact the latter.

My advice? If Robbie offers any further "scoops" on the DC Madam scandal -- DO NOT TRUST HIM.

Oh, as for the letter itself: I remain mystified as to how a private email got passed around the blogger community. Sibley has told me that he did not leak the letter, and neither he nor I think that Leola had anything to do with it. Mysterious, eh?

(My original piece was poorly written and should have made clearer that the person who sent that email to me was neither the author nor the intended reader. I have slightly rewritten this post for increased clarity.)
Comments:
Blogging is still an evolving hybrid of news and opinion. As a veteran newspaperman, I just hope readers understand the fallibility of this medium. I'm glad you point it out here by example.

Every journalist, and I'm sure every blogger, makes mistakes. It's not the mistakes that define us but rather how we correct them. This other blogger should do some intraspection on whether his motivation is objective, because if it's not, he's among those in the blogosphere who concern me.

I like the way you throw all the angles of the prism you can find out there, but you don't get too fixated that you can't let go if speculation doesn't pan out.
 
The odd thing was that my blue-sky conjecture WAS wrong. I thought that Sibley deliberately leaked that letter. He didn't. I just found out that Leola McConnell trusted someone she should not have trusted, and that's how the damned thing got out into the blogstream.

What Rob did was plagiarism and the creation of a false source. From what I can tell, he is an up-and-comer who thinks that the DC Madam case will be his entry into he Big Time. And he made a false step into Steve Glass territory.
 
Perhaps Mr. Capriccioso should re-name his blog BigDickheadDC. Under the circumstances, such a moniker would fit.

Just one more reason why we trust you, Joseph, to provide the real poop...or at least as real as possible. You caveat things when necessary and you admit a mistake when you make one. Something tells me Mr. Capriccioso doesn't maintain such high standards of personal or professional conduct.
 
Joe, I have an early birthday present for you.

Some pictures really do speak a thousand words

BTW, blogger forced me to come up with a new name, so Bozos Rnot4 Bush is retired, and SluggoJD is now for everything I do, I guess. I lost my blog in the process though :(

John
 
Excellent folo thru, Joseph.

The blogger you refer to didn't plagiarize, IMHO, but he did tell a big fat lie if he doesn't have another attributable source other than your speculation ... and from these odd comments, I have a feeling you hit the nail on the head.

Sadly, the blog world's laxness with sources is being used as an excuse for MSM to do the same. Nothing aggravates a career journalist more than seeing this deterioration of our once-noble business.

Example, the NYT last weekend ran a story based entirely on "dozens" of anonymous sources re N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine's gifts to his two-year girlfriend he broke up with before running for gov. The reporter put the unattributable info together to come up with $6 million cash, gifts and kind, but gave no ledger (Corzine still has many hundreds of millions of dollars, btw). The reader is supposed to trust the reporter's extrapolations from sources they're supposed to trust without even knowing WHY the sources were granted anonymity (9 times out of 10 it's because the information is careless and of questionable validity, as any journo knows! A source's mere embarrassment if the subject finds out is not reason to grant anonymity; it's akin to judicial right to face your accuser, for chrissake!!). Anyway, within a day, "gave $6 million to her" became set in stone as a fact in every other MSM and on the Internet. But, it's not a fact ... not yet anyway, unless all those sources want to go on record and be accountable for those "facts." In reality, it's still nothing more than idle fishwife gossip, from the NYT. How shameful.

I can (would rather not tho) accept lack of attribution in the blog media -- it's new and it has been the Wild West of info that would please Tom Paine from the start. But the MSM now is abusing the credibility careful journalists like me earned it, and its abuse of this trust is even more dangerous because people have faith in MSM. These are sad times for career journalists, my friend.

Keep up the good work asking questions and getting as much verifiable info you can on the interesting subjects that pique your curiosity.
 
Pay no attention to Capriccioso or BigHeadDC.com. He simply makes up the vast majority of the crap he posts, and 95% of his comments are obvious sockpuppets. I'm having trouble deciding if it's a very clever, if over-the-top satire of gossip-type blogs or whether he really is that batshit crazy and jealous of all the other hacks working the DC political gossip beat. It's a puzzler.
 
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