FC: Slate 'fesses up: Diary of "automotive CEO" was a hoax

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Wed Mar 06 2002 - 21:25:49 PST

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    It's never -- at last for me -- easy to criticize journalists when
    they screw up. We almost never have all the information we would
    like. Deadlines mean we can't delay as long as we'd prefer. The demands
    of the craft, the attention span of our readers, and the limits of
    available space can conspire against us.
    So instead of criticizing Slate, it seems more useful to look at this
    as an example of the risks of relying on email From: lines as an
    authentication mechanism. It is of course trivial to change your From:
    line -- most modern email clients let you, and before that pranksters
    would telnet to port 25 and forge email the old-fashioned way.
    Far better to verify an alleged identity through out-of-band
    verification, digital signatures, or at least clicking "reply."
       Slate Gets Duped
       This week's Diary by an "automotive CEO" proves to be a hoax.
       By Jack Shafer
       Posted Tuesday, March 5, 2002, at 4:45 PM PT
       On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Slate published Diary dispatches
       by "Robert Klingler," who purported in his bio note to be "the North
       American head of a European auto manufacturer." When Slate readers
       pointed out to the editors that neither Google.com nor Nexis searches
       produced any hits for a "Robert Klingler and the automobile industry,"
       we assumed the worst and took the entries down from the site. A phone
       call to the European auto company in question confirmed that no
       "Robert Klingler" works for them.
       How did Slate, and by extension its readers, get duped?
       "Klingler" first identified himself as an automotive CEO in
       correspondence with the editor of Slate's "Fray" discussion area,
       where he had posted messages. In subsequent e-mails to another Slate
       editor, he agreed to write the Diary. One of "Klingler's" many e-mails
       appeared to originate from the auto manufacturer he claimed to head.
       In it, he asked Slate to correspond with him through his AOL e-mail
       account because he wanted to keep his personal and business
       correspondence separate. Also, so that he could write with more
       candor, he asked that we ID him as "the North American head of a
       European auto manufacturer." We agreed on both counts.
       We shouldn't have agreed to either of his terms. Any correspondence
       with "Klingler" through his auto company e-mail address would have
       immediately revealed the hoax. (From our Hindsight is Golden
       Department, we can report that repeated e-mails sent today to
       "Klingler's" business e-mail address bounced back as "undeliverable.")
       Had we not given "Klingler" the benefit of partial anonymity, he
       probably would have withdrawn his offer to write. Or he would have
       been unmasked as a fake by the car company within hours of his first
       Diary posting.
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