Everyone has that one something we’d rather take to the grave than ever reveal. Some of us have cheated on their spouses, others have killed a man in Reno just to watch him die, and a few think that Game Of Thrones is a bit overhyped. Whatever it is, hope that the media doesn’t get wind of it, or else you can expect a whole world of hurt. That’s because, while many journalists are still stalwart defenders of their professional code and common decency, there are plenty who will gladly sell pretty much anyone down the river if it means a few more clicks, or however they opened pages before the internet. Here are some of the worst vultures to have ever held a flip notepad.
Wikileaks Won’t Stop Leaking People’s Personal Information
Depending on your chosen political ideology, Wikileaks is either the greatest thing the internet has done for democracy, or a propaganda mouthpiece which spreads lies, slander, or conveniently-timed inconvenient truths to further its own agenda. But there’s one thing we can possibly agree on, and it’s that Wikileaks doesn’t mind doxxing anybody who gets in the way of truth, whatever its definition of truth is that day.
In 2016, Wikileaks released over 19,000 emails which were sent or received by members of the Democrat National Committee between January 2015 and May 2016. The vast majority was banal office gossip – reports, memos, office jokes, invitations to pizza parties – as well as a boatload of receipts for donations made by people concerned about this orange fellow they’d heard so much about. Unfortunately, these receipts also contained a huge array of private details, including names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, credit card numbers, and IP addresses. Basically, it was all the things you don’t want to be made public in a neat little package for the bitter entertainment of every troll and other assorted internet monster.
This could have been written off as an accident, but the exact same thing hadn’t happened the previous year. In 2015, Wikileaks tried taking down President Recep Erdogan of Turkey by leaking his government’s emails to the internet. What better way to lay bare a mad despot than by revealing his mad secrets, right? Except when paging through all the emails, there was no smoking gun to be found. They only thing Wikileaks achieved with the leak was creating a searchable database of every female voter in the country, complete with their names, addresses, cellphone numbers, and voter references. You know, all the things you don’t want to be made public in a neat little – we said that already, didn’t we?
What are you doing with your time that isn’t proofreading, Jules?
The Intercept Accidentally Hands Over An NSA Informant To The NSA
Being a leaker, an informant, an inside man/woman, is becoming more hazardous by the minute. No longer is it enough to give yourself a porn-ey nickname like Deep Throat and meet in poorly lit parking lots wearing a trench coat; angry government agencies can and will track you down with the smallest sliver of information. Leakers have to be able to trust the journalists they contact to protect them at all costs. So of course The Intercept wandered into the very agency being leaked from, dumped the incriminating evidence on their desk, and politely asked if they could have a look.
In May, a contractor working for the National Security Agency anonymously leaked a top-secret report to The Intercept concerning the extent to which Russia meddled in the 2016 election. You’ve probably already forgotten about this because following news about Trump is like playing a shell game in which the prize is your hope. However, because The Intercept could not verify the authenticity of the report, they asked the NSA if they’d mind taking a look at copies of the actual documents and confirming that they were the real thing. The NSA obliged and took a look at the report, before swiftly arresting the awesomely-named “Reality Winner” for violating the Espionage Act. It turns out that the NSA takes its security a bit more seriously than your average FedEx. Instead of handing out confidential reports willy-nilly, they encode their documents with a watermark showing when and where each page was printed.
When The Intercept handed the leaked report over, all the NSA had to do was decrypt the watermark, check the print logs, and swing the jet ’round to Nebraska and take Winner on impromptu vacation to their nearest black site. As of now, Winner is awaiting trial for alleged crimes which could put her away for up to ten years. The Intercept, to its credit, has tried hard to help Winner the best way they can, claiming they never had any contact and apologizing to their source, whoever he (or maybe even she) is. That’s it, The Intercept, just do what the rest of us have been doing under this government: pretend Reality has nothing to do with it.
Channel 4 Broadcasts Princess Diana’s Last Moments
It’s tricky to cover the death of a celebrity. There’s the necessity to inform the public about what happened and why it happened, but also the obvious need to allow the family of the deceased to mourn and make peace without a ton of helicopters buzzing the funeral service. Or you can simply invade their privacy and dress it up like showing respect – like how much of the British media treats the death of Princess Diana.
On the tenth anniversary of Diana’s death, Channel 4 decided to air Diana: The Witnesses In The Tunnel. It used eyewitness accounts, graphic reconstructions, and archive footage to examine the role of the paparazzi in her death.
Channel 4 crossed into tabloid ghoulishness when they decided to include a series of photographs of the princess actually dying. The pictures are of Princess Diana receiving medical attention moments before her death, even including ones which “[show] that the princess was thrown into the driver’s seat by the impact of the crash.” To clarify, a documentary that is supposed to give the paparazzi in the tunnel a fair trial is illustrated with pictures that could only be taken by a bunch of monsters elbowing their way into an accident to take pictures of people dying.
In response to the massive outpouring of rage from the public, including a personal plea from Diana’s sons William and Harry not to air it, Channel 4 politely told them all to get lost. The inclusion of these photos, they said, was “crucial” to the show, and to remove them would have set a “dangerous precedent” – presumably that people would expect all sensationalist journalism to operate with a sense of common human decency. As if that wasn’t painful enough, they followed up the broadcast with an hour-long special examining the “issues” that the controversy had raised, letting them fill two airtime slots for the price of only one act of disgustingness.
Gawker Helped A Gay Escort Blackmail A Married Executive
Gawker, the bitchy hairdresser of the internet, had a difficult relationship with the concept of privacy during its existence. Often, when their subjects were people they deemed to be worthless, they had little concern for their rights. And when your whole code of ethics boils down to “They had it coming,” a lot of murky water gets waded through – like outing a cheating husband because he drives a nicer car than you.
In 2015, an executive working for Conde Nast decided to sample some of the “local flavor” during a trip to Chicago. After contacting a male escort, the husband and father of three arranged to spend the night with him for the princely sum of $2,500 plus a minimum of two candies from the minibar. However, after successfully Googling his wealthy and influential client, the escort wanted more than that: “Use your job powers to help me win a housing discrimination lawsuit, or I’ll out you as gay” – kinda like threatening to set someone’s house on fire unless they put yours out.
The executive, probably used to tough negotiations, called the escort’s bluff. He canceled the appointment and walked away. He probably thought no publisher would consider running a story outing someone who’s not a public figure in 2015.
The escort contacted Gawker and spilled everything that he knew. The website unblinkingly published the confession, revealing not only the executive’s name and workplace, but also the text messages between him and the escort. Gawker was unrepentant in ruining the man’s life: “given the chance, Gawker will always report on married c-suite executives of major media companies screwing around on their wives.” Most people, however, strongly disagreed. A strong outpouring condemned the site for breaking basically all the rules of proper journalistic conduct to gay-shame a one-percenter.
After the torrent of condemnation, the higher-ups at Gawker finally retracted the piece, which calmed the raving online mob, but caused a small civil war inside their office when all of their editors threw a fit. Thankfully, Hulk Hogan’s sex tape lawsuit bankrupted the whole publication less than a year later.
Grantland Outs A Trans Woman Against Her Will For No Reason
Grantland deserves a medal for finding a way to get nerds to care about sports, despite folding in 2016. In 2014, however, it briefly moved into a much darker place with “Dr V’s Magical Putter,” an article about the weird tale behind a mysterious putter who threatened to revolutionize how elderly white guys hit spheres with metal poles.
Journalist Caleb Hannan discovered that the inventor of the putter, Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, had faked her credentials as an aerospace researcher in order to boost sales. Oh, and she was also transgender, but that wasn’t really relevant to the story. But when Hannan found out that little detail, he figured he’d struck gold. His piece was now the “tale of a troubled man who had invented a new life for himself,” a fact that produced “a chill that ran up [Hannan’s] spine.” Over the course of their remaining interviews, Hannan badgered Vanderbilt about her past, to the point of making her physically uncomfortable. As this wasn’t enough, Hannan proceeded to cross the line into total jerk-hood by outing Vanderbilt to an investor in her company, a violation of privacy “as dangerous as it was thoughtless.” Undeterred, he continued mistaking his discovery of Vanderbilt’s fake doctor identity as an excuse to write about her gender identity.
Then Vanderbilt killed herself.
Which Hannan added to his story as a footnote.
While Hannan found himself deluged in anger and some hard questions about why a piece which was supposed to be about a dubious golf stick had turned into a snipe hunt into someone’s past and may well have contributed to suicide. Ironically, in uncovering the lack of ethics in Vanderbilt’s attempt to make her product more popular, Hannan was accused of doing exactly the same, only worse. But he’s not transgender, so he still gets to have a career and a life.