|Rob Holbert, publisher of Langiappe|
Was someone connected to the MSM butt-hurt enough to hack our blog and cause the original post about Dean and Ashley Madison to disappear for several hours? The answer, at this point, appears to be yes.
The September 8 post, titled "Al.com reporter Charles J. Dean manages to merge the Robert Bentley and Ashley Madison sex scandals," disappeared from both the blog and the internal composing/editing page, where all posts (published and unpublished) are stored. That suggests to me that someone went out of his way to hack our blog, remove the Dean/Ashley Madison story, and probably send a message about future efforts to report on such discomfiting issues. In more than eight years of publishing Legal Schnauzer, this is the first time I've had a post disappear from multiple locations, so I'm still trying to figure out how it could happen.
If the message was supposed to be, "Schnauzer, we are trying to intimidate you into avoiding the Ashley Madison subject," it's not going to work. With the help of several tech-savvy sources, I was able to republish the post in question and take steps to help ensure that similar hacks are less likely to happen in the future.
Just how butt-hurt are the MSMers that they got beat on the Bentley/Mason story, while one of their own was outed for creating an Ashley Madison sex scandal of his own? It's hard to say for sure, but the best indicator might come from an article titled "Schnauzer puts bite on al.com journalist," recently published at Mobile-area weekly Langiappe.
You might think that a weekly newspaper would publish news in an "alternative" fashion, the kind not often found in the daily press. But you apparently would be wrong. Our sources in south Alabama say Langiappe is dedicated more to kissing the collective behinds of the corporate establishment than to bringing any real insight that might upset the status quo.
Rob Holbert is the publisher of Langiappe, and his commentary on my reporting seems to be an example of "don't rock the boat journalism" at its finest. Holbert's piece contains so much nonsense it's impossible to address it all. But let's examine a few of the lowlights. Here are a few of Holbert's pearls, in bold, followed by my response:
* "Robert Shuler, who writes a blog called The Legal Schnauzer, went to great lengths this week to personally attack al.com reporter Charles Dean, accusing him of being named in the recently released Ashley Madison files."
Holbert establishes his journalistic "bona fides" right away by getting my name wrong. Then he characterizes it as a "personal attack" to report accurately that Chuck Dean's name is, in fact, on the Ashley Madison list for Alabama, which has run on numerous Web sites. It's not a matter of me "accusing" Chuck Dean of anything. I contacted him prior to publication and gave him an opportunity to comment or be interviewed regarding the Ashley Madison story. Dean did not respond, so even he has not denied the accuracy of the story.
* "In his article (about the Bentley/Mason affair), Dean referred to the rumor coming from radio and “blogs of dubious credibility,” something that apparently got the schnauzer’s hackles up. For his efforts, Dean was treated to a classic blast from Shuler this past Tuesday in which he claims Dean’s name appeared in the Ashley Madison document dump and offers it as a reason the veteran reporter might not have immediately jumped with both feet into the schnauzer’s unsourced, undocumented claims of an affair between the two."
Holbert conveniently fails to mention that Dean's own news organization has treated the Bentley/Mason story seriously, uncovering important information about apparent payments to Mason via a nonprofit and calling on the governor to address issues related to the affair in a public manner. As for the sourcing of my story, it was attributed to sources who wished to remain anonymous out of concern about possible retaliation. It's likely that both Holbert and Dean have used anonymous sources before, so both should know that doesn't mean a story is "unsourced" or "undocumented."
* "I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing how airtight the Ashley Madison documents are as journalistic sources, but even if someone’s name did appear on the list, the time, circumstances and outcome of any activity aren’t clear. Shuler’s reporting of the matter as fact shows once again why those who purport to be “real” journalists should steer clear of Shuler as a primary source of information."
Holbert is quick to criticize my reporting, but he apparently can't be bothered to actually read it. Of the two individuals I've reported being connected to Ashley Madison--Dean and Bradley Arant lawyer Rob Campbell--I went way beyond just saying their names are on a list. I provided details from their accounts, including either work or home addresses, and I gave both an opportunity to comment prior to publication, to deny the accuracy of the information if they had some way to show that, in fact, it was untrue. As for "real" journalists who might be inclined to use me as a primary source of information, Chuck Dean's own employer has done that. I was first to name Mason as Gov. Bentley's paramour, and al.com soon followed with a story titled "Who is Rebekah Caldwell Mason?"
* "In his attack on Dean, Shuler quickly brushed off any questions the rest of us on the World Wide Web might have about the veracity of what he’s burned pixels on over the years. He claims that in his 35-year career as a journalist he’s only been sued twice and both times by Republican operatives, as if that proves he was right. It would be hard to imagine who else might sue him since he typically only writes about Republican operatives having illicit affairs or engaging in sexual behavior that would fly in the face of their squeaky-clean, family-values images."
This is the usual pablum with which right wingers try to attack a blog they have not been able to silence. It's a reference to defamation lawsuits brought against me by GOP operatives Rob Riley and Jessica Medeiros Garrison, within about a month of each other, in fall 2013. My response is simple: An Alabama jury has never found my reporting, in either case, to be false or defamatory. That's because Riley never sought a jury trial, and Garrison did not seek a jury trial in her initial filings--she did so only after I had sought a jury trial in my answer. In other words, neither Riley nor Garrison wanted a jury of their peers to hear their claims; they wanted compromised judges to rule in their favor, regardless of what the facts and the law might be. In the highlighted section above, Holbert proves he knows very little about defamation law. His "as if that proves he was right" line shows a profound ignorance of defamation law--in fact, of law in general. The burden of proof in any lawsuit, including one involving alleged defamation, is on the plaintiffs (Riley and Duke). They must make a prima facie showing that my reporting was false and defamatory or their cases, by law, are kicked out at summary judgment. In both cases, the plaintiffs never came close to meeting their burden because there was no discovery, and thus no evidence that my reporting was false. The issue in the defamation case is not whether I, the defendant, can prove I was right (although there is no doubt I could via my reporting and discovery), but whether the plaintiffs can prove I was wrong. Until they meet that burden--and neither Riley nor Garrison came close--I don't have to do much of anything to defend myself. Again, Holbert burns plenty of pixels on a defamation matter when it's clear he has no clue how the law works.
* "Do I doubt some of that [hypocritical behavior] happens? Of course not. People are people. But Shuler goes after his political enemies with such reckless gusto.
"There are some real doozies, like the nude photos [of] former Alabama Attorney General Bill Prior supposedly took for a magazine when he was a young buck. And, of course, those affair claims that got him sued into the ground — a $3.5 million judgment — and jailed for five months after he refused to sit for a scheduled deposition. In one of his stories, Shuler claimed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and a campaign aide had an affair that produced a child, an accusation both denied.
Talk about doozies. Holbert puts his ignorance on such display here that it's hard to know where to begin. First, he claims that I go after my "political enemies" with "reckless gusto." I'm a journalist, not a politician--I don't have political enemies. Anyone who has followed this blog closely knows I have taken a number of Democrats to task, as well as Republicans. As for my reporting being "reckless," Holbert can't be bothered to provide a shred of proof, not one example, to support that claim.
Holbert mentions former AG Bill Pryor (again, Holbert has problems with spelling) and the current U.S. judge's ties to 1990s gay pornography. Does Holbert offer anything to suggest my reporting on the Pryor was inaccurate? Nope. In fact, Holbert doesn't even claim it's inaccurate.
Holbert then dips into "bizarro world," in the section I've highlighted. It's as if the publisher/writer went out to lunch and had way too many cocktails. He references a $3.5-million judgment (in the Garrison case) without saying it was a default judgment that had zero support in fact or law. Then he claims I was jailed for five months, apparently for "refusing" to sit for a scheduled deposition in the Garrison case. This reference can only be to the Garrison case because there were no scheduled depositions in the Rob Riley case. But Holbert seems blissfully unaware that my unlawful incarceration--which was reported by national and international news outlets--was related to the Riley case; it had nothing to do with the Garrison case.
Holbert then claims I reported that Attorney General Luther Strange fathered a child with Garrison, his former campaign aide. Holbert's claim has a slight problem--it isn't true. I've never reported that Strange was the father of Garrison's child, and a simple search on this blog would show that.
In fact, court records show that almost all of the $3.5-million default judgment in the Garrison case is based on claims she and Strange apparently made in court--when I was not present, and they were not challenged--that I had reported Strange was the father of Garrison's child.
In essence, the $3.5-million default judgment is built almost entirely on a lie. But Rob Holbert can't be bothered to find that out.
How to summarize? Holbert obviously can't spell, and he apparently is too lazy to educate himself about the subjects upon which he pontificates. Why would anybody take such a "journalist" seriously? I have no idea.
Let's return to our original question: Who hacked Legal Schnauzer and removed the post about Charles J. Dean and Ashley Madison? The answer remains unclear, but I suspect neither Dean nor Holbert is sharp enough to do it on his own. Could someone with a bit of tech know-how have done it on the journalists' behalf? I would say that is possible.
How's this for irony. Numerous reports have indicated that the hack the of the Ashley Madison Web site involved criminal activity and could have a far-reaching impact on how individuals feel about providing personal information on the Web.
If that's the case, it stands to reason that a hack on Legal Schnauzer also would involve criminal behavior. Since the hack seems designed to intimidate journalists who might dare report on sensitive topics, it also could have far-reaching social implications--not to mention implications for the First Amendment rights of a free press, supposedly guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
Does that mean we need to report the apparent hack to authorities? We are considering that, and other options, at this moment.