Fusion.net published the story, titled "Scared, dead, relieved: How the Ashley Madison hack changed its victims’ lives," on Wednesday (December 9). Fusion is a multi-platform media company that is a joint venture between ABC Television Group, the Walt Disney Company, and Univision Communications. Launched in 2013, it includes standard television distribution, along with Web and mobile platforms.
Reporter Kristen V. Brown, who has been covering the AM hack since the story broke in August, focuses primarily on the personal repercussions for those whose names appear on lists that have been published at various Web sites.
For a perspective about news coverage on the story, Brown turns to our blog. We've published roughly a dozen posts on the Ashley Madison story, focusing mostly on our recent home bases of Alabama and Missouri. We broke the stories that Alabama AM participants include Bradley Arant lawyer (and son-in-law of former governor Bob Riley) Rob Campbell, al.com reporter Charles J. "Chuck" Dean, and former U.S. Congressman Artur Davis.
We plan many more AM posts, based on our research that shows prominent, highly paid professionals and executives are among the most frequent users of the site--at least in Alabama and Missouri.
Brown interviewed me last Friday and asked mainly about my motivations for covering the story. I told her that I have a bachelor's degree in journalism (B.J., 1978, University of Missouri), with more than 30 years of professional experience in the field, and I consider this an important story on multiple levels. It's a technology story, a privacy (or lack of privacy) story, a psychology story, a sociology story, a religion story, and (perhaps of most importance to me) a class story.
|Kristen V. Brown|
Roger Shuler, a Missouri blogger, used his site, Legal Schnauzer, to out a prominent attorney and a local journalist in his former home state of Alabama, as well as the names of local companies who had executives with names on the list.
“It’s of interest to the public,” he told me, assuring me he would never print the name of “just some guy who runs an auto parts store.”
While people use Ashley Madison for all kinds of reasons—in open relationships, for example, or to mentally escape abusive ones—Shuler had a hard time accepting that people might use the site for any reason other than a lack of moral character.
“I’ve been married for 26 years and I treat marriage seriously,” he said. “I’m just amazed that in this country where people seem to trumpet their Christian values we treat christian marriage so shabbily. A lot of people on the Alabama list are people who make judgments about us all the time, so it’s relevant to expose what kind of judgement they use themselves.”
Brown notes that the story has grown particularly firm legs in the supposedly conservative South--and my interest grew because the Alabama list includes numerous immediately recognizable names. My guess is that the most prominent names self-identify as "pro family" Republicans. Writes Brown:
In the U.S., at least, the worst of the fallout seemed to happen in the south, where small community websites and blogs published the names of locals who used the site. Sometimes they were organized by zip code, making cheating neighbors especially easy to find. In Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, conservative Southern politics, religion and the nature of close-knit rural culture turned the internet into a small-town pillory.
In Hartselle, Alabama, Mayor Don Hall was forced to resign despite denying ever having used the site. The names of many public officials (like President Barack Obama, for one) appeared in the leak even though they weren’t users, because Ashley Madison didn’t require that users verify e-mail addresses before creating an account.
Brown provides important perspective on the fallout:
Among the rubble of the Ashley Madison hack, I’ve counted at least three suicides, two toppled family values evangelists, one ousted small-town mayor, a disgraced state prosecutor and countless stories of extortion and divorce. The blast radius of a database dump, it seems, is very large indeed. . . .
Tom*, a 65-year-old user in Nebraska told me that he paid off blackmailers after receiving one of the many e-mails threatening to out users to their spouse.
An East Coast woman who had found her husband in the leak and considered divorcing him said that the hack ultimately helped repair a long-widening chasm in their marriage that neither of them had addressed. He told her he signed up before they got married and never bought the credits necessary to send messages to women, a claim I was able to help her verify in looking at his transaction records.
One person I talked to found their father in the hack, affirming long-held suspicions that he was a cheater. Another user said that after contemplating suicide, he decided to come clean to his wife, and that she forgave him. Yet another, who has lost 13 pounds since the hack due to stress, was now hopeful after his wife agreed to marriage counseling.
Other suspected post-hack outcomes, like the Pentagon cracking down on members of the military who used the site given adultery being a crime, never materialized. But, unlike the leak itself, most of the aftermath unfolded behind closed bedroom doors. Its full effect is difficult to discern.
I agree with Brown on that. One question that has gone unanswered: Why has Ashley Madison, and its tag line "Life is short, have an affair," been so attractive to upper-class, mostly white, professional men?
One might think that such individuals would be too savvy or busy to get involved with a shady outfit like Ashley Madison. (The site's whole purpose is to perpetuate cheating, so why should customers be surprised when the company cheats them by failing to protect their data?) You also might think that, with more assets than the average person to lose in a divorce, the well-to-do would be uber careful about getting involved.
But our research indicates that is not the case. And we think that story needs to be told.
Is it possible that quite a few people who help run major companies and institutions have more money and power than common sense? Is it possible they have too much time on their hands? If they are willing to cheat on their spouses, and possibly heap embarrassment on their children, how are they likely to treat customers?
We will examine all of those questions, and more, in upcoming posts.
Some nice pubs for the Schnauzer. And I like your comments, too. Congrats.
My concern regarding judges, police, social workers, politicians, corporate execs. using sites such as this, its demonstrates "poor judgement". when you occupy a position in society or profession which requires "good judgement", to demonstrate you don't have it, its time for you to leave your job. its not necessarily a "family value issue", but rather an issue of "judgement"
of course for those who run around claiming to be "pro marriage" and all that good "Christian" stuff, and then play on A.M. you have to wonder what their values really are and can you trust them to do a good job.
Why does Fusion refer to the cheaters as "victims"? Aren't the victims their spouses?
I agree 100 percent, e.a.f., it is about judgment. In fact, you summed up the reasons for my coverage of this story better than I could.
Glad to see you standing up for Christian marriage there, Schnauzer. Heck, you almost sound like a conservative.
Good one, C. Dude. Made me laugh. But seriously, I don't think it should be conservative or liberal to say that it's a bad thing to cheat (or attempt to cheat) on your spouse. That should be something all of us (or almost all of us) agree on.
I would encourage your readers to click on the link to Fusion article and read the whole thing. It's interesting, but Kristen V. Brown seems extraordinarily sympathetic to the cheaters. Seems odd to me.
In her interview with me, Brown was very sympathetic to the cheaters, so I wasn't surprised by the tone of her article. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that she treated me quite fairly, given that she and I seemed to disagree pretty strongly about who the real victims are here.
The Fusion article quotes one Ashley Madison user as saying, "I love my wife, but I'm not in love with my wife."
I almost vomited when I read that.
Guys like that deserve all the outing they get.
Pretty impressive, LS, that a multimedia company tied to Disney, ABC, and Univision is paying attention to your work. Shows the impact you are having. Bravo!
I'm a former AM subscriber, from Alabama.
I never met anyone on AM, never came close to cheating, regretted the whole thing immediately after I signed up.
Since the hack I have received over 1,000 extortion demands from criminals threatening to expose me to the word. I have received a few death threats. I had to resign from my job. My kids have suffered because my name popped up on a local list and their parents disapprove of me. My wife has had a terrible time with her disapproving friends and I may still lose her (in fact she has moved to Texas because of what happened). I have disappointed colleagues, and myself.
In other words, I have suffered many, many consequences for a foolish act several years ago that never went beyond a one-time visit to this awful website that I instantly recognized as wrong and a fraud. Is that not enough for you and your readers? Do we also need to be publicly shamed like modern-day Hester Prynnes? Are you the reincarnation of Jonathan Edwards?
At what point have I paid my dues for my mistakes? At what point does my family pay for my mistakes? And why are you the guy making that decision? And, no: my unfortunate visit to AM has no bearing on whether I perform a root canal properly or treat a patient with respect.
The public value of this story is minimal compared to the deep and permanent pain your forthcoming public shaming will cause the users AND OUR FAMILIES. It is true that I brought this on myself and my family, but no one appointed you as the executioner.
- A dentist from Mobile
I'm sorry to hear about what you have been through, @12:33. No one appointed me executioner (I'm not an executioner), and it's not my job to determine when someone has, or has not, paid for his mistakes. I'm a journalist, and this is an important story, with many implications--some of them, unfortunately, quite difficult for those caught in the AM trap.
I hope things turn in a more positive direction for you. Feel free to stay in touch. I'm interested in how this plays out for people.
I'm fairly indifferent to this whole thing. But I do have a friend who was on it. Saw his name on a list a while back. I felt bad and guilty seeing him there - like I had done something wrong prying into his life. From my perspective, this isn't a list of cheaters but a fairly heterogeneous collection of people who engaged in online flirtation, mainly with other dudes. That the "powerful" would use a site doesn't strike me as odd. It seems fairly expensive and I can picture a business traveler using it to wank the chain on a trip - just like other forms of porn. I bet the majority of them viewed it as a fairly innocent kind of flirting. My god. I'm glad that my browsing history isn't public. Some may have cheated, but they were likel a very small minority. I sympathize because I suspect the majority just chatted with bots or engaged in a cyber fantasy. I've done the same thing using other porn sites. Maybe you think I'm a bad person. But we all have our own marriages and own lives. Because I don't want others judging me for occasionally using porn, I won't judge others for chatting with fembots on that site. I don't even think it reflects poor judgment to have used the site for porn. Just likely a poor choice to use your credit card there. Privacy may be dead, but I'm no more interested in a list of folks who browsed a website than I am of the Kardashians in people magazine. I actually found the KKK hack far more interesting.
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If you read my commentary from earlier this week, Texas is definitely the right place for the soon to be ex-wife of Anonymous 12:33 PM. If she stays in Alabama, she could wind up getting legally screwed like Sherry Rollins. Texas has so many legal advantages for the oppressed Alabaman, I can't do justice to all of them in a pithy little, comment. Once you cross the Texas State Line with intent to make it your domicile, you have pretty much backed your enemies in Alabama into a legal corner so to speak. They can sue you all they want & shit, but Texas won't let them garnish your wages & you're pretty much free to make love to anybody you want to without serious consequences. Texas has some of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation & it's home to more millionaires & billionaires than any other state. Houston has the highest year over year growth in the creation of new millionaires. I'm about to go get my Texas Drivers License & tell all these Alabama Elites to go fuck themselves!
No, you're not a journalist. You're a pathetic, paranoid, twisted little man with a spiteful little blog. But certainly not a journalist.
Obviously, all the secrets of your family have not been revealed....yet.
You're a hoot, @11:49. A few questions for you:
* If someone has a journalism degree and more than 30 years of professional experience (11 at daily newspaper, almost 20 as university editor, with numerous freelance jobs for wire services, magazines, etc.), what is that person--if not a journalist. If that person is not a journalist, what does it take for one to qualify for that title?
* Have you seen me? I'm 6-4, so it's pretty hard to describe me as little?
* What makes you think I am spiteful? What, in your mind, has caused me to be spiteful?
Good one, @5:31. Are you the individual who threatened to reveal an extramarital affair involving my immediate family, one that happened in mid '90s?
I've been waiting anxiously for your "report" on this. What is taking you so long?
I'm lost. Who had an affair in the 90s?
I have no idea. A recent commenter made such a claim regarding someone in my "immediate family." I'm just asking if @5:31 is the person who made the earlier claim. If he is, fine; if he's not, fine. It's all a hoax anyway.
A. 11:32 p.m. people loving some one but not being in love, is not that uncommon. Being "in love" is almost as bad as being insane, There is some research on the subject, but you can love a person for the things they have done for you, made you a better person, made your life better, etc. Now none of that qualifies them, in my opinion, for being "outted". I don't particularly like it when people are "outted" However, there are instances, when lists are published and become part of the public record and that is fair and open journalism. The fact that others read those lists for a "thrill" or to see who they know is on them, is what bothers me.
I don't see it as being punished when some one writes about these types of things. What I do find very strange is the amount of "anger/energy" that is whipped up in America over these types of things. The "hate" which is aimed at some of the people as one of the posters wrote about, is quite amazing. Like that line from the Bible, let he without sin, cast the first stone.
It is a question of judgement, but for many, their jobs don't really require all that much judgement, so ...........
At some level its one of those things, "only in America". In France a President can have a wife and mistress and everyone goes to the funeral nicely. (that was more than a few years ago)
If I start a blog, does that make me a journalist?
"“I’m just amazed that in this country where people seem to trumpet their Christian values we treat christian marriage so shabbily."
I don't trumpet christian values, because I'm not stupid enough to be "christian".
If you had a degree in journalism, @8:46, plus 29 years of professional experience in the field when you started your blog, you sure as heck would be a journalist.
@8:46. In reality, as the law reads now, you would be as long as you report on facts...or unamed sources as happens here.
If a blog doesn't make you a journalist, that makes you a former journalist. Just like having a teaching degree and 29 years experience doesn't make you a teacher after you quit working.
I am so glad you are here to be the moral compass of society. Hopefully everyone can live up to your standards. Shaming and outing people is pathetic and just wrong regardless of their actions. Karma is a bitch and hopefully it will pay you a visit in the near future.
This is not an important story. This is a salacious story. There is a difference.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is an international organization that disagrees with you, @5:02. They found I was the only U.S. journalist in the western hemisphere to be incarcerated in 2013, and the first to be jailed since 2006.
Something tells me the CPJ knows a little more about this subject than you do. If you beg to differ, identify yourself and tell us your credentials, and we will go from there.
So you think cheating, or trying to cheat, on your spouse is OK, @7:44? Let me guess--you are a "pro family" conservative.
And you claim that "outing" people is wrong, regardless of their actions? Really? It's wrong to report on Catholic priests who molest children. It's wrong to report on serial rapists?
Do you have any idea what you are saying?
I'm amused by these folks who insist you aren't a journalist when you clearly are. And the blog is proof that you are still working, so that argument doesn't fit either. Blogs are written by all sorts of people--some are works of fantasy, some are works of opinion, some are works of true journalism.
Why are these people so invested in the notion that you aren't a journalist? Is it because they think your reporting has been inaccurate on certain subjects? Well, then why don't they say so? And why don't they give examples of exactly what you've reported that is inaccurate? And why don't they provide their names and credentials, so we can judge whether they have any clue what they are talking about?
Of course, they never want to do that. That makes me think they are cowardly "snipers," who want to hide while lobbing spitballs at those who are in the arena. It also makes me think your reporting, all of it, is on target--and I think they know it.
Is it just me, or does @11:49 sound a lot like Jessica M. Garrison? That "twisted little man" and "pathetic little blog" stuff sounds like it came directly from her marie claire article.
Outstanding catch, @11:12. You have keen eyes and ears. It does, indeed, sound exactly like JMG. My guess is that you nailed it.
Maybe she thinks I'm "little" because I'm only 6-4 and not 6-9 like her boyf . . . , I mean boss, Big Lutha.
And you claim that "outing" people is wrong, regardless of their actions? Really? It's wrong to report on Catholic priests who molest children. It's wrong to report on serial rapists?
Wow, what a great point you make there. Sarcasm dripping off. Way to twist the topic to your favor. Of course those should be reported, they are terrible and against the law. Whether you agree with their actions or not, the people on AM didn't break any laws. They should be held accountable to their spouse and their god, not some douche bag with a blog and a god complex. Journalist? Please. I think my neighbor puts more garbage out for pick up than he is allowed. Maybe I will start a blog and out him so I can call myself a journalist.
I was head of my school paper in college and then got a job reporting for a local newspaper for a year. I reported about all sorts of things like girl scout fund raisers, late garbage collections and whenever there was a broken water line. Don't let these guys make you feel bad Schnauzer. I got your back! You and me came from the same cloth!
Oh, so @1:21, has decided that we should only report on crimes. I guess a civil case that could involve all sorts of, say, fraud, conspiracy, false imprisonment, defamation, etc. . . . those should go unreported. In fact, I guess we can just do away with civil courts entirely--which actually might be a good idea, considering the flagrant corruption among civil-court judges.
Of course, it's a salacious story, 11:17. That's why we want to read it. Bring it on, Schnauzer! Can't wait for more outing of Ashley Madison customers.
Oh yes! Let's shame other people so your pathetic lives don't look so bad. Let's basque in there shame and wallow in any pain we can cause them. Wow you guys must be absolutely perfect to judge people like that. Congrats!
@7:44 never answers your question about whether it's OK to cheat on your spouse, according to his moral compass. That tells me he thinks it's OK. Also tells me he could use a moral compass, whether it's LS or someone else.
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