Today, journalism has moved from shoddy to sleazy and demands correction and explanation. We are all aware of the deficiency in reporting on security and hacking and for those who have read stories in the past few months, you probably realize there is no sign of it getting any better. Unfortunately, it is not holding steady on a below average level either. It is spiraling downward very rapidly. The fact is, media outlets report news to make money. While a small few may still believe in journalistic integrity, most of the news reporters write as a day job. It is a quick lesson for each newcomer to the reporting field to find that writing about dull topics with little excitement doesn’t put food on the table. Write about events overflowing with real life heroes, evil criminals intent upon hurting the average citizen, or extraordinary events that transcend the daily grind.
The New Problem
Today is finding examples of shoddy journalism that begs new examination and consideration of the growing problem. The last few weeks have produced a very clear and specific example of this. Instead of resorting to the previously mentioned lame excuses, no valid explanation of these articles can be found. Not only are these errors inherently inaccurate, they are explicitly opposite of prior factual reporting. Rather than two media outlets coming to different conclusions based on independent research, we find one outlet writing their own piece directly based on another outlets published article. More astonishing is the lack of response when directly confronted on it. It doesn’t need to be said for most people, but this kind of journalism is unethical and overwhelmingly points to an ulterior motive in writing these articles. This is not to suggest there is a master plan or wealthy round table that controls these articles. Rather, it seems that several media outlets have come to the same conclusion that the truth is not profitable. When the truth doesn’t sell copies, what
is left to resort to? Deliberate alteration of facts or events to produce a more desirable product.
On 3/19/99, Adam Penenberg wrote an article on a cracker known as ‘MagicFX’ and his intrusion of E-Bay Online (ebay.com). The article is a result of communication between Penenberg and the system cracker. Quotes in the article are directly from the cracker and the details were verified. In the article(link to below), Penenberg states the following:
- “…to prove his point, took down eBay’s home page for two minutes…”
- “This means he could change prices or place fake ads, divert traffic to other sites or even take down the entire network.”
Note in quote #1, Penenberg explicitly states what the cracker did on the site to prove the events transpired. In quote #2, he describes what the cracker could do with the access he has.
On 3/22/99 ZDNet put a quick blurb in their “it news” section. In the blurb, there is no mention of the Forbes article, yet that is the only source the information could have been gleaned from. In the blurb ZDNet goes on to say “Magic has reportedly taken down the site, altered auction prices, displayed fake items, and sent traffic to other sites.” In this sentence the use of the word ‘reportedly’ points to the Forbes article as it was the only report out at the time. It goes on to leave off the word ‘could’, stating that the cracker did commit malicious
activity on Ebay’s system. This is a clear case of the author blatantly ignoring the facts presented in the only article on the subject.
On the same day, CNN posted an article from Newsbytes written by Bob Woods. While CNN did not author this piece, they were responsible for the wide distribution of the article as well as some responsibility in reprinting of inaccurate material. In the article Woods writes “Forbes’ Digital Tool Web site reported.. The cracker reportedly removed the site from the Internet, changed auction prices, displayed fake advertising, and re-directed traffic to other Web sites.” Unlike ZDNet, Woods directly attributes his information to Penenberg’s article. Unfortunately, Woods seems incapable of reading (doubtful), or deliberately altered the facts for unknown reasons. Like the ZDNet article, Woods claims the cracker did re-direct traffic, change prices, and more. Worse, Woods claims the cracker “removed the site from the Internet”. I don’t understand how a cracker could feasibly do this, especially in the same sentence where he supposedly altered prices and redirected traffic.
These glaring errors are nothing short of . That not one, but two different media outlets could butcher such a simple article. Looking at the size of the ZDNet article, one could imagine how dry the piece might have been if they only reported “Ebay was hacked”. The Newsbyte/CNN piece goes into a little more detail and even quotes the referring article. This makes it all the more inexcusable for such errors to happen.
What can you do? First off, write to the offending media outlet. In most cases, they list an email contact address for questions or gripes. Since it takes only a minute to fire off a piece of email, do it. Even if it
is a single line, just get it on the record that you don’t approve of their shoddy journalism. The more complaints they receive, the more they must consider what they print as it begins to represent a larger
representation of their readership.
It is such a small effort to play a role in correcting a serious problem. Think of how many thousands of people read these news outlets and don’t realize they are reading garbage.
Appendix 1 – Forbes Article
3/19/99 Going once, going twice … HACKED!
By Adam L. Penenberg
EBay (nasdaq: EBAY), the hot one-to-one auction site, was hacked on Saturday, March 13 by a 22-year-old college student who goes by the handle MagicFX. But the story doesn’t end there. The hacker maintains
access to the site and can return at will. He has “root” access to eBay’s computers, the same kind the legitimate administrators enjoy. This means he could change prices or place fake ads, divert traffic to other sites or even take down the entire network.
Appendix 2 – ZDNet Article
3/22/99 it news blurb
Online auction site Ebay finds itself at the mercy of a 22-year-old hacker who calls himself Magic-FX. Magic has reportedly taken down the site, altered auction prices, displayed fake items, and sent traffic to other sites.
Appendix 3 – CNN Article
3/22/99 “Hacker Cracks Ebay’s Web Site”
PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA, U.S.A. (NB) — By Bob Woods, Newsbytes. A hacker reportedly infiltrated the Web site of Internet person-to-person auctioneer eBay Inc. [NASDAQ:EBAY], taking down the entire site and gaining access to other content in the process, a press report said.
Forbes’ Digital Tool Web site reported the hacker, more accurately known as a “cracker,” identified himself as a 22-year-old college student going by the name “MagicFX.” The cracker reportedly removed the site from the Internet, changed auction prices, displayed fake advertising, and re-directed traffic to other Web sites.