Last night, I jumped on Twitter and saw a post from Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) about someone doxing the individual who had allegedly posted the “Drunk Pelosi” video on Facebook that went viral.
(I will not use the individual’s name or link to the article that doxes him.)
Utterly confounded that this was actually happening, I clicked on the article, published by The Daily Beast. I really wish I hadn’t. Here is how it described the subject of its “report”: “a Donald Trump superfan,” “a 34-year-old day laborer,” and “a proud member of Trump’s razor-thin African American support base,” who is “currently on probation for domestic battery.”
Insert tire screech. What? The article mentions the man’s criminal history? Why? How is that even remotely relevant to the story?
I scrolled a little further. The Daily Beast had included a picture of the individual—but not just any picture, his mugshot. How disgusting.
I couldn’t help myself and replied directly to the author, Kevin Poulsen, on Twitter:
God, you’re an awful person and should be embarrassed you do this to earn a living. Utterly contemptible that you include he’s on “probation.”
— LB (@beyondreasdoubt) June 2, 2019
My anger only intensified, and I immediately googled Kevin Poulsen. I had to try and understand who could write such a vile and offensive piece outing a private citizen and including information about his prior crimes.
Imagine my absolute shock when a Wikipedia page noted that Poulsen has had his own legal troubles and that in 1989 he was indicted by the feds for fraud, money laundering, and other crimes, exposing him to decades in prison. Poulsen actually absconded (fled) and evaded authorities for 17 months!
He was featured on “Unsolved Mysteries” and eventually arrested. He ended up serving five years in a federal penitentiary. Notably, and completely ironically, he was the first person ever to have no computer or internet access as a restriction of his probation.
So once again I couldn’t help myself and posted a second comment to his article:
Hold up. If Wikipedia is to be believed, you are a felon & were the first person in America to not be allowed to use the internet after being released from jail & now you’re shaming other people who do stuff on the internet b/c you don’t like their politics? Do I have that right? pic.twitter.com/aKNInOl4Bw
— LB (@beyondreasdoubt) June 2, 2019
I was surprised when I got a response from Poulsen:
The stuff from Wikipedia, yes. After that, not so much
— Kevin Poulsen (@kpoulsen) June 2, 2019
So I replied again, saying I would give him the benefit of the doubt and take politics out of it. But I still had a bevy of questions: How is it newsworthy to identify a private citizen who didn’t commit a crime? What relevance whatsoever is his criminal history? Digging through his Instagram? Do you care if he gets fired? For what, clicks?
I did not hear from Poulsen again.
There is no way that politics didn’t have anything to do with The Daily Beast article. Indeed, since the Pelosi video, people have recalled a similarly slowed-down video of Trump to make him appear drunk. I don’t remember any deep dives to expose the scoundrel behind that video! Maybe Poulsen will be on that next. Maybe he can dox a Bernie Bro!
Poulsen got lucky after his release from jail. It appears he seamlessly moved into a career in journalism and held several different jobs before becoming a contributing editor at The Daily Beast. Good for him. It’s always great when a federal felony conviction does not pose an obstacle to good employment. As a criminal defense attorney, I can tell you how hard it sometimes is for my clients to find a decent job after being released from jail. Not everyone is as lucky as Poulsen.
So why did The Daily Beast even think it was newsworthy to identify the guy behind the viral Pelosi video? I haven’t been able to get a clear answer on what exactly was done to the video. It seems there were two versions, but the more popular one was slowed down and apparently the pitch of Pelosi’s voice was altered. One (or both?) was also truncated and certain parts were taken out.
I’m not going to go all Zapruder on the video. Suffice to say, it seems it was cut, and the speed and perhaps the sound was altered. But I haven’t seen any claims that the content itself is fake. Rather, it’s how the speed and sound are presented.
But taking a step back, it’s a video. A silly one that made it seem as if Pelosi was drunk. That’s it. A silly video. On Facebook. Sure, it’s of a politician, and it went viral. But there is no crime. It’s even still up on Facebook because it didn’t violate any of Facebook’s policies.
In his article, Poulsen made it seem as if he was looking for the “Russian troll” behind the video, but instead of finding Boris or Svetlana, he found a 34-year old African American man who works as a day laborer and lives in The Bronx, New York. The article identifies him by name, combs through his Instagram posts, and provides various other personal details, including his prior criminal history and that there is an active warrant for his arrest in California for not complying with the terms of his probation.
What am I missing? The guy posted a silly video to make a politician look drunk. The Daily Beast thought the appropriate response was to contact Facebook to find out who was responsible, dig into his background and tell the world about him being on probation for a domestic battery dispute and that there is a warrant for his arrest in California? That’s not journalism, and it sure as hell is not newsworthy. It’s exposing someone because you don’t like that he made fun of someone on your side. This was a hit piece, plain and simple.
You simply cannot convince me that if the person who created the video was an 18-year-old computer nerd with no outward of support of Trump or any connections to politics, the article would still have been written.
This isn’t the first time The Daily Beast has done something like this. They outed a pastry chef who worked at Mar-a-Lago over some of her posts on social media. They were QAnon posts (QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory focusing on the “deep state” operating to frustrate and thwart President Trump.)
Think of QAnon however you wish, but for a private citizen to be publicly identified by a news organization because she might believe in conspiracy theories is crossing a line. Journalists should not be targeting private citizens. And they will never admit it, but they are targeting citizens whose politics they don’t agree with.
Journalists need to leave private citizens alone and get back to being journalists, something I think they have forgotten how to do under Trump.