Most Bewildering Controversy of the Week
Earlier this week we stumbled across an interview with Nick Denton, proprietor of Gawker, a website we used to frequent back when it was interesting. That interview is now sealed behind paid access, but happily Google still has it in the cache:
If a good exclusive used to provide 10 times the traffic of a standard regurgitated blog post, now it garners a hundred times as much…
We’ve hired John Cook — formerly of Radar magazine and the Chicago Tribune — to Gawker.
And sure enough, John Cook’s byline appears on “Mancow’s ‘Waterboarding’ Was Completely Fake,” a Friday exclusive that tallied 34,776 views when we checked last night, almost three times as many as Mommy 1.0’s crossposted Jezebel piece regurgitating GQ’s Levi Johnston feature.
Gawker itself regurgitated the Mancow waterboarding video Wednesday morning, only five days after everyone else in the known blogosphere ran it. (More precisely, Gawker regurgitated Tuesday’s Countdown segment with Mancow, having overlooked the original event.)
Thursday night, somebody forwarded Gawker a series of curious emails purporting to describe the scene leading up to the publicity stunt. Of note is a message from Linda Shafran, Mancow’s corporate publicist:
It is going to have to look “real” but of course would be simulated with Mancow acting like he is drowning. It will be a hoax but have to look real.
Smoking gun? It would certainly grab our attention. And to Gawker’s credit, night editor Cajun Boy asked Shafran for clarification:
It was NOT a hoax. Early on when we were looking for someone to waterboard, an email was sent out looking for someone to do it and I mistakenly said it would be staged. That was my mistake and a misunderstanding.
But that was early and NOT TRUE AT ALL. It was not staged. NOT AT ALL. When it happened several days later, it was real, honest, actual, not staged.
Any info you have was my mistake. THE WATERBOARDING OF MANCOW WAS REAL!!!!!!
Of course, “several days later” is a tad confusing, since the original email was dated the night before the stunt. But the context of that email was that the original waterboarder had dropped out, and they were looking for a last-minute replacement. So we’ll allow for confusion on the part of Shafran, although confusion isn’t something you want expressed by your professional publicist.
To wrap up his follow-up post, Gawker’s Cajun Boy compared the Mancow video to the earlier Christopher Hitchens waterboarding, and noticed some discrepancies: Hitch was splashed strictly to code, while Mancow took a few liberties with the process — something also pointed out by wingnut critics last week. Without going into details, it’s fair to say that Mancow endured Waterboarding Lite — and only once, not 183 times.
Still, that was enough for Cajun Boy to fret that everyone had been “duped by a cheap publicity stunt.”
(Which calls for a digression: Well, duh. Mancow, by all accounts a rabid wingnut and Hannity phone pal, was trying to prove a simple point that waterboarding is harmless. He even had his listeners vote on whether he or his announcer would take the splash. His casual confidence that he could endure a water wienie was what made the outcome significant.)
And that’s where Gawker Investigator John Cook, taking a break from investigating chronic chyron typos, stepped in Friday morning. No fretting for the Radar and Trib veteran — a real journalist knows how to milk a story:
Olbermann is a disingenuous ideologue who hurts his own cause — and ours — when he takes this fakery at face value and promotes it as evidence of his own rectitude on the torture debate.
Astonishingly, MSNBC is standing by its flackery for Muller’s hoax.
Them’s fightin’ words — words guaranteed to get Gawker prominent publicity on Countdown last night, just like Gawker accuses Mancow of doing. And while there’s likely little overlap between Olbermann’s and Mancow’s potential audiences, a Countdown plug for Gawker is worth something. Gossip reporters know the value of feuds.
Which brings us to the bewildering part: What would Mancow have to gain by faking his submission? We know what Gawker had to gain from disputing it — and we also can reasonably suspect what an anonymous tipster had to gain by forwarding those emails, since the only way to undermine Mancow’s waterboarding is to claim it wasn’t really waterboarding.
Somebody was certainly duped. But Gawker’s pointing its finger in the wrong direction.
Waterboarding Hoax? [Countdown]
Update: Oh, Keith [Gawker]