Monday, December 10, 2012

Setting the bar in the court of public opinion


Let me start this post off by saying if you haven't been reading Slabbed...you're the only one....so go there now and catch up.

The series of events that have transpired in the NOLA political landscape as of late have me thinking about politics, justice, the media and how they all interact.  Since the storm, we've seen local media and law enforcement entities focus their attention on rooting out corruption among political offices and governmental agencies.  Recently we've seen the local media shift their focus, thanks to Fred Heebe, on possible "corruption" (that doesn't necessarily mean illegality) within the local U.S Attorneys' Office, itself.

And thanks to the Newhouse cull we've even seen local media, for a brief moment, reluctantly turn the spotlight on itself and this is the matter I want to address in this post.

We saw panel after panel discussing what the effects of the Times-Picayune "downsizing" would be, as well as numerous editorial pieces from local blogs like this one to the national media outlets like the NYT.  Occasionally, issues of possible ethical matters among our local media resources were discussed in some of those conversations but all in all that particular discussion was a rarity.  I suppose that's because it's rather uncomfortable for media folk to turn the lens on themselves or the entity writing their paychecks and question matters of integrity.

Perhaps the most outstanding moment in the past few years where this issue arose was the discovery that WWL talk radio host, Garland Robinette, took a 100k loan from River Birch landfill operator, Fred Heebe.  What was interesting about that scandal was that not only did WWL throw their unwavering support behind Garlandfill without questioning him, they barely even addressed the matter.  For a media entity that advertised their hosts as "People you trust", WWL's dead silence on the Heebe "loan" to Robinette was deafening.  How do you trust a self-aggrandized entity touting "trustworthiness" that doesn't address dishonesty within its own ranks?



More recently, Nola.com has taken the stage front and center in the ongoing Fred Heebe investigation when Heebe's defense team outed two (kind of three) members of Jim Letten's U.S. Attorneys' Office.

Apparently a swami syntax analyst was able to look into his crystal ball and discern that the same person, Sal Perricone, had written over 500 comments on Nola.com under five different pseudonyms.  All this sleuthing was supposedly accomplished without access to the IP addresses of the commenter.  Did I mention that two of those pseudonyms only had two comments each?

Wowza...that syntax dude, James Fitzgerald, is a genius and the paper even pointed out that he had helped reveal the identity of Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) by using the same method.  Eerrrr...except that Kaczynki's brother is really the one that actually outed him as the terrorist so they already had a pretty good idea of who wrote the material before they analyzed it.  In this case, with Perricone, we are being led to believe that the sleuthing was done purely by Fitzgerald's talents alone.

That's the difference between going fishing, blindfolded, in the Gulf, without any bait, to catch a Bluefin Tuna or simply going to Rouses' seafood section.

Jan Mann and her husband Jim Mann have also been named as commenters but I'm still not clear as to how that information was liberated by Team Heebe.  Believe it or not, there is a fourth commenter from Letten's office that may or may not come to light now that Letten has resigned.

Still, there is word a fifth "government" commenter may exist although not in Letten's office and not necessarily related to the Heebe case.  If this commenter comes to light, it could be absolutely earth shattering.

Question(s)....how are all these people being outed?  How is their actual identity being confirmed, and by who, without access to the IP addresses?  If the IP addresses were used, is that an invasion of privacy as dictated by Nola.com's own commenting policy at the time the comments were made?


http://www.advance.net/advancedigitalUserAgreementPP/#privacy
 I. We reserve the right to identify you from your Registration Information and/or to merge or co-mingle anonymous or non-personally identifiable data about you, your offline and online behavior, and/or your computer, mobile or other device (including its geographic location), with your Registration Information and/or other personally identifiable data for any lawful business purpose.
"non-personally Identifiable....for lawful business purpose."  


Another question...where is the line drawn when it comes to a prosecutor's right to the 1st amendment?  You can damn well bet there are astroturfers commenting for Heebe on Nola.com, is that not just as unethical and influential to the case as the prosecution commenting?  In that vein, I would recommend reading this excellent thought provoking post by IgnatiusJeffReilly.

Final question...why the hell would anyone, ever again, remotely consider commenting on Nola.com?  Even if you're not a DOJ employee.  This is a serious question, I'm not just asking it to dis Nola.com.  I'm asking this question because I think we now have an enormous deterrent for people who have information on corruption to anonymously comment in online public forums and I think that hurts our democracy.

Ask yourself this question, "Would this city have seen the number of prosecutions we've seen in the past 6 years without the internet, blogs and community participation, the option of anonymity included?"  In fact, please answer that question in the comment section.  I am curious what people think and I promise I will never, under any circumstances, divulge your identity...even if you want me to.

While we're in the midst of putting federal prosecutors and corrupt politicos alike under the microscope, perhaps the media entities' role in the equation should also be more closely examined.  After all, we're putting all our trust in their hands to tell us the truth.  As is the case with WWL...we know they're not going to put themselves under the microscope.  With the revamped Nola.com....we're already seeing some rather disturbing trends as Jeffrey and Gambit's Kevin Allman allude to.

And after reading Jeffrey's post, I would be amiss if I didn't point out a bit of recent snarky hypocrisy on Nola.com's part.

Drew Broach was quick to jump on the Advocate for publishing a ridiculously transparent push-piece on John Young a couple of months ago.  I'm curious if Broach happened to read the ridiculously transparent push-piece his own paper published a few weeks earlier for a local politically connected business.  Funny how the TP failed to mention that there is more than a handful of local companies competing for the same business as the one highlighted in this article.

Is this the brave Newhouse world?  The new exciting stuff we've never seen before?  Is the Newhouse standard to publish push-pieces for politically connected companies but not the politicians themselves?  I guess they may be right....perhaps we haven't seen that selective standard before.

I have a hunch focus is going to shift to the ethics of our local media entities in short order regardless of my line of questioning here.  The rights of commenters' privacy, anonymity, payola, selective comment deletion, retro-editing, etc.....I welcome that coming discussion.  I hope my hunch is right.

BTW....keep reading Slabbed....trust me.    

  UPDATE 1:  I need to clarify a statement in this post..."Jan Mann and her husband Jim Mann have also been named as commenters but I'm still not clear as to how that information was liberated by Team Heebe."

Jim Mann was originally accused by Heebe's defense team of commenting but Jim Letten later denied that claim.

19 comments:

M Styborski said...

I tried discourse on NDC. It doesn't work. It's a platform for the ill-educated, (fact- and topic-wise,) to test the limits of their CAPSLOCK. Why and how Perricone managed such abundant posts remains a mystery. (But 500 posts over 4 years equals about one post every three days…)

It's easy to get caught in a flamewar trap. I've been there. It's one of the reasons I stopped reading NDC. The obtuseness sometimes just begs retaliation. But in Perricone's case I think it may also have been a release valve. We all need them and anonymous posting is one hell of a good option.

(And by the way, can we sue the Big News Media to stop them from calling Perricone, Mann and whatever others come to light bloggers? They are commenters. I know you understand the difference, but Johnny Viewer generally has no clue.)

Jan Mann apparently managed only a handful of comments before the Perricone bomb went off. I have to wonder if Sal mentioned some stupid comment he read on NDC in passing to her, sparking a desire to set someone straight. Then the war begins and she gets drawn in.

but the real question here is who were they replying to? I know both specifically replied to other commenters by handle, but were those people just random idiots, or were they members of Heebe's clan, specifically pushing buttons they knew would bear fruit?

From the posts Heebe cited in his BOI, Jan Mann never gave specific information regarding any case. In fact, the examples used in the "specific knowledge of cases" section were incredibly broad and common knowledge to anyone who follows the NOLA corruption stories.

Then there's this thought. Heebe's argument is that potential jurors might read something in the Perricone/Mann posts that would sway their opinion against his friends. Like what? The truth? That bribes were made and the public swindled? I don't recall him saying that the comments held any false or misleading allegations; just damaging information to his buddies. So essentially his actual argument is that people were telling the truth about what corrupt bastards his underlings and associates are!

And clearly nobody (except Clan Heebe) knew who was actually behind the screen names so why would whatever they said hold any sway with a potential juror. To the juror pool, it would have been just another dumbass NDC comment.

I know, I'm rambling around here, but all this has been in my mind for a while and I can't seem to sort it out logically. And the vodka doesn't help. I just wish there was a way we could show our support for Jim Letten other than text on a screen I'd feel better. Perhaps we could convince him to run for public office. Wouldn't it be just spiffy to see him run for, oh, I don't know… US Senate for the State of Louisiana? I wonder if he'd get Mary's support…?

Dambala - Jason B. Berry said...

Yuuppp....I'd like to see that campaign just for the blood that would fly.

And all your points are spot on...despite the Vodka. No one is asking what real difference the comments make in the first place. There's been this immediate assumption that by commenting Perricone and co. completely fuck'snu'd every case the DOJ had in motion....of the fucking horror! The folly of Sal!!! Can you imagine?!?!

Well...yeah...actually I can, for the exact same reasons you listed. He's was a frustrated human being...it's pretty easy to imagine.

I understand the breach of protocol and the cause and effect the commenting could have on a defendant's case...I get that. But in the same way people are accusing me of heaping praises on Jim Letten's career, I think there are a lot of Cassandras heralding the demise of the US attny. office and every case it has in the queue.

Doug Handshoe said...

Excellent post.

Speaking from the experience of literally growing up with Ricky Matthews during his long tenure as publisher at the Sun Herald the new brain trust comes as no surprise. He did the exact thing at the S-H and then at the Press Register.

Jeffrey left off the big law firm presence on Matthews panel. If you look at all the industries he has on board he literally has his own version of the chamber of commerce and bypassed the existing business interests groups. A dedicated business journal is the logical next step.

Newspaper publishers are paid to be ass kissers so I do not hold that against him. The criticisms of him along those lines by the Gambit are laughable given the ass kisser in charge there. I don't hold that against DuBos either for the same reason.

Jim Letten was a vast improvement over his predecessors. Mitch Landrieu is a vast improvement over his predecessor. Now that we've had a peek at the mountaintop though the shortcomings of each have come into much sharper focus.

According to the good book Moses was only allowed to lead the Israelites to the mountaintop overlooking the promised land. The defining themes of the human condition are little changed from antiquity.

According to the good book the Israelites also had to do a bit of ass kicking once they got to the promised land. For the new media outlets in particular, our right to do investigative journalism and cover the corruption is not freely conferred no matter what that piece of paper in Washington DC says. Rights that are not exercisable are pretty much worthless in my book.

The effects of that battle are chilling only if people stop talking and chatting on forums like AZ. I'll never be party to that conspiracy of silence.

Anonymous said...

The original downfall of the numbers of subscribers of TP was that they "catered to arrogant politicos" and endorsed corrupt ones especially in JP.

One would have to be stupid to share any political dirt with them as their record on defending the identity of commenters is dismal.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago Luke Petrovich publicly disclosed certain division orders involving Plaquemines Parish Government mineral leases, in which a local media personality was disclosed as receiving a fractional interest.

And, far too many individuals have disclosed very good inside information only to see nothing done.

Meanwhile, firings continued over the decades for "disgruntled" employees, without any of the "magical qualities" of press disclosure being used.

And one wonders why the TiPSY gets no respect.

bruthas_back said...

I wonder if Perricone's post about where Nagin lived and 2nd amendment lovers is going be Nagin's saving grace from prosecution.
The post has to violate some sort of ethical code at the very least!

oyster said...

A very thought-provoking, many-splendored post. And I echo your sentiments about Slabbed and would say the same about AZ.

I see what you're getting at, and it's big.

A few small points, though.

My suspicion has been that Gibbens knew about the commenting, but Team H brought in the swami of syntax to add a veneer of science to burnish the lawsuit (the intention of the lawsuit was to make a political, not legal or monetary, impact.

But my point all along is that inside knowledge was sufficient, but not necessary, to expose the aliases. you seem to disagree.

But then, how was I able to uncloak Perricone's "martyfed" alias-- among the many thousands of nola.com commenters-- with less than a dozen martyfed posts to work with? (I've since discovered dozens more.) Simply put, because Perricone's style was so distinctive and because the telltale identifiers stood out so strongly.

It's not rocket surgery. When I was in grad school, ages ago, I nailed college level cheaters because they couldn't disguise when their writing voice changed, even though I was grading massive volumes of papers. This was before google.

Now, forgive me, because I've been working on an inferior but similar post at The Lens, but did Heebe explicitly name Jim Mann as a commenter?

"All this sleuthing was supposedly accomplished without access to the IP addresses of the commenter. Did I mention that two of those pseudonyms only had two comments each?"

Precisely which pseudonyms had only two comments each?! Are you going by the hopelessly flawed nola.com user history search?

I discovered martyfed using my eyeballs. The stupid search shows only a dozen or so comments, but there are many more. There hundreds by Mencken and Campstblue, dozens by legacy and I believe more than two by dramatis personae and eweman.

Anyway, I'm very interested in these issues and aim to explore them further in a column on Thursday. But I did want to ask a few minor questions above.

Dambala - Jason B. Berry said...

O,

I'm going to answer some of these questions here and I'll email some ancillary info. that I can't post yet.

"Now, forgive me, because I've been working on an inferior but similar post at The Lens, but did Heebe explicitly name Jim Mann as a commenter?"

No...David Hammer first broke that last week. There is a 4th commenter from the DOJ office that hasn't been named yet, I'll tell you that and the whopper commenter in email.

"Precisely which pseudonyms had only two comments each?! Are you going by the hopelessly flawed nola.com user history search?"

That was originally reported by the TP. I tried to find the story last night on their site but getting their search engine to actually produce a fruitful search in nearly impossible.

I'm sending you the rest in email.

whitmergate said...

Great post. Kudos to you Jason once more.

My question is: Who is Tanfoglio51

I posted the following on Slabbed but got no traction ... what do you think?

Mark Mosely (oyster) quotes from footnote #18 from Judge Englehardt’s 50 page order:

“Q. Okay. What about “TANFOGLIO51″?

A. No. That, for sure, I would never use. Which I’ve never heard of that name.”

With staffers flacking online, Letten didn’t need enemies
BY MARK MOSELEY, THE LENS OPINION WRITER
NOVEMBER 29TH, 2012
http://thelensnola.org/2012/11/29/moseley-on-u-s-attorney-scandal/

YOU SURELY WOULD NEVER USE SOMETHING THAT YOU NEVER HEARD ABOUT BEFORE ?!?!?!? WTF

I suggest Perricone either made an obvious Fruedian slip or stated an outright lie, again, when he answers Judge Englehardt’s question, as quoted above:

“A. No. That, for sure, I would never use. Which I’ve never heard of that name.”

There is no doubt that he knows who TANFOGLIO51 is; his contadiction is proof positive of that fact. And exactly where does the name TANFOGLIO derive. Well it’a a name associated with an ITALIAN gun maker.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanfoglio

So now we have Perricone, who has admitted to using the numerals 51 (his alleged birthday year) coupled with the Menchen handle; now joined with the TANFOGLIO handle. Perricone tells us he is of Italian descent. We also learn he has had law enforcement experience and is fond of weapons. He has also alluded to using violence against Ray Nagin at Nagin’s home on Park Island in his NOLA.com comments.

We also know that Jan MECELLI Mann is of Italian descent. Whether she was born in 1951 I do not know. If she was, then this mystery becomes narrowed between two people.

Either Perricone is lying to mitigate his outrageous comment(s) concerning Nagin, or he is covering for Jan MICELLI Mann by lying yet again.

No matter how this plays out, there is no doubt that this US Atty (Letten) and his posse of retrobate pathological liars (Perricone, the Manns, Kennedy, Comen, Landrieu, Harper, et al) will have been responsible for they’re own demise, as it should be.


whitmergate
December 1, 2012 at 11:20 pm

bruthas_back said...

AZ do you think that there is any chance that Heebe's gaming of the system by outing the Fed. prosecutors will work in the end?

Is there any point where the Gov't can't afford to continue to try to save face?

Dambala - Jason B. Berry said...

So now I'm forced to scratch the Jim Mann claim....the Mea Culpa is in the Update in the post.

bruthas_back said...

According to the the AP another prosecutor has to withdraw from river birch case.

Team Heebe= winning!
Eastern District of La.= Fail!

Heebe= Marcello 2.0 ?

Nagin= Morial 2.0 ?

Dambala - Jason B. Berry said...

You're counting chickens before they hatch, BB.

bruthas_back said...

AZ, I'm not counting chickens, I'm counting the skins team Heebe has on the wall!

Anonymous said...

Re allegations about Jim Mann commenting: He was one of the two AUSAs whose depositions were requested in Heebe's original suit, which suggested either Jim Mann or Perricone had to be Henry L. Mencken1951 based on a nine-page pleading in the Fazzio case written by them.

The third AUSA to sign that nine-page pleading was Greg Kennedy, and he's currently my best guess as to commenter #4. --muspench

Anonymous said...

Good guess, Muspench ! Greg Kennedy is indeed the 4th commentator on nola.com, who, just like Mann, lied about it in open court, and to investigators,

Dambala - Jason B. Berry said...

I don't think so.

I think the initials are CG.

But what the hell do I know?

Dambala - Jason B. Berry said...

CG means character graphics, btw.

Anonymous said...

Jason, the latest Garlandfill spin is hilarious. Garlandfill says the lot is now worth $280,000. But as per Manual Torres the lot was valued at $90,000 by the St.Tammany assessor in 2009 but in 2012 it was valued at $180,000 and taxed accordingly.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/03/garland_robinette_disputes_rep.html

All I have to say is I gotts get my ass over to freaking St Tammany and buy some of that land that doubled in value in 3 years.