My bet is Gizmodo does the perp walk, and bloggers could get screwed with a legal precedent leaving them with slightly less protection than, say, print newspaper reporters. You just can’t buy stolen property and then hide behind journalist shield laws.
Today, law enforcement seized Gizmodo editor Jason Chen’s computers. Officers armed with a search warrant cited probable cause that Chen’s home and equipment was used as the means of committing a felony.
In a letter to San Mateo County authorities, Gizmodo COO Gaby Darbshire contends the warrant violates California’s Shield Law protecting journalists from disclosing sources. Nick Denton, founder and president of Gawker Media, wrote in an instant message to the New York Times: “Are bloggers journalists? I guess we’ll find out.”
In an earlier blog post, I made fun of the news that Gizmodo had a supposed iPhone model planned for release this summer. To me, it felt like a Sam Spade adventure. But this was before Gizmodo admitted paying for the iPhone and then outing the Apple engineer who lost the iPhone, taking cheap shots like posting his picture and playing up the fact he was drinking beer.
John Gruber of Daring Fireball slammed Gizmodo: “Publishing the name, photographs, and personal information of the Apple engineer who lost the phone is irrelevant to the story … There is no interest served by outing him other than taking sociopathic glee in making a public spectacle of someone who made a very serious but honest mistake.”
It’s truly amazing that Gizmodo thinks it can play by its own rules, legally and journalistically. (Interestingly, I would have thought Gizmodo’s letter would have come from its legal department.) Gizmodo claims it didn’t know the property was stolen or real, yet Gizmodo’s original story confirmed it was an Apple product that wasn’t purchased from Apple.
I also cringe at the thought of Gizmodo trotting out legal precedence of the Shield Law, citing, say, the Pentagon Papers that served the American public. It will be a sad day if the Pentagon Papers are held up alongside a gadget phone.
As a journalist, I’m offended that the likes of Gizmodo has put online journalism on trial. It’s not just because of Gizmodo’s classless behavior concerning the Apple engineer. Or ridiculous excuses of ignorance. Or the fact that this is all about a phone.
The problem is the payment: If I had asked my editors to spend any amount of money for what clearly was a stolen product, I’d be out of a job. They could no longer respect my judgment.
Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for CIO.com in Silicon Valley. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.