Our Horrible Media: Hacked Materials Edition

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on April 18, 2021

I'm strongly considering changing the name of this website, and its focus, to the things our horrible media does. It's not like there's a dearth of material—and you'd see more of it if I had more time and I could get people to pay me for it. (Substack?)

Late last week an organization called Distributed Denial of Secrets came into possession of hacked data from Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. The former group describes itself as a "501(c)(3) non-profit devoted to enabling the free transmission of data in the public interest."

The data hacked from GiveSendGo reportedly included contributors to various crowdfunding campaigns, the amount donated, and, in the case of "anonymous" donations, the email address associated with the donation. GiveSendGo said that credit card account numbers were not part of the breach.

Our Horrible Media and Kyle Rittenhouse

Kyle Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old who was arrested after killing two protesters and wounding a third, during a night of violent protests last year in Kenosha, Wisc.

I haven't written anything publicly about his case, but having studied The New York Times' helpful timeline of that night (a good piece of journalism) I am of the opinion that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. Yes, he shouldn't have been out there. Yes, legally, he should not have had the firearm in his possession (and he should probably be convicted of that). Yes, the police should've taken him into custody that night.

In the days and weeks following the shooting, the mainstream media has vilified the kid. They've turned him into some kind of gung-ho vigilante reminiscent of Bernie Goetz. Since he's obviously not a left-wing Antifa type, siding with Rittenhouse makes you persona non grata with the media.

Our Horrible Media: The Rittenhouse Fundraiser

GiveSendGo hosts a wide variety of crowdfunding campaigns, from evangelistic efforts to medical bills to more politically oriented ones, such as a one for Kyle Rittenhouse's defense. That fundraiser garnered nearly $600,000 and helped bail the 17-year-old out of jail until his trial, now tentatively scheduled for November.

This is largely seen as a problem by the news media.

So, since Britain's Guardian newspaper and Portland, Ore., based reporter Jason Wilson first received the hacked materials on Friday, they have focused on those who donated to the Rittenhouse fundraiser who are police officers or other "public" officials.

Our Horrible Media: War on Cops

The Guardian's report starts with identifying cops who had the gall to contribute their own money to Rittenhouse's defense fund. Several officers were easy to identify as police officers, because they used their work email addresses as the contact point for making the donations.

One donation for $25, made on 3 September last year, was made anonymously, but associated with the official email address for Sgt William Kelly, who currently serves as the executive officer of internal affairs in the Norfolk police department in Virginia.

That donation also carried a comment, reading: “God bless. Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

The comment continued: “Every rank and file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.”

That earned the officer an investigation and a reassignment to another division.

Other fundraisers on the site, including one for the officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times (My opinion: Good shoot) and one for four fired Houston officers who shot and killed Nicolas Chavez (I have no knowledge of this case) also had donors named and shamed.

Our Horrible Media: Is Everyone a Public Official?

When you think "public official," most typically think elected officials, prominent appointees (city manager, head of parks and recreation, etc.), or someone else whose name you might recognize if you follow local or state politics. However, the Guardian's litany of "public officials" really look more like "public employees."

Another Rittenhouse donor using an official email address was Craig Shepherd, who public records show is a paramedic in Utah. This donor gave $10 to Rittenhouse on 30 August.

Donations also came to Rittenhouse associated with official email addresses for Keith Silvers, and employee of the city of Huntsville, Alabama, and another $100 was associated with the official address of Michael Crosley, an engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a body which is charged with maintaining the US’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

These are not public officials. Searching "Keith Silvers" on the City of Huntsville, Ala., website returns zero results. He could be a janitor for all we know, but his meager donation to Rittenhouse's defense fund means that you get a ton of hits of his name on Google now.

A brief note on a journalistic tool

One of the things they teach you in journalism school is something that seems obvious if you think about it. It's called "localizing the story" and it's a staple of local and regional news outlets. Basically it's little more that taking a national, or potentially international, story and asking: "How does this affect my community?" Congress passes a budget? What has the local congressman (or woman) managed to earmark for our area?

Our Horrible Media: Localizing a national story in Utah

Which brings us to ABC4 News "Investigator" Jason Nguyen.

Our Horrible Media, Jason Nguyen
Jason Nguyen, and whomever green-lighted his report, should be sacked.

Nguyen used his elite reporting skills to notice that one of the "public officials" in the Guardian story lived in Utah and located his home. Promoting his upcoming report with this tweet:

People at the home wisely refused to talk with Nguyen and likely did not have the hot tar and feathers ready that Nguyen so richly deserved.

Nguyen's investigative skills resulted in a two-minute long report, of which approximately two-thirds is simply a recap of the Rittenhouse case.

Nguyen also coerced a statement out of the employer of the paramedic, Craig Shepherd.

We can confirm that Craig Shepherd is an employee of the West Valley City Fire Department. We have become aware of a donation made using his government email account. We are conducting an investigation into this matter, however, such a donation would be representative of personal actions and not those of West Valley City.

Shepherd thankfully will not be "placed on administrative leave" while the city investigates, according to Nguyen.

To help out the West Valley City investigators, it should go something like this:

Supervisor: "Craig, use your personal email address in the future."

Shepherd: "Yes, boss."

Supervisor: "This investigation is closed."

All of this over a personal $10 donation.

It should go without saying that Craig Shepherd's small donation was not newsworthy. What might be newsworthy, if Shepherd consented to it, would be a feature story on how the media targets ordinary citizens for wrongthink. However, that's a report that Nguyen has no credibility to do.

ABC4 News and Nguyen owe Shepherd an on-air apology. He won't get one.

The Mainstream Media Whines About Lost Respect

This incident occurred just days after the American Press Institute released a report showing that Americans don't share "journalism's core values."

In all, only 11% of Americans unreservedly embrace all five of the journalism principles tested and these people tend to be politically liberal. However, most Americans don’t fully endorse these journalism principles, and the distrust goes beyond traditional partisan politics.

What are those five journalistic principles?

  • Oversight: This value measures how strongly a person feels the need to monitor powerful people and know what public officials are doing.
  • Transparency: This is the idea that society works better when information is out in the open and the public knows what is happening.
  • Factualism: This is the idea that the more facts people have, the closer they will get to the truth.
  • Giving voice to the less powerful: This measures whether people want to amplify the voices of people who aren’t ordinarily heard.
  • Social criticism: This value measures how people feel about the importance of casting a spotlight on a community’s problems to solve them.

Which one of these five journalistic principles is served by making an example of a paramedic who donated $10 to a legal defense fund?

The answer is none.

I've said for years that journalism's wounds are self-inflicted. You can muster some respect for people who have principles and strive to live up to them. As the Guardian, Wilson, ABC4 News, Nguyen and all the others have demonstrated, they have nothing that could be identified as principles.

You don't "afflict the comfortable" by going after a paramedic for a $10 donation. You don't "comfort the afflicted" by going after a city employee in Huntsville, Ala., who is so anonymous that his name doesn't appear on the public website.

Compare the news coverage of this data breach with Vice President Kamala Harris' entreaty last year to contribute to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. That group later used the money raised to bail out looters and rioters…and a twice-convicted rapist accused of kidnapping, assault, and sexual assault, a woman accused of second degree murder and a man who allegedly shot at members of a SWAT team during the riots

The media wasn't interested in holding a sitting senator, vice presidential candidate and former California attorney general to account for her entreaties on behalf of that organization. To my knowledge, no one even bothered to ask if Harris donated any of her own money to that group.

But if you're a paramedic with $10 to spare, beware! Our horrible media is watching you.

*UPDATE 4/20/21 8 a.m. PDT* Reporter Jason Nguyen has deleted his tweet promoting his report on the local paramedic and has instead posted this one:

No apology. No explanation on why the report was made in the first place.

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