This post is a tangent that I was thinking about this past week when I was listening to NPR’s On The Media. The specific segment, The Chiquita Phone Hacking Scandal, examines the current News of the World phone ‘hacking’ case and illegal and unethical journalistic practices in the light of the historic “Chiquita Phone Hacking Scandal”. The segment is worth while and I highly recommend listening to it if you have a few minutes (or you can read the transcript here).
At any rate here is a nice little synopses: Chiquita was doing bad things and the Enquirer published the findings of reporter Mike Gallagher. Unbeknownst to the Enquirer, Gallagher had ‘hacked’ Chiquita’s phone systems and this fact was revealed after the publication. The result, “The Enquirer fired Gallagher, relocated its editor, agreed to pay Chiquita millions of dollars, apologized repeatedly and recanted the stories.”
The take away nugget is this, summarized by Kelly McBride of The Poynter Institute:
The lesson is when your methods for gathering information are dishonest, the information you gather is suspect. And that case is the perfect lesson in that. No one has challenged the findings of the newspaper. Yet, nobody talks about that as a great investigative piece. They talk about it as an ethical scandal.
Okay, so that all makes sense. But then I had a secondary thought and which gave me flashbacks to Steig Larssons Milenium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest): In each book, the main character hacks into the antagonists machines and the information she gathers almost becomes a deus ex machina saving her and the rest of the journalist protagonists. This is great for a fictional story and it draws attention to the ease and power of information gathering. However, I do not think Mr. Larsson addressed the seriousness of how screwed they all would be if their ‘informant’ was actually revealed to be a hacker, illegally gaining access to the information.
If there were one take away it would be this: All fiction aside, hacking will never save your ass, it will burn it.