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To read comments to this article, go here
No, Virginia. Actually, There Is No Santa Claus
Saturday, January 15 2005 @ 09:19 PM EST

When you have the job of reporting news, you take on a heavy responsibility. People trust you to tell them the truth.

I'm sure you've all heard about the newspaper, the Sun, back in the late 1800s, that answered a little girl's query as to whether there really is a Santa Claus. The child wrote that her daddy had told her that if she read things in the Sun, it was true. They answered her question in print, telling her yes, there really was a Santa Claus. Many have viewed that as an adorable story. I think it was a journalistic failure. The moment they printed that Santa Claus story, they lost their reputation for truth. And what else does a reporter have to offer? If I had been alive back then, I'd have always wondered if what I was reading in the Sun after that was true or just a cute story.

I was told of a more serious LinuxToday scandal by Groklaw member grouch, who left a comment yesterday linking to the stories about it, in which the then-editor in 2001 was guilty of planting comments himself in their Talkback section attacking leaders of the FOSS community and competitors like Newsforge. He did it with false names, of course, and was eventually outed by an honorable man who was a writer there, Paul Ferris, and the guy had to apologize publicly. But, as you see from grouch's long memory, the stench lingers after an incident like that.

I know many of you have read the latest article by Maureen O'Gara about a purportedly impending announcement on January 25th that IBM, Intel and OSDL, with the city of Beaverton were working together to create a consortium to rewrite Linux to remove all code that supposedly infringes Microsoft's patents. You didn't read about it here, you'll note. That's because I didn't believe it was an accurate account. For one thing, I was fairly confident that if something like that were going to be announced on January 25, I'd probably know about it before Maureen O'Gara. Something didn't feel right about that story. Now OSDL has spoken and you can read all about it here on Newsforge:

Two OSDL officials, however, told NewsForge that the report was "inflation of reality" and "not close to accurate at all." The officials instead indicated that while ODSL is working with the City of Beaverton and the State of Oregon, those bodies are not, as reported, underwriting the consortium that is "rewriting" the Linux code.

"It's just crazy," said one official, adding that the report's speculation on the patent strategy is "total fabrication as far as we can tell."

"The whole thing with patents -- that we can't figure out," he said, adding that the report was likely a case of putting together some disparate pieces of information incorrectly.

Maybe. But can you think of anybody who might like the world to believe that IBM, Intel, OSDL and the city of Beaverton, no less, had conceded that there are patents in Linux that infringe Microsoft's patents? The patent study never said that.

The Newsforge article, by the way, has a significant tidbit: it says: "[S]ome of the same patents opened by IBM are ones that Microsoft has laid at least partial claim to," particularly related to Samba. You can read about the Samba issue here. So to the cynics who thought it was just some musty old patents IBM didn't happen to need any more, no doubt you will wish to correct the record, now that you find out you were hasty. Hasty and wrong. Why leap to conclusions until you have all the facts? You can hardly expect to find truth if the facts that you rely on are incomplete.

You will note it mentions DCOM in that article. And that reminds me to tell you that the Open Group has just released DCE under the LGPL. You can get read about it and download it here. Why is that important? I wasn't sure myself, so I asked DrStupid to explain it to me in nontechnical terms:

From the Open Groups's own referenced FAQ

"DCE is called 'middleware' or 'enabling technology.' It is not intended to exist alone, but instead should be bundled into a vendor's operating system offering, or integrated in by a third-party vendor."

DCE is a technology that makes it easier to create systems where a number of computers (not necessarily running the same OS) act as an integrated whole: e.g. one computer can ask for something to be done without really caring about which other computer does it. There are a number of such technologies already: CORBA, for example. Microsoft's DCOM could have been another - if they had made good on their promise to port it to other OSes.

Up till now, DCE has been an open spec, but specs are one thing - you still have to implement it. Opening up the OSF's code may make DCE a more popular option for building distributed systems, as the developer will save the effort of writing, or the expense of buying, another implementation. That should help to encourage the growth of open standards as well as open source.

So it's one of those things that's not very sexy or obvious to non-geeks, but it's important as another step in the overall shift in the IT industry zeitgeist towards solutions that are open specs and open source.

Another reader explained its significance like this:

DCE is the core of a (normally) very expensive solution for secure login and transactions. It is used by the vast majority of sites doing e-commerse for their security and customer management layer.

By being now released (I think the Open Group figured out the Open Source community will fix bugs better), completely open source business solutions (with industrial strength security) are now available. There are, of course, other open source projects on this, but DCE is the de-facto standard as the base for such things. It includes such things as being able to share data with other applications and myriad other abilities -- it is, above all, from a standard. This alone permits Linux solutions which were only previously available on proprietary (Sun mostly, but also MS with a Posix layer) Unixes.

Will the Real PJ Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up

Speaking of talkbacks, if you see any comments on any story anywhere but here on Groklaw allegedly by a P.J., know that it is not me. First of all, I'm PJ, not P.J. No periods. Someone has been placing offensive comments on the Internet and signing them P.J. A quirk in the software inexplicably but helpfully, to me, left the email address of the poster visible when he did it as feedback on the O'Gara story. This isn't the first such incident that I am aware of involving someone pretending to be me, and there have been other individuals recently victimized by such irresponsible behavior. This is just the latest in a smear campaign against me and Groklaw beginning last October.

You know what? It's just as bad to place imposter comments as a reader as it is as an editor. Here's why I feel that way. Because the Internet and blogging have changed what media is and how news is gathered. Readers are part of the media now. Groklaw is a clear example of the entire group researching in an open way and presenting information. And if any reader violates trust by creating or spreading misinformation, it is just as damaging as when any editor does it. FUD isn't OK because it comes from an individual instead of a corporation, is it?

We all despise corporations that hire people to do astroturfing. What, pray tell, is the difference between you posting as someone you aren't and a corporation hiring someone to do it? You slandering someone or a corporation doing it? That you didn't get a check. But the effect is the same -- it undermines truth and trust. I also believe personally that lying leads to mental instability, because when you lie, you aren't exactly standing on reality any more, are you? And trying to live in that disjointed atmosphere after a while makes it hard not to be skewed.

It didn't happen here, and no one here in the Groklaw family would do that, I trust, but sadly it was necessary to inform you of this incident, so you would know what happened and not be misled. And we do have trolls that appear in waves from time to time with slander and slanted half-truths they want you to believe. Some of them left comments, just as one small example, that DrStupid and grouch had both left Groklaw. As you can see, that too was a lie. We just went over the 8,000 member mark, by the way, speaking of Groklaw, so we are continuing to grow.

I will not be posting any comments anywhere but here, so if you see any such from this day forward, you can be 100% certain it's an imposter. Isn't it sad that that is the only way you can know for sure if a comment really came from me? I might have had something worthwhile to say elsewhere, and now it can't happen because I have to protect my good name from venal imposters, determined FUDsters, and childish pranksters. If any editors see such comments, or slanderous remarks about me, feel free to contact me to verify fact from fiction.

Blogging, Research and Editorial Ethics

And to those out there who think moderation is wrong and that all information wants to be free, I suggest you ponder a bit more deeply. It isn't just editors in mainstream media who are responsible for journalistic integrity. You are too, every time you leave a comment. You are responsible not to tarnish others with misinformation or wild theories or guesses as to motives you can't possibly know. You are responsible to check your facts and not repeat lies and slander and not to assert as a fact something that is merely a possibility. The mainstream usually goes by a two-source rule, for example, meaning if they get a tip, they don't print it until they have it confirmed by a second source. A second *reliable* source. Mistakes happen no matter how hard we try, because we are mere mortals, but if we are careful to follow ethical guidelines, at least we can minimize how often. Now that you are newsgatherers too, I hope that you read up on how the media decides what is and what isn't true, what is and what isn't something to publish. There are ethical issues too. There is a balance between free speech and other people's right of privacy. Here are some links to help you read up on the complex subject of ethics and journalism:

The courts are struggling with this issue too, the tension between the First Amendment and privacy rights. The US District Court in Delaware is joining the 21st century soon and will make court filings available electonically. It's part of new rules that require them to do it, but how to do it without revealing information that enables identity theft, stalkers, rapists, thieves, etc. is the question. Of course, First Amendment purists are raising complaints, and it's good to be zealous on that issue, but they probably have never had a stalking problem. If they had, they'd understand why that court will be removing home addresses, birth dates, and Social Security numbers.

If this is a new thought to you, or you immediately take umbrage at the idea of anyone limiting your "right" to say whatever you want, I'm guessing you've never had anyone try to destroy your reputation by posting garbage in your name or printing lies about you. Maybe you've never been the victim of identity theft or tracked by a stalker. If it ever happened to you, you'd be screaming bloody murder. It's only "fun" when it isn't you at the receiving end. And bloggers and readers -- all of us now -- have to live by a code of editorial ethics, or the whole new journalism system breaks down. Others may do what they do, but at least on Groklaw, this is the standard I would like us to strive for.

That means, for starters, that if you find a piece of information, you don't assume anything. Example: you are doing research on a lawyer, say a new one assigned to the SCO Group. You know his name and his firm, and you find a case on Google that has the same name but a different firm, and there is a great picture of him that you would love to share. Do you write that this is the guy? No. You can't, unless you contact him and ask, or call the old firm, or find some definitive proof that the two are one and the same. But, you say, I am sure it must be him. No. You think it is. It may be. But there could be two lawyers with the same name in the same state. With a name like Jones, I can testify. I called customer service at a store the other day, and the woman who answered told me her name was Pamela. I said, "Really? Me too." Later in the conversation, she asked me my last name and when I told her Jones, she said, "Get out! Me too!" So be careful to check and keep checking until you are sure or reasonably sure.

Does that mean you can never contribute such a piece of information if you can't verify it 100%? No. You can say you tried to verify it, but you were unable to do so, but that it might be the same person. If it's a criminal matter, and he's accused of a crime, I'd never say it was the same guy, until I was 100% positive. It's doubly hard to be calmly careful about research when you find something negative about someone or some company you dislike, but that is precisely when journalistic ethics will most need to come into play. Truth matters. Misinformation doesn't want to be free. It wants to be deleted.

To me, the bottom line is this: There isn't a cause in the world that is worth lying for. And if the only way to win is to be vicious, to present slanted, distorted, cruel information, I'd rather lose. The FOSS community is built on ethics. That is part of what draws people to it. And we need to live by those ethics to be a member of the community. It's every bit as important as what license you use. I'd say, personally, it's more important, because licenses such as the GPL were designed to codify the ethics. It stems from the ethics, not the other way around.

I am very grateful to Sys-con for doing the responsible and kind thing by removing the comments. If they had left them, there would inevitably be some who would be misled into believing I left those offensive remarks. Even some Groklaw members wrote to ask if it was really me. Probably there were some who just assumed it was. And just like the persistent stench after the LinuxToday incident, slander lingers in the air if not dealt with forcefully. Sometimes, sadly, even then. That's what makes it so evil.

There is a scripture someone explained to me once years ago, Micah 3:2 and 3, that speaks about slander. The imagery used compares it to stripping the skin off of someone. And yes. That is exactly how it feels.


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