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Editorial Choices I, or, “Gawker, will you feel even a little bad if someone DOES blow up the AIG building?”

March 23, 2009

Probably even my African readers have a good idea of how much populism is being stirred in American right now by just saying the letters “AIG.” AIG is the insurance giant that went belly-up because of those pesky mortgage-backed securities, except that “belly-up” in America these days means, “Got billions of bailout dollars.” I am in absolutely no way qualified to judge the wisdom of/have an opinion on the bailout dollars. I’m not even qualified to report on it, which is the most marketable way of having No Opinion.

Nor am I qualified to judge the wisdom/have an opinion on the situation which has stoked all the coverage right now, AIG’s decision to issue big bonuses to top execs. AIG said it is legally required to do this; Americans and their president seem to think this is distasteful. Battle ensues.

What I am qualified to judge the wisdom of is editorial decisions. And this was a bad one:

Gawker published a memo someone leaked them about security concerns at AIG. I’m all for leaked documents, and the public exposure thereof. Having filed a few FOIAs, I love that none of the memo content here was redacted. In the category of Using General Media Freedoms, Gawker: 1.

But Gawker loses the game, for utter failure in the category of Using General Media Freedoms Without Being Total Morons. Six of the 12 bullet points in this memo are about the physical security of AIG offices. Here’s one example:

Be aware of individuals who appear to be out of place or spend an inordinate amount of time near an AIG facility…

The memo leaked to Gawker appears on official AIG stationary, with the street address of the building and a general office number. I’m no conspiracy theorist/paranoid/schizoid but doesn’t it seem to anyone else just a wee bit odd to brandish on the Internet a memo that says, “We’re kind of a little worried about our employees’ safety” and then…tell every true conspiracy theorist/paranoid/schizoid that knows how to surf the web just where those people are? I mean, can’t we take a page, or even a footnote, out of the “Tim McVeigh figured out how to build a bomb on the Internet” book?

Which is what I asked Gawker, and they basically told me to f-off. Here’s my email exchange with managing editor Gabriel Snyder:

from Gabriel Snyder
to jina
cc alexp@gawker.com
date Fri, Mar 20, 2009 at 11:58 AM
subject Re: AIG memo security concern
mailed-by gawker.com

Jina,

The address listed, 70 Pine, is popularly known as the “AIG Building” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_International_Building) so we’re not exactly broadcasting the location of some secret lair (although if you know of one, we’d be glad to write about that too).

Thanks for your concern,
Gabriel

On Mar 20, 2009, at 11:51 AM, jina wrote:

> Hi there Gawker folks,
>
> Whatever one’s feelings about the company and its choices, I would like to see you guys black out the street address of AIG from the letterhead in the memo you leak. One of the bullet points in this memo is to keep an eye out for unusual loiterers near the offices. It seems prudent, then, and completely apolitical not to broadcast the address of said offices.
>
> Thanks for considering.
> Jina

Then again, maybe I should send Gawker a thank you note. If this is how editorial decisions get made on mega-blogs, there might still be a reason to retain, you know, real journalists.


Ethical footnotes: One, I am not linking to the Gawker post, even though Basic Blog Intelligence says link to the think you cite, because then I would just be perpetuating the problem I am criticizing. If you care enough, really, you can find it yourself. In fact, if you found this blog without me or my mom telling you about it, you are a whiz at the Internet, and may also know how to build explosives.

Two: I redacted my email address ‘cuz I don’t want spam. I didn’t redact the emails of anyone I sent this to because you can find those on the Gawker website too, so, to paraphrase the current thinking about how free information wants to be, I’m not exactly broadcasting the location of some secret email lair.

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