WikiLeaks says it created fake Bill Keller column

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Imagine this sentence getting past a New York Times copy editor: “The ACLU has shown through its government FOIA requests of WikiLeaks published cables, pretending secrets are secret after they are public isn’t easy.” Yet a piece about WikiLeaks purportedly by former Times executive editor Bill Keller clanging with such clunkers fooled “pretty much everybody,” as a Gizmodo headline put it.

WikiLeaks tweeted Sunday that it had perpetrated the hoax piece. The fake was successful in part, Ed Pilkington writes in the Guardian, because “Visually, it was immaculate – replicating perfectly the typographic style of his column down to the author’s photograph, tool kit and Times adverts.”

“I see this in the realm of childish prank rather than crime against humanity,” Keller told Pilkington. “It’s a lame satire. I’d take it a little more seriously if it were actually funny.”

Once you know the piece is a fake, reading it is like watching “The Usual Suspects” for a second time: Clues are everywhere. Gizmodo’s Brian Barrett lists some of the tells: The “favicon” is missing from the browser bar when you fire the page up, and the URL isn’t standard. Moreover, all the “Inside” links at the bottom of the page go to stories from July 24 and 25, sort of odd for a piece that supposedly “appeared in print on July 29, 2012, on page A21 of the New York edition.”

But more telling, the copy is awful, and it’s edited so badly I wonder if WikiLeaks might be mounting a stealth campaign to keep copy editors employed. Sentences are unwieldy (“The backroom pressures by the Obama Administration’s State Department to expand its financial blockade targeting WikiLeaks to include news organizations that host information from their trove of pilfered documents goes too far”), incorrect commas are legion (“this new chapter in the WikiLeaks Saga makes me long for the era when The Times and other mainstream media, were the responsible gatekeepers of information”) and PayPal is a “they” instead of an “it.” (Even WikiLeaks’ tweet taking credit for the hoax has a typo in it.)

Some of WikiLeaks’ other touches show more forethought. Tom Cheredar writes:

Whoever is responsible for the fake article has been planning it for a while, as Twitter user Christopher Soghoian points out. The domain it used was registered March 30 under French registrar Gandi.

And as Times tech columnist Nick Bilton (who originally tweeted out a link to the fake column , thinking it was real) notes, there’s a fake Bill Keller Twitter account flogging the piece, too:

I discovered that the two “ll”s in the Twitter handle were actually a capital “i” and lowercase “L.” So in Twitter’s app, it looks like a capital “ll” when in reality it spells his name with an “il.”

The Twitter account seems to have disappeared.

Peter Kafka notices the piece cherry-picked actual Keller sentences for this Frankencolumn, something Keller confirmed to him in an email:

My tweet calling the fake tweet a fake was real. This tweet assuring you that the tweet about the fake tweet is not fake is also real. All clear now, right? Good. It’s been real.

Earlier this month, a Twitter account that purported to be from outgoing Times public editor Arthur Brisbane fooled many people, including a few journalists. But at least the tweet that got around under Brisbane’s name wasn’t a mess.

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  • Anonymous

    by the way, that faux Keller piece made front page of DRUDGE too, that
    is where i first saw it. so even Drudge got fauxed. Is that a word?

  • Anonymous

    by the way, that faux Keller piece made front page of DRUDGE too, that
    is where i first saw it. so even Drudge got fauxed. Is that a word?

  • Anonymous

    and again it’s because of this SCREENING thing, and Nick Bilton swore to me he would never publish anything of mine about screening vs reading in HIS newspaper and he even deleted my comments
    about screening vs reading on his blog over 25 times. re: Nice to know “journalists” {scare quotes intended, very scary!) like Nick Bilton don’t even care to verify tweets that seemingly come from their own newspaper. Man, if you can’t be bothered to check TO READ WITH HIS READING BRAIN NOT HIS SCREENING BRAIN (or know which accounts are real) a source from your own newspaper, can we really trust anything you say? Seriously, these guys don’t check anything anymore. BECAUSE THEY READ with screening brain. The story has LEGS.

  • Anonymous

    Anyone with an ounce of newsroom sense would know that the NYT website is
    always starting with www nytimes com and never with www opinion-nytimes com! Where are
    people’s eyeballs these days? I will tell you! It’s ALL about we READ, er, what I call “screen” online, as in screening, not reading, because on a screen, we do not really READ per se, we skim and go fast and the READING BRAIN is not happy. STOP this computer nonsense! Screening will be the death of our civlized world. Google “screening” + “dan bloom” to see my research on this which Jonah Lehrer rejected. I wonder why!