Robert Scoble and Andrew Orlowski are biting at each other – and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the blogging world is mostly backing Scoble. The background to the story is that, on Thursday, The Register published a story that Andrew described in an email to me as "really minor" on an issue with IE7 disabling toolbars from Google and Yahoo on the machines of some testers. Robert replied that he’d spoken to the head of the IE7 team, who’d claimed that it wasn’t blocking those toolbars, and that the toolbars were running on some of the dev team’s machines. Note that this isn’t really a reply to the original point: Andrew didn’t claim that IE was blocking all Google and Yahoo toolbars, only that it wasn’t working on SOME installs. This is a classic piece of misdirection from Robert – don’t answer the original point, answer the question you want to answer. Despite this being the oldest trick in the PR response book, lots of people didn’t spot that Robert wasn’t denying the story’s validity (in fact, lots of people still haven’t spotted this).
As a sideswipe, Robert also said this:
It’s interesting that many bloggers (both pro and amateur) have been giving me crud the past week or two for "being fast to publish" and "not calling sources to check on my reporting" but that the Register, a professional journalism outlet (they get paid for journalism, I do not) apparently didn’t call our development teams to check into this report and get their side of the story. I wonder if Andrew Orlowski will link to my blog and correct his story because his report is HUGELY damaging here.
In other words, Robert is making a "bloggers 1, journalists 0" point, and demanding an apology – despite the fact that he hasn’t shown Andrew is incorrect, only that a claim he didn’t make is incorrect.
Of course, this is a red rag to a bull – and Andrew is, alas, not one to take a personal challenge lying down. His response to this was to post an update to his story, saying that readers had written in confirming the issue – and raising the stakes. As part of the update, Andrew said this:
One user who saw their toolbar vanish in IE7 was none other than Microsoft PR punchbag Robert Scoble.
Andrew didn’t, at this point, post any proof of this. However, in a private email to me, he DID share his source – an email, apparently from Scoble, in which Scoble said the following (pasted, unchanged, from Andrew’s email):
Subject: RE: IE7 nukes Google, Yahoo! search
Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2005 17:31:42 -0700
From: "Robert Scoble" <[email protected]>
View Contact Details
Yup, trying to find out what’s up on that one. It did it for me too.
Wiped them out.Robert
Given that Robert, in a post I saw after this, categorically denied having seen the problem himself, this is obviously a big, bad, issue. And, once he’d gained permission to use from his source, Andrew went on to publish the above email on Friday, along with some other comments about how Robert had changed his postings as time went on.
Friends, colleagues, and supporters of Robert haven’t been slow in coming forward and accusing Andrew of simply lying and making up the email. But to me, this doesn’t add up. Andrew sent me the email a good day before he posted it. If he was just going to make it up, I don’t think he’d have done it early and sent it in confidence to a fellow journalist – he’d have just made it up and posted it himself.
To my mind, it’s pretty clear that Andrew hasn’t made the email up, unless he’s playing a vast and complicated game and using me as an unwitting pawn. So what’s going on? I have no reason to doubt that Andrew received the email from a third party and used it as source material. However, I don’t (of course) know the position of the person who sent it, whether they’re a Microsoft employee and this was an internal mail, or just some person that Scoble replied to when asked about it. Or, for that matter, if it’s someone making up an email purportedly from Scoble – although you’d have to ask what reason anyone would have for doing that.
Either way, I dislike the way that a lot of people have simply decided to call Andrew a liar while assuming Robert is telling the truth. Robert, at the end of the day, is representing Microsoft and has a good reason to at least bend the truth when it comes to potentially damaging news about his company. NOTE FOR THE SLOW: I AM NOT CLAIMING THAT ROBERT IS, IN FACT, LYING. I’m simply saying that he does, in fact, have a motive to do so. The fact that he used a classic PR misdirection tactic earlier in this mess doesn’t make me think he has some overarching commitment to the truth. Just because he’s a blogger doesn’t make what he’s saying true.
Neither do I support Andrew’s repeated personal attacks on Robert. Calling him a "PR punchbag" isn’t good, let alone "lardy lad" (Andrew, you may be skinny as a whippet, but not all of us are so blessed). The Reg doesn’t do the kind of journalism I like reading, but that doesn’t mean they’re lying.
(Caveat Emptor: I used to work with Andrew, along with Reg folk John Lettuce and Tony Smith, at Dennis Publishing. Does that mean I’m biased? You can be the judge – that’s what a caveat is for. I just wish a few others would be willing to declare theirs.)