Scoble Vs Orlowski: Who’s fooling who?

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

To: [zapped]

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.)

  • http://scoble.weblogs.com Robert Scoble

    I note that you didn’t ask for the proof I have that Orlowski falsified this email. That makes you a bigger idiot than Andrew is. And, it makes YOU COMPLICIT in his hatchet job.

    You did note that he didn’t ask me to verify the accuracy of the email, right?

    You did note that he didn’t get the email from me, right?

    You did note that there was someone with questionable ethics who was an intermediary, right?

    Here’s the facts.

    I sent an email similar to that one to Christopher Coulter. Between me sending it and Andrew reprinting it some words got added on that totally changed what I said.

    The email is false. Andrew knows it. You know it. And I know it (and can prove it).

    But, whatever. You just demonstrated to me what your ethics are. At least you do try to protect your friends. I’m just glad you aren’t one of them.

  • http://scoble.weblogs.com Robert Scoble

    As to the original article’s point. His headline was VERY CLEAR about what he meant. That headline said that IE 7 “nukes” Google and Yahoo toolbars. He doesn’t say “it only nukes old versions.” He doesn’t say “it only nukes some versions.”

    Just to be clear. At NO TIME have I seen the Google or Yahoo toolbar misbehave on IE 7 beta 1. The email he has was not written by me (and I can prove that, if you’d just freaking ask, but I don’t expect anyone associated with the Register to do any real journalism).

    As to the rest of the facts of the original article, I’d just point you to the Internet Explorer team’s blog. They have the facts. Something that is wildly missing from Andrew’s writings and from here. http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2005/07/29/444957.aspx

  • http://www.plasticbag.org Tom Coates

    I haven’t investigated this particular issue, but if you’re wondering why everyone’s so quick to jump to Robert’s defence then you really only have to look towards Andrew’s previous writing on The Register. There’s a hell of a lot to be critical of.

  • http://www.20six.co.uk/stuartbruce/archive/2005/08/01/p0metgeumwf4.htm A PR Guru’s Musings – Stuart Bruce

    Lots of comment on Scoble v. Orlowski

    IT journalist Ian Betteridge notes

    that most bloggers are backing Scoble. I’m obviously in a minority, but

    Betteridge makes some different points about why he doesn’t entirely

    buy Scoble’s line.

    Robert Scoble has also commented on Betteridge’s …

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Robert -

    > I note that you didn’t ask for the proof I have that Orlowski

    > falsified this email. That makes you a bigger idiot than Andrew is.

    > And, it makes YOU COMPLICIT in his hatchet job.

    Let’s make this clear from the start: Robert, I really have no axe to grind on this. I know we’ve had disagreements in the past about blogging vs journalism, but I hope that they’ve always been civil. I certainly have nothing against you personally!

    And, as I said at the end of my post, I don’t approve of Andrew’s repeated personal attacks on you. That is out of line.

    But, as yet, I haven’t seen any proof that Andrew’s faked your email, and as I said in the post, I doubt he would. I don’t doubt he’d pull something out of context out of it.

    There were two reasons why I didn’t ask you for proof that Andrew had faked that email. First of all, I simply didn’t think there was any way you could have such a proof – normally, when you don’t send an email, it’s kind of hard to prove it without server logs etc! But secondly, because I thought that, if you had such a proof, you’d have posted it.

    > You did note that he didn’t ask me to verify the accuracy of the

    > email, right?

    I noted that he hadn’t asked you to verify it publicly, I have no idea whether he’s tried to verify it privately with you. The only comment he made to me was that you’d ended up pointing him towards MS PR (which I think would be fair enough of you to do).

    > You did note that he didn’t get the email from me, right?

    I did, indeed, note that I didn’t know where the email had come from. As I said, “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.”

    > You did note that there was someone with questionable ethics who was

    > an intermediary, right?

    I have no idea of the ethics of the person involved. Seriously. Look at it this way: If you had, in fact, sent that email with those words to someone when the reports first appeared, and then you’d started saying that you hadn’t in fact seen the issues, then they might well have decided to post that on. Is that any more questionable ethics than claiming you had seen something privately while claiming you hadn’t publicly? I’m NOT saying that your version of events isn’t correct here, but I AM saying that this is a perfectly valid explanation.

    > Here’s the facts.

    >

    > I sent an email similar to that one to Christopher Coulter.

    > Between me sending it and Andrew reprinting it some words got added on

    > that totally changed what I said.

    >

    > The email is false. Andrew knows it. You know it. And I know it (and

    > can prove it).

    OK, could you be a bit more specific, though? What did Andrew add? What didn’t he? When did you send that email (because, remember, Andrew forwarded it to me

    > But, whatever. You just demonstrated to me what your ethics are. At

    > least you do try to protect your friends. I’m just glad you aren’t one

    > of them.

    Robert, this isn’t about protecting my friends. Despite having worked with Andrew, I don’t know him that well: I’ve met him once since he left Dennis, our careers there overlapped by about six months as I remember, and we’ve exchanged emails approximately twice. In fact, I’ve probably communicated with you far more.

    And what I’m specifically not interested in is calling anyone a liar, because to be honest I don’t actually believe either of you are lying. I’m not sure that the email Andrew posted originated with you, or that it’s the complete email. No doubt in the full course of time we’ll find out.

  • http://evans.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2005/8/1/1097215.html Mark Evans

    IE7 Mystery

    The controversy or whether not Robert Scoble conceded there were problems with the IE7 beta has prompted venture capitalist Rick Sega…

  • http://scoble.weblogs.com Robert Scoble

    >But, as yet, I haven’t seen any proof that Andrew’s faked your email, and as I said in the post, I doubt he would.

    Have you emailed me asking for the original email? No. I’d be happy to send it to you.

    >But secondly, because I thought that, if you had such a proof, you’d have posted it.

    Um. I have posted it. Just not on my main blog. I don’t want to call more attention to Andrew than possible.

    > Is that any more questionable ethics than claiming you had seen something privately while claiming you hadn’t publicly?

    Again. Let me be very clear about this. I NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER said something in private that I didn’t claim in public (or vice versa).

    How many times do I have to say that that email was fabricated? Yet you continue to believe that Andrew is correct. Guess what, he’s a liar and a libeler and I, and Microsoft’s IT department, have proof of that. Want to take them on? We have all the email I sent that night.

    >OK, could you be a bit more specific, though? What did Andrew add? What didn’t he? When did you send that email (because, remember, Andrew forwarded it to me

    Oh, finally, you’re asking for details! Awesome.

    If you want, I’ll email you the original email so you can check the headers and all that.

    My email simply said “Yup, trying to find out what’s up on that one.”

    Andrew (or Christopher Coulter, who forwarded it to him) added all the other stuff.

    My email address is [email protected].

    I’ll be happy to email that email to anyone who asks.

  • http://scoble.weblogs.com Robert Scoble

    I just emailed you the original email. Hope that helps.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    It does help. I’ll post something more tomorrow – time for bed now!

  • http://foo.ca/wp richard

    Proving that you didn’t send an email is tough if it’s in plain text. If only there were a way to “sign” a message using a key that you could make publicly available. With this “key” you could encrypt or sign a message as being “from” you in a way that nobody else would be able to fake.

    Maybe Microsoft could do something about integrating PGP style signing into their clients and require that staff sign any messages.

  • http://scoble.weblogs.com Robert Scoble

    Richard: doing that would be a pain in the behind. But maybe I need to do it now. Personally, anyone who calls himself or herself a “journalist” would just be fair and call to confirm (if I had actually written this email I would have) and/or to give his or her side of the story.

    But we’re not talking about a real journalist in this case. Just a hatchet job.

  • http://www.majid.info/ Fazal Majid

    Microsoft email clients do have S/MIME signature capabilities. And you can get a free certificated from Thawte’s web of trust. Only a small minority of emails are signed, however, and the day is far off when all emails are signed by default.

    Thus, when given two conflicting versions of an email, there is no real way to identify which one is the forgery. The third-party who leaked the email to Orlowski would have to step up, and if he or she works for MS or a MS partner, he would presumably come under great pressure from Microsoft to sing the “right” tune. After all, we are talking about a company with a demonstrated record of vindictiveness, bordering on racketeering.

    I may be a blogger, but so far I would give Orlowski the benefit of the doubt, not the Microsoft evangelist. Of course, even if IE7 Beta demonstrably broke the Google toolbar, this would not prove malicious intent on Microsoft’s part – after all, Hanlon’s Razor applies: “Do not ascribe to malice what can better be explained by incompetence”. You will note Orlowski’s original article was much more nuanced than caricatures of him make it out to be, acknowledging for instance there could be valid technical reasons for disabling the toolbars in an early beta.

    As for the personal attacks on Scoble, they may be unseemly, but hardly unjustified since Scoble out-and-out accused Orlowski of being a liar, not just sloppy. As David Berlind at ZDNet has shown, Scoble’s record of fact-checking is spotty at best, even in instances like Technorati where he has no conflict of interest with his job as Microsoft apologist. I would be far less indulgent than you are of someone who calls you an idiot on your own blog.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Fazal: Personal attacks are unjustified, no matter on whom.

  • http://vowe.net/archives/006145.html vowe dot net

    Scoble still piling up that mountain

    Remember this story? It does not seem to be over yet. Andew Orlowski of The Register only needed two bullets, whereas Scoble is firing all over the place giving Orlowski plenty of reason to snicker: A Microsoft employee has won the Oscar of bad prose -…

  • http://thomashawk.com Thomas Hawk

    Ian, I’ve sent a request to Andrew’s Editor to address the situation and have not heard back from him. I have also not heard from Andrew. I also emailed the original addressee of the email asking him for his opinion on the matter. Scoble identified this individual on my blog as Christopher Coulter. I have also not heard from Christopher Coulter on this matter.

    You are correct. At minimum Andrew should have attempted to confirm the email with Scoble. While the best case scenario here may be sloppy journalism, the worst case scenario may be a fabricated email. I suspect that by following the chain we may gain insight into if and how this took place.

    Orlowski, The Register and his Editors need to come out and say something about this. To not respond leaves one to only assume the worst. These are serious charges.

    I would encourage you to suggest to your friend that he offer up

    1. If he tried to confirm this alleged email with Scoble.

    and

    2. An explanation as to why last year he published that Microsoft was ready to shelve their Media Center PC product when this was not the case. It would be interesting to learn more about his supposed source (or hopefully he has more than one and was not just shooting from the hip) and how he got this story so backwards.

    Why no response from the Register or Orlowksi Ian?