When someone calls the police in response to a reporter knocking at their front door, it is obvious he/she is hesitant to be a part of the story. This is the action Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto took from his California home as Newsweek reporter Leah McGrath Goodman asked to talk with him about a few things. Namely, Bitcoin.
This was the beginning of a series of evens – all rooted from an online news article – that would be heightened and talked about amongst crypto nerds even somewhat interested Bitcoin. But it has also (gratefully) become a pivotal event in the debate on how journalism does – and how it should – function. A provoking and timely discussion regarding privacy rights for those involved in a news story has risen. Instead of delving into my opinion on the currency or the politics behind it, I find it more important to examine the commotion this story has caused.
The story, uploaded on March 6th to the Newsweek Magazine website, stood as an unmasking and detailed expose on the supposed creator behind Bitcoin. The emphasis must be placed on supposed, however, as we will learn later. The alleged first response from Dorian when Goodman asked him about his work on Bitcoin, he responded with the following:
“I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it.. It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”
The article trailed on a great length, dissecting Nakamota as a humble yet strikingly stubborn and intelligent man, and went on to report similar descriptions from family members and former co-workers. There was much talk of his lifetime accomplishments, from his train collecting hobby to his former secret government work and of course some talk on his possible creation of Bitcoin, Most of his family was interviewed along the way.
While all of this may seem somewhat casual or benign in the sense of invading privacy, the details of Nakamoto’s living situation were very candidly spilled by the Newsweek scoop. Not only did the article’s page contain the name of the California town where Nakamoto currently resides, but it also included a picture of the front of his house taken from a Google Street View Camera, complete with his car showing a legible license plate.
As would be expected, many fans and investors in the Bitcoin phenomenon reacted swiftly with frustration and contempt towards the publication and its reporter. Leah McGrath Goodman and Newsweek were both lambasted by comments on Twitter. There was an attempted olive branch extended by the reporter, however, as she offered to tie up any loose ends or answer any concerns that people might have regarding the article and its contents.
Rightfully, most questions where a variation of “Why on earth did you include a picture of the man’s face along with his front yard, car, and license plate?” to which there really wasn’t much justification from individuals further than ‘that information was public and Newsweek did nothing illegal’.
Even Newsweek’s editor Jim Impoco responded to the criticisms with the publication, exclaiming that he “..feels very comfortably that we approached the story as responsible as possible” and that he found the criticisms of the story to be “..phenomenally offensive.”
Cut to an overwhelmed Dorian Nakamoto plagued by reporters as he makes a daring escape with a handpicked journo to a sushi restaurant, attempting to explain himself.
Cut back to Newsweek, now releasing a statement on the story and its response, claiming the story was released because it was an important one in which the publication”..recognized a public interest in establishing some core facts about Bitcoin and better informing those who might invest money in it” and that publication “..encourages all to be respectful of the privacy and rights of the individuals involved.”
And finally, pan to a confident looking Goodman, explaining her thoughts through the story and lasting impressions:
And after all of this, the credits seem so far from rolling. In a swipe back at the posting of images connected to the personal life of Dorian Nakamoto, a Cryptome post was published revealing many of Goodman’s own personal images. These included a redacted visa, tax documents, alleged Google photos of her house, and a list of previous addresses with a bullying sub-header:
“This material may not apply to the Leah McGrath Goodman who claimed to have located Satoshi Nakamoto.”
All this occurring around the time Dorian quickly took to recanting his first utterances in the original article, saying he “..never had anything to do with it [Bitcoin].” Shortly after this statement was included in an Associated Press report, A comment was made on the 2009 P2Pfoundation post titled ‘Bitcoin open source implementation of P2P currency’ by the original poster – the official Satoshi Nakamoto account – which read as follows:
Reply by Satoshi Nakamoto on March 7, 2014 at 1:17 “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.”
Sure, Dorian could be the Satoshi Nakamoto, creator of Bitcoin. He could have logged in to his P2PFoundation account and made that comment himself in an attempt of obfuscation. Or maybe he just isn’t and maybe that comment was left by the real Nakamoto. Regardless, Goodman and Newsweek seems to have already made that decision for us a long time ago. And therein lies one of the problems. In a day and age where practically the entire internet will eat you alive for misreporting, we have an act of a journalist so assuredly unmasking the identity of someone who is not only the creator of a financial underdog, but is also worth an estimated $400 million. While Goodman could have presented this unveiling as more of a thesis than proclamation, it seems she desired to take the more heavy handed route of reporting. Many would even call this a “doxing”.
Goodman, on the other hand, is a proud journalist, who gets personally offended whenever anybody raises questions about her journalism, her techniques, or her reporting. In a reporter’s career, she says, “you check facts, you are building trust and building a reputation”. Goodman feels that her own personal reputation, combined with the institutional reputation of Newsweek, should count for something — that if Newsweek and Goodman stand behind a story, then the rest of us should assume that they have good reason to do so.
While there is no need to condemn a journalist for being proud of their work, there is room for condemnation of one who doesn’t think carefully of both the source and the public as they construct their story.
I have no intentions to defending Newskweek. I also have no intentions of defending Bitcoin or its users. I do, however intend to question and defend methods of journalism, which should always be geared towards necessary public knowledge and trust. Here we see a man who has done nothing illegal or shown any reason that he intends to be a public figure deserving of scrutiny. I don’t consider this necessary for a moment. Spearheading an expose like this is bound to clash with certain ethics reports should hold close. Take, for example, some points in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics pertaining to ‘Minimizing Harm’:
- Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
- Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
- Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
I think its quite clear that all of these should have been taken into consideration during (and before and after) the reporting of the Nakamoto story. These should be top of mind, especially in times when so many are aware of just how much privacy is being stripped away from their everyday lives. Maybe that’s why so many rush to defend Dorian Nakamoto; because they can identify with him as a man who would rather keep to himself being thrown into a tabloid-esque limelight. Having said this, there should be no exception for turning the tables. The Crytome doxing of Goodman should be viewed as just as intrusive (or more, even) of an act against someone’s private life. Any such act should be condemned, no matter how deserving people may think it is.
As many might suspect, this act and all the others hasn’t nearly dampened the noise surrounding the article. In fact, the bickering continues. It seems that with social media at their disposal, Bitcoin users and Newsweek staff could be going at it for a while, all while Dorian can only hope for the obscurity he once had.