You might think that nothing would surprise this seasoned reporter when it comes to reporting on Rocketdyne. It isn’t surprising that some who comment on my work attempt to discredit the reporting by questioning facts and figures in the pieces. Generally, these remarks have been in the minority relative to the commentary of most readers since I began reporting on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, and the surrounding environs, in June 1998.
Unfortunately the comments on my latest piece on the polluted place, Rocketdyne Cleanup Won’t Help Runkle Canyon (LA Weekly – Sept. 23), epitomize an ugly trend of unfounded accusations and unruly rancor encouraged by a medium that lures the recklessly impulsive and those who believe they can spew venom anonymously. The inglorious Internet. It’s become a regular Rocketdyne romper room.
Over the past year, phony messages have populated comments columns for stories about Rocketdyne in newspapers including the Los Angeles Daily News, Ventura County Star and, now, LA Weekly. They show up on Rocketdyne-centric forums, and even EnviroReporter.com has permitted comments from obvious aliases as long as their content meets the basic guidelines of our comments policy. A few have had compelling copy, and given the volatility of some Rocketdyne activists, it is understandable why anonymity might appeal to those wishing to avoid wrath.
Recently however certain imposters who use aliases like KeenObserver and Annabella Price have taken to writing comments flavored with exhortations to read my journalism on this website. This appears to be designed to make it look like I wrote their rubbish and to rattle the cage of my detractors (one in particular) who falls for it every time and then proceeds to launch her own barrage of absurd accusations.
The goal is clear: discredit the reporter so as to discredit the facts of the issue and help polluters get away with their dirty deeds.
The recent slew of comments on LA Weekly includes blizzards of natter accusing me of everything under the sun. These libelous insults become tedious but do get my attention because they come from increasingly deranged dolts who think if they can repeat their malarkey long and loud enough, some of it might stick.
So I decided to fight back by using new technology that quickly yielded some low-hanging fruit, thanks to the diligent duty of my very own super sleuth, above right, who installed several new programs designed to unravel the identities of offending commenters on this website and others plagued by poppycock.
Take, for example, the person who commented at the Weekly and on EnviroReporter October 3 called “KeenObserver.” This late night lurker submitted a post at 4:38 am Sunday morning. We approved the post when we saw it later that morning, then waited for her to return. Keen Observer was easy to identify as she left a telling calling card in terms of an unique IP address* and an even more unique screen resolution – 800×400 – probably a netbook of some kind. (See IP screen capture, left, click to enlarge.) When she returned to the site, she was greeted with a live chat window from us letting her know that at least on EnviroReporter.com, the gig was up.
Check out my one-sided chat with KeenObserver (See chat screen capture, right, click to enlarge) who kept trying to turn off the dialogue bubble on her screen as I followed her along on our site. This person, who appears to straddle both sides of the Rocketdyne issue as hand-wringing environmentalist and polluter ass kisser, was trying to post another comment by the same Weekly commenter with the moniker “RefusnikWalsh.”
There are several easy giveaways to hoaxsters like KeenObserver, usually in the form of matching IP addresses or the use of proxy servers and/or the use of clearly false e-mail addresses. The fun part is confirming just who these people are. RefusnikWalsh submitted to us the same comment she plastered on the Weekly’s website three times in a row. We didn’t publish it because the double dipping fake ID baloney was just too tiresome and designed to inflame the weak of intellect.
The unfun part is how these kinds of comments can blur the distinction between fact and fantasy when it comes to an issue as important as Rocketdyne. Even more unfun is how many ‘Rocketdynistas,’ who think the world revolves around them and their fuzz-brained blabber about the place, use these bogus comments to attack me for having written them.
All of this is part and parcel of the Internet Age where fake fronts are used to discredit legitimate journalists and just about anybody else who has something important to say about crucial issues of the day. You can usually spot these pretenders because they either post anonymously or employ some stupid moniker. Or, they use their real names but base their inflammatory comments off those with fake ones. It’s beyond childish.
I have important work to do, and don’t want to spend my time sleuthing Internet cowards and crazies. But I will. So the next time someone is tempted to assume a false identity or make false accusations about me, she might think twice. Hell, she might even think, period. That would be a start.
*We are aware that IP addresses are not solid proof of identity given the prevalence of proxy servers and the possibility of hijacking unsecured networks. In this case, however, our identification is based not only on matching IP address, but the pattern of pages views, proximity of visits by known IPs, and other factors we cannot and will not reveal. Yet.