Category Archives: Novels

Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club: The Fappening Part One



This post, like many others, was intended as a short book review and grew into an epic that will end up touching at least two continents. It is currently unfinished, and ends abruptly. It is my ardent hope that it will be completed by Monday, March 9th. The empty subheads will eventually have content. Though it is does not appear so at the moment, it will eventually return to the material of “The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings: Gawking at the Wreckage”, with this post serving as a kind of sequel to that one.

“Love is merely a madness; and, I tell you, deserves a dark house and a whip as madmen do: and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love, too.”

As You Like It, William Shakespeare

“Charisma dazzles, and flashbulbs woo the lightning bolt.”
The Kennedy Imprisonment, Garry Wills

“This is the game that moves as you play”
“The Have Nots”, X


“I had removed you from the frame of your special existence. I had forgotten who you were and where you belonged. I had demeaned you by treating you as an ordinary woman,” says Adam Malone to Sharon Fields. “Then, seeing you in the movie, seeing you where you belonged, seeing you in your proper frame again, well, it shocked me. Yes, it shocked me, made me realize you were something special, a work of art, a temple, an object meant to be worshipped from afar, a rare embodiment of Eve held aloft to inspire all men.” In Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club, Sharon Fields is the biggest star in the world, and Adam Malone is one of a group of four men who kidnap the actress so they can have sex with her.

Wallace’s book teaches us yet again how popular art, a pulpy sensational novel, can touch a subject with a razor where others use soft down. The Fan Club takes the idea of celebrity worship to its shocking, obvious end. I was lucky enough to hear about the book in The Projection Booth‘s excellent podcat about Caligula (“Episode 178: Caligula”)1, and when I looked up the synopsis, I couldn’t believe it was real; but it’s very, very real. The men are enraptured by this woman but they also have contempt for her, and here we have the two obvious poles of celebrity culture. This book, however, goes beyond abstract polite ideas to brutal reality. They see her as an idol, but also wish to reduce her to something less. “The greatest leveller on earth, the greatest equality maker in the world, was a man’s cock,” are the thoughts of Kyle Shiveley, the most brutal of the four. “A good stiff eight inches did more to promote social justice than all the big brains in the world.”

Malone is a writer, Shiveley is a mechanic and ex-soldier, Leo Brunner a tweedy accountant, and Howard Yost an ex-football player who now sells insurance. Together they form The Fan Club, a group whose objective is to kidnap Fields, and afterwards persuade her to have sex with them. They implement the kidnapping as if it were a heist or an assault on a castle. “I was an assistant to our platoon leader, infantry, in Vietnam,” says Shiveley during a discussion of the plan. “Every assault or raid our task force ever made was figured out in advance…What we’re talking about now is ten times easier.” In the diary of Malone which records the pinpointing of security gaps and the mapping out of the logistics of the abduction, Sharon Fields is always refered to as The Object.

Sharon Fields carries the mark of the divine in her extraodinary beauty, a beauty so great that it permeates their dreams, like those of Kyle Shiveley: “his mind was filled with a full-length image of a naked Sharon Fields, the sexiest broad in the world, whom he’d seen on television last night and in a thousand magazines and newspapers so many times before. There she was, stretched out, lying across his mind, and not a goddam stitch on.” There is something magical, something holy to her beauty. The bed in the cabin where they hope for their great conjoining is refered to by Adam Malone as “The Celestial Bed”. “I have never believed in Heaven,” are the thoughts of Malone. “I think that bed will convert me.” She is a divine whose presence is a worldwide abstraction which supercedes all physical existence. These men are failures who feel themselves invisible men. The thoughts of Leo Brunner while at the strip club for which he does accounting work: “Those girls, that good life out there, all that was for real people, visible people with identities, the achievers, the some bodies. He was the total nobody. The zero.” When the men finally kidnap Fields, they are joyful in their discovery that she is tangible, she is real, she is mortal. “I can’t get over the way she felt in my arms when I slapped the chloroform on her,” says Shiveley. “She just caved in, and me trying to hold her, my one hand got a grab on one of her tits. I tell you, it was for real, no falsies, and you know, I bet my palm didn’t cover even half of her boob.”

That this scheme might actually work, that Sharon Fields could be persuaded into having sex with these men after being kidnapped, is pollen from the hothouse brain of Adam Malone, a man possessed by a hermetic madness where the obsessiveness of the writer crisscrosses with that of the fanatic. This isn’t a brutal act, but a romantic quest2. Malone’s knowledge of her is encyclopedic, yet entirely severed from reality. He is convinced that this knowledge itself will be the sufficient secret key to give them access. “If you had my knowledge of her, it would be quite clear to you,” he tells Howard Yost during a meeting of the group:

Picking her up is incidental, a minor means to an end. Once it were done, and we had rapport with her, she’d go along with it. You must believe me. And once she went along with it that would make the whole aftermath voluntary on her part. Whatever followed would be because she wanted it. You could sleep with her. I could. We probably all could. Knowing her, I know she’d be happy to cooperate. She has a different, freer attitude about such things than most women. Believe me, Mr. Yost, there would be no crime involved once it was done. She’d be flattered. She’d like it.

The Object, also known as Sharon Fields, gets handed the narrative baton shortly before the abduction, and her perspective then interweaves with that of her abductors for the rest of the book. She is a woman of great cunning and drive, hidden behind a mask, who sometimes is only a mask, and this mask is all that people ever want. “Trying to listen, to respond, to the endless superficial nonsense from these jet-set sillies…she was wilting,” are her thoughts in her first scene, a party at her mansion where she’s utterly bored while perfectly imitating interest. “She wondered whether it showed. But then she knew, from past experience, it never showed on her. What was inside her was never revealed or reflected on the outside. The theatrical mask, so long worn, had become her outer skin, and it let nothing out, it never betrayed.” Like a camera that travels beneath a gorgeous landscape to subterranean machinery beneath, we move past her sensual beauty and kindly eyes to the sharp stiletto mind within, as it records each partygoer like an actuary at a rest home:

Her green eyes still betrayed nothing of her inner feelings, revealed only gracious interest, as they scanned the dramatis personae readying to exit from the stage. Her gaze froze each in a frame for an instant, while her mind added a caption, then photographed and categorized the next.

Hank Lenhardt, the most successful publicist in town, with his boring and stupid anecdotes and endless pitch and slick gossip. Justin Rhodes, the producer of her current film, a gentleman from the legitimate theatre, but another phony on the make, not for her (he was surely a fag or a neuter) but on the make for her dependence upon him and for her name to use as another steppingstone on his non-stop power trip. Tina Alpert, the widely syndicated movie columnist, a smiler with a knife, a twenty four hour bitch you never turned your back on or ignored or ever forgot to woo with expensive birthday or Christmas presents.

Sy Yaeger, the hot new filmmaker, euphemism for director, who rewrote writers on the set and had the arrogance to make a cult of the kitsch peddlers of the past like Busby Berkeley, Preston Sturges, Raoul Walsh. Sky Hubbard, the radio and television network news commentator, a dumb lip reader and foghorn, a face out of a shirt ad, whom that idiot Lenhardt had insisted that she invite as an investment in goodwill. Nadine Robertson, whose only claim to fame was that she had once played opposite Charles Chaplin (no small thing) and who was now a silicone smooth old socialite and giver of charity balls, a grand dame who whined clichés and somehow had escaped interment in the Movie land Wax Museum.

And the rest of them they were going out of focus now all Xeroxes of some earlier true original, all the same, the same shrill brightness, the low-keyed come-on, the wits with their warmed-over Wilson Miznerisms, the insiders with their Luis Bunuel, Sergei Eisenstein, Satyajit Ray talk, the put oners and put downers, the casual withit dressers, the practiced amusers, users, freeloaders, name in the papers people of an evening, so chic, so predictable, so exhausting, so utterly unreal and nothing.

Bodies milling. Bodies leaving.

Though these men are outside the fantastic world of the movies – “people like us, plain people, we don’t get the chance to meet someone like you” – they are suddenly in the heightened kinetic world we associate with the cinema when they pull off their carefully planned abduction: Shiveley presses open the mansion’s gate when Fields goes for her routine stroll with her dog, where she meets the men posing as part of an insect extermination company, after which they chloroform her and pull Fields into a delivery van. The perfect woman of the fantastic movie world is suddenly astonished to find herself in a suspense movie that’s not a movie at all. She keenly sees reality, while the men are high on the ether of fantasy. “Through reading about you, studying you, meditating on your psyche,” Malone tells Fields when she gains consciousness in The Fan Club’s hideaway, “I’m acquainted with your whole psychological makeup as a woman, your deepest inner feelings as a human being, your hidden spiritual values.” She’ll no doubt be able to see this all as a romantic parley, once she sees them as reasonable, well-intentioned men, Malone says:

And since we never had any intent to hurt or harm you, we were sure that once you realized our good intentions and appreciated our motives, well, you’d be sympathetic in the end. I mean, even if our means of introducing ourselves to you was unconventional, we figured you might admire us for being adventurous and romantic enough to take such a risk just to see you and have an opportunity to talk to you and become acquainted.

Her reaction is simple, an anguished exasperation that these men have taken the fantasy to be real. “Oh, God, oh, God, God no,” she says. “I can’t believe it. Oh, God help us. That-that some one that you could possibly believe it believe all that drivel, that garbage and do this. The world is insane, and you’re the most insane.” The sexually avaricious woman that these men know so well, isn’t her at all, but a phantom creature conceived in an ad department. “It’s all a pack of lies, every word of it, lies,” she tells them, “I’ve never once spoken any of the things you were reading to me. Those interviews were all made up by imaginative publicists, canned interviews put out in my name.”

When Adam Malone records the progress of the abduction plan, he refers to each man by a protective name defined by their profession: The Accountant, The Insurance Person, The Mechanic. When we shift to Sharon Fields’ perspective after the kidnapping, she gives each man, whose names are unknown to her, a descriptive label that conveys their essence: The Salesman, for the false suffocating gladhandedness of Yost; The Milquetoast, for the pathetically weak and self-pitying Leo Brunner; The Dreamer, for the delusional fantasist Malone; and The Evil One, for the cold-eyed sociopath Kyle Shiveley. It’s The Evil One who shifts the narrative into its next phase. “Well, honey, have you changed your mind?” he asks the captive woman. “No. Not now and not tomorrow and not ever,” she answers, and Shiveley then goes after her with a squire’s wrath3. He puts a gag in her mouth and rapes her. “So that was Sharon Fields,” he says afterwards.

The other men fear the cruelty and instability of Shiveley4, but they are also enthralled by his bullying strength. He becomes the clear leader of the group, supplanting Adam Malone. This world in which they live after the abduction is one where they might do what they wish, and make whatever rules serve their purpose. “The worst is behind us. The most dangerous part is done,” Shiveley instructs them. “Now we’re safe. It’s our world. We’re running it. Like God himself, we can do whatever we want, make new rules, laws, whatever you want to call them.” After Shiveley rapes Fields, the other man rape her as well, each finding some excuse for their despicable action. “With the temptation at hand, and the first rape committed,” reflects Malone, “civilization in the traditional sense had been swept aside. Since they had to answer to no one, they could redefine decency and had done so. A wrong had been revised, by a majority, to be viewed in the guise of right.” After Leo Brunner rapes her, we are given his half apologies and excuses, and her silent reply, poisoned with loathing for this weakling that dominated her:

Hurriedly dressing, he babbled on and on pedantically about the thin line that distinguished seduction and rape, finally satisfying himself (that old, old male ego trip) that there could be no such thing as rape once there was consummation. Real rape would be as impossible as threading a swinging needle, right? Once you threaded the needle, it meant there had been cooperation, right? Therefore, it could not be forcible rape, right?

Wrong, you silly bastard.

“Of them all, he, Adam Malone, was the human being who deserved Sharon most,” are the thoughts of The Dreamer before he rapes The Object, “He, and only he, had made what had happened happen. Of them all, he, and only he, respected and cared for her as a person.” This isn’t a rape, but an act of consideration on the part of Adam Malone: “It was not right that she should suffer only those stupid, unfeeling, uncaring animals, and never know that under this very roof there was one who truly loved her for herself, loved her with a tenderness, a giving, a warmth that she would surely welcome at this time.” If nothing else, this act can be justified by this being the natural order of the world, whether the anthropology of Margaret Mead or a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “The Mayfly is torn by the swallow, the sparrow speared by the shrike, / And the whole little wood where I sit is a world of plunder and prey.” But Sharon Fields doesn’t want him at all. “Go away,” she says. “Don’t do any more. I’m so weak, sick please.” The Dreamer: “In a little while, darling. In a little while you will sleep. We’ve known each other too well to stop now.”

The Fan Club was described as sordid in one Wallace obituary5, and the sordidness does not arise simply from the situation or the vileness of the men, but that we are sunk eyebrow deep in this swamp without fresh oxygen, as these men are essentially static. They are nothing beyond the essences of the labels bestowed by Fields, each one a separate and distinct contemptible attribute of man, whether it be brutality (Shiveley), insincerity (Yost), weakness (Brunner), or delusion (Malone). Their victim remains static as well, a very resourceful woman whose gifts as an actress she also employs in life, either to acquire wealth and power in Hollywood or to get out of this scrape alive. She pretends that she actually enjoys being with these men, to put them at ease, that they trust her, talk with greater ease around her, so she can get their names and find out where she’s being held. “She must become the hot, acrobatic, erotic sexpot and nymphomaniac that each of these yahoos fancied and desired,” she tells herself. “Could she do it?” In one brilliant moment, Fields imagines a dutiful interviewer asking her questions about the terrifying place she finds herself in and the task before her. The binding contract of the studio intertwines with the binding ropes of the bed, the unending appetite of the movie audience melds with the demands of The Fan Club:

Miss Fields, at twenty-eight, are you pleased with your present situation?

No one is ever pleased, all things considered. I would say my situation today is better than it was before. But that’s not good enough for me. Essentially, I’m a free soul. I cherish freedom. But I’m still under contract, you know. It is binding, you know. I won’t be happy until I’ve cut free.

Miss Fields, do you find anything else standing between you and total freedom?

Yes. The Fan Club gambit. Catering to The Fan Club, that’s the most dangerous pitfall of all. You find yourself doing what they want, to survive, but you know, in the end they can tire of you, turn on you, kill you.

Not really, Miss Fields?

You bet your ass really, I’m really afraid.

Thank you, Miss Fields.

You’re welcome.

The men themselves start to tire of her. “What do you get from a superstar that’s any different from any of the others?” asks Shiveley. “You’re getting the same tits, same bouncing ass, same snapping pussy, same hand jobs and Frenching, same squealing nothing different from a couple hundred other broads I’ve banged from secretaries and waitresses to finishing school birds.” Leo Brunner agrees: “once the mystery and novelty are over with, and you’ve been back to the well enough times, you have to tell yourself that she’s no better or more unusual than at least a dozen good lookers you’ve had before.” For Malone, sex with Fields makes her an ordinary woman, and when he watches one of her old movies, he realizes that her power exists in not being physical, not being intimate. “You were something special, a work of art, a temple,” he tells her, “an object meant to be worshipped from afar, a rare embodiment of Eve held aloft to inspire all men.” Instead of wasting more time on sex, the men decide to ransom her, except for Malone, the persistent dreamer: “If we’d done this for money, we’d be common criminals, which we aren’t. We did what we did because we were decent human beings who wanted to achieve something romantic.”

While the ravaging of The Fan Club takes place, the police move in to try to find the missing woman, and here we have one of the book’s many flashes of brilliance. There is a lengthy section given over to the police computer database, the California Law Enforcement Teletype System (CLETS), described as a “magical machine” attended by Marion Owen, “an introvert with superior mechanical skills”. Owen is just about the only other female character in the book other than Fields and her assistant, and though in some future she would be a successful engineer, here she is supposed to be a figure of pity, a wallflower with poor complexion “doomed” to be a spinster until a man “rescues” her. Her marginality is a tragedy (and one unnoticed by this book), but which serves the purpose of making her as a kind of attendant for the CLETS machine which will help to locate Sharon Fields. The screen goddess and her attendant are mirrored in the magical machine and its attendant, a mechanical colossus whose divining power approaches that of Merlin’s tools. The California police speak in a clipped, precise language with almost no reference to personal life, a kind of nest of drones that share the machine qualities of the CLETS. We have a juxtaposition of chiming and discordant notes which we struggle to fully hear, of an organization which derives its power from being more machine like, which is in alliance with a magical machine in a search for a missing woman on whom society has directed the vestiges of religious belief, briefly making her a creature of divine substance.

Fields puts The Fan Club at sufficient ease that they buy her supplies, including distinctive french perfume and breath mints. “She had given off a beep from an unknown planet,” Fields hopes, “trying to tell someone somewhere in the universe that there was life on another planet.” She writes a ransom note in her own hand as proof of life, and manages to insert a code in it, one known to her and her assistant from one of her past movies. The police are slowly able to isolate her location via the drugstore where the supplies were bought and the code in the ransom note. Howard Yost goes to pick up the ransom and he’s confronted by a police chopper, killing himself before he can be captured. The other men at the hideaway soon realize that their scheme has fallen apart. Brunner tries to flee, but Shiveley kills him first. Shiveley moves on to kill Sharon Fields as well, but Malone stabs him in the back. Yet Malone is unable to kill Shiveley, overcome instead by a vomiting attack, a physical revulsion at this violence. Sharon Fields picks up Shiveley’s gun. “Lemme-lemme-lemme live,” Shiveley begs. “Tell me again, you pig. Beg for your life. Beg the way I did. Beg the way I begged,” Fields demands, but this is just to see the man beg some more, before she kills him by shooting him in his privates. She then moves out to meet the descending police chopper with the regal elegance of a living statue. We are now in the sharp lines of the action movie, and Fields is very much the star again. “Well, what do you say?” she asks Malone, as she nods towards the helicopter. “The marines always come, don’t they, sonny boy?” Malone: “You-you led them here, somehow, didn’t you, Sharon?” Fields: “You’re sharper than I thought.” They have one final moment before Malone flees the hideaway, and she meets the detectives.

“You lied about caring for me, didn’t you?” He hesitated. “You-you care only for yourself, for yourself and nobody else, and you always have, isn’t that right?”

The smile was colder than ever. “You’re about ready to graduate, I see. I’ll tell you something. I’ve known lots of men, buster, lots. I’ve never known one, not one, who wasn’t a pig. Including you. You were just one more that happened along.” She paused. “I learned one thing long, long ago. This. Who’s going to care for me more than me, myself, and I?”

This bizarre, forgotten book ends in an appropriately strange note, with Malone returning to his house, as if none of the tumultuous events have even taken place. And we, the reader, realize that the experience is very much like going to a movie, where we are engulfed by vivid, violent experience, yet which then disappears, and we go back to ordinary life. Sharon Fields cannot be brought into this ordinary life without destroying the mask that is the coveted fantasy, the eternally sensual pliant gaze, and we are left to wonder if she ever did pass into ordinary life, or whether we’ve briefly fallen into the imagination of a fevered obsessive.

Now, walking alone on the deserted street to his pad, he had finally ceased wondering why she had spared him.

He had ceased wondering because he had the answer, at last. As a movie buff, he knew, just as Sharon Fields knew, that if she was to fulfil her role as a heroine, and transform this dark interlude in her life into a credibly romantic and plausible story that she could live with, the story must have a hero, even an antihero.

He understood.

He and she, they had not been so different, after all.

Nearing his destination, he knew he had to resolve something else, face up to it, admit it. His experiment in alchemy had not worked. The gold dust of fantasy could not be transmuted into the gold brick required by reality. It was too fragile; the stuff of dreams, and it evaporated and was no more.

We see in The Fan Club the ways in which a popular novel might clasp a crucial subject with both hands, a subject which more “serious” books might consider beneath them as being too squalid or sordid. Were this novel written by a more “serious” writer, some prestigious bold face name, it would no doubt find some praise as a daring piece of horror dealing with modern idolatry – though it might also work up a little too much flop sweat condescending to the low brow material, and be encrusted with a little too much pretension to protect its dignity during the wallow. The Fan Club, by talking about what everyone wants to talk about without constraint or protection, gives us a necessary view of the world that often eludes more highbrow literature. At the same time, it has faults that would not be found (or should not be found) in the work of a more gifted high brow writer. The dialogue is often wretchedly functional, the characters expressing ideas and intent unshaped by anything like intricate character. More crucially, the men who abduct Sharon Fields each embody only the qualities we find most wretched in others and…ourselves, yet nothing in ourselves passes into these men. Women as well as men will be aligned entirely with Fields, and thereby the reader is allowed the pleasure of a sordid novel, but also of superiority over these wretches: I am nothing like these men. There is no possibility, I think, for any man to have any uncomfortable sense that their lust for someone like Scarlett Johansson or Rihanna crosses over with the lust of The Fan Club, and the book avoids the way celebrity culture toys with the feelings of women, where you are roused to despise some delicate creature impossibly more beautiful than you, how you are driven to take joy in seeing her humiliated, and how you become something contemptible in wanting this. We might imagine a book where Sharon Fields is a typical villain celebrity – rich, pretentious, cruel, beautiful – where we want her to suffer, and where our sympathies suddenly shift, and we see our own vile feelings reflected in the four men. The transformation which great literature performs with pulp subjects, not simply re-telling the stories with a larger vocabulary, but giving archetypes unknown depths and twisting the reader’s certainties, is absent in this novel.

“I was all alone in the club car, and then we stopped at this junction and some railroad men got aboard. There was a newspaper, and they saw a headline about Burton buying Taylor the world’s biggest diamond,” Irving Wallace would tell Roger Ebert about the beginnings of the book. “That started them talking about Elizabeth Taylor, and one guy said he’d trade his house, his wife, big car, everything, for one night with her.”6 This kind of stuff is a commonplace, and Wallace knows so: “I’d heard that kind of talk all my life. I didn’t make a note about it in my journal as a possible story idea; I thought I’d forgotten it.” Yet the complicity of the majority in celebrity culture is not the subject of The Fan Club; it’s made into a problem of a few sociopath miscreants. Perhaps because Wallace knew women like Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner first-hand, Sharon Fields is more real to us than the men, and this a necessary element in the book’s engine, the human female versus the four monsters. The issue of larger complicity is not, I think, an idle or abstract one, because even though her roles and her persona don’t mesh with those of Fields, I could only cast one woman in my mind for Sharon Fields, and that was Jennifer Lawrence, because I read The Fan Club last September, a few weeks after #TheFappening.

We might think of that event as something like a colossal storm, containing two phenomena, a subterranean roar which quaked through the earth far from the storm center as if from a multi-megaton blast, and a counterpoint to the noise in a smaller burst of pious blue light. The quake was loud and distant, yet without a visible gleam: these images never appeared on mainstream sites. The pious lightning were the various think pieces which flashed out during this storm, and of those I read, even “The Great 2014 Celebrity Nude Photos Leak is only the beginning” by the gifted writer Roxane Gay, I found to be frustratingly banal for being so unrooted in the event itself. A look at this very specific context, I think, is necessary for why people felt no compunction in hacking these photos and linking to them, and it is not answered by the fact that every woman expects misogyny on-line, that every woman on-line (or any woman on-line who presents herself as female), can expect to deal at least once with a rape threat.

Despite the extraordinary flurry of interest about this story, and despite the fact that the fear that your nude photos might be leaked out of vengeance is a fear almost everyone knows, the focus on the story soon dissipated, to re-form around some other point of noise. Six months later, the perpetrators are still uncaught and unknown. Only one major piece was published after the cloud of attention had atomised, and that was “What Kind Of Creep Sells A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” by Charlie Warzel. It centered on the one actual name affiliated with the Fappening ring, Bryan Hamade, who, under the name of BluntMastermind, may well have been the one who first leaked the nude pictures of Lawrence, Kate Upton and others to the image board AnonIB and 4chan on Labor Day 20147, and therefore the only tangible individual who might be a link to the phantom ring. “Creep” is a good piece of journalism, though its subject is as frustratingly ephemeral as any other part of the story. Warzel speaks to Hamade only once, in a phone call where Hamade insists he only re-posted the photos from somewhere else. Warzel travels to Hamade’s hometown of Lawrenceville, Georgia, where he finds the leftover remains of an isolated, anti-social life. The most indelible details of this life don’t come from the main piece, but in the comments, from someone who claims to have known him: “We both worked as servers at The Local Jam, a now closed restaurant in Athens GA…He’d say things like “I bet you can’t touch your elbows behind your back”. None of this surprises me in the least. He just used to piss me off because he’d always crop dust everybody (plus the perv stuff, but mainly the crop dusting).”8 Warzel has a single meeting with Bryan’s brother, Andrew, who denies Bryan had anything to do with the leak, after which Andrew is arrested for trespass and assault. Andrew’s girlfriend describes Bryan in a Facebook message: “creep, weird, very childish, and immature.” And: “The only reason I’ve even come In contact with Brian[sic] is because I have a child with his deadbeat egotistical brother Andrew.” And: “Yeah he bought them,” meaning the pictures, but refused any comment beyond that.

“I am just an idiot who tried to pull one over on 4chan and lost big time and stupidly left this identifying information,” insisted Hamade in an earlier interview with BuzzFeed, but Warzel speaks to several people, including two anonymous sources close to the Hamade family, that give a picture of someone whose computer skills may have been quite formidable. “He is downplaying his knowledge. He can’t claim to not know how to guess a password and also be a systems administrator and a developer, says one anonymous source. A screenshot put up by BluntMastermind shows a folder full of McKayla Maroney pictures that appeared nowhere else. Nearby neighbor: “My general impression is that he’s very, very intelligent. He built a PC for my husband and helped my son build computers.” Anonymous source: “[H]is knowledge of computers is unfathomable. He was like the Banksy of the cyber world.” Anonymour source #2: “I can tell you this for a fact, Bryan personally did not hack the iCloud but he has a bunch of other friends who did. Bryan is nothing short of a computer genius but he didn’t hack it,” however: “Bryan didn’t hack it but he did make money from the majority of the pictures.” Though Warzel does greater shoe leather investigative work than just about anyone who reported on the story, everything solid appears to dissolve into air. The most tangible evidence are some bitcoin donations that might be traced to Hamade, but other than that:

Much of the other circumstantial evidence aimed against Bryan came from anonymous tipsters with burner email accounts claiming to have new screenshots of Bryan’s desktop. Compelling, but seemingly unreliable, like nearly all the evidence of Bryan Hamade’s involvement and possible connection to the original hackers, which is tenuous at best and conspiratorial at the very least.

We appear to be surrounded by certainties, of ever present mechanical genius in our phones that make the abilities of the 1974 CLETS network laughable, and yet this attention getting crime remains unresolved. “Filth, bullshit, and fluff aside, the internet is uniquely built for solving mysteries,” writes Warzel. But: “I’ve convinced myself of Bryan’s guilt and innocence time and time again, and yet the answer to my initial question – is Bryan Hamade responsible for the biggest celebrity photo hack in recent history? – is as unclear now as it was on the morning of Sept. 1.”

It is perhaps impossible at this time for us to deduce the identities of those in this ring, but what can be done – and which, for whatever reason, does not seem to have been done before – is look at the larger background of similar hacks and the psychology behind them. With regard to Warzel’s question, “Is Bryan Hamade responsible for the biggest celebrity photo hack in recent history?”, I think precedent tells us the answer can be emphatically said that it must be a multitude of hackers, rather than a single individual. Again, by precedent, we know there is some psychological necessity, some male desire to share such photos and in a restricted group. The initial purpose of this ring was not to share these pictures with the wider world, but to keep them within this small circle: to have the pleasure of seeing what few others had seen, and yet to be part of a group which shared in this knowledge that you had glimpsed this rare vision. In the occasional cases of a solo hacker, they are compelled to experience this phenomenon by sharing these pictures with someone, and it’s this act, which often leads them to ultimately being exposed and caught.

“Why Kids Sext” by Hanna Rosin looks at the wake of an investigation into a ring in Louisa County, Virginia, which traded pictures of girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, and girls who’d sent pics to flirt or impress, which would lead to a larger paradoxical child porn investigation9; since those who’d taken the pics were under eighteen, they were considered child porn and so those who took the pics and their recipients could be indicted for creation and distribution of child pornography. Though the focus of the article is on this issue, on how the law should deal with nude pictures of the underaged when such pictures are now an indisputable part of relationships, we are also given some details into how this ring which traded in non-celebrity nudes operated and the psychology of the group.

A related insight here, though unverified, involves the fappening ring which came from an anonymous 4chan account at the time of the scandal10:

>there’s been a small, underground celeb n00d-trading ring that’s existed for years
>why wasn’t it revealed earlier? the only way to join the ring is by ‘buying in’ with original pics(“wins”, as they call them) you, acquired by yourself
>(also, these guys are greedy fuckers: if you were the only person in the world in possession of jlaw nudes, would you really give them out? for free??)

We have a similar structure in the Louisa County ring, of a closed circle where pictures get you entry. In that ring, suspicion centered on two brothers who solicited pictures from boys in the Louisa County high school (along with some girls) which would be put up on an Instagram account, “LC [Louisa County] Hos & THOTs”. “The organizers had apparently spent weeks gathering photos,” writes Rosin. “They said they would open the accounts only when they had a lot of pictures in hand, and that anyone who sent one in would be guaranteed access.” Nor was such a ring an aberration or an exceptional phenomenon: “Several boys, in an effort to convince Lowe that they hadn’t been doing anything rare or deviant, showed him that he could type the hashtag symbol (#) into Instagram followed by the name of pretty much any nearby county and then thots, and find a similar account.” As with #TheFappening ring, investigations into the Louisa County ring are unfinished, with the IP address for the Instagram uploader never successfully determined. The process, and the people at its center, are all known, but cannot be proven definitely, as Rosin related in an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”11:

TERRY GROSS [FRESH AIR HOST]: Do you know, do the authorities know, exactly how these photos ended up in this Instagram page?

ROSIN: They know, but they can’t prove it. So, basically, they know that there’s a couple of guys who solicited photos, there may have been a middle man or not. We’re talking about teenagers here. I don’t know if they’re all under eighteen, but teenagers. And they got the guys in the school, and again, some girls, just send me pictures…and by the way, this is common, this is not a freak occurence…the guys say this happens in lots of towns. And they say, “Okay, when we reach about a hundred pictures, we’ll open the page…which again, is a common dynamic. So they collect all the pictures, and once they have enough to create what they consider a good page, they open up the page, and everybody looks at the page really quickly, although if someone is on it, a parent or law enforcement, it also gets shut down real quickly.

What should be emphasized is that the primary purpose of these pictures was not erotic, nor humiliation, though the eventual outcome was that many of the girls did feel humiliated about the pictures and the focus from the investigation. “Guess who ??? wht do u think?” writes one boy to another, when he sends him a close-up of the bare breasts of a fellow student, a picture that was part of the Instagram collection. The recipient can’t stop thinking about the actual girl, and that here is a photo of her, so intimate, so he finally looks. “He suddenly felt guilty,” writes Rosin, “and also – because he’d heard about some boys collecting photos for an Instagram account – a little afraid. He hesitated, and then deleted the picture and got up to retrieve his laptop.” He then looks up MILF pics, though he’s unsure later (or too embarrassed) to tell Rosin specifically what: somebody with long brown hair and big boobs. And though the girl in the sent pic had these qualities, this was not what he wanted. Rosin writes that “the high-school boys I spoke with barely glance at the sexts they receive. They gloat inwardly or brag to friends; they store them in special apps or count them. But actual fantasies come from porn, freely and widely available on the Internet.” On “Fresh Air”, Rosin emphasizes an earlier point, that the importance of these pictures was the ideal of seeing what others had not seen, and doing so in a community – it’s not enough to see this, but you wish others to witness that you are one of the elect, and a community gives a shared sense of the elect12:

GROSS: One of the things you learned is that these sexts that the boys received from girls, um, they weren’t using those pictures for their fantasy lives, they were turning to porn for their fantasy. So, what are the implications of that for you?

ROSIN: The sexts are just their currency, like, the girls describe it to me, “Oh, it’s [like] the guys are collecting baseball cards or Pokemon cards.” They don’t actually take them that seriously. They’re not a huge part of their sex life. They’re just something you collect, and you tell your boys that you have it, and you know, it’s like it’s cool to have one that nobody else has…it’s kindof a social currency, more than it is, you know, a springboard for fantasy, which is kindof surprising. There’s so much free porn out there that these pictures serve a different role. I mean, these guys look at these pictures for five seconds, you know? (laughs) They’re just not that big a deal to them, and so, sending them along is kindof fun…it’s like, oh yeah, that’s what’s going on in school today, we’re all sending our pictures to x person, it seems like a prank.

That the Louisa County pictures leaked out and became a larger scandal was unintended, just as the leak of #TheFappening pictures was supposedly unintended as well. Again, from the anonymous 4chan comment:

>circle hardly ever widens to include more people – wry few people even find out about this ring. and fewer still have nOOds to buy in with (bitcoin purchases probably rare)
>… except for self-styled “rich kid” in original /b/ thread
>it appears he bought a few sample pix and blew the lid on this whole operation by sharing them with outsiders for the first time

The necessity of such hacking events becoming a wider story required the complicity of the press, and this was a point seemingly avoided by every thought piece, and which rendered them so toothless. We see the convergence of the two in what was probably the first celebrity hacking scandal, that of Paris Hilton’s T-Mobile in 2005. The psychology on display here is very different from that of either #TheFappening or Louisa County rings, where the rings wish to remain small and exclusive, that to look on the photos means you belong to the elect; here, the hackers wanted these photos to be published widely, so they themselves would achieve recognition and fame.

In 2005, a group of six hackers discovered a glitch in the T-Mobile phone service which allowed them to reset the password of any account for which they knew the phone number. Though they were able to prank friends whose numbers they knew, they soon grew bored, and wanted to try to access celebrity accounts13. How would they get a celebrity’s phone number? Well, there was the Accurint database (owned by LexisNexus) which allowed one to look up personal data, including social security numbers and phone numbers, by inputing a name. The database was used by police stations around the country, including one in Port Orange, Florida. The six man crew sent an email with an explicit image and a message urging the recipient to click a link to see pornographic images of children. The link activitated a virus program which allowed for remote key capture, letting the team create new accounts for themselves at Port Orange to access the Accurint database14. The names of those accessed are hidden behind initials in the criminal complaint: “On or about January 21, 2005, TIMOTHY C. McKEAGE fraudulently obtained an Accurint report of an individual, J.P., containing J.P.’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, and other identification information.”, “…an individual, D.G., containing D.G.’s name, address, date ofbirth, social security number…”, “…an individual, J.B., containing J.B.’s name, address, date of birth, social security number…”, etc. There is, however, one set of initials we can guess at: “On or about January 23, 2005, JEFFREY ROBERT WEINBERG fraudulently obtained an Accurint report of an individual, P.H., containing P.H.’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, and other identification information.”15

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Cameron LaCroix on “NBC Today”, image is from “Ex-teen hacker tells Paris Hilton he’s sorry [WARNING: autoplay video]” by Tom Winter, Jeff Rossen and Jovanna Billington.

They were now able to reset Paris Hilton’s password, shutting her out of her account, and allowing them to download all files from her storage space. We might note the reaction of Cameron “cam0” LaCroix to what he saw there. “As soon as I went into her camera and saw nudes my head went JACKPOT,” LaCroix would relate, about now forgotten pictures of a nude Hilton kissing another woman. “I was like, HOLY [expletive] DUDE … SHES GOT NUDES. THIS [expletive]’s GONNA HIT THE PRESS SO [expletive] QUICK.”16 LaCroix did not expect to keep this picture to himself, but instead that he would share these nude pics with the press, and the press would certainly publish them. “We see hacking a computer as a crime but viewing the hacked image as a misdemeanor rather as an act of sexual violence. We absolve ourselves of the crime,” wrote Reut Amit in “That Type of Girl Deserves It”. Knowingly or unknowingly, she absolved the very platform on which that essay was published, Gawker, of the very sin that it had committed in the past. “Every young woman I know was violated when the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and other successful women were posted on the internet for public consumption against their will,” Amit’s essay began, and presumably every young woman she knew was violated when Gawker published the nude photos hacked from Paris Hilton’s T-Mobile in the post “Paris Hilton: Hacked” by “Mark” (Mark Lisanti), and though pictures from old Gawker pages are now gone, they are very much there in the archived version of the site, “Paris Hilton: Hacked (archive link)”, with follow-up posts combing through the data of the hack, “The Collected Works Of Paris Hilton’s Hacked Sidekick” (by “Jessica”, Jessica Coen) and “Paris Hilton Hacked: Decoding The Celebutante Rosetta Stone” (by Lisanti), which lets us know the other girl in the kissing photo was Eglantina Zingg, MTV VJ.

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

(Screenshots from, respectively, “Paris Hilton: Hacked”, “The Collected Works Of Paris Hilton’s Hacked Sidekick”, “Paris Hilton Hacked: Decoding The Celebutante Rosetta Stone”, and “That Type of Girl Deserves It”.)

The society of our time values fame above all else, even infamy, yet even though #TheFappening ring is connected to one of the most notable events of last year, not a single member has made claim to their work, avoiding any attempt at recognition, and thereby remaining safe. “I wanted to be a celebrity,” said LaCroix a decade after the event, about why he dumped Hilton’s pics and info on-line. When the stolen pile pulled a buzz of attention, a small scale #Fappening, “it was mind-blowing for me…I felt famous.”17 LaCroix liked the high of fame, he liked the high of drugs, and he liked the high of hacking, which was a lot like the high of drugs. He’d gotten eleven months of juvenile detention after he was caught for the Hilton hack, then was sent back for more after he violated the terms of his release by using an electronic device, cellphone, or computer. When he got out after that, he bought gift cards with stolen credit card numbers, got into more local police databases, briefly managed to take over Burger King’s twitter account, and did more credit card thefts18. Two months after #TheFappening, nearly a decade after the Hilton hack, he got four years for credit card theft19.

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Screenshot of the hacked Burger King twitter account, image taken from “Burger King Twitter Account Hacked” by Annie Colbert.

The teenager involved in the next celebrity hack was, if possible, even more reckless. From an interview by JPhilla and Joeyboy with Josh “Trainreq” Holly on KKFR Power 98.3 FM in mid 200820:

JPhilla: Tell us what you did.

TrainReq: Basically, I was the guy that ended up getting access to Miley Cyrus’s email…and ended up placing the pictures on my hard drive, and later leaking them.

JPhilla: So, those pictures of Miley Cyrus in the shower, and with her shirt lifted…all those pictures you’re responsible for?

TrainReq: Pretty much, yeah.

Joeyboy: So, are you basically a hacker?

TrainReq: Uh…yeah, I guess…I guess I’d be considered a hack, yes.

Holly had obtained a list of instant message buddies for a MySpace worker, after which he contacted another MySpace employee on this list, posing as a MySpace administrator. He told the employee that he was having trouble accessing the MySpace administrative panel. Could he maybe use his fellow administrator’s username and password? Yes, he could. Holly found the passwords for MySpace pages stored in clear text, including one for Cyrus’s page: “Loco92”, her dog’s name plus her year of birth. Holly then tried to see if Cyrus used the same password for her gmail account,, and yes, she did21. From a second interview with KKFR Power 98.3 FM, on August 6, 2008, with JPhilla and Lady La22:

JPhilla: How long did you hold onto this Miley Cyrus hack?

TrainReq: For about a few months. ‘Cause the reason I got these…she wasn’t that famous, but then I saw a bunch of her photo scandals, you know, and I’m like, woah, they’re saying those photos are bad…wait until you see the ones I have a hold of.

JPhilla: How come people still don’t believe you, TrainReq?

TrainReq: I really don’t know…because there’s rumors saying I photoshopped them…

Lady La: We had someone tell us that that picture that you gave us…”Oh, I had that picture a long time ago, look at my photo reel,” and this and the other.

TrainReq: Yeah, I don’t know…I think it might have been released, because that picture wasn’t that bad, I didn’t look who it was sent to. So I probably downloaded it…it was probably sent to her publicist or something…as I say, that photo was from her email…I like, leaked those, I don’t know how people think those are fake, because the photos that I leaked had never been seen anywhere else.

The pictures had been obtained illegally through a hack, and therefore they couldn’t be published, but people sure wanted to publish them. Holly would try to sell the pictures to TMZ and other outlets, but nobody bought them for legal reasons. Holly would then publish the pictures on rogue site, after which the various outlets re-published the pics for free23. We have here something analogous to what takes place with many tabloid stories, where the mainstream press is unwilling or unable to print toxic or controversial material, but once a tabloid does so, they can report the story or the controversy surrounding the story. The phenomenon is described in “Taming the hydra-headed carnivorous beast” by Ann Louise Bardach, specific page is “Taming the hydra-headed carnivorous beast (page 93)”, about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful attempt to constrain the tabloids during his run for governor:

The tabloids posed another problem. One of the less ennobling secrets of the mainstream media is its reliance on the tabs to launder seedy but irresistible stories about celebrities and politicians. Once the story appears in the tabloids, it’s not long before it’s fodder for TV talking heads and late-night comics. Then, more often than not, it’s regarded as fair game for the mainstream media. In the last 15 years, the tabs have earned a reputation for nailing down hard-to-get stories for the simple reason that, unlike the mainstream media, they often pay sources and hire private investigators. The meshing of the tabs and the mainstream media went into high gear during the O.J. Simpson trial and was standard practice by the time of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

That such photos fell into a grey market of “not quite legal, but somehow permissible”, is clear in the next part of the KKFR Power 98.3 FM session:

JPhilla: Well, let us issue you another celebrity hack challenge.

Lady La: Uh oh.

TrainReq: Okay.

JPhilla: I was thinking, like, [redacted from audio]24.

TrainReq: I have [redacted from audio]’s screen name, so…

JPhilla: You have her screen name, like…?

TrainReq: Yeah, her AIM…

JPhilla: I wonder if it still works.

TrainReq: Yeah, I’ve actually added it to my buddy list, see it sign on, sign off.

JPhilla: She on?

TrainReq: I don’t think she’s on right now…

JPhilla: Okay. So how long do you think it would take you to hack [redacted from audio] and what kind of information do you think you can get?

TrainReq: It’d probably take me, I could probably have it done by the end of this week, earliest. That just depends on how smart she is on the internet.

Lady La: You could hack Nick Jonas too, you know. That’d be a cool one.

TrainReq: I didn’t really find anything interesting on Nick Jonas. I got his screen name and his email, though.

Holly didn’t express any feelings toward Cyrus one way or another, did not show any sensual excitement when talking about these pictures she’d sent a boyfriend (even a hint of excitement, that would have to be repressed out of legal necessity, given that she was fifteen), only seemed to look at her pictures the way a tabloid publisher might: a Disney icon in a wet shirt will sell a million papers. The only problem is that though a media outlet would have no problem publishing illegally obtained materials, or even buying illegally obtained materials, it was another thing to buy illegally obtained materials knowing that they had been illegally obtained. On October 20, 2008, he wrote on a message board that he might be a known hacker, but the FBI would never find him. A few hours later, they raided his apartment. Holly had “been acting like an attention starved 8-year-old,” wrote one hacker to Wired. “The problem is that TrainReq truly believed he was untouchable, and unfortunately for him, in 2008, it’s that type of reckless thinking that gets people raided.”25. Holly had been using hacked MySpace celebrity accounts for spamming campaigns, since people are more likely to click on an email sent by a celebrity, and had also ended up with over 200 stolen credit card numbers. He was arrested, and in late 2011 he got three years probation, with no charge against him for the Cyrus hack26.

Four years later after the Cyrus hack, we would have the closest precedent to #TheFappening, a large scale hack of private pictures, including many nudes, of multiple celebrities. Chris Chaney was another marginal figure, though older than either LaCroix or Holly when they did their hacks, a loner in his early thirties. “Two years unemployed,” writes David Kushner in, “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood”, his superb profile of Chaney, “he lived in a rundown brick house in a middle-class neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida, where the streets are named for fairy tales: Cinderella Road, Peter Pan Place.” He wasn’t a hacker, hadn’t owned a computer till his late twenties, and couldn’t code. In 2008, he ran into the ubiquitous wave of coverage about the Miley Cyrus photos which TrainReq had leaked, and thought: how hard could it be? He used no social engineering, only hours of monotonous diligence. First, you found an actual celebrity email account. Then it was a case of figuring out the answers for the challenge questions when your password was lost. For his first account, he needed to give their pet’s name as an answer, and he found it on IMDb. There was a flood of email in this first celebrity’s inbox from other celebrities, and the new email addresses which he got from each inbox were the fuel which sustained his cycle of break-ins. He always made sure to change the settings on the victim’s account so that every email would be forwarded to him as insurance in case he lost access to the mail account. His strategy was always the same: answering the lost password challenge questions, whether it be favorite colors, hometown school, best friends, etc. All of which could be researched on-line27.

The pictures that especially beguiled him weren’t the nudes, but those of possible filming locations sent by location scouts to directors. It was part of the whole hidden world of film-making no one usually sees. He got access to the email account of one of the producers of In Time, and saw the entire edifice built up, inch by inch. There was script draft after script draft, there were lengthy negotiations about how much skin one of the stars, Amanda Seyfried, would show. “It seemed a fairly convoluted process just to show a butt crack,” said Chaney. He had no interest in gossip, but it was impossible not to be inundated with it. “Everyone dated everyone eventually,” he said. And not always who you’d expect: he came across explicit emails that leading men sent their secret male partners. “I’m trying to figure out how to say it without names,” he said to Kushner. “There were some that, you know, their public persona is they’re kind of a player, and their private persona is they’re batting for the other team…. They may have been batting for both teams, I don’t know.” And there were of course, hundreds of nude and explicit images, many of which would never leak out. Chaney would express the very sentiment that’s been mentioned before, of feeling that one is of the elect, seeing a rare vision. “You feel like you’ve seen something that the rest of the world wanted to see,” he says. “But you’re the only one that’s seen it.”28 It was accompanied by a second feeling, also mentioned here: that it is not enough to see, but you wish to have witnesses that you are part of the rare select that have seen this. “The farther Chaney plunged into the Hollywood rabbit hole,” writes Kushner, “the more he wanted to tell someone, anyone, what he was finding.” A small group of trusted associates like #TheFappening ring allows for both feelings without the necessity of relying on the honor of strangers, but this wasn’t possible in the case of loner Chris Chaney, and what he did next may have helped doom him.

Going through the inbox of a Hollywood stylist, Chaney found semi-nude pictures of Christina Aguilera. He sent an email to a random someone on a message board: there was “someone” he knew, who’d gotten a hold of hacked pictures of Aguilera. Did he want to look at them? Reply: Sure. A month later, TMZ had the headline: “Christina Aguilera: My Private Sexy Pics Were Hacked”. When Chaney saw the Aguilera photos everywhere on-line, “it was like a gut punch,” but he now felt the exhilaration of recognition, of fame, which Holly and LaCroix actively pursued29. “We find the actions of the hackers and the press who purchased and/or obtained these photos to be irresponsible and actionable,” Aguilera’s rep made clear, and they were “attempting to determine the identity of the hackers and will pursue them aggressively.” Chaney was a man who lived alone with his grandmother until his grandmother died, and then lived entirely alone, a man who lived an insect speck of a life, who had now broken through the ether. “Those girls, that good life out there, all that was for real people, visible people with identities, the achievers, the some bodies. He was the total nobody. The zero,” says Leo Brunner in The Fan Club. Chaney was a zero who’d suddenly intruded in the world of the visible people.

Christina Aguilera TMZ Headline

Chaney may not have been a social engineer, but another hacker, TrainReqSucks (a play on Josh Holly’s nom de guerre), most certainly was. He praised Chaney’s abilities, but he wanted to be sure that he actually had the skills: did he have anything else to show? Chris Chaney did. Chris Chaney had the Inverted Jenny of hacked pics: Scarlett Johansson nudes. He sent over a picture of Johansson showing off her behind. It ended up a little while later on-line with some protective squiggles added by TrainReqSucks, but no one paid any attention to it: everyone knew it had to be fake30.

There are several points in the Chris Chaney story that were mere footnotes then, but assume far greater prominence now with #TheFappening ring still extant. At this juncture, TrainReqSucks, a hacker whose actual name remains unknown, was able to give a warning to Chaney: “You really need to cover your ass better, ’cause they’re all over you,” he wrote. “There’s heat on you.” When I read this, I wonder: was this just a social engineer playing more head games, or did this hacker actually have inside information, and, if so, how did he get it? Notable footnote number two comes after Chaney sends explicit Renee Olstead pics to the anonymous blogger Deep at Sea. The blogger had a thing for Olstead, and Chaney craved more recognition. At 6 A.M. the next morning, February 11, 2011, Federal agents rammed down his door and drew their guns, but didn’t arrest him – not yet. “I’m glad you did this,” Chaney said, “because I wasn’t going to be able to stop this on my own.” They confiscated his computer, but they wanted his help to find the others. “They constantly repeated, ‘We’re after the big fish; you’re just the little fish’,” Chaney said, and I italicize the next part for its importance, “They were after a ring of celebrity hackers.” They asked: “Would you be willing to work with us to bring other hackers down?” Chaney: “Yeah, whatever you want.”31 There may have been others, either #TheFappening ring, a variation, or a predecessor, but: Chaney didn’t know them. Footnote three comes months after the confiscation of Chaney’s computer, after Chaney had gotten a data entry job at a trucking company, in September, when someone sent Nik Richie, proprietor of gossip website TheDirty, three nudes of Johansson. Fake, Richie thought. No, his Photoshop people told him: these are real. A five-timer, according to Ritchie, are those exceptional celebrity pictures that amp your site traffic five times. These pics were a ten-timer, Richie said, “it meant a million people coming to the site.” The footnote is here: these were three nudes of Johansson, and Chaney claims to have sent only one, to TrainReqSucks32. The only people who’d seen these pics were Chaney, Johansson, the original recipient of the pics, Ryan Reynolds, and the FBI. So maybe Chaney is lying. Or maybe someone in the FBI leaked them. Or maybe there was a hacker ring, that might also have been #TheFappening ring, that also hacked the pics. Again, an excerpt from the helpful anonymous 4chan comment, my bolds: “>there’s been a small, underground celeb n00d-trading ring that’s existed for years“. The actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose photos were among those leaked by #TheFappening ring would confirm that this had been going on for years:

Chaney would be sentenced to ten years in prison, and one account included a detail absent from David Kushner’s profile that suggested a malice that wasn’t just incidental, but deliberate: the prosecutors alleged that he hacked the accounts of two women he knew, and sent the pictures of one woman to her father. Chaney denied this. “I have been truly humiliated and embarrassed,” said Johansson in a videotaped statement. “I find Christopher Chaney’s actions to be perverted and reprehensible.” Renee Olstead said that she attempted to kill herself after Chaney leaked her pictures. “I just really hope this doesn’t happen to someone else,” Olstead said. During her testimony, Olstead spoke through tears; Johansson had broken down in tears as well. “You can lose everything because of the actions of a stranger,” Olstead said. “That feeling of security can never be given back and there is no compensation that can restore the feeling one has from such a large invasion of privacy,” said Christina Aguilera, in a statement before the sentencing. “I don’t know what else to say other than I’m sorry,” said Chaney. “I could be sentenced to never use a computer again and I wouldn’t care.” Chaney got some advice from a predecessor. “I personally think what he did was pretty idiotic,” said Josh Holly, the man who went on the radio after his high profile hack. “Hacking celebrities is for the kids, and 35? I mean, I personally think he was too old for that.”33

An earlier post on this site explored the intersection of celebrity and primitive ideas of sacredness34, and I think these same connections naturally recur here, and are crucial for understanding this sense of a coveted vision that surrounds these photos and documents that is not there for similar files outside Hollywood life. There is inherent importance in Snowden’s leaked NSA documents, and there is none in Paris Hilton’s agenda for a banal day in 2005 – yet her celebrity imbued it with a magnetism separate from its content. This same investment of the sacred, at the very same time that you treat the possessor of sacredness with indifference or callousness, is also found in the thefts described in The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales, about the eponymous gang of Rachel Lee, Nick Prugo, Courtney Ames, and Alexis Neiers. The book serves as a useful mirror, as #TheFappening ring was often spoken of in the context of crimes by men against women, yet here we have many of the same attitudes surface where the perpetrators were almost entirely young women, as were their victims.

There is the addiction to the break-in itself, described by LaCroix: “[You get] the same pleasure. The same reward,” LaCroix says of drugs and hacking in “Ex-teen hacker [WARNING: autoplay video]”. “That challenge of getting in. It’s just like, ‘Wow.'” The Bling Ring, on Nick Prugo and Rachel Lee: “They went back and back, he [Prugo] said, becoming addicted in a way that mirrored their addiction to cocaine and to each other. He said that Rachel’s boldness grew despite the fact that once they were almost discovered.” The very fact that a piece of clothing was associated with a celebrity was enough: “Sometimes the things they took were intimately mundane, like a pair of sneakers that belonged to Benji Madden, Paris’ boyfriend. Nick wore them around.” There is even the unspoken complicity of the press, that yes, they would buy stolen nudes. Hilton had a “safe room and in her safe it was completely unlocked she had a thing of, like, maybe eighteen pictures of herself topless and rubbed with, like, some tanning color all over her body.” They wanted to sell the pics, but they couldn’t. “We thought we might be able to sell them to a tabloid,” said Prugo. “We thought it would be profitable at the time, but after looking into it we were told everyone has seen Paris Hilton naked so it didn’t really matter.” There is the disconnect in the act itself and the lives it affects. Sales: “Robbing Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan hardly registered on the same horror level as those acts of violence. In fact, I was surprised, as I started talking to people about this story by how many seemed to find what the Bling Ring did amusing or even kind of marvelous.” That the victims might feel genuine fear afterwards, the sense of violation we all do after we’ve been robbed, is outside the imagination. Rachel Bilson, one of the victims: “It took me a while to feel comfortable staying there [in the house that was robbed]. I wouldn’t sleep in my bedroom for about a month. I would stay in…a downstairs room. And I was convinced [for a time] that I needed to sell my house and get out of there, because I was very scared.” Another robbery victim: “You are suddenly second-guessing everything,” says Orlando Bloom, “You are like, ‘Who has been in my house?’ The value of things kind of fades away. It’s really about who is it? Who am I starting to question? You wind up looking around at people who are [your] friends [and asking]…who it is that could have been involved in this?”

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The Bling Ring: Paris Hilton's closet.

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There was also the subconscious or conscious desire to profane the sacred. Only when there is a belief in the sacred is this profanation possible: pornography which features nuns and priests has a frisson only in a sincerely Catholic society, otherwise they’re just fetish costumes. In the middle of robbing Rachel Bilson’s house, Rachel Lee took a shit in Bilson’s toilet. “We were in Rachel [Bilson’s] bathroom and Rachel just had to go, so she just…yeah. I remember the incident so well. I can recall the smell, which is really nasty, disgusting. I know I would never, like…When you’re in there,” said Prugo, “you have a rush, like I’ve had to pee when I’ve been in there, but I would never use their bathroom, just in fear of that maybe some type of evidence would be left there. I think that’s weird, personally. But yeah, she did.” Though press like Gawker had solicited stolen pics and videos in the past, they now adopted a pious stance of refusing to even acknowledge the content of a single one of the pictures. So none of their think pieces could mention the fascinating tumult over one of the photos, a close-up of a woman with her eyes closed, her face covered in semen. There was a great deal of back-and-forth conversation about whether this woman was Jennifer Lawrence. When it became obvious that, despite some similarities, this was another woman – “The girl with cum on her face IS NOT Jennifer Lawrence. To the blind morons here you have a proof [sic]” etc. – all interest was lost. A picture of a girl with cum on her face is a commonplace on the internet; this was something different, a violation of something that had been invested with holy magic.

The various elements that constituted #TheFappening ring we can already find in precedents. A closed circle where entry is gained through coveted pics was part of the Louisa County ring. Though “The Police Tool That Pervs Use to Steal Nude Pics From Apple’s iCloud” (by Andy Greenberg) argued that the password breaking tool, iBrute, was used to gain access to accounts, the best in-depth analysis of the hack, “Notes on the Celebrity Data Theft” by Nik Cubrilovic, argued more convincingly, to my mind, that access was gained through methods similar to Chaney’s, of using personal information to answer password reset and recovery questions, as well as some phishing techniques, like the email sent to the Port Orange police department which allowed LaCroix’s gang access to Accurint35. An example of the instructions scanned from AnonIB on how to crack an iCloud account where answering security questions and victim’s birthday is mentioned, but without any reference to a password cracker36:

To rip an Icloud you first need the email and password for the acct. How do you get the email/pass? well thats pretty easy actually. You just need some very basic info that can usually be found on FB, Twitter, Instagram, Myspace, etc. and follow these 7 steps.

Step 1: you need an email address (preferably a hot girl or guy with a hot gf) choose anyone you want to see naked or know their business
Tip: If you sync FB with your cell phone or email it will add all of your friends email address to your contacts.
Step 2: go to
Step 3: enter the email address in the box that says apple id
Step 4: click enter and it will take you to a new page that has 2 options.
First option: is to send an email to that acct to get a new password (Dont do this unless you have access to that email address)
2nd option: is to go to thier [sic] Security questions. (Click this one) it will refresh and take you to a new page.

Step 5: Verify the birthday of the girl/guy’s acct you are trying to access (Remember Facebook is your Friend) If you can get a message in red that says it can’t verify the information you provided. (You either entered it wrong or they have no Apple acct. You have 3 attempts to get the Birthday correct)
Tip: if you know the month an day are correct try a different yr.
Tip: if you have an email address like Princess88 @ whatever. Well their [sic] is a good chance that she was born in 88 lol
Step 6: If enter [sic] the correct birthday you will be redirected to a page with 2 security questions (you need to answer both correctly) You have 3 attempts [b]efore you need to start the process over again (Warning [t]he 3rd time you start the process over, if you answer again incorrectly Apple will lock the acct for 8 hrs)
Step 7: If you answer the questions correctly, it will ask you to create a new password.

Password must be at least eight characters long.
It must contain at least one number and two letters, one upper case and one lower case.
It cannot include more than two consecutive and identical characters.

Tip: This reset process is best done at night. [S]o you have all night to rip and go thru it without them knowing. If done during the day there is a higher chance of them being reset by the owner while ripping.

#TheFappening ring weren’t able to download the account contents as easily as LaCroix did with the T-Mobile hack; as Greenberg’s “Police Tool” describes, they used EPPB (Elcomsoft Phone Password Breaker), since “EPPB lets anyone impersonate a victim’s iPhone and download its full backup rather than the more limited data accessible on” Though the image board on which they posted pics and traded tips, AnonIB, almost immediately erased all traces of the gang from their site, we have very visible evidence of the vestiges of another pic trading ring, which, like #TheFappening ring, managed to simultaneously have a large public impact and remain entirely in the shadows. #TheFappening ring stored their images on the /stol/ board of AnonIB (/stol/ is short for stolen, of course) and this ring used AnonIB for photo storage as well.

It’s been mentioned previously the recurring sense of seeing coveted photos and feeling oneself part of the elect and wishing to have someone witness that you are part of the elect. On the assumption that someone out there had passing knowledge of the history of this gang and wanted to be seen as part of the elect who possessed secret knowledge – that gang nobody knows about, that everyone’s trying to catch, I saw them at work for years – would want to be seen as such, and make some comment somewhere. The best instance of this I found at the DeadSpin post, “This Guy Was Sharing The Hacked Celeb Nudes Weeks Before They Leaked” by Timothy Burke & Tim Marchman, about either a ring member or someone who’d gotten their hands on photos posted by the gang on AnonIB, trying to trade them with someone for pics of their girlfriend. This was the only comment for the account “VetAnon”, and it passed unnoticed, unreplied to, and grayed out (unapproved by post writers and select commenters), but the tone is precise, confidently knowledgeable, and correct in what I’ve looked into so far (direct link to comment on page):

Dead Spin comment: look at the Daily Capper

Hackers were offering to hack iClouds via Anonib in exchange for money for at least a year. Your information that it isn’t an iCloud hack is incorrect. In addition, research the shady history of Anonib. It’s always been about blackmail and money. Former owner had to shut it down when he was hacked and it was proved he was blackmailing in exchange for getting stolen pits and video uploads pulled from site. Finally, for a glimpse into the twisted logic of that site and others, and insight into how hacker rings work, track the Daily Capper youtube videos. Hackers, cappers, stalkers, blackmailers didn’t just go after celebrities. It was all about any pretty face that could be found. then all content was shared internally through the hacker circle rather than posted to public boards. It is simply first meeting that happened on boards.

The Daily Capper refered to here, was a program that was uploaded every few weeks to youtube which covered the exploits of a ring which traded photos of girls who were on cam sites such as Stickam and Tinychat. The girls were all underage, and The Daily Capper made this explicit many times. For example, from “ – Week of June 20,2010” (0:11-0:57):

We are halfway through the year and what better way to spend 365 days then on your computer screen, looking for camera whores. The week of June 14 to 20 has been an incredible week for capping. It is summertime. Despite what others think, summer is not the time to go outdoors, swimming, being with friends. Rather it is a time for girls and boys to turn their computers on and get dirty. School is out, and stripping is in. What has this week had to deliver to the capping world? Here is what. Let’s start with this past Thursday. Epic win was delivered in the form of four thirteen year old girls from blogTV Jr. “candybitchez” a cutie age bitch came to tinychat and stripped it all for a room of 300.

These girls were simply talking to the wider world, or singing, or joking, a more interactive version of someone’s vlog on youtube. The cappers would flatter the girl on her looks, on her talent, and slowly persuade her into lifting her shirt or taking off her clothes. They would then “cap” (take a screenshot) of this, which they could then use to extort the girl into further acts, threatening to send the picture to their friends and family. The pictures were then stored on AnonIB to be shared with others in the ring. Just as #TheFappening ring referred to scoring celeb pics as a “win”, so did this capping ring. The Daily Capper would report on the various events related to the community, on who had extorted who, how long it took Stickam to close a room after underage girls started flashing, whether AnonIB was cracking down on underage pics, and who had been arrested. Each program is made using animation taken from the Crashbox segment “Distracting News”, with newscaster Dora Sammy’s voice dubbed over with an electronically generated one37. The episode almost always opens with the portentous “NBC Nightly News” theme, the newscaster’s intro of “Welcome cappers and camwhores…”, and ends with the newscaster’s chilling sign-off: “Happy hunting.”

“Happy Hunting”, the sign off of almost all Daily Capper broadcasts.

From the episode “The Daily Capper – Week of July 11,2010” on Metacafe, which reports that AnonIB now allows underage pictures.

Possible blackmail for some win - URL if gif doesn't load:

“Possible blackmail for some win,” recreation of extortion strategies on a message board. Taken from “Stalking Amanda Todd : The Man in the Shadows” by The Fifth Estate, between
17:04 and 17:11.

Several cappers would achieve a kind of infamous prominence on the program for their ruthless persuasion and extortion techniques, almost all of whom would end up as nominees for the Daily Capper‘s “Blackmailer of the Year” award, part of a set of awards which also included “Capper of the Year”, “Camwhore of the Year”, “Cam Site of the Year”, and “Shocker of the Year”. There was “Aussie”, whose voice was heard in a call gleefully telling someone that he was about to drop a girl’s pics on-line and you heard the girl call out in agony as she realized what was happening, “Wait…WHAT. WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO!”

The Capper would relate that Aussie himself would end up being extorted by a hacker with the alias of “XXXTreme” who forced Aussie to appear on camera and say that he’d been the one extorting various underage girls after denying it, with XXXTreme’s extortion itself nominated for the Capper‘s “2010 Lulz Moment of the Year” award.

There was also “Perso”, who was supposedly merciless in his extortions: “Meanwhile, Perso is continuing with the blackmail on blogTV. By the way, we recently found out from sources that he used a website like Chatzppl, to bring girls to himself…[and] blackmailed the girl to drink her own pee on this site.”38. There was the over-forty “Viper2323”, where the running joke was his obsession with getting caps of a girl named “Verica”39. The Daily Capper of September 5, 2010, would mention again, that “apparently, Perso finds it natural to blackmail girls to drink out of the toilet. Then call her his sex slave,” and then asked, “So, for our poll of the week: who do you think is a bigger sociopath? Out of Aussie, Perso, and Viper, who’s a bigger sociopath?”40 Other cappers included “m0d”, who used photos of young swains for his profile pic to put his victims at ease41, “r0r44” or “r0ra”, winner of the 2010 “Capper of the Year” award42, “Coke”, so named because he always seemed to be drinking a can of it. There was also “Swan”, who stole Coke’s girlfriend43, and “Klanackle”, supposedly one of the earliest and most influential members of the cappers, the man who Dora Sammy says, “changed capping as we know it”44.

Photo of the capper known as Perso

Photo of the capper known as “Perso”.

Photos of the capper known as Viper2323

Photos of the capper known as “Viper2323”.

Aussie on The Daily Capper

A still of “Aussie”, from a gif made from an extended clip of him on The Daily Capper. The full gif can be found here.

Coke and Aussie on cam

Cappers known as “Coke” and “Aussie” on cam.

In 2009, AnonIB would win by a very large vote margin the Daily Capper award for “Public Site of the Year”. From “Public Site of the Year – 2009 Capper Awards”:

AnonIB Top Voted Public Site at Daily Capper Awards

The Daily Capper broadcast had an erratic schedule, broadcasting at sometimes frequent, sometimes infrequent intervals through 2010 and a single show in early January 2011, before disappearing, then re-appearing for a broadcast on Halloween 2011, after which it stopped entirely – except for a single episode of great importance. The Capper ring would probably have remained in the shadows, entirely forgotten and unnoticed, if it hadn’t been for the death of a Canadian teenager named Amanda Todd on October 10, 2012, nearly a year after the penultimate broadcast of The Daily Capper. Easily the best account of the case was on a Canadian national affairs program, The Fifth Estate, and their episode “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”. Todd was a teenager with ADD who also had difficulty fitting in at school. “Kids would laugh at her, so she’d compensate in other ways,” said her mother, Carol Todd. “By making jokes, or…she would just compensate. But it wasn’t always to her benefit, ’cause kids would laugh at what she said.” She would try for more of a social life on blogTV and other cam sites, often singing songs for the audience. At one point during one of those sessions, she lifted up her top and flashed the audience in her cam room. There are various places where one can find an explanation for why she did this, including a video Amanda Todd made before she died, “Amanda Todd’s Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self Harm”. From a transcript of the video at the blog Piglet’s Hut: “In 7th grade I would go with friends on webcam, meet and talk to new people. Then got called stunning, beautiful, perfect, etc…Then wanted me to flash…So I did…”

Mark Kelley of The Fifth Estate would interview two of Amanda Todd’s friends, Shyla and Tessa45:

KELLEY: Was she happy on-line?

SHYLA: Yeah.

TESSA: People would watch her and she’d get a lot of views.

KELLEY: But that is part of the appeal, isn’t it? People watching, and…it’s like a new group of friends?

SHYLA: Yeah, and not…them only knowing what you’re telling them.

KELLEY: You can sortof give a different version of yourself?

TESSA: Yeah.

SHYLA: You can edit yourself.

Shyla and Tessa on why some girls flash46:

TESSA: For most girls, it’s like, the attention. And wanting to feel important. In a way, I guess.

KELLEY: And how does the flattery work? Where is that coming from?

SHYLA: Well, probably, like, he’s encouraging you to flash though he’s being nice. And like…talking to you.

KELLEY: But at the time…does it seem like flattery, or does it seem like someone who’s really trying to trick you into doing something?

SHYLA: I think, at the time, it feels like flattery.

TESSA: Yeah.

Another explanation can be found in Rosin’s “Why Kids Sext”, on the difference between teen girls who sext and “pressured sexters”:

Most girls (70 percent) reported feeling some pressure to sext, but Englander singles out a distinct minority (12 percent) she calls the pressured sexters, who say they sexted only because they felt pressure. These girls are more vulnerable. They tend to start sexting at a younger age, and to sext because they think they can get a boyfriend, as opposed to because they already have one. They have a fantasy that if they sext, the popular people will see them as daring and self-confident, and they could get a boyfriend they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten, Englander says. But generally that doesn’t work out. Pressured sexters are much more apt to feel worse after sexting than other teens are her interviews reveal them to be less self-confident about their bodies and less assured about their place in the social hierarchy after sending a sext.

Rosin would describe a mother with two very different daughters in her Fresh Air interview about the story47:

She has two daughters, around the same age, and she treated them both completely differently. She said, “Look, if one of my daughters ended up on an Instagram page, or sent a sext, it’s because she wanted to. She’s really stubborn and hardheaded, and no boy can convince her that she can do anything that she doesn’t want to do, and if some boy tried, he’d really get it. But my other daughter’s a total pushover.” She’s the one who did end up on the Instagram page [of the Louisa County picture sharing ring]. “You ask her to do anything, even fold my laundry and it’s my turn to fold the laundry, and she’ll say yes.” That daughter’s the one she gave the lecture to. You know, don’t do what the guys tell you to do, just because they ask you to. Nothing’s going to happen if you say no. Be strong enough to say no. So, it was an interesting example in know your child, don’t just look at the sext and be alarmed, know what that sext means in the context of your child, who they are, what their life is like, and who the person on the other end receiving it is.

After Amanda lifted her shirt, “someone captured a freeze frame of her topless,” Mark Kelley would report in “Sextortion”, “and posted a picture on a porn site. Then a link to that picture was sent to all of her Facebook friends, including her mother.”48 Carol Todd, Amanda Todd’s mother, would receive an unsettling anonymous Facebook message after this all took place, on Christmas Eve 2010, which warned her that Amanda was being extorted: “She needs to be stopped [her blogTV sessions], because most of them are old guys who record her and blackmail her into doing more.” Carol Todd would reply: “Who are you? Also, where did you get your information from? This is now a police matter.”49 Amanda Todd would describe what happened next on Christmas eve in her video “Amanda Todd’s Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self Harm”; from a transcript of the video at the blog Piglet’s Hut: “Knock at my door at 4am…It was the police… my photo was sent to everyone. I then got really sick and got… anxiety, major depression and panic disorder.”

Carol Todd remembered what happened to Amanda when she went back to school after everyone was sent the picture: “Embarrassment…anxiety…depression. She got, uh, I guess the name is slut-shamed. So…nicknames like “camwhore” and questions like, uh, “So are you doing this on a regular basis?” And porn star, and it just…for a child that’s in grade seven…it was very, um, it killed her.” Amanda herself would relate what it was like in a chat found on her laptop after her death: “There are people out there that can’t talk to me. Or they will be hated. I never got the chance to go out of my house, and be a real normal person, instead, now all I do is hide, I’m always scared of what’s going to happen.”50

Amanda Todd would change schools, but her blackmailer would follow her there, too: the staff at the new school had been sent her nude picture. From “Struggling, Bullying, Suicide”: “I then moved and got into drugs + alcohol.” Though her parents had twice contacted Canada’s federal police, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), there was nothing they could do for the moment. Her isolation at school led to her spending more time on-line and on cam, where she continued to receive reactions that frightened her. From the chat logs retrieved from her computer after her death51:

OMG I'm scared - URL if gif doesn't load:

Taken from The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, fragment runs from 28:49 to 29:04.

Amanda Todd’s nude had already been sent to the teachers at her new school; in November of 2011, a Facebook account was created under the name “Tyler Boo”, which sent a message to Amanda Todd: “lol, u already forgot who I am? the guy who last year made you change school, got your door kicked in by the cops?” Then: “give me three shows, and I will disappear forever. you know I won’t stop until you give me those three shows. if u go to a new school, new bf, new friends, new whatever, I will be there again, I am crazy, yes, xD” Then: “so your answer?” Carol Todd would bring the Facebook message to the RCMP, asking them for help. The RCMP recommended that Amanda Todd stay off the internet: “if Amanda does not stay off the internet and/or take steps to protect herself online, there is only so much we as the police can do.” Norm Todd, Amanda’s father: “As a parent, you absolutely feel helpless. And when the police can’t accomplish anything, what does that tell you? It’s very difficult because how can you comfort your daughter or anybody when you’ve got something you can’t control yourself, and they can see that you can’t stop it or control it.” On November 12, 2011, a new Facebook account was created under the name “Austin Collins” posing as a new student at Amanda Todd’s school, who then made their profile picture the cap of Amanda Todd lifting her shirt. He posts this message, accompanied by the picture: “sent to about 280 peeps, enjoy the shitfest”52.

Tyler Boo Facebook Screenshot #1

Tyler Boo Facebook Screenshot #2

Taken from The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, fragment runs from 29:36 to 29:59.

The year of continued harassment was taking its toll on Amanda Todd. “It was creating anxiety, knowing that everyone has seen your photo,” said Shya. “No one can let go, so she was feeling sick and she didn’t want to be around people, because…she just stayed inside a lot. And like…she just wasn’t herself…” From a message sent by Amanda Todd to her friends, retrieved after her death: “You know how many times I’ve head, ‘Nobody likes you’ or wants you here, go back to where you came from, or if you died, I would throw a party? Ever since all this happened, I just cry myself to sleep, because it hurts no matter what. Please please just help me.”53

Please please just help me. - URL if gif doesn't load:

Taken from The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, fragment runs from 34:59 to 35:20.

In the video which would eventually get over ten million plays that she recorded shortly before her death, “Amanda Todd’s Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self Harm”, she describes an intense beating and a suicide attempt. Again, from a transcript of the video at the blog Piglet’s Hut, with slight alterations to make it a set of paragraphs:

Everything was better even though I sat still alone at lunch in the library everyday. After a month later I started talking to an old guy friend. We back and forth texted and he started to say he liked me…[he led] me on. He had a girlfriend. Then he said come over my girlfriend’s on vacation. So I did…huge mistake. He hooked up with me. I thought he liked me. One week later I get a text, “Get out of your school…” [He and his] girlfriend and 15 others came. [His girlfriend] and two others just said, “look around nobody likes you” in front of my new school, [in front of] fifty people. A guy then yelled “just punch her already.” So she did… She threw me to the ground and punched me several times. Kids filmed it. I was all alone and left on the ground. I felt like a joke in this world…I thought nobody deserve this :/ [uneasy emoticon] I was alone. I lied and said it was my fault and my idea.

I didn’t want him getting hurt. I thought he really liked me but he just wanted the sex. Someone yelled “punch her already.” Teachers ran over but I just went and laid in a ditch and my dad found me. I wanted to die so bad. When [my father] brought me home I drank bleach. It killed me inside and I thought I was gonna actually die. [The] ambulance came and brought me to the hospital and flushed [the bleach out]. After I got home all I saw was an facebook: “She deserved it, did you wash the mud out of your hair? – I hope she’s dead.”

A month after she made this video, Todd couldn’t take it anymore, and killed herself at the age of fifteen.

Amanda Todd

Amanda Todd, taken from the program The Fifth Estate, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”.

Amanda Todd's room, after her death

Amanda Todd’s room, two years after her death. Still is taken from an animated gif, which can be found here. Gif is made from a clip taken from “Stalking Amanda Todd : The Man in the Shadows” by The Fifth Estate, between 36:21 and 36:36.

The capper who harassed Todd until her death would remain an unresolved mystery for years. Suspicion originally would fall on someone named Kody Maxson, who would be outed by a New Jersey branch of Anonymous, giving out the man’s name, age, and address, along with the identifying details of other cappers. Maxson’s age would turn out to be wrong – he was nineteen, not thirty two – and the address would turn out to be wrong as well. Five days after Amanda Todd took her life, Maxson was at a Surrey, B.C.54 courthouse where he faced charges of sexual assault and sexual interference with a minor in a case unrelated to Todd. Maxson would admit that he knew Amanda Todd on-line, but insisted that he helped identify the man who did harass her and gave the information to the RCMP. The RCMP would emphatically declare him “a person of no interest” in the case55. The best account of the court appearance, with quotes from Maxson, came from the Vancouver Sun‘s “B.C. man denies harassing Amanda Todd; RCMP say allegations are ‘unfounded'” by Gillian Shaw and Kelly Sinoski. I boldface one point which stands out:

The Lower Mainland man, who appeared in court in a black hoodie emblazoned with the words ‘Stompdown Killaz,’ said he got some sketchy information about the blackmailer, who he says was 26, lived in New York and goes by an alias of Viper. The man said he passed this information to the RCMP and NYPD, but he couldn’t remember whom he spoke with.

I tried to help, to do everything I could, he told The Sun.

He said he only knew Amanda in a sense, but denied he was one of her cyber-bullies.

If I was a tormentor I’d be in police custody, he said, adding he’s really pissed off and annoyed that people are pointing the finger at him. None of it’s true. I’m feeling betrayed.

He told The Sun that he has received more than 50 death threats via email and thousands over Facebook.

The man’s mother said Tuesday her family has been subjected to a lynch mob mentality and urged the public to let the police do their investigation.

It’s really dangerous to throw out names when you don’t know, she told Postmedia News. This is doing more harm than good.

The background for Maxson blaming the suicide of Amanda Todd on Viper (or Viper2323) was perhaps explained by the very last broadcast of The Daily Capper, which suddenly re-emerged after a year of hiatus for a single episode devoted entirely to the Amanda Todd suicide, an episode which did its best to afix blame on Maxson. Where the tone of The Daily Capper was previously one of casual contempt for everybody – cappers, their victims, everybody – the tone of “The Daily Capper – Information on Amanda Todd, Kody Maxson, & Viper” is without humor or mockery, instead taking up a risibly earnest manner. The program opens with a criticism of press coverage of the case and the on-going investigation:

Welcome to another edition of The Daily Capper. We just wanted to help provide a few more details to the recent Amanda Todd tragedy. The majority of people seem misinformed. The media tends to miss out on a lot of key information. Others have no idea what they’re talking about. And police investigators have no understanding of the internet at all. While people have made Amanda Todd’s case into an example of bullying, what they tend to overlook is the capping and blackmail aspect of the story. Contrary to what the media believes, this wasn’t just a case of cyberbullying. For them to continue to get the capping community mixed up with cases such as sexting, is just insulting.

Yet somehow, despite this newfound commitment to truth and justice, The Daily Capper still holds onto its chilling sign-off: “Happy hunting.”

After spending some time placing suspicison on Maxson, the program would bring up Maxson’s statements to the police that he was just trying to help Amanda Todd and Viper was to blame (5:37-7:28):

One thing is for sure: whether Kody was the blackmailer, or the good guy he claims to be, he was involved in some way. In his defense, Kody says he was only trying to help Amanda, and that the real blackmailer was fellow capper, Viper2323. Those who lack knowledge of the capping world will instantly buy into this claim. Since we knew both these individuals personally, allow us to share more insights into this story and why this adds to evidence of Kody being the bad guy. For one, he put the blame on a man who he was good friends with at the time. Viper and Kody worked alongside each other in groups. They trawled rooms together and even shared videos with each other. You are looking at a conversation we had with Viper in December 2010. Viper states here that he did in fact receive a video from Kody.

Daily Capper in a chat with Kody

They continued working with each other until mid-2011 when Viper revealed in an Omegle chat room that he had gotten into an argument with Kody and they’ve hated each other ever since. But, once again, Kody was directly connected to Amanda in December [screenshot of a friend request from one of Amanda Todd’s alleged screen names] while he and Viper were still friends that shared videos with each other. Even if what Kody said were true, that would mean he knew Viper was blackmailing her the whole time, and he did nothing to stop him. Because they continued to share videos with each other for another six months after. Which would mean…if Viper really was the culprit, Kody wa obviously still involved. And more than likely, assisting him. That’s assuming what Kody said was true; however, we don’t buy into his story. While Viper may have been a pedophile, a troll, a psycho, among many other things, one thing Viper was not, was a blackmailer.

The brief, strange revival of The Daily Capper was discussed by Patrick McGuire in “The Suspicious Return of The Daily Capper”, and McGuire was one of the best reporters on the Amanda Todd story, diligently looking at the connections between Kody Maxson and The Daily Capper in a series of articles for Vice: “A Jailbait Loving Perv Destroyed Amanda Todd’s Life” (October 15 2012), “Tracing Kody Maxson, the Online Blackmailer Alleged to Have Tormented Amanda Todd” (October 17, 2012), “The Disgusting Rivalries of Webcam Extortionists: Kody Maxson, Viper, and r0 [AKA r0ra or r0r44]” (October 19, 2012), “The Suspicious Return of The Daily Capper” (November 12 2012), “Cowards Are Blackmailing Young Women to Death on the Internet” (December 21 2012), and “Kody Maxson, Amanda Todd’s Alleged Tormenter, Has Reemerged Online” (January 11, 2013). My feelings about Vice are, at best, ambivalent; but perhaps because Vice was still not yet considered “mainstream” in 2012, it was able to delve into the world of The Daily Capper. It was through McGuire’s articles that I first learned about the Capper, and I consider his work on the Amanda Todd case an invaluable resource. “Cowards Are Blackmailing Young Women to Death on the Internet”, for instance, would detail the information sharing involved in manipulating a girl to take off her clothes on cam so you could cap her, and the connection between The Daily Capper and AnonIB, both of which parallel the information sharing and reliance on AnonIB of #TheFappening ring:

The predatory scumbags who monitor these mainstream sites [cam sites like blogTV and Stickam] share the links with fellow pedophiles in chat rooms on smaller sites like Chateen and Vichatter. There are dozens of users who lurk in these chat rooms, waiting for someone to link to a girl streaming live via webcam. I have seen several screen captures that show users describing these girls as targets.

Once these lurkers identify a target on blogTV or a similar site, they all jump into the chat room in hopes that one of them can persuade her to get naked. If they can persuade her to show some skin, it’s referred to as a win, and images of the girl are screen-captured or recorded without her consent or awareness. Those who log these images call themselves cappers.

As mentioned above, this operation is a group effort, and a huge part of it revolves around sharing screencaps taken during these public webcam sessions. At the moment, the most popular medium for distributing these images is a message board called AnonIB, or Anonymous Image Board.

On these forums, predators post their personal screencaps and ask the community whether any other images of the girl in question exist. Usually if they don’t already possess nude screencaps of the girl they will also ask whether anyone has been successful in obtaining some from a previous webcam session. Often, they discuss or argue over whether a specific girl is likely to masturbate on camera. It’s a public market where images of naked minors are swapped like trading cards.

There is even a subforum for blackmail on AnonIB. It has been hidden since Amanda’s suicide, only accessible to those who knew its URL beforehand. Judging by the limited number of posts on the blackmail board, it’s fair to say that the majority of cappers are not outspoken blackmailers. Those who are, however, use the board like a grotesque Craigslist. When a user acquires an image of a girl he’d like to see more of, he will post this picture and then scout the forum for the blackmailer best suited for the job. In one post, a desperate user vented his displeasure: Why are all blackmailers so fucking unreliable? I’ve used at least 6 different blackmailers now And every fucking single one has ended up standing me up Ignoring my mails, and not giving me my share of the deal I have at least 10 fresh girls ready for blackmail, with facebook, pictures, etc. But I can’t find a reliable blackmailer.

McGuire refers to the blackmail subforum as a kind of grotesque Craigslist where users would give leads on women for whom they wanted more pics, and this is how the /stol/ subforum worked as well, as reported in “Inside The Internet’s Secret Marketplace For Hacked Photos Of Naked Celebrities” by James Cook, with users giving up email accounts to others that they wanted ripped. Here is one user offering up ripping services from Cook’s piece:

AnonIB stol user offering services

Hack or Rip Icloud Account Perfectrioper 09/01/14 (Mon) 21:36:33 No. 8396 (Reply)

Guess who’s back? PERFECTRIPPER! I know nombers [numbers] [sic] of you know who I am…
I was offline for a time and now I’m back and ready to rip all icloud accounts you want!
-Send me email + pass
-Send me just email (if you want me to hack the account for you) 100% safe and noone except you will see what I got!

Maxson was not a person of interest in the Amanda Todd suicide, but he was most definitely part of the Daily Capper world. He was in a relationship with a girl named “Peyton”. Peyton was nominated for Daily Capper‘s “2010 Camwhore of the Year”, Kody was nominated under the alias Kody1206 for Capper‘s “2010 Blackmailer of the Year”, and together they were nominated as “2010 Couple of the Year”, along with the couple of capper Coke and “Kristen”, and the couple of capper Swan and Coke’s then ex-girlfriend, “Kristen”. Kody and Peyton would win the category. “It is truly shocking,” the newscaster would say afterwards, “that all these relationships seem to be over.”56. In two videos, “Peyton 1” (transcript on pastebin: “Peyton Video #1 Transcript”) and “Peyton Admits It All” (transcript on pastebin: “Peyton Video #2 Transcript”), Peyton would talk about her relationship with Kody1206 and make clear that Kody1206 was Kody Maxson. These videos make obvious (if such an emphasis were necessary) why men were able to manipulate girls in their early teens so easily, that they had a vulnerability and a pliancy which an older girl would lack. “There’s a video of me…showing…leaning over the bed,” Peyton would say in the second video, “and I was in a dress…and my friend lifted up my dress…and showed the whole world my…panties. Yup. Not the whole world. Everybody on blog tv. Just makes me like…sad, like, once you recorded, it’s on the internet forever.” Then she spoke of wanting to forgive Maxson for this betryal while knowing she shouldn’t, wanting to be able to continue to feel affection for him, impressed with the small gestures of affection that an older girl would consider inconsequential, unable to move on from a paltry affair the way an older girl might, and Peyton here reflects all of us at that age:

I found out, like, a month ago he recorded me for the first time, and then I was stupid enough to keep doing it…’cause he said he was never going to do it again. And that he was stupid, and he didn’t want to ruin our relationship. And they just used me, and he stopped calling me, and he stopped talking to me…and he just used me, and then he stopped calling me, and he stopped talking to me, and he just wanted me out of his life…because I gave him what he got. I gave him what he wanted. Yup. And what’s sad is, I would still talk to him now if he tried to talk to me…because I’m stupid. Because…he like sweet talks me, like…you know how you can like…songs to listen to…that are sweet. He’d give me…he’d make a website for me, that said “I love Peyton,” and then at the end it said, “Just the way you are,” and there was a link to the Bruno Mars song, and then he would um, call me beautiful and he’d talk to me on the phone every night. Yeah, he pretended to love me. And I was like…not living a fairy talke, but I was in love with the fact that…I never had a guy treat me like that before…so it was different. I fell in love with the fact of being in love with him.

Peyton on blogTV

Peyton on blogTV, in the session recorded in the youtube clip, “Peyton Admits It All”. Note a viewer’s mention of AnonIB as the place where her capped video can be found.

In her first, shorter video, Peyton would repeat the point. “I want to talk to him, I want to be with Kody, the one that he used to be before he was a…pedophile. I don’t want to be with Kody, I want to be with someone that treated me like Kody did. At the beginning. Life sucks big gorilla…pickles.” Sephanie Morgan, part of Ontario’s57 Integrated Child Exploitation Unit, would be asked on “Sextortion” of another predator, “What do you think he was getting out of this?” Morgan: “My impression was, that he was getting a sense of power, that he maybe didn’t experience in his own personal life, and power over other people. And some sexual satisfaction.”58 We can see here the attraction of these men toward these very young girls was not simply physical, but the asymmetry of power. That humiliation and powerlessness is an integral part of capping, of humiliating the victim and making the victim feel as if they had no choice except to follow the blackmailer’s commands, is made throughout the episodes of The Daily Capper, including a cartoon which re-creates the tactics of Perso, nominated for the “2010 Blackmailer of the Year”, with Perso played, incongruously, by an animation of John McCain: “Blocking Perso”.

Perso makes all the girls cry - URL if gif doesn't load:

A clip from “Blocking Perso”.

The only interview with Kody Maxson is a very brief one, conducted by a figure on Youtube known as “EngimaHood”, whose videos often feature him speaking to the camera, always wearing a hood that conceals his identity. “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW” (transcript on pastebin: “Transcript of Enigma Hood Interview W/ Kody Maxson and Gei”), would be an interview with Maxson and Geissell “Gei” Morall, a teenage girl who was at the time Maxson’s close friend. The interview was conducted over Skype. From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”59:

Enigma Hood: Okay. So, you said you wanted to tell me your side of the story?

Kody Maxson: Not really. More pissed off at the fact that you talking all this shit and you don’t know anything, just listening to the media.

EH: Okay, I mean…if you want to tell me anything I don’t know, then…tell me. I mean, all I know right now is what the media says. So, if you have something…

KM: What I’m saying, what the cops are saying is, I’m not even been a suspect. Yet people are stilllllllllllllll…jumping on the giant bandwagon, so to speak. On the whooooooooole “let’s all kill Kody Maxson” and yadda yadda yadda, and shit like that, you know what I mean?

EH: Did you know Amanda Todd?

KM: (Unintelligible.)

EH: Did you know Amanda Todd?

KM: I knew her, for a bit.

EH: What was your relationship?

KM: Just a friend.

EH: So you knew Amanda Todd, she was a friend…and what did you guys talk about?

KM: Just her Youtube videos and shit.

Enigma Hood would ask about Maxson’s pending charges and whether he’d ever received nude pictures from Todd. Maxson would deny having such pictures60:

EH: Did the prosecutor choose to press charges against you?

KM: For what?

EH: For revealing Amanda Todd’s pictures. Did you have pictures of Amanda Todd topless?

KM: One, I wasn’t charged in the first place, I wasn’t even a suspect…cops gave a public…

EH: I missed the last part.

KM: Oooooooooh, about a month ago, saying I’m not a suspect, not a person of interest. I’m not facing any charges.

EH: Okay. Do you have, or did you have photos of Amanda Todd topless?

KM: Uh…never did, never wanted them, ever really knew about them, to be honest with you.

There was some question of where Maxson was when the chat was conducted (no date is given during the chat)61:

EH: What, like, where are you right now? Are you in Florida?

KM: Nope.

EH: Are you in Canada?

KM: No.

EH: Where are you?

KM: I’m in Cuba.

Maxson would leave the interview early on, and Enigma Hood would continue the interview with Morall alone, with Morall occasionally relaying Kody’s answers62.

EH: Uh…his behavior is very suspicious. He admitted that he at least knows Amanda Todd. He knew her. I mean…

GEISSELL: Yeah. He did know her. But he didn’t know her personally.

EH: Well, the allegation wasn’t even that. It was, the allegation was, the guy who only knew her through the internet, and through…he somehow got her photos.

G: Here we go.

EH: Mmmmhmmm.

G: Kody’s saying that he knew her for a while, about for a year…he started helping her on-line. Because she was getting blackmailed by other people that aren’t Kody. That were on Youtube, and et cetera.

EH: So she knew these guys through Youtube?

G: Yeah. She knew them through Youtube.

EH: Okay. So he’s not coming back, I mean, are you just talking to him over the phone?

G: Yeah, yes. He’s not…Kody, are you coming back? To the call? He said, “I don’t know.” (laughs) I don’t think he is, though.

EH: I mean, tell him to come back, you know, I mean, if he’s innocent, let’s get this squared away. I mean, I want to understand.

G: He wants you to come back, to declare your innocence or whatever. (pause) Kody, I’m not telling him that. (pause) No. (pause) He says he doesn’t have to prove his innocence to anyone.

A little later, Morall would give a curious answer, that with regard to the Amanda Todd case, “Kody would blackmail, but not to that extent.”63

EH: Yeah, absolutely, I mean, he contacted me, he said I was saying things that weren’t true, I’m actually more suspicious than I was before, and I…

G: Because you actually got to speak to Kody, and, you know…Kody is actually like I said before, when you spoke to me…I said he was a caring, nice person…but he does have his moments where he is…it could turn sour, but it wouldn’t be like that, and like I said before, if Kody were to do something like this…he wouldn’t do it, for someone to commit harm. At the same time, he wouldn’t do something like that. It’s very complicated. Kody would blackmail, but not to that extent.

A year later, Enigma Hood would conduct another interview with Morall alone, “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later” (transcript on pastebin: “Transcript of Enigma Hood Interview W/ Gei”). They would speak about why they had stopped talking, her stalking by someone named “Phillip Rose”, FBI involvement in the case, and when their on-line relationship had started64.

EH: When was the last time that you talked to him?

G: Uh…a few months ago. He deleted me on Facebook, and I was like, “What’s up with that?” Uh…he was like…I dunno, we just didn’t talk anymore, so what’s the point of having me on, so at that point, I was like, “Oh, well, okay.” I see where that is going. So, it’s like we don’t really care for each other, so…the relationship isn’t there. There’s no friendship or anything.

EH: But I guess after, um, after the interview that we did…uh, you guys were still friends for a few months?

G: Yeah, yeah. We were, we talked here and there. But nothing else really. I dunno, it was mostly…when we talked, we talked just about that subject. And ended up going back to that subject.

EH: About Amanda Todd or the interview?

G: In general. We were talking about how he was getting threats and messages…and how a lot of things happened to me afterwards. After that interview, a whole bunch of things happened. And…we just started engaging kindof like our experience with the whole, after the interview and what…

EH: So what kind of things happened after?

G: Well…soon after the video and…I guess about, less than a week later, there was a guy named Philip Rose, whom I’m sure you know…

EH: Yeah.

G: He came along and he started to legitimately start to stalk me under multiple accounts on Facebook, on Youtube, and multiple people started commenting on my Youtube. Which my email blew up. I was at school and I was checking my email, and all I saw was comment after comment after comment after comment, saying really bad things. That’s what ended up for me to delete my Youtube account…the FBI, the FBI was involved during the whole process, and they found out about that…my Youtube got out and they were harrassing me on Youtube. So they were either going to a) take, like confiscate it, like change my password, but keep it up, or b) I decided to delete it before they could get the password. And, I was…I really didn’t like them in my business, but I had no choice. They took away my computer, they took away a bunch of things, that were personal to me…

EH: So, the FBI actually took away all of your stuff…why did they do that?

G: Because they wanted to know if there was more. They thought that I wasn’t telling the absolute truth, in my…when they interviewed me. And I said, “I am telling the truth,” and they wanted to know if I had exchanged any uh…pictures, intimate pictures of myself…and I said, “No, I didn’t,” and I don’t think it was the FBI at that point, it was another woman who spoke to me…I think it was something with Child Protective Services, or something, she…in my face, told me she didn’t believe me, that there was more going on, that I was lying her, telling her that I didn’t send pictures when in fact I did…well, you guys took my computer, my phone, my facebook, my youtube…I’m sure if something like that happened, you’d know.

EH: So…the one thing that I probably wasn’t clear about when we first talked…how old were you…back then when we first talked?

G: I’m actually going to be sixteen in a month…

EH: Okay. So, even back then…you were…

G: When we first started [she and Kody started talking a lot on-line], I was late fourteen.

With regard to the Philip Rose mentioned here, Glenn Canning in the blog post “Philip Rose is Christopher Rowe” would allege that this “Philip Rose”, who trolled various capper victims including Carol Todd, was also known as perso365, or the capper known as “Perso”. Canning was the father of Rehtaeh Parsons, another Canadian teenager who committed suicide after on-line bullying.

Later in the interview, Enigma Hood and Morall discuss how sexual the relationship was, and how old she was when the relationship started. In the earlier part of the interview, she stated their relationship started when she was late fourteen, but now she said it started when she was mid-thirteen, though they first knew each other when he was sixteen and she was late twelve65.

EH: Did Kody initiate any sexual conversation?

G: Not like…how do I put it…it was very, it was very…teasing, in a joking way. It was never too serious, or something that made me uncomfortable. If I ever told Kody, “I don’t feel comfortable,” he would be fine with that. He would respect that I wasn’t comfortable with whatever you were talking about. (Unintelligible.)

EH: Did he ever ask for any nude photos or anything like that?

G: Ummmm…I barely, I…I don’t remember for nude photos, but I do remember for…compromising photos.

EH: Like photos of you in a bikini or something like that?

G: Something like that. But…I don’t remember any nude photos being requested. Never.

EH: So you guys never met, right?

G: No.

EH: Okay. So he was still in high school when you first met…and how old were you, okay, so he was sixteen and then how old would you be, at that time?

G: Uuuuuuh, I was about thirteen, twelve, late twelve.

EH: Okay.

G: Yeah. But we knew each other when I was that age…we didn’t have any sort of relationship until it was sortof, late, or mid-thirteen, about that age.

EH: Mmmhmm. I see. So…you had a relationship of some kind at some point, then it just turned into a friendship, and…

G: It was really on and off. Kody is a very…he’s…he goes on and off on things. Really. One minute Kody will be the nicest, sweetest, kindest person, he’ll give all your attention to you, and the next minute he’ll disappear like he was never there, and then he’ll come back at other times saying, well, this and this happened…or I’m sorry, or something like that. But we’d always…I’d either run back to him, or he’d run back to me, it was very…toxic, it was. Like, we’d fight and it would be just really horrible.

EH: Right. So, uh, did you guys have a fight about what was going on with the, you know, the interview and then the FBI stuff…

G: Uuuuuuh, we never fought about that, we never had fights after that. What happened was that Kody, Kody needed…why I kept talking to Kody at that time, was Kody needed someone.

EH: Right.

G: He was in desperate need of someone. And that’s why a lot of people, they continue to follow the whole story after the interview, they were well, she’s being, she’s obviously being blackmailed blahblahblah…no (laughs). I wasn’t, it’s just…I felt like he really needed someone, because…he was being pushed away by so many people.

EH: Right.

G: And nobody knows whether he did it or not.

Morall on how Kody Maxson first met Amanda Todd, and whether he had her nude photos66:

EH: Okay, so you’re prepared now, so…how would you like, answer some of those questions, like…like how did Kody Maxson first meet Amanda Todd? That’s what I wanna know.

G: He met her…from what I know…off of some kind of on-line chat room. From what I know. And they didn’t talk very much, apparently she…had some issue, and he tried to help her, and they spoke. That’s when they started talking.

EH: So Kody had an issue…

G: Nonono, Amanda had an issue.

EH: Amanda had an issue, and Kody tried to help.

G: From what I know…I can’t remember where I know this from (laughs) but I just know…

EH: Sure sure.

G: …I forgot. But, then she…I don’t know, he didn’t ask for the pictures, she sent it on her own, which I…I have difficulties believing that. But…

EH: Oh wait a minute, wait a minute. So she did send nude photographs of herself to Kody?

G: From what I know. I don’t remember exactly where…I can’t remember who told me, I have a problem with really that. Not meaning to sound sketchy, but, from what I hear, there were nudes or something sent. But…Kody didn’t send them. To anyone.

EH: Okay, so you’re saying that Kody got some nude Amanda Todd photos, but he didn’t disseminate them on the internet.

G: I don’t remember if it was sent to someone else. Like someone else that was involved in the case, or if it was to Kody. I can’t remember that part.

EH: Well…how many other guys would be involved in this, though?

G: Well, then there was a rumor saying that Viper was Kody, Kody was [Viper]…it’s a mix-up, so that’s where it really gets confusing. You don’t know who’s who, and who sent what.

EH: Okay.

G: I don’t know if Kody sent it or not. In reality, I don’t know. There is no proof that he didn’t, and there’s no proof that he did.

EH: But the real revelation here is that he had those photos. That means he lied to me. He told me that he met her on youtube, and then I asked him if he had nude photographs of Amanda Todd, and he said no.

G: See, that’s where I don’t know. That’s where I really don’t know, because…I was…I was told differently, so…

EH: Did Kody tell you that?

G: That’s the part…I don’t remember I read it, or if I heard it, or if I saw it…it was a…it was…when I ask Kody, “Did you do it? Did you have them? Did you…”, uh, because believe me I was just on him as anybody else would be.

Enigma Hood would ask about Kody’s relationship with Peyton. Morall did not like Peyton at all67:

EH: Okay, okay. What about Peyton? You know who Peyton [is]…right?

G: (laughs) Yeah, I know Peyton.

EH: Okay.

G: I know about her, I don’t know her personally.

EH: So what’s the deal with her?

G: (laughs) Oh god, I do not like her. She…she…is trying so hard…to get Kody in trouble. She…her and Kody had a…relationship. And she tried to paint Kody as this guy who was…monstrous. Like, he was horrible, he would make her do things…that she didn’t want to do. Peyton, Peyton is a liar…she was just looking for attention…I did it for Kody. Everything I did wasn’t for attention…and it’s still not for attention. It’s because I don’t want people to think…the second…the first interview I did for Kody…the second one I’m doing it for myself. Because I don’t want people to think I was blackmailed by Kody to do the interview or anything like that. But, the reason why she wanted to get attention, was all about her…and it was for the wrong reasons. And…I just don’t like her. She didn’t try to save Kody. She tried to put him down, make him look worse. And lie about it. She had no proof that he did any of that.

EH: But then…why would she…okay, so she just did it for attention? But Peyton and Kody were they a couple, or anything like that?

G: I believe so.

EH: Okay.

G: I believe so. From what I know Kody didn’t want…Kody didn’t want anything to do with her anymore, and out of spite, she did that.

EH: Do you know the circumstance under which they broke up?

G: No.

EH: Okay.

G: I don’t…I think it’s because she was messing around with too many other people.

EH: Was this before or after Amanda Todd?

G: This was before.

EH: Okay.

G: And um…I don’t know Peyton and I would never want to speak to her…I just…when I read the things…and I saw a little clip of her interview, or whatever…with whomever…I was pissed. I was so mad. Because all the things she was saying about Kody…I mean, sure, he has his really bad moments. But…the way she was making him sound…was, it just wasn’t Kody.

Finally, Enigma Hood would ask her about the death of Amanda Todd68:

EH: So how do you feel about her suicide?

G: Um…

EH: Like now. Or at least now. When you first heard about it, that’s different. How do you feel about it now. Because no one was arrested and punished in connection to that. To this day.

G: I feel like…Amanda Todd did a lot of actions prior to meeting Kody. From articles, I don’t know if they’re true or not…that were wrong. And that isn’t to justify the way people treated the way they treated her, but…her actions that led to…her wanting to kill herself…were wrong. And I think if…let’s just look at it this way. If she didn’t kill herself, if she was still alive today…and this was just a girl on the internet…posting about all the things she did…and talking about them, in explicit detail…what would people on the internet call that girl?

EH: Are you asking me?

G: Yeah. What would you think that people would call her?

EH: If she did what?

G: If she told…if she put herself out there, made a video or even if she didn’t make a video…if you just knew Amanda Todd personally, and you knew all the actions that she’s done…what would people call her?

EH: Well…what actions did she do?

G: Well, from what I know, she would send, she would send pictures to multiple people, she would uh, she would be with other people’s boyfriends and blahblahblah, and there’s even pictures, a picture of her on the internet, I saw one time with a bra and underwear. And she was sending that picture, someone let that out. So, I mean, people would of course call her, you know, a whore, slut, blahblahblah. But since she killed herself over someone who sent the pictures…all of a sudden she’s not that. She’s…she’s…she was a normal girl. She was this and that. And it’s like, I don’t like it when people do that because…you know, damn well, if she didn’t kill herself, the people would be like, that’s what you get for sending pictures of yourself. You can’t send nudes, blahblahblah. But since she killed herself over it, and made a video on youtube, all of a sudden, she’s an angel for someone like that. It’s…you can’t forget what she did. It was still wrongful actions, just because you kill yourself over it doesn’t justify it. And that’s how people treated the situation. And that made me kind of upset, because it’s like people forgot the reason she committed suicide.

EH: But the reason she committed suicide…was because she was bullied.

G: But why was she bullied?

EH: Does it matter? I mean, it’s…

G: It does matter! It does matter. Why was she bullied? She was bullied because of that picture. And who sent the picture?

EH: But…I mean, you…okay. I get what you’re saying. I’ve heard it before. Do you think that bullying is ever justified?

G: No, I don’t think bullying is justified. But, I just want to say…if she was being bullied, as bad as it says she was, as the internet says she was, she could have a) deleted her facebook, b) started going to school far elsewhere, or she could have been homeschooled if she was bullied really that bad. And see, she could have done, she could have set herself away from all these people. But she didn’t.

We see a similar division between the women in Hanna Rosin’s “Why Kids Sext” on how other girls saw those on the Louisa County Instagram account:

To the elite girls, the girls on Instagram were sluts not necessarily because they were sleeping around but because of what they looked like or how they acted. Let’s just say people have different body types, one girl told me. Others, speaking about girls in the photos, said, “You obviously have a little too much confidence”, or just “Butter face” (as in: nice body, but her face…). In their college study, Armstrong and her team identify this brand of sniping as a way girls police one another and establish a sort of moral superiority without denying themselves actual sex, and something similar seemed to be happening here. Well-off, popular girls were most certainly in the Instagram photos, but none would admit as much unless I knew otherwise.

Though both Amanda Todd and Geissell Morall were part of the cam community and both were interacting with older men, Morall looked down on Todd, and I don’t see the divison having anything to do with class or status lines, but something like the division between the two daughters discussed in Rosin’s article. Morall has contempt for Amanda Todd because of what she perceives as her insecurity, her weakness, her ability to be manipulated by these men. It’s a source of strength and pride for Morall that she is part of the same milieu as Todd, yet she would never lose control like Amanda Todd did.

On December 28, 2014, Morall would comment again, with a far sharper, more critical take of Maxson on her Google+ blog, Thoughts By Gei, “Almost three years later….” ( link). “I stand behind everything I’ve said thus far,” she wrote about his involvement with the Amanda Todd suicide, but she also now openly accused Maxson of pedophilic tendencies. “I realized how much of a pig he was.”

It’s been three years since the suicide of Amanda Todd, and every year I do something stupid huh? Either participate in interviews, or talk openly about my views. Even though the topic has still died, no one really understands how this has impacted my life. I want to update anyone who Googles this eventually one day, on what I think to this day.

Since I last spoke openly about my experience with the whole “internet scandal” or whatnot, and my relationship with Kody a year ago, I realized something. I realized that he truly disgusts me. No, not because he had anything to do with Amanda Todd (I stand behind everything I’ve said thus far, regarding his involvement.) Just simply because I realized how much of a pig he was. I found him once again, behind girls on the internet after he found someone in person. Although that isn’t any of my concern, you’d think someone who went through this wouldn’t once again pursue any involvement with a GIRL (not a woman, a GIRL.) I am truly disgusted and appalled that I ever stood that closely by his side. Although I am disgusted by Kody Maxson, I cannot say I change my opinions on his involvement in the case. We don’t know what happened, we can only judge by the evidence we have and quite frankly, there isn’t anything against Kody. I just wanted to share that, not for anyone else, but for myself. I wanted to be at peace with the fact I released my thoughts and opinions.

I’ll end it here, and this will be the last update I ever make on this case but lets all remember… We can’t always trust what the eye can see, because that’d make us blind to justice.

This was the only post for Thoughts By Gei and it featured only a single comment, by a “Philip Rose”: “Ha ha! Isn’t it time for you to move on?”

Philip Rose comment

In January 2014, an entirely different suspect would be arrested for the harassment of Amanda Todd, a Dutch citizen named Aydin Coban. “On the trail of Amanda Todd’s alleged tormentor” by Patrick White would outline the lengthy investigative process, which would eventually benefit greatly from the co-operation of Facebook, and would link Coban with the “Tyler Boo” Facebook profile which harassed Amanda Todd. The length and difficulty of the case gave some sense of why an investigation into #TheFappening ring would be even more difficult. Where Chris Chaney traveled openly about on-line without a proxy and Josh Holly appeared on the radio to brag about his achievements, Coban was very discrete, knowing the severe penalties for his acts, and made sure to use proxies to hide his identity. “The suspect [Coban] is highly skilled in identity obfuscation and consistently uses proxy IP addresses, clean session cookies, and disposable email addresses and online handles to make contact with his victims and their friends,” was the observation of the Dutch report on the investigation69. “Dutch police used controversial software in Amanda Todd case”, another piece on the case by Patrick White, would note that the Dutch ultimately had to enter Coban’s residence surreptitiously and install a keystroke logger on his computer in order to gather evidence for their arrest.

The Fifth Estate would produce a follow-up episode to “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, about the capture of Aydin Coban, “Stalking Amanda Todd : The Man in the Shadows”. At one point they would list the massive number of aliases and IPs used by Coban, and there among them was one that definitely stood out: “Kody Maxson”.

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The Sextortion of Amanda Todd: aliases.

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Alleged alternative accounts of Aydin Coban, Amanda Todd’s persecutor. The first alias is “Kody Maxson”. Taken from “Stalking Amanda Todd : The Man in the Shadows” by The Fifth Estate, between 30:48 and 30:54.

We might return to this moment in The Fifth Estate‘s previous episode, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd” (segment runs from 13:44 to 14:09):

It was Christmas Eve 2010, and Carol received an eerie anonymous Facebook message, warning her that Amanda was being extorted. [The message read:] “She needs to be stopped [her blogTV sessions], because most of them are old guys who record her and blackmail her into doing more.” Carol replied, “Who are you? Also, where did you get your information from? This is now a police matter.”

This might be placed in juxtaposition with something in the last episode of The Daily Capper. From “The Daily Capper – Information on Amanda Todd, Kody Maxson, & Viper” (4:06-5:34). I bold a particularly important detail:

Is Kody really as innocent as he claims? Well, it is difficult to imagine how he went from streaming Peyton’s videos to suddenly being a white knight next week. On top of that, he has openly expressed his hatred for internet heroes. But aside from the obvious assumptions, we’ve been able to find informationt that directly ties Kody to Amanda during the time of her blackmail. Allow us to share with you a message we received on December 23, 2010, just five days after Amanda’s blog show. This user shares with us Kody’s personal information. The same information that was leaked by Anonymous two years later. He mentions the names of Kody’s victims. One of whom is Amanda. This email was sent to us a week before Amanda confirmed the blackmail herself [in a comment on a Daily Capper video]. Unless this guy had a time machine, this information more than confirms Kody’s ties to Amanda. The screnshot he [the unknown informant] sent us is very similar to the one posted by Anonymous. Only with a bit more information. It includes Amanda Michelle Todd’s full name, along with detailed information including her Skype names, and the video that Kody used to blackmail her, and Kody’s email, which was given to this user by Amanda herself. Even more confirmation that Amanda was connected to Kody in December of 2010. Is it still all just one big coincidence?

It does not take, I think, much imagination to consider the possibility that the same person who sent Carol Todd the warning message on December 24, 2010, was also the same person who sent The Daily Capper Maxson’s information on December 23, 2010. That this person may well have been Amanda’s persecutor, and may well have been Coban, and that’s why they had so much information on Amanda. That her persecutor would have access to Carol Todd’s email, but would also be familiar with the capping community, and be able to contact the Capper. This person may have gotten into conflict with Maxson, and that’s why they singled him out to be blamed for this. Finally, there is one moment in the Enigma Hood interview, “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, that might be of significance (14:00-14:55), when Morall speaks of Maxson being accused of provoking Amanda Todd’s suicide:

G: When everyone else was talking to him, I would ask him “Did you do it, did you do it, did you do it,” and he denied it every single time…I said, “Kody, if you’re lying to me…please let me know, no one’s going to know.” And he said “No, of course I didn’t do it.” And he’s like, no I didn’t. And he’s being very…I felt he was being very sincere with me…but you could tell something else was bothering Kody. Kody’s not the one to get really humble and quiet…and uh, when we spoke in private, he’s very timid, and…it was, it was, it wasn’t odd, but it was something that Kody wouldn’t be.

EH: So you think he was probably lying?

G: No, I think he was hiding something from me. I don’t think Kody…

EH: What do you think he was hiding?

G: I don’t know…I don’t know if he knows who did it, or…

The most disturbing aspect of The Daily Capper, of course, was that here was a program which tracked the news of a community where older men exploited and abused underage girls. That it was all transmitted through a retrofitted children’s show only made it ickier, much as the insistent buoyancy of a clown’s make-up only accentuates menace. Easily the second most disturbing aspect, for me, however, was that they were far superior at information collection and distribution about this community than any news source I’ve come across. When it came to researching others who had perpetrated extortion and harassment similar to what Aydin Coban had allegedly perpetrated, The Daily Capper was an unparalelled resource. The community of perpetrators was far better organized and informed than any news organization or resource group, just as the best insights on #TheFappening ring came not from outside analysts, but from those deep within or very familiar with such underground rings, whether it was the anonymous 4chan poster or the anonymous commenter on DeadSpin.

“Welcome cappers and camwhores, to The Daily Capper, the one and only entertainment source for everything capping,” went the Capper‘s standard opening for their August 15, 2010 program, “The Daily Capper – Week of August 15,2010”. “Let’s kick things off with a segment I like to call: “Ride the Party Van”.” And then there was an image of flashing police lights. “It was reported yesterday that this fag was arrested yesterday for blackmail.”

Trevor Shea on The Daily Capper

Trevor Shea Close-up

Trevor Shea on The Daily Capper and a close-up.

Though no name was given, it was easy to find out through an image search that this was Maryland resident Trevor Shea. “Teen ‘sextortion’ victim regrets not seeking immediate help” by Emily Longnecker, an article published a year after Shea’s arrest would relate the story of one victim that was eerily similar to that of Todd’s. The victim was then fifteen and on cam with her friends, talking to a group of strangers on-line when “they all chimed in and were like, ‘Just flash us once,'” and the victim flashed, after which Shea capped her pic, and used it to exploit her. Shea threatened to send the picture to her family and friends, unless she did as told. “He just kept messaging me and the threats got worse and worse and he just said, ‘If you do this and this for me then it will all go away,'” she said. Just like Amanda Todd’s persecutor, he was able to track down who her family was and where she lived. “I was really scared. For my life, I was scared,” she said. The victim would finally tell her mother and the police, regretting that she didn’t tell them sooner. “Don’t be driven by fear and don’t let that person control you. You need to go and tell any adult, tell a parent so it doesn’t go on,” she said. Shea had been charged with the sexual extortion of ten women, including this victim, and in 2012 he pleaded guilty to seven counts of production of child pornography, of producing “images and videos of themselves engaging in sadistic and masochistic abuse and other sexually explicit conduct.” He got thirty three years in prison70.

A week before the broadcast referencing the Trevor Shea arrest, “The Daily Capper – Week of August 8,2010” opened with this story:

So much action this past week and so little time. How’s this to start off the show? What happens when a thirteen-year-old babysitter goes on blogTV Junior with an eleven-year-old girl? They go to Ustream and end up having oral sex while three hundred people watch. Because Tinychat mods have cracked down so much in the last couple of weeks, it was hard to find a place where these kids could have sex where they wouldn’t get banned. They got banned on UStream and soon were blackmailed by Perso Pete into deleting their account. If you want to know where you can get the video, just message the person who blackmailed them: Luvyashawty [love ya, shawty or shortie] on youtube.

Luvyashawty mention on Daily Capper

Luvyashawty mentioned on The Daily Capper as a place where you can get a video of a thirteen year old having sex.

Then a month and a half later, on “ – Week of September 26,2010”, they had another announcement with regard to “Luvyashawty”. “We were planning on taking a break, but when news like this comes up, we just have to talk about it,” announced the newscaster. And then they went to a local newscast. “A man is behind bars after three states worked to stop him. The investigation began back in August. That’s when a police officer in Indiana got a tip that a man by the name of Jimmy Cook had gone on-line and had asked a girl to make sexually explicit videos and post them on youtube.”

Luvyashawty arrest mentioned on The Daily Capper

Luvyashawty arrest mentioned on The Daily Capper.

The Capper newscaster then returned: “That’s right. Luvyashawty from youtube has been arrested.” Then they went back to the local newscast: “Court records claim it all started on youtube, when Cook convinced a fourteen-year-old girl to post videos of herself undressing. A police department in New Jersey also joined the investigation with a potential victim there.” From “Jimmy Cook aka Luvyashawty justaguyk hotguyplays luvyababy1oo GoOrDieTroll” (transcript on pastebin: “WDBJ-7 Clip of Jimmy Lee Cook’s Arrest”), a clip of Virginia’s WDBJ-7 broadcast of Cook’s arrest:

The search for one of the nation’s most wanted child predators ended in the woods behind a Campbell County church. Jimmy Lee Cook is in jail, facing federal charges of sexually exploiting minors. Cook is homeless, but authorities say that did not keep him from using the internet to entice minors. News-7’s Tim Saunders in our Lynchburg newsroom with the details.

Keith and Natasha [Ryan], Cook is accused of using a resource that’s now available in many public places. Free wireless internet. Down a short path, just behind a church on Timberlake Road, sits a campsite. Investigators say this was home to Jimmy Lee Cook.

I can say this is the first time I ever searched a tent, in the woods, for child pornography.

Robert New and the Central Virginia Computer Crimes Task Force got a tip from federal authorities. They heard Cook was contacting young girls in chat rooms designed for children, like Tiny Chat. New says investigators found more than thirty explicit videos in Cook’s campsite, stored in a Cheerio’s box.

He had a lot of child porn. He had a very detailed process on how he collected it.

Investigators say Cook’s location played a big part in his crime. His campsite was just feet away from a library and three restaurants that offer free wireless internet.

All you got to do is pull up, in his case on his bicycle, open his laptop, and hook up to the internet.

Smith believes Cook used free wi-fi to contact more than twenty-five victims in the US, Canada, and possibly Europe. In court documents, a twelve year old girl reports that Cook asked her, repeatedly, to upload pornographic videos of herself on youtube.

Jimmy Cook aka Luvyashawty from a WDBJ-7 newscast - URL if gif doesn't load:

The part in the forest where Jimmy Cook aka “Luvyashawty” was found and arrested, along with Cook’s mugshot, from the youtube clip “Jimmy Cook aka Luvyashawty justaguyk hotguyplays luvyababy1oo GoOrDieTroll”, between 0:36-0:43. Clips is taken from a WDBJ-7 newscast, clip is not on their site.

The arrest of “Luvyashawty” was the nominee for the 2010 “Shocker of the Year” at The Daily Capper awards, while the arrest of Lawrence Joseph Silipigni Jr. was a nominee for “Shocker of the Year” for 2009. Silipigni was an over forty man who took pictures from a seventeen year old boy’s MySpace account, posed as the boy, then befriended girls on-line and recorded them when they would dance and strip naked on cam. Eventually, one thirteen year old who’d fallen for the scam contacted another girl who’d also been tricked, a fourteen year old, and they in turn would come across a third victim. This victim confronted Silipigni over what he’d done. “I’m the same person, just older,” Silipigni wrote back. “I’m not as hot and I’m chubby. I’m lonely and hate being old.” Silipigni had managed to collect over a hundred videos of various girls. This is all taken from The Register article by Dan Goodin, “Feds: bald man posing as 17-year-old secretly taped teens”, which contains this allegation, about what took place after months of soliciting the thirteen year old to get naked on cam: “Silipigni then used a program called Camtasia to record the session. He later posted the video to a section of Stickam called “Anonib-Teens No Rules.”” A Stickam representative would deny the allegation, saying “Silipigni’s video of the victim was never posted on, contrary to what an FBI agent wrote in a criminal complaint.” From our comfortable pose in the far future, we know what perhaps was the mistake: Silipigni didn’t post it to Stickam, but to a section of the image sharing board AnonIB.

Lawrence Joseph Silipigni Jr

A frame from the Fox News-11 report, “Internet Heroes”, fragment devoted to Silipigni runs from 2:31 to 2:54.

There was “The Daily Capper – Week of November 7,2010”, which flipped over to clips of local stations dealing with the arrest of another extortionist in Auburn, Alabama, a man named Jonathan Vance. He was an Auburn University graduate and member of the church choir, who was charged with coercing over fifty girls and young women between 2006 and 2008 to send him nude photos. Vance would contact the women and pretend to be a friend or relative who’d gotten locked out of their Facebook or email account. Could he have their pass and use theirs? Or he did what Chris Chaney did, and reset the passwords to their accounts by answering the challenge questions, whose answers he knew by researching the victims. Vance threatened to expose embarrassing details he learned about the victims if he didn’t get nude photos. He told them he’d relinquish the accounts once he got what he wanted. Almost no one agreed to this, but one adult and two minors did. He plead guilty to his charges and got eighteen years.71

Jonathan Vance on a newscast featured on The Daily Capper

There were the Fox News reports dealing with sextortion, “Sextortion: What You Need to Know”, “Internet Heroes” (“heroes” were those who tried to warn girls against flashing), and “Fox 11 news reports on online predators”, all of which dealt with people and incidents well known in the capping world, and they got frequent mention on The Daily Capper. “The Daily Capper – Week of July 11,2010” and “The Daily Capper – Week of July 25,2010” would feature an opening montage of clips from these reports, over which the song “We Are One” by 12 Stones played, whose lyrics could be heard as a kind of capper anthem: “We walk alone / In the unknown / We live to win another victory…We live to change the face of history so be afraid/It’s the price we pay”72.

In the context of the Amanda Todd case there was one other incident, one more victim, that made your jaw drop at the coincidence, the kind of coincidence that was laughable melodrama in fiction, but which were oodled out casually in every day life. Yet it had been forgotten, completely unnoticed in the brief frenzy of coverage of the Amanda Todd case. It was toward the end of the Daily Capper‘s penultimate broadcast, “The Daily Capper – Week of October 31,2010” (no longer on-line) that they had a big announcement: “…and perhaps the biggest shocker of all of them: enjoyflirtplay AKA Aurora Eller made a special appearance on an episode of The View to talk about the one and only guy she ever showed for in her life. I’m talking, of course, about Coke.” It was a skeptical, nasty take on what Eller had said on The View, a program where she talked about an encounter not unlike what Amanda Todd had dealt with as well. From “The View – June 6th 2011 – Aurora Eller” (transcript is on pastebin: “Aurora Eller on The View Transcript”):

Aurora, thank you for being here. I know this is a difficult time for you. At thirteen, I want you to take us back. You are sixteen now…at thirteen, you were on a social network of sorts, where you began talking and streaming video on-line. Correct me if I’m wrong, a man entered the chat room and started asking you to start doing…sexual, having sexual activity of some sort with your friends…and then started threatening you if you didn’t continue. Correct?


What was happening?

Um…it was just a chat room where…it seems like you’re just talking to regular people, but…um, like…there’s creepers on-line, and then…they started asking us to do things, and um…after the first time, they used it to threaten me. And if I didn’t do it, they would tell my parents, or tell…my school. And I was afraid.

You must be afraid now, aren’t you?


When you did these sexual things with your friends…did you just think it was fun, to do the kinds of things you were doing?

Um…I don’t really know.

You were thirteen, and they said do it, and you did it.

You felt pressure, this person was pressuring you to perform or have these acts, and then using the one time you said yes, to do this and did it, as a threat to get more from you?



You know, as a father you must be frightened yourself and obviously heartbroken. Did you know any of this, did you monitor what she was doing? Did you have any idea of what was going on, Simon?

I always monitored what they were doing on-line, using different softwares, and they…I had no idea. Mainly because of Aurora…she had cystic fibrosis, and…

She has cystic fibrosis?

She does. Yeah. She’s homebound, so she has to do all of her schoolwork from home. She’s always on the computer. I had no idea.

And schools require work on the computer, so it’s very difficult and challenging for a parent to say “You can’t be on it.” That’s almost a non-reality at this point. Uh, Aurora were you drinking at the time?


Okay. So…under the influence, being persuaded by this man who is yet to be identified, correct?

Nobody’s found him.

Nobody’s found him.

PARRY AFTAB [found of Wiredsafety, child protection group]
No one’s even looking, and that’s the problem. No one’s looking. She’s the one that’s being blamed for all of this.

The segment would then move on to the police involvement of the case, and the fact that Aurora Eller might have to register as a sex offender:

I want to…they need more protection than ever, I’d say. But it doesn’t seem as if you’re getting the kind of protection you deserve at this point. I want to go back even more. Erica, you’re Aurora’s stepmom, three years from the time she was thirteen, and till just recently, nothing had happened, okay. Someone anonymously tipped off the police just recently. And they then show up at your home…

ERICA MCLEAN [stepmom]

…and begin to question Aurora. And your brother.

If the charges are brought, does she go to trial?

The charges have been brought. And she’s now being charged with two counts of child pornography.

And she could go to prison?

She could go to prison, but in all likelihood, if she’s found guilty, she will become a registered sex offender.

For the rest of her life, there is this mark.

She will not be able to live near a school, she won’t be able to take certain jobs, she has to notify everybody as to what’s she doing. They’re going to treat her the way they would treat some creep who’s molesting two-year-olds.

What do you think should happen? What is the status of the case, what do you think should happen?

Well, what I’m hoping to do, and I’ll reach out to the proescutor, is to offer WiredSafety’s help. She can do community service with us, we’re happy to do public service announcements with her so she warns other kids that sexting is just a dead end, and that you might actually be on the wrong side of the law. And end up being a registered sex offender.

Can you explain sextortion? This is a new term that’s coming out. There’s sexting, which is what we’re hearing about, and sextortion is indeed what this unidentified male, possibly did do? He’s trying to get-

And sextortion is very complicated. And what it is, is blackmail using the images. So this guy, or there’s several men, we understand, saw the sexual images, and they said “If you don’t do more, or engage in sex with us, we are going to make it public.” So a lot of the kids now are being sextorted. We’ve seen so many cases around the country.

I want to talk to Aurora. So, when this has happened, you’re home, alone, because you’re home schooled…you’re drinking, which…you shouldn’t have been doing at thirteen, okay…and you’re going to whatever, for whatever reasons at that time…now, you’re older. And there are other kids who are also talking on chat rooms. In chat rooms and so forth. Talk to these other kids and tell them what you think they should do.

I think they should be careful who they talk to on-line, um, because you never know who you’re really talking to. And that they should watch what they do. Watch what they say. Um…just be careful.

Aurora Eller on The View

The issue of teens being charged as sex offenders for taking pictures of their own bodies is, of course, a central theme of Hanna Rosin’s “Why Kids Sext”. “If a girl sends a photo to a boy that she likes…has the girl done something wrong?” asked Terri Gross of Rosin on Fresh Air. “But if the boy then sends the photo to other people without the girl’s permission, that seems to be where you really draw the line, right?” Rosin: “Terri, everything you just described is a crime in most states.” Rosin, elsewhere in the interview: “A picture of a minor, wherever it is, is a dangerous thing. It’s considered child pornography, even if the kid made the picture themselves. And so, on the one hand, you’re dealing with one of the most heinous crimes, and on the other hand, you have common sense.” 73 We see here a central paradox of the law. “Don’t be driven by fear and don’t let that person control you,” said one of the victims in the Trevor Shea case. “You need to go and tell any adult, tell a parent so it doesn’t go on,”74 and yet when you tell the police, there’s the possibility you’ll be charged as a sex offender. In August 2011, Aurora Eller was found not guilty of producing child pornography, reported Virginia’s Daily Press. Matt Sabo would write in “Gloucester teen cleared of child pornography charge” that “Eller’s father, Simon Eller, and stepmother, Erika McLean, said on The View that Aurora Eller was taken advantage of by an online predator who coerced her to produce more images by threatening to make public her previous ones,” after which he would add: “But none of that came out at trial.”

The Daily Capper would cite a message from the iChan message board allegedly left by Aurora Eller as a refutation of what was said on The View, but it only made obvious the complicated feelings of most of these women on cam, and how easily they could be exploited. Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller were isolated, Todd because of social ostracism and Eller because of cystic fibrosis, they were lonely, and camming was their only social byway. They were younger, often much younger than the men they were interacting with, and the extent of the control they had, and the lack of awareness of a thirteen-year-old’s implications of their consent are there in the message board post. So too is the fact that their consent in some cases appears to have made others think they had license to extort, blackmail, or use them however they might wish. This post may not be by Aurora Eller, but there’s nothing to suggest that it’s by a stooge or dupe, but very much the voice of a girl talking about her difficult experiences.

“The story in the view is not the complete truth” this “Aurora” writes. “As you all know, but I mentioned the word blackmail and bam that’s what it turned into.” The post would continue:

Everyone should agree that sometimes we can all become ‘attention whores’ and that’s what happened. I thought by having the room be my own and control how and when the recordings happened that it made me in control but it did not. I [continued] to do it because I thought it’s happened once, what harm could more times do? But that is where I was young and naive. I got drunk everytime because I really did not like doing those things, but being drunk made it easier, what I liked was the attention and doing those things got me attention. As far as asking who I was blackmailed by, well I have been blackmailed by m0d and Aussie. He contacted me just last month actually. Trying to threaten me. The difference between my story of blackmail and the truth is I wasn’t stupid enough to fall for their (almost) empty threats. My guess is that a blackmailer or somebody that I pissed off, decided to go to the cops. Neither I nor anyone that I have spoken to know who it was, probably never But they were accusing the wrong people of this crime. Yes, those who cap, and watch are guilty. But those who blackmail are the worst. And young girls are targeted because you all know they are naive and [if] they’re getting attention, they do feel special. My life is not ruined because of this, it was not great, but by going on The View and hopefully other shows/PSAs I can spread the word to somebody. and that somebody will spread it to a young girl, and that young girl will not make the mistake I did.

iChan post allegedly by Aurora Eller

Posting on iChan by “Aurora”.

There are the obvious similarities to Amanda Todd’s story, such as the isolation and the extortion threats. There’s also the anonymous call to the police, which “Aurora” on the message board alleges was made by someone who wasn’t looking out for her, but trying to use the law in revenge: “My guess is that a blackmailer or somebody that I pissed off, decided to go to the cops.” The police also arrive at Amanda Todd’s house, and though no piece I’ve seen explains exactly what spurs them on, we have the unusual note in the threats made by Tyler Boo, the identity traced to Aydin Coban. I bold the relevant part: “You already forgot who I am? the guy who last year made you change school, got your door kicked in by the cops.”

Amanda Todd on The Daily Capper

Aurora Eller on The Daily Capper

Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller on The Daily Capper.

There is the final eerie coincidence of these two girls who did not know each other, who may never have even heard of each other. Todd’s video, where she tells her story through text written on a series of cards, was not something sui generis, but part of a tradition of videos on youtube where you relate something difficult, that you migh lack the strength to speak about, but which you want to say to the world. Examples would include “My Index card Confessions”, “Tumblr Confession Video.”, “My Tumblr Confessions Video”, all of which were recorded a year before Todd’s, in 2011. There was another such video from that year, and it was by Aurora Eller: “My Confessions” (transcript on pastebin: “My Confessions by x65Rosesx”). It told of her anguish and difficulties dealing with Cystic Fibrosis: “All the time I struggle with my CF (cystic fibrosis). I HATE my treatment and rarely do it. It’s hard to think about my future when I may die young. My mother’s cousin with CF had a lung transplant at sixteen. I get sick often because I hate doing my treatment. I hate doing it because it reminds me that I have CF. Being sick means I miss A LOT of school.” And it dealt with the same things Amanda Todd dealt with, over her capped nudes:

I have been diagnosed with depression. I have cut, but it didn’t help much. I feel as though I acted like a whore to help my insecurities. EVERY DAY, I regret what I have done. I wonder who/what made me think it was okay. I’ve been to therapists and will probably take anti-depressants for the rest of my life. Depression almost NEVER goes away. Sometimes I am strong, sometimes I cry like a baby. My family isn’t exactly perfect. But I love them all to DEATH.

When she turned to the everyday plights of teenage girls, it was a relief. “I REALLY wish I had boobs. I hate to admit it but I wear push-up bras every day…I just want to be any size but XS [extra small],” but right after, there was again that echo of the past: “As far as guys go…I have been used. And I think I’ve started to use guys now. I feel like a whore.” Your choices and actions were so quick and fleeting when you were thirteen, but the pictures remained, like Polonium, and their influence remained as well. “I did not do this for you to feel sorry for me so please don’t say that I did. Thank you for watching :D” You could feel a pang of sympathy, without pity, a regret that this story somehow had vanished only a year later, without being able to offer consolation or warning to others, and the necessity to see the savagery that engulfed Eller not as something separate or alien, but part of a vaster world, interconnected with your own, like fangs from a dragon’s mouth.

Aurora Eller - Diagnosed with depression

Amanda Todd - Anxiety Major Depression

Amanda Todd - anxiety is horrible

Amanda Todd - cried every night

Aurora Eller - ill take anti-depressants rest of my life

Amanda Todd - I'm on anti-depressants now

Aurora Eller - I have cut

Amanda Todd - depressed, cutting

Amanda Todd - started cutting

Aurora Eller - Every day I regret what I've done

Aurora Eller - I feel as if I acted like a whore

Aurora Eller - still feel as if it's my fault

Amanda Todd - All from my past

never get that photo back

Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller - URL if gif doesn't load:

That we are able to illuminate such points of connection, that the alleged tormentor of Amanda Todd is now in custody might give us the illusion of a majority of mysterious space rendered visible when we have nothing of the kind. Despite our magicians’ tools, the great mass of this landscape remains in shadow, and will most likely remain so until the girls involved tell their stories, many years after these incidents took place. We ended up at this path because of a mysterious message of unknown provenance, and we might leave it with an equally mysterious creation I came across on my research. For whatever reason, someone created twitter profiles of most of the major players in this capping ring. Whoever did this was also very familiar with the ring, with the profiles often accompanied by photos of the actual individual and what one presumes to be their names in actual life. There is @Viper_2323 (archive today link), @Coke_Caps (archive today link), @i_r_m0d (archive today link) (m0d), @StickamSwan (archive today link) (Swan), @r0r44 (archive today link), @PersoPete (archive today link) (Perso). There are lesser known cappers like @BruceWhiskey (archive today link) and @DocHoliday151 (archive today link), who carries the description, “Head blackmailer of Tinychat”. There’s the @WHITER00MLEGION (archive today link), a supposedly legendrary group of troublemakers founded by Klanackle, before falling apart due to in-fighting75.

Neither Kody Maxson, nor Amanda Todd, nor “Aussie” were there, but Aurora Eller was, under her old chat name, @Enjoy_FlirtPlay, as were various other girls mentioned in The Daily Capper. Most of the cappers included the places where they did their work among those they followed: @tinychat, @blogTV, @Stickam, @icanhazchat. Someone had gone through a great deal of trouble to set up these interconnected profiles, each part of the others’ followers. Yet they were perfunctory as well, with almost none of them tweeting anything, and each profile including the same artists over and over among those they followed: Pink (@pink), Jaden Smith (@officialjaden), Demi Lovato (@ddlovato), Justin Bieber (@justinbieber), Emma Watson (@EmWatson), etc. And every single one followed @mtomareviews, a twitter feed devoted to wrestling.

What purpose someone had to create this elaborate network at some unknown past date, a network which would have no significance whatsoever to anyone unfamiliar to this group, I have no idea, and I offer no answers or guesses.

Perso Pete twitter

White Room Legion twitter

m0d twitter

Aurora Eller twitter

From @PersoPete‘s following page:

Perso Pete following

With the exception of two episodes in 2011, and a final broadcast devoted to Amanda Todd, the remainder of Daily Capper episodes that I’ve found on-line have all come from 2010, a particularly fertile period for dysfunctional feeling on the internet. There was Jessi Slaughter, who would be nominated at the “2010 Capper Awards Results” for the Daily Capper‘s 2010 Attention Whore award (the roll call of nominees accompanied by DeadMau5’s “Attention Whore”), getting enough votes to finish behind Peyton, the underage girlfriend of Kody Maxson76. Slaughter was the nom de guerre of Jessica Leonhardt, and another example of how intensely the press lights would burn before the filament shattered and the shine fell somewhere else. She is entirely forgotten now, yet briefly she once held the attention of millions. When she was ten someone on an internet board would allege that Dahvie Vanity, the lead singer of her beloved band, Blood on the Dance Floor, had had a sexual relationship with the ten year old, which Leonhardt would deny, and which would trigger a broad and nasty reaction77. Slaughter would reply with a video where she tauntingly declared, “I’m just a normal girl, who’s absolutely perfect in every way, and you’re just jealous,” which would provoke another reaction, after which the infamous “You dun goofed” video (“Jessi slaughter You dun goofed REAL ORIGINAL”) was recorded, which featured her weeping while her father, Gene Leonhardt, screamed at the camera. “Who said you could beat my daughter up? You are going to have to deal with the police. Because you done goofed,” he started out relatively quietly before launching into a screaming attack. “YOU BUNCH OF LYING NO-GOOD PUNKS! I KNOW WHERE THIS IS COMING FROM BECAUSE I’VE BACKTRACED IT!”

On an episode of Good Morning, America made in the wake of the incident (“Jessi Slaughter (kerligirl13) on Good Morning America”), Gene Leonhardt would say, “As a father I was just trying to support my daughter, and try to get the people to stop hating.”78 Her family would receive multiple death threats after the videos. The police would be called in numerous times in the aftermath; when a large cardboard box was delivered to her school and it was thought to be a bomb (it just had more postal boxes inside); when two thousand dollars worth of pizzas were ordered to the Leonhardts’ house79; when nude pictures of ten-year-old Jessi Slaughter supposedly showed up on-line. The following is a police report from that visit; blank spaces represent redactions and I bold the most noteworthy moment80:

On 071610 [Auugust 16, 2010], writer was working at the         and made contact with the department of children and families (DCF) investigator Tarliece Chavers, who was responding to a residence in         in reference to an         year old girl posting inappropriate things on the internet. Writer assisted the investigator at the residence and made contact with         and her parents,         writer stood by as the investigator conducted her interviews, and at one point, the juvenile subject threw a temper tantrum after both the investigator and writer requested the computer be unplugged and the juvenile not to have access to the internet, which the juvenile became irate and advised she will lose her fame, and that she will get to the internet one way or another. Writer observed the juvenile state that if she does not get on the internet, she has nothing else to live for, at which time, she got up from the dining room table, stormed out of the room, stating she does not “give a fuck”, and that she will stick a butcher knife in the DCF worker’s “ass”. Writer observed the juvenile state she does not wish to live anymore, and made other statements in that aspect.

The parents of the juvenile subject were catering to the juvenile as if she had done nothing wrong. It did come out that the juvenile was posing herself in provocative positions and posting the pictures on the internet. The juvenile did state that the most important thing in her life at this time is to make number one on some list on which she is currently 67 out of 100, and that her main goal is to be famous on the internet, and for her name to be a household name throughout the country. Writer did advise the juvenile and reminded her she is only         years old, which the juvenile stated she did not “give a fuck” and that age is not important. The juvenile did show writer her internet page, which writer did observe postings from other people stating what the juvenile was doing was wrong, and just to the left side of the screen, writer observed in plain view pornography, pictures of oral sex, which the parents stated they were unaware their daughter was on such a page.

The DCF investigator did take photographs of the screen, which she stated will contribute to the decision making in this case. The father did become combative when writer told him his daughter was under a Baker act [The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, allowing for involuntary institutionalization, see the Wikipedia entry], at which time, he stepped in front of writer to block his path to get to the juvenile, which writer explained to the father that he will be arrested for obstruction if he obstructs writer’s investigation in any way.

This concludes writer’s involvement in this case.

Case remains pending active.

In October, Blood on the Dance Floor would release their album Epic, which featured “You Done Goofed”, a reply to Jessica Leonhardt: “You’re just a pawn of stupidity / You’re a living mistake / I’m the king of the chessboard, so mother fucker / Checkmate”81. The police would return to the Leonhardt house on February 9th, 2011, when Jessica Leonhardt posted to her Facebook that she’d overdosed and wanted to die. From the incident report82:

Writer arrived at the incident location and was met by the subject’s father at the front door. Writer asked if the subject lived at the location when         began screaming and yelling at writer stating “I was told by your supervisors you guys would not be out here anymore investigating anonymous complaints.”

Writer asked dispatch for an additional deputy when         opened the front door and stated “You have no right being here and you have an attitude. My daughter is fine and I don’t know why you’re here.” Writer again tried to explain to her that the subject posted comments on her facebook page and writer was trying to check on her. Then came back to the door yelling. The subject came to the door and stated 1 put on there that I wanted to overdose, but then I went back on and deleted it. I put two comments that everyone can disregard my last comments. I was feeling suicidal at the time and depressed but I’m not now.”         stated “See it was a mistake and you’re out here for no reason.” They again shut the door.

A week later, Gene Leonhardt would be arrested for striking Jessica hard enough that it caused her mouth to swell and her lips to bleed. A few months later, August 14, 2011, her father would die of a heart attack83. That same day, Jessica Leonhardt would upload a video (“Jessi Slaughter Lied To A Nation”) in which she apologized to the band whose lead singer she’d accused of rape.

Hi Dahvie, hi Jay [Von Monroe, other member of BOTDF], hi Sally [Sally Stitches, Dahvie’s girlfriend], hi little BOTDF spectrum…it’s Jessica Rose AKA Jessie Slaughter here, saying sorry for everything I’ve ever done. I feel really bad about it now, I’m in foster care…I have been locked up in mental institutions…and just like “You Done Goofed” said, I do have to go to counseling now, but it’s not because of you. So…I’m really sorry for everything I’ve done, I’m sorry for accusing you of rape and everything, I know all that happened. Aaaaaand I’m having this recorded by Gloria, not because I…have no computer privileges now because of the foster care. And…why am I talking with my hands? I’m truly sorry for everything that I’ve done, and I love BOTDF, basically all the CDs that I have are BOTDF now, so…I’m saying I’m sorry and everything, and I love you guys, yeah…Jay’s my idol, Dahvie’s my idol, and Sally inspired this [strokes side of head]…I shaved it off my head. So. Yeah. [makes heart symbol with hands] Love you guys. [blows kiss] Sorry.

Nearly a year later, “Controversial cyberbully victim Jessica Leonhardt returns to YouTube” by Fruzsina Eördögh on The Daily Dot would announce that Leonhardt was back on youtube making videos. The piece “Leonhardt returns to YouTube” would describe the videos as follows: “Leonhardt laughs with her mother on camera, attends her school’s 8th grade dance, and professes her love for the band AFI.” They would get an overwhelming amount of dislikes, with a video of her playing with her dog receiving five likes and thirty eight dislikes. At the time of this writing, all videos mentioned in the article “Leonhardt returns to YouTube” have been deleted. In 2013, a New Media Rockstars piece on youtube, “Jessi Slaughter Interview”, would make clear that Leonhardt was transitioning from female to male, from the identity of “Jessi” to that of “Damien”. From that interview with Jeff Klima84:

Your life has had some crazy drama in it…and so, I was kindof like, checking into you…and I see now that you are Damien now…you used to be, your on-line handle was “Jessi Slaughter” and now you’re Damien. So, kindof, what’s that about?

Well…after I got out of foster care, last year, I started dating a guy, who I’d known during the “Jessi Slaughter” drama…and, what happened was I started noticing, not noticing, but figuring out more that I didn’t really feel like a girl. You know, it just…it didn’t really feel like that. So, I…after me and him broke up, last February, I ended up getting more into it, and finding out…well, not finding out, but, somehow, really noticing in myself that I am, I don’t know the correct term for it, but I am female to male. So. It’s just …it’s not, most people notice a thing…it’s kindof a gradual process. Which…a lot of people tend to say, “Oh, you’re not really a guy cuz you didn’t just all of a sudden say this, it just happened.” I’m not going to tell you guys before things happened.

Are you planning on going, like are you going to do a full surgery, or…are you just…?

Um…I’m probably going to do the top surgery, the bottom surgery is still questionable.

Okay, and the top surgery would be just, they remove breasts and that…?

Yeah. You know, making sure I don’t have tits anymore, which…they don’t look good on me anyways. My body was not made for it.

Oh, really? Okay.

I look like a guy, just with tits. And it’s weird.

Why not the bottom part, what’s uh…is it, having a penis would be too full-bore, or too weird, or…

It’s probably because I couldn’t afford it.


Yeah. Aaaaaand, I don’t want to directly say I am doing a bottom surgery, and not be able to do it. So, that’s why I am saying that’s still an if for me. Because I don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m going to do this,” and then end up not doing it. So. That’s still iffy on that. Cuz I’m not well off. So…I have to kindof, work around with the money situation, and transitioning is kindof expensive…you know, I’ll work with it.

Okay, so as money comes in, then you maybe will be able to do a little more?


So, you still pretty well get harassed by the internet?

I wouldn’t call it harassment, per se, or call it, just…you see, I’m a convenient pit stop for the internet to come and attempt to be smart, and clever, and troll…but it ends up just being a major fail whenever I get raided by people on 4chan. I don’t know. They don’t know what to do with me now, apparently.

Yeah, what’s been the reaction from the public about you becoming Damien, a boy, essentially?

Um…a lot of people have been supportive, and a lot of people, it isn’t that they haven’t been supportive, but they’ve been doubtful of it. Especially…I’ve been getting a lot of hate within the trans community, because you know, they say “Oh, you’re not, you can’t, you know? It’s disgraceful.” Because of who I was. Back when I was eleven. They say I can’t transition, or that I can’t identify as female-to-male, because that was who I am, and I’d bring disgrace onto the community.

Okay, now that’s kindof an interesting…an oxymoron, that they would sit there, and be pining for acceptance, and not accepting you for who you are, yeah?

Yeah. I tended to see that a lot. Especially in the tumblr trans community. Just a lot of people say, “Yeah, I wanna be accepted, I want to be able to go to the boys’ bathroom, and be able to do this, and do that, but…” Yet, you know, they’ll send me a message saying, “Oh, you can’t be a boy, because…you wear eyeliner, and that’s not something a boy does, so…you can’t do this,” and it’s like, weren’t you just arguing for being accepted as you are? Like, two posts ago? And then you’re coming to my outbox, and telling me I can’t be accepted? There’s a lot of transphobia within the trans community on Tumblr, and it’s not just directed towards me, it’s directed towards a lot of other people. Which, it’s kindof sad, it’s like, “Why can’t everybody just do their own thing?”

Now you seem pretty grounded and like, smart, but there’s also, I kindof heard, or seen stories, like, you had a couple of suicide attempts in your past? Is that true?

Yeah, I’ve had a few…it was just a really bad time in my life…it was around this time last year, actually, that I had a lot of rough patches, and it didn’t…my life wasn’t going the way I wanted it too, and I got just really, really upset. And I ended up attempting suicide a few times. But…after a long recovery…I’m still recovering, but after a very long period of time, I’ve made a lot of progress. Hopefully.

So, you’re kindof over the suicide thing for now?


Good, good. I’m glad to hear that. So, how close did you come, do you think?

I dunno. I can’t really judge that. I mean, most of the times that I did, I can’t really remember that much. I just know that I did. I dunno. I have a horrible memory of things like that. Sometimes, somebody will ask, “What was it like being on Good Morning, America?” and it’s like, “I don’t remember.” I remember getting sunburned. I remember eating sushi.

That’s good, so…you seem to remember some other aspects of it, which is good. Now you, uh…like, you said you were kindof depressed around this time last year…is this, are we talking about your dad passing away and all that?

It wasn’t really that. Cuz, since when my dad died, I was in foster care…I guess I wasn’t as close to him…of course I wasn’t as close to him. And it didn’t really affect me as much. It still doesn’t register to me. That I even had a father. I know I did, for the first twelve years of my life, but…you know, now, that I’m here, it doesn’t feel like that. Certain things don’t feel like they existed before. But they did. It’s that weird feeling of distance, from the…my past, that I’m…I don’t know if anybody else feels it, but I feel extremely distant from it. To the point where I can’t remember really feelings or thoughts…around what happened with certain situations. I can only remember “Yeah, I got sunburn,” or “Yeah, I went to the mall.” That’s like the only things I can really remember, out of those…

Do you feel like you kindof blocked it out just because it was such bad stuff that happened around that time?

Uh…I didn’t purposely block it out if I did. It just kinda happened that way.

Now your dad…I know like you said, you had one of those crazy tragic lives. Like, I don’t envy you all the things you’ve had to go through.

It’s not crazy tragic. It’s…normal.


I see it as normal. Um, a lot of people are like, “Oh, you’re such a big inspiration, you’ve gone through so much,” and it’s like, no, it doesn’t feel like I’ve gone through a lot. The biggest thing it feels like I’ve went through is…when Adam Carson [the drummer for the band AFI] got engaged, and I threw a hissy fit. That was like a big thing to me, but that’s the only big thing that I feel like was big. Other than that, it’s just, you know, everybody seems to make a big deal out of things happening…things happen in everybody’s life. You know, you can’t really compare two lives next to each other, because, you know, it’s kinda all different.

Monica Lewinsky would write the following in “Shame and Survival”:

Yes, we’re all connected now. We can tweet a revolution in the streets or chronicle achievements large and small. But we’re also caught in a feedback loop of defame and shame, one in which we have become both perps and victims. We may not have become a crueler society although it sure feels as if we have but the Internet has seismically shifted the tone of our interactions. The ease, the speed, and the distance that our electronic devices afford us can also make us colder, more glib, and less concerned about the consequences of our pranks and prejudice. Having lived humiliation in the most intimate possible way, I marvel at how willingly we have all signed on to this new way of being

“I am, for better or for worse,” she would continue, “presumed to be a known quantity.”

Jessica Leonhardt

Images taken respectively from “Jessi Slaughter (kerligirl13) on Good Morning America” and “Jessi Slaughter Apologizes [2011]”.

The place where the allegation was made that Jessi Slaughter had hooked up with Dahvie Vanity was Sticy Drama, a site which also had a devastating effect on another briefly well known teenager, Kiki Ostrenga, who was better known by her alias as Kiki Kannibal. Easily the best account of this episode was “Kiki Kannibal: The Girl Who Played With Fire” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which told the story of a thirteen year old willowy white girl isolated and bullied by her latino and black classmates in a Florida high school who sought to reach out to the world through her Myspace site. We see again the theme of loneliness in actual life experienced by Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller, and the second half of her story repeats the themes of theirs as well. She would meet Danny Cespedes on-line, known as “Mr. Myspace” when, I guess, that meant something, an eighteen year old who said he was seventeen years old. He would charm her family, insist that he just wanted to be friends, accepted that she didn’t want to sleep with him, and then raped her. If your mom finds out, he’d tell her, we can’t be together. “If you don’t do this, you don’t love me,” Kiki says he told her. “I kind of pretend like it never happened.” Years later, in the video “Sexual Assault – Red Flags, Advice & My Experience”, Ostrenga would articulate well how predators are so effective at manipulating young, vulnerable and isolated girls85:

Those guys won’t save you from your situation, but they’ll use your situation…to make you feel like…that they will save you and they will be there for you. Whether the situation is low self-esteem, having problems with your family, bullying at school…these type of guys will pick up on that. And they’re really good at it. And then, they’ll make you feel safe and like, that someone understands you, and…that you can always go to them, and that they’re the only ones that get you, and when you’re a teenager, you often feel misunderstood…so, anyone that says “I understand you, I get you, I know…”, you automatically have an attachment to, or feel safe. And a lot of teenagers like to feel safe.

I know when I was first on-line, back in the MySpace days [Ostrenga would start on MySpace in 2006, according to “The Girl Who Played With Fire”], a lot of people didn’t know about…the internet dangers. And this was in regards to social networking. That was the first social networking site, that was out there and that people were joining, and no one talked about internet dangers, because it was so new. Sooooo…when it happened to me, n one, there was no guide, there was nothing in the news, no one was writing blogs about it, it was totally new. And so…I know a lot of people from the MySpace times, a lot of people were abused…a lot of underage girls were abused in that time, because there were a lot of older men, in that style, that were legal adults, that would go after, that were notorious for going after minors, within thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.

Kiki Kannibal

Kiki Kannibal AKA Kiki Ostrenga from her video, “Easy & Quick Floral Hair Style – Roses For Summer!”.

She would soon discover that Cespedes actively pursued underage girls on-line, some as young as twelve. Cespedes’ father had engaged in sexual abuse as well, deported back to Peru after being convicted of sexual battery of a twelve year old. Again, from “Sexual Assault – Red Flags, Advice & My Experience” (14:21-15:03):

The guy who sexually assaulted me, it ran in his family. And no helped him or his father. Being a pedophile ran in his family, so he violated all these girls in South Florida. And each girl came to me…there were eighteen other underage girls and they all came to me with their stories. And that was painful enough after being violated by him, having to hear what he did to other girls…after he got arrested for violating eighteenother underage girls, under the age of fifteen, he passed away, trying to run away from the police, and all the hate sites blamed me for his death, and blamed me for my own rape.

Ostrenga would break up with Cespedes after his increasingly eccentric behavior, after which authorities would go after Ostreanga for multiple counts of statutory rape. They found him in a Florida mall, arrested and handcuffed him, after which he tried to escape while they crossed a pedestrian bridge in the mall’s parking garage. Cespedes was probably trying to jump from the bridge onto the roof of a construction van below, but his foot caught on the bridge, and he ended up hitting the ground head first. He spent two months in a coma and then died.

Kiki Ostrenga was then on Stickam, the same cam site which was featured so often in The Daily Capper, and like Amanda Todd, she spent more time on-line as the turmoil in her real life got worse, turmoil that spun out of her on-line life. It was her popular presence on Stickam which made her the subject of stories on Sticky Drama (sticky as in Stickam), which would eventually culminate in the story, “MySpace Murder Mystery” headed by a photo of the coffin of Danny Cespedes, along with the allegation that Ostrenga had “cooperated or plotted with the police” as payback for Cespedes breaking up with her, and that Ostrenga was “responsible for his death.” This, of course, provoked a furious reaction against Ostrenga, not unlike what Jessica Leonhardt had faced, with people threatening to kill her and posting fake Craigslist ads offering up the then fifteen year old as a prostitute. A Sticky Drama article promised Ostrenga, “we really are going to destroy your reputation,” but Christopher Stone, the man who ran Sticky Drama, also saw this as just a game: he wanted to bring “Kiki Kannibal” on to Sticky House, his on-line reality series filmed in his own condo, where teens were invited in and would engage in drama, the more depraved the better. Stone would pay an ex of Ostrenga a grand to take a dump on a photo of her at the same time he was sending her sympathetic emails telling her what a terrible mother she had, and that she was better off living in his house. “I don’t understand what his obsession is,” Ostrenga said. “but he has this sick, twisted love-hate relationship with me.” All this took place in 2010, the same year that Amanda Todd lifted her shirt and was screencapped.

Christopher Stone, real name: Christopher Watermeier

Christopher Stone, real name: Christopher Watermeier.

The Daily Capper would often discuss heroes and “heroing”, which were people who interfered with underage girls taking their clothes off on-cam, either by warning them not to or interfering with those who were urging them on. But there were others who played at being such heroes only to take advantage of the girls themselves, getting them into a position of trust after which they would cap them. Christopher Stone, the man who ran Sticky Drama was that kind of hero. He was given a heroic mention in Fox 11’s “Sextortion: What You Need to Know”, a man looking out for the best interests of young girls on-line, but he was actually a manipulator, an opportunist, a bully, and a bottom feeding creep. A full transcript of “Sextortion”, featuring references to many cappers already mentioned here:

A new kind of on-line blackmail is trapping teenagers, especially those who send provocative pictures of themselves to friends. Hackers are stealing those photos and threatening the senders. It’s called “sextortion”. And now the police are beginning to crack down. Phil Shuman says they have some catching up to do.

For many teens, sending boyfriends sexy pictures has become an internet dating ritual.

It’s how people flirt. It’s the new…how people flirt in the digital age, in a way.

Christopher Stone runs the website Sticky Users of this and other sites say blackmailers are now getting a hold of these photos, getting them from men who trade photos on-line. From vengeful ex-lovers who post them, even hacking into the woman’s computer. The blackmailer then uses the embarrassing photos to extort the person, demanding that they perform sex acts on a webcam.

From one nude photograph, it goes from that to you have to [deleted] on camera.

If they refuse, he threatens to send the photo to their friends and family. The scheme even has a brand new name: it’s called “sextortion”.

Beware of m0d.

Concerned web users have begun posting videos identifying active blackmailers. It names m0d, Sean Savvy, Coke, and Swan. Shadowy figures who often use multiple photos, possibly of innocent people, to try and hide their identity. Police have begun to crack down, arresting this high school student last year on charges of extorting sex from classmates.

He knew the destructive power of what he was doing.

Just last month, another big sextortion case, this one in Orange County where prosecutors allege that a thirty-one year old paraplegic hacked into the computers of literally hundreds of people [this is Luis Mijangos, profiled in another excellent piece by David Kushner, “The Hacker is Watching”]. Almost fifty of them juveniles. A good example of the fact that prosecutors don’t really know how big sextortion has become.

It’s the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of these people out there.

The alleged blackmailer seemed to treat it like a joke. Here getting awards [from The Daily Capper‘s 2009 awards presentation, which can be found on youtube, “2009 Capper Awards Full Results”] like the 2009 “Blackmailer of the Year”.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.

This internet post says Aussie is amng the most brazen blackmailers…

Aussie. Known as Leasky or David.

Internet posts say Aussie sweet talks girls into exposing themselves. Extorts sex, then posts it.

It actually shows himself, on cam, while he’s having cybersex…

If it makes them laugh…to crush someone, they have no problem doing that.

A man Stone identifies as Router throws another twist on the sextortion scheme.

And Router is the only gay cyberstalker that I know of.

Stone says Router gets nude images of underage boys, then threatens to get them arrested for child porn. Unless they go on cam for him.

He forces them to do more and more and more, until they refuse, and then you take your massive collection and throw it out for everyone to see anyway.

Despite all the complaints, the men behind these possibly fake profile pictures – Router, Aussie, Sean Savvy, m0d, and Swan – all deny any wrongdoing.

I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain and suffering I have caused you, and your family.

This sextortionist got fifteen years in prison for his crimes, but Stone and others doubt it will stop others.

They can’t resist.

Unfortunately, there are always other innocent web users who haven’t heard the warnings. Or simply refused to listen.

All I can do is warn you about him. Whatever you want to do after watching this video, that’s up to you.

Phil Shuman, Fox-11 News.

Swan on Fox-11

Sean Savvy on Fox-11

m0d on Fox-11

Christopher Stone on Fox-11

Aussie blurred out on Fox-11

Footage and mentions of Swan, Sean Savvy, m0d, Christopher Stone, and Aussie (blurred out) on Fox-11’s “Sextortion: What You Need to Know”.

It would surprise a viewer of such a program that a hero like Christopher Stone, the man behind Sticky Drama, was also the man behind Stickynoodz, which compiled nudes of very young men and women from social network sites. There was another detail that might surprise someone who thought of Stone as a hero. A steady resident of the Sticky House was Amor Hilton, and part of the reason why there was such eagerness about Kiki Kannibal being a guest there was over the expectation of juicy conflict between the two women when they were stuck in the same space together. Hilton also cultivated an exotic and flamboyant look, and was another Stickam regular. In 2007, she would experience an episode of the kind already described here, to which David Kushner’s “Identity Crisis” is devoted. She lived in Los Angeles, and her boyfriend at the time was visiting his mother in Phoenix. He was going back to L.A. by bus when he received a message from Hilton’s MySpace account: she was coming to pick him up, she just needed his mother’s phone number and address. He was suspicious, but he sent the information over anyway, and then he got a call at his mom’s, a man telling him not to get on the bus. Hilton was at a mall with a friend when her boyfriend managed to reach her: “Where are you?” he said. “Your phone’s not working.” Someone with the alias of “VIP” had managed to hack her MySpace and Stickam accounts, then shut her out. He’d gained control by knowing the answer to challenge questions, which were the phone number and address of her boyfriend’s mother. He contacted Hilton and told her he knew Hilton’s home address and social security number. All he wanted was nude pictures of her. But Hilton instead filed a report with the police. When “VIP” called back the next day making the same deal, Hilton warned him: “You better watch what you say…because my detective is right here on the line.” VIP would reply: “Hey detective, catch me if you can, I’m a ghost.” A little while later, “VIP” was caught, and it turned out he was Jeffrey Robert Weinberg, a member of Cameron LaCroix’s crew that had hacked into Accurint and accessed Paris Hilton’s Sidekick phone. He was on three years probation from the earlier hack when he pulled this one, and he’d gotten into Amor Hilton’s MySpace account through some variety of the same method they’d gotten to Paris Hilton, by accessing the administrators page of MySpace86. This, however, was not the detail that conflicted with the idea of Stone as hero, but something to do with Amor Hilton’s then boyfriend, the one contacted in Phoenix at his mom’s, someone by the name of John Hock.

Amor Hilton

Amor Hilton, from “Personal With Amor Hilton: John Hock”.

John Hock

John Hock, from the short “Stickam: To Hell and Back”.

At one point in “ – Week of September 12,2010”, “The New John Hock?” was the question posed on-screen, a name likely unknown to most at the time and entirely forgotten now. “We all know Perso is a sick freak by now,” the newscaster would say. “Perhaps this turns him on. We nearly had a new John Hock this week on Stickam. This man went on cam with his iPhone and played with this girl while she was asleep. I’m sure many were disappointed when they came back and it turned out she was awake. Sorry, Perso. Maybe next time.”87

the new John Hock

“The New John Hock?”, The Daily Capper asked about a story that it expected would meet the approval of “Perso”, a capper and extortionist who enjoyed forcing girls to drink their pee out of a toilet.

“Sticky Drama’s Owner Recorded a Live-Streamed Rape and Blogged About It But Didn’t Report It” by Adrian Chen was one of the only mentions in the mainstream press of the incident, a year after it took place (a contemporary account is by CBS News, “Gone Too Far: Did Internet Star Johnathan Hock Rape Woman Live On Web?”, written by Ryan Smith). It came out on July 22, 2010, part of a series of articles by Chen devoted to Christopher Stone, Sticky Drama, and Jessi Slaughter, “Sticky Drama: The Teen Gossip Blog Run By a 31-Year-Old Pornographer”, published a day before “Live-Streamed Rape” and “How the Internet Beat Up an 11-Year-Old Girl”, devoted to Slaughter, published July 15, 2010. “Sticky Drama’s Owner Recorded a Live-Streamed Rape” would give the crux of the case:

On February 26, 2009, 20-year-old John Hock, a popular member of the webcam community Stickam, filmed himself sexually assaulting his 20-year-old girlfriend while she was passed out drunk. He was indicted last June and charged with two counts of sexual assault. (His case is still apparently pending.)

Stone would record the assault, stream it, and post a Sticky Drama article about it, “Here We Go Again: Another Hock Sexual Assault.”:

It’s well-established that John Hock can sexually assault girls and no one cares enough to arrest or prosecute him. And the victim, who is Hock’s girlfriend of 2 weeks, probably won’t even think it’s a big deal, although she might not appreciate being forwarded a bajillion screencaps of her pussy for the rest of her life.

He would not turn over evidence to the police until police got a warrant three months later to search his web server – though others in the Sticky Drama community did so immediately after the incident took place, according to one source in “Live-Streamed Rape”:

I saw that he was bragging on his website and twitter and formspring about how he was responsible for getting John Hock arrested, and talking about it as if he volunteered the evidence out of the kindness of his heart.

The truth was that when he found out about the rape, and obtained a recording of it, he just posted about it on his website. He didn’t report it to the police and even allowed other posts exposing the victim’s identity and calling her a slut.

Meanwhile, myself, and a few other members of the community I’m involved with alerted the pheonix [sic] police station immediately. We gave them all the information we could possibly find, and told them about Sticky Drama because Chris had mentioned having a video of what happened.

The police would have e-mailed him asking for the video, but at that time he didn’t have any contact information on his website. They wound up leaving a comment asking him to contact them, which he never did.

Three months later, after they had taken may witness statements, and spoken to the victim, they issued a search warrant for his server, thinking that he may have uploaded the video somewhere on the website. Once that happened, and he found out the reason why they were looking there, he then sent in the video.

Screenshot of the rape streamed on Sticky Drama

Screenshot of the rape streamed on Sticky Drama, from “Sticky Drama’s Owner Recorded a Live-Streamed Rape and Blogged About It But Didn’t Report It”.

Kiki Ostrenga screencap

Kiki Ostrenga’s printout of the Sticky Drama post that night, with her notes. Taken from “Christopher Stone AKA Christopher Watermeier posts rape video on his website” by Kiki Ostrenga.

I excerpt one of Stone’s comments after this woman was raped on cam: “And the victim, who is Hock’s girlfriend of 2 weeks, probably won’t even think it’s a big deal, although she might not appreciate being forwarded a bajillion screencaps of her pussy for the rest of her life.” I excerpt Stone’s quote from Fox-11’s “Sextortion”: “If it makes them laugh…to crush someone, they have no problem doing that.” In “The Girl Who Played With Fire”, we’re told that those who stay at the Sticky House do so for free, and that Stone, who is openly gay, will flagrantly exert his droit de seigneur: “I’m buttfucking a legit str8 boy tonight, or he’s homeless, lol.” He would tweet out a picture of himself lying next to another tenant: “I have seen paradise and [name witheld] gets to stay here another month.” Again: “If it makes them laugh…to crush someone, they have no problem doing that.” In November 2009, Stone would post a picture of a woman he said was Alyssa Backlund, saying that it “appears to depict Alyssa Marie Robertson [Backlund] masturbating next to an infant. Such an act, in addition to being morally repugnant, probably violates several statutes pertaining to exposing children to obscenity.” Backlund was not the person in the picture. Stone would also publish Backlund’s name, address, and a map to her home alongside the picture that was allegedly of Backlund, but wasn’t Backlund. Stone removed the post and offered to put up an apology with the headline, “Alyssa Marie Buckland [sic] is Not the Most Vile Camwhore Alive.” After Stone found out that Backlund was in communication with a Sticky House guest, Parker Tammen, he tweeted out a threat that he would post a topless picture of Backlund: “Message him again, and your floppy titties are spammed all over the place. Last warning.” Again, Chris Stone, sextortion expert: “If it makes them laugh…to crush someone, they have no problem doing that.” Backlund would sue Stone for this behavior, would lose, and eventually would win on appeal. All quotes with regard to her case in this paragraph are taken from Alyssa Backlund v. Christopher Stone.

Message him again Christopher Stone threatening tweet

The tweet Christopher Stone sent to Alyssa Backlund, taken from “StickyDrama’s Christopher Stone Is a ‘Sextortion’ Expert in More Ways Than One” by Adrian Chen.

Amor Hilton would say the following in “Personal With Amor Hilton: John Hock”, uploaded April 13, 2010 (2:39-4:47):

People are always asking me, “So you think that it’s okay what he did to that girl?” and blahblahblah, and no, I don’t necessarily think that it’s okay what he did to that girl. But it was his girlfriend at the time. And as his ex-fiancee, I know that he’s done, you know, other things that are…very John like. That was very John-like, for instance. And people who don’t know him, in person, and don’t know who the true person he is…like I do, seem to just let that fly over their head, you know. John is John. He kindof just is how he is, because that’s how he is. And that’s the only way you can kinda explain him. See, you know, he told me, “I fucked up, I fucked up,” he knows he fucked up. But he didn’t know that his girlfriend was going to be so offended by that. Like, no, it wasn’t right for him to have, you know…I don’t know how to say it, you know, I loved him very much, and we’re still friends and I will be there for him no matter what happens. I have yet to be in contact with him since June of…last year. Yeah. And he told me, he was turning himself and he said, “I’m gonna make it right,” and he said, “I’m gonna prove to you I’m a different person,” and I said, “Prove to me what you want, John.” And that’s what happened. So. *sighs* Mrs. Hock, the original Mrs. Hock, Jenna Hock, John’s mother, I would like to tell you that I had nothing to do with trying to put John in jail. I want him out of there just as much as you do, I really do, I want him out.

Comments were disabled on the video.

In October, 2010, Hock’s conviction would be reported by CBS News in “Johnathan Hock Pleads Guilty to Live-Streaming Sexual Assault of Girlfriend”. Years later, on December 12, 2014, after Stone, Hock, and the incident had been forgotten, Ostrenga would post on her site about the aftermath, now that Stone, whose actual name was Christopher Watermeier, was revealed to be the merciless opportunist that he was. From “Christopher Stone AKA Christopher Watermeier posts rape video on his website”:

Christopher Stone AKA Christopher Watermeier witnessed a live rape broadcasted on, recorded video, then posted the screen caps to his teen gossip website instead of reporting it to police.

He was also sued for harassment by a teen. He lost and had a judgement against him [this outcome is discussed in the appeal, Alyssa Backlund v. Christopher Stone]. After the judgement he went into hiding and sold off his L.A. condo for cash. He relocated out of California and is now hiding his assets so that he does not have to pay his judgement. These are print outs of his actual website that was shut down and he attempted to auction off for $25k after he received too much heat for harassing an 11 year old that was then placed into police custody. The victim discovered she was assaulted and her video was online after people sent her his website.

The wretchedness of those on The Daily Capper and the wretchedness of Christopher Stone give us the false comfort of distance, that whatever our sins, we are certainly not these people. It is the same reassurance that the men in The Fan Club give us; the book suffers as fiction by making each man an embodiment of one vile trait, yet this impairment of fictional achievement serves a commercial purpose: the reader always relates to the goddess ideal of Sharon Fields, and never sees themselves among the common rabble. The book is about the delusion of thinking oneself proximate to your idols, as Adam Malone does, and wishing to deny one’s insignificance, as Leo Brunner wishes, and the book is not a counterpoint to these fantasies, but their fulfillment. The reader, the insignifcant near nothing reader, is briefly Sharon Fields, superstar, one woman against the vile millions.

This is the same narrative which came to the forefront during #TheFappening. There were responsible, moral institutions like Gawker and BuzzFeed who would never violate the rights of women as Jennifer Lawrence’s had been violated, and then there were these creeps, these cowardly scum who thrived on 4chan and Reddit, who were primitive, half-human slime that were so amoral as to commit such misdeeds. This very long look into #TheFappening ring began with a question about Bryan Hamade, “What Kind Of Creep Sells A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” by Charlie Warzel. Given that we’ve now agreed that this act was utterly inhumane, unconscionably vile, we can agree that it’s not simply the sale of pictures that was an amoral act, but the purchase and distribution as well. Here is a germane fragment from the well praised essay “Say hello to men who hate NSA spying but blame women for being spied on” by T.C. Sottek:

Over the weekend someone released hundreds of revealing photos of celebrities that appear to have been stolen from private storage. In response to this, a bunch of anonymous guys on the internet copied them and posted them all over the town square, because the internet is written in ink and if you are ever a victim once in your life the internet will remind you of it forever.

These men are the detritus of human society for whom the internet provides a warm blanket, so let’s remove the warm blanket for a minute.

Sottek would then add: “It’s still not clear how the private photos were obtained, but there’s a good chance the victims were hacked – it’s happened before.” The essay would then go on to reveal the identities of some of the men on reddit who shared these photos and argued that it was the fault of the women for taking these nude photos that they got distributed everywhere. There was a pleasure that Sottek had in doing this, that, yes, the photos were permanent, they were never going away, but: neither would the association between these men and this vile act. “Fortunately, the internet is written in ink.” Yes, it is. There’s the old line that a loaded gun seen on the mantel in the first act has to go off by the third act, yet somehow a great many people who wrote about #TheFappening, far more educated and far more intelligent than this humble writer, seem to have ignored this fact. Given Sottek’s statements, “a bunch of anonymous guys on the internet copied them and posted them all over the town square” and “these men are the detritus of human society”, it would seem that anyone involved in the distribution of such photos is equally guilty, and that buying and publishing such photos are equal crimes. We might then ask with equal urgency, “What Kind Of Creep Buys A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” and “What Kind Of Creep Publishes A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” And were Charlie Warzel to ask such a question, “What Kind Of Creep Publishes A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?”, I think the answer is simple and easily available: you would, Mr. Warzel.

We might return to what Scarlett Johansson said in a taped statement at Chris Chaney’s sentencing. “I have been truly humiliated and embarrassed,” she said. “I find Christopher Chaney’s actions to be perverted and reprehensible.” Who published Johansson’s nude photos in 2011? BuzzFeed did: “Scarlett Johansson Nude Photos Leaked”. They had to take the photos down, because Johansson “copyrighted the pictures so that she could go after sites that displayed them,” according to the profile “A Study in Scarlett” by Peter Biskind and Jessica Diehl. That the photos were removed is something mentioned with regret in the BuzzFeed subhed: “Alas, at her lawyer’s request, we had to take them down.” It’s really astonishing that Warzel and BuzzFeed forgot entirely about this event; this post scored over five million views, making it easily one of the most popular things ever published on that site. Given how much of BuzzFeed‘s success is built on cats, one can only imagine what kind of views this post would have gotten if they’d shown a little pussy. I apologize for that: a sadistic glee, as we all know, always brings out the worst jokes.

BuzzFeed What kind of creep

Scarlett Johansson Leak at BuzzFeed

I have another question. What kind of creep hacks the phone of a missing girl, a missing dead girl, hacks their phone so her parents mistakenly hold out hope that their daughter is still alive? What kind of scumbag piece of shit creep would pay off a network of hackers to do such vile acts, to pay ex-police officers to cover up this hacking ring, and be utterly unapologetic about such a thing? I think all of us news consumers know the short answer to that question. The longer answer is: the kind of scumbag creep that Charlie Warzel’s boss enjoys hanging out with.

A day after the Sottek piece was published, Jezebel would publish “Behind Every Bullied Woman Is a Man Yelling About Free Speech” by Erin Gloria Ryan, which again dealt with the hypocrisy of reddit protecting the identiites of users who distributed the nudes and the blatant violation of the privacy of the women in the pictures:

And so, after naked images of female (and some collateral males who happened to be in the same shot as a naked female) celebrities began being distributed online by thirsty bitcoin whores, one would think that if Reddit had any moral consistency in its leadership, it would, as vanguards of privacy and brave soldiers against doxxing, instruct its moderators to scrub links to the images from its servers and ban users that continually broke the rules.

Nope! For awhile on Sunday, all of the top 10 stories on Reddit were links to images of naked female celebrities obtained without their consent. Today, subscribers to r/TheFappening are gleefully screenshotting news coverage of the leak, linking to the image gallery with abandon.

To distribute such pictures is something Ryan emphatically views as a punishable crime, in a sentence on the contrast between Jennifer Lawrence’s rights and those of the anonymous user: “A user’s right to remain unidentified and unpunished after they post an illegally obtained picture of Jennifer Lawrence’s nude body trumps Jennifer Lawrence’s right to not have illegally obtained photos of her nude body distributed to millions of strangers.” You would think that given how passionately Ryan feels about hypocrisy, blatant vile hypocrisy, and the unauthorized and illegal distribution of such private pictures, she would bring up all the times that Gawker Media did the very same thing. Nope!

There was the publication of Johansson’s nudes on Fleshbot which had to be withdrawn because of the actress’s copyright claims. “Are These Nude Photos Of Scarlett Johansson The Real Deal? [UPDATED 9/16/11]” (archive today link): “For years we’ve dreamed nay, prayed that one day we might be lucky enough to see the gorgeous Scarlett Johansson in the nude. And now our dreams may just have come true.” You see by that question in the title that they weren’t trying to violate Johansson’s privacy like those lowbrows at reddit; they were performing journalism. They were asking questions. But there were plenty of others. There was “First Cassie, Now Rihanna: It’s Naked R&B Star Week” (archive today link) on Fleshbot featuring leaked Rihanna nudes. “Ashley Greene: Naked on the Internet?”, again on Fleshbot (archive today link), featuring leaked pics of the Twilight star. There was “This Week’s Naked Celebrity Phone Pics: Glee’s Heather Morris” (archive today link) by Leah Buckman, over at Gawker. “After a drought of leaked celebrity nudity, we now have (alleged!) pictures of both Jessica Alba and Kat Dennings,” was the introduction for “Double Whammy Celebrity Nudity: Kat Dennings and Jessica Alba Topless!” (archive today link) on Fleshbot. Back on Gawker, Christina Hendricks Says These Giant Naked Boobs Aren’t Hers, But Everything Else Is” (archive today link) by Maureen O’Coonor. There was “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics: ‘Lick My Tight Asshole and Choke Me'” (archive today link) and “New Super Dirty Olivia Munn Pics: ‘I Want Your Big Dick Right Here'” (archive link today), both again by O’Connor at Gawker, which involved leaked pics of the actress that had dirty writing, presumably by her, scrawled over them. It really is astonishing that Gawker forgot about “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics: ‘Lick My Tight Asshole and Choke Me'” since it got over 2.6 million views.

That they got such traffic from Munn’s hot body is especially interesting in the context of other posts about Munn, which ragged her for getting a job at The Daily Show based mostly on her looks (“According to Nielsen, the Daily Show’s audience does lean male about 60 percent,” wrote Irin Carmon in The Daily Show‘s Woman Problem”, “That’s who producers seemed to have in mind when they hired Olivia Munn.”), and for the fact that she ultimately served men’s desires more than women’s. From “Olivia Munn’s Geek Goddess Schtick” by Carmon, quoting an anonymous commenter: “I’ve always felt like she’s basically like a girl who tells horribly sexist jokes around guys to make them like her because she’s totally like them, not like all those other women that they have troubles with! Entertainment world, please stop trying to convince me that Olivia Munn is funny/awesome/Queen of the Nerds.” Gawker Media hated Munn for this, but they were more than happy to squeeze a few million clicks out of that hot body if they could. Why? To quote the title of the thinkpiece Gawker published about #TheFappening: “That Type of Girl Deserves It”. It was astonishing that Ryan couldn’t cite any of this in her essay, because not only was “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics” incredibly popular, but Ryan was commenting on Jezebel articles back in 2010, before Gawker‘s 2012 Olivia Munn celeb leak posts, making sure to make a point in “The Daily Show‘s Woman Problem” that I think should be taken to heart (direct link): “This is ridiculous. Anyone who has ever hung around liberal guys who think they’re funny knows that it’s impossible for them to be racist or sexist.” Absolutely. Just as the world knows that it’s impossible for anyone at Gawker Media to be a hypocritical, mendacious, self-righteous lowlife.

That type of girl

Olivia Munn Pics pt1

Olivia Munn Pics pt2

Christina Hendricks on Gawker

Heather Morris on Gawker

Johansson on Fleshbot

Rihanna on Fleshbot

Ashley Greene at Fleshbot

Alba and Dennings on Fleshbot

In order, excerpts from screenshots of “That Type of Girl Deserves It”, “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics: ‘Lick My Tight Asshole and Choke Me'” (archive today link), “New Super Dirty Olivia Munn Pics: ‘I Want Your Big Dick Right Here'” (archive link today), “Christina Hendricks Says These Giant Naked Boobs Aren’t Hers, But Everything Else Is” (archive today link), “This Week’s Naked Celebrity Phone Pics: Glee’s Heather Morris” (archive today link), “Are These Nude Photos Of Scarlett Johansson The Real Deal? [UPDATED 9/16/11]” (archive today link), “First Cassie, Now Rihanna: It’s Naked R&B Star Week” (archive today link), “Ashley Greene: Naked on the Internet?” (archive today link), and “Double Whammy Celebrity Nudity: Kat Dennings and Jessica Alba Topless!” (archive today link).

In “Search and Destroy”, a profile of Nick Denton by Ben McGrath, we are told that “Hypocrisy is the only modern sin” is one of Denton’s favorite sayings. This is confirmed in “The Playboy Interview: A Candid Conversation with Gawker’s Nick Denton”:

PLAYBOY: Do you ever have misgivings about exposing people’s private lives, their sex lives?

DENTON: If there’s a gap between your private behavior and your public status, that’s what makes the story for us. To my mind, the only real modern sin is hypocrisy.

You hate hypocrisy, Mr. Denton? What a coincidence. So do I.

Perhaps the best analysis I came across of the press’s reaction to #TheFappening pics was Ryan Holiday’s “Spare Us The Sanctimony: The Gross Hypocrisy of Online Media in the Nude Photo Leak”:

There’s no question that these photos constitute a flagrant violation of these women’s (and men’s) privacy. What’s less certain is where blogs like Gawker and Perez Hilton and others get off pretending to be shocked and appalled by it.

These sites which generally will publish anything for an extra thousand pageviews are suddenly leading the charge that these hackers are criminals, that the online horde who clicks the photos are perverts, and that justice must be done for the victims. It all may be true but guess who lost the ability to claim the moral high ground a long time ago?

The reality is that these sites just got scooped and disrupted by the photo-hosting sites that originally posted the images. Being pissed, being outraged is just the cleanest and most lucrative angle the reporters could take, particularly in the case of a beloved celebrity like Jennifer Lawrence. In a different news cycle, a different day, a different source, even different women, the same blogs would have gladly published these photos.

If anything Holiday gives Gawker too much credit here; they profited from their piety a little, but mainly they profited from Jennifer Lawrence as they had profited from Olivia Munn and Scarlett Johansson in the past. Gawker‘s top post of 2014 in terms of page views was “J-Law, Kate Upton Nudes Leak: Web Explodes Over Hacked Celeb Pics” by Dayna Evans, which pulled in close to 5.3 million clicks88, and that carried a helpful – just so you could see the crime you were supposed to be disgusted about – to the vile, wretched, inhumane 4chan thread which had all these pics. In contrast their piety was far less popular, with “Behind Every Bullied Woman Is a Man Yelling About Free Speech” pulling in over 140K clicks, “That Kind of Girl Deserves It” getting a little over 102K clicks, and Michelle Dean’s “What Was Celebrity-Nude-Gate? Or, An Adventure in Reddit Philosophy” getting a little over 23K clicks.

Gawker's Fappening page

Reddit Philosophy

Behind every woman

We also know that the nasty little trick of pulling in clicks from the 4chan link while condemning the vile scum who’d perpetrated this outrage was something they had been very critical of before – not when it came to themselves, though; only when it came to others. You could find this nasty skepticism in their posts on the Erin Andrews footage, video of the sportcaster nude in a hotel bathroom taken without her knowledge in 2009, in such posts as New York Post Outraged By These Hot Nude Pixxx” by Hamilton Nolan: “Words are simply not sufficient to express the New York Post‘s fury at this perverted, unnatural desecration, which was first reported by our jocky sibling Deadspin. No, it will take a slide show of images from the nude video for the Post to properly communicate how livid it is at this breakdown of all that is good and moral.” There were two critical pieces which took down TMZ for presenting itself as a kind of hero in the Erin Andrews affair after they held onto the footage for months without looking into who sent it to them: “TMZ’s Bamboozling Erin Andrews Coverage” and “The Continued Dissemination Of TMZ’s Erin Andrews Heroism”, both by A.J. Daulerio, with “The Continued Dissemination” featuring a long quote from a highly placed source questioning TMZ’s public stance. “Okay, if this was such an outrageous and invasive (and likely criminal) act on the part of the person trying to sell the videos,” asked the source, “why the fuck didn’t TMZ do a story back in January about the attempted sale of the videos?” Something similar could be asked of Gawker: if publishing such private nudes is such a reprenhensible act, then why the fuck did Gawker Media happily do so for most of its history?

Gawker on NY Post

From New York Post Outraged By These Hot Nude Pixxx” by Hamilton Nolan.

It’s unfortunate that a piece like Michelle Dean’s “What Was Celebrity-Nude-Gate? Or, An Adventure in Reddit Philosophy” didn’t turn to self-examination, didn’t link back to Gawker‘s earlier work in celeb nudes, because there was some valuable infomration back there. Dean has done some good journalism elsewhere (see “The boy who didn’t come back from heaven: inside a bestseller’s ‘deception'”) but this piece is a kind of platonic ideal of Gawker writing: self-important, self-righteous, self-serving, and yet still empty of much vital information. “You do not have to possess technical knowledge to figure out what is happening here,” she wrote in an essay which chastised others for their shallowness, lack of insight, and inability to search Google as ably as Dean did. “It’s all I had to look into this story when it broke last week and I quickly figured things out.” Though what exactly she figured out, compared to in-depth investigations like “Notes on the Celebrity Data Theft” by Nik Cubrilovic, I’m not sure. Had a single Gawker writer bothered to link back to their earlier coverage of the 2011 hacks, there would have been some insights – but of course, they couldn’t do that, because then there would be the links to the photos of Olivia Munn, Christina Hendricks, and Scarlett Johansson, that were a result of those leaks, and their shallow hypocrisy would be obvious.

A 2011 post from the time of this first major celeb leak, “A Peek Into the Celebrity Nude Pic Hacking Ring “ by Adrian Chen, focused on a blogger named DeepAtSea, the same blogger mentioned in the Chris Chaney story, and how he acquired some of the celeb nudes published on his site:

The infamous Parisian celebrity nude pic blogger DeepAtSea, who recently posted some of these pictures, tells us the person behind the spree is a hacker named “Gook.” DeepAtSea was browsing the message board 4chan when he came across Gook boasting about the celebrity hacks. He sent an email to Gook out of “stupid curiosity.” “I wanted to know what his motivation [was] and if he knew my blog,” DeepAtSea told us in an email. Gook “responded that he didn’t know my blog. I asked him if he was afraid to go to jail he said no.”

DeepAtSea says he wants to shoot down speculation that he’s in cahoots with the celebrity hacker, stirred up when The Daily wrote about [The Daily was Murdoch’s failed attempt at an electronic newspaper designed for the iPad, and it is now off-line, the link is broken, and the story does not seem archived anywhere] how he had posted the pictures, bragged about being in touch with the hacker, then mysteriously deleted his blog. “I’m just a blogger who loves celebrities who reposts pictures, mag scans and videos that i find on the net,” DeepatSea wrote in a blog post [his blog is now almost entirely deleted, with only a single post saying goodbye]. He told us that he found the nude pictures he posted of The Secret Life of the American Teenager actress Renee Olstead on 4chan, and the pictures of Disney star Vanessa Hudgens on a now-deleted Flickr account named “Sweetmelodies.” It seems the hacker is gradually distributing his pictures via the grass roots, rather than selling them to blogs.

As for why DeepatSea disappeared: “if someone like you, is accuse of being a criminal, what would you do?” (DeepatSea is back at a new address [again, it’s a blog that’s almost entirely deleted, with a single post saying goodbye].) Anyone know anything about Gook?

A link to this post might have let the reader know that such a hacking ring was not something new, but had existed before – to Gawker‘s benefit. That this was the ring which the FBI thought Chris Chaney was involved in when they came to arrest him. “They constantly repeated, ‘We’re after the big fish; you’re just the little fish,” says Chaney in David Kushner’s “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood”. “They were after a ring of celebrity hackers.” We also know why #TheFappening ring thought they could get away with it – because this ring had gotten away with it. Chaney, who lacked technical expertise, hadn’t even bothered to set up anything like proxies, but perhaps this ring had. Whether DeepAtSea is telling anything close to the truth in this interview with Chen is open to question, identifying only a single hacker whereas past examples cited here seem to require a ring, not just for resource sharing but out of psychological need. We have seen in the wake of the Amanda Todd suicide how Kody Maxson was first identified as Todd’s blackmailer, after which Maxson identified Viper as the culprit, and we may have something of a diversionary tactic here as well. DeepAtSea protects one or more people by identifying a single (possibly fictional) hacker, and perhaps even taking pleasure that this Asian American writer has to write “gook” repeatedly in a news story.

There are two points on which Chris Chaney might be lying in the GQ story which intersect with this account. The first has to do with the number of Johansson pics he says he acquired: “Chaney was stunned. He claims to have sent out only one shot. So how did the others get online?” There were three pics in the leak; either Chaney is lying or maybe this hacker ring was hitting the same inboxes Chaney was, and they got their hands on the other two. There is also this line in the DeepAtSea piece, “He told us that he found the nude pictures he posted of The Secret Life of the American Teenager actress Renee Olstead on 4chan” and this contradicts what Chaney says in GQ: “He reached out to the infamous blogger Deep at Sea. Deep was more of a fanboy than a hacker, posting photos he found across the Web. Chaney knew the guy had a thing for Renee Olstead, the redheaded star of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and Chaney had recently stumbled on a trove of her private pictures showering in a tight white shirt, using a baby blue vibrator. He decided to share them with Deep.” Chaney had already plead guilty at this point and was awaiting sentencing, so why would he take credit for an act he didn’t commit? “A Peek Into the Celebrity Nude Pic Hacking Ring” was published March 21, 2011, a month after police had entered Chaney’s house and said they were after the big fish – but they hadn’t arrested him yet. They only did so in October of that year, after the Johansson pictures were published – the Fleshbot post has a publication date of September 14, 2011. So, when DeepatSea says he found the Olstead pictures on 4chan, he might have been protecting Chaney as well.

Just as The Fan Club requires monsters, men who embody the traits we find so contemptible in ourselves, yet who are clearly not us, #TheFappening ring needed a monster as well, someone who was not ourselves. In the absence of catching the actual members of the ring, they got the next best thing, the reddit user “Johnsmcjohn” AKA John Menese, the man who set up and ran the subreddit “The Fappening” which contained the celeb nudes. “Meet the unashamed 33-year-old who brought the stolen celebrity nudes to the masses” by Caitlin Dewey gave us all the details which would allow us to properly despise him. It was a profile which made sure to make him someone who was not us, not a competent functional member of middle class life – or he was not, at least, the person we could ever admit to being. Manese worked briefly at a series of jobs, was now at a Las Vegas call center, had applied to be an Apple Genius (and failed! Aren’t you grateful that he failed?) He used cocaine, he was asexual, he might have Asperger’s, he was desperate for money. “$100 needed to keep utilities on,” he would post in the week before Dewey’s piece. “Thank you for any help you can give me.” That Menese had difficulty getting work, that he was a failure, was a central point of Dewey’s piece:

In 2011, after getting laid off from a YouTube tech video series for which he was working, John lost his car, his laptop, and his phone. He applied for a trade license and failed the background check over unspecified incidents in Colorado. Undeterred, John registered a new Web site and claimed to be working on a startup to monetize the common web. Whatever that means, it doesn’t seem to have worked out.

A day later, Manese would participate in a casualiama (AMAs are for celebrities and notable people, while casual ones are for ordinary folk), “On Sunday, I created /r/TheFappening, the fastest growing subreddit in history. Tonight, it was banned.” Given that reddit was portrayed as a cesspool of mysoginist cruelty, most emphatically by places like Gawker (though it also had no problem publishing hacked nudes in the past), there are two notable points in the AMA. “How do you feel about the washington post basically trying to dox you?” asks “immorta1” about the Post article. “CydeWeys” replies: “Small world … I went out on a date with the author of that blog post once.” “fourpac”: “Details, girlfriend!” CydeWeys would continue, and it’s the second paragraph that’s obviously the most notable89:

She was normal enough in person. The date did go terribly south though, and it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. I received a call from my mother during the date, which I immediately picked up because my mom was with my grandmother who was dying of senile dementia. My grandmother had returned to a lucid state after not being mentally “there” at all for at least a week, and so the last time I talked with her before she died was right in the middle of the date, outside the bar. As you can imagine, it completely wrecked the mood (I explained what the call was about to her), and neither of us tried to contact the other afterwards.

So you got a good story out of me about it, but it’s probably not the kind of saucy details about her you were looking for. But even if there were any I wouldn’t divulge them; it’s not nice to be mean about someone on the Internet like that, especially when they can’t defend themselves. I’ve been a target of that kind of stuff enough myself, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Again, given the idea that reddit exists in a permanent state of misogynist frenzy, this reply in turn from “FlatulentDirigible” is notable: “You sound like a good person. Keep being awesome.” Though this reply from “IBlessTheRainsInIowa” to “Details, girlfriend!” I thought cut to the quick like a hot knife: “Yeah, feel free to mention any financial difficulties she might have had so we can judge her off that. After all, it is the easiest way.” And the answer by Manese to the original question showed more wit than any of the monsters in The Fan Club had, and more wit than you’d find on any day of Gawker: “I don’t like it, but so be it. The Nixon Administration couldn’t stop the [Washington Post], so I didn’t try to stop them.”

Here was the other notable point in the AMA, with the answers from “wordedgewise” and “bublz” among the most upvoted in the session90:

rickbrody95 (112 points):
Where do you stand on the “Was this leaking event and our viewing of the pictures moral?” debate?

johnsmcjohn (96 points):
These pics would be posted regardless. Me and the mod team tried to ensure the content posted was in line with reddit’s rules.

wordedgewise (194 points):
You didn’t actually answer your question. It wasn’t whether you “followed the rules”, nor whether “someone else would have done it”.

The question is where you stand on whether leaking/viewing (and sharing by logical extension) the photos moral in your opinion?

Personally I have not looked at the photos because I think it’s incredibly fucked up to invade anyone’s privacy this way, even though I personally don’t think nudity is a big deal. I personally also don’t think “someone else would have done it” is a good reason to do something wrong.

bublz (154 points):

This is a copy/paste from a comment I made on the day after the photos were leaked:

I find it fascinating that people aren’t a bit pissed off by this. Sure, we get to see naked pics of people we see on TV, but this was a planned “attack” on these people. Someone coordinated the hacks and has been selling these pictures to people online. Isn’t that a little bit fucked up?

The world is outraged by the NSA and its actions, but nobody gives a shit when someone steals naked pictures and sells them to strangers on the Internet. Seriously? You want your own privacy to be secured, but if someone else’s privacy is invaded so you can jerk off, that’s okay, right?

I know, most of these actresses have shown skin in their movies, but this is totally different. When someone agrees to be shown naked in a movie, they do it of their own will for the sake of the movie (and money, I suppose). You can’t just say “Well, they’ve already shown us most of it. Might as well see the rest”. Most actors/actresses draw a line and this crosses that line. And now, they have to live with the fact that millions of people have seen those images. They will have to keep their head held high for PR reasons, but I’m sure that some of them feel incredibly violated. I know that I would feel violated if someone hacked into my Dropbox account and downloaded my schoolwork, which doesn’t even compare to what has happened to these people.

And don’t even give me that bullshit “She should have protected her data better”. I keep my TV in my living room. If someone breaks my window and takes my TV, should I have protected my TV better? Was I at fault for putting my TV in a place that is easy for me to get to? I locked my windows and doors but someone got to it anyway. Obviously, things like naked pictures should be kept more secure than a TV. I’m a tech-savvy guy and I know this. But to the standard individual, a password is like putting something into a lockbox. Don’t blame the victim when the perp is the one who committed the crime…I’m a 20 year old guy…and honestly I would have liked to see some revealing images of JLaw or Kate Upton. It’s human nature. But I honestly can’t be a part of this. The damage is done and it doesn’t help anything, but I find it sickening that people are okay with what happened.

What Manese did was to organize the subreddit, to make sure no underage content (like some McKayla Maroney pics) ended up there and no redundant threads were started. He was sortof like a web publisher, sortof like Nick Denton, the publisher of Gawker. Except, of course, Nick Denton was worth over $70 million dollars and Manese had trouble paying his utilities. Denton could publish hacked celeb nudes and he could also publish screeds attacking others for publishing hacked celeb nudes, attacks which never mentioned Gawker‘s own crimes. Seventy million dollars could do things like that: it could buy you journalism which might illuminate the world, and it could also buy you blindness. What Gawker had done in the past was not something like what Manese had done, but worse: they not only published hacked celeb nudes, but they welcomed and negotiated such submissions. We know this because they openly admit as much in two places.

“Did This Person Make a Michelle Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno Or Did I?” (archive today link) by Maureen O’Connor, is about the writer’s failed attempts to acquire footage of Trachtenberg nude on her balcony. “Welcome the virtual glory hole of online gossip,” writes O’Connor. “Here is my correspondence with Michelle Trachtenberg’s mysterious creeper.” The first email and O’Connor’s reply give an idea of Gawker‘s welcome attitude to such footage.

Trachtenberg header

Michelle Trachtenberg Leak

I give what might seem an elaborate prelude to the second example of Gawker not only welcoming such celeb nudes, but soliciting them, starting with some tweets by Adrian Chen, the very good reporter whose work has been cited several times here. That “very good” is sincere and without irony; I do not belive in simple villains. A reader might be mistaken that I wish less loathing for someone like John Manese but more loathing for someone like Maureen O’Connor, when I want nothing of the kind. O’Connor is a gifted journalist who writes about the messiness of sex amidst the messinesss of technology with an insight and openness that I envy91. She was ruthlessly honest about her role and what she did in “Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno” in ways that the later celeb nude essays on Gawker weren’t: “Even as my skin began to crawl, I kept up the correspondence…Was there some secret ring of private celebrity smut peddlers I didn’t know about? (As opposed to public celebrity smut peddlers like Rupert Murdoch and me.)” The world O’Connor gives us in “Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno” isn’t a laugh filled romp where a celebrity’s body and a celebrity’s life are just incidental objects of pleasure, but a horror movie; we are back again in The Fan Club, with a delusional obsessive like Adam Malone. “I found myself wondering more about the anonymous emailer than the contents of the purported video,” writes O’Connor, and she makes clear the dangerous fires that our fingers touch. “Rogue paparazzo? Maybe. Sexual predator? Possibly.” Whatever crime we observe, we are complicit. Like any horror film, there is an inevitable, unstoppable momentum, though the horror of it makes us wish to stop whatever our desires have set in motion. O’Connor: “Even as my skin began to crawl, I kept up the correspondence.” The promised videotape remains elusive, never delivered, while the image of the sender becomes more and more disturbing, a psychopath who follows an actress obsessively enough that he might have footage of her nude on a facing balcony. The post “Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno” is like a Michael Haneke movie, if Haneke had anything like an empathy to equal his gift for cruelty, and if Haneke ever considered himself as culpable as his viewers and his subjects.

The need to view those involved in #TheFappening as a contemptible, inhuman other came from publications like BuzzFeed and Gawker who perhaps felt the need to emphatically separate themselves from this animal rabble because their hands were very dirty from past leaks. “Celebrities began being distributed online by thirsty bitcoin whores,” writes Erin Gloria Ryan in “Behind Every Bullied Woman”. Well then, Nick Denton and staff like Maureen O’Connor, Leah Beckmann (author of “This Week’s Naked Celebrity Phone Pics: Glee‘s Heather Morris”) (archive today link), and Fleshbot editor Lux Alptraum are whores in whatever currency you choose. T.C. Sottek would describe those involved in distributing pictures of #TheFappening ring on reddit as the “detritus of human society”. Well then, Gawker’s publisher and its staff are detritus as well. “What Kind Of Creep Sells A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” asks Charlie Warzel. I dunno, Mr. Warzel. But if you asked me, “What Kind Of Creep Publishes A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” Well, then: you did. Anyway, so here are the tweets from Adrian Chen:

The first deals with Gabriel Snyder, a former colleague of Chen’s at Gawker, on becoming the new editor of The New Republic. This followed the mass departure of that magazine’s staff after the resignation of Franklin Foer, the magazine’s editor, in reaction to some of the decisions of the new owner, Chris Hughes. This post is already overly long without that subplot, and those curious can read the definitive piece on the controversy, “Inside the Collapse of The New Republic” by Ryan Lizza. The second tweet of importance is a sneering dismissal of Anonymous because of their supposed plans to humiliate Iggy Azalea for some transgression by releasing a sex tape. The release of this sex tape demonstrated to Chen the inherent, undeniable misogyny of the group, a point he emphasized in “The Truth About Anonymous’s Activism” a review of Gabriella Coleman’s Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, and the thesis of the review was that the group was just a bunch of woman hating racist trolls, a fact about which there was much supposed denial on the part of Coleman and others. You could be unsentimental about Anonymous (I think I am) and still be appalled by the sloppiness of Chen’s work here. In effect, any action by an anonymous mob on the internet that Chen disapproves of is attributed to “Anonymous” while anything that might complicate this perception is left out.

“I first encountered the lulz,” Chen writes of what he calls the evil laugh at someone’s expense, “when I wrote a story for Gawker about how Anonymous had harassed an 11-year-old girl into police protection for the lulz after she had recorded a YouTube video that annoyed them.” Though he never gives her name, I assume this is Jessi Slaughter (Jessica Leonhardt), who was attacked on 4chan and other places, and the story is “How the Internet Beat Up an 11-Year-Old Girl”. Why he speaks of this as taking place under the rubric of “Anonymous”, what we think of as the later political group which would put out videos and manifestos under that name, I have no idea (the original “How the Internet” article makes no mention of Anonymous)92. The de facto leader of LulzSec, the group at the forefront of the hacks that gave the name “Anonymous” such prominence, was Hector “Sabu” Monsegur, a Puerto Rican American who grew up in the Bronx ghetto, and whose first major hack was spurred on by a desire to protest the bombing tests on Vieques93. Other members included Jeremy Hammond, possibly the most skilled hacker in the group, a man who had gone to jail for protesting a white supremacist rally and was a deeply committed socialist94; their informal press liaison Barrett Brown, who wrote numerous essays lampooning Confederate sympathizer Robert Stacey McCain95; and “Kayla”, a british infantryman whose persona on-line was always female, yet who was always treated as a full and equal partner by the other LulzSec members. Chen would shrug that Anonymous hadn’t really done much in the fight against Scientology, and longtime Scientology journalist Tony Ortega would disagree in his piece, “What Adrian Chen got wrong about Anonymous and Scientology”. Chen also leaves out Anonymous allying with Charlotte Laws when she went after revenge porn kingpin Hunter Moore, a story Laws relates in “I’ve Been Called the “Erin Brockovich” of Revenge Porn, and For the First Time Ever, Here is My Entire Uncensored Story of Death Threats, Anonymous and the FBI”, or the involvement of Anonymous in the Amanda Todd case. None of this requires you to see Anonymous in a sentimental light or to even look upon them, or their various chapters, as necessarily competent. But it is one thing to be harshly critical of the group; it is another to erase their political identities (and in the case of Sabu, his racial identity) so that you might impose your thesis. The review is as shallow and lazy indictment as any Gawker thinkpiece about #TheFappening, especially as there is one key point which Chen leaves out, one that had to be brought up by others.

It would be left to Andrew Blake and Daniel Stuckey to point out in The Daily Dot‘s “Gawker, Anonymous, an FBI informant, and the stolen emails that never existed” the negotiations by Chen with representatives of Anonymous to pay for NATO emails and other documents supposedly acquired by the group after they hacked News of the World. There were good reasons for why Blake and Stuckey wanted to reveal this; The Daily Dot would add a rather tardy post-script that the two had sometimes managed the Anonymous twitter account, @YourAnonNews, though not during the time of those events.

From “Gawker, Anonymous”:

Eager to expose further corruption at the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World (NoW)after a Guardian report revealing it for phone-hacking had recently caused the paper to fold—Chen pitched an offer to one of the most vocal and public proponents of the hacktivist movement Anonymous: “[W]hat if Gawker made a substantial donation to the topiary fund in exchange for the emails[?]”

Chen was referring to a legal defense trust launched days earlier for Jake Davis, a U.K. teen accused by authorities of being behind the alias Topiary, a member of the Anonymous offshoot LulzSec.

“[T]hat would be cool,” replied Monsegur, known by Chen and others at the time by his alias, Sabu. “I think we’re at 5btc right now,” he told Chen, referring to an amount of Bitcoin at the time worth only $60.25.

Chen would propose an information sharing arrangement something like what took place between Wikileaks and the Times; handing over the documents and letting Gawker go through them, so they might sort out the wheat, which Gawker would publish, giving Anonymous/LulzSec a higher profile, after which they could publish their entire cache of docs.

Again, from “Gawker, Anonymous”:

Adrian Chen and Sabu in chat

However, Sabu was just trolling. Sabu on chat a few hours earlier, again from “Gawker, Anonymous”:

Sabu Let's troll him

I don’t take any issue with Chen having to rely on Anonymous for such leaked information, as just about any journalist ends up obtaining some information from unsavoury, criminal, despicable sources. I take issue with the lack of any such reference in his review, because I do think such reference is crucial for understanding the momentary ascension of Anonymous. Chen blames the fetishization of technology for the unearned hosannas of Anonymous, technology as a magical tool which emancipates us from the strictures of reality, where real world hierarchy is destroyed through the creation of a virtual world on-line, the same snake oil panacea sold by every tech start-up. This avoids the fact that Anonymous did not earn many kudos from the Valley community, but got them mostly from journalists. Barrett Brown was championed by Glenn Greenwald and Michael Hastings. More importantly, at a place like Gawker where the budget for investigative reporting was close to zero, they had to rely almost entirely on hacker groups like Anonymous for any advantage in clicks. It was in their interest that Anonymous be anti-establishment warriors. We see something like the same process take place now, with their handling of their material from the Sony leaks. The information they got out of these leaks they could never have managed through traditional reporting, given that they have no presence in L.A. and a near zero investigative reporting budget. How would they deal with the fact that the group which hacked Sony may well have been backed by the regime of North Korea, infamous for the starvation of its people and utterly inhumane treatment of its citizens? Well, they would emphatically deny that the hacker group had anything to do with North Korea: “A Lot of Smart People Think North Korea Didn’t Hack Sony” by Sam Biddle. That it was in Gawker‘s interest that North Korea wasn’t behind the Sony hack wasn’t mentioned; nor was the fact that smart people like Brian Krebs made a very strong case for North Korean involvement, in “The Case for N. Korea’s Role in Sony Hack”.

For years, Gawker had happily posted hacked celeb nudes without compunction, and made no effort to depict those through whom they got the stolen pics as criminals, misogynists, or creeps. When #TheFappening took place, they make a sudden and astonishing swerve; these stolen photos, which they’d been publishing for years, were something akin to rape, and those who stole and distributed the photos were vile predators, which is the steady drumbeat of “What Was Celebrity-Nude-Gate? Or, An Adventure in Reddit Philosophy”, “Behind Every Bullied Woman Is a Man Yelling About Free Speech”, and “That Type of Girl Deserves It”. Ryan Holiday’s perceptive “Spare us the Sanctimony” argued that Gawker‘s sudden shift was due to social media reaction – “the people on Twitter seem to be against this–so we are too.” I think it had more to do with a small note in Holiday’s essay: “Gawker no longer owns Fleshbot, but did when the blog posted the Scarlett Johansson nudes.” It was Fleshbot, Gawker‘s porn division, where Gawker Media published much of their “barely legal” or plain illegal material, whether it be the Johansson nudes, the Rihanna nudes, the Ashley Greene nudes, and many others. It allowed them to collect clicks without tainting their parent brand with the vileness of their behavior. If they still owned Fleshbot, that’s where the J-Law nudes would have been put. This, in fact, is exactly what happened at the now independent Fleshbot, which ran multiple posts promoting the nudes from the hack: “(Alleged) Nude Photos Of Jennifer Lawrence and Other Celebrities Leaked” (archive today link) (this initial post linking to the leaked nudes was the most popular Fleshbot post of 2014), “The Fappening Round 2: Nude Celebrity Cell Phone Photos Leaked AGAIN” (archive today link), and “More Information On Those Leaked Celeb Pics” (archive today link). The text from “The Fappening Round 2” outlined their modus operandi:

There aren’t many people who will condone hacking. It’s an invasion of privacy, it leads to all kinds of legal issues, and the majority of us are very careful to take the right measures to avoid it at all costs. However, when hacking comes in the form of a plethora of leaked photos of some of the hottest celebs in Hollywood, it’s hard to hacker bash. Shh! That doesn’t mean that we condone hacking by any means. It just means that instead of speaking up about how wrong it is, we’re just going to sit back with our mouthss shut and watch as the debauchery unfolds!

Many of you know about “The Fappening” round one which involved the leak of several celebrity nude photo’s [sic] and occurred a couple of weeks ago. Well, the celebrity photo hackers that we hate to love are back at it again, and this time around they’ve given us even hotter nudes than before! We aren’t too sure how long they’ll stay up, so go get your fix now before it’s too late!

Again, the Reddit philosophy that “What Was Celebrity-Nude-Gate? Or, An Adventure in Reddit Philosophy” sneered at was from the company’s CEO Yishan Wong: “We uphold the ideal of free speech on reddit as much as possible not because we are legally bound to, but because we believe that you—the user—has the right to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, and that it is your responsibility to do so.” I see little or no difference between that and the philosophy espoused by Fleshbot: “[W]hen hacking comes in the form of a plethora of leaked photos of some of the hottest celebs in Hollywood, it’s hard to hacker bash. Shh! That doesn’t mean that we condone hacking by any means. It just means that instead of speaking up about how wrong it is, we’re just going to sit back with our mouthss shut and watch as the debauchery unfolds!”

The Fappening Fleshbot Header

The Fappening Fleshbot links

The Fappening 2nd Round Header

Fappening 2nd Round Fleshbot Philosophy

I don’t see this as any kind of abrupt break from the approach of Gawker, or Fleshbot from when it was still under the aegis of Gawker Media. The Fleshbot posts on #TheFappening, complete with improvised justification for why they were permissible, are entirely consistent with past posts dealing with celeb nude hacks that appeared on both sites. The only change is on the side of the parent company; since they no longer owned Fleshbot, they really had nowhere on their sites to publish the pics. And when a source, whether it be Anonymous or a hacker of celeb nudes, ceased to have a purpose, Gawker Media would segregate themselves from the leaker, and make that leaker the judas goat. There was no symbiosis, there was no relationship, there was suddenly only the infidel, outside.

A reader may wonder what Gabriel Snyder, current editor of The New Republic, has to do with all this. Well, T.C. Sottek has bluntly stated that those involved in the illegal distribution of private material like this are the detrius of society, Amanda Hess has emphatically said in ““Don’t Take Nude Selfies,” Shrug It Off, and Other Gross Advice for Hacked Celebs” that the hack “is both a criminal act and a widespread attack on female sexual agency,” and no doubt Adrian Chen agrees with this assessment (at least now he does), judging a leaked sex tape as a culmination of the misogyny of Anonymous. It would turn out that Anonymous, in fact, had nothing to do with any such leaked sex tape; whether you read it at the Huffington Post‘s “Anonymous Account Suspended From Twitter After Threatening Iggy Azalea (UPDATE)” by Stephanie Marcus or Hack Read‘s “Don’t listen to Bullshit, Anonymous is NOT Leaking Iggy Azalea’s Sex Tape.”:

A news went viral yesterday claiming online hacktivists Anonymous have threatened to leak sex tape of Australian model Iggy Azalea unless she apologizes to American rapper, singer, and songwriter Azealia Banks on some racial issue.

Well based on our personal investigation and conversation with some of the most reliable Anonymous handles on Twitter, we found out that Anonymous has not made any such threat.

The Twitter account @TheAnonMessage, who was making these threat (has been deleted by Twitter) is nothing but a troll and home to lies and fake Tweets. (Probably a wannabe and an attention seeker).

The connection this has to Gabriel Snyder is that though Anonymous had never published someone’s sex tape against their wishes, Gabriel Snyder most certainly had. It was when he was at Gawker‘s Hollywood blog, Defamer, and it was a sex tape of Grey’s Anatomy star Eric Dane, his wife Rebecca Gayheart, and former Miss Teen USA Kari Ann Peniche. The original post has been deleted for reasons we’ll get to, but there is an archived version: “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome” ( link). There is a link to the video on Gawker‘s main site, carrying Snyder’s name: “All Your McSteamy Dreams Come True”. It’s astonishing that Gawker‘s staff have forgotten this post, because like their Olivia Munn post, it was one of their most popular, pulling in over 2.8 million views. We might excerpt what Gabriel Snyder wrote at “Dane’s Anatomy”, several paragraphs of jeering contempt for all three participants in the tape:

“How did these people end up here?” is the implied question of every sex tape. Especially with the druggy romp Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy’s “Dr. McSteamy”) and his wife Rebecca Gayheart filmed with beauty-queen-turned-Hollywood-madam Kari Ann Peniche.

In the video (which we edited down from a 12-minute original), we see the apparently inebriated threesome — at one point Gayheart says she needs to lay down because she’s so high — lounging au naturel in the fallen beauty queen’s Studio City apartment, passing around the camera and, for giggles, discussing what their porn names should be. Dane settles on “Tuff Hedemen” (his favorite champion bull rider). Soon the threesome move to the bathroom where the two ladies disrobe and get into a jacuzzi tub while Dane takes over the camera duties.

The line between Hollywood success and failure is razor thin. The acting couple (the married in 2004) may not be at the pinnacle of the Hollywood talent heap, but they’re about as successful as they could have hoped in their teenage years. Oh, and they’re hoping to start a family! Dane, 36, moved to L.A. in his teens, landing bit parts in early 1990s TV shows like Saved by the Bell and The Wonder Years, palling around the Hollywood club scene (once dated Lara Flynn Boyle!) before winning stardom in Grey’s Anatomy. Gayheart, 38, had her first big break in 1992 as the Noxzema Girl, and aside from accidentally killing a teenager crossing the street, she’s made a career of film and TV roles here and there.

Peniche, 25, probably had a similar future in mind when she was crowned Miss Teen USA in 2002, but it wasn’t to be. She was stripped of her crown for posing in Playboy (NSFW link). Peniche tried to leverage the controversy into a career, and knocked around on the Hollywood Z-list for a while. She got engaged to Backstreet Boy Nick Aaron Carter for a minute. There were a handful of TV and film roles, but lately, a source in Hollywood tells us, she’s ended up working as a madam, working the Hollywood club scene as “Tristan Bailey.” Her m.o.: When horny club dudes would hit on her, she’d tell them she was seeing someone…but, she could hook them up with someone who knew some smokin’ hotties-for-hire. The dudes would then be redirected back to her service, and she’d occasionally turn a trick herself.

Update: Dane and Gayheart’s adorable lawyer Marty Singer hasn’t sent us any legal threats yet, but he did get on the phone with TMZ to issue a threat against, well, us because the tape is “private, confidential.” I haven’t heard from him but you do have to chuckle when a man speaks of what he knows:

“From what I’ve seen it’s a naked tape, not a sex tape.” Singer added, “At most it’s 3 people maybe wanting to have sex.”

Oh, and look, his take-down request just arrived. Let me go read it.

Gawker made sure to squeeze as much juice as possible out of this tape, with several follow-up articles in Defamer (again: the blog run by Snyder): “Who’s Calling McSteamy Trio Participant Kari Ann Peniche A Hooker?” by Foster Kamer ( link), “McSteamy Sex Tape Stimulates Economies: The Mystery Smoking Product, Revealed?” by Kamer ( link), “More People Know Kari Ann Peniche’s Boobs Than Her Face” by Brian Moylan ( link), and “One Week Later, Where Are McSteamy, the Noxema Girl and the Fallen Beauty Queen Now?” by Moylan ( link). “Weblogs are way less alien if you come from a British journalism background,” says Nick Denton in Tom Scocca’s profile, “The Gawker King”. The echoes of that background, writes Scocca, “are most noticeable now at Sploid, his news site, which strips down all the world’s events to screaming tabloid-beyond-tabloid headlines.” If we were to boil down the Gabriel Snyder story into one nasty, pungent Sploid headline, I guess it might be: “‘PRESTIGE’ MAG RUN BY SEX CRIMINAL“.

Dane Gayheart Sex Tape Gabriel Snyder on Defamer

Dane Gayheart Sex Tape on Gawker

Who's Calling Kari Ann Peniche a Hooker?

More People Know Kari Ann Peniche's Boobs Than Her Face

Mystery Smoking Product Revealed

One week later

Dane and Gayheart most certainly did not want the tape to be published, and they filed suit against Gawker to take the video down, which became the subject of the post by John Cook, “McSteamy v. Gawker Media, LLC”.

John Cook, by the way, also was a champion of Snyder becoming the editor of The New Republic:

In the legal papers, Gawker concedes they had no permission from the plaintiffs to show the video: “the Gawker Defendants admit that Plaintiffs did not authorize the reproduction, adaptation, distribution, performance or other use of the short clip from the Video on or,” Furthermore, they needed no such permission: “the Gawker Defendants specifically deny that Plaintiffs’ authorization was needed to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform or otherwise use the short clip from the Video.”96 There is a straight line that runs through this sex tape incident, and the later one involving Scarlett Johansson, and the last one, #TheFappening. In all three episodes, the lawyer filing claims against those who published any images was Hollywood superlawyer Marty Singer. In all three cases, the basis for his takedown notice was over copyright, the issue which successfully forced both BuzzFeed and Fleshbot to remove their Johansson images97. In this case, however, Singer was a little late with his copyright registration and it was on this basis that Gawker fought him: “Because Plaintiffs’ own allegations and information from the face of their Copyright Registration Certificate establishes that Gawker’s alleged infringement of the tape commenced before they registered the tape with the Copyright Office, Plaintiffs are not entitled to recover either statutory damages or attorneys’ fees in this action.”98 Dane and Gayheart would eventually settle with Gawker out of court, and Gawker, after pulling in millions of views, would remove the tape from their site99.

We know what Gawker’s attitude was toward the plaintiffs at that time, from a profile of Gaby Darbyshire, “Nick Denton’s Secret Weapon: Gaby Darbyshire Is Gawker’s Chief Enforcer” by John Koblin100. Darbyshire was Gawker Media’s counsel, chief of operations, longtime friend of Nick Denton, and arguably the secondmost important figure at the company until her resignation in 2012101. Here is an excerpt of Darbyshire’s reaction to one person asking Gawker Media to take something down from their site. I bold a particularly striking section:

A couple of years ago, one spurned subject took a trip to Ms. Darbyshire’s office, broke into tears and collapsed on the floor while begging and pleading for a post to be removed.

She didn’t flinch. “Do I feel terrible for her?” said Ms. Darbyshire. “Yeah, of course I do. I have absolute sympathy for these people. Am I going to do what they want? No.”

She has very little tolerance for people who get angry at what Gawker writes, particularly when it has the right to do so. “It’s just dumb,” she continued. “People don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. I’m a moralist in that respect. Fucking take responsibility for your actions! I have plenty of sympathy, but this is the world you chose to live in.

This, presumably, would have been the fate of a woman who got her nude pics up on the site who lacked Marty Singer as a lawyer and the popular appeal of Jennifer Lawrence. Fucking take responsibility for your actions!

Now, I excerpt now two tweets which T.C. Sottek singled out in “Say hello to men who hate NSA spying but blame women for being spied on”:

This was the same attitude which Amanda Hess attacked in ““Don’t Take Nude Selfies,” Shrug It Off, and Other Gross Advice for Hacked Celebs”, that the onus was being placed on the victims, that if you ended up nude in a photo or video, fucking take responsibility for your actions!:

New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton tweeted Monday, “Put together a list of tips for celebs after latest leaks: 1. Don’t take nude selfies 2. Don’t take nude selfies 3. Don’t take nude selfies.” (He later apologized.) Ricky Gervais made a similar joke before deleting it from Twitter: “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” These messages instruct women that they are to blame for being sexually exploited because they dared to express themselves sexually in private and in consensual contexts. (When hackers steal credit card information, the public isn’t blamed for daring to shop.) As Lena Dunham succinctly put it, “The ‘don’t take naked pics if you don’t want them online’ argument is the ‘she was wearing a short skirt’ of the web.”

Where would they actually get the vile idea to tweet out that it was the fault of the victim for appearing nude in the first place? Well, there are many things that I am grateful to David Carr for, and one of them is his piece, “Gawking at a Lawsuit”, which highlighted what Denton tweeted out in the aftermath of the suit by Dane and Gayheart (on tweetsave):

I wrote that Gawker did not simply welcome such videotapes, but solicited them, and this is exactly what Gabriel Snyder did in a piece on the aftereffect of the sex tape, “Who At Gawker Is Cashing In On The McSteamy Sex Video?” by Glynnis MacNicol. This sex tape post, according to “Who At Gawker”, was Gawker‘s most popular post of 2009 in August of that year, as well as their second most popular post of all time. Under the bonus system mentioned in “Who at Gawker” of five to seven dollars per thousand views, Snyder would have gotten over fourteen grand for this work, if he hadn’t been section editor. You can understand the incentive for writers to publish sex tapes and compromising photos. As part of the brief interview for “Who At Gawker”, Snyder would explicitly say he wanted to solicit sex tapes and other such coveted private materials:

I keep meaning to post a bounty list of the information, documents and videos we’d love to pay for. Sex tapes are certainly on it. As for this case, I worked with Mark Ebner [a solid reporter, despite his involvement in this], a writer and reporter who knows Hollywood seedy underworld about as well as anyone. He had a great story and we paid him. He’s got a reporting credit on the original post.

A recurring question in justice is the extent to which we are able to judge a crime independently of the man who committed it. Do we sentence the drug use or robbery of a poor man or a rich man equally? Do we weigh the same evidence equally in terms of wrongdoing when judging a black man or a white man? Amanda Hess has described these violations as crimes, and when they’re committed by Anonymous, Adrian Chen regards them as an expression of their deeply felt misogyny. I ask: is something a crime, is something a vile, infamous act only when 4chan does it, when Reddit does it, when Anonymous does it, but not when Gabriel Snyder commits the same act? This appears to be the case: we live in an era of inequality, and here we have an inequality of judgement, where some are condemned as pariahs, others are granted license to do what they wish, and millions buy amnesia. Now, John Manese can finally know what he did wrong: he did all that work on Reddit for free, instead of being in the pay of Nick Denton. Otherwise, maybe he’d now be editor of The New Republic.

Even the slender promise of Gawker, the very true axiom that serves as their fig leaf justification for every act of sadism and opportunism which they perpetuate, that “today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”, was not fulfilled here. There was a massive iceberg of a story connected with this sex tape which they had barely skimmed across, before moving on to other distractions. This epic post is already overstuffed and overlong, however, and that fascinating story will wait till part two.



(On March 7, 2015, footnotes were added which linked to the specific points in the Enigma Hood interviews for the transcript excerpts; discussion of the last episode of The Daily Capper dealing with the Amanda Todd case was added. On March 8th, all the material after “The most disturbing aspect of The Daily Capper…” was added. On March 9th, 2015, various copy edits were made – spelling, link, and grammar corrections. On March 10, 2015, the section on the mysterious Daily Capper twitter profiles was added. On March 12, 2015, the material about Jessica Leonhardt was added. On March 13, 2015, the material dealing with Kiki Ostrenga and Sticky Drama was added. On March 14, 2015, the material on the past involvement of Gawker and BuzzFeed with hacked celeb nudes was added. On March 15, 2015, the material dealing with Gabriel Snyder and the Dane-Gayheart sex tape was added. On March 16, 2015, the excerpt from Kiki Kannibal’ “Sexual Assault – Red Flags, Advice & My Experience” dealing with Danny Cespedes’ eighteen other victims was added, as were the lengthy excerpts with “Damien” AKA Jessi Slaughter with New Media Rockstars. On March 17, 2015, the material excerpted from Gabriel Snyder’s post, “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker”, was added. On that same date, additional material was added to the paragraph devoted to Maureen O’Connor’s “Did This Person Make a Michelle Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno Or Did I?” As with too many sites, we are lacking a copy editor, and copy editing on the text from the Jessi Slaughter section to the post’s end was only done on March 17, 2015. On that same day, additional material was added to the interview of “Damien” AKA Jessi Slaughter with New Media Rockstars. Again, on that same day, the material dealing with Fleshbot’s posts on #TheFappening was added. On March 19, 2015, the material about Lawrence Joseph Silipigni Jr. and AnonIB winning The Daily Capper’s Best Public Site of 2009 was added. The material on Amor Hilton was added on that day as well. On April 6th and 7th 2015, this post underwent another badly needed copy editing session. On April 10, 2015, additional links were added to the list of Barrett Brown’s work on Robert Stacy McCain. On April 14, 2015, the material on the way tabloids pre-vet material for the mainstream press, something like how leaked celeb nudes end up in the mainstream press, was added. On June 2, 2015, the split screen gif of Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller was added, and a shorter gif excerpt of Jimmy Cook on the WDBJ-7 newscast was substituted for the original. On June 11, 2015, a vine of The Daily Capper with a mention of Anon-IB was added.)


1 The book was brought up because Nicolas Roeg was given the offer to direct Caligula, but instead decided to direct The Fan Club, though the project ended up never being made. The detail comes up in “Episode 178: Caligula”, from 1:20:25 to 1:21:17, during an involved answer from Ranjit Sandhu on the attempt to find a director for Caligula, which at the time had a script by Gore Vidal, Paul Morrissey as a possible director, and Franco Rossellini as a producer, with Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione soon taking over as a superceding force:

ROB ST. MARY: So, Guccione comes in and he’s the one who ends up hiring Tinto Brass, right, or had there been other directors who’d been interested?

SANDHU: They approached a number of directors. Guccione did not want Paul Morrissey, because he did not like the Andy Warhol crowd…which is rather unusual because Franco Rossellini by that time was part of the Andy Warhol crowd. Guccione did not want Rossellini to have anything to do with the movie, he wanted Gore [Vidal] to come over, and just do the film with Gore. But of course that was illegal, because by then Franco Rosselini owned the project. They approached Nicolas Roeg, who was busy with other things, he was on a promotional tour for The Man Who Fell To Earth, and he was also in the midst of planning production for a movie version of The Fan Club, an Irving Wallace novel, which never happened.

2 From The Fan Club:

That they had rejected him, after a first hearing, was understandable. They were men, like most men, who were not used to believing an impossible dream could become a possible reality by direct action. On the other hand, if their desires to change their lives were strong enough, if their growing frustrations were at the bursting point, they might be ready to reconsider, to call on him at the bar tonight, to enlist in his cause and to undertake the adventurous mission side by side with him.

And if not, Malone told himself, no loss. He would still have his dream. He would wait, he would watch, and someday, somewhere, he would find another Byron romantic enough to join him in his quest for Sharon Fields.

3 I am indebted to the late Norman Mailer for the beautiful phrase “squire’s wrath”, which he used in his account of the 1992 Republican convention, “By Heaven Inspired”.

4 That this cruel sociopath has the name of Shiveley is no doubt a deliberate reference to a prison knife.

5 From “Irving Wallace; Prolific Writer Reached Billion Readers (page 3)” by Burt A. Folkart:

Wallace combined lust and Hollywood luminaries in “The Fan Club,” a sordid suspense novel in which a movie star is kidnaped by a group of working men who have made her the object of their sexual fantasies. They justify the action by saying only “fat cats” ever get what they want in life, a theme he began to expand upon after hearing some railroad workers discussing what they would give to spend a single evening with Elizabeth Taylor.

6 From “Irving Wallace: “The Fan Club”” by Roger Ebert:

He remembers precisely where the idea for The Fan Club came from, “and that’s unusual, because most of the time an idea will germinate over a period of months and years and you won’t know quite where it came from.

“But with this one, the inspiration came exactly five years ago last month, while I was on a train from Boston to New York. I was all alone in the club car, and then we stopped at this junction and some railroad men got aboard. There was a newspaper, and they saw a headline about Burton buying Taylor the world’s biggest diamond.

“That started them talking about Elizabeth Taylor, and one guy said he’d trade his house, his wife, big car, everything, for one night with her.

“I’d heard that kind of talk all my life. I didn’t make a note about it in my journal as a possible story idea; I thought I’d forgotten it. Then, a few days later in Los Angeles, I heard an item on the radio about Taylor flying in for the Oscars. That somehow started me thinking about an evening I’d spent at a party for Marilyn Monroe, and about another party where Lana Turner was my dinner partner and how she’d talked about men she’d known, and how she’d handled them.

“The moment I got home, I sat down at the typewriter and typed out a one page outline of The Fan Club. I had four different endings on that one page and I didn’t know if any of them would work. I knew I had a story. I’ve known a lot of these women, the so called sex symbols, and what they’re like, and how they think, and I thought it would be fascinating to create a character who tried to save her own life through manipulating the fantasies that her kidnappers had about her.”

7 From “Inside The Internet’s Secret Marketplace For Hacked Photos Of Naked Celebrities” by James Cook:

Some dealers say the celebrity photo trading industry died on the afternoon of Labor Day 2014. An anonymous pornography collector, “OriginalGuy,” did the unthinkable and set about uploading his entire collection of stolen photographs to notorious porn forum AnonIB – hundreds of images of 101 different actresses and singers. When users discovered what was happening, they swarmed the site. Eventually he was unable to load the forum to post any more images, so he took to 4chan, the anarchic discussion forum read by thousands.

That’s when people really started to notice what was going on.

8 The quotes are collated from two facebook comments to the original article, and though they’ve been re-ordered, I do not think this affects interpretation or context. A screenshot:

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

9 Rosin was spurred on to write the story after spotting the piece “Deputies Bust Massive Teen Sexting Ring in Louisa County”, author credit: WRIC Newsroom staff.

10 The original comment on postimage:

Anonymous 4chan user talks about Fappening

This posting was re-circulated to many places, including “Everything We Know About the Alleged Celeb Nude “Trading Ring” and Leak” by Gabrielle Bluestone, where I most likely found it.

11 From “‘Why Kids Sext’ Describes Nude Photos As ‘Social Currency’ Among Teens” (October 15, 2014), excerpt is taken from 19:35 to 20:23 in the Rosin interview.

12 From “‘Why Kids Sext’ Describes Nude Photos As ‘Social Currency’ Among Teens” (October 15, 2014), excerpt is taken from 20:38 to 21:38 in the Rosin interview.

13 From “Paris Hilton Hack Started With Old-Fashioned Con” by Brian Krebs:

In the months leading up to the Hilton incident, the hacker group freely exploited a security glitch in the Web site of wireless phone giant T-Mobile, according to the hacker, who described himself as the youngest member of the group. The group had found that a tool on the T-Mobile site that allowed users to reset their account passwords contained a key programming flaw.

By exploiting the flaw, the group’s members were able to gain access to the account of any T-Mobile subscriber who used a “Sidekick,” a pricey phone-organizer-camera combination device that stores videos, photos and other data on T-Mobile’s central computer servers.

The hackers could only exploit the Web site vulnerability if they actually knew a Sidekick user’s phone number. The loose-knit group had grown bored of using the flaw to toy with friends and acquaintances who owned Sidekicks and decided to find a high-profile target, one that would ensure their exploits were reported in the press, the young hacker said. They ultimately settled on Hilton, in part because they knew she owned a Sidekick; Hilton had previously starred in a commercial advertising the device.

14 From the indictment, “United States of America vs. Timothy C. Mckeage, Justin A. Perras, Jason Daniel Hawks, Zachary Wiley Mann, And Jeffrey Robert Weinberg”, specific page 2:

2. Seisint, Inc. was a Florida corporation in Boca Raton, Florida that was purchased in or around September 2004 by LexisNexis. Seisint, Inc. was the original owner of the Accurint database. The Accurint database allows organizations to quickly and easily extract information from tens of billions of data records on individuals and businesses, using proprietary data-linking methods. Customers who have an Accurint account may access the database by visiting a web site and entering a username and password. Once they have obtained access, Accurint customers can run computerized searches of the database for specific terms (including the names of debtors or criminal defendants). The Accurint database was located on servers at a facility in Boca Raton in the Southern District of Florida.

From the indictment, “United States of America vs. Timothy C. Mckeage, Justin A. Perras, Jason Daniel Hawks, Zachary Wiley Mann, And Jeffrey Robert Weinberg”, specific page 6:

1 . Between on or about January 21, 2005, and on or about March 12, 2005, TIMOTHY C. McKEAGE used a Trojan Horse program to access the Port Orange Police Department’s computer system. The Trojan Horse program infected a computer of the Port Orange Police Department, which was used in interstate commerce and communication, thereby allowing TIMOTHY C. McKEAGE unauthorized access to the computer.

2. Between on or about January 21, 2005, and on or about March 12, 2005, TIMOTHY C. McKEAGE utilized this unauthorized access to fraudulently obtain usernames, passwords, and other information, which he subsequently used to create additional usernames and passwords to access the Accurint database.

From “Teen Pleads Guilty to Hacking Paris Hilton’s Phone” by Brian Krebs:

An adult member of the hacker group acknowledged in phone conversations with a reporter that he collaborated with the teen in sending hundreds of e-mails with an explicit image and a message urging recipients to open an attached file to view additional pornographic images of children. According to both hackers, a police officer in Florida was among those who opened the e-mail attachment, which harbored a virus-like program that allowed the hackers to record anything a victim typed on his or her computer keyboard. Not long after his computer was infected with the keystroke-capturing program, the officer logged on to his police department’s account at Accurint, a LexisNexis service provided by Florida-based subsidiary Seisint Inc., which sells access to consumer data.

15 A large section of the indictment is given over to a list of names, aliased with their initials, of those persons whose records were accessed. Hilton shows up on page 9; “United States of America vs. Timothy C. Mckeage, Justin A. Perras, Jason Daniel Hawks, Zachary Wiley Mann, And Jeffrey Robert Weinberg”, specific page 9:

17. On or about January 23, 2005, JEFFREY ROBERT WEINBERG fraudulently obtained an Accurint report of an individual, P .H., containing P.H.’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, and other identification information.

Although I have made no attempt to decipher the various other initials in the set, we can guess that the “A.S.” is Arnold Schwarzenegger, “D.M.” is Demi Moore, and “L.F.” is Laurence Fishburne. We know this from “Arrests Made in ’05 LexisNexis Data Breach” by Brian Krebs:

The government charges that the five men used the stolen Accurint accounts to look up sensitive data on a number of individuals. The victims are named only by their initials in the indictment.

But according to interviews had with at least three of the accused, the group accessed information on Hilton, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), and actors Laurence Fishburne and Demi Moore.

It should be said that the theory that this gang got the phone numbers from the Accurint database is not the one given in “Paris Hilton Hack Started With Old-Fashioned Con” by Krebs, where the gang gave their account of the hack and make no mention of the Accurint datatbase, and this I attribute to the gang not wanting to admit to other crimes unnecessarily. Instead, we’re told they obtained the phone numbers through social engineering at T-Mobile:

According to the young hacker’s account, the Hilton caper started the afternoon of Feb. 19, when a group member rang a T-Mobile sales store in a Southern California coastal town posing as a supervisor from T-Mobile inquiring about reports of slowness on the company’s internal networks.

The conversation — which represents the recollection of the hacker interviewed by — began with the 16-year-old caller saying, “This is [an invented name] from T-Mobile headquarters in Washington. We heard you’ve been having problems with your customer account tools?”

The sales representative answered, “No, we haven’t had any problems really, just a couple slowdowns. That’s about it.”

Prepared for this response, the hacker pressed on: “Yes, that’s what is described here in the report. We’re going to have to look into this for a quick second.”

The sales rep acquiesced: “All right, what do you need?”

When prompted, the employee then offered the Internet address of the Web site used to manage T-Mobile’s customer accounts — a password-protected site not normally accessible to the general public — as well as a user name and password that employees at the store used to log on to the system.

To support his story, the hacker provided with an image of a page he said was from the protected site. T-Mobile declined to comment on the screenshot, and has no way to verify its authenticity.

The hackers accessed the internal T-Mobile site shortly thereafter and began looking up famous names and their phone numbers. At one point, the youth said, the group harassed Laurence Fishburne, the actor perhaps best known for his role in the “Matrix” movies as Morpheus, captain of the futuristic ship Nebuchadnezzar.

“We called him up a few times and said, ‘GIVE US THE SHIP!'” the youth typed in one of his online chats with a reporter. “He picked up a couple times and kept saying stuff like YOUR ILLEGALLY CALLING ME.”

Later, using their own Sidekick phone, the hackers pulled up the secure T-Mobile customer records site, looked up Hilton’s phone number and reset the password for her account, locking her out of it. Typical wireless devices can only be hacked into by someone physically nearby, but a Sidekick’s data storage can be accessed from anywhere in T-Mobile’s service area by someone with control of the account. That means the hackers were at that point able to download all of her stored video, text and data files to their phone.

16 From “Paris Hilton Hack Started With Old-Fashioned Con” by Brian Krebs:

Later, using their own Sidekick phone, the hackers pulled up the secure T-Mobile customer records site, looked up Hilton’s phone number and reset the password for her account, locking her out of it. Typical wireless devices can only be hacked into by someone physically nearby, but a Sidekick’s data storage can be accessed from anywhere in T-Mobile’s service area by someone with control of the account. That means the hackers were at that point able to download all of her stored video, text and data files to their phone.

“As soon as I went into her camera and saw nudes my head went JACKPOT,” the young hacker recalled of his reaction to first seeing the now-public photos of a topless Hilton locked in an intimate embrace with a female friend. “I was like, HOLY [expletive] DUDE … SHES GOT NUDES. THIS [expletive]’s GONNA HIT THE PRESS SO [expletive] QUICK.”

Though the “young hacker” remains nameless in this article and in contemporary accounts after the gang’s capture is either unnamed or omitted due to him being a juvenile, he’s identified as Cameron LaCroix in numerous other accounts, such as “They’ll Always Have Paris” by Krebs and the later profile of LaCroix, “Ex-teen hacker tells Paris Hilton he’s sorry [WARNING: autoplay video]” by Tom Winter, Jeff Rossen and Jovanna Billington.

17 From “Ex-teen hacker tells Paris Hilton he’s sorry [WARNING: autoplay video]” by Tom Winter, Jeff Rossen and Jovanna Billington:

Hacking gave him a high and a sense of recognition. I wanted to be a celebrity, he said. When the Hilton photos went viral online, it was mind-blowing for me. I felt famous.

18 On his parole violation, from “They’ll Always Have Paris” by Brian Krebs:

No public information was available about 18 year old Cameron “cam0” LaCroix, who was a juvenile when the crime occurred. The teen pleaded guilty in September 2005 and spent 11 months in a Massachusetts juvenile detention facility. He was released last summer. Federal prosecutors declined to comment on his case, and the teen’s records are under seal because they are connected to the juvenile conviction.

Two sources close to the case who asked not to be named say LaCroix recently was sent back to detention. He apparently violated the terms of his supervised release, which barred him from possessing or using any computer, cell phone or other electronic equipment capable of accessing the Internet.

From “Ex-teen hacker tells Paris Hilton he’s sorry [WARNING: autoplay video]” by Tom Winter, Jeff Rossen and Jovanna Billington:

Before he was 21, he was sent to prison again after pleading guilty to racking up thousands in phony gift card purchases. The gift cards were purchased with stolen credit card numbers, but cashiers wouldn’t challenge them an easy end-run around corporate security.

[The cards] had no name on [them], he explains. The cashier would say,’Jeez, you know, it’s $600, $700 worth of stuff. Then they’d see the gift card and relax.

You don’t [need] an ID. Nothing. All that matters is that someone else’s information is on that magnetic strip.

And he kept hacking. Armed with little more than a $300 Toshiba laptop from Best Buy, he went back to stealing money with his skills, and used some of the funds to underwrite his growing dependence on opiates.

He still sounds excited when he talks about hacking, and with the help of a social worker he’s trying to understand the allure it holds for him. Both he and the social worker think there’s a clear link to his drug use.

[You get] the same pleasure. The same reward, Lacroix said. That challenge of getting in. It’s just like, ‘Wow.’

Lacroix stole 14,000 credit card numbers from online retailers, adding to what he thinks is a lifetime total of $500,000 or more in thefts from consumers. Other feats of hacking, however, just seemed to feed his need for a rush.

He hacked into state and local police databases, looking for warrants and arrest records and learning the identities of confidential informants, and through those databases gained access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. He changed his grades and his friends’ grades at the community college.

Then, on Feb. 18, 2013, Lacroix took over Burger King’s Twitter account. He replaced the fast-food chain’s logo with McDonald’s golden arches and said that Burger King had been sold to its competitor because the Whopper flopped.

19 From “Massachusetts Man Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for Computer Hacking Involving Stolen Credit Card Numbers and Altered Academic Records” by Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs:

Massachusetts Man Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for Computer Hacking Involving Stolen Credit Card Numbers and Altered Academic Records

A Massachusetts man was sentenced to serve four years in prison today for hacking into computer networks around the country including networks belonging to law enforcement agencies and a local college to obtain highly sensitive law enforcement data and to alter academic records, as well as for possessing stolen credit and debit card numbers.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz of the District of Massachusetts, Special Agent in Charge Vincent Lisi of the FBI’s Boston Division and Colonel Timothy P. Alben of the Massachusetts State Police made the announcement.

Cameron Lacroix, 25, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty on June 25, 2014, to two counts of computer intrusion and one count of access device fraud. Lacroix was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf of the District of Massachusetts.

20 Audio is taken from “MILEY’S STOLEN SHOWER PICS + HACKER SPEAKS!”. Full transcript is on pastebin, “Josh Holly aka TrainReq 1st Radio Interview Transcript”.

21 Audio is taken from “Miley Cyrus HACKER speaks!”. Full transcript is on pastebin, “Josh Holly aka TrainReq 2nd Radio Interview Transcript”.

22 How Josh Holly did the Cyrus hack, from “Miley Cyrus Hacker Raided by FBI” by Kim Zetter:

Holly told Threat Level he stole about a dozen Cyrus pictures but only published the most provocative ones. He said he got access to Cyrus’s Gmail account after obtaining unauthorized access to a MySpace administrative panel where he found passwords for MySpace accounts stored in cleartext. He found the password Cyrus used for her MySpace account Loco92 and tried it on a Gmail account Cyrus was known to use. The password worked on that account as well, but only for a couple of weeks before it was changed.

Holly said he obtained access to the MySpace administrative panel by social engineering a MySpace worker. He was able to obtain a list of instant message buddies for one of the employees (he didn’t adequately explain to Threat Level how he’d done that before he ended our conversation) and sent an instant message to an employee named C. Cho, using the screen name of another MySpace administrator.

Posing as the other administrator, he told Cho he was having trouble logging in to the MySpace administrative panel and asked if he could use Cho’s username and password. Cho said yes, and Holly had access to the panel for about 16 hours, from about 3 a.m. to 7 p.m. one day, before MySpace discovered its security had been breached and changed or canceled Cho’s log-in credentials. Holly said he was resetting account passwords for MySpace users, which likely tipped off MySpace.

That Cyrus’s password was her dog’s name and birthdate, from “Alleged Miley Cyrus Hacker Arrested” by Robert McMillan:

Cyrus apparently used the same password — loco92 (her dog’s name plus her year of birth) — for several accounts, Holly said in a radio interview after the hack. After obtaining the password, “I tried it out on her e-mail and it let me in,” he said.

23 From “Confessed Miley Cyrus Hacker Sentenced to Three Years Probation” by Kim Zetter:

He claimed that he tried to sell the pictures to and other celebrity outlets, but no one would buy them, given the illegal manner by which he’d obtained them. He then posted some of them online at, after which numerous gossip and celebrity websites published them for free. More photos followed thereafter.

24 Selena Gomez, I think.

25 From “Miley Cyrus Hacker Raided by FBI” by Kim Zetter:

Hours before the FBI arrived at his doorstep, Holly posted a message online bragging that even though he was a known hacker, federal agents would never find him.

A hacker by the name of Padillac wrote Threat Level that he had little sympathy for Holly who, he said, had “been acting like an attention starved 8-year-old.”

“The problem is that TrainReq truly believed he was untouchable, and unfortunately for him, in 2008, it’s that type of reckless thinking that gets people raided,” Padillac wrote. “While most of us have smartened up and left ‘hacking’ behind, there are always newcomers like TrainReq who learn how to do something destructive and then execute their newfound abilities carelessly without fear of repercussion…[B]ut whatever here comes his big day, i just hope he doesn’t expect to touch a computer for a few years.”

26 From “Confessed Miley Cyrus Hacker Sentenced to Three Years Probation” by Kim Zetter:

Self-proclaimed Miley Cyrus hacker Josh Holly was sentenced on Monday to three years probation for computer crimes though not for the Cyrus hack that was his claim to fame.

Holly, 22, pleaded guilty last April to possessing about 200 stolen credit card numbers, and to breaching celebrity MySpace pages in a spamming scheme that earned him at least $100,000.

According to an affidavit, Holly admitted to the FBI that beginning in 2005 he had hijacked numerous celebrity internet accounts to conduct spamming. An investigation of his bank records showed that between November 2007 and July 2008, he received more than $110,000 from companies for spamming on their behalf. Holly told Threat Level that half of his illicit income went to an accomplice in Israel who used the online nickname elul21 (Elul is the Hebrew name of a month on the Jewish calendar).

Holly also said that the celebrity MySpace accounts he accessed to conduct his spamming activity belonged mainly to recording artists and groups Chris Brown, Rihanna, Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy. He accessed about 20 accounts. Once he had passwords to the accounts, he used the accounts to send bulletins to all of the friends on the MySpace accounts advertising a ringtone or call service for the recording artist. For example, he’d send out a bulletin from Fall Out Boy’s MySpace account telling fans that the band would call their phone and send them a ringtone if they clicked on a link and entered their details.

Holly said the advertising affiliates he worked for paid him between $5 and $12 per person who responded to the ad. The affiliates didn’t know he was spamming customers, he said, and, when they found out, they terminated their work with him and refused to pay him outstanding earnings.

27 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

One night in early 2008, while his grandma slept, the balding, 290-pound Chaney was idly surfing movie sites like Ain’t It Cool News when he stumbled on the latest celebrity scandal. Stolen pictures had leaked online of Miley Cyrus posing half-dressed, her midriff exposed. Chaney sparked a clove cigarette and considered the story. He couldn’t have cared less about the Miley shots themselves. What intrigued him was the guy who stole them. How’d he do it? Chaney wasn’t a hacker; he didn’t even own a computer until his late twenties and couldn’t write a lick of code. But he’d always loved solving puzzles completing crosswords, shouting out answers to Jeopardy! This was a tantalizing new riddle: “I was like, ‘How hard could this be if it’s happening all the time?'”

What Chaney lacked in technical skills, he made up for in effort. Finding a working e-mail address was a simple process of trial and error. In a Word document, he made a list of random celebrities and, one by one, entered them into Gmail first name followed by last until, days later, an address was finally accepted. (In the blur of celebs to follow, he wouldn’t be able to recall his first.) Unlocking the account, he knew, would be more difficult. To retrieve a lost password, sites often ask subscribers so-called challenge questions: What’s your mother’s maiden name? What’s your place of birth? Or, in the case of this celebrity, what’s your pet’s name? It was widely known that the hacker who broke into Paris Hilton’s phone had done it with her Chihuahua’s name, Tinkerbell. If her dog’s name was easily available online, so too, Chaney figured, were other clues.

Chaney found what he was looking for on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). After punching in the pet’s name, he watched in awe as the star’s private e-mails poured down his smudgy PC screen. “I don’t want to compare it to throwing a touchdown pass,” he says, “but it was a rush.” He quickly scrolled through the contact list, cutting and pasting the e-mails of anyone he recognized into a separate file: actresses, actors, athletes “It was pretty much anyone with a name,” he says. He then set the victim’s account to forward a copy of every e-mail to him, so even if the celeb reset the password, the e-mails would keep coming in.

Chaney eyed his in-box. He’d get to reading the messages in good time, but for now he wanted to crack more addresses. “You find the right pieces,” he says, “and then it unlocks.” There were favorite colors to ascertain. Elementary-school names. Social Security numbers. Chaney became an expert. He found old school names on, friends on Facebook, and hometowns on free directories like Intelius. “If they’ve had their names removed, their parents are probably still on there,” he says.

The one minor error in Kushner’s piece is the point on how Cameron LaCroix’s gang hacked Hilton’s T-Mobile: “It was widely known that the hacker who broke into Paris Hilton’s phone had done it with her Chihuahua’s name, Tinkerbell.” This, as we have seen, was not how they accessed the account: T-Mobile passwords can be reset when you know the phone number and the gang acquired the phone number through the Accurint database. That the hackers gained access by guessing that Hilton’s password was “Tinkerbell” was only part of early speculation, such as “Paris Hilton: Hacked or Not?” by Staci D. Kramer:

How did the phone numbers, notes and saucy pictures Paris Hilton stored on her Sidekick II handset from T-Mobile get into the hands of someone else and onto the screens of computers around the world this weekend? Was it simply a case of a consumer who failed to be careful enough with her own privacy and that of others? Or could T-Mobile — still dealing with the detritus of a previous security breach — have prevented it?

Despite the tossing around of the term “hack,” no one knows whether the data was hacked or if it was obtained with a password.

T-Mobile subscribers can access their e-mail, contacts and photos through a website protected by a user name and password. Given Hilton’s less-than-savvy reputation, the favorite candidate for her secret password is “tinkerbell” — as in one of her pet pooches.

28 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

The hacker’s eyes widened as the image filled his screen. There, without her makeup, stood Scarlett Johansson, her famous face unmistakable in the foreground, her naked backside reflected in the bathroom mirror behind her, a cell phone poised in her hand snapping the shot. Holy shit, he thought. This was a find even for him. For years, he had stealthily broken into the e-mail accounts of the biggest players in Hollywood. He had daily access to hundreds of messages between his victims and their managers, lawyers, friends, doctors, family, agents, nutritionists, publicists, etc. By now he knew more dirt than almost anyone in L.A. the secret romances, the hidden identities, films in all stages of development. Still, this photo, a private self-portrait of one of our biggest stars, was something new, something larger than life, especially his. “You feel like you’ve seen something that the rest of the world wanted to see,” he says. “But you’re the only one that’s seen it.”

Hacking didn’t just take Chaney into the secret world of sex photos. It gave him access to the hidden world of Hollywood itself the behind-the-scenes deals and day-to-day workings of the business. And Chaney, a die-hard film buff since he was a kid, says that’s what drove him deeper. His ideal victim, at least at first, wasn’t a starlet but a location scout. “I thought that was one of the awesomest [jobs],” he says. “They go around, find these places, take pictures of them, and send them to the directors. It was cool seeing a part of the process that nobody ever sees.”

After hacking the account of one producer, Chaney saw the entire filmmaking process, from start to finish. The producer was working on In Time, a film starring Justin Timberlake, Olivia Wilde, and Amanda Seyfried. Chaney breezed through copies of the script, set in a dystopian future where people die at age 26 unless they can afford to buy another day. He marveled over production photos of arms imprinted with numbers that count down the actors’ hours. He read in astonishment as one producer discussed visiting strip clubs to find a body double for an actress, perhaps Seyfried. Another had to negotiate a deal with Seyfried’s agent over how much flesh she’d show. “It seemed a fairly convoluted process just to show a butt crack,” Chaney says.

There were plenty of other juicy affairs, however. “Everyone dated everyone eventually,” he says. “It always reminded me of [Beverly Hills] 90210.” He once followed an exchange between a famous actor and actress who tried to keep their relationship private, opting to see each other at, say, Canter’s Deli at 3 a.m. instead of dodging paparazzi at the Ivy. He later read about Johansson’s separation from Ryan Reynolds long before the tabloids caught on. “They were discussing, I guess, aspects of who gets what,” he recalls: what furniture, what photos, what souvenirs. “It was weird to read stuff like that,” he went on. “It was almost too personal.”

But Chaney wasn’t just reading about celebrity sex lives; he was following them in real time. Among the more surprising revelations he discovered were a handful of explicit e-mails that leading men sent to their secret male partners. “I’m trying to figure out how to say it without names,” he says. “There were some that, you know, their public persona is they’re kind of a player, and their private persona is they’re batting for the other team…. They may have been batting for both teams, I don’t know.”

29 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

While perusing the e-mail of celebrity stylist Simone Harouche in early November 2010, he stumbled across photos of her client Christina Agui-lera trying on outfits in a dressing room, wearing little more than silver pasties. Chaney found a random guy on a celebrity message board and sent him an e-mail telling him he knew “someone” who had hacked pictures of Aguilera. Did he want to check them out?

Chaney freaked the moment he sent it. What the hell am I doing? he thought. He was using a phony e-mail address, but he didn’t know how to effectively cover his tracks. On December 8, a headline appeared on TMZ: “Christina Aguilera: My Private Sexy Pics Were Hacked.” Aguilera’s rep told TMZ they were “attempting to determine the identity of the hackers and will pursue them aggressively.”

When Chaney saw his Aguilera photos online, “it was like a gut punch,” he says. But it was also a little exhilarating. After that initial wave of anxiety, he was left with a rare feeling of accomplishment.

30 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

He soon got an unsolicited e-mail from a mysterious hacker named TrainReqSucks, a play on TrainReq, the Tennessee teen who’d released the Miley shots. The stranger wanted photos and was eager to connect Chaney to buyers. Chaney rejected his offer, but the stranger was good. He pressed all of Chaney’s buttons, effusively praising his hijacking prowess, and when he asked for proof that he had the goods, Chaney couldn’t resist. In fact, Chaney had something everyone in the industry wanted: pictures of Johansson a shot in bed, another topless, and more. “I don’t know why I responded,” Chaney told me. “It was part bragging and part proving who I was to someone.”

Chaney picked what he thought was the tamest image: the “butt shot,” as he put it. The nerves kicked in again the moment he hit send, and twisted his stomach in knots when he later saw the shot online covered in Photoshopped squiggles. “Yeah, I squiggled over that,” TrainReqSucks told him, adding that he offered to remove the lines for TMZ if they met his price. To Chaney’s shock and relief, the photo was discounted as a fake. No one paid any attention to it.

31 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

TrainReqSucks wasn’t done. He e-mailed Chaney a fake topless shot of Selena Gomez, the perky Disney star, and said he was going to sell it as real. In it, Gomez was standing in front of a door, her hand resting on a bureau, an exotic medallion hanging between her too-ample breasts. Chaney found it “creepy” and told the guy off. This only raised TrainReqSucks’s ire. “You really need to cover your ass better, ’cause they’re all over you,” TrainReqSucks replied. “There’s heat on you.”

He reached out to the infamous blogger Deep at Sea. Deep was more of a fanboy than a hacker, posting photos he found across the Web. Chaney knew the guy had a thing for Renee Olstead, the redheaded star of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and Chaney had recently stumbled on a trove of her private pictures showering in a tight white shirt, using a baby blue vibrator. He decided to share them with Deep.

Chaney was sound asleep when he heard the knocking at his front door. It was around 6 a.m. on February 11, 2011, and he could barely make out the sun rising. He ambled down the hall, but before he’d reached the door, federal agents barreled through with a battering ram, stampeding into the room past his wide-screen TV and towering stacks of DVDs. They drew their guns, freckling Chaney’s body with red laser pointers. Chaney immediately spun around and put his hands behind his back for the handcuffs. “I’m glad you did this,” he said calmly, “because I wasn’t going to be able to stop this on my own.”

To Chaney’s surprise, the feds told him he wasn’t under arrest not yet. They were confiscating his computer, and they strongly suggested that he help them get to others. Others? “They constantly repeated, ‘We’re after the big fish; you’re just the little fish,'” Chaney says. “They were after a ring of celebrity hackers.” They asked him, “Would you be willing to work with us to bring other hackers down?”

“Yeah, whatever you want.”

32 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

Websites like TMZ and Perez Hilton cash in by luring people to click on advertising banners. Nik Richie, owner of the popular gossip site The Dirty, calls a celebrity nude a “five-timer,” because it generates five times the usual traffic as many as 500,000 visitors in a day.

Chaney had recently landed a data-entry job at a trucking company when, one day in September, he read online that fully nude photos of Johansson had been leaked this time without the squiggles. “My stomach dropped,” he recalls, “because I knew I’d be the first person they came to.”

At 2:50 p.m. on September 14, a user nicknamed Mr. Green sent two nude shots of Johansson to Richie at The Dirty along with a message. “I love [the] fact that she probably sent some of these out to some Hollywood actor or producer and she never figured they would do her like that,” Mr. Green wrote. “Well, you might be a movie star and be famous, but doesn’t mean no one will fuck you over.”

Richie took one look at the photos and figured they’d been faked. There were three in all: one from behind, another topless, and another from the crotch up. To his surprise, his Photoshop experts deemed the pictures legit. Richie saw dollar signs. This went way beyond a “five-timer,” as he put it. “This, in Scarlett’s case, was times ten; it meant a million people coming to the site,” he said.

Chaney was stunned. He claims to have sent out only one shot. So how did the others get online? The only people who had seen them, he says, besides himself were the FBI, Scarlett, and her husband. Had someone hacked Chaney or Reynolds, or had someone else hacked her? Chaney’s mind was spinning. “Every night after that was very little sleep, hot and cold flashes. I knew that they were coming for me,” he says.

33 From by “Hollywood Hacker Christopher Chaney Honed His Skills For Years” by Anthony McCartney:

A federal judge sentenced a hacker to 10 years in prison on Monday after he broke into the personal online accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera and other women and posted revealing photos and other material on the Internet.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero sentenced Christopher Chaney after hearing from a tearful Johansson in a videotaped statement.

The case included the revelation that nude photos taken by Johansson of herself and meant for her then-husband Ryan Reynolds were leaked online.

“I have been truly humiliated and embarrassed,” Johansson said. “I find Christopher Chaney’s actions to be perverted and reprehensible.”

Prosecutors said Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Fla., also targeted two women he knew, sending nude pictures of one former co-worker to her father. The judge noted the damage to the women was in some ways worse than what Chaney’s celebrity victims endured.

Chaney, who could have faced a maximum sentence of 60 years under the law, apologized in court but denied that he had sent naked photos of women he knew to their relatives.

“I don’t know what else to say other than I’m sorry,” Chaney said. “I could be sentenced to never use a computer again and I wouldn’t care.”

Actress and singer Renee Olstead said in court Monday that she attempted to kill herself after Chaney leaked nude photos of her. She said she had never before considered suicide.

“I just really hope this doesn’t happen to someone else,” she said, crying. “You can lose everything because of the actions of a stranger.”

Aguilera said in a statement issued days before the sentencing that although she knows that she’s often in the limelight, Chaney took from her some of the private moments she shares with friends.

“That feeling of security can never be given back and there is no compensation that can restore the feeling one has from such a large invasion of privacy,” Aguilera said.

From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

To his peers, Chaney has become a cautionary tale. “I personally think what he did was pretty idiotic,” Josh “TrainReq” Holly told me. “Hacking celebrities is for the kids, and 35? I mean, I personally think he was too old for that.”

34 That would be “David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: Bad Religion”.

35 From “The Police Tool That Pervs Use to Steal Nude Pics From Apple’s iCloud” by Andy Greenberg:

Use the script to hack her passwd use eppb to download the backup, wrote one anonymous user on Anon-IB explaining the process to a less-experienced hacker. Post your wins here 😉

Apple’s security nightmare began over the weekend, when hackers began leaking nude photos that included shots of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Kirsten Dunst. The security community quickly pointed fingers at the iBrute software, a tool released by security researcher Alexey Troshichev designed to take advantage of a flaw in Apple’s Find My iPhone feature to brute-force users’ iCloud passwords, cycling through thousands of guesses to crack the account.

If a hacker can obtain a user’s iCloud username and password with iBrute, he or she can log in to the victim’s account to steal photos. But if attackers instead impersonate the user’s device with Elcomsoft’s tool, the desktop application allows them to download the entire iPhone or iPad backup as a single folder, says Jonathan Zdziarski, a forensics consult and security researcher. That gives the intruders access to far more data, he says, including videos, application data, contacts, and text messages.

From “Notes on the Celebrity Data Theft” by Nik Cubrilovic:

5. In reviewing months worth of forum posts, image board posts, private emails, replies for requests for services, etc. nowhere was the FindMyPhone API brute force technique (revealed publicly and exploited in iBrute) mentioned. This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t used privately by the hackers but judging by the skill levels involved, the mentions and tutorials around other techniques and some of the bragged about success rates with social engineering, recovery, resets, rats and phishing it appears that such techniques were not necessary or never discovered.

7. a) edit To reiterate what the main bugs are that are being exploited here, roughly in order of popularity / effectiveness:

  • Password reset (secret questions / answers)
  • Phishing email
  • Password recovery (email account hacked)
  • Social engineering / RAT install / authentication keys

36 This scan is taken from by “Everything We Know About the Alleged Celeb Nude “Trading Ring” and Leak” by Gabrielle Bluestone, and can be found on postimage:


37 Several examples of “Distraction News”, Dora Sammy unaltered, are on youtube. For example: “CrashBox Episode One Distraction News Tornados”.

38 From “ – Week of July 4,2010”, fragment runs from 3:43-3:58.

39 One animation segment by The Daily Capper devoted to this: “Viper’s Road to Verica”.

40 From “The Daily Capper – Week of September 5,2010”, fragment runs from 2:24-2:42.

41 The use of fake profiles and other people’s pictures by m0d is mentioned in his intro as nominee for The Daily Capper‘s 2010 “Blackmailer of the Year” award, in “2010 Capper Awards Results”, from 13:25 to 14:01.

42 From “2010 Capper Awards Results”, nominations and win for “Capper of the Year 2010” take place between 18:18 and 19:28.

43 Covered in “2010 Capper Awards Results”, when Coke and “Kristen”, the girlfriend are nominated for “Couple of the Year”, with Swan and Kristen nominated as well. Fragment runs between 8:11 and 8:38.

44 The importance of Klanhackle is mentioned in “The Daily Capper – Week of July 25,2010”, which mentions that his birthday is July 29 and list his influence on capping; fragment runs from 2:00 to 2:10. The notable achievements of Klanackle, screen shot and text:

Klanackle's impact on capping

1. Promoted tinychat when no one knew what it was in May 2009
2. Started the first tinych roon for capping which began the rise of tinychat and the start of new groups
3. Introduced Coke to tinychat
4. Began the first 6nychat room for blogtv in July 2009 and introduced the concept everyone uses today
5. Came up with a strategy to get mayathepervkiller banned from blogtv
6. Created the White Room Legion and gave everyone the ideas they use today such as perso and nitefeed and bruce lee
7. Revolutionized heroing and forced others to work to get win

45 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 11:44 to 11:58.

46 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 18:49 to 19:18.

47 From “‘Why Kids Sext’ Describes Nude Photos As ‘Social Currency’ Among Teens” (October 15, 2014), excerpt is taken from 27:16 to 28:09.

48 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 12:24 to 12:35.

49 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 13:46 to 14:10.

50 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 14:29 to 15:17.

51 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 28:25 to 29:04.

52 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, from 29:17 to 29:19.

53 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, from 32:52 to 33:15.

54 Canada is divided into provinces, rather than states like the U.S., and the westernmost province is British Columbia (B.C.), which shares a border with Washington state. Vancouver is its largest city. Both Amanda Todd and Kody Maxson lived there.

55 From “Alleged Amanda Todd cyberstalker has a warrant out for his arrest” by Cooper Fleishman:

Two days after what would have been Amanda Todd’s 16th birthday, Kody Maxson the man who Anonymous claims is behind the harassment and sexual exploitation that led her to take her own life skipped out on two Surrey Provincial Court hearings in British Columbia.

Now there’s a warrant issued for the 19-year-old, who was due to appear in court twice Thursday for charges of theft under $5,000, sexual assault, and sexual interference (touching with “sexual purpose“) of a person under the age of 16.

The charges are unrelated to Amanda Todd’s death. In fact, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, investigating Todd’s suicide, had deemed Maxson a “person of no interest.” But Maxson as I detail here and Kevin Morris discusses here happened to be deeply involved in an online ring of pedophiles who were notorious for stalking, recording, extorting, blackmailing, and harassing teenage and preteenage girls.

56 From “2010 Capper Awards Results”, the “Couple of the Year” nominations run from to 7:43 to 9:54.

57 Another Canadian province, this one located in the center of the country.

58 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 23:37 to 23:51.

59 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 0:33 to 1:45.

60 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 1:56 to 2:41.

61 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 3:17 to 3:30.

62 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 13:10 to 14:42.

63 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 20:02 to 20:50.

64 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, fragment runs from 1:24 to 5:34.

65 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, first fragment runs from 6:28 to 7:22, second fragment runs from 7:42 to 10:04.

66 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, fragment runs from 10:52 to 13:58.

67 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, fragment runs from 17:11 to 19:44.

68 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, fragment runs from 28:55 to 33:17.

69 From “Amanda Todd’s alleged tormentor may have had more Canadian victims: report”, credited to Globe and Mail staff.

70 From “Maryland man sentenced in Brownsburg online ‘sextortion’ case” by NBC affiliate WTHR:

INDIANAPOLIS – A Maryland man was sentenced to 33 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of production of child pornography. Trevor J. Shea, 21, also faces lifetime supervised release after his time is served. One of his victims was a teenage girl from Brownsburg.

US attorney Joseph Hogsett announced the plea and sentencing Friday. Hogsett called it a landmark case.

Shea admitted to blackmailing ten teenage girls to produce “images and videos of themselves engaging in sadistic and masochistic abuse and other sexually explicit conduct.”

71 The material from this paragraph is all taken from “Alabama predator sentenced to 18 years for Facebook extortion attempts: How he got access” by Patrick Hickerson.

72 Lyrics taken from AZLyrics, “12 Stone Lyrics – “We Are One””.

73 From “‘Why Kids Sext’ Describes Nude Photos As ‘Social Currency’ Among Teens” (October 15, 2014), first excerpt is taken from 8:57 to 9:22, second excerpt is from 7:23-7:37.

74 From “Teen ‘sextortion’ victim regrets not seeking immediate help” by Emily Longnecker.

75 A brief history of The White Room Legion can be found in “The Daily Capper – Week of September 5,2010”, from 3:03 to 4:09.

76 From “2010 Capper Awards Results”, “Attention Whore of the Year” segment runs from 5:26 to 7:27.

77 From the entry “Jessi Slaughter” at KnowYourMeme.

78 From “Jessi Slaughter (kerligirl13) on Good Morning America”, fragment runs from 1:35 to 1:40.

79 From “The Real-Life Tumult Of An Online Meme” by The Smoking Gun, the pizza is “Jessi Slaughter Docs (page 4)” and the school bomb threat is “Jessi Slaughter Docs (page 6)”.

80 From “The Real-Life Tumult Of An Online Meme” by The Smoking Gun, “Jessi Slaughter Docs (page 5)”

81 Lyrics taken from, “You Done Goofed”.

82 From “The Real-Life Tumult Of An Online Meme” by The Smoking Gun, “Jessi Slaughter Docs (page 7)”

83 From “Gene Leonhardt (“You Dun Goofed” dad) dead at 53″ by :”Gene Leonhardt, who became an instant internet legend after angrily defending his daughter from online critics, died this week of a heart attack. He was 53.”

84 From “Jessi Slaughter Interview”, first excerpt runs from 0:00-2:33, second runs from 2:50-3:49, third runs from 5:17-7:52, fourth is 8:07-12:13.

85 Transcript is taken from “Sexual Assault – Red Flags, Advice & My Experience”, first excerpt is from beginning of video to 0:49, and second excerpt is from 1:22 to 2:26.

86 Beyond the definitive account of this episode “Identity Crisis” by David Kushner, other helpful pieces include “Convicted Hacker Charged With Extortion After Attack On Model’s MySpace Account” and “Hacker Sentenced to 2 Years for MySpace Cyberstalking”, both by Kevin Poulsen.

87 From “ – Week of September 12,2010”, this fragment runs from 3:55 to 4:19.

88 Figure for “J-Law, Kate Upton Nudes Leak: Web Explodes Over Hacked Celeb Pics” was taken approximately around February 12, 2015, and given that majority of their clicks came in the immediate aftermath of the leak, this should hold steady.

89 A screenshot, in case the thread disappears:

Reddit John Manese CasualIAMA Excerpt Pt1

90 A screenshot, in case the thread disappears:

Reddit John Manese CasualIAMA Excerpt Pt2

91 For example, “All My Exes Live in Texts: Why the Social Media Generation Never Really Breaks Up” and “Sexting’s Strange Paradox: It’s Just No Fun”.

92 Why Chen refers to this incident in the most general terms, “how Anonymous had harassed an 11-year-old girl into police protection”, rather than to “Jessi Slaughter” or Jessica Leonhardt, since her name was out and in public in such places as an interview segment on “Good Morning, America”, I have no idea either.

93 From We Are Anonymous by Parmy Olsen:

Sabu’s real name was Hector Xavier Monsegur. He lived in a low-income housing project on New York’s Lower East Side, and with help from government welfare, he supported his five brothers, a sister, two female cousins for whom he was legal guardian, and a white pit bull named China. Monsegur would refer to the two girls, who were seven and twelve, respectively, in 2012, as his daughters. He was of Puerto Rican descent and a stickler for left-wing activism. As a child, he listened to tales of the El Grito de Lares revolt and told his family that one day, he would launch his own revolution.

Born in New York City in 1983, Monsegur grew up in relative poverty. His father, also named Hector, and his aunt Iris sold heroin on the streets. When Monsegur was fourteen, they were both arrested for drug dealing and sentenced to seven years in prison. Monsegur went to live with his grandmother Irma in a sixth-floor apartment in the Jacob Riis housing project on New York’s Lower East Side.

Online, he could live out his ambitions and avoid the disrespect he felt from figures of authority. By now he was learning how to break into the web servers of big organizations, from Japanese universities to third-world governments. Monsegur liked the buzz of subjugating a computer system, and soon he was veering from protecting them on his internships, to breaking into them in his spare time.

He had meanwhile discovered hacktivism. When he was sixteen and watching TV one day, Monsegur saw a news broadcast about protests in Vieques, an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Navy had been using the surrounding waters as a test-bombing range, and a year earlier, in 1999, a stray bomb had killed a local civilian guard. The guard’s funeral received global press attention and sparked a wave of protests against the bombings. In the TV broadcasts, soldiers pushed against protesters, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, a community leader in New York that Monsegur had become aware of through his growing interest in left-wing activism. Something snapped inside him.

He went to his computer and drew up a network map of the entire IP space for Puerto Rico, and he found that a company called EduPro was running the government sites. He hacked into the servers, discovered the root password, and got administrative access. In the heat of the moment, he also typed up an angry missive in Microsoft Word, ignoring his own typos: Give us the Respect that we deserve, he wrote. Or shall we take it by force? Cabron. He brought down the Puerto Rican government’s websites and replaced them all with his message, which stayed up for several days. Smiling at his work, Monsegur considered this his first act of hacktivism. When the U.S. military gave control of the Vieques base back to the locals two weeks later, he felt it was partly thanks to him.

94 From “Jeremy Hammond: Rise and Fall of the Legendary Hacker” by Janet Reitman, an excerpt that gives some sense of Hammond’s political background:

Even before the arrest broadcast his name worldwide, Hammond was well-known in extreme-left circles. An early champion of “cyber-liberation,” he had been described by Chicago magazine at the age of 22 as an “electronic Robin Hood” after he was sentenced to two years in federal prison for hacking a conservative website and making off with 5,000 credit-card numbers, intending to charge donations to progressive causes. But unique within the hacking subculture, Hammond was also a real-life revolutionary: a “modern-day Abbie Hoffman,” in the words of his friend Matt Muchowski. He possessed a shrewd intelligence as well as a certain impulsivity a fellow hacker referred to it as “urgency” that had led to a long string of civil-disobedience arrests dating back 10 years, for offenses ranging from defacing a wall with anti-war slogans to banging a drum during a “noise demo” at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. (He later called his brief stint in the Tombs his “best prison experience.”) Hammond was even busted once, in 2005, for trying to join a protest, against a group of white supremacists in Toledo, Ohio. “They hadn’t even gotten out of the car when they were arrested,” says Muchowski, a Chicago union organizer who bailed Hammond out.

95 For example, “Robert McCain Fine With Teen Pregnancy Among Religious, But Not Minorities” (September 17, 2009), “A Wild McCain Appears!” (October 7, 2009), “Stacy McCain Demands Retraction Over ‘White Supremacist’ Charge, Predicts Doom for Smartass” (October 8, 2009), “Robert Stacy McCain, White Supremacist Weirdo” (October 13, 2009), “My Offer to White Supremacist R.S. McCain Re: My Upcoming Book” (December 20, 2009), “Stacy McCain Finally Acknowledges, Declines My Offer to Debate” (December 21, 2009), “Seven Questions for Donald Douglas on the Question of R.S. McCain’s Racism” (January 8 2010), “Robert Stacy McCain and the Fall of the Conservative Movement” (March 18, 2010), “Palin biographer accuses me of planning anti-government violence
(December 3, 2010), “R.S. McCain accuses me of being a violent militant” (December 3, 2010), “My Final Response to Robert Stacy McCain Regarding His Racism updated” (May 25, 2011), all by Barrett Brown.

96 From “Gawker Answer”, on Digital Media Law Project, specific page 4.

97 From “Celebrities Threaten Google With $100 Million Lawsuit for “Facilitating” Hacked Nude Photos” by Eriq Gardner: “Marty Singer, representing over a dozen celebrities whose iCloud accounts were hacked and whose nude photos were stolen in late August, is excoriating Google in a letter that threatens a $100 million lawsuit.” From “Scarlett Johansson — Legal THREATS Over Nude Pics” by TMZ staff:

Scarlett Johansson’s lawyer is on the attack — warning a bunch of websites that Scarlett owns the copyright to her HACKED nude pics and anyone who doesn’t take ’em down will FACE HIS WRATH!!!!

TMZ has learned … Scarlett’s attorney — legal pit bull Marty Singer — has fired off threatening letters to various sites including [Nick Ritchie’s site]… demanding that the sites remove the “stolen copyright protected private photographs” immediately … or face legal action.

Singer claims, “The highly personal and private photographs at issue capture our client self-posing in her own home in a state of undress and/or topless.”

98 From “Gawker Motion”, on Digital Media Law Project, specific page 3.

99 From “Rebecca Gayheart, “McSteamy” Eric Dane, Get Gawker Settlement Over Threesome Video” by Edecio Martinez:

NEW YORK (CBS) The legal battle between Gawker and actors Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has been settled after the website agreed to take down the couple’s homemade sex tape in return for them not suing the bejeezuz out of the gossip blog.

The Grey’s Anatomy star and his wife had sued Gawker in September for copyright infringement, after their threesome web video leaked to the internet, showing Dane, Gayheart and former beauty queen Kari Ann Peniche romping around naked and at times barely coherent.

The lawsuit claimed that Gawker “maliciously” distributed an uncensored version of the sex tape and refused to comply with a cease and desist order.

According to Reuters, Gawker and the couple agreed to private mediation, which facilitated a settlement that was filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court last week. Sources close to the case valued the settlement in the low-six figures.

100 Koblin, the author of the profile, would end up working at Gawker media: “Young, veteran media reporter John Koblin ditches all that to write about sports for Denton’s Deadspin” by Joe Pompeo.

101 One piece on her resignation: “The Most Important Person at Gawker Media Not Named Nick Denton Is Leaving” by Peter Kafka:

Gaby Darbyshire, Gawker Media’s longtime chief operating officer, is leaving the company.

Or maybe she has already left. Ask different people at Nick Denton’s blog network about Darbyshire’s departure date and you’ll get different results. Some think she left last summer; others say last fall, and others insist that she’s still doing a few last things for Denton.

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The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings: Gawking at the Wreckage

(The following is a return to writing after a long hiatus. One earlier attempt at a return would have involved a long post about #TheFappening and a forgotten novel. That project was eventually left by the wayside because it dealt with the on-going, seemingly unending circle of poison on the internet, and the post itself felt like one more continuation of that circle. Though that post may or may not ever be written, some of its elements will eventually be brought into this one, where poisoned arrows are let fly with recklessness and abandon.)

(A NSFW warning: this post contains several passages from The Last Magazine that are very sexually explicit.)

“The ice monarch had installed his agents in my heart.”

Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer

The last time I wrote about Michael Hastings, it was to say that I thought an article of his was a fucking disgrace. It was not idle clickbait malice, or malice carried over from something else, but from a passionate feeling aroused over bad work1. I don’t regret that expression, because I thought it was entirely honest, without extra venom for the pleasure of poison – such sadism would have been pointless anyway, as he was already several months dead. Hastings was an excellent reporter, a passionate, committed reporter, an ideal expressed throughout his work; his best known piece, “The Runaway General”, a profile of Stanley McChrystal which resulted in the general’s firing, did not come up about through luck or happenstance, but was an expression of skills honed for years. The flaws I saw in his last pieces were not the result of bad habits, but the collapse of his best ones, with his relapse in sobriety reflected in the thing he put his life into, which was journalism2.

The Last Magazine was his last book, and it was very much unfinished, but it haunts me and stays in my memory months after I read it – and this is not, I think, because of the virtue of the unfinished which allows the reader to project whatever they wish on the spaces in-between. The overemphasised aspect of the novel is that it was a gossipy romp, a barely veiled look at Hastings’ workplaces, Newsweek and Gawker, and the main pleasure is to play peekaboo at the names behind the pseudonyms. “There was interest in The Last Magazine,” sniffed Paul Constant, “the novel about magazine culture written by…Michael Hastings, until the first people to get their hands on the book realized it didn’t have much to offer besides thinly veiled media gossip.”3 The book’s dark heart did not so much elude reviewers, as pass willfully unseen.

The book moves back and forth between two narratives, a “Michael Hastings”, a rookie journalist working at an unnamed magazine that’s the old Newsweek (given here the brown bag pseudonym of The Magazine), and A.E. Peoria, both an excellent war correspondent and a drug-taking, scatterbrained babblemouth. As said, most of the book’s reviews dwelt on the who’s who aspect. Newsweek editor #1, Sanders Berman, “a 37-year-old trapped in a 67-year-old’s body” is, as everyone knows, Jon Meacham, and Newsweek editor #2, Nishant Patel, the man with “chocolate emeralds that a profile writer for The New York Herald said were like an Indian Cary Grant”, is Fareed Zakaria4. Hastings had already expressed his disdain wtih Meacham in a blog post, “Newsweek: Should Jon Meacham get the blame?”, where he quotes Lee Siegel’s “News-bleak! Or Is It? Grahams Succumb to Panic”, “Mr. Meacham’s deft maneuverings reaped him recognition and acclaim while his magazine tumbled toward irrelevancy,” and more directly in an interview with Cenk Uygur: “Meacham sucks,” he says, making an emphatic thumbs down gesture, “he’s on my enemies list. One of the people I wanted to go on a rant on.”5 The laughter at these men in 2014 was relatively safe; Meacham’s failure at Newsweek was so complete that he would retreat to book publishing, and Zakaria’s profile had already been diminished by one plagiarism scandal, though a second one was still to hit after the Magazine was published6.

Gawker‘s “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” [archive link] by J. K. Trotter gives a good overview of the others, with one major misidentification and one glaring omission, an omitted ID that, given the source, you might find surprising or not surprising at all. They do, however, mention that Timothy Grove is very obviously Nick Denton, the owner of the Gawker network, and that the Wretched of the book, whose guiding policy is that “we live in a society of assholes. The media is a reflection of these assholes. We’ll show you what the inside of the asshole’s asshole looks like,” was Gawker‘s as well (though Trotter’s overview doesn’t use this quote) – then, however, there was enough of an old school publishing industry for Gawker to feed exclusively on that, and their content was shorter Page Six type items, without the interruptions of insufferably smug high mindedness that afflict it now. This, however, is letting this essay get a little ahead of itself, and letting certain feelings rise to the top already. I don’t think Gawker read the book that closely or carefully, and they leave out Tabby Doling, who is very clearly Lally Weymouth7, as well as the very gossip worthy Delray M. Milius, right hand man of Berman (Meacham) and of whom I have a few guesses, but over which I don’t feel like a libel suit8. James Rosen’s review in the Post, “‘The Last Magazine,’ by Michael Hastings”, however, does ID Doling, and makes the crucial point that A. E. Peoria isn’t just a lightly fudged verion of reporter Adam Piore, as described in Piore’s insightful account, “I Am A.E. Peoria”, but a depiction of Hastings himself: “both of these characters reflect Hastings at different points in his career, and…the author — if this novel is really as semi-autobiographical as it seems — was forever struggling to reconcile the disparate facets of his personality.”

Whatever Hastings’ intent with this name, when I see “A. E. Peoria”, I think of the proverbial ordinary American small town (as in “Will it play in…”) and, because of my own idiosyncrasies, the initials read as After Earth, just like the movie, Titan A. E., about a rocket that’s escaped earth’s destruction. A.E. Peoria is an ordinary man whose center has been annihilated, who spins out in a self-destructive circle as a war reporter. The relation of these two characters, I think, are a more complicated tension than Hastings as a Newsweek intern, and Hastings after going to Iraq and Afghanistan, but selves in Hastings that were always at tension. “I have a disorder,” says Peoria, “Compulsive disclosure disorder. I have no filter, my shrink says. I don’t know boundaries, I’m always revealing very personal and intimate details about my life,” he tells Hastings, and this seems nothing like the writer of The Operators whose work keeps a tight focus on the subject details, and though he lets a voice of exasperation or anger into his work, it’s often difficult to find life details there, or even in the usual sink of self-obsessiveness, your blog; The Hastings Report keeps its eyes on the grindings of political and foreign affairs. But this was Hastings as well, an earlier, more confessional version, as described in possibly the best account of the man, “Reckless and Inspired: An Interview With Jonathan Hastings About His Brother, the Journalist Michael Hastings” (equal to or superior to the best profile, “Who Killed Michael Hastings?” by Benjamin Wallace), from the blog Uncouth Reflections by “Paleo Retiree”. Jonathan Hastings: “I’m not sure what kind of writing he did when he was in that first year of college, but when he was living in Vermont again, he was writing all the time in journals…He actually ended up writing a memoir about this whole period. I’ve never read it and he couldn’t get it published.” Hastings was an excellent listener, allowing his subjects to talk, sometimes to indict themselves, yet this was through a deliberate act of restraint. “What I learned,” he told NYC radio host Leonard Lopate in 2012, “was that if you just sit and listen, and let them talk…I mean, I’m a big talker. Don’t get me wrong. Ask my wife. I’m a big talker. So the fact that I’ve been able to sortof train myself to sit back and listen, I think…that’s the most important thing a journalist can do.”9

Peoria snorts coke on the plane back home from an assignment in Chad. On vacation in Thailand, he takes hallucinogens laced with amphetamines. When Michael Hastings and Peoria go to a bar, Peoria orders two tequila shots while Hastings has a club soda. Perhaps because he was a prominent reporter for Rolling Stone, Hastings was tagged with being a journalist in the manner of Hunter S. Thompson, a wild, crazy, rambling addict. Nothing embodies this wrongheaded notion more than the obituary by John Dolan10, “Michael Hastings, Dead of Gonzo”: “Hastings never bought into that consensus, as his choice of car demonstrates. He died at the wheel of a C-Class Merc with 200 HP. The point of a car like that is to drive into palm trees at 4:30 a.m.” According to this epitaph, Hastings’ success had something to do with the fact that he wasn’t a homeowner who thought about mortgages (he owned a place in Vermont) with his domestic partner (he was married) and their golden retriever (he owned a Corgi). He was out in his Merc the night he died too young, and this crazy spirit supposedly informed his entire life and journalism. Where Thompson went for a crazed, hyperactive, hallucinatory style, Hastings’ writing always stayed calm, cold, and on the matter at hand. I don’t think McChrystal could have been dismissed over something which was covered in Thompson’s nightmare exhuberance, because the very style would place the account in doubt. The precision and the seriousness of Hastings’ piece is what made it so damning; this isn’t the reporter ginning anything up to get a better or more exciting story, this is what actually happened. In The Last Magazine, the character of “Michael Hastings” offers a withering critique of A.E. Peoria on TV, and we see exactly what Hastings wished to avoid so that his reporting would be taken seriously. What he describes is something like Thompson in his public appearances: “I know they will take one look at Peoria and think: This guy is fucked-up, this guy doesn’t know what he’s saying, he’s not making any sense at all.”

Kafka’s “Hunger Artist” is about a man whose starvation would become a spectacle, and Thompson’s college tours became something like “The Opiate Artist”, his voracious drug taking the overriding object of attention. It’s difficult to conceive of Hastings being this kind of showman; when he appeared on TV or on podcasts, he avoided glib pronouncements, easy nostrums, or simple provocations, but gave detailed analyses of what was taking place in Afghanistan or Iraq. To give an account of what actually took place, not to distort it into something more exciting, entertaining, or attention getting was crucial to the man, as we hear in this moment from the 2010 Polk Awards (where his “Runaway General” was one of the winners) between the moderator John Darnton and Hastings11:

I don’t mean for this to be a contentious question, but do you think, obviously your piece has created some controversy among your colleagues. Do you think it is, uh, fair…to hang out with someone over a long period of time, or even a short period of time…and kindof go drinking with them, listen to them…

I didn’t drink with them.


I don’t drink, actually.

Go to a bar with them in which they’re getting hammered.

Have you read Rolling Stone?

Yup. No, hang out with someone, and hear their off the cuff comments-

They weren’t off the cuff comments.

I’m not saying they were-

I’m going to contest every inaccurate thing you say, so…let’s just…

Jokes. And I’m not saying they’re irrelevant jokes. But just comments. Things people say.


Banter among them.

I- I-

Let me finish. Do you think it’s fair to-

I’ve heard this before, that’s why I know where you were going.

…into a larger portrait.

Sure. I think the key in this sense was that these weren’t just offhand comments, [they were] comments that got directly at the idea of civil-military relations. And the civil military relationship is the key component to our counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, so when you have the top general of the war, showing such disdain, and his staff – and the general is responsible for the command – when you have the top general of the war, and his staff, consistently making comments that were derogatory about the civilian leadership, whether they were justified or not to make those comments, that to me was clearly an important story to tell.

Peoria is Hastings’ difficult past and his sad future. Jonathan Hastings would give an account that was neither picturesque or romantic of his brother’s early difficulties with drug use, before he recovered and shifted his intense focus to reporting. Again, from “Reckless and Inspired”:

There was some relief from my parents when he went off to college. But that environment turned out to be really bad for him. He started using all sorts of drugs and it triggered a kind of manic episode. When he went home for summer after his first year of college, he wasn’t in good shape and ended up crashing a car, getting arrested, and going to detox/rehab. Though later he told it as a kind of gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson-style adventure, it was a really traumatic experience for him and my family. But he was always looking for risks: even after he sobered up and got his life on track and had his career underway he still wanted to push the envelope, such as having himself assigned to Newsweek’s Iraq bureau.

Paleo Retiree asks a little later: “What did being a foreign correspondent and a war reporter mean to Mike?” Jonathan Hastings: “He was a self-proclaimed war junkie.” It is always dangerous to analyze the dead, because we are allowed the arrogance of a multitude of hypotheses without the dead being able to shout out an argument against them; but I don’t think it’s an astonishing or difficult leap to say that after going into detox, Michael Hastings found an adrenaline surge in war and war reporting that he could not find in ordinary life, could not find in drugs, though he also knew that war was incredibly dangerous, that it could obviously destroy you physically, that it could destroy you inside as well, and that however much you wanted this surge, however much you couldn’t live without it, you had to turn away from it; but when he returned to civilian life, he still craved this energy, and he eventually went back to the old substitute of drugs.

Though he rarely let personal details come through in The Operators, he makes brief mention of his addiction, the craving for the strange energy of a war zone, on the way to an interview in a very dangerous part of Afghanistan:

I had reservations about going. I knew my security advisors wouldn’t be happy that within one day I was already ignoring their advice. I knew that the risks weren’t worth the payoff. But I felt the pressure to get a good story and I’d traveled down to this shithole of a city. I wasn’t just going to stay in my hotel, self-aware enough to know I was behaving in the classic war junkie fashion.

And so I found myself driving along a road from Kandahar to Herat in a white Toyota Corolla, thinking, You never put yourself in these situations, but you always seem to find yourself in them. Thinking of it as something out of my control decreased the blame—and there is plenty of blame if things go wrong, and it’s all blame on me. I know it’s a risk, I know it’s a rush, I know it’s not a healthy lifestyle. I know it’s an addiction; I know it’s the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

In the middle of the book, we have Hastings explicitly merging these addictions. He is in Dubai, on the way to the war in Afghanistan, and he gets drunk for the first time in a decade. He goes over a twentieth century history of war correspondents, until he hits the nineties:

In the nineties, the conflicts were bloody and didn’t usually involve American boys. A new phrase was popularized in the lexicon of journalism: the war junkie. It was rare to find a reporter to admit to being one, at least in public. There was more honor in self-identifying as an alcoholic. It was not appropriate to speak of the perverse fun of war. It must be buried under other motives. The war correspondent had to wrap himself in the language of human rights. He must bear witness, performing some kind of pseudo-religious rite. He was forced, in public, to talk about war as damning, ignoble, awful, tragic. Yet he kept going back for more. The irony had slowly crept in. A British journalist’s account of his time in the Balkans twins his heroin addiction with his compulsion to cover the conflict. He kicked the heroin. The book became an instant classic. I saw him in Baghdad a few years later. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Chris Hedges summed it all up: “The rush of battle is one of the most potent and lethal addictions, for war is a drug, one I have ingested many times.”

A little later, he writes: “I’d learned from all the literature that I had read that war always ended in violence, pain, self-destruction, madness, and tragedy. I confirmed this well-proven thesis for myself.” And: “Here’s what else I learned: The correspondent’s identity becomes inseparable from war.” In his memoir I Lost My Love in Baghdad, when his plane takes off out of Iraq, Hastings writes of the two as similar and intermixed:

The flight starts to take off. There is a draft coming from somewhere. The 737 is shaking more than it should. The wheels lift off the ground. I don’t hear any loud noises. The music in my headphones plays. I smile. I smile in a way I haven’t since the days before I got sober seven years ago. The addict in me is alive again and oh what a feeling. I survived. I made it. I didn’t fuck up. Bliss.

I know now what they are talking about when they say “war junkies,” now I understand exactly what they mean. I’ve felt it before. I know the pull, the intoxication, the life-affirming chemicals released after seeing the abyss and coming back from it. When I was a teenager I used to snort cocaine and smoke crack and party all night and booze for months because I wanted to know what it was like to hit those highs and to feel those highs when they all came crashing down.

He also quotes from a letter to his fiancé about his drug addiction as an attempt at self-destruction:

It’s not easy, this love thing, and we both have dark corners in our hearts. Yours is dark in the places where you have been betrayed and abused; mine is cloudy and bruised near the left ventricle; self-destruction does haunt me, an old and nasty friend, a habit, because there was a long time in my life where I thought the only thing to do with my self was to destroy it.

That war became an integral part of his existence, where your life becomes an admixture that barely contains this element, and that the last part of his life was an attempt to return to this strange energy, is too often avoided for the preferable wilds of conspiracy theory. “Some of the pieces of this puzzle are just so bizarre, they almost cannot be explained any other way than that there was some kind of foul play involved. A brand new Mercedes C250 does not simply explode into flames at the drop of a hat very easily,” says one amateur analyst on Hastings’ accident12. You could follow that mazing trail, or you could take the path Hastings already laid out in an essay explaining his own fascination with war, as well as what might finally have overwhelmed him. The Hurt Locker, and What it Means to be Addicted to War”, uses the movie as a foundation on which to discuss the longing of the war correspondent as a physical addiction. War, says Hastings, has nothing to do with heroism, valor, or the nobility of sacrifice. “It destroys what we love, people, children, sons and daughters, things, culture, buildings, possessions, morality, emotions, and our own sense of who we are as human beings. There is not much new for me to learn about war,” he writes. “And yet, I’ve kept going back.” And: “Am [I] doing this for the right reasons? Are there right reasons? Or have I, like Sgt. James in The Hurt Locker, fallen prey to an addiction? Am I about to take another potentially lethal dose?”

Jessica Coen, the former editor-in-chief of Gawker and later editor-in-chief of Jezebel, was friendly with Hastings and she would write the following after the publication of The Last Magazine13:

Eventually Newsweek sent [Michael] to Iraq, and after that he was different. He said there was a lot of stuff that I just couldn’t understand. He wasn’t crazy or anything, but he also kept a gun under his bed (futon, actually, in a shitty Allen Street walkup down the street from my shitty Orchard Street walkup). I also remember him saying that he was incapable of relaxing, not even in NYC, after that experience. He was also 100% certain he would go back. It was what he wanted to do. Very Hurt Locker-esque, like one of those people who just couldn’t return to regular life.

I think Hastings gives us some hint as to why he couldn’t sleep without a gun by his bed from the nightmares he began to have in Iraq, what he calls “insurgent dreams”, and which he relates in his memoir, I Lost My Love in Baghdad. They’re dreams which almost everyone in Iraq ends up having, which he never have before, and which he first hears about from one of his translators:

I should have asked him about his dreams, but it is only in the following year, long after our conversation, that I’ll come to really understand what he meant by insurgent dreams. One night, I’ll even dream of him and another translator, Ahmer, stuck on the side of a cliff in the middle of a blizzard. We were all at my old home in upstate New York sitting on snowmobiles, and then I send them out on a story without the proper clothing and with radios that are running low on batteries. The storm gets worse and the temperature drops quickly, and they freeze to death on the ledge of a mountain.

There are other dreams: My mother is in Baghdad, but this time Baghdad looks like a college town, and she’s dropping me off to work at a twenty-four-hour convenience store. As we commute, I lie down in the backseat of the car (a ’92 Buick Park Avenue, the car I crashed drunk when I was nineteen). In another dream, Baghdad appears as a campus on a hill. A group of us—reporters, I think—take a walk to some kind of cultural center. There are a series of checkpoints, but the grass is green and there are maple trees so we aren’t worried. The insurgents don’t show themselves in such nice weather and ideal surroundings. In another, I am in a car with Scott and it looks like the real Baghdad now. “Why are we going this way?” he asks. “We should turn back.” And then I am driving a bus on a dirt road. A veteran correspondent, Rod Nordland, tells me to drive faster, there is a pickup truck following us. Head to the lake and the beach. I think the only safety is the lake. I jump in and start to swim. Insurgents can’t swim, can they? Yes, they can, and one comes after me, splashing me as he gets closer and then he kills me. I wake up in my bedroom in Baghdad and stare at the clicking ceiling fan. Something profound has changed in my thinking. Never before had I died in a dream. I usually woke up first.

If we wish to think of the death of Michael Hastings as a puzzle, something with clean edges that could be solved, for me the end of “What it Means to be Addicted to War” lands down with a solid click that fills the curved space, but which gives no satisfaction at all, only a heartbreaking “Yes. That’s it.”:

Normal life can’t compete with the potent drug of war.

I don’t disagree. Normal life doesn’t stand a chance against war, in the same way that shooting up or swallowing a pill of ecstasy trumps reality every time. But I do take issue with how The Hurt Locker ends — not because I didn’t like the movie, or that it wasn’t enjoyable. It just doesn’t go far enough. In fact, I don’t think it was enough like Kathryn Bigelow’s earlier classic on adrenaline junkies, Point Break, a film about a gang of bank robbing surfers. That might sound ridiculous, but the movies’ themes are identical.

In the finale, the late Patrick Swazye (playing Bodhi, Point Break‘s version of Sgt. James) is found on an Australian beach, chasing the ultimate storm, the big wave. Bohdi gets swept away by this overwhelming, violent, thrilling, force of nature. Keanu Reeves, playing the troubled cop hero, speaks the film’s last memorable line: “He’s not coming back.” That’s what happens when you embrace dark and wild forces beyond control. The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, doesn’t take war addiction to its logical, unambiguous, conclusion. That is, death.

Addictions destroy, junkies usually die, and the war always wins.

The Last Magazine is very much about this addiction to war, about never wanting to leave it and always wanting to return, though it does so at a slant. The actual cruel details of war are actually very uncomfortable to talk about, and war here becomes something else whose actual details often cause a great deal of conversational discomfort, and that’s sex. If you don’t see this twinning, the focus and explicit detail of the sex scenes in the book will produce bafflement. “In places there are unusually detailed sex scenes that are just plain bizarre,” writes Adam Piore. “Occasional cringe-inducing passages on the pornographic tastes of the principal characters notwithstanding, this book has points of interest at every turn,” writes Tom Gallagher in “Michael Hastings Skewers Them From the Grave (with a Scoop of Gawker)”. Or they might be viewed as simple joking around, “Multiple prostitutes are called into the scrum; sexual organs end up in bandages,” writes Dwight Garner in his Times review, “War’s Hell, Especially for Editors”. “Do not, unless you are mischievous, recommend this novel to your aunt’s book group.” In the next sentence, however, Garner mentions a book episode where Hastings tips his hand as to his intent: “One memorable and weirdly incisive chapter is made up entirely of the narrator’s flipping back and forth between cable porn and the start of the Iraq war on television.” The Michael Hastings of the book watches on, a voyeur to war and sex, while Peoria engages in the acts that Hastings only gazes on.

The bar for my porn watching keeps going higher. Rewind again. The man shooting his jizz in the faces of Ying and Yang doesn’t do it tonight. The gaping holes don’t do it. Fast-forward. Maybe the next scene with Gauge will. Gauge is dressed to look like a fourteen-year-old girl. She’s earns her living the hard way—it’s not fair to say just on her back, but with all different parts of her body flattened against floors, walls, designer chairs, soiled mattresses, leather couches, bent and acrobatic, ass pointed to the air, the weight of her body on her neck, knees somehow stretched backward behind her ears. I read on the Internet that she does five scenes a week in a good week.

I am waiting for what is making me come lately.

Ass to mouth—shorthand: ATM.

I watch the man, whose hair could have been styled in 1991 and never been changed, take his penis from her ass and then grab her by the waist to twist her face toward his cock. I wait for the moment when he puts his cock in her mouth, the moment of entry.

It doesn’t happen. There’s a jump cut.

I’m pissed. That is no good at all. I need to see the full-body motion, I need to see the uninterrupted movement from ass to mouth because I am savvy enough, my penis is savvy enough, to know that if there is a jump cut, then things could have been done, organs cleaned, wiped off, made more sanitary; my brain is trained to sense these kinds of illusions, to sense when it’s not real enough—when it’s too clean.

The intersection of sex and war:

Fast-forward. Gauge is kneeling and spitting and the man’s hand is on his penis, a point-of-view shot, and he ejaculates in her face. I shoot too.



I hit the Last button and jump back to a CNN correspondent with the 1st Armored Division.

The correspondent has positioned himself on a road to somewhere, and the trucks are rolling by him.

I reflect. I know I am being somewhat self-conscious. I know I am somehow, in some inexplicable way, being ironic. But I am not being ironic. This is just what life is for me. What else am I going to do when sitting in front of a TV alone? Jerk off. And if my country is going to war, I’m going to watch my country go to war.

This moment is taken entirely from Hastings’ own life, as can be read in his memoir, I Lost My Love in Baghdad:

That August, I listened to Vice President Cheney say we were going after Saddam. I remember my initial response was, what a crazy idea. What a crazy, crazy idea, flying thousands of miles with an invading army to topple a government. But as the debate began, I started to think, well, democracy, freedom, 9-11, WMDs, maybe it’s not such a bad idea. Being a contrarian, I argued with my antiwar colleagues, taking on the neoconservative talking points just to see how they felt, even though the talk of mobile weapons labs all seemed like complete bullshit to me, like whoever drew up the diagrams of mobile weapons labs had watched too much G.I. Joe as a child and could only imagine some kind of fantastic weapon that C.O.B.R.A (the evil terrorist organization fighting to rule the world, as the theme song pointed out) used to attack the real American heroes. On February 5, 2003, Colin Powell posed on 1st Avenue in New York City with a vial of fake anthrax. On March 20, 2003, the war started. For the next forty-eight hours, I watched TV, nonstop it seemed, switching between live coverage of the invasion and Adult Videos on Demand, alone in my New York apartment, thinking, I want to be over there, I want to be in Iraq.

Two years later here I am.

The book’s “Michael Hastings” wants to look at sex the way others want to look at war, something that looks real, like it’s dirty, like it’s gritty, like it’s actually happening, yet part of a simple structure allowing for release. There’s a sense that what the adult performer goes through is strenuous – “I read on the Internet that she does five scenes a week in a good week” – and yet this is secondary to the entertainment, just as the soldier’s life and struggles are secondary to the glossy war narratives of his magazine’s managing editor, Sanders Berman. For Berman, war is a kind of pornography distant from the reek and violence of the actual, a repeated veneration of sacred historical relics. “I read his book, The Greatest War on Earth,” narrates the Hastings of the book. “If I am in the mood to be cruel, I’d say his book does really well at nourishing our national myths. It’s a real comfort, reading his book. It gives you a real warm feeling about that whole time between 1939 and 1945. A real black-and-white-photo wholesomeness to it, a breast-fed narrative of good versus evil.”14 The perspective of the fictional Hastings towards the fictional Jon Meacham was shared by the actual Hastings toward the actual Meacham. “Newsweek when Jon Meacham was editor, they would not have printed my story [“The Runaway General”],” Hastings told Cenk Uygur. “Why do you think that is?,” asked Uygur. Hastings: “Political reasons, for reasons that there’s a sense that at Newsweek we were supposed to uphold…that we are supposed to reinforce our societal myths, not deconstruct them, and not kindof expose them. And there’s a real mission there, certainly under Meacham, Meacham sucks.”15 The actual physicality of existence deflates all these myths. In “Hack: Confessions of a Presidential Campaign Reporter”, his account of the 2008 primaries, Hastings makes his contempt for the process and participants obvious, but he keeps out personal details except for one habit, which effectively deflates the idea of a rarefied arena of democratic process, unending high flown music of regal trumpets and anthems:

There was no small amount of hypocrisy when it came to journalists discussing the sex lives of the people they cover, since fidelity wasn’t exactly a prized virtue among reporters on the campaign trail. For my part, I watched a lot of porn. A colleague told me the first thing he did after checking in to a hotel was to check out their porn selection. I followed his example. I’d become an expert on the various hotel chains and what they offered. The best was clearly the Hyatt Regency; the Homewood Suites had the usual selection of XX features. On my last night in Manchester, after the primaries were over and the campaigns had moved on, I selected one called Nasty Older Sluts or something like that for $11.95. (Note to Newsweek accounting department: I never expensed the porn.)

It occurred to me, as I sat there watching an interracial couple banging, that jacking off in a hotel room was not unlike the larger experience of campaign reporting. You watch two performers. You kind of like it when one of them gets humiliated. You know they’re professionals, so you don’t feel much sympathy for them. You wish you could participate, but instead you watch with a hidden envy and feel vaguely ashamed for watching. You think you could probably do as good a job or better. You sometimes get a glimpse, intentionally or not, of society’s hidden desires and fears. You watch the porn week after week, the scenes almost always the same, none of them too memorable. The best ones get sent around the Internet.

The ultimate refutation of any ideal of war is what it does to the body itself. There was one moment that stayed with him for a long time, I think, as it would with most people. He described the moment at length on Scott Horton’s show on Anti-War Radio, “Scott Horton Interviews Michael Hastings (April 21, 2009)”, a podcast on which he was a frequent guest16. I bold one key line:

In the article [“Obama’s War” in GQ], you describe it as a really beautiful scene, all the shooting stars and everything up there at the roof of the world.

There was the shooting stars, there was all the Americans shooting flares to taunt the Taliban to attack. It is a very scenic, I always thought, and I say this cynically and in jest, that at least in Aghanistan, it’s a scenic war, and in Iraq, I don’t remember too many moments of beautiful sunsets there.

Yeah, it just looks like Houston or something.

Yeah. (laughs) Houston with more concrete.

Uh, now, one of the things that you wrote about in your article that was pretty shocking, it’s the kind of reporting that we don’t usually hear, we don’t usually hear this kind of detail, anyway, in real narrative form, but the story of a suicide bombing at what I guess was the gate of the base you were staying at?

Yeah. Yes.

Tell us the story. What happened there.

I’d actually just got off the phone, I was standing outside this base, we were about eight miles from the border, the Pakistan border, and it was a beautiful sunny day, and all of a sudden there’s this loud boom, and I see over my shoulder about seventy five feet away, this plume of smoke comes up, the kid who was on guard, the American, yells, “Oh my God! We’ve been hit by a suicide bomber!” And there was some shooting, and- But what had happened was, this was really the sort of disturbing thing. That the suicide bomber had used local Afghan kids, seven-eight year olds, who used to hang out at the base, hang out at the base with the Americans, as cover to walk right up to the gate. And the kids ran away, a few seconds before the suicide bomber detonated it. And two- Luckily, no one was actually killed in the suicide bombing attack. Two Afghan security guards who were working for the Americans were injured quite badly. But the disturbing, more disturbing part was afterwards, the clean-up. They had to clean up the suicide bomber. Because his body had been spread all throughout the base. And to clean up…literally, they call it the police crawl, where all the soldiers, all the Americans sortof walk one step and then another step, trying to pick up different parts of the body and to put in a sortof plastic bag to bury it. And what I remembered, about this moment, I saw the guy’s leg, laying near one of the barbed wire fences, and on his foot was this nice high top with a yellow stripe. And later that day, the suicide bomber’s remains were buried, they had put his hightops on top of his grave about a hundred yards from the base. About an hour after that, a couple of guys from the village went to the grave to pay their respects, I guess, looked both ways, then grabbed the guy’s high tops, then left.

Nice. Well. I guess that doesn’t sound too much different than America. (laughs)


It’s part of a very bleak picture of the country that you paint in the article. And, I guess, it really goes to the question of whether the Center for a New American Security’s plan for a ten year occupation in the building of a nation has any credibility at all.

Sure, and I think…what I’m always fascinated with, is this human aspect of it. The effects of violence on the Americans who witness it, the Afghans who witness it, whether they’re children or teenagers or adults, and yeah, this idea that we’re going to buy into ten more years, and ten years, by that way, that’s the low estimate. You talk to David Kilcullen [senior counter-insurgency advisor], one of General Petraeus’s advisors, was one of General Petraeus’s advisors, who was also a major proponent of counter-insurgency, and he’s a really smart guy…but what he’s calling for is, literally, a twenty five year commitment, to Afghanistan and Pakistan as a region. So, even ten years is a very hopeful estimate.

Though Hastings is almost always on point with his answers, at the end of this interview, when Horton asks about an Afghanistan occupation plan, Hastings briefly goes off on a tangent: “Sure, and I think…what I’m always fascinated with, is this human aspect of it. The effects of violence on the Americans who witness it…” and here, I do not think he is simply talking of the soldiers in the field, but himself.

Hastings distinguishes the contrast between the ideal of war, the beautiful brutal valor, the ideal that cannot be tarnished through defeat or atrocity, with the vile details of war in two prominent moments in his writing. There is a speech by Graeme Lamb, a British Special Forces Commando and one of McChrystal’s advisors in The Operators:

The arena: It was a favorite concept for men like Lamb, capturing a dangerous and seductive worldview when applied to war. The idea came from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech, trashing critics and valuing the experience of risk over all else. “It is not the critic who counts…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, and who comes up short again and again…” I’d heard other generals use the quote in Iraq17. What mattered wasn’t what the war was about, or what might or might not be accomplished; what mattered was that there was an inherent value in being a man, in going into action, in bleeding. There was little difference in victory or failure. The sacrifice of blood had an almost spiritual value beyond politics, beyond success, beyond good and evil; blood and sweat and pain made up its own ideology, existing within its own moral universe of a very narrowly defined concept of honor and bravery. It was as brave and honorable to take a bullet for the brotherhood as it was to cover up a bullet’s mistake. It didn’t matter that in Afghanistan, the U.S. military had come up short again and again. What mattered is that they tried. The simple and terrifying reality, forbidden from discussion in America, was that despite spending $600 billion a year on the military, despite having the best fighting force the world had ever known, they were getting their asses kicked by illiterate peasants who made bombs out of manure and wood. The arena acted as a barrier, protecting their sacrifices from the uncomfortable realities of the current war—that it might be a total waste of time and resources that historians would look back on cringing, in the same way we looked back on the Soviets and the British misadventures there.

And then there is the episode that Hastings brought up on Scott Horton’s podcast, from “Obama’s War”:

“There are body parts all over the place, all through the district center,” Hilt [Captain Terry Hilt] says. “Doc, we got plenty of rubber gloves? We’re going to get some and do a police crawl across the DC. If you find fingers, any of that stuff, don’t touch it. Call for one of the HIIDE [Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, device for obtaining identity through fingerprint and retinal scans] guys. We might be able to get it to hit on the HIIDE system.”

Hilt pauses and then adds, “Pictures. Do not be taking pictures of friggin’ body parts. You’ll get in a lot of trouble if you try to take pictures of body parts home18. We got really lucky. Stay vigilant. Here’s the good news: The sandbags worked, the gate worked. Because of that, we’re not putting anybody in the ground.”

The soldiers pull on rubber gloves and go outside and begin walking slowly over the gravel, looking for pieces of the bomber. One soldier scrapes up a chunk of flesh with a shovel. “Mmm, pancakes,” he says. “Why the fuck couldn’t they have used a car bomb? I don’t mind cleaning up after car bombs. Everything’s burned up.”

They dump the body parts in a clear plastic garbage bag. The bomber’s legs are still there near the gate, intact from the knee down. His legs are hairy. He was wearing white high-tops with yellow stripes. The scalp is on the ground next to a Hesco barrier, a blood-wet mop of black hair.

Staff Sergeant Daniel Smith spots a blackened finger hanging off the concertina wire, and Staff Sergeant Aaron Smelley, who’s in charge of identification, takes it and places it on the portable HIIDE machine and presses hard to get a scan. After a few tries, he gets a reading, but the fingerprint doesn’t match any known terrorist in the database.

The Afghan police bury the leftover body parts a few hundred meters away from the base in a small cemetery. They place a pile of rocks on top to mark the grave, then lay the bomber’s yellow-striped high-tops next to the rocks. Later that afternoon, two Afghan men from one of the nearby villages come to look at the grave site. As they start to walk away, one of them turns back and picks up the high-tops and takes them for himself.

That night the dogs are back, barking and fighting over the bits of flesh that flew so far from the base they were missed during the cleanup.

There is nothing of the heroic or epic in Peoria as he stumbles around Iraq and Chad, and this is not Hastings mocking the lesser, weaker man in contrast to the truly heroic, but a depiction of how people act: you are scared, you want to get out alive, you don’t know what to do. When Peoria is in Iraq, the war experience we see is defined again and again by sex. There is a discussion before the fighting starts. Soldier #1: “That’s fucking gay, dude.” Soldier #2: “Ball flaps aren’t fucking gay…I want to start a family when I get back, not just give fucking blow jobs like you. I’m keeping mine on.” Soldier #3, to Peoria: “If you haven’t noticed, the Army is a twenty-four-hour gay joke,” and Peoria writes down an observation that Hastings had already made on his blog, “‘The Army Is A 24-Hour Gay Joke'”: “Over the last couple years, I’ve had the privilege to spend a lot of time with American combat forces in Iraq, and, more recently, in Afghanistan. If there is one persistent form of humor it is this: jokes about homosexuality. Lots and lots of gay jokes. So many that, on my last embed, a soldier told me this gem: “When my family asks what it’s like to be in the Army,” he said. “I tell them it’s like a 24-hour gay joke.”” Peoria has been told by his editors to come up with color for their package on the ground war, “examples of fear”: “Soldiers afraid of gay men wouldn’t cut it. But the fear of getting your balls blown off was something he could work with.” Whether it be cannonballs tearing through a ship’s wood and throwing splinters into sailor’s privates, or the Bouncing Betty, a mine that jumped up a few feet so the explosion would tear up a man’s balls and dick: “The soldier’s number-one fear, Peoria writes in his mind, throughout the history of human warfare.”

Peoria is embedded in a convoy that’s part of the initial approach to Baghdad, and they come under fire, with almost everyone in his Humvee killed. Peoria survives alongside a badly wounded soldier, Justin Salvador. This soldier’s number one fear has come true: his groin is torn up by bullets, but Peoria staunches the bleeding and manages to keep Salvador alive till reinforcements show up. Peoria reaches Baghdad. Hastings gives us a brief chapter, “Interlude”: “My attention strays from the war after the first summer of the invasion…Anyway, mission accomplished. You might forget that at the time, people took that seriously.” We follow Peoria on a vacation to Thailand, where he has sex with a series of whores. “After one come two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight . . . Like pills, like shots, like hands of blackjack and lines of cocaine and potato chips and cheese fries.” The colonialism of the past shadows his brief sense of supremacy now. He stays at the Bangkok Mandarin Oriental. “The Oriental: the hotel of Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham and James Michener.” He is entirely alone, speaking only to those who take his orders. “He has spoken only to whores and concierges and maids for two weeks now. Conversations, one-sided as was his way, but conversations with people there to serve him. Should he feel bad about that?” He meets with a frenchman, Marcel, and his wife, Valerie, with Marcel looking on while Peoria has sex with Valerie, Marcel fellating Peoria as well. This again is sex as a metaphor for war, the colonialist of the past looking on with rapture at the colonialism of today. “We have the Arabs in Paris and you must treat them like that—with spit and kicks.” But Peoria doesn’t have any ideas or attitudes of supremacy, he is simply here, a figure of chance. “It is all savage and torture and Islam,” says Marcel. “Oh, you can’t say that about just Islam, dude, all religions are fucked,” replies Peoria. Marcel, Valerie, and Peoria have sex, and just as there are things you see in war close-up that occasionally make it into the movies, that might make you say just like in the movies, Peoria glimpses something that is a highlight and theme of some pornography, but which he’s never seen in the actual before:

Peoria falls over onto the bed. Valerie rolls to her back. Marcel gets to his knees, and starting at his wife’s breasts, licks and caresses her body, moving toward her belly button, moving toward her pussy. Valerie puts her hand on his head and pushes lightly, her fingers tangled in her husband’s thinning hair. Valerie puts her left hand on the top of her pussy, and in a move that Peoria has seen only on a computer monitor and television screen, she squeezes and a dollop of his sperm pops up.

Clams, seashells, mollusks, mussels, oysters. White discharge. Membranes and inverse epidermal layers. Pink jowls, a string of soy milk drool. A raw baked good, doughy, whipped egg-white batter uncooked.

Pushing himself up on his elbows, Peoria sees for the first time—in the dimming lights of the HDTV and the digital clock and the faint city lights cutting through the open drapes—what a cream pie looks like.

Peoria returns to the United States, and though the book never speaks of Peoria being changed by the war, he is changed: this is a book where war merges with sex; Peoria has picked up a veneral disease and after a doctor removes some skin, he now has a bandage on his dick. The character of Hastings is honest, but merciless, in his assessment when the two see each other again: Peoria looks weak, unwashed, unhealthy, a wheezing wreck who can’t stop talking. Peoria works on a story about the Koran being desecrated at the Abu Ghraib detention facility with Mark Healy, which provokes rioting and multiple deaths – an incident from actual life, when Michael Isikoff, on whom Healy is based, reported that the Koran had been desecrated at the Guantanamo Bay internment facility (see “Newsweek Reporter Michael Isikoff Discusses His Coverage of Koran Desecration at Guantanamo”, an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!). The various pundits and cable outlets are at a righteous boil. “Off to CNN?” Sanders Berman asks Nishant Patel when they meet by the elevator. “Oh, no, no time for television today,” says Patel. “Me either,” says Berman. If Peoria has ever had any political sense on what to do here, he has lost it completely after the war. “Peoria, man, I think they want you to take the blame for this,” Hastings tells him. Peoria goes on CNN. “I don’t think, I mean, you have to understand that I’m sorry that this rioting happened, but you know that cleric, that guy, he’s a real jerk—he’s not like a good guy, you know?” He is shouted down by the other panelist, a Daniel Tubes19: “Can I just respond to what Mr. Peoria said first? What he’s doing is classic. He’s blaming the victims for his own reckless reporting.” Peoria is suspended. Afterwards, he stabs himself in the leg with a pencil by accident, and he doesn’t feel it at all, doesn’t notice anything’s wrong except for the people screaming in horror. He takes a leave of absence, and falls into a depression when he’s no longer writing, and during a period when he confines himself to his bedroom, he speaks of his wounds, visible and invisible:

Back to the darkness he went. Back to the darkness, for another three-week stretch, the bills and dirty laundry piling up, redux. Resorting to reusing the coffee filter in his coffee machine after running out of paper filters, ordering groceries and deliveries, ordering everything and keeping the door shut. Vowing to never again check his email, never to look at what other news it would bring—the wound on his leg had healed, the puncture wound had healed, the molluscum contagiosum had run its course, but a new wound had opened up.

The darkness didn’t help him heal that wound. The darkness hid it from him, hid what he didn’t want to recognize. He went over the scenarios in his head again and again. This wound was deep, cut to his core. He tried to ignore the wound, tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but he knew he was burying his feelings, burying his emotions, burying the truth. I’m a journalist, he thought, and if I can’t look at truth within myself, how can I see the truth out there in the world?

Peoria tries to put his life together. He gets rid of the drugs, works out, starts teaching journalism at a college class. He tries to move on: “if every summer in his mind has a theme, the theme this summer is self-acceptance. I’m okay, I’m okay.” At his first class, his attention focuses on a female student who stares intently at him throughout. Afterwards, Peoria: “What’d you think of the class?” Student: “You don’t recognize me?” Then he asks, “You’re a friend of my ex-girlfriend’s, right?”, “Okay…we didn’t hook up before, did we?”, “Did I interview you for an immigration story?” No, no, no…“You saved my life.”

We know that Hastings was a big fan of the work of Norman Mailer20, and given his interest in and reporting on national security matters, I think it’s highly likely he read Mailer’s novel about the early CIA, Harlot’s Ghost. There are two hints in Last Magazine that he has read the book, one stronger than the other. In Ghost, there is a prostitute named Libertad La Lengua (from Ghost: “which in loose translation does not signify Freedom of Speech nearly so much as “Ah, Freedom—your tongue!””), who, it turns out is a transsexual. Ghost is filled with spies, double agents, truths given in the cover of falseness, and Libertad embodies this idea of double agency and deception, “She is all the beautiful women put together!” exclaims the narrator, but she is also undercover: “Libertad is an agent in the world of women”.

Peoria has had some skin shaved off of his dick, while Justin Salvador has had the whole thing sheared away. Just as Libertad is a symbol, Justina Salvador is a symbol as well, of the overwhelming change war effects, but her relation to Peoria also represents Hastings’ view of war and the war journalist: war is the woman you can never leave. The narrator of Harlot asks of his attraction to Libertad, “Was he, himself, a homosexual? That stands out, doesn’t it? To be so attracted to a transvestite, or whatever else you could call it—a transsexual?” Justina is a vivid, real character, so vivid that I regret that the book ends so abruptly after she comes onstage, but she’s also very much part of a metaphor, of Peoria wanting to stay close to war, and just the way ordinary life becomes dull to the war junkie, sex with an ordinary woman becomes dull to Peoria. He has the same doubts as Harlot‘s narrator about his attraction, but he is also specifically attracted because of this woman’s past identity:

But as he watched, he instinctively started to touch himself, and he started to hold the images in his head of Thailand, enhancing a sexual experience that he had avoided masturbating to at all costs—he was straight after all, it was his parents who were gay—but the transsexual porn brought these memories back, and he no longer felt revulsion, and in fact, started to get off on the idea that the man fucking the woman was actually fucking a man, a dirty little secret that wasn’t a secret but added a level of fantasy to the moving video clips, a level of fantasy that his own memories augmented.

This attraction is one step beyond what he’s already felt, appetites already sated, a man numbed to the violent intensities of erotica the way a war junkie becomes numb to the intensities of war:

As a young man growing up, photos in magazines were enough to get him off. First, publications like Playboy were good enough, but then he upgraded to Penthouse; the open vaginal and anal shots of Penthouse, still done respectfully, were the next level. Then, he discovered Hustler, and his masturbatorial bar was set even higher—Hustler, now that was explicit, threesomes, full penetration, dripping cum shots, and a new and enticing category called Barely Legal, which forever altered the way he viewed young female teenagers running cash registers at ice cream stands and in grocery stores and Japanese school uniforms and cheerleading outfits.

The Internet proved to be a disruptive force for self-abuse. With the Internet, the sheer range of digital images did the job at first—he was able to stop watching videos on the VHS and start watching, on his computer, acts that he had read about but never seen—women sucking off farm animals, women urinating on the faces of other women, women urinating on the faces of other men, men urinating in clear streams into the open mouths of women, defecating even, strapped and bound with metal and leather contraptions, penetrated with massive objects like baseball bats and giant rubber dildos, a foot in diameter, or shaken soda cans stuffed in rectal canals, and on and on. These images—who was putting them out there? Where was it all coming from?

What he’s watching is changing him in ways that he’s not sure of at all, blankly indifferent to the violence of the imagery, and the connection to a growing numbness to war’s atrocities is obvious. Though the following excerpt is no more grim than that of the suicide bomber aftermath in Afghanistan, I do have to preface that the following is very explicit:

He was not terribly concerned about the moral implications until June 2002, when he’d gotten the fastest speed available and clicked on a link that said “vomit porn,” and at that moment he had a crisis of faith, or the closest thing one who does not believe in anything can have to a crisis of faith.

A white girl, wearing a blue skiers’ tuque with an embroidered golden star, had been kneeling down in front of a crowd and giving head to a black male of significant perpendicular length. Using the now ancient deep-throating technique, she worked the man’s cock avidly, eyes watering, his large hands clasped around her ears, occasionally pulling out to the left or right to make a popping sound against the suction on her cheek. At minute 2:33 into the clip, the standard degradation went off course; at first, the male performer responded as if it were still part of the performance, but then she ripped his hands away and started to crawl away, a desperate move, as if she were a child with motion sickness in the back of the car trying to unroll the window, or a coed searching for a bathroom stall after expecting to come into the restroom only to touch up her makeup. She started to puke, a yellow and a watery flow, all over the ground, and the camera first zoomed in on her face as she vomited, and then the camera pulled back to get the reaction of the cheering crowd and the still-hard penis of the black performer, and then the video ended, and A.E. Peoria himself felt sick, he felt ill, and wondered if maybe he shouldn’t be watching this stuff, maybe it was destroying his soul, if there was such a thing.

That didn’t last long.

This is not, I think, about a man becoming comfortably numb to the images of a girl vomiting, but about becoming comfortably numb to a clump of scalp being picked up, a blood soaked mop of hair, a chunk of flesh, where you become so used to the gore, you make jokes. “Pancakes,” says the soldier shoveling up the flesh, and you’re thinking the same thing. You are repulsed by the image, and yet you end up somehow wanting to see it again and again, going back one more time to Afghanistan or Iraq. Peoria is reminded of this moment of getting into vomit porn when he starts watching the transsexual stuff: “He thinks of it now because he’d had the same first reaction to the transsexual performers: that something was somehow unholy or desperately sick in the acts that were being performed, that it was somehow disturbing to his subconscious that the women being fucked in the ass used to be men.” Peoria and Justina sleep together, and when they are together they both are brought back immediately to the intimacy of war, and maybe that previous intimacy is why they’re attracted to each other now:

He usually has a hard time coming in hot water—he never masturbates in the shower, for instance—but he lets his imagination go, and his imagination goes back to the memory, the first time he had touched Justina, while he was still Justin, his hand warmed by blood, bodies pressed together, the absolute fear and excitement of death enveloping him, a memory so powerful he had pretended it didn’t exist, and with the warm water falling off his short, five-foot-seven frame, splashing to the top of the long black hair at his knees, he lets the memory wash over him, maybe even washing it away however briefly, and he comes.

Swallowing, Justina looks up.

“I know what you were thinking about,” she says. “I was thinking it too.”

They both start to cry.

In the epilogue, we are told Peoria and Salvador eventually get married; Peoria is chained to the war, he cannot let it go, does not want to let it go. Before that, there is the possibility that Peoria will publish Salvador’s story – the war, the gender reassignment, everything – because he’s a reporter and this is what he does. “Justina will be happy to help me tell this story,” he tells himself, but she isn’t. “You can’t do this. You can’t write about me. I’m not ready, I’m not ready for it,” she says. “I’m a fucking story to you,” she says. “I’m a fucking story.” He briefly falls apart, but they are reconciled by the morning. The book ends with Hastings taking Peoria’s notes, and doing the story instead. “I know by taking Peoria’s story, I’m putting the last nail in the coffin of his career, and I know that I’m also jeopardizing the privacy and future of Justina,” he says. But but but, and this is one of the last lines before the epilogue: “But I don’t agonize over it.” If the longing for sex in this book can be seen as a lightly guised account of the longing for war, then this betrayal by Hastings of Justina, and her near betrayal by Peoria, can be seen as Hastings reckoning with something else very real to him, something of the past almost entirely forgotten, something disgusting and outrageous, something to do with Gawker‘s “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” [archive link], the one identification they get very wrong and the one that’s prominently missing.


From “Hack: Confessions of a Presidential Campaign Reporter” by Michael Hastings:

In the weeks after New Hampshire, I went down to Florida to watch Giuliani lose for good. I received a press release saying academy award–winning actor jon voight endorses mayor giuliani, which seemed as good a death knell as any. Voight joined the mayor on the campaign trail. Most of Rudy’s senior staff were hiding from the press, so Voight filled the void with an impromptu press conference. He explained how being cast in Midnight Cowboy was similar to Rudy’s decision-making ability on 9/11. It didn’t make sense then, either. After running out of campaign questions—and since nobody cared what Jon Voight thought—a reporter from The New York Observer asked him about his daughter, Angelina Jolie. This was an answer worth listening to. He couldn’t confirm the rumor that she was pregnant, but he did “wish her the best in life.” Then a Fox News embed posted a blog item featuring clips of a movie he did called Karate Dog.


“Before we get into it, your career owes a lot to a volcano in Iceland, doesn’t it?” radio host Leonard Lopate asked Hastings about the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, which resulted in flight delays that allowed Hastings to spend more conversation time with McChrystal and his aides. “My career owes to a lot of things,” answered Hastings, “that have put me in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time.”21 And one instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time which may have led to all his later work, which made this ambitious, driven reporter even more driven, was the killing of his fiancé, Andrea Parhamovich, on January 19, 2007. Parhamovich had followed Hastings to Iraq, where she worked for the National Democratic Institute while Hastings was a correspondent for Newsweek. Hastings would make clear the importance of this for everything he did later in an interview with Scott Horton22.

So, now onto our next guest. It’s Michael Hastings. He is a reporter who’s got a new article in GQ magazine, you can find it in men dot style dot com…it’s called “Obama’s War”. Welcome to the show, Michael. How are you?

Great. Thanks for having me.

Well, you’re very welcome. I’m really glad you’re here. I’m sorry, I did not take sufficient notes…I know that you wrote a book about, I Lost My Heart in Baghdad or something, tell us about that.

Yeah, I wrote a book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story. It came out last year. It was about my girlfriend and fiancé, Andi Parhamovich, who worked for the National Democratic Institute, and she had joined me while I was the Newsweek correspondent in Baghdad. She was, unfortunately and obviously, tragically killed there…so, it was a way…so after that happened, you know, screw it all, I’m going to write (laughs) I’m going to write the truth about what the war’s really like, and what the actual cost is. So, that’s what that book was about.

And so that’s why you’re not at Newsweek any more?

Well, you know, I had a great time at Newsweek, you know, great place to sortof come up as a reporter, but one of the things I felt…I wanted to say, I needed a different sort of venue for that. So to speak.

Hastings, in all the appearances I’ve looked at and listned to, comes across as a congenial everyman, and despite being very knowledgable in the areas of politics and war, he never affects smugness or superiority – and yet there is a brief moment in that interview, a moment that recurs in several other places, that is always haunting, and that briefly makes him an alien figure, taking him out of the ordinary. It’s here in the interview, when he says “She was, unfortunately and obviously, tragically killed there…so, it was a way…so after that happened, you know, screw it all, I’m going to write”, and then he laughs, and it’s not like his other laughs, it’s like a laugh at a sick joke nobody back in the world, back in a peaceful United States, back in a country that doesn’t even remember that it’s at war, would know. It’s a laugh without cruelty, a strange mix of being very much a sincere laugh by someone full of passion and energy, but one that stands out as so empty – like the laugh of a ghost or a dead man.

“Reckless and Inspired”, the interview with Jonathan Hastings by “Paleo Retiree”, underlines, if necessary, the impact:

PR: How did your family feel about her [Andi Parhamovich’s] decision to follow Mike to Iraq?

JH: We definitely had misgivings about her going to the mideast. The last time I saw her my parents and I had just had dinner with her. Mike was already back in Iraq, and she was waiting to hear back about whether or not she had gotten the job with NDI in Iraq. I told her, in all seriousness, that I hoped she didn’t get the job. I also talked to Mike about her going and said that I didn’t think it was a good idea. I don’t think HE thought it was a great idea either, but he said that ultimately the decision was up to her — which was true.

PR: How did her death affect him?

JH: He was a real wreck. My parents — my father especially — got him through the first part of all of it.

Hastings would write of the moment before he hears of her death in Lost My Love, as something like the micro inch of time before one is sealed behind a prison door, or before the darkness breaks and the sunlight illuminates the stark and unending landscape of the savage and merciless desert:

There is no pause, but I will pause here. There is this moment before I know, before I have this piece of information. A moment before when life was normal, when life was good, when I was in Baghdad with Andi and my career was skyrocketing and I was writing stories about the war, when we were planning trips to Paris, to Budapest, to Istanbul, when I looked at a diamond ring in Dubai, when I got an American Express Platinum Card because it gave me a free complimentary business or first class ticket so she could join me on my travels. The life before I have this piece of information, before the three missed calls and the three new voice mails and the two cryptic emails, this life, my life, our life. There is the moment when the information has not been delivered. The moment before 7:58P.M., Baghdad time. This moment before I know, but not before I understand because there is no understanding moments like this, the moment before the future no longer matters, before the future is nothing but a wish for the past.

The second half of the Last Magazine devoted to “Michael Hastings” is about his attempts to be published somewhere, anywhere, while he interns at Newsweek – I mean, The Magazine – and so he starts posting to under the pseudonym K. Eric Walters, and this is entirely based on real life. Wretched is actually Gawker (“HA. Subtle.”, Jessica Coen, the site’s then editor would write23), which is edited by “Sarah” (Magazine intro: “She’s cute, and I recognize her face because her picture is always up at”), who is actually Coen. “I remember taking him to random media parties (Molly Jong Fast’s book party at her mother’s condo comes to mind),” and this very item, published as “Team Party Crash: Molly Jong-Fast’s Book Party” [archive link] by “lock” (Lockhart Steele), is there in the book:

The book party is for a daughter of a famous writer who wrote a women’s liberation classic back in the ’70s. The daughter’s memoir is one of those tell-alls about what it was like growing up around all these other famous writers. About all the fucked-up shit she saw at a young age, about the different men who passed through her mother’s life, and how that led, inevitably, to promiscuity, drug addiction, expulsion from high-priced schools, and, finally, a career in writing, the shadow of her mother looming over her.

The shadow has its advantages, like the fact that her mom is a famous writer with a really nice corner apartment on 81st and Park, a perfect place to host a book party.

Afterwards, Hastings is brought in to guest edit, and he uses the same pseudonym, K. Eric Walters (Magazine: “the name of a little-known and short-lived Irish revolutionary who had accidentally punched out a Brit in a drunken brawl, sparking a rebellion that Michael Collins would later take credit for”), that Hastings had when he edited Gawker for a week, from the first post, “Guest Editor: A Brief Introduction” [archive link] (5/16/05) to the last, “Guest Editor: Acknowledgments, Feedback Still Welcome” [archive link] (5/20/05). The workload is grueling, ten posts a day. “Ten posts a day. Where to find them?” There’s a press release on Steven King’s son publishing a collection of short stories. “Think he deserves this on merit?” asks the tipster. Answer: No. “I copy a chunk of the press release then write a few lines about how Stephen King’s son got a book deal because he was Stephen King’s son. Scathing.” Again, from life. “Owen King: In Praise of Nepotism Redux” [archive link] by “kewalters”: “We don’t envy writers who have to scribble away in the shadows of their superstar parents. (See: Amis, Martin; Bellow, Adam.) Actually, we’re lying. They get book deals! We’re so sick with envy we can’t even finish our own ‘works in progress.'” It was through this job that he met Andi Parhamovich.

“How did Mike meet Andi?” asks “Paleo Retiree”. Jonathan Hastings: “I’m pretty sure Mike met Andi when she was working at Air America and he was trying to get on the radio more.” From one epitaph, “Activist slain in Iraq `was an idealist'” by Louise Roug: “Parhamovich met Hastings when he came to interview Jerry Springer, who was on an Air America show in New York.” This interview is in “A Moment With Jerry Springer For Air America” [archive link], a post made two weeks after his guest editing stint24: “So we sent Gawker rentboy K. Eric Walters to brave the salsa at Rosa Mexicano on the Upper West Side”. Interview high point: “Springer: That’s where Democrats are getting it wrong. They’re talking about a strategy to win an election without first understanding that we have to offer a combination that reflects the culture. Hastings: And since your show has been called the lowest point in American culture, you think you can help the Democrats understand?”, though the overall high point is the disclaimer: “K. Eric Walters has never watched a full episode of the Jerry Springer Show, nor listened to any program on Air America. His political biases include NASCAR, Neo-Stalinism, and the Church of Scientology. In fact, he was totally unqualified to conduct this interview.” From “Activist slain”: “”It was the most boring Jerry Springer interview in history,” Hastings recalled. But an e-mail exchange about the story led to that first date — diner milkshakes.”

Hastings would describe their first meeting and the interview, perhaps purposely dull because of his growing disenchantment with an unnamed gossip site’s pointless venom, in Lost My Love:

Despite the training course, I still didn’t know if the magazine [Newsweek] was serious about sending me to Iraq. So I was doing some freelance work to get other kinds of reporting experience, writing under a pseudonym for a website that traffics in New York gossip. My freelance assignment on June 1 was to interview Jerry Springer. The editor had called me in the afternoon to see if I’d like to go to a party hosted by Air America Radio for the launch of Springer’s new radio show. I didn’t really want to go, but I said I would. I took the F train up to 57th Street and walked to Rosa Mexicano, the restaurant where the event was being held. Andi was one of Air America’s two publicists, and she was in charge of hosting and organizing the event. She and her colleagues had flirted with the idea of disinviting me—they didn’t know if it was a good idea for the gossip website to cover the launch after all—but decided that protesting had the potential to make the situation worse.

After the interview, I spoke with Andi for about fifteen more minutes. Her coworkers watched in horror as she talked to “the gossip guy.” I made sure to mention that I was really a Newsweek guy, and that this gossip thing was just for fun. “Real news only,” I told her. “Most of the time, at least.”

“That’s quite a notebook you’re carrying,” she said.

It was a classic reporter’s notebook, spiral bound, sticking out of my back pocket.

“Do you think you’re covering World War II or something? I mean, it’s like you think you’re in the movie, Newsie. Did you leave your fedora at home?”

There was an edge to the flirting. I could tell she thought I was full of myself, and she wanted to take me down a peg.

I transcribed the Springer interview and sent in the piece. There wasn’t much to work with, and beyond that I was no longer in the mood for the casual pettiness the gossip site required. I’d been working with them for a few months, and I’d lost interest in writing about topics that I felt were essentially meaningless. The Springer interview was probably the most boring and harmless item the website ever published. Maybe it was intentional, maybe it was by accident, but her colleagues at Air America would say that it was a “Valentine to Andi.”

From “Activist slain”:

Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Thursday for the attack that took the lives of the 28-year-old and three bodyguards — a Hungarian, a Croat and an Iraqi. Two other security workers were wounded. None of these other victims’ names had been released.

“She was an idealist,” Hastings said of Parhamovich, who grew up in Perry, Ohio. “She always believed that people were good. Certainly, those ideals were put to the test when she came to Iraq.”

Parhamovich, known as Andi, followed heart and ideals when she came to Baghdad. Hastings, a reporter with Newsweek, was working in Iraq. But Parhamovich was also drawn to political work in Baghdad, teaching Iraqis about voting and how to establish a functional government.

She worked first for the International Republican Institute, joining the National Democratic Institute a few months later.

On Wednesday, Parhamovich had gone to meet a group of Sunni politicians from the Iraqi Islamic Party. “She was really excited about the meeting,” Hastings said.

After Parhamovich conducted her training seminar for the Sunni politicians, she left in a convoy with her armed guards. Moments later, the convoy was ambushed. The guards fought back but were outgunned by the attackers, whose arsenal included grenades.

“With God’s assistance, we have succeeded in the destruction of two SUV vehicles belonging to the Zionist Mossad, killing all who were in them, attacking them by light and medium weapons,” wrote the group that took responsibility, in a statement on a well-known Sunni insurgent website.

The group often refers to its targets as members of Israel’s intelligence service.

But in fact, Hastings said, “they killed a wonderful, unarmed girl.”

Shortly after this incident, Hastings would write a book about Parhamovich, her death, and their time in Iraq. Scott Horton: “I know that you wrote a book about, I Lost My Heart in Baghdad or something, tell us about that.” Hastings: “Yeah, I wrote a book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story. It came out last year. It was about my girlfriend and fiance, Andi Parhamovich, who worked for the National Democratic Institute, and she had joined me while I was the Newsweek correspondent in Baghdad.” Three weeks after her death, Hastings had sent the book’s proposal to agent Andrew Wylie, and there has been some questioning of his Hastings’ motives in coming up with a book so quickly, but I can think of one reason why he did so: Hastings wrote to survive that moment.

In “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” [archive link], Gawker identifies a character named Brennan Toddly, a journalist who writes for a prestige magazine like The New Yorker, someone who meets with Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, someone who’s an advocate for the war, and Gawker names, wrongly, Jeffrey Goldberg. It was left to Tom Gallagher in his review in the L.A. Review of Books, “Michael Hastings Skewers Them From the Grave (with a Scoop of Gawker)”, to do excellent work making the case that this writer is actually George Packer. He notes that Toddly’s books – A Peaceful Village (1989 memoir about the Peace Corps), The Typewriter Artist (1996 novel), Awash in Red (1999 memoir of self-discovery on whether to stay a socialist) – line up almost exactly with Packer’s: The Village of Waiting (1988 memoir about the Peace Corps), Central Square (1996 novel), Blood of the Liberals (2000 memoir about deciding to leave the Democratic Socialist Party of America). One other similarity that Gallagher leaves out is Packer’s pre-war 2003 “Dreaming Of Democracy”, which features a meeting with Maikya whose elements are slightly re-written for Magazine, but whose source remains obvious.

This is an excerpt from one of Toddly’s articles in The Magazine:

After the panel discussion, I made my way backstage, where I encountered Kanan Makiya. I introduced myself to Makiya. He invited me to his home for tea. We walked across the campus yard, where a new class of coeds had just arrived, playing Frisbee and hacky sack. Easy, carefree thoughts. The opposite of what Makiya was thinking. “This is what Iraq was like when I was a child, before I had to leave,” he told me. “You Americans are finally paying attention. You must finally take action.” Three hours later, I had left his office, a bladder full of sweet chai, convinced. But the arguments with myself would continue.

This is “Dreaming”:

Last summer, the State Department convened a number of Iraqi exiles to advise the United States government on the problems that Iraq would face after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It was called, rather grandly, the Future of Iraq Project. Among the topics was democracy, and among the Iraqis invited to join was a dissident named Kanan Makiya.

“It’s the architect in me,” he says, nursing a cold over Japanese tea in Cambridge, Mass., where he lives. Makiya is a balding and somewhat disheveled Brandeis University professor of Middle East studies with a soft, intense manner. His office in a Cambridge apartment is lined with leatherbound books on Islamic history and literature. When his cellphone rings, he apologizes for having temporarily acquired one — “a disaster for a writer.” The immediate world of waitresses and crosswalks constantly surprises Makiya out of his thoughts, which these days are elsewhere. This unlikely revolutionary is taking the huge gamble that by riding on the back of an American war, he can hold the Americans to their own talk and help direct the outcome.

There is no single sentence substitute for “But the arguments with myself would continue”, but there is this paragraph later on:

The unease among Americans, even those who support the president, about the war and its aftermath is certainly due to fear of unknown consequences. It might also come from the sense that we’re trying to have it both ways — guns and butter, war without sacrifice, intervention without commitment. If Iraq succeeds in becoming a democracy under American protection, it will represent the triumph of hope over experience for both countries. It’s a notion that I always found easier to imagine when I was within earshot of Kanan Makiya.

“Frankly, I was tickled to see George pilloried in this book — even though it appears that few have realized he was part of its inspiration,” is one sentence filled with Gallagher’s glee over his ideological opponent being made a target. Though he does excellent deductive work, Gallagher does not seem to know why Hastings has picked out this particular war advocate, that the choice was not arbitrary, and Hastings’ animus is not due entirely to Packer’s position on the war. It was Packer who reviewed I Lost My Love in Baghdad for the New York Times, “What She Did for Love”. It is not an uncharitable or unnecessarily cruel review. There are two stories in this book, writes Packer, and “[o]ne senses that the war story, conveying an experience that consumed Michael Hastings during a crucial period in his mid-20s, is the book he really wanted to write. It is better written, more vividly rendered, more intensely felt”. And there is the second storyline: “The love story is told with greater insistence and less conviction, without memorable passages or surprising recognitions. It accounts for the embarrassing title and the whiff of exploitation that hangs over “I Lost My Love in Baghdad.”” Packer compliments Hastings’ succinct descriptive skill, as a journalist who “learned his trade and kept his eyes open amid the grotesque history being made around him”, and picks out this description of Saddam Hussein in a courtroom, after the nimbus of power was gone: “He had the look of a depressed businessman, a former C.E.O. in a corporate fraud case.” When it comes to the second plot, this writer’s power fails: “Why is Hastings unable to summon anything like this facility when describing Andi Parhamovich, the young woman whose death prompted him to write this book?”

There are many sections in the review that might have roused Hastings’ anger, none more than the last:

Hastings comes close to blaming the N.D.I. [National Democratic Institute, the NGO which Parhamovich worked for] for Andi’s death. It seems senseless to him, inevitably — not just because of his anger and grief, but because he has little to say about the substance of her work there and her attitude toward it. Beneath the literary shortcomings in the love story there is a deeper flaw. Hastings didn’t take the time to struggle with the issues that writing this book should have forced him to face: the nature of Andi’s motives and his own, the conflict between work and love, between ambition and a normal life, and his sense of the degree, however small, of his own responsibility. That effort would have made a better — though more painful — whole of the book’s two halves.

Hastings would release his venom toward Packer in two places besides The Last Magazine. Packer would review Mark Danner’s Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War in the Times in 2009, “Heart of the Matter”. This would provoke a lengthy letter from Danner, “‘Stripping Bare the Body’: Letters”, where Danner took exception to Packer not making his early support for the war explicit and clear in the review: “Whatever this may say about eccentric attitudes toward journalistic fairness or personal integrity, it certainly shows contempt for Times readers, who might have found themselves puzzled by the oddly personal and defensive tone of the review and many of its gratuitously nasty and distinctly strange observations”. Hastings would send in his own letter during the controversy to Editor & Publisher, “UPDATED: Packer Responds to Hastings Letter on ‘NYT’ Book Review”:

I saw your story [“UPDATED: Danner Challenges ‘NYT’ Choice of Book Reviewer in Lengthy Letter — Packer Responds”] on the Mark Danner versus George Packer controversy. This isn’t the first time George Packer has reviewed an Iraq book in the New York Times that should have raised conflict of interest questions. In April 2008, he gave a fairly negative review of my book, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story.” My book was also very critical of the war in Iraq, a war that Packer supported. He did not disclose his support for the war in that review.

The more egregious conflict of interest, though, was his close relationship with the National Demoractic Institute, an NGO that I was highly critical of. (Andi Parhamovich, the women I was set to marry, was working for NDI when she was killed, in a large part due to NDI’s failure to provide proper security.) Packer had even met with the president of NDI, Kenneth Wollack in the spring of 2007; in the meeting, her death was discussed. A year later, the negative review in the Times came out, defending NDI, and parroting NDI’s talking points against the book. (NDI refused to cooperate with the writing of the book, and it was only under great pressure that they even shared details of what happened with Andi’s family, almost nine months later, another fact Packer failed to mention.)

At the time, I decided to take my lumps–bad reviews are part of the deal, and the majority of reviews the book got were favorable. However, I actually happen to have just read Mark Danner’s “Stripping Bare the Body.” It is an excellent work, and for Packer to have reviewed it seems quite unfair. Obviously, I’m not a neutral observer, but there does appear to be a pattern. (For the record, I have great admiration for Danner’s reportage, and I think Packer is a talented journalist, though I’ve never met either of them.)

What seems to bug Packer about Danner’s book is similar to what bugged him about mine: the books focus on the what Packer calls the “creepy” details of the consequences of war, details which clearly make him uncomfortable. That is, what war actually does to human beings, and how human beings actually behave. After having been one of the many thoughtful cheerleaders for the war in Iraq, Packer has never been able to come to terms with the human cost of the bad ideas he promoted. I fear he suffers from the anxiety of getting it wrong — it’s certainly a blow to the ego for a self-styled foreign policy writer to have whiffed on the most critical foreign policy question of this generation. So it’s easier to attack others who got it right, to criticize a writer like Danner who saw the folly of the Iraq excursion before the fact, not after.

Michael Hastings
(the writer is currently in Baghdad)

Packer would respond:

You’re right: my review of “Stripping Bare the Body” didn’t say “history proved Danner’s position on the war right.” That was a loose (maybe too loose) paraphrase of what I did say: “[His] point of view has served Danner well in his far-reaching criticisms of the foreign policy of George W. Bush, especially on Iraq.” The meaning is similar.

I conveyed to the Times in advance that Danner and I knew each other but had no history of friendship or enmity.

The length of Danner’s letter (1400 words, about the length of my original review) and my reply (300 words) might say something about prolixity but not about wrongdoing. I answered Danner’s charges as succinctly as I could, in the belief that readers shouldn’t be subjected to drawn-out quarrels between authors and reviewers.

In my review of Hastings’ “I Lost My Love in Baghdad” (New York Times Book Review, April 20, 2008) [hyperlink added], I wrote that I had met members of the National Democratic Institute on several trips to Iraq. In other words, they were sources of mine, and I was capable of coming to my own conclusions about NDI’s responsibility for Andi Parhamovich’s death (mixed: “a terrible mistake, but not an incomprehensible one”). By Hastings’ standards, it would be unethical for a reporter with sources in the Bush administration to review a book that criticizes the Bush administration. These are the provisional standards of an author who didn’t like the review he got. I gave his book a not-so-good review because it was a not-so-good book–in fact, a bad book, and undeserving of mention alongside Danner’s.

George Packer

Although it goes unmentioned specifically in Hastings’ letter, I would think the sentence that would upset him the most was one of the last in Packer’s review: “Hastings didn’t take the time to struggle with the issues that writing this book should have forced him to face: the nature of Andi’s motives and his own, the conflict between work and love, between ambition and a normal life, and his sense of the degree, however small, of his own responsibility.” Why, Hastings, might ask, is he being charged with confronting responsibility for Parhamovich’s death by someone who advocated in favor of the war? Hastings would underlie this issue on his own blog post devoted to the Danner-Packer argument, “Mark Danner versus George Packer, and the nature of a bad review”: “Packer, a vocal supporter of the war in Iraq, seems to like to trash books that are quite critical of the war in Iraq. And in doing so, he always fails to mention that he was a vocal supporter of war in Iraq.” Even the small parenthetical, “For the record, I have great admiration for Danner’s reportage, and I think Packer is a talented journalist, though I’ve never met either of them,” contains hidden poison. It understates the admiration that Hastings once had for Packer as a journalist, and is something like the dog that doesn’t bark: Hastings had never met Packer, but Andi Parhamovich had. From I Lost My Love in Baghdad:

After two weeks readjusting to Baghdad and her new job, she is making friends. She tells me about a girl named Anne; another blond from the Midwest, also dating a reporter, who shares Andi’s interests in spirituality. Magic stones and whatnot. I smile when I hear this. She is excited because she ran into a reporter from The New Yorker, George Packer, in the lobby of her hotel compound. She says she wished I could have been there, because she knows how much I like his work.

So, this is the misidentification that Gawker makes, and that was caught by Gallagher. There is a missing identification, however, of a very minor character, who is nonetheless given a relatively lengthy descrption in The Last Magazine. His appearance will puzzle most readers, and certainly he puzzled me. Why give so much space to a man who simply appears briefly and then disappears? Gawker most certainly would have been able to make the ID, as he was a prominent and highly placed employee, but they make no such naming. The character appears at a party held at a club called The Dark Room, and we might contrast this figure with the far briefer overview of these other cameos, almost all of whom are limited in appearance to only their names in this paragraph, all of whom are based on actual people:

There is Allan Tool, who holds some kind of deputy managing editor title for Wretched; Franklin Liu, who blogs on Mediabistro; the other Sarah, Sarah Klein, who does Gothamist; some guy named Arnie Cohen, most notorious for his ability to get mentioned on everyone else’s blogs without actually doing anything of note, except hitting on Sarah Klein in the back of a taxicab and then blogging about his rejection; Jennifer Cunningham, who would later have a “crisis of conscience” and leave Wretched to focus more clearly on herself; and on and on, names with a “blogspot” and a “dot com” attached, names that I’ve heard of before by reading one referring to the other. The closest thing to someone from a traditional media outlet, besides myself, is a kid with short dark hair and beady eyes and a skinny tie who works for the New York Herald named Jonathan Lodello—he is here, Sarah whispers, to do a story on the new new media scene, a story that will surely then be linked to on all the blogs of everyone sitting around the table, generating traffic and page views that can help with the advertisers and buzz.

Allan Tool is Lockhart Steele, the managing editor of Gawker Media in 2005; Franklin Liu I have a very good guess for, but since the character does cocaine and people remain uptight about that habit, I’ll keep it to myself; Arnie Cohen is, I think Joshua David Stein, who would go on to write “The Dangers of Blogger Love”, which, disappointingly, is not about a herpes outbreak in the wordpress community; the self-absorbed Jennifer Cunningham can only be Emily Gould, infamous for her self-absorbtion25, and I’ll take a guess later as to why Hastings puts crisis of conscience in such poisonous quotes; Jonathan Lodello is…who knows? Maybe Ben McGrath, who would write probably the best profile of Gawker founder Nick Denton, the New Yorker‘s “Search and Destroy” and whose piece about an artists’ collective which designed habitats for writers, “Writers at Work”, was linked by K. Eric Walters in “The New Yorker Unlocks Secret to Blogging” [archive link]: “The New Yorker‘s always enterprising Ben McGrath made the harrowing, God-awful trek to Queens last week to visit Flux Factory, an alleged artist’s collective.” Maybe Andrew Ross Sorkin, who profiled Denton in 2003 for the Times, “Building a Web Media Empire on a Daily Dose of Fresh Links”. However, a blogger party at some horribly fashionable bar with a journalist looking on, if not partly taken from Hastings’ own experience, is very much from “Everybody Sucks: Gawker and the rage of the creative underclass” by Vanessa Grigoriadis.

Sarah Klein is just about the only character in the paragraph who stays a while on the stage, with her and “Michael Hastings” hooking up that night. Jessica Coen, on Gawker’s “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” [archive link]: “I am pretty sure he briefly dated Rachel Sklar. Relevant, I know.” “Michael Hastings’ Dangerous Mind: Journalistic Star Was Loved, Feared and Haunted” [archive link: ] by Gene Maddaus: “Writer Rachel Sklar met him, and dated him for a few months, when he was living in New York and working for Newsweek.” Sklar in 2005 wasn’t at Gothamist, but MediaBistro’s FishbowlNY (she was, however, profiled on Gothamist: “Rachel Sklar, co-editor and writer of FishbowlNY”, an interview with Rachel Kramer Bussel), would go on to run the Eat the Press blog at the Huffington Post (including the insightful piece on Gawker, “Wow, Everybody Really DOES Suck: Drowning In The Bile Of Gawker, Page Six, and New York”), and now works at The, a tech start-up. That Sarah Klein is “the other Sarah” might be a joke on the fact that Jessica Coen and Rachel Sklar bear a passing resemblance to each other. Both literati voyeurs and those doubtful that the sex in the book is anything other than an expression of Hastings’ pervy impulses might wish to note that the moment between Sarah going to his apartment after the party and her leaving the next morning is left chastely to the readers’ imagination.

There is one character, the one already referenced several times, who is set aside from this paragraph, and who is given a considerable amount of space, seemingly for no purpose, leaving the reader to wonder: why? Here is the full excerpt in which he appears. I bold the most important lines:

I sit down next to another kid.

“Kelly,” he says.

“Mike,” I say. “Kelly, as in Kelly Treemont?”

“That’s me.”

“I’ve read your blog. I thought you were a woman. The name.”

“I get that. You don’t do the powder either?”

“Nah, I used to do that shit a lot but stopped.”

“Me too,” he says. “I’m very boring now. I live with cats. I’m in recovery.”

“Great. I work for a magazine.”

“Dead tree, oh no.”

“Yeah, the trees are pretty dead.”

“You know, to be honest, I take a little Adderall still,” he says. “It helps me in my writing. I’m working on a memoir. About my experiences with drugs and alcohol, and I don’t know if you know, but I’m gay, so it’s about my experiences with drugs and alcohol and being gay and everything.

“Sounds great,” I say.

“You know, I think it’s been out there, a little, but my experience, I think I have a really unique perspective.”

“How long have you been working on the book?”

“Three years. This blogging, you know. But I found an agent. She’s excited.”

“Very cool. Having fun?”

“I’m waiting for Timothy. He’s supposed to show.”

“Timothy Grove?”

“Of course. He doesn’t like these places—he prefers Balthazar, a place where he can pretend he’s Anna Wintour or Graydon Carter—I think coming here reminds him too much that he’s not really one of them, no matter how hard he tries. He’ll always be more Larry Flynt. But you should watch out. He’s a collector of straights.”

“Is that right?”

“Aren’t you the one they have guest blogging this week?”


“There are things you could do, you know, if you want to make it permanent.”


“Yes, things.”

“Good to know. Is that how, uh, I mean, has anyone else ever done those things?”

“Me, of course, but it was brief, and I thought I loved him, though he is such a fucking scumbag.”

“Yeah, sounds like it.”

“Oh, watch this, this should be good.”

The other Sarah, Sarah Klein, stands up from the table and grabs Jonathan Lodello’s hand.

“She has such huge tits,” Kelly says. “You know the backstory?”

“Uh, no.”

“Franklin broke up with her three days ago. She’s totally pissed about it, and she is totally convinced that Franklin is going to go and sleep with Sarah, and so she has to make him jealous by dancing with Lodello. If you want to get laid tonight, you should really talk to her, I’m mean, she is going to be ready to go away with someone cute like you.”

“Oh, thanks, right.”

“You have very nice eyes.”

“Yeah, I appreciate that. They work okay.”

Timothy Grove is a very, very obvious Nick Denton. Kelly Treemont: “He doesn’t like these places—he prefers Balthazar”. Nick Denton runs things from his apartment, according to “Everybody Sucks” by Grigoriadis, “which is around the corner from the Gawker offices and across the street from his unofficial office, Balthazar (hence his faux IM name on, DarkLordBalthazar).” Magazine gives this caricature a guise ridiculous in being so obvious in its inversion. Magazine: “In all the profiles I’d read about him, the writers mention his unusually tiny head on a skinny six-one frame.” From a 2005 New York Observer profile by Tom Scocca, who will be mentioned later and who would go on to be a Gawker editor: Denton’s face “is mounted on a gigantic head, a head worthy of Linus Van Pelt or Antoine Walker.” Kelly Treemont and Timothy Grove have been in a relationship together – “it was brief, and I thought I loved him” – and this is the detail that makes me certain that Hastings had read Harlot’s Ghost. Two major characters in the novel are a high level spy chief and his wife, a researcher-analyst, and we are given their full names on the day of their wedding: “Hadley Kittredge Gardiner [Garden-er] to Hugh Tremont [Tree-mont] Montague.”

One might compare how Hastings views this character, and the man who may be its inspiration, by looking closer at his George Packer, Brennan Toddly. Tom Gallagher might take overwhelming joy in seeing a one time advocate of the Iraq war skewered, but in this case, Hastings’ venom overtakes him, and I think he draws Packer very wrong. He re-makes Packer as a fussy intellectual, whose thoughts are full of inflated, exhibitionist portent. In Packer’s “Dreaming”, he writes of Maikya’s office to establish some sense of the man; in Hastings’ re-writing of the article, the campus details are there to ennoble and elevate above the ordinary folk, who are indifferent to great issues: “We walked across the campus yard, where a new class of coeds had just arrived, playing Frisbee and hacky sack. Easy, carefree thoughts. The opposite of what Makiya was thinking.” There is the final line, “Three hours later, I had left his office, a bladder full of sweet chai, convinced. But the arguments with myself would continue,” which makes Toddly the center of all things: Toddly is important, the arguments with himself are important, his bladder is important too. Again, we can contrast this with the last section of “Dreaming”, where the doubts are not Packer’s, but the entire country’s: “The unease among Americans, even those who support the president, about the war and its aftermath is certainly due to fear of unknown consequences. It might also come from the sense that we’re trying to have it both ways — guns and butter, war without sacrifice, intervention without commitment.” Packer represents himself as a member of that national body: “It’s a notion that I always found easier to imagine when I was within earshot of Kanan Makiya,” and the idea that Iraq could be re-made through American invasion and war was sold through the very equation he gives, “the triumph of hope over experience for both countries.”

I think of Hastings’ animus as rooted in that last paragraph of Packer’s review – that Hastings did not struggle “with the issues that writing this book should have forced him to face”, most specifically, “his sense of the degree, however small, of his own responsibility.” My responsibility, I imagine Hastings thinking. I was against this war from the outset and you were for it. Who are you to speak of my responsibility? Hastings re-builds Packer entirely out of this paragraph of occluding self-importance, and in doing so, makes a caricature that rings false. The question is not whether Hastings is fair or unfair for me, or whether Packer has sufficiently repented, and I make no attempt to involve myself in the fracas between Mark Danner and Packer; only whether we, as readers, think that’s him, and this reader does not. Hastings makes you think Brennan Toddly must be some academic who writes of everything at a great distance, and it’s this quality that made me certain that the ID of Jeffrey Goldberg, who worked for years as a crime reporter26, must be wrong, and that Hastings was aiming for someone more like Paul Berman or Michael Ignatieff. Packer’s book on the Iraq war, The Assassins’ Gate is a devastating history, and its power lies with the diligent, detailed, closely observed reporting, in D.C. and Iraq. The same is true for his recent account of inequality and dysfunctional American life, The Unwinding. The Assassins’ Gate may not have been a sufficient mea culpa for Hastings – perhaps nothing could be – but anyone familiar with the book will find Toddly a false, bad impersonation.

Hastings feels a passionate, live wire anger for Toddly and Packer, a man he feels worthy of hatred, someone with sufficient intelligence and influence to help bring about the war. Hastings may not acknowledge Packer’s skills in his caricature, but he does in his letter – “I think Packer is a talented journalist” – and part of his anger stems from this very fact, the ends to which he put his talents. Hastings’ anger erupts in the one scene where Toddly makes a live appearance, rather than a simulacrum, and the last time he’s referred to in the novel, and the only moment that Toddly and A.E. Peoria meet. It takes place at the Baghdad Hamra Hotel27, at a party after the invasion, when Peoria gets hold of a spray can28:

Holding the spray paint, he steps up to where the water laps against the filter, and he stares at the concrete, water from the pool gathering in small rivulets.

He thinks of two words


There is no “No Diving” sign, no warning!

Christine swimming, the crowd getting noisier, louder.

Peoria bends over, arm outstretched, the spray paint can good and shaken.

He starts spraying, in large, yellow, sloppy letters: NO DIVING.

The next few hours: black, image, black, black, image—a face.

The face of Brennan Toddly.

A conversation—no, an altercation.

“I think,” says Brennan Toddly, sitting next to Christine, Peoria sitting next to her poolside, “that what you did was disrespectful.”

“Christine jumping in?” Peoria says.

“No, you. Your spray-painting. That was a sign of disrespect.”

Peoria, yelling, now five months or seven months of what—of anger, of disillusionment, and thinking about the dead Americans and Chipotle without a dick and how cold he was that night in the desert and thinking of those slaughtered goats and donkeys and Iraqis he’d seen on the side of the road on the way into Baghdad, the piles of man shit in the terminals at the newly liberated international airport—is screaming: “Aren’t we a little late for that, Brennan, disrespect? You’re the motherfucker who said this was going to be a great idea, you’re the motherfucker who advocated bombing a city and occupying a country and killing all sorts of fucking people, and you think I’m the one who is being disrespectful? I read your shit, man!”

A salsa bowl spills, a table gets turned over, crashing drinks.

In his review, Gallagher chortles at this, “On behalf of at least a few of Packer’s former colleagues, I’d like to say, “A.E., I couldn’t have said it better.””, and in doing so, he misunderstands why Peoria is made to be so angry at this moment, and it’s for the same reason missing from his review as for why Hastings picks out George Packer, of all the war advocates, to caricature. Toddly has only two lines, and one of them is crucial: “I think that what you did was disrespectful.” Why does he say this? Because Peoria is spray painting “NO DIVING” near the pool. Why does he do this? Because a woman, a correspondent, has dived into the pool, not knowing how deep it is, not knowing how dangerous it is. “Peoria, with his years of being trained in the art of American safety…realizes it is very dangerous, the pool.” And so, Peoria writes a massive warning for others. Again, what does Toddly say right afterwards? “I think that what you did was disrespectful.” Packer doesn’t accuse Hastings of this exactly in his review, but I think he says something of equal meaning: “The love story…accounts for the embarrassing title and the whiff of exploitation that hangs over “I Lost My Love in Baghdad.”” Peoria yells back: “Aren’t we a little late for that, Brennan, disrespect?”, and here we see why, once again, it’s a mistake to think of Peoria as Adam Piore. This is Hastings yelling at Packer, and this scene about graffiti and a pool isn’t about those things at all, but about Hastings’ writing an account of the death of Andi Parhamovich, to give a sense to others of how dangerously wrong things had gotten in Iraq, and Packer alleging that it exploited the dead.

Hastings says something close to this in I Lost My Love in Baghdad, where he writes of his efforts to get as much public exposure of Parhamovich’s death as possible, so there will be some sense of the person who was killed there, and under what circumstances: a woeful lack of preparation for the stunning level of violence and turmoil, a de facto civil war, in Iraq. Without difficulty, one can see Lost as part of the same intent.

Andi’s body is still missing, as Thursday night comes to a close. Her name has been released to the press. Her photograph is released, too. I want to talk to the press about it. I don’t want Andi to be a one-day story. I don’t want her to be just a headline on the wires. I call a friend at the Los Angeles Times. I tell her why I loved Andi; I try to explain who Andi was, what she believed in. It is the first of ten interviews I do on her death. The headline in the L.A. Times on Friday reads: “American Woman Follows Heart, Ideals, to Baghdad.” [the article that run on their website as “Activist slain in Iraq `was an idealist'”] The New York Times also calls; it is their guy from Cleveland [Parhamovich was from Ohio].

The Associated Press, Knight Ridder…I repeat myself. I want her story to be front-page news everywhere. I want people to know what kind of woman has been killed in this war. My editor asks me to send my thoughts about Andi for the “Editor’s Note,” the page at the front of the magazine. I write them down in between interviews. I say that if there was such a thing as love at first sight, this was it. I say that she hated the suffering she saw in Iraq, that she wanted to fix the mistake her country had made. I say she was the best and brightest of her generation. I say she was the best face America could offer to the world.

Again, I make this detour to contrast the intensity of feeling that Hastings has for Brennan Toddly, and what he has for Kelly Treemont. There is the passionate anger that Hastings has for Packer and Toddly, and there is the low volume disdain he has for Kelly Treemont. Almost every detail of Treemont’s character renders him a pathetic figure. He loves Timothy Grove, but he is only badly used in return. “I’m working on a memoir. About my experiences with drugs and alcohol, and I don’t know if you know, but I’m gay, so it’s about my experiences with drugs and alcohol and being gay and everything,” says Treemont, as if such a book by a New York City writer would stand out in any way now, but Treemont thinks it will, thanks to something that’s intended to convey a sense of self-delusion: “I think I have a really unique perspective.” Hastings wrote quickly and wrote a lot, four books including The Last Magazine, and there’s an exchange here to prick writerly self-indulgence. “Michael Hastings”: “How long have you been working on the book?” Kelly Treemont: “Three years.” Treemont has only gotten his position at Wretched by sleeping with Grove, he tells Hastings that he has a chance with Sarah in the sleaziest way possible, he is attracted to Hastings but Hastings wants nothing to do with him. Hastings, the writer, has contempt for this man, but he also feels sorry for him; there is nothing of the deep, lasting anger that he has for Toddly.

The reader is given a few clues as to who this might be. “Kelly, as in Kelly Treemont?” “That’s me.” “I thought you were a woman. The name.” Also this: “I’m very boring now. I live with cats.” “How long have you been working on the book?” “Three years.” I think these small details lead you to one person, involved in one incident which again dealt with Andi Parhamovich and I Lost My Love in Baghdad, and which would have affected me deeply as well. It’s an incident that has been almost entirely forgotten, and I would never have known about it, were it not for its mention in David Weigel’s obituary for Hastings, “”I’m Asking You a Question. That’s My Job.” Michael Hastings, R.I.P.”:

Hastings was a cynic blessed with talent and purpose, and he was a survivor. When he was 25, he moved to Baghdad. His girlfriend followed him there, and died there. He wrote a memoir about his heartbreak and it was leaked to snotty New York literati, who mocked it on the Internet [ link]. The controversy (Hastings would tell people later, with a remarkable lack of bitterness) opened the gate to legal purgatory.

That link, “was leaked to snotty New York literati, who mocked it on the Internet,” goes to a story, “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'” (link at by Jonathan Liu (stories at Gawker credited to “jliu”), which, as Weigel says, was a vicious mocking by the writer and Gawker‘s commenters. Liu was one of the weekend Gawker writers, along with his fellow Harvard grad Leon Neyfakh (stories at Gawker credited to “lneyfakh”)29, and this post was made at noon Saturday. They had obtained the manuscript through the New York Observer, and when literary agent Andrew Wylie asked the Observer to take down the manuscript and for Gawker to stop linking to the material, Gawker mocked the request the following Monday with “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill” (link at, a post written by the site’s then editor, Choire Sicha. For the longest time, I thought this writer was a woman because of the first name, and for the longest time I mispronounced it as SCHWOIR, when it’s got a much simpler sound: Co-ry. Kelly. Cory30.

“I’m very boring now. I live with cats,” says Kelly Treemont, and Sicha mentions his cats quite often. Sample: “Q: How many cats do you have? Do you ever let them drive? etc. Sicha: “I only have two cats…One of them is a fucking ENORMOUS cool black-and-white frat boy. The other is this tiny neurotic gray lady. THEY ARE IN LOVE.””31 Sicha was working on a novel, or non-fiction or memoir presented as a novel, or whatever, for what seems like the longest time, with the book announced in 2009, “It’s going to be about being young in recession-era New York, and it will be published…when he finishes his reporting about a year from now” (from “Choire Sicha, An Ancestor of Ephemeral Gawker, Writes a Book” by former Gawker weekend writer Leon Neyfakh), and Sicha’s Very Recent History finally coming out in 2013.

Though it was published several months after Hastings’ death, it was a novel that felt like it had been conceived entirely so that Sicha could say to the man: yes, you got me entirely. Though Sicha emphasized the reporting he did for the book, it appeared to follow a protagonist who worked for the New York Observer till it was taken over by Jared Kushner, just as Sicha did, who suffered tax problems, as Sicha did, and which very much feels like a not badly written, but very undistinct autobiographical tale of a gay man in New York City in 2009. The unremarkable story is burdened by a unique perspective where mundane aspects of political and economic life are explained in the most tedious, abstract, and unnecessary detail, a kind of “explain our present world to the ten year olds of the distant future.” One example, part of a multi-paragraph explanation on currency:

Those who had very much money, who retained these markers of value, even if the value was very abstracted, could avail themselves of other people’s money. They used their money as an insurance of the borrowed monies’ return. This sort of money might not even be in paper form but might instead just be distributed through banks, whose job it was to hold money, and therefore the “actual” money might be put to thousands of different purposes by those banks and only be registered as attached to the current “owner” of the money by means of records.

These explanations mean that you make it through the familiar points of a narrative about young social life with agonizing slowness, with the young social life itself not terribly interesting. This novel appears to be a preparatory exercise for what it’s like to live in a rather spartan home for the elderly, to know what it’s like to eat milkless cereal after you’ve had a massive stroke. I’ll put in a link to a contrasting perspective from the New Yorker, “Choire Sicha, the Anti-Blogger” by Alice Gregory, which credits Sicha not only with a great novel but with changing the way we speak now, and which, to my mind, has the delusional quality of promotional brochures for real estate inside war zones.

However, I do not want to come off as uncomfortable about literary experimentation. Perhaps the best way, I think, to present Jonathan Liu’s “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'”, whether it’s because I’m possessed by a desire to be overly clever, or perhaps something else, something darker, is by interweaving his work with the articles on the death of Parhamovich.

The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings

“(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'”: “April Fools’ Day? Tomorrow? No way! That’s it, we’re out for the weekend to plan some cyber-pranks to do on AOL.” “American Killed in Iraq Was Set to Marry” by Kim Gamel: “Andrea Parhamovich was fully in control of her impending engagement, detailing the ring she wanted as well as helping to plan the formal engagement trip [to] Paris, Valentine’s Day.” “April Fools”: “But we won’t leave you hanging without fin-de-semaine reading material.” “Killed in Iraq”: “Parhamovich was killed in an ambush in Baghdad, and the Newsweek reporter in Baghdad who planned to marry her said Friday she had e-mailed him just last week with specifications for the ring.” “April Fools”: “Thanks to the Observer, we’ve read the 131-page proposal for Newsweek reporter Michael Hastings’s upcoming I Lost My Love in Baghdad, which we’re told agent Andrew Wiley has sold to Random House Scribner for a cool north of a cool half-million.” “Killed in Iraq”: “”We were going to formalize everything,” said 26-year-old Michael Hastings, recalling that Parhamovich’s ring finger was a size 6.” “April Fools”: “Far as we can tell, ILMLIB — which begins with epigraphs from Iraq General George Casey, Prussian icon Carl von Clausewitz, and “Angel of the Morning, 1960’s pop song” (!!) — is some sort of experimental memoir about Green Zone romance leading up to the literal (that is, literal literal) January death of Hastings’s gf Andi Parhamovich.” “Activist slain in Iraq `was an idealist'” by Louise Roug: “Hastings hoped they would spend their lives together. But on Wednesday, Parhamovich died in a hail of bullets, ambushed outside a Sunni Arab political office in Baghdad. Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Thursday for the attack that took the lives of the 28-year-old and three bodyguards — a Hungarian, a Croat and an Iraqi. Two other security workers were wounded. None of these other victims’ names had been released.” “April Fools”: “And, yes, it is called I LOST MY LOVE IN BAGHDAD. Needless to say, this portends the end of Western civilization as such; highlights from the 75,000-word manuscript after the jump.” “Activist Slain”: “”She was an idealist,” Hastings said of Parhamovich, who grew up in Perry, Ohio. “She always believed that people were good. Certainly, those ideals were put to the test when she came to Iraq.””

“Activist Slain”: “Parhamovich, known as Andi, followed heart and ideals when she came to Baghdad. Hastings, a reporter with Newsweek, was working in Iraq. But Parhamovich was also drawn to political work in Baghdad, teaching Iraqis about voting and how to establish a functional government.” “April Fools”: “Yikes. Before “The Day,” Hastings and Parhamovich were just your typical twentysomething Baghdad power-couple:”

The week before a major battle had taken place on Haifa Street, a five minute drive from the bureau but outside the Green Zone… I wanted to get to Haifa street, what was being called “an insurgent stronghold.” It took two days to process the request.

Andi had come over to the bureau Thursday afternoon. Everything was going well until I was about to leave her alone in the office. I got worried she would check my email on the screen of my computer.

“I have to close my email account, I don’t want you looking at my email.”

“What are you hiding,” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said,” but I know if you see the name of any girl you’ll get upset.”

She didn’t like this, and for about fifteen minutes I apologized, before we went to my bedroom.

This time, she forgave me quickly; she seemed to have gotten upset only because that was what was expected, the role we were so used to playing. I say something stupid, or do something stupid, she gets angry at me, I beg and apologize, tell her she is the love of my life, and we make up. We layed down for about an hour or so. We didn’t have sex.

“Activist Slain”: “After Parhamovich conducted her training seminar for the Sunni politicians, she left in a convoy with her armed guards. Moments later, the convoy was ambushed. The guards fought back but were outgunned by the attackers, whose arsenal included grenades.” “April Fools”: “So much smoldering emotion. Almost makes you forget about the massive human suffering taking place out on Haifa Street. There are also text messages involving pandas:”

The messages I sent her from my Iraqna gives me space for only 25 of them, and they don’t have a date.
Love you cub [jan 17.
Love jan 17
Hug panda [jan 17

Cub love you
Leaving now love
Love cub
Love you
Hi cub
I miss you
Love you cub
Love you baby
Almost over!
Love you
Oh cub
Love you
Love cub
Be careful love
Going home soon

“Activist Slain”: “After graduating from Marietta College in Ohio, Parhamovich worked in the Massachusetts governor’s office. In 2005, she got a job doing fundraising and publicity for Air America.” “April Fools”: “It’s hard to know what to think.” “Activist Slain”: “”She was beautiful,” [Hastings] said. “Funny. Intuitive. Really brilliant. And a bit of a nut.”” “April Fools”: “Personal tragedy bleeds into History; insurgents; lovers’ squabbles; suicide bombs; $500 K book deals.” “Activist Slain”: “Parhamovich thrived, hitting the ground running, Hastings and several of her friends say. “She wanted to be here, at the center of things, helping people,” Hastings said. “She was fearless.”” “April Fools”: “Yeah, someone get us a coping mechanism: things are pretty fucked up.” “Activist Slain”: “”She is pure at heart,” [Hastings] said, bringing her to life — momentarily — in the present tense.” “April Fools”: “April Fools! —Jon”

I have many intellectual failings, and one of them is that I lack the aesthetic genius of Jonathan Liu. One of the last passages of this book, which perhaps provoked hearty laughter from Liu and whose failings my peon ears are deaf to, I find so very deeply haunting, part of a series of powerful chapters where Hastings describes in simple unsentimental detail accompanying the passage of Parhamovich’s body back to the United States in a series of military planes, the grandeur of the ceremony and the colossal engineering power of these steel plated birds as worthless as dust or stale air for bringing the dead back to life, a passage which concludes in apocalypse, death, mass death, and the revelation is that this death has no meaning, because the one most important to you in this world is already among the dead:

My eyes are shut tight and I can see Andi perfectly in the third row and I know exactly what it would look like if we began the spiral down, if this plane crashed, if the cargo bay burst open right now and shot its cargo out, tearing off the metal clasps, the force of the catastrophic failure jettisoning each silver casket, twirling and spinning, mad batons, temperature-controlled containers though probably not too aerodynamic, flags ripping away from them, not at all like parachutes but like magnificent streamers, the twenty-five caskets falling in a beautiful burst, a grand finale, until finally they hit the ocean’s surface one by one, an honorable splash, each making its own powerful ripple but one that will never make it to shore. The war is so far away now. Baghdad is now eight hours ahead, as I move back to the time zone of the United States, and half the passengers on this plane are still dead.

The follow-up piece, “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill” by Choire Sicha, had no sympathy whatsoever for Hastings:

On Friday at a little after 5 p.m., the New York Observer posted up a 131-page book proposal by Michael Hastings, a Newsweek Baghdad correspondent. The memoir is about his time overseas and the death of his fiance. The Observer post promptly disappeared. Besides the obvious copyright issues with making the whole shebang available, there was another reason mega-lit agent (and poet!) Andrew Wylie wanted the proposal disappeared from the internet: it was going to get people killed in Iraq.

While al Qaeda doesn’t obsessively monitor Gawker yet, despite the frequent aid we supply to terrorists by means of identifying ideal targets (Simon Hammerstein’s Box theater and Schiller’s Liquor Bar—plus all of Blue States Lose!), there is the question of why then it’d be acceptable for Wylie to distribute a book proposal that identifies targets in the first place.

The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings

The letter from law firm Covington & Burlington gave another reason for why the document should be taken down – there were details that Parhamovich’s family didn’t know about, including that Hastings was writing a book about their daughter:

In addition, please take notice that Mr. Hastings advises us that the Work contains information that relates to the security of personnel at the Baghdad bureau of Newsweek and identifies certain news sources by name. Obviously such material was never intended for public distribution [actually, sic: It’s a manuscript], and by publishing the Work in its website, the Observer is potentially endangering all of these persons. Continued posting of the Work on the Observer’s website only increases the chances that some harm may result.

Furthermore, Mr. Hastings advises us that private and information [sic] regarding the late Andrea Parhamovich, as yet not know [sic] to her own family, is reflected in the Work.

Choire Sicha thought this all was hilarious:

Okay, so, that’s just messed up. The military-industrial-entertainment complex that was so quick to encourage young Hastings to sell his diaries at a tasty price is in way over its head. They felt compelled to put this on the market so fast that no one even did any sort of clearance, including with the family of the woman the book is ostensibly about. Sick. Was there some reason this had to rush to market? Was there a competing, equally tragic memoir? Are purchasing editors going to be “over” Iraq memoirs in the next couple months?

We sorta figured that the whole Didion death memoir thing would go seriously wrong on the next iteration anyway.

Apparently the person that we understand is the purchasing editor, Scribner’s Nan Graham, is qualified to possess material that supposedly endangers Americans abroad—material that, given all these claims, will need to be removed before publication anyway. Meanwhile, Andrew Wylie can’t be enjoying that he’s spending down his $75+K commission on lawyers with minimal English skills. —choire

In his flattering profile of Nick Denton, “The Gawker King”, Tom Scocca, the future Gawker editor, would compare this kind of writing to that of the Algonquin Round Table: “the kind of Internet astringency that Alexander Woollcott and his crew of gossip-wits would almost certainly have been sprinkling on the blog world if they were around to click and cluck in 2005.”

There were various comments for “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal”.


Good thing I took my fucking Zoloft today. All tears aside, good one! Im totally throwing this one at my ex-Marine husband tommorrow. I’ll keep him on edge (weary,forlorn) just long enough to get that new Marc Jacobs bag Ive been dying for. Muhahahha


You really had me at “Ever wonder why first-person accounts of terrorism can’t read more like haikus?”

Because I have, dammit.

I Brad Pitt [sic] pre-purchased the film rights, it wouldn’t be such a stretch. Watch what happens. Your April fools post will spur someone to actually do this.


I’ve written better Gawker comments. Not that they’ve been published or anything. Buncha fuckheads.

BarbieBlonde26, again:

Best Gawker T-Shirt Ever:


I lost My Love In Bagdad [sic]…


April Fools Douches!

There were various comments for “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill”.


what is up with the androgynous spellings of “fiancé/e” these days? when I see “fiancé,” I expect the affianced to be a man — so either there have been a lot more gay weddings and engagements recently, or people just can’t be bothered with literacy. Actually, either of those is pretty likely.


I more often see people referring to “fiancees” with XY chromosomes and external genitalia to match. That’s even more wrong.

And the perfect first line for this book is:

What can you say about a twenty-eight-year-old girl who died IN BAGHDAD?


@JupiterPluvius: A 500k advance means (almost) never having to say you’re sorry?

Another T-Shirt suggestion, this time from JupiterPluvius:

Gawker T-Shirt suggestion:


There was a single comment that expressed anything like sympathy with the subject, from cabbage:

That book proposal is all kinds of redonkulous — but I know Mike and he’s a really decent, friendly guy. Also, have you forgotten that he once guest-edited this site?

There was a disclosure at the end of “Book Proposals Kill”, of the time before Iraq, before Michael Hastings came home and started keeping a gun by the bed: “[Disclosure: According to Radar, Hastings briefly guest-blogged on Gawker anonymously some time ago.]”

In the December 5, 2007 Gothamist interview “Choire Sicha, Ex-Gawker Editor” by John Del Signore, which came after Sicha’s resignation from Gawker, there would be the following question and answer:

Are there any Gawker posts you regret? I don’t know that I regret anything. I know I’ve definitely done misinformed or knee-jerk things. But I think it’s important not to regret anything.

They had not finished entirely with Hastings, yet. There is the line in the blogger party about “Jennifer Cunningham, who would later have a “crisis of conscience” and leave Wretched to focus more clearly on herself,” and this, as said, can only be Emily Gould. For a post made at the end of that week on April 6, 2007, “Gold Star Motel: Trumping In Her Kushner” ( link), a curation by Gould of the site’s best comments of that week, she had picked out a lucky winner from “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill”. Stand up, JupiterPluvius, you get a prize: “And the perfect first line for this book is: What can you say about a twenty-eight-year-old girl who died IN BAGHDAD?” This post was made on the same day that Emily Gould would make an infamous appearance on a “Larry King Live” episode hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, devoted to the new paparazzi and Gawker‘s often questionably sourced gossip.

This very moment would be well known enough to be re-played, with dialogue almost verrbatim, in an episode of The Newsroom (via “Sorkin Recreated This 2007 Fight Between Kimmel and Gawker on The Newsroom” by Matt Wilstein):

From the transcript, “Paparazzi: Do They Go Too Far?”:

KIMMEL: My problem is you post things that simply aren’t true on the site and you do no checking on your stories whatsoever. I’ll give you an example. There was a story about me that popped up on my Google search. It said “Daily Gawker Stalker, when isn’t Jimmy Kimmel visibly intoxicated?” And there’s a story about me being visibly intoxicated. I know it may be funny to you but I didn’t find it that amusing.


KIMMEL: And a matter of fact, the story that talks about me being drunk, I was coming home with my cousin’s — my cousin’s 1-year- old birthday party with my elderly aunt and uncle and my kids and my cousins and I was — I may have been loud but I was far from intoxicated and you put these things on there. I mean I know you’re an editor. What exactly are you editing from the website?

GOULD: There’s a whole other aspect of our website that doesn’t have anything to do with the Stalker Map. But what the Stalker Map is citizen journalism. People don’t read with the expectation that every word of it will be gospel. Everyone who reads it knows that it isn’t checked at all.


GOULD: What they read it for is immediacy.

KIMMEL: I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

GOULD: You don’t unfilter sort of the way people that perceive celebrities in real time that you don’t get from any other media. And that’s what I think is great about it.

In a long confessional, “Emily Gould – Exposed – Blog-Post Confidential”, Gould would write of the appearance, “Called upon to defend Gawker’s publication of anonymous e-mail tips of celebrity sightings, I was dismissive and flip. My untrained, elastic face betrayed the shock and amusement I was feeling about being asked, somewhat aggressively, to justify something that I thought of as not only harmless but also a given: the idea that anyone who makes their living in public was subject to the public’s scrutiny at all times.” She would react badly to the exposure and the hateful reaction to her appearance: “I started having panic attacks — breathless bouts of terror that left me feeling queasy, drained and hopeless — every day. I didn’t leave my apartment unless I absolutely had to, and because I had the option of working from home, I rarely had to.” Only when she read “Gawker and the Rage of the Creative Underclass” did she realize the harm she was doing: “The article painted Gawker as a clearinghouse for vitriol and me as a semisympathetic naïf who half-loved and half-loathed what her job was forcing her to become,” and this prompted her to resign. Gould would publicly quit the site in November 2007, announcing it in the post, “A Long, Dark Early Evening Of The Soul With Keith Gessen” [archive link], but that time, she was leaving because of the exposé, “Gawker: 2002–2007” written by Carla Blumenkranz and published in n+1, the magazine edited by Keith Gessen, Gould’s future husband. “I took a phone call and when I got back, Choire had told Keith he was quitting Gawker.” Gould: “Yup, we’re quitting!” Gessen: “Because of this?” Gould: “Sort of. Well, not because it was written. But because it’s not untrue.” It’s this context that perhaps makes Hastings’ reference to her, “Jennifer Cunningham, who would later have a “crisis of conscience” and leave Wretched to focus more clearly on herself,” understandable, and why he was filled with sufficient malice to make sure she was on the Wretched staff in 2005 so he could make this crack, even though Gould only joined Gawker in 200632.

A year after Hastings had died, Gould would say the following, in Aaron Hicklin’s “Overstepping the bounds: how blogger Emily Gould has been oversharing”:

“If I wanted to get really melodramatic about it, I could say that I feel like I was punished,” Gould says today. But whatever remorse she feels, it is not for stalking celebrities; it is for making fun of other writers — once a meat-and-potatoes target for Gawker’s editors. “I don’t think people understand that writers, with very few exceptions, aren’t rich and don’t have power,” she says. “I don’t think I understood that when I was at Gawker, and now it’s been made abundantly clear to me, by a God who has a sense of humour, if you want to believe in stuff like that.”

Though the posts making fun of I Lost My Love in Baghdad appear on the second page of results for a search of the name “Michael Hastings” on Gawker (link), this moment was never brought up in his obituary, “Journalist Michael Hastings Killed in Car Accident at 33” ( link) by Taylor Berman – though it did feature links to his older posts as K. Eric Walters, which preceded the “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal” and “Book Proposals Kill” posts. It was given no mention in the post, “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” by J.K. Trotter, and as emphasised here, the Choire Sicha caricature of Kelly Treemont was left un-IDed. This was a little surprising, since the allegation that someone only got an editor’s position by sleeping with the publisher is the sort of thing that the old Gawker gorged on.

Jessica Coen, the former editor of Gawker and the later editor of Gawker Media site Jezebel remembers the book party for I Lost My Love in Baghdad, in her letter to Gawker: “He went back, then his fiancée died over there and I recall going to the memorial/book party (which was weird and felt a little garish but sincere at the same time, if that’s possible), and that was when we started to really lose touch.” No mention is made of the leaked proposal to the Observer or Gawker, though I find it difficult to believe that Coen, either now or then, did not know about the leaks and the mocking posts on Gawker.

“The darkness, the darkness, oh the darkness…The darkness in his bedroom had even taken on his scent.” The Magazine‘s A.E. Peoria collapses into a depression when he’s given forced leave after an outcry erupts about his reporting on abuse at Abu Ghraib. He suffers from the memories of the war, his girlfriend has broken up with him, he is utterly alone, and working as a journalist gives him life – but he no longer has his job. “A.E. Peoria had hated the lights at the office, the radiating lights…sucking the soul, draining life from the skin. But how he missed those lights now.” He wants The Magazine to go to hell, he wants it to burn. “But then, like a slave, he thought, he wanted The Magazine to forgive him, he wanted The Magazine back.” This is not, I think, Adam Piore’s life, but Hastings’ life after Andi Parhamovich was killed and his memoir proposal was published in the New York Observer and Gawker. The manuscript showed too much angry criticism towards the American occupation, which Newsweek felt was detrimental to his reporting, and so they gave him leave. This is mentioned in one of the few news pieces to cover the episode of Hastings and Gawker, “A death in Baghdad echoes in blogosphere” by Simon Houpt in The Globe & Mail:

A few days after the funeral, possibly to help himself work through what had happened, Hastings did what reporters do: He began to write. He wrote furiously for a month straight, churning out 75,000 words about Parhamovich’s death, about their relationship (the good and the bad), about his past battles with substance abuse and Parhamovich’s own dark past, about the abysmal security situation in Iraq. His ground-level view of Baghdad is eye-opening and depressing, and he is nakedly dismissive of those at the top. (“Bush proclaims a war and lists excuses for it,” he writes.) Hastings produced a very rough manuscript, bitter and raw and forthright, and it was full of spelling and grammatical errors and some embarrassingly intimate and cheesy prose, but still he gave it to someone at the Wylie Agency, the powerful literary shop with an office across West 57th Street from Newsweek, and they sent it to publishers around town with the title I Lost My Love in Baghdad and sold it on March 29 for a reported $500,000 (U.S.).

The next afternoon, Friday, March 30, someone (perhaps someone at a publishing company that lost out on the book, it’s unclear) e-mailed the manuscript to the New York Observer‘s media blog. Someone there — evidently a junior someone there, possessing limited experience with copyright law and a similar lack of good taste — followed the bloggers’ dictum about information wanting to be free and figured it would be a great idea to post the whole manuscript, all 131 pages of it. The post went up without the participation of the blog’s editor. (The Observer didn’t return requests for comment.) The next day, someone working the weekend shift at — evidently a junior someone there — decided the news about the book and its contents would make for fine comic fodder. He riffed on the text messages between the two lovers that were included in the manuscript, and joked about, “the literal January death,” of Parhamovich.” Never mind that Hastings had actually been on a freelance assignment for Gawker on the night he met Parhamovich; in the blogosphere, it’s all fun and games until someone gets — oh. Sorry.

By Monday, the grown-ups were back in charge. The Observer eradicated the post from its website after receiving a lawyer’s letter which suggested that the manuscript, aside from being copyrighted, contained information about the Baghdad operations of Newsweek that, if disseminated, could endanger people over there.

But there are other consequences to the Observer‘s post. The lawyer’s letter suggests that the manuscript contained private information about Parhamovich that Hastings had not yet related to her family. That’s putting it mildly: In fact, as I discovered over the weekend, Parhamovich’s family didn’t even know Hastings had been working on a book about their daughter.

He’d planned to tell them at some point, perhaps after sitting down with them and telling them about how Parhamovich had died. They don’t yet know all the details. But then, neither does Hastings. He’s back in Baghdad, searching for the truth about her death. That’s the only work he can do over there now. When the book contract was being hammered out, he was in transit to the Middle East, intending to do more reporting for Newsweek. But last Friday, Mark Miller told me the manuscript’s release by the Observer had suddenly scuttled those plans because it exposed Hastings’s cynical view of the war. “We don’t normally want our correspondents to be expressing these kinds of views,” said Miller. “Given that it is out there, I think it’s best that he not be reporting for us from Baghdad. There is a perception issue.”

There is the major misperception here of this being a rogue, unintended action by a Gawker staffer; a weekend writer posted the initial piece, but his editor, the then over-thirty Choire Sicha, backed him up entirely, and piled on in the mockery and ridiculed the idea of taking down the manuscript. Because this moment has been ao little looked at, a central question remains unanswered, in this article and after: how did this manuscript that was at the offices of the Observer, end up at Gawker? Both weekend writers, Jonathan Liu and Leon Neyfakh would go on to work for a long period at the paper, and both Liu and Neyfakh had already published several articles there33. The manuscript was originally excerpted in the Observer‘s “Media Mob” section, which was edited by Tom Scocca, who, two years earlier had done the Denton profile, “King of Gawker”, and would later join Gawker Media, first as an editor at Deadspin, then at Gawker34. Those who’ve read Scocca’s Beijing Welcomes You will know that he was in China at the time, covering the preparations for the Olympics. Scocca is, however, good friends with Sicha. They shared a by-line on “Miracle on 33rd Street”; Scocca has a regular column on The Awl, the site co-founded by Sicha after he left Gawker in 2007; Scocca and Sicha thank each other in their book acknowledgements – Beijing: “Choire Sicha was a good-enough friend and adviser to read the first pile of words, before it even qualified as a manuscript”, while Very Recent History features a half page of names, including Scocca and Emily Gould. Choire Sicha would start out as an editor for Gawker from 2003 to 2005, then go to the Observer as an editor until early 2007, when he returned to Gawker as editor again, before quitting in November and going back eventually to the Observer35. So maybe, while Scocca was in China, Sicha helped manage the “Media Mob” section, and that’s how I Lost My Love in Baghdad made it from Point A to Point B.

Scocca, Liu, Sicha, Gould

(From left to right: Tom Scocca, who was editor of the Media Mob section which first published the “I Lost My Love…” proposal; Jonathan Liu, who wrote “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'”; Choire Sicha, who was his editor at Gawker, and who afterwards wrote “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill”; Emily Gould who would pick out the best comment in “Book Proposals Kill” for their weekly comment round-up, that week titled “Gold Star Motel: Trumping In Her Kushner”. Photo credits, respectively: Riverhead Books, Capital New York, Rachel Sklar, Lisa Corson)

Hastings did not let any feeling of violation easily show through. “I remember getting an e-mail from Mike that was like, ‘Fuck them, I’m on Haifa Street,’” said one close friend36. He did, however, remember. In the obituary, “Michael Hastings Popped The Press Bubble, From The Campaign Trail To The Front Lines”, Michael Calderone would write “The first time I met Michael Hastings, he confronted me.” Calderone had worked at the Media Mob section when they’d published the proposal, and Hastings wanted to know if he’d had anything to do with it. “Despite his suspicions, I had nothing to do with the story. And after a contentious back-and-forth, we ended up chatting over drinks.” For what it’s worth, I believe Calderone’s account. And Hastings must have remembered the incident with some animus at least until 2009: given the shared material of the book and the May 2009 post, “‘The Army Is A 24-Hour Gay Joke'”, he was working on the book as late as then. He remembered what had happened, and he made sure to put in a caricature of Choire Sicha as an inconsequential, pathetic figure.

We do know what someone else felt after their proposal was leaked onto Gawker and published, someone who’d already had to grow a thick skin to all manner of slights and insults, and that was Lena Dunham. “Dunham says the worst Internet-related experience of her career came in December 2012, when Gawker got hold of her book proposal and posted all 66 pages of it,” writes Meghan Daum in “Lena Dunham Is Not Done Confessing”. Dunham: “It felt like such a violation to put my unedited work out into the world. As a writer, there is nothing more violating. I would rather walk down the street naked — no surprise — than to have someone read my unedited work.” This was a much smaller violation than what Gawker did to Hastings, but one can understand the sense of being exposed raw, of being out of control, and one can fathom that Hastings was in an even deeper pit than A.E. Peoria in The Last Magazine: “he had faced the darkness for three days and he didn’t want to move.”

We think of those in mourning as inhabiting a sacred space, a place not to be violated, that we too will feel the same depths that they will when we suffer loss, and that is why we feel the Westboro Baptist Church protests to be obscene, and that is why I think this act was obscene as well. I picture Nick Denton, Choire Sicha, and Jonathan Liu as a bunch of schoolboys coming across a stray dog wailing in the cold, a stray that simply wanted the biting cold to stop, and these schoolboys were bored, so they decided to set this dog on fire to hear what awful cries it would make.

“He’s not a fully human person,” says a former colleague about Nick Denton in Ben McGrath’s profile “Search and Destroy”. “He almost sees people as Legos moving around,” says another. Michael Hastings was a lego piece that didn’t act the way it was supposed to. He was supposed to break here, I guess, to wander off into some job in advertising in the Midwest, to stay away from journalism and war and all the horrific excitement of the world. The only problem was that they had miscalculated how exactly Hastings had been broken by war. He didn’t stay away, but instead kept going back again, and again, and again. I think, against my choice, I am without sentimentality now, but there is a moment in Hastings’ writing that truly gets to me, a small moment in his post from early 2010, “My advice to journalists: Smoke crack, Twitter occasionally”, and it’s not his facetious “I have smoked crack. I recommend it for all writers to try at least once, especially to New Yorker staffers,” but right after the line “It might be that the journalist’s life will be more of a hustle, more entrepreneurial than in the past few decades”, the small parenthetical: “I mean, really, how many times will I have to email Glenn Greenwald before he links to this blog…” Whenever I read that, I make myself ridiculous and have to fight back tears, and I might guess at why: Michael Hastings had no idea how successful he would be, in just a few short months. He would end up lauded one of the best reporters of his generation, a better reporter than Tom Scocca, a better reporter than Choire Sicha, better in this field than any hack to come out of Gawker, whatever small compliment that might be. He did his passionate best to fight against what he thought of as an insane, unending spectacle of death, he committed so much to it in a world where some people couldn’t even be bothered not to laugh at a mourning man. If you were to ask me if I thought his manuscript being leaked and jeered at was a part of the steps which led to his young death, I’d say: these things are somewhat like charity, and every little bit helps.

Let me be clear. The anger displayed here is entirely my own. It does not flow out of any connection to family or friends, or that I think I am acting on their behalf or Michael Hastings. It is my anger. This does not come out of snobbishness, or disdain for the low brow: I love the lowbrow, and I used to read Gawker every day. I’ve promoted Gawker in the past, I’ve promoted The Awl in the past, and I now feel like a fool for doing so. You need look for no other motive for my anger but this vile act. It is this, only this. This. It is a disgust that you can treat someone with such contempt, that someone in the depths of misery should be seen as nothing but one more shattered man, one more near dead body, to be spat on. I hear the ghostly laugh of Michael Hastings when he says “She was, unfortunately and obviously, tragically killed there…so, it was a way…so after that happened, you know, screw it all, I’m going to write,” and it inspires a ghastly, malevolent wish in me, that all those involved in this, all those who abided this, should have the person they love dearest, to whom they are closest, to have that love torn from this life, and as they collapse into weeping over the senselessness of it all, when they are falling in that pit of despair, when they truly wish for some sense of warmth or comfort to reach out in the world, that some fiend cackles at their pathetic form. That is my wish when I hear that laugh, and it is toxic, vile, and inhumane.

Choire Sicha would speak on the subject of reporters’ ethics in a 2012 interview with Ernst-Jan Pfauth, “The blogger and the murderer – an interview with Choire Sicha”, where he cited the usual touchstone on the subject, Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer:

I often profile people for magazines and one of the things I take from Malcolm’s book is being superconscious about what you know and what you assume about your subject. So, if I were to interview you, we would have an engagement, a personal involvement. I’d ask you all these personal questions and then, I could basically betray you and write down my coloured version of everything I thought about you. The book is a reminder about the fact I’m continuously selling people out.

I’m not sure why he felt the need to make such a high minded reference, since he appears entirely okay with betraying the sources of another journalist. In “The Michael Hastings Memoir: Book Proposals Kill”, Sicha writes that Andrew Wylie “wanted the proposal disappeared from the internet: it was going to get people killed in Iraq.” Then: “While al Qaeda doesn’t obsessively monitor Gawker yet, despite the frequent aid we supply to terrorists by means of identifying ideal targets…there is the question of why then it’d be acceptable for Wylie to distribute a book proposal that identifies targets in the first place.” That this material might be redacted or that sources would be given aliases in the published version is never brought up. Hastings’ lack of discretion when writing the proposal could be attributed to a torrent of feeling over the dead, and this is enough to give license to Sicha, Liu, and Gawker to print anything they want. That has nothing to do with Janet Malcolm. That’s just being a scumbag.

Lost My Heart reserves a special section at its end, “Note on Names, Security Procedures, Sources”, about the use of aliases, and that such second names are used for protecting those who live and work in the very dangerous conditions of Iraq, making sure not to reveal some of the details of the Newsweek cars:

Due to the deadly nature of working in Iraq, I’ve changed or used only the first names of the Iraqi security guards and interpreters employed by Newsweek. The exception is Mohammed—his full name is Mohammed Heydar Sideq, and he is currently studying in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship. I have changed the names of the men and women working for NDI and URG. The name of the Mortuary Affairs officer has been changed. The names of the Western security managers working for Newsweek have been changed. Also, Tony is not the real first name of Crazy Tony the German [an interesting and briefly mentioned figure who sells memorabilia].

I have slightly altered one aspect of a Newsweek security procedure described in the book: the color of cars we drive in Iraq. The cars are currently in use, and I do not wish to put anyone’s life at greater risk by giving out those details.

Hastings knew Malcolm’s words as well, and he brings her up in The Operators, when he discusses the editing of “The Runaway General” piece:

Over the next three weeks, Eric [Rolling Stone editor Eric Bates] and I went through two more drafts of the story. Under his guidance, the piece took shape. Eric had more than twenty-five years’ experience in reporting and editing investigative pieces, earning seven National Magazine awards, the industry’s highest honor. I knew McChrystal’s team wouldn’t be happy with the way the story was shaping up. It was the classic journalist dilemma. Janet Malcolm had famously described journalism as the art of seduction and betrayal. Any reporter who didn’t see journalism as “morally indefensible” was either “too stupid” or “too full of himself,” she wrote. I disagreed. Without shutting the door on the possibility that I was both stupid and full of myself, I’d never bought into the seduction and betrayal conceit. At most, journalism—particularly when writing about media-hungry public figures—was like the seduction of a prostitute. The relationship was transactional. They weren’t talking to me because they liked me or because I impressed them; they were talking to me because they wanted the cover of Rolling Stone.

It was one thing for Hastings to speak of a complicit subject like Stanley McChrystal, and another to write of the intimate dead. I sometimes wonder how much Sicha actually knows about the things he cites37, but I have no such questions about Hastings, or that he took such questions seriously. We have, I think, the evidence in The Last Magazine, which ends with A.E. Peoria nearly betraying the trust of Justina Salvador, and then “Michael Hastings” betraying it. The person who publishes the Justina Salvador story, who prints it without her permission, isn’t some otherly villain, but the old Michael Hastings, the earlier Michael Hastings who was working at Gawker, Michael Hastings before he went to war, “Michael Hastings”:

I’d like to say that I agonized over the decision, that I thought twice about it—because I know by taking Peoria’s story, I’m putting the last nail in the coffin of his career, and I know that I’m also jeopardizing the privacy and future of Justina. Who knows how the military is going to react to this? Most likely they’ll strip her of the GI Bill benefits. Who knows how the liberals at Barnard are going to react to having been deceived? Maybe they will support her, maybe not.

But I don’t agonize over it. I don’t want to lose my job, and if Sanders finds out that I’m the leak, then I’m done for too.

Plus, this is a great opportunity. My first cover story for the magazine.

I see this ending as Hastings genuinely struggling with the question of violation when writing about someone dear. They betrayed you, Andi, when they posted the leaked proposal, I imagine him thinking. But did I betray you first? If I was still at Gawker, would I have done what Jonathan Liu did? The book is an attempt to reckon with this whole moment again, but to tell it as fiction, to tell it slantwise, at such a slant as to be an obscurity to most. The graffiti sprayed poolside is writing about the mourned. Rather than to try and get at describing the sick addiction of war, war becomes sex, so The Last Magazine has “unusually detailed sex scenes that are just plain bizarre”, but whose toxic essence is easy to read if you’ve been following the writer’s intent.

Death makes things sacred, properly sacred, a nimbus of protection that is the right of the humblest of souls and which no amount of wealth (such as Nick Denton being worth around $70 million38) or education (Denton is an Oxford grad, Liu is a Harvard grad39) gives you a right to violate. It is the sacred quality of death which makes “Owen King: In Praise of Nepotism Redux” mere rudeness, while “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal” is morally vile. It is death which dissuades the raising of questions, and death which impels us to raise them, as Hastings so often did. It is death, unexpected youthful death, which casts a nimbus of depth and mystery on the most ordinary moments, such as this one, Hastings’ first appearance on the Sam Seder podcast, “The Majority Report”40.

Alright folks, we are back. This is Sam Seder on The Majority Report. On the phone, it is a pleasure to welcome to the program as he traverses, apparently a snowstorm, on Route 87, he should be able to handle that, I mean the guy’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan, reporting, 87 is a fairly straight road, so uh, I think we’re safe. Michael, welcome to the program.

Thanks for having me, yeah, long as the state police don’t mind that I’m probably violating some sort of law while talking on a cellphone while driving, but we won’t tell them about it.

Alright. Let’s assume you’re talking on a headpiece, and…

(laughs) Yeah, hands free.

Hands free. In which case, I’m no longer, I’m not aiding and abetting anything.

“I mean the guy’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan, reporting, 87 is a fairly straight road, so uh, I think we’re safe,” is the line, of course, I dwell on. The unfinished, the unexpected blank space, the abrupt silence is thought to contain an exotic conspiratorial mystery, when the mystery may be more tangible, may be elsewhere. There is an exchange early on in Lost My Love In Baghdad, before Andi Parhamovich has left for Iraq. Andi: “You’re not coming home, are you? You’re going to stay there.” Michael: “I am coming home, and I still want to be with you.” In the end, maybe Michael Hastings never left Iraq, maybe neither one of them came home.

Death grants a nimbus to this final moment of Hastings’ last appearance on “The Majority Report”, where he discussed the David Petraeus-Paula Broadwell scandal41, and it’s with this exit that I end here.

I have a feeling there’s more to drop. I mean it just seems…

Oh yeah.

This thing has a lot of different aspects to it. So, drive carefully. Don’t text while you’re driving. Don’t check your email.


Alright buddy.

Take care man.

“Whom? In the immortal words of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, ‘Whom? Whom does this all benefit?’”


(On January 22nd, 2015 the footnotes, which were out of sync were corrected. On January 24th, the second section’s heading was changed to “My Reality, Your Entertainment” to “The Killing Joke”. Originally this post wrongfully refered to Jessica Coen as the current editor of Jezebel; this post was made on January 21, 2015 and Coen stepped down as Jezebel editor on July 7, 2014 – see “Mixed emotions as Jezebel gets new editor” by Peter Sterne, for one reference. On February 12, 2015, this error was corrected. On April 9th, 2015, this post received another badly needed session of copy editing. Due to various inconveniences, I was only able to get my hands on I Lost My Love in Baghdad after this was published, and was only able to read it in the week leading up to July 1, 2015. Before the copy editing, there was uncertainty about whether all the venom spilled on this page would remain; after re-reading what various Gawker writers did to this man, it was left all in. If Lost My Love had been read before this initial post, the venom would have been even greater. All additions featuring excerpts of the text from Lost My Love were added on July 1, 2015. The paragraph with accompanying excerpt from Lost My Love which begins “Hastings says something close to this…” was added on July 6, 2015. On March 8, 2016, this post was given a very mild copy edit.)


1 This criticism of Hastings’ work can be found in the long footnote to a long piece on Anthony Pellicano, “Rising Sun: The Image of the Desired Japanese Part Three, foonote #214”, and it dealt with his article on John McTiernan’s dealings with the Hollywood detective, “The Tragic Imprisonment Of John McTiernan, Hollywood Icon”. My language is strong, but I do not regret it. I think his editor should have passed on the story as submitted, and he should have either built up his case more against the prosecutor, or made a complex, nuanced piece, where McTiernan was no innocent, and where Pellicano acted illegally under McTiernan’s orders and with his knowledge, but where people who had used Pellicano with far more frequency had escaped prosecution.

I will also say that if you told me that Hastings came across the writing on this site during the 2012 campaign and thought it was the most awful, sycophantic garbage out there, it would not surprise me – I say this to avoid any charges of sentimentality in this post.

2 That Hastings, after a decade of sobriety, had relapsed in the period before his death is not a point of speculation. From “Reckless and Inspired: An Interview With Jonathan Hastings About His Brother, the Journalist Michael Hastings”:

PR [“Paleo Retiree”]: I know you flew out to check in on Mike just a day or two before the crash.

JH: As I told the police out in L.A., a few days before he died, Mike called me and I got the impression that he was having a manic episode, similar to one he had had 15 years ago which he had referred to in his writing. At that time, drugs had been involved, and I suspected that might be the case again. I immediately booked a flight to L.A. for the next day, with the thought that maybe I could convince him to come back to Vermont to dry out or (less likely) get him to go to detox/rehab there in L.A. When I got to L.A. and saw him, I immediately realized that he was not going to go willingly. I started to make arrangements with our other brother to fly out and help me possibly force Mike into checking himself into a hospital or detox center. I’d thought that I had at least convinced Mike to just stay in his apartment and chill out for the next few days, but he snuck out on me when I was sleeping. He crashed his car before anyone could do anything to help him.

3 From the review “Emily Gould Was a Gawker Star—How’s Her Novel?”, and after this superficial dismissal of Hastings’ book, Constant gets a major fact wrong about Gould’s book:

Curiosity will presumably bring lots of readers to Emily Gould’s debut novel, Friendship. Gould earned a certain level of internet notoriety (neteriety?) as a star blogger for Gawker, back when Gawker was a publishing-industry gossip blog and not an edgier Huffington Post. One of the two main characters in Friendship, Amy, has a job as an editor for Yidster (“the third-most-popular online destination for cultural coverage with a modern Jewish angle”), where every day she chooses “a few posts from other blogs for [her employees] to, er, reimagine” and works at the whim of a dilettantish wealthy man who has no idea how blogs are supposed to function. Everybody loves romans à clef, especially when the à clef is cracking open a media outlet that leered at everyone else’s dirty laundry for years.

This suggests that Gould’s writing about Yidster is a veiled look at Gawker, when it’s most certainly not, and most definitely a look at the far more obscure Jewcy, another website where Gould worked. This is not supposition, but something Gould said explicitly in an interview with Maureen O’Connor, “Emily Gould Didn’t Mean to Provoke Lena Dunham”:

So when people say that your foil is Amy, the character who “stood up for her right to be mean on the Internet” by quitting a gossip-blogging job, or that Bev is your Emily Books co-founder Ruth Curry, that’s not the case?

It’s just more complicated than that. Bev definitely has some of Ruth’s background, in terms of her midwestern, evangelical upbringing. Amy looks like me, and I gave her a job that is similar to one I had. The people at that job are made up, but the location of the job, in Dumbo, and also its ridiculous name, Yidster, is something like Jewcy, where I worked for a glorious three months right after I quit Gawker. But now I’m trying to think about what else is autobiographical in the book, because clearly none of that shit happened. Neither Ruth nor I has ever been pregnant. Sally is completely made up. And even though Amy looks like me and does some things that I have done, she’s not me. She’s more like some aspects of me that I’m trying to exorcise.

4 Hastings gives us some sense of Patel’s books in one conversation where a co-worker asks the character “Michael Hastings” whether he’s read Patel’s most recent book and what he thought:

“I thought it was good,” I say. “Especially the parts about transparency and corruption.”

“What’s it about again?” says Jerry, who makes a point not to pay attention to anything Nishant Patel–related that does not directly affect his stories or mood or job security. “Outsourcing, right? That fucking bastard.”

“Uh, sort of. It’s really about benevolent dictatorships.”

The editors are listening to me.

“Benevolent dictatorships. How, you know, democracies evolve, and how they really take time to evolve, and so, though human rights activists like to push for changes really quickly, stability is preferable to quick or immediate change, and expecting immediate change, you know, is really, really a folly. Illiberal democracies. You know, like Tiananmen Square was a good thing, because look at the economic growth of China, when a democracy there could have really fucked—sorry, excuse my language—really slowed everything down.”

“What countries does he talk about?” says Anna.

“Oh, you know, the Middle East, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, the, uh, warm countries. But America too, and he makes this kind of interesting argument that the problem with our government is that it’s too transparent, that it should, I guess, be a little more secretive—that the transparency sort of paralyzes us and prevents good decision making.”

A contrasting global perspective, Hastings’ own, can be found in The Operators, during his brief stopover in Dubai:

This was the role model we’d been pushing on the world. If only Baghdad and Kabul and Kandahar could be like Dubai! If they could all be tax havens and resort towns and business friendly. How beautiful it would be, to remake the entire “arc of instability,” as American war planners called the area stretching from the Middle East to Central Asia, into an archipelago of city-states like Dubai, which boasted the largest shopping mall in the world, the Mall of the Emirates, with boutiques for terrorists and tyrants and businessmen alike. What a model it was! Just ask the Uzbek who had brought up my luggage and the Paki who drove me to the Palm. The world was flat, the edges of the empire jagged and bloody, but we could smooth it all over, eventually.

5 An excerpt from this interview appears in “Crashes of Convenience: Michael Hastings” (7:45-9:38):

So, talk to me about it. So, if you guys don’t know, obviously, Michael, huge story about Michael…about General McChrystal, and eventually General McChrystal stepped down, because of the revelations in Michael’s story…that’s old school journalism, he documented it, he was there, et cetera, and i remember when it came out, I praised you to high heaven, not knowing you at all, because I was like, this is what you’re supposed to do, you’re supposed to cover them, then reveal to people what your government is doing, et cetera et cetera. So, it had real impact. Now, a story like that, Newsweek in the old days, you would think, would have loved, right?

Right, right. Depending on the…I’ll do a caveat. Newsweek when Jon Meacham was editor, they would not have printed my story. I can guarantee you that, because-

Why do you think that is?

Political reasons, for reasons that there’s a sense that at Newsweek we were supposed to uphold…that we are supposed to reinforce our societal myths, not deconstruct them, and not kindof expose them. And there’s a real mission there, certainly under Meacham, Meacham sucks. He’s on my eneemies list. One of the people I wanted to go a rant on at some point this week. They’re not going to push the button. Senior military officials, despite how they lied to us through a number of wars, despite the Pentagon Papers, despite all we knew from what we knew from that Newsweek mainstream perspective, we’re going to put them on this pedestal, and we’re not going to criticize them in that way. And I know this for a fact. You can actually go back and read Newsweek‘s profile of McChrystal [most likely “General McChrystal’s Plan for Afghanistan”, which came out September 2009] which was done by a really great reporter, a guy named…I don’t want to get him in trouble [Evan Thomas], but they took this great reporter’s stuff, and then they buried it. So, one of the reasons that I kinda knew there’d be an interesting story here, is when I read this original Newsweek story, a year before mine came out…wow, the reporter is trying to tell the truth here, and the editors are killing it. If you have editors who are kinda willing to let that stuff free, uh, let it go, maybe there can be something.

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6 The initial Zakaria scandal is discussed in “A Media Personality, Suffering a Blow to His Image, Ponders a Lesson” by Christine Haughney, while the second scandal is discussed in “Fareed Zakaria’s anonymous pursuers: We’re not done yet” by Dylan Byers, on the work done by @crushingbort and @blippoblappo, at Our Bad Media.

7 From Magazine:

Tabby Doling’s thing is that she’s friends with a bunch of famous and important people, media types, heads of state, Academy Award winners from the ’70s. Though she’s partial owner of The Magazine’s parent company, on the masthead she’s listed as “Special Diplomatic Correspondent,” which is kind of a joke, because that would lead readers to assume there are people above her in the hierarchy, which there are not—she even has a floor to herself, the notorious twenty-third floor.

Tabby is one of those people who, if you bring up her name in conversation around New York, you’ll most likely get three or four really great anecdotes about. Everyone who’s met her has a moment to recount, told with the bemused acceptance that if you’re that rich and that eccentric, it’s par for the course. Gary’s [Gary, no last name, Sci/Tech editor at The Magazine] Tabby Doling story, for instance, is that he was standing in the hallway on the sixteenth floor when he heard a knocking on the glass; someone had forgotten their ID. When Gary went to answer it, he saw Tabby through the glass and decided to make one of his customary jokes. “How do I know you’re not a terrorist?” he said, as if he wasn’t going to let her in. And she responded, “I’m Tabby Doling,” with a real flourish and emphasis on both her first and last names. Gary thinks that’s why he got passed over for the domestic sci/tech gig and has been stuck in international. That’s a pretty low-level story, too, not one of her best.

I don’t know her at all and haven’t spent time with her, which isn’t surprising, as she has a $225,000-sticker-price Bentley and a driver I always see idling outside the entrance on Broadway for her—though she did say hello to me in the hallway once, so in my book that’s a plus.

Perhaps one of the best, and easily the most acerbic profiles of Weymouth is in the bygone Spy, “Mom Always Liked Him Best: Why Lally Weymouth, Katharine Graham’s Difficult Daughter Does Not Run The Washington Post” by Henry Alford:

By virtue of being a multimillionaire third-generation V.I.P. – and despite being an occasionally very charming person, a devoted mother and an extremely hard worker—she represents to many people all that is feudal and high-handed in the world, And each time Weymouth confirms These preconceptions—such as the time she ran into an acquaintance at an airport, allowed him to lug her bags aboard the plane and then, once seated, turned to him and said, “So I hear you like Hitler”; or the times she has walked up to Newsweek employees and regally informed them. *My mother is really mad at you—Weymouth’s critics feel slightly more justified, a bit less surprised by her behavior. In effect her critics lower their expectations. Over the years, they have con• tinued to lower their expectations — and Lally Wemouth keeps on meeting the challenge. She is zealous, She is abrupt. She is noisy. In the manner of a rich. brattish child, she throws a brilliant party but can make an unpleasant guest: once. when required to wait about five minutes for a table at a Manhattan restaurant, Weymouth became incensed, screamed at her companion and proceeded to fly into a thrashing, flailing rage She was according to one of the restaurant’s owners, “uncontrollable, completely wacko.”

8 From Magazine:

At that moment, a semicircle of people starts to form, the employees and famous and semi-famous guests (Kissinger, Stephanopoulos, Brokaw, etc.) step away, leaving Sanders Berman, Tabby Doling, and Delray M. Milius in the center. Milius holds up his glass and taps it, chinking and bringing silence to the room.

Delray M. Milius is doughy-faced and five-foot-seven, and I don’t mention his height pejoratively, as I’m only five-foot-nine, and I’ve never put much stock in how tall somebody is in relation to their character. I know big pricks and little pricks, as I’m sure we all do. He’s Sanders Berman’s right-hand man, his hatchet man, if you will, or if you believe the story—and I believe it because it’s true—he’s “that glory hole ass gape cocksucker.” I don’t choose those words lightly, or to offend homosexuals, some of whom are my closest friends, but because those were the words that Matt Healy, a correspondent in the magazine’s Washington, D.C., bureau, put in an email, accidentally cc’ing the entire editorial staff. This was back in ’99, before my time, and when email mistakes like that were more common. It was also back when Healy was in New York. After that email, he was sent to DC in a kind of exile, while Delray M. Milius leveraged the potential sexual harassment suit to get a big promotion to assistant managing editor, where he’s twisted Sanders Berman’s bow tie ever since.

As you can probably guess, Milius isn’t too popular at the magazine. There’s a strong anti-Milius faction, and within this faction, there’s always a running bet about how long Milius is going to last—this time. He’s left and come back to the magazine five times in twelve years. “Don’t let Milius bother you” is the conventional wisdom in how to deal with him. “It’s just a matter of time before he wakes up one morning and just can’t get out of bed and quits again. Paralyzed. By depression, fear, anxiety, who knows—it’s happened before.”

9 From “The Leonard Lopate Show: Michael Hastings on the Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan – WNYC”, this excerpt runs from 2:24 to 2:42 on the audio file.

10 This critique should not mislay anyone to the fact that Dolan is often an excellent and perceptive writer. See “Charlie Hebdo: Unmournable Frenchies”, for instance.

11 This clip is taken from “Journalist Michael Hastings Interview: The Reporter Who Took Down Stanley McChrystal (2011)”, segment runs from 27:17-28:58.

12 From “Crashes of Convenience: Michael Hastings” (20:48-21:06)

13 This excerpt is taken from an email sent in from Coen to J.K. Trotter, and published as a comment to “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” (direct link).

14 One can contrast this with Hastings’ perspective, expressed on his blog, The Hastings Report, in the post “McNamara and America’s nostalgia for 70 million deaths, part II”:

I think the Greatest Generation mythology that’s taken hold in recent years, and the festishization of World War Two, is a rhetorical trump card that is played too freely when discussing the necessity of going to war. World War II should not firstly be remembered as a triumph of the American Spirit; it should be seen as the most horrible man-made tragedy we’ve yet produced, a conflict that left 50 to 70 million dead.

This nostalgic love for the Great Patriotic War wasn’t always that widely held: contemporary WWII writers saw it as an abomination–read what James Jones and Norman Mailer had to say about it, or the fact that the greatest anti-war classic, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, is about the insaneness of WWII. That being said, I don’t have a good one or two sentence answer to explain how we could have got around fighting it in a way that seems either convincing, or moral. Either did the man who started this debate, Robert McNamara.

The best I can come up with is this.

There are two kinds of wars. Wars of tragic neccesity, and wars of unnecessary tragedy. WWII is about the only one I can think of that falls into the former category; almost every other war we’ve been involved in seems to fit firmly in the latter. Since the atom bomb, we’ve come up with all sorts of ways to still wage war without ever going as far as we did towards total annhilation from 1939 to 1945. These tippy toe wars have been a mistake, I think, from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq. We’ve convinced oursleves that the best way to stop the Ultimate War III is to keep fighting little wars to prevent it. We fought Korea and Vietnam with an eye to avoiding a deadly nuclear confrontation with Russia and now we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid a deadly nuclear confrontation with Islamic terrorists. It has established a dangerous pattern. It encourages our leaders to think that war is something that can be tamed, contained, and waged in a way that seems lawful and just, when really, war is rarely any of those things.

15 This quote is taken from the excerpt fround at footnote #5.

16 From “Scott Horton Interviews Michael Hastings (April 21, 2009)”, segment runs from 19:05-23:12.

17 From I Lost My Love in Baghdad:

At 11 A.M., I’m on a quick helicopter flight with a handful of other journalists out to Camp Victory near the airport, to witness a TOA, pronounced “Toe-Ah,” a transfer of authority ceremony. Lieutenant General Ray Ordierno is taking over daily operations in Iraq from Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli. It marks the completion of Chiarelli’s second Iraq tour. There are a lot of flags and a band, lots of saluting. The military loves their uniforms and flags and salutes. Chiarelli, along with his superior, General George Casey, has presided over a year in Iraq in which the violence has spiraled completely out of control. The attempt to restore security to Baghdad during the summer and fall has failed.

In his farewell address, Chiarelli quotes Teddy Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or whether the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust…who errs and comes short again and again…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly…”

As he speaks, you can hear gunfire and helicopters in the distance.

Chiarelli said he and General Casey had often discussed that quote. I try to figure out if any of the two hundred or so soldiers in the crowd, or any of the other journalists at the ceremony, notice this remark.

This was our military’s attitude behind our Iraq policy? It’s better to have tried and failed daringly than not to have tried at all? Maybe if you’re playing football, but in war?

18 A moment which makes me recall a fragment from The Last Magazine when the character Michael Hastings talks about the seemingly arbitrary rules of what is allowed and not allowed in pornography on cable:

I am disappointed. I should never have trusted Time Warner Cable. They’ve given a nod to some kind of strange decency regulations. Is it a legal thing? Why did they edit it out? Who sets these standards? Who sat around the table, saying gaping assholes okay, assholes to mouth not okay? What does that look like in legal language? Was there a board meeting? “Non-explicit or internal visualizations of sex organs.”

19 In a book where the identities of the roman a clef characters are often obvious, but their pseudonyms carry no linkage to their real names, this one is an exception: “Middle East expert” Daniel Tubes is very obviously “Middle East expert” Daniel Pipes.

20 There is much proof on-line for this, such as “Interview: Writing a ‘big, big, life’ Plus: What Hemingway wrote to Norman Mailer”, his interview with Mailer biographer Michael Lennon, which also mentions his time at the Mailer Writers Colony. There is this question and answer from “Reckless and Inspired”, an interview with Jonathan Hastings:

PR: Did he admire much popular-type writing?

JH: Pop fiction-wise, he loved Stephen King. He also liked some sci-fi, especially what I would characterize as the liberal strain of military sci-fi: Joe Haldeman’s “Forever War,” John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War.” As I mentioned, he liked Philip K. Dick a lot, too, in his case for the ideas more than anything else. I don’t know that he ever finished reading too many of Dick’s novels, but the PKD vibe was important to him. But I’d say that the writers he and I talked the most about over the years were: (1) Stephen King, (2) Norman Mailer, (3) Philip Roth. Although that was probably because I didn’t have too much to say about Hunter S. Thompson … and he didn’t really need to talk about Thompson.

From “Michael Hastings’ Dangerous Mind: Journalistic Star Was Loved, Feared and Haunted “ [archive link: ] by Gene Maddaus:

In his 20s, Hastings stayed clean and channeled his manic energies into journalism. Writer Rachel Sklar met him, and dated him for a few months, when he was living in New York and working for Newsweek. She remembers his apartment overflowing with books — Hemingway, Mailer, Roth, A.J. Liebling and many volumes on war.

21 From “The Leonard Lopate Show: Michael Hastings on the Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan – WNYC”, this excerpt runs from 1:04 to 1:17 on the audio file.

22 From “Michael Hastings « Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton” (2009/04/21), this segment runs from 0:14-1:32.

23 From a reply to “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” (direct link):


Anyhow, I liked Mike a lot—we spent a lot of time together, actually. It was 2004-06, we were all living on the LES and out and about all the time (though I remember Mike was already sober at that point; he had problems in hs and college, I think). I can’t remember for the life of me how we met. He was really friendly but also intense, and intensely ambitious…but also good-natured, at least from where I was standing. He struck me as a lot more “real” then many of the people I was meeting and socializing with at the time. He didn’t care about media hierarchy bullshit, didn’t blow smoke up my ass about Gawker. I remember having a lot of deep and honest conversations over coffee, but also taking him to random media parties (Molly Jong Fast’s book party at her mother’s condo comes to mind).

Mike was enthusiastic about Gawker and kind of game for anything—I think he was freelancing at Newsweek at that point, but I didn’t see a lot of contempt from him towards Gawker. Then again, we were paying him, so he was likely just biting his tongue. But I didn’t love working at Gawker, either—it was a brutal job at the time, I was terrified of Nick and worked 13 hours a day. I know I opened up a lot to him about that.

Eventually Newsweek sent him to Iraq, and after that he was different. He said there was a lot of stuff that I just couldn’t understand. He wasn’t crazy or anything, but he also kept a gun under his bed (futon, actually, in a shitty Allen Street walkup down the street from my shitty Orchard Street walkup). I also remember him saying that he was incapable of relaxing, not even in NYC, after that experience. He was also 100% certain he would go back. It was what he wanted to do. Very Hurt Locker-esque, like one of those people who just couldn’t return to regular life.

He went back, then his fiancée died over there and I recall going to the memorial/book party (which was weird and felt a little garish but sincere at the same time, if that’s possible), and that was when we started to really lose touch.

AJ was probably the last of us to hang out with him, like 2011-ish I think, and Mike was drinking again. But I hadn’t talked to him for years so who knows when that started back up.

Also, I am pretty sure he briefly dated Rachel Sklar. Relevant, I know.

24 Though the majority of posts by K. Eric Walters were made during his guest editing stint, he did several, mostly as part of “Team Party Crash”. Before his stint as guest editor: “WSJ: Who’s Wrong First?” [archive link] (4/26/05 6:10pm), “Team Party Crash: The F-Word Premiere” [archive link] (Party Crash 4/27/05 3:10pm), “Team Party Crash: Air Tahiti Nui Launch” [archive link] (4/29/05 12:06pm).

After this his guest editorship begins: “Rita Cosby: MSNBC Snags Well-Fed Blonde” [archive link] (5/16/05 9:00am), “Slate: Charles Manson is Hilarious!” [archive link] (5/16/05 9:33am), “NYT Makes Your Weekend More Boring” [archive link] (5/16/05 10:55am), “The Drudge Radio Report Report” [archive link] (5/16/05 12:15pm), “Blind Item Guessing Game: Sphincter Held Tight Edition” [archive link] (5/16/05 12:40pm), “iPod Wars Spread To Brooklyn” [archive link] (5/16/05 2:03pm), “NYT: Watch David Brooks Dance for Only $50” [archive link] (5/16/05 3:00pm), “Radar: The Longest 15 Minutes Ever” (5/16/05 4:06pm) [archive link], “Bret Easton Ellis: When Does Stalking Become Art?” [archive link] (5/17/05 10:50am), “The New Yorker Unlocks Secret to Blogging” [archive link] (5/17/05 11:54am), “Fake News Sweeps Peabody Awards; Journalism Dies Another Death” [archive link] (5/17/05 1:15pm), “Radar: Your Party Crashing Guide” [archive link] (5/17/05 4:52pm), “Media Bubble: What do AOL and Joey Have in Common?” [archive link] (5/17/05 5:39pm), “The Anderson Cooper Real Estate Contest Results: A New Roommate?” [archive link] (5/17/05 6:50pm), “Remainders: Fresh Intelligence on the NBC Peacock” [archive link] (5/17/05 7:19pm), “FNC: Bill O’Reilly is Not Part of Aqua Team” [archive link] (5/17/05 3:46pm), “What Bouncers Think When Guidos Attack” [archive link] (5/18/05 8:48am), “Clarification: Radar, Not to be Confused with Swedish Magazine of Same Name” [archive link] (5/18/05 9:30am), ‘Cheap Date’ Takes on Whole New Meaning at Midtown Hotel Bar [archive link] (5/19/05 8:36am), “Donald Trump: Lower Manhattan Needs to be Saved” [archive link] (5/19/05 10:22am), “Owen King: In Praise of Nepotism Redux” [archive link] (5/19/05 11:30am), “PIEGATE: GAWKER MEDIA LAUNCHES OWN INVESTIGATION…” [archive link] (5/19/05 12:39pm), “Sylvester Stallone: Fake Heavyweight Champion Turns Real Magazine Editor?” [archive link] (5/19/05 2:07pm), “Radar: 15 Minutes of Fame?” [archive link] (5/19/05 2:14pm), “Emailing Scary Norwegians From Brooklyn” [archive link] (5/19/05 3:20pm), “Media Bubble: As Words Die, Popularity of eBay Rises” [archive link] (5/19/05 4:40pm), “Remainders: The Nothing About ‘Radar’ Edition (Seriously)” [archive link] (5/19/05 6:20pm), “Drudge: Friday Morning, All is Well” [archive link] (5/20/05 8:18am), “NYT: Putting Us in Our Poverty-Stricken Place” [archive link] (5/20/05 9:20am), “Bill Hemmer: Producers Are There For a Reason” [archive link] (5/20/05 11:25am), “Death by Literature? Or Another Reason to Read Magazines?” [archive link] (5/20/05 12:20pm), “Bill O’Reilly Asks More Tough Questions” [archive link] (5/20/05 12:56pm), “Marquee Bouncers Incite Violence, Bruises At Radar After-Party” [archive link] (5/20/05 1:35pm), “Media Bubble: Unabated, The Mark Burnett Invasion Continues” [archive link] (5/20/05 4:55pm), “Remainders: All Blogs, All the Time, All Wrong” [archive link] (5/20/05 5:40pm), “Team Party Crash: Hamptons Magazine Party” [archive link] (5/26/05 10:52am), “Team Party Crash: The Beauty Bar Glam Pageant” [archive link] (6/06/05 4:40pm).

He also occasionally did correspondent work for Jessica Coen, such as “A Night Out With Page Six’s Chris Wilson” [archive link].

25 Exhibit A of this phenomenon is usually her essay, “Emily Gould – Exposed – Blog-Post Confidential – Gawker”. Essays by others are “5 Things About That Times Magazine Piece On Masturbatory Blogging” by Moe Tkacik, Daily Intel’s “Emily Gould’s ‘Times Magazine’ Story: Give Me an ‘I’!”, and “Emily Gould: New Gloss On An Old Story” by Rachel Sklar.

26 Examples of the past reporter work of Goldberg, often excellent, include “The Don is Done”, a profile of the post-Gotti mafia for the New York Times; “Sammy the Bull Explains How The Mob Got Made” a brief portrait of Gotti’s lieutenant for the Times; for New York magazine: “The Mafia’s Morality Crisis”; “All the Wrong Moves”, about Israeli owned moving companies; “The Decline and Fall of the Upper West Side”; “The Overachievers”, a profile of New York’s Korean community.

27 The Hamra made the international news after it was hit as part of a massive bombing attack in 2010. See “Baghdad Blasts Shatter Sense of Security in Capital” by Anthony Shadid and John Leland. Shadid, another excellent foreign correspondent, would die in 2012.

28 Hastings was not part of the initial invasion force, and the story of someone swimming in the Hamra Hotel pool is likely taken from somewhere else, a story which he mentions in parenthesis in his memoir I Lost My Love in Baghdad about the heady days following the invasion:

I’d arrived two years, five months, and twenty-five days after the war started, and Baghdad was under siege. Gone were the days of journalists traveling freely throughout the country. The stories I’d hear of the wild parties at the Hamra Hotel (“You know her, from Egypt, she swam in her underwear!”), the morning drives to Ramadi and Fallujah, casually searching for stories on the streets of Sadr City, moving without two carloads of armed guards—all of that had disappeared.

29 “Introducing: Gawker Weekend” ( link) by Choire Sicha:

Beginning this weekend, and ending whenever we feel like it, please enjoy Gawker Weekend. On Saturdays and Sundays, Gawker Weekend editors Jonathan Liu and Leon Neyfakh will delve deep into the weekend lifestyle and culture media so beloved, or presumably beloved, by the sorts of people who actually get weekends to shop, relax, and, you know, just be themselves in pictorials with nice furniture. Come with us—if you’re not too busy antiquing!—to the land where newspapers believe that books are extremely decorative and the hustle and bustle of the financial district pales in comparison to the joys of extreme boating, film-going, fun apartment-hunting and the enjoyment of the other advertiser-friendly weekend lifestyle arts.

That Liu and Neyfakh both went to Harvard together is a piece of information that can be found in “Blogging: The I-Banking of Harvard’s Journalists” by Annie Lowrey ( link):

Chen is the most obviously successful of a dozen or so Harvard students who have used their blogs as stepping stones to larger writing opportunities and careers. Harvard Law alum Jeremy Blachman wrote the farcical Anonymous Lawyer blog and the eponymous book. Jonathan C. Liu ’07 and former FM [Fifteen Minutes, the Harvard Crimson magazine] editor-at-large Leon Neyfakh ’07 now write the weekend edition of Gawker. Former FM Chair Elizabeth W. Green ’06 blogs and reports for U.S. News & World Report.

30 The proper pronunciation can be heard in an interview with Sicha, “Longform Podcast #19: Choire Sicha”.

31 “Choire Sicha on ‘Very Recent History,’ a book that is ‘100 percent true'” by Laura June:

I saw a tweet of yours the other day of your two cats in the backseat of your car. It appeared that the cats were in charge. How many cats do you have? Do you ever let them drive? Which of your cats would theoretically make the best driver? Where do you think they would go?

I only have two cats. (“Only.”) They are Miami street rescues. One of them is a fucking ENORMOUS cool black-and-white frat boy. The other is this tiny neurotic gray lady. THEY ARE IN LOVE.

The car thing comes from our last cat, Cat The Cat, RIP. When he was about 18 years old we moved down to Miami for a little while and he spent his last year there. I was back in New York a lot for work, and when I was away, my husband used to drive him around at night. He was this scrawny old beast, but he’d stand up on his hind legs with his front feet on the dashboard and stare out the window, or stand on my husband’s lap while he drove. Cats love cars!

So… yeah. We drive cats around a lot. Looks around awkwardly

32 From “Emily Gould – Exposed – Blog-Post Confidential” by Gould:

In the fall of 2006, I got a call from the managing editor of Gawker Media, a network of highly trafficked blogs, asking me to come by the office in SoHo to talk about a job. Since its birth four years earlier, the company’s flagship blog, Gawker, had purported to be in the business of reporting “Manhattan media gossip,” which it did, sometimes — catty little details about writers and editors and executives, mostly. But it was also a clearinghouse for any random tidbit of information about being young and ambitious in New York. Though Gawker was a must-read for many of the people working at the magazines and newspapers whose editorial decisions the site mocked and dissected, it held an irresistible appeal for desk-bound drones in all fields — tens of thousands of whom visited the site each day.

I had been one of those visitors for as long as I’d had a desk job. Sometimes Gawker felt like a source of essential, exclusive information, tailored to the needs of people just like me. Other times, reading Gawker left me feeling hollow and moody, as if I’d just absentmindedly polished off an entire bag of sickly sweet candy. But when the call came, I brushed this thought aside. For a young blogger in New York in 2006, becoming an editor at Gawker was an achievement so lofty that I had never even imagined it could happen to me. The interview and audition process felt a little surreal, like a dream. But when I got the job, I had the strange and sudden feeling that it had been somehow inevitable. Maybe my whole life — all the trivia I’d collected, the knack for funny meanness I’d been honing since middle school — had been leading up to this moment.

33 Prior to “(Not an) April Fools Book Proposal: ‘I Lost My Love in Baghdad'”, Liu had published at the Observer in 2006, “A Disappointing Pharrell Nurses His Contradictions” (08/07/06), “When Sexy Met Indie: Junior Boys Grow Up Fast” (09/18/06), “The Old Campus Quarrel, Fought to a Standstill Again” (10/09/06), “Fearsome Extremists Massing in Their Pews” (01/22/07), “Neon Bible: Topical Fairy Tales” (03/12/07). He would go on to publish numerous book reviews at the Observer: “Better on the Box: Colbert Book Bombs”, “Maladjusted Men (And Gals!) In Mannerist Short Fiction”, “Bush-Cheney as True Novel”, “Semi-Persuasive Pentagon Paranoia”, “Is America Fiddling at Its Own Funeral?”, “John Edgar Wideman’s Fanon Is Pure Electroclash”, “A Nation of Uncommitted, Distracted Dilettantes”, “Babble On, Revisited”, “Black and White, North and South”, as well as journalism such as “Dinner With the Unknowers: The NYC Skeptics Break Bread”, “Times Art Critic Michael Kimmelman to Take Over as Paper’s Architecture Critic”, “Play It Again, Sam…But Don’t Forget to Pay the 9.1-Cent Mechanical Reproduction Royalty”, etc.

These review links were taken from his blog, reviews (books) ( link), though the links featured there are frequently broken. Later non-literary work was for Vice, “The Rise of Wikipedian Statecraft: How Azawad, Spurned by the U.N., Earned Its Recognition Online”, “The Rise of Wikipedian Statecraft, Part 2”, “The Rise of Wikipedian Statecraft, Part 3”, “Dear Mainstream Media: On the Internet, It’s Clear You’re a Sloppy Arrogant Cur Who Hates Your Readers”, and “The Problem with Christopher Nolan? He’s Fundamentally Uninterested in Cities”. At Capital New York, he would write “Lady Gaga flunks out of the College of American Pop Vestals” and “Taylor Swift’s immodest proposal: One million units of blond suprematism”.

Liu omits any mention of his writing credits on Gawker, except in one place, on his reviews made at The Barnes & Noble reviews listed on his site: “The Birth of Classical Europe” ( link), “Our Tragic Universe”, “A Moment in the Sun”, “Witz”, and “The Sacred Book of the Werewolf”, all of which mention a fuller list of his credits: “Jonathan Liu is a reviewer and journalist who has written for The New York Observer,, and The Harvard Book Review.”

Jonathan Liu credit

His past blog was The Original Endasherpage 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6, page 7, page 8, page 9.

Leon Neyfakh filed many stories at the Observer (link to archive under his name), many on the tech, art, and literary worlds, such as “Salon 2.0: Baby Hackers Gorge on Twizzlers and Red Bull, Coding Till the Sun Comes Up”, “Good Nerd, Bad Nerd” about Mark Zuckerberg, “In Facebook’s Crosshairs”, “Don’t Blow It! New York Tech’s Top Investors Have Bubble Trouble on the Brain”, “David Karp Explains How Companies Can Win Points With Tumblr Users By Boosting Their Self Esteem”, “Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley Talks to Mary Kate Olsen at a Tech Party: A Dramatization”, “OK, Cupid! Baby Angel Alexis Ohanian Comes to New York”, “The Facebook Effect on New York”, “Getting Followed by Kanye On Twitter Will Make You Sad”, “Alternet Uncovers Right-Wing Group Conspiring to Manipulate Digg’s Front Page”, “The Pitchfork Frankenstein Effect: Indie Powerhouse Now Spawns Bands in its Own Image”, “The End of the Empire” (closing of the Empire Diner), “Leo Castelli: This Charming Man”, “The Curious Case of the Missing Naipaul”, “Screech’s Saved by the Bell Tell-All Dropped by Gotham Books, Resold”, “Is Alain de Botton Sorry About Angry Comment Left On Critic’s Blog?”, “Dueling Foster Wallace Bios: Two Hit Market, One Sells”, “John Updike Loved New York” (an epitaph), “Washington Post Kills ‘Book World’ Section”, “Why Do Young Male Writers Love Icky, Tough Guy Deadbeats?”, “In Harper’s, Colson Whitehead Accuses James Wood of Being (Gasp!) an Aesthete and a Traditionalist”, “Judith Regan: Michael Wolff ‘Absurd’; ‘Simply Wants to Spin Facts in Favor of Defaming Me’”, “Michael Wolff Wonders: Why’s Judith Regan After the Spotlight Again?”, “Publishing Bigshots Told to Open Canned Tuna, Eat at Desk”, “Why Obama Can’t Win Author Curses ‘Stupid, Silly Title’”, “Hugh Hewitt’s How Sarah Palin Won the Election…and Saved America Does Not As Yet Have a Publisher”, “Philip Roth Confirms: Indignation’s Narrator Not Dead, At Least Not Until After the Book Ends”, “Roth: Indignation Narrator Not All the Way Dead! Maybe Just On Morphine”, “David Foster Wallace Is Gone—Did He Leave Some ‘Larger Thing’?”, “Postcards From the Red Zone” (a discussion with foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins about his book, The Forever War), “Lady in Maine Insists on Being Stubborn; Refuses to Return ‘Obscene’ Sex Book to Local Library”, “Cindy Adams Is Really Mad About This New Bill Clinton Book”, “Same Photo of Bonobos Doing It Appears on the Cover of Two New Books; Daphne Merkin Blurbs Both”, “James Frey: ‘There Isn’t a Great Deal of Difference Between Fact and Fiction’”, “Jonathan Franzen: Michiko Kakutani Is ‘The Stupidest Person in New York City'”, “Mike Huckabee Gets Book Deal For ‘Optimistic Vision For America’s Future'”, “Rumsfeld Book Deal Will ‘Add to People’s Information About These Times'”, “Edgy Novelist Goes Mainstream”, “Photogenic Calamity Physics Author Goes Random”, “O. J. Simpson’s Former Agent to Publish Book: How I Helped O. J. Get Away With Murder”, “L. A. Times Editor O’Shea Forced Out For Resisting Budget Cuts”, “Canseco Finds New Publisher For Steroids Book, Hires O.J.’S Ghostwriter”, “As Ennui Strikes ‘Creative Class,’ Self-Help Beckons”, “Publisher Shelves Parenting Memoir By Britney Spears’ Mom”, “N+1 on the 5th Anniversary of Gawker”, “The Id (and Imp) of American Literature” (Norman Mailer epitaph), “Norman Mailer in Critical Care at Mount Sinai, Recovering From Surgery (UPDATE)”, “New York’s Liberal Intellectuals Are Back at Each Other’s Throats—Buruma and Berman Slug It Out Over Political Islam”, “Kurt Vonnegut’s Final Interview(s)”, “Ivy League Chick Lit: Extracurricular Exposé” etc.

All these were posted after the Lost My Love in Baghdad posts at Gawker; “Extracurricular Exposé” has a post-date of 07/17/06 12:00am. “A Dean’s Exhortation: Stop Coddling, Harvard!” was posted in the year before, post date: 06/19/06 12:00am, as was “Postcolonial Makeover For Harvard-Bound Girl” (04/03/06 12:00am), “Upbeat, Warm and Sunny, A Band Bids Angst Adieu” (11/06/06 12:00am), “A Mogul in a Muddle: The Un-Retired Jay-Z” (11/27/06 12:00am).

Of special note is a profile of book editor David Rosenthal, “David Rosenthal Puts on His Penguin Suit”, noteworthy because Rosenthal was Hastings’ editor for The Operators, and “After Years of Pursuit, Wylie Signs Updike”, about the Updike estate hiring literary agent Andrew Wylie, as well as “Andrew Wylie Puts Roberto Bolaño On the Market”, “Andrew Wylie Still Hungry For the Dead, Pursuing Graham Greene Estate”, “Wylie in Academe: Students Meet Reality On Topic of Agent”, “Week of the Jackal: Andrew Wylie Devours 3 Giants, One Living”, “Wylie Agency Adds Nabokov Estate To Its Client List”, “Helen DeWitt Trashes Andrew Wylie on”, “Ooh—Fuzzy! A Kinder, Gentler Jackal (So Far) Settles In at Wylie Agency” also about Wylie, who was Hastings’ literary agent and the man that asked that the Hastings manuscript be taken down.

34 The old “Media Mob” section at the Observer was discontinued; the original page from the week before the item on I Lost My Love in Baghdard was published, can be found at, with a saved version from April 10, featuring items going all the way back to March 30th ( wayback machine link), though the Lost My Love item is already deleted. Items specifically filed by Michael Calderone bear his name. A screencap of their March 29 archived page with Scocca credited as section editor:

Media Mob

Media Mob close-up

The introuctory text for the item can be found in the Gawker “Book Proposals Kill”:

New Iraq Book Will Chronicle War, Challenging Relationship

New Iraq Book Will Chronicle War, Challenging Relationship

This proposal for a new Iraq memoir was just passed on to The Observer. Written by Newsweek Baghdad correspondent Michael Hastings, it’s called I Lost My Love in Baghdad and chronicles his time there as well as his tumultuous relationship with his fiance Andi Parhamovich, who was killed in Iraq in January while working for the National Democratic Institute. We will refrain from commenting further about the book’s eye-catching title, or what’s inside.

We hear that the book sold for a hefty sum, and to a big name publisher. Guesses?

Posted by The Media Mob on March 30, 2007, 5:12 PM

35 From “Two Gawker Editors Decide Not to Be Douche Bags”, posted in New York‘s “Intel” column:

Holy poop you guys, did you get that IM from the intern down the hall? Something totally crazy is going on at Gawker!! Writer Emily Gould and managing editor Choire Sicha, are QUITTING. Sicha is that hot gay who helped shape the site as its second solo editor from 2003 to 2005. He left to work at the Observer and then came back early this year. Gould has been working on the site since November of last year. Neither have jobs lined up, we hear. SO BRAVE.

Sicha’s trajectory from Gawker to the Observer and back to Gawker again is also described less succintly in Carla Blumenkranz’s essential history, “Gawker: 2002–2007”.

36 From “Who Killed Michael Hastings?” by Benjamin Wallace:

Three weeks after her death, Hastings’s agent Andrew Wylie had a 131-page book proposal in hand, and five weeks later, he sold it to Scribner for an advance reportedly above $500,000. The speed of the deal, and the inclusion of intimate e-mails and texts between Hastings and Parhamovich, riled some in the publishing world. (Gawker dissected the proposal mercilessly, and after the Observer published the document, it received a lawyer letter complaining that it included information that Parhamovich’s family didn’t yet know—such as the fact that Hastings was even writing a book about their daughter.)

Hastings, back in Baghdad after crashing the book, seemed to take the criticism in stride. “I remember getting an e-mail from Mike that was like, ‘Fuck them, I’m on Haifa Street,’” Darman says.

37 From “Let Me Tell You About the Most Heartfelt $200 I Ever Made” by Choire Sicha: “Mark’s Church on the Bowery, once known as the site of the first performance by Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye and then suddenly an HBO backdrop…Carrie Bradshaw was the Bernie Goetz of the Bloomberg era, shooting at the walls of heartache, bang-bang,” and I’m not sure if the shift from Patti “Because the Night” Smith to Patti “The Warrior” Smyth is interpolation or mistake.

38 From “The Brit dishing the dirt on America” by Jay Rayner:

Last year Denton made his first appearance in the Sunday Times Rich List, at number 502. He was valued at £140m. As one of our mutual friends put it: ‘Even if they’ve overstated his wealth by a factor of 10, Nick is still a hell of a lot richer than you or me.’

Exchange rate of pound to dollar for March 2008 when that article is published, with one dollar equal to 0.499758 pounds, is taken from X-rates, (link for March 2008).

39 Denton’s Oxford background is discussed in “The new élite who run our equal society” by Simon Kuper, with the helpful subhead, “Behind the mask you’ll find the new ruling caste is just like the old”. Liu’s Harvard background is discussed in footnote #27.

40 This segment runs from 28:10 to 29:00 in the “Majority Report” podcast, “2/29 Dave Weigel, Ruin of GOP & Michael Hastings, DHS monitors OWS”.

41 This segment runs from 46:21 to 46:35 in the “Majority Report” podcast, “11/13 Michael Hastings, The Real David Petraeus Scandals & the Surveillance State”.

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Scorched Earth by Mitt Romney’s Chief Strategist Stuart Stevens

Part of an on-going attempt to illuminate the life and career of a political consultant, in this case, Stuart Stevens; other posts include “He Hates You”, a summary profile, a brief look at his China travel memoir, Night Train to Turkistan, his memoir of the 2000 Bush campaign, a look at his travel memoir Malaria Dreams, an analysis of his book Feeding Frenzy, his interview with Charlie Rose promoting Feeding Frenzy, Stevens and Jon Hinson, an analysis of an episode of “Commander in Chief” which he co-wrote, and his defense of Newt Gingrich on “Charlie Rose”. Outside profiles and mentions, all excellent, are “Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot” by Robert Draper, “An Unconventional Strategist Reshaping Romney” by Ashley Parker, “The Coming Tsunami of Slime” by Joe Hagan, and “Mitt Romney’s Dark Knight” by Jason Zengerle.

scorched earth by stuart stevens


A novel by Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. It is a book of interest since one often says things in fiction that are perhaps never said in memoirs or factual tales, and also because few political consultants have written novels about their own profession, showing how they see their role, politics, voters.

The story has a plot that is both convoluted and simple. In an unnamed state, but one which can only be Mississippi (Tishomingo county is often referenced), Luke Bonney, a congressman, runs in an election for Senate against the state’s governor, Solomon Jawinski, whose campaign is managed by Matthew, Luke’s brother. Matthew Bonney is married to congresswoman Lisa James. Luke, despite his good looks, is unmarried. The father of Luke and Matthew is Powell Bonney, former governor of the state. Almost all of the story takes place in the last six days of the campaign.

During the election, the Jawinski campaign is threatened by revelations from his ex-wife’s memoir. Luke Bonney’s campaign is hit by allegations that he slept with a group of black transvestite prostitutes. Luke Bonney tries to counter this rumor by claiming that he slept with Matthew Bonney’s wife. Matthew cheats on Lisa with her sister, Dawn. The election ends in a near dead heat, with Jawinski finally winning by a fraction of votes. Jawinski believes the tightly split vote shows how disgusted voters are with the choices given them, so, in order to heal this cynicism, he has Powell Bonney appointed in his place as senator. The story ends with the rumors over Luke Bonney ambiguous and unresolved, Powell Bonney a senator, Matthew and Lisa expecting their first child.

Though I don’t think it’s very funny, the story is an attempt at a madcap farce, with a few serious moments. There are many reasons why it doesn’t work, but a principal one is that the reader has no sense of the characters as real. The people of a broad comedy may be exaggerations, yet they must still feel something like what we do in comparable situations: women and men are deeply upset when they’re betrayed, sexual entanglements do not begin and end arbitrarily, there is some intuitive reason for why two brothers hate each other. Lisa shows no regret or sadness when she intuits that Matthew has betrayed her with her own sister. Matthew sleeps with Dawn, then never gives her any additional attention again, nor does she ask any. The brothers Matthew and Luke hate each other, but though we wait to hear of some basis for the long standing ire, none is ever revealed.

If the book is a failure, that does not keep it from being a fascinating one, almost entirely because of the writer’s privileged position. Through several sections, I try and examine the more intriguing aspects in some depth. Quotes from the book are often long, to make clear that they are not selective or distorted. All quotes are accompanied by scans of the pages to make clear that the quote is very much real, and not fabricated.


Perhaps the strangest, most interesting detail of the book is that Powell Bonney, the father of brothers Luke and Matt, is a composite of segregationists George Wallace, governor of Alabama and Ross Barnett, governor of Mississippi; he is also, easily, the most sympathetic character in the book.

Powell is governor of Mississippi during the strife of the civil rights era, with two historical events merged and given over to him. He is there during the integration of Ole Miss when James Meredith is admitted as a student, during which a massive riot takes place and several people are killed; this is joined with the image of George Wallace standing in the doorway to block admission of black students to the University of Alabama, as well as the idea of Wallace’s penitence for segregation and his subsequent re-election as governor.

What is strange is the way these segregationists have been re-sculpted into this character. He is simply a good man, caught amongst the forces of history, deeply regretful of what takes place when a riot breaks out at the university over the admission of its first black student. After the crisis, stricken by conscience, he resigns from the governorship, and finds a sort of penance by doing volunteer work at Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm.

This is one of the first references to the father’s segregationist past in the book, with the borrowed detail of Wallace standing in the school’s doorway:

The Big Guy.

That’s what they called his father in those days. The two brothers had picked it up from one of the state troopers who drove him around and played at being a bodyguard. He never called their father Governor Powell Bonney. Just the Big Guy, even to his face. The governor didn’t seem to mind.

Matt had liked that state trooper. He was the one who told Matt and Luke about their father’s decision not to run for reelection. Luke was furious, Matt could remember it so clearly. “Why?” he kept asking. “How come?”

The trooper just shook his head. He was a sizable fellow, large but not obese, with a burr haircut and a warm smile. Even their mother liked him. “Your daddy’s a good man,” he told them that day driving around in his cruiser – Luke and Matt loved that cruiser. “You don’t let anybody tell you different. You hear me now? The Big Guy’s a champ. A champ-i-on. You wanna hear the siren?”

That was before they were old enough to understand. At least officially understand. What Matt knew was that something wasn’t right. Later, in college, even at the University, right next to the photos of the cars burning and the dead bodies. There were three of those: one student, one national guardsman, and one poor bastard photographer from Sweden. That sort of spread the losses evenly. It would have been hardly fair if any blacks had died. After all, only one was trying to enter the University. That’s what the Big Guy was trying to stop – standing tall in the doorway.

“You hear me now? The Big Guy’s a champ. A champ-i-on. You wanna hear the siren?”

The most extensive mention of the father’s role during the University crisis comes during a visit by Matt Bonney to the prison where his father does his volunteer work. A history book triggers a memory of where he was and what took place that night. The date of the admission of James Meredith has been changed, from October 1, 1962 to September 7, 1964, when Robert Kennedy was no longer even attorney general, but other than that the facts seem the same.

Wandering around the empty library, Matt found a copy of a state history and began to read. It was a new textbook and included a section on his father entitled “The Question of Powell Bonney?”

Powell Bonney’s single-term governorship is one of the more enigmatic in state history. Indeed, Powell Bonney himself remains a mysterious figure in our state’s history. There are those who consider him a tragic victim of the times, destroyed by the race question. Others see him as a conservative who took advantage of racial issues to gain election only to be overtaken by events. But all agree the pivotal event in his single term was the integration of the state University and the subsequent riots that left four people dead. Clearly, Governor Bonney saw these events as a personal failure, and though he gave no reason publicly for deciding not to seek a second term, it was generally agreed that the incidents at the state University were at the heart of his decision.

The exact date was easy to remember – it had made headlines across the country – September 7, 1964. He always thought of it beginning with the two of them in the kitchen, he and Lisa, while his father, who was governor then, of course, was “dealing with the situation.” Lisa’s father was teaching law at the University, a visiting professor taking a year off from his Capitol City law practice.

A few blocks away, in the center of the campus, a crowd of students was beginning to gather, and less than a mile away, a small army of National Guardsmen were waiting instructions from Robert Kennedy, the attorney general. Tomorrow, the first black was scheduled to be enrolled in the state University.

Huddled in the kitchen, Matt and Lisa felt they were part of some great and strange adventure. Outside the house, television crews waited with a score of reporters. They were perched on the sidewalk, spilling out into the quiet street lined with live oaks, drinking lemonade and iced tea the University provided. They sat there waiting for some word from the house, and it made Matt and Lisa feel very important and mature that they were on the inside, a part of what was happening.

That night after dinner at the kitchen table, they slipped over the back fence, very serious in their stealth, convinced that their departure, if detected was sure to be seen on Huntley-Brinkley. Once free, they wandered around town holding hands for the first time. Certain streets were totally deserted, while others were packed with racing students and the press.

They decided to follow the jeeps and trucks that had begun moving toward the campus’s main square. Several blocks later, though, the streets were blocked by a rifle-carrying students turning away all spectators. But Lisa knew the town and she led Matt to the football stadium, where an underground tunnel connected the locker room an the gym, which faced onto the main square. Perched on a locker, they watched the riot begin.

They killed two people and burned a half-dozen cars that night, and Matt and Lisa watched it all. At first they were more excited and nervous than they had ever been, but by the end, they just felt numb, eyes burning from the tear gas. They stayed until dawn when the square was mostly empty of students and firemen were left in peace to hose down the smoldering cars.

When they got back to the house, Matt and Lisa expected their fathers to be waiting, upset by their disappearance. But no one was there. After they had gone to bed, Matt in the guest bedroom, Lisa a floor above, Matt heard his father and Lisa’s father come in together, the front door slamming behind them.

They remained downstairs for a little bit, then his father came up to the extra bedroom next to Matt’s, where he was staying. Matt was just falling asleep when he heard his father vomiting in the bathroom they shared. A little later, he thought he heard sobs, but about this he couldn’t be sure.

This governor vomits over what has taken place. The history book gives the possibilities of either a tragic figure or a man overwhelmed by history. A later episode with the current governor, Jawinski, further makes him into a martyr. Jawinski implies there was a secret deal with Robert Kennedy, but the riots took place anyway.

Scorched Earth 007

“Oh, that’s good, Bonney. Just terrific. Anyway, dummy, you’re crazy to be dumping on your old man. He did the best he could. I think there was a lot more about that standing-in-the-schoolhouse-door act than people ever understood. I really do.”

“You mean like some kind of deal with Robert Kennedy that he would pretend to be against the integration but then let it happen.”

Jawinski looked over at Matt for a terrifyingly long time. “Yeah,” he finally said, surprised, “something like that.”

“They just didn’t figure on the riot.”

“Riots you don’t figure. It’s the first rule of riots.”

There were, in fact, attempts by governor Ross Barnett to arrange in some way to have Meredith attend a school, without bringing about a confrontation with federal forces. These arrangements broke down. Barnett did not “pretend” to be against integration. He was against integration. He made defiant, incendiary speeches against integration on the Saturday before Meredith’s admission to the school. He arrested the Freedom Riders when they came through his state. He showed visible and crucial support to Byron De La Beckwith, the assassin of Medgar Evers. “There is no case in history where the Caucasian race has survived social integration,” he said. “We will not drink from the cup of genocide.” White supremacy was his campaign theme each time he ran for office. He was utterly unrepentant about his actions at his death, and stated emphatically that he would act in exactly the same way again. All this information is unambiguous and easily available in his obituary. He did not seek a second term for “mysterious reasons”, but because term limits restricted governors to single nonconsecutive terms.

These were the same non-mysterious reasons why Governor Wallace did not seek a second term in Alabama, following the tenure in which he fought integration at his own state’s university. Wallace, whatever the sincerity of his later professions of regret, did attempt to make active penance, in addition to the forced penitence of partial paralysis from an assassin’s bullet, by confessing to having been wrong, becoming a born again Christian, actively seeking out the forgiveness of his state’s black citizens, some of whom then demonstrated their forgiveness by voting the man back into office. All these steps to redemption for this specific act go untaken by this novel’s governor. He goes into exile. He trains for the Ironman. He does volunteer work at the prison. The last no doubt helpful, but not a direct confrontation of the segregation he helped enforce.

So, given this historical context, it’s puzzling that this book takes the material of two segregationists, who believed in the inherent inferiority of a substantial number of their state’s citizens, and turns it into a character that is a martyr, someone who is an instrument for good, integration, yet cannot reveal this, who then goes into exile, a man too good for this world. It can only be read as an exculpation, a fantasy desired of who the governor was then and why he acted, a shirking from what actually took place.

Stranger still, is that the book acknowledges that this man once made an active appeal for segregation. Matt stumbles upon a commercial made during the governor’s race:

“Powell Bonney – the man from Arcadia!” the voice announced boldly. (Or, at least, semiboldly. The announcer was Woody Jackson, the best local talent available at the time the commercial was made, in 1962. [Woody Jackson, a local TV newscaster character who appears briefly in the book]) “He speaks for the people!” The camera cut from footage of Powell Bonney speaking before a huge crowd at the Lester County Fair to Powell Bonney in a studio talking directly into the camera. “I have always tried to do my best to protect our way of life. The stakes in this election are high. Our cause just. I need your help in the battle ahead!”

Despite this contentious history, it is never explicitly brought up in any conversation between father and either son. It is simply enough to present him as a martyr and assume that the reader will accept that. This perhaps makes one of the last moments of the story truly alienating. Though the current governor has won the senate race, he hands over this position to Powell Bonney, the former segregationist governor:

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“And let’s not kid ourselves that when it came down to it, there weren’t many people in this state who were happy with the choices before them.” [said Jawinski] He looked over at Luke with a wry grin. “Just about everybody hated us both and hated the fact that they had to choose between us. Something is wrong.”

Standing at the side of Jawinski, Luke Bonney nodded. The governor motioned for Luke to join him at the microphone.

“Both of us,” Jawinski continued, “believe the people deserve better. And instead of just complaining about it, we’re going to do something about it.”

“I,” Jawinski continued, “will, of course, no longer be governor. Lieutenant Governor Jack Tangent will be sworn in as the new governor. But it will be my-” he stopped here and rolled the word around delightfully, “recommendation that the new governor appoint Governor Powell Bonney to fill the remainder of the term.”

This is viewed, from inside the story, as the sound, moral choice, a happy ending to this novel. I would think a very large number of black men and women of Mississippi would take great issue with what happens: they vote for a candidate, yet somehow this group of almost entirely white men and women decide that the better pick would be the favorite son of the state, the former segregationist governor. He is, after all, a decent man. There were a lot of victims in the fight for civil rights, and, according to this novel, the governor was a victim too. So, it’s only proper that he get another chance, and serve as state senator. How could any upstanding black man or woman dare disturb the universe and disagree with that?

How does this man demonstrate his ultimate decency in a novel written by a Republican consultant? Through his support of a massive government program which will benefit the children of every state, a national literacy program:

“I’ve got one son who thinks I chickened out and another who figures I wasn’t a hero on civil rights. They’re both right, but there you have it. So look, can we talk about literacy? Please? I’ve proposed legislation that would guarantee every American a right to basic literacy skills. It’s an unbelievably good bill.”

So, government paternalism is an evil that a republican must fight against with all his will, unless, of course, it is needed to redeem an aging segregationist. Even big government occasionally has its uses.


As with any book about american politics, a number of figures appear as caricatures, a few small details changed, taunting you to unmask who they are. I am very poor at this game, but I believe I guessed at least one correctly. Perhaps because there is a safety in fiction, and safety in mildly guised characters, every member of the political-media-industrial complex who appear under another name are portrayed unsympathetically, if not utterly dark with bile.

Early on, an obnoxious and violently unattractive man shows up, a former journalist who has become a celebrity by hosting “Showdown”, a quasi-debate program where he shouts and spits over unfortunate guests. This, I believe, can only be one man, the late Prince of Darkness, the infamous Robert Novak. Here Novak is Robert Newsome, and “Showdown” is Novak’s ugly child, “Crossfire”.

A lengthy quote describing the man and his creation:

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Few ugly people love the camera, but Robert Newsome was a triumphant exception. He looked forward to his nationally telecast weekly program called “Showdown” with the same heart-thumping glee he had once anticipated his first bylines in his salad days with the Baltimore Sun. The camera – television! that wonderful cathode stage – had resurrected political reporter Robert Newsome from op-ed obscurity and had thrust (that’s how he liked to think about it – THRUST) him into the homes of unsuspecting millions. Television had brought him fans. Television had, for the first time in his forty-seven years, narrowed the vast chasm between his sexual appetites and reality. (Maybe a little too much. That lawsuit was annoying, but it was mostly inside baseball. No one really seemed to care.) Television had made him rich.

At first, the thought of appearing on television made Robert Newsome throw up. Literally. (The outtakes of his first shows were an underground classic in Washington. “Grab the wastebasket!” was the oft-heard, off-camera cry of the bedraggled director.) But he had gradually stumbled onto what he figured to be the medium’s dirty little secret: Television was easy! There was none of the hard digging and seducing of sources that went into his twice-weekly column, Banished was the need to freeze to death at the Iowa caucuses or get teargassed at demonstrations. All you had to do was show up in a studio, usually a temperature-controlled studio, and rant and rave, threaten and cajole – his normal dinner party performance, really, no more or less – and that was it. People loved it. Newsome was a star.

Some television critics had speculated, much to Newsome’s pleasure, that he deliberately tried to make himself look unappealingly sinister on camera. But the truth was that Newsome required no magic to make his electronic presence frightening. He was short and dumpy, with arms too long for his frame, arms that looked to be borrowed from another body. His face was a disaster. He had collapsed cheekbones and a bulbous forehead, a combination that threw most of his features into perpetual shadow. The tone of his skin was swarthy, which on handsome Italians is enviously referred to as “olive,” but Newsome’s olive was overripe and splotchy, two weeks to the bad. A feeble beard raged across his face like a gray bushfire partially extinguished by a rake.

It was Newsome’s love of combat that his audience adored. Here was a man who spoke the truth. “You’re lying, Senator!” A man who begged to be hated! “This may come as a shock, Congressman, but my sources tell me you have an illustrious future behind you.” Thus spoke Newsome!

The set of “Showdown” was designed to maximize the shock effect of confrontation. The two “guests” – it seemed an odd word for people invited to be abused – sat jammed next to each other in uncomfortable straight-backed chairs. Newsome sat inches away across a simple black table, quite literally in their faces. When the show got really hot, spittle flew in all directions. True fans loved to watch closely to observe who was getting the most spray in the face. Usually, it was a guest, for Newsome was blessed with a fierce set of salivary glands.

For some reason, whenever he faced Robert Newsome, Matt’s mind drifted to images of Newsome having sex. Matt wondered if Newsome took off his thick black socks and what sort of sounds he made. It was an oxymoronic vision, like a warthog dancing. Matt started to laugh.

I quote one more Newsom segment from the novel. It is easily one of its most striking, of no consequence in its overall structure, but of great importance to a reader during a presidential election, especially one where a population is burdened and worn down, while a media-politico elite issues diktats from an increasingly lofty height. Robert Novak, I’m sorry, Newsome and Matt Bonney go to a run-down chinese restaurant. Newsome looks about at the sorry souls of myriad races, far poorer than the two men, people who will be poor the rest of their lives, feels no connection with any of them, and states clearly: he wants no part of them. Matt Bonney hears this, and completely agrees. Remember that the next time you wonder why some Sunday morning “news” program seems to have so little to do with the poverty and desperation of people outside their hallowed studios, or when the Romney campaign puts forth a message of compassion, concern, or empathy. The people who opine on those programs, the man who crafted that message, have nothing to do with your sorry lives and they are grateful for that.

The significant areas receive my bolds.

Newsome stiffened as soon as he and Matt walked in the door.

“You always bring me to the nicest places,” he mumbled as Matt led him to a stool at the counter in the rear near the all-Chinese section. Newsome carefully wiped the counter with his paper napkin. His red face appeared to have been drenched with a garden hose.

“Who bothers you the most?” Matt leaned over to whisper in Newsome’s ear, “the niggers, the ‘necks, or the chinks?”

A frightened smile tried to fight its way onto Newsome’s face.

“Don’t forget I’ve been to your house in Washington, Bonney. I know how you live. Your stereo cost more than the per capita income of this god forsaken country.”

Matt started strenuously to object but then, calculating quickly in his head, realized with some embarrassment that Newsome was literally correct. But it was a wonderful stereo. “I live in a very middle-class neighborhood, you know that, Newsome. I’m not out there in Bethesda with all you rich white folks.”

Thank God there’s still some place for us. Jesus, I’ve been poor. Poor is boring. It sucks.”

“Look, Nuisance, I just brought you here so you could interview average voters three days before the election. I’m just trying to help you out, pal.” Matt beamed and ordered two cups of coffee from the girl, perhaps ten years old, behind the counter. She had the face of a Han Chinese, with skin that looked almost transparent.

“You don’t think I’ll do it?” Newsome challenged. He turned around on the stool and stared out at the crowd, his eyes flitting between the gruff Chinese men, the rambunctious black kids, the tired, middle-aged white men with the sullen quiet of the defeated. The fans droned overhead. Outside, it was already ninety degrees, the street glaring through the half-drawn shades like some exotic ray gun programmed to stun.

Newsome took a long look and turned around. He shook his head, staring straight ahead. “There was a time,” he began.

“Ah, yes,” Matt said.

“A time when I would have been dying to know just what every one of those unique souls was thinking. What made ’em tick. Were they going to vote? For whom? Why?” He shrugged and drank from his coffee cup. “Now, now, I think I just don’t care. I don’t want to be a part of their world and, God knows, I don’t want ’em part of mine. Jesus.”

“Yeah,” Matt said, watching their reflection in the mirror behind the counter. “Me, too.”

Next, there is a political consultant, Mort Koughan, working for the opposing candidate, Matt’s brother Luke. He is not given anything like the extensive description of Newsome; he is fat, jewish, with a hard glare and a low rumble of a voice. He’s a very famous consultant from New York City who frequently loses his temper, works state campaigns as well as presidential races. That he is from New York and jewish, I think, are red herrings. The two prominent consultants who match those details are Hank Sheinkopf and Dick Morris, but they don’t really fit the other details, and Morris, despite his current outsize profile, was a very secretive figure when this book was written.

The hard eyes, the temper, the man’s fame and prominence, especially the low rumble of a voice, all make me think this is supposed to be a thinly veiled Ed Rollins, California born catholic. Two quick notes: Rollins appeared on a discussion panel with Stevens in this episode of Charlie Rose, and he was very critical of the performance of the Romney campaign in this very good article, “The Lost Party” by John Heilemann).

Like Newsome, he is looked at with loathing. Koughan makes his first appearance in the novel as a “Showdown” guest:

“And on my right is the famed veteran of national politics, the media maven from New York, the wealthy and ever-well-fed Mort Koughan.” [introduction by Newsome]

Mort Koughan glared and chortled all at once, an exceptionally repellent combination.

“From what I can gather,” Koughan said in his low grumble of a voice, “people around here have a very high regard for former Governor Bonney. In fact, most think he was a heck of a lot better governor than the man trying to do the job right now.”

During a debate, Koughan fires off his gun by accident.

Suddenly, a sound bellowed from the wings. “Jesus wept! I shot myself! Jesus!”

It was Morton Koughan’s voice. He staggered out on stage, staring downward in amazement. A dark wetness spread across his gray Paul Stuart suite pants. “How the hell did this happen?” he asked, as if he were questioning the inferior performance of one of his employees. “How the hell-“ His legs wavered, and then he pitched off to the side like an ugly tree losing its balance.

As a quick aside, I should mention that I find a detail here to be slightly unusual: a catholic would be in the habit of saying “jesus wept!”, as an oath, but I think a jewish man from New York City would be less accustomed to using such a phrase as a curse.

After this incident, emphatic reference is made in the book on this man’s small penis. Folks, these are the jokes.

Another consultant, Ruthie, on Matt Bonney’s team:

“You think that fat bastard shot himself in his tiny little thing on purpose?” Ruthie hissed.

A conversation between Matt and his mother.

“Matt,” his mother said gently. “It’s not Luke, and you know it. It’s that awful consultant of his from New York. The one who shot himself-”

“In his little-bitty penis.”

“Matt!” But she was laughing.

I’ll note a strange aspect of this loathing which I’ll return to later. Koughan inspires great animus in Matthew, he is widely looked on as a repellent creature, as if we in the audience should easily see and share in this venom, yet there is nothing in the man portrayed that appears to justify this. He is a pit fighter, but there is nothing I notice that distinguishes him from Matthew or anyone in the Jawinski campaign.

Here he is again, recovering from his self-inflicted wound, not simply a political combatant, but a man whose existence challenges the concept of a loving god:

From the control room, Matt and Governor Jawinski could see Morton Koughan roaming the perimeter of the soundstage. Using a cane, he dragged one foot behind him. For an instant, Matt was astonished to feel a pang of sympathy for a man whose very existence he felt challenged the notion of a benevolent God.

“Look at that jerk,” Jawinski muttered. “He looks like a wounded warthog.”

This was true.

Another political professional who shows up is Walter Farkas, a pollster who works with Matthew Bonney. He is a slightly eccentric man, dark skinned but not african american, whose brother works in his polling firm as well. This, I believe, is the polling expert John Zogby.

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Walter Farkas walked across the table, his bare toes splayed across the glass like a tree rog. While he walked, he rolled his tie up and down. His gray pinstriped suit gave every impression of having been slept in, which it might well have been. Walter was noted for keeping vampire hours, an unusual trait for a pollster. As a rule, pollsters were the accountants of politics – smart but dry, a breed whose members prided themselves on their very blandness as proof of their submission to the empirical forces of numerical logic.

But not Walter Farkas. It was one of the reasons he and Solomon Jawinski took to each other from the start. Years ago, Walter’s brother, Josh, who held up the business end of their polling firm, had called then Attorney General Jawinski to pitch Walter’s services.

A physical description and age appear in this pan over the campaign consultants sitting behind the observation glass during the testing of a TV ad:

Scorched Earth 017n Farkas tall

Had the glass been reversed, the focus group could have witnessed a rather strange assemblage: the tall and dark Farkas, who looked like he should be running a numbers racket in Queens (which he had done once while at Columbia – his numerical adroitness had made him an instant success); Charlie Song, who was half-black and half-Oriental and somehow preposterously handsome; and Ruthie Simms, who resembled a cheerleader trying out for a role in a music video. Walter Farkas was the oldest at forty-four; Ruthie Simms, the youngest, twenty-eight; and Charlie Song in between at thirty-three.

I am unclear who Charlie Song and Ruthie Simms are stand-ins for, if anyone. I note also the strange juxtaposition that Song is half-black, half-asian, and “somehow” preposterously handsome. I am uncertain why good looks should be a surprising development from this racial mixture.

Again, as with the others, Farkas is viewed with bileful hostility. The thoughts of Ruthie, another consultant, on Farkas:

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She had never in her life met anyone who thought he knew as much as Walter Farkas. The problem was, he actually had good ideas so it was impossible just to ignore him, which is what she’d really have liked to do.

It is Farkas who wants to make an issue of Luke Bonney’s sexual orientation. He brings it up during a meal where he keeps taking food off other people’s plates. Two details establish how he’s viewed by Matt Bonney and the writer:

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“What’s it mean?” Matt asked. He wanted the pompano to arrive that instant so he wouldn’t have to look into Walter’s horrible gray face another second. “Do the spots work or not?”

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Walter nodded, then leaned down so that Matt could taste his acrid breath and whispered, “What do you know about your brother being a fag?”

Later, Farkas is beaten by Matt Bonney for what he’s done. I leave that excerpt to the next section.

Finally, for completeness, I mention that Roger Ailes, along with the lesser known Bob Beckell, a democrat consultant, make a brief walk-on under their actual names. I wish I could say some rancid secret is exposed here, but their appearance is a non-event, though Beckell is viewed with casual dismissiveness.

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“I am leaving,” Lisa sighed, and this time she opened the door, and just as she did, Roger Ailes walked into the bathroom with Bob Beckell. They were both big men, and the bathroom seemed to get much smaller in a hurry.

“What is this,” Beckell demanded, laughing, “some kind of Bonney family reunion?”

“I was just explaining to Beckell,” Ailes said, quite graciously, as if this were a bathroom conclave convened at his request, ” that it takes a smart man to win a bunch of races and become a national pundit, but it takes a damn genius to lose forty-eight states in a presidential race and become the hottest pundit in town.”

Beckell, when he had managed Walter Mondale’s campaign, had done just that. Now he dispensed political wisdom on national tv with great aplomb.

“Amazing country, ain’t it Roge?” Beckell beamed.

“I,” Lisa said most graciously, “was just leaving some time ago.”

Luke Bonney laughed and slapped Beckell’s expansive back. Matt shrugged, catching Beckell’s puzzled expression. As a fellow political professional, he looked to Matt to explain the odd behavior of these two congresspeople named Bonney. But Matt marched right past him for the door.


In the last book I read and wrote about by Stevens, Feeding Frenzy, he showed a strong fascination for violence in the context of the normally sedate genre of foodie memoir. Here, in the more vicious terrain of political combat and the more permissive universe of fiction, this fixation on violence continues. It is not just that politics is inherently violent struggle, but Stevens wants it to be like violent struggle, and make the violence of the struggle as brutal and sadistic as possible.

This is Luke Bonney preparing for his debate. My bolds.

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Over the earphones connected to the Sony Walkman resting in his lap, he was listening to a collection of Motown’s greatest hits, cassette five of an eight-cassette package. Before the debate, he intended to work through all eight.

Luke had spent two full days preparing for the debate with his New York media adviser, the famous Morton Koughan. They had strategized and prepped, rehearsed and analyzed for hours. Now Luke Bonney understood that success or failure came down to his ability to perform. By the time tape eight ended with a Jackson Five medley, he had every intention of being fully prepared to tear Governor Solomon Jawinski’s face right off his ugly head.

Luke Bonney and his consultant Morton Koughan discussing on how to deal with some negative advertising.

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“How,” Luke asked in a tired voice, “do you think we ought to respond?”

“We’ve got to go in and tear Jawinski’s heart out and eat it right in front of him. Before he does it to us. That’s what we do. We’ve been ridiculing him. Now we kill him.”

The violence is not simply imagined, as in Feeding Frenzy, but often acted out. After Walter Farkas releases the accusation that Luke Bonney slept with prostitutes, Matthew confronts Farkas, then hits him.

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No one said anything for a long time until Matt, whose head lay on the table and who appeared asleep said, “Farkas, what have you done this time?”

“Me?” he answered, looking around the room, which was beginning to fill. “Me, Matt?”

Matt looked up, his eyes slanted like an alligator viewing a potential meal.

“You are such a lying, miserable failure of human endeavor,” Matt said in a tone of voice no different than when he had ordered his Greek salad.

Farkas sputtered and grew red. “You stupid cracker!” he hissed, loud enough to silence the table and booths in the back half of the restaurant. Lionel and Darryl [the owners of the restaurant] stopped in mid-delivery, myopic eyes bulging delightedly.

On the other side of the restaurant, a reporter from the Clarion Item newspaper sat at the counter trying, without great success, to appear not to be listening.

“I don’t think this is quite the place,” Charlie said.

“Right,” Farkas blurted. “You gonna tell me what the exact proper place is for this cracker to call me a miserable failure of a human?”

“How about the kitchen?” Matt asked, still using the same level voice.

Farkas seemed taken aback. “Okay,” he said, frowning, as if analyzing the change of venue.

The Mayflower kitchen was a loud, extraordinarily hot place. Bubbling vats of oil sizzling with strange shapes covered most of the surfaces. Buckets of brown, twisted french fries hung from meat hooks above the stoves. Two men, both black, and two women, both white, threw their bodies about with tremendous velocity.

Walter Farkas was standing there gawking when Matt hit him in the stomach. Tired as he was, Matt’s punch was not particularly powerful, but it was close enough to bump Farkas into Lionel, who was just entering the kitchen door behind Farkas with a tray full of plates. Flailing about for a handhold, Lionel grabbed hold of Farkas’s shirt. For a moment, the two hung together in some perfect symmetry before all those good pompano dinners Lionel had consumed over the years edged his center balance toward the floor, and together, linked like an awkward train, the two of them cascaded backward through the door into the restaurant. The tray full of dishes followed closely thereafter, its astounding crash serving as period to Farkas’ strangled cry: “Crackers! All crackers!”

After the election, Matthew Bonney goes to the rival victory party, then lights hidden firecrackers and throws lit firecrackers at everyone, including his nemesis, Morton Koughan.

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At first, the crowd cheered as the Roman candles lit the sky, thinking, of course, that this was all part of the show. But when Matt hurled the first M80s into the edge of the crowd, and the second round of star shells came shooting straight at the well-barbered heads of the crowd, a nervous ripple of panic shook the onlookers. This escalated into a roar of sheer fear when the helicopter spinners flashed toward the crowd, then the lava cones and the parachute flares. A few dozen simple bottle rockets completed the riot.

“I’m gettin’ out of here!” a handsome woman with a lovely tennis tan announced, kicking off her high heels and sprinting for her convertible but not before grabbing a bottle of champagne from one of the stunned waiters.

Matt ran through the night, lighting the fireworks he and Lisa had hidden. He was barefoot, the sand and clay crunching against his bare soles, sweat pouring off his face, a pleasant, almost sweet sweat of energy long stored finally expended. As he sprinted from hidden fuse to hidden fuse, Matt couldn’t remember when he had enjoyed anything quite as much. He liked it so much he figured he should do it again very soon, make a regular habit of it, say, every few weeks or so.

“There he is!” Matt heard one of the waiters scream, and he passed for a second, looking around, wondering who might have arrived. Then he realized the waiter was pointing at him. “Ninja!” the waiter screamed, getting a better look at Matt as he paused. “Ninja man!”

Matt smiled, then launched a bottle rocket at the man’s crotch. “Aeeiiii!” he screamed, jumping aside with surprising alacrity, revealing a very disturbed-looking Morton Koughan suspended between his walking cane and the bar. He did not seem flushed with the sweet wine of victory. In truth, he looked mostly pissed off and well on his way to a quite mean drunk.

“Ninja!” Koughan yelped.

Matt smiled, lighting a fist full of bottle rockets.

“Go ahead!” Morton Koughan screamed. “Shoot me! Go ahead!”

Matt hated to disappoint the famous media consultant.

Ninja bastard!” Koughan yelped as he flung himself behind the bar to avoid the incoming missiles.

Matt was quite impressed with his agility. He may have been an aging, overweight, half-lame, nearly self-castrated media consultant from New York, but the man could move when faced with an immediate introduction to the physics of bottle rocketry.

After Luke tells Matthew he wants to use an affair with his wife as an alibi, Matthew hits him.

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“I need to start leaking the word that Lisa and I have been an item. I need it out there to beat off this fag thing. It’s the way it’s got to be, and I’m here trying to be a nice guy to ask you if it’s okay or what.”

“Let me understand.” Matt’s voice shook. “You’re a nice guy because you’re asking me if it’s okay if you tell the world that you’re having an affair with my wife?”

Luke shrugged, and Matt thought he looked incredibly smug for a fellow who had just been accused of waking up next to transvestites. Matt thought about this for a bit, then he stood up and, almost as an afterthought, hit his brother very hard right in his nose.

“Right,” Matt repeated when Luke fell, sputtering to the floor, blood exploding all over his gray pinstripes and Ruthie’s Oriental rug.

The desire for violence is aroused not just by opponents and wrongdoers, but by anyone who irritates Matthew. His fellow consultant Ruthie says something that annoys him, and Matthew wants to rip her throat with his teeth.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Ruthie suddenly smiled. It was a huge smile that lit up her entire face. “We’re going to win,” she murmured, almost breathlessly. “This will do it for sure. Luke is finished!” She thought for a moment. “We ought to still do that spot you came up with, the one with Luke on vacation with those lobbyist sleazebags. Have you been able to get that tape yet?”

Her Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and Matt thought very hard for an instant about biting it and ripping it from her throat with his teeth.

Ruthie later says something else that annoys Matthew and he wants to rip her throat with his teeth.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“Look, let’s face it,” Ruthie said, “My sister on television is strictly a T and A kind of thing regardless of what she is doing. She’s a T and A kind of girl.”

“Oh,” Lisa said, “unlike being an anchorwoman like my sister. T and A has nothing to do with that, of course not. That’s strictly a matter of superior intellect. That’s why they hired Dawn. I mean, she’s just talking about plastic surgery now because it will make her smarter.”

Dawn! Matt’s vision went a little blurry around the edges.

“Plastic surgery?” Ruthie giggled. “She is not.”

Lisa laughed, and Ruthie turned to Matt. “Dawn doesn’t need any surgery, does she?” Ruthie asked. “Neck, eyes, cheeks?”

Matt wanted to reach across the table and bite her vocal cords right out of her throat.

The imagery here echos Stevens’ own fantasies of strangling women in Feeding Frenzy.

“Can you recommend a hotel?” I asked an elderly woman walking her tiny Pekingese pup.

“You have a problem,” she said.

Immediately I felt like strangling the woman. A problem? A problem? Just because I’m riding around in a car with no brakes in a city with man-eating tunnels and I’ve got a dog on the back seat who is just dying to eat your silly little dog and, besides, I’m about to be late for dinner at Comme Chez Soi, you think I’ve got a problem? PROBLEM?!

maybe it would kill some germans

“What do we do?” [says Stevens]

“We could stop and siphon out the old gas and put in new.”

“Siphon? Siphon with what?”

“A hose would probably be best, don’t you think?”

I thought about killing her, maybe with a hose wrapped around her neck.

“Just a thought,” she added, when she saw my look.

This desire for violence is not a put-on, but one truly felt by the writer, which Stevens has occasionally been very honest about. A relevant paragraph from “Thank God This Will Only Get Worse”, an article Stevens wrote on long distance cycling, on his path through various sports. The striking portion is bolded.

So I played football and rugby, boxed and wrestled, none of it particularly well. I tried basketball but always got into fights, mostly as a way to cover for the fact that I never could master that dribbling thing. This all works well enough through high school and college, but at a certain point you look up and the options for participating in sports as a socially accepted way to commit pleasurable acts of violence have narrowed. When most peers are focused on building a career and starting a family, it becomes problematic to admit that what you most enjoy in life is lining up and knocking the snot out of somebody, or vice versa. What once made you seem fun-loving and enthusiastic – so well-rounded! – now begins to paint a darker portrait of an emerging psychopath with serious developmental issues. You’re not just the aging lifeguard whose friends have all left the beach – you’re the aging lifeguard with a little serial killer practice on the side.

This fascination with violence is a filter through which the political process is seen. Elections, are simply war by other means. It is best shown near the ending, when the vote is split, and an image of strength must be given. Stevens was a participant on the Bush team during the 2000 election fiasco and this section serves as an eerie foreshadowing of what took place.

Before getting to the martial imagery, two quick excerpts are disturbingly apt given what was to happen in 2000.

One, on the possibility of vote theft:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Solomon Jawinski, even after being governor for seven years, had never been accepted by many in the local courthouse crowd – the county clerks and the supervisors – and they were the ones most likely to steal votes. The way things were these days, it was hard for them to steal big time, but they could definitely tilt an election that was less than half a percent. The courthouse crowd loved nothing more in the world than a close election. The state, like all southern states, was still under the jurisdiction of the federal Voting Rights Act, and it required Justice Department approval to strike a single name from the voting rolls. Few county clerks wanted to go to the trouble of dealing with Washington just because somebody had moved or died, so as a result there were more people on the voting rolls dead than alive. That made it very easy to steal.

The other, on the inspection of voting tallies:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Everywhere on the ground floor of the mansion, people were screaming into telephones. No fewer than ten cellular phones were in use, and every line of the mansion’s thirteen line system was lit by a manic voice intent on securing a not insignificant prize – six years in the U.S. Senate. The noise was elaborate. A desperate, loud noise:

“What do you mean those boxes are ‘okay’? We’ll decide if they’re okay or not, not some damn county clerk wanting to kiss Luke Bonney’s ass. Hell, yes, I want ’em impounded now!”

Here then are the segments after the contested vote which emphasize the point of politics as war, a politics that the writer wants to be war. I bold the significant notes in the first excerpt:

Scorched Earth 031n Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Charlie Song, talking into two telephones, winked at Matt. He flashed a thumbs-up, not very convincingly. He was still in a very Charlie Song suit that did not look as if he had slept in it, as Matt knew he had. If he had slept at all. Theirs would have been an all-night vigil, with lawyers rousted in the middle of night. The finest legal aides available in the state turned out of bed like a bunch of Parris Island recruits heading for a midnight march through the swamps.

A television was on in the corner, and Luke Bonney was standing before a podium expressing his supreme confidence that the recount would put him where the people of this great state clearly wanted him – in the United States Senate. Matt could just make out the faded Sun and Sand logo on the podium.

“Dream on, slime sucker!” Ruthie hissed, turning to give Matt a quick kiss on the cheek. Her eyes glowed with the heat of the hunt. “Banana republic stuff, Matt,” she whispered fiercely, “we hold on to the lead long enough, we got it. Bring out the tanks! Put those damn planes in the air!”

Matt agreed sophisticated armaments might come in handy.

The press conference makes the point even more emphatically, the importance of the projection of strength, military strength:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

The Solomon Jawinski postelection press conference was held on the steps of the mansion. The location had been Matt’s idea and had been chosen to project as much credible force as possible. It was the sort of thing best done while standing on top of a tank surrounding by a whole bunch of ferocious-looking guys with nasty weapons. The message was clear: I am mean. I am strong. Do not mess with me, or you shall die.

Instead of tanks, Jawinski had to settle for the somewhat imposing white columns of the mansion and in place of armed men, civility dictated he rely on a bunch of tired-looking lawyers. It suffered in the translation, but Solomon Jawinski seemed delighted by the world. Matt couldn’t remember seeing him this happy.

So, let us be clear. The supporters of Barack Obama, of those who wish for a fairer life for the 99%, must recognize that the chief strategist of the Romney campaign does not look upon elections as a happy ballet of ideas, or a civil discussion, or a calm thinking over of choices, but vicious, nasty, violent war. Do not ever worry that some infinitely wise op-ed columnist chastises you for being too partisan, or unrelenting, or unmerciful. Always remember that the only things the chief strategist of the Romney campaign believes in are force, power, strength, and sadism. When Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the democratic national committee laughs at the foibles and follies of the Romney campaign, Stuart Stevens no doubt wants to rip the vocal cords out of her throat with his teeth.


Perhaps the most startling aspect of this book about a state election, written by a political consultant, is the entire absence of any discussion of any issues – poverty, employment, medical care, anything. It is not that these issues do not exist; Matt Bonney mentions that the state continues to finish last in just about any ranking of citizen welfare. It is not simply that issues are tangential, or referred to through other means, they are not there at all.

This is stated, clearly and openly, in a discussion at the Jawinski campaign on how to deal with attack ads from the opposing candidate:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“You announce,” Matt told him, “you announce that your campaign is demanding that all stations refuse to air this scurrilous attack. This attack that has no place in the political dialogue! And by inference, neither does the sort of scurrilous personal attack Luke Bonney’s media consultant must have talked him into launching, because you know Luke Bonney wouldn’t stoop to such low-life behavior on his own.”

“This is a race about issues! About values!” Walter Farkas sounded positively transformed.

“What issues?” Jawinski asked. “We’ve got issues in this race?”

“Of course not, but you can’t admit that.”

This next quote appears again in a conversation in the Jawinski camp on how to win the election, knowing that if the race is a referendum on their man, they will lose. The only way to win is by attacking and destroying the other candidate. Again, no issues are mentioned.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“Well, it seems to me,” [lieutenant governor] Jack Tangent spoke up, “it seems to be that the biggest issue in this race is sitting right here,” he nodded toward the governor, “and as long this race is about a fellow named Solomon Jawinski, we might just up and lose. I mean, I find it hard to believe, but it just might be that fifty percent plus one wake up on Saturday feeling like maybe they’re kind of tired of Solomon and how they’d maybe like a change.”

“So?” Walter Farkas asked.

Jawinski scowled at Farkas. He liked his lieutenant governor and did not want him hurried. Jack had his own languid style, but eventually he would come around to the point – and the odds were it would be worth the effort.

“So maybe,” Jack continued, dawdling as always, “maybe we better get around to makin’ people start asking questions about that other fellow so destiny can work its little magic and our boy will end up in the Senate. Trouble is, nobody would ever think our esteemed Luke Bonney was a crook or a Communist. Can’t make him into that. Gotta play off his strengths to whip his weaknesses. Little jujitsu. You guys understand.”

There was a brief pause until Walter Farkas looked around and asked in a stage whisper, “Did anybody understand that?”

“I think,” Matt said, “that the lieutenant governor means that as long as this race is a referendum on Solomon Jawinski, we will probably lose. Or sure as hell could lose. But if we can get people to focus on questions about Luke, we can win. But the problem is that we don’t have really good stuff on Luke – nothin’ dirty -”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Farkas said quietly.

This idea, to use an opponent’s strengths against him, was, of course, effectively applied by the Bush campaign against Kerry, where the asset of his military experience was destroyed through various methods, most crucially the Swift Boat attack ads.

This allows for a quick digression, on the possible differences of what can be admitted in fact and fiction.

What follows is a small excerpt from an interview with Stevens by Jules Witcover, conducted in March 7, 2007, dealing with the issue of issue PACs such as 527s acting independently of the campaign (the site is currently off-line, so a screenshot of the full interview follows the excerpt). A central point of campaign finance reform is whether or not such PACs genuinely act apart from the main campaign, or whether co-ordination, explicit or through implicit signaling is inevitable. In this interview, Stevens claims the 527s acted entirely on their own.

How do you feel about both the independent-expenditure committees and 527s, in terms of losing control of your own campaign?

I hate it.

Talk a little about that.

Like the Swift Boats. I remember when the whole Swift Boat thing, everybody in the [George W.] Bush world was furious, and sort of stunned. People don’t believe this, but it’s true.

So it’s not enough to be able to say, “Hey, that wasn’t ours, and we had nothing to do with it – we didn’t talk to anybody.” You are getting nailed with it anyway? Is that the problem?

Oh, yeah. People do nail you with it. And most of the time they screw it up, in the sense that they don’t do what you want to do. And I remember in the Swift Boat thing, I had been working on this ad, just kind of noodling on my own, where it was very straightforward. “John Kerry came back from Vietnam and he said this.” And then I had just a clip of it. It said, “What do you think?” That was it. And then the Swift Boat people came in.

But it didn’t go after the element of his service in Vietnam?

No. And they entered the argument on the medals issue, which I always felt was the worst way to argue that. Like should he have gotten two medals instead of three? It’s just insane. And so I felt that by entering the argument at that point, they had discredited the argument. And the one thing you could say about someone like Karl [Rove], Karl likes to control things. Not in a bad way, but in a “we don’t like stuff just to happen.” And all of us, I think, were like, “What?” I certainly didn’t know anything. I don’t think anybody knew anything about it. It’s just kind of you wake up one morning, and it’s like, “What?” I remember the phone ringing, one of the 6 a.m. phone calls, you know whatever it’s going to be it’s not going to be good. It’s like, “Have you seen this?” And so, I mean, people say the Swift Boat thing hurt Kerry. Maybe. Maybe the way they handled it hurt him. But I thought the “Ashley” ad that was done mainly in Ohio by the 527s, you see that where Bush is embracing this girl whose mother had died in 9/11. He did the Willie Horton ads, Larry [McCarthy]*; he did it. I thought it was a very good ad, fabulous ad.

buying of the president part one buying of the president part two

It may well have been the case that the 527s acted on their own. However, it should be noted that what Stevens states here is entirely different from what Matthew Bonney, says in the novel about independent action committees. A front committee, The Citizens for Good Government, is set up by Walter Farkas, the campaign’s pollster, in order to publicize the story that Luke Bonney has slept with a number of transvestite prostitutes.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“Who’s the Committee for Truth and Justice?” Matt asked.

“The Citizens for Good Government,” Charlie corrected. “It’s Walter Farkas and Byron Timmons.”

“Sweet Jesus,” Matt muttered. His hands trembled with rage.

“Walter has found,” Charlie continued, “three male prostitutes who say they have been playing around with Luke.”

It is after this that the issue of the connection between this front group and the campaign comes up. It is here that Matthew Bonney states that co-ordination between independent committees and the larger campaign was inevitable, as impossible to avoid as teenagers having sex, an admission entirely at odds with what Stevens said in the interview on co-ordination with the Swift Boat committees.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“Can Farkas be traced?” Matt asked, ignoring her and trying to focus. “Will anyone prove he was involved with Byron?”

“No,” Charlie answered, though he wasn’t really sure of this at all. It was what he had spent the afternoon trying to decide. Some people knew that Farkas was a friend of Byron Timmons’s [sic], but that couldn’t be called a crime, though by all rights it should have been.

The question at hand involved a violation of FEC – Federal Election Commission – law. It was illegal for there to be any contact or coordination between an independent group like Citizens for Good Government and a federal campaign. This was because the independent groups were exempt from the fund-raising limitations and reporting requirements imposed on congressional and senatorial campaigns. Nine times out of ten, however, this was a sham. It was like trying to keep teenagers from having sex. The very notion of stopping two groups with the same goal from trading information and plotting together sub rosa was preposterous.

I now go to a lengthy excerpt of the book which best illustrates the exclusive emphasis on what could be style issues, over anything to do with any policies that might help or hurt those living in the state. It is the best, truest scene in the book, very detailed, its details no doubt coming directly from personal work experience. The campaign team tests out a possible election ad for effectiveness with a group of potential voters. No issue is discussed in either the anti-Jawinski or anti-Bonney ad, no issue that might be hinted at in either ad is discussed by the campaign team either. The only “issue” is the perception of inexperience in Bonney and clownishness in Jawinski.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

The room darkened, and the television set flickered. A series of news clips appeared on the screen, brief bits on Martin Luther King Jr., the Olympic swimming team, Fidel Castro, the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

Farkas always showed the same clips at the beginning of all his focus groups. The responses served as a control, weeding out any pranksters: a ten rating for Fidel Castro tagged you as either a Communist or crazy, both equally useless in Farkas’s statistically correct world.

After the clips came separate three-minute segments of Luke Bonney and Solomon Jawinski answering questions at the previous night’s debate. Farkas had selected the responses to Woody’s weather question and Samantha’s UNICEF inquiry [Samantha Simms and Woody Jackson, panelists from the debate] – the bland of the bland. A strong response either positive or negative would ferret out any closet supporters or antagonists. Farkas naturally assumed that a certain number of people had lied during the initial selection process when asked if they had strong feelings about either candidate. They lied for the $35 bounty, they lied because they wanted to give what they figured was the correct answer, they lied for spite, and they lied for fun. Farkas hated mendacity. Liars were to a pollster what land mines were to tank commanders: nasty little unknowns that could muck up everything.

These bland three-minute appetizers were followed by the morning’s red meat: the new Bonney campaign spot attacking Jawinski. This was the spot Morton Kouhan had made the night before, directing by phone from his hotel room. Ruthie had obtained the spot from Ernie Swindell [the TV station manager] as soon as it had been delivered to the station early this morning. It was not scheduled to be aired until that evening in the time slots adjacent to the news. This was the most treasured airtime for political commercials. Years ago somebody like Walter Farkas had figured out that people who vote like to watch the news, and somebody like Matt Bonney figured out that positioning a commercial next to a news broadcast lent a certain credibility to the message. Most stations across America refused to sell political ads inside a news broadcast, fearing that it compromised the impartial tone of the news. But the Capital City stations, ever confident of their ethical reputation – as well as being greedy as pigs – had a policy of selling any open position.

In the darkened room of the focus group, the pirated spot began to play. Koughan had constructed the ad around film of Solomon Jawinski water-skiing at Cyprus Gardens intercut with shots from the debate. First, you saw the governor behind the podium proclaiming, “And I’ll be the sort of senator who’ll fight for what’s best for you!” Then it cut to Jawinski on water skis. He had never been a particularly pretty sight in a bathing suit, and he did not fare well in comparison to the stunning beauties of Cyprus Gardens who shared his tow rope. While the viewers heard the governor talking about what he would do as senator, they saw a delighted Solomon Jawinski clearly having a splendid time: as the camera zoomed in on his bouncing belly and skullcap of wet curls, he whooped and hollered, riding his single ski with a preternatural grace. He beamed at his co-skiers, muscular angels of the jet spray. Jawinski looked delighted, ecstatic, a man who had died and gone to heaven.

He did not look, however, by any stretch of the imagination, like a United States senator.

An announcer’s voice, a rich mocking voice, cut in over the pictures: “This man wants to be your next United States senator. He wants to represent you in matters of war and peace. He’s asking for the right to raise your taxes, to support or cancel Social Security.

“Over the next six years, this man wants to be your voice in Washington. Your voice. Your voice. Your voice…”

During the last refrain, the camera closed in on Jawinski letting loose – in slow motion – one of his famed rebel yells. Some might say it was a moment of pure existential joy; others might say Solomon Jawinski looked like a total asshole.

Ruthie watched the spot with a sick feeling in her stomach. She thought it was a terrific spot, one that cut to the core of the doubts about Solomon Jawinski. Sure, he’s a funny guy, but do you really want him in Washington?

The focus group spun the dials wildly. Some laughed. A few frowned and shook their heads. All eagerly awaited the next spot.

It was the spot Matt had made the night before, and it opened with a smiling Luke Bonney from the debate, which faded into another shot of Luke smiling and then another – a long, seemingly endless montage of Luke Bonney smiling.

The announcer began in a friendly, conversational tone: “He’s a young politician who likes to smile and make promises. Then smile some more and make some more promises.”

As the announcer spoke, the camera pushed in a little closer on each smiling shot, and each shot made Luke Bonney look sillier and sillier and even a bit sinister.

“But when you think about the problems we face,” the announcer continued as Luke Bonney’s smile was replaced by a half-dozen images of problems – unemployment, hot spots around the globe, crop failure, drugs – “do we really want just another smiling politician? Or a leader who’s not afraid to say no and can make Washington stand up and listen to what we are about. A smiling politician…or a leader. Solomon Jawinski. Smart. Tough. Ready for the job.”

The dials spun like windmills in a gale. When the lights came on, Ruthie thanked everyone and stood by the door distributing unmarked envelopes each containing $35 in cash. The generic envelopes and the payment in cash rather than by check were part of an effort by the Jawinski campaign to conceal the fact that they had sponsored the focus group. As in most campaigns, there was a great obsession with secrecy, but no one could actually articulate why it would be undesirable for anyone to know the Jawinski camp was holding focus groups. But campaign secrets took on a value of their own, so the more secrets the better.

The all importance of image is seconded when Matt observes his brother speaking. Luke is a very good politician, but this quality has nothing to do with any legislative expertise or achievement – none are ever mentioned – only his ability to shift in tone for the appropriate audience, just as a great musician can move effortlessly from playing with small bands to large orchestras.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Matt was halfway back to the car when he heard his brother take the stage. He knew what he was going to say – Matt had watched his brother on the stump a half-dozen times during this campaign. He always gave a reverse doughnut – a different introduction with specifics tailored to the crowd, a stock middle section, and a close geared to the emotional level of the crowd. Without fail, he was his most emotional in front of poorer, less educated crowds. In front of business or do-gooder types like the League of Women Voters, Luke became almost analytically aloof and reserved, just the way they liked it. This adapatability was a trait Matt, when he still worked on his brother’s campaigns, had groomed. He felt it was the key to the big leagues. Any small-time politician can have one good act, but the big boys had half a dozen they rolled out at will, assessing the temperature of the crowd with great finesse.

“Today, before I begin here at this glorious Lester County Fair-”

That was Luke Bonney all the way. Make sure to refer to the event in the first sentence. It was a trick straight out of a Dale Carnegie speech-giving class, and it always worked.

This exclusive emphasis on image, on perception, rather than any policies merges with the idea that the management of an election campaign has nothing to do with policy, and for a consultant to have any focus on policy is a mistake. This is not an interpretation on my part, it is, again, stated explicitly by the hero consultant of the book, Matthew Bonney.

A scene at the end, Matt talking about the work of his wife, the congresswoman, and the contrast between governing and consulting:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

He knew she would have been up since 7:00 A.M., doing what she did every morning: talking on the phone, reading this subcommittee’s report on that committee’s report on the previous committee’s study of the subcommittee’s recommendation. There was a permanent but ever-changing stack of such reports by their bed in Washington. Matt couldn’t read the covers without getting bored. It was said by some that political consultants had too much influence on the governmental process, but Matt was yet to know a consultant who really gave half-a-damn about government. Government was that thing done by other people, the folks who actually wrote those reports that Lisa and her colleagues consumed like so much cotton candy. What Matt and his kind did were elections. That was as different from government as playing tuba in the high school band was from playing halfback on the team.

And that was how it should be, Matt figured. What was mucking everything up was the confusion of the two endeavors. Increasingly, the sort of person who would make a good political consultant was running for office. And winning, of course, because they were the best at manipulating the system. But, Lord knows, this wasn’t the breeding ground for the great statesmen of tomorrow. It was fundamentally wrong, confusing the two. It was like ambulance drivers replacing doctors just because they knew how to get to the patients first.

That an election is fundamentally about these dueling images, that it not be about policy at all, is what Stevens wants. He does not wish there to be any analytical aspect to a campaign, and cannot conceive of one. What everyone wants, even those who say it is not what they want, is conflict. He does not see journalism giving anything in terms of insightful examination or analysis as a counterpoint to the visual slugging contest, only diktats. The choice between two dueling images, the dozens played between two campaigns is democracy. That nobody votes or is disgusted that politics in turn is transformed by subservience to these images is not an issue either. Look at Italy, that’s where people vote, and look what sorry shape that country is in.

All this is said in this discussion about political coverage between Newsome and Matt Bonney:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“You know what it is about you reporters, Newsome?” Matt asked. Newsome was busy scrubbing furiously at his suit pants with a wet towel. “You’re fundamentally conflicted about this campaign stuff.”

“Conflicted?” Newsome muttered.

“You guys talk all the time about how you hate dull campaigns and spend God knows how much energy trying to get two candidates to bash each other’s brains out-”

“What other fun is there?”

“Exactly. And then if a campaign should finally catch fire and start exploding on you, all of a sudden you start to condescend and rip into us for lack of decorum. Decorum. Hah!” Matt laughed loudly. Heads turned. “On the one hand, you want democracy to be a great popular sport, everybody involved and cheering wildly. But as soon as it starts to happen, you’re horrified. It’s like you want everybody to come to the party but only if they dress just so. You complain about how nobody votes anymore. Big deal! Ninety percent of the people in Italy vote. You want a country like that? And all this BS about how television ads are ruining campaigns! You know why editorial writers don’t like television spots? Because they take power out of their hands! They want a few dinky debates, a polite campaign, and then for everybody to sit at home on Sunday waiting for the editorials to know which way to vote. Instead, some jerk like me can muck things up! You want twenty percent of the people to vote instead of fifty! Just take campaign commercials off the air. You’ll bore everybody to death!

That Matt Bonney and Stevens both want, thrive on, is the violence of the campaign, a juvenile violence unconnected to anything to do with any issue whatsoever, is emphasised in this brief mention of the intensive arguments over set-up for a debate:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

For media consultants, debates were fun. It was one of the few opportunities in adult life in which you were expected to be as demanding and petty as an irate six-year-old. Fierce battles were fought over podium height, lighting selection, backdrops – all the details that assumed a preternatural importance but in fact meant next to nothing. Grown men would howl like wounded animals and make vile threats of physical dismemberment and career-ruining blackmail over questions such as the difference between fifty-six- and fifty-eight-inch podiums. What other business would not only praise you for acting like a contemptible tyrant but pay you an obscene amount of money in the process?

To act like a tantrummy six-year-old is not exactly my idea of fun, or that of many that I know, but it is Matt Bonney’s, and I assume Stevens’ as well, given that he expects a sympathetic connection with the reader here.

What is made clear to be crucial in a campaign is not any issue, but identity. Matt Bonney’s father defended the way of life of those in Mississippi, his identity and their identity, against federal incursion. Matt Bonney’s candidate is a Polish jew born in McComb County, Michigan, but these details of location and ethnicity do not matter, because he has fastened on what connects him with a substantial amount of voters in Mississippi, and, for that matter, many states.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

But it was part of young Solomon Jawinski’s genius that he understood the basic similarities between his old environs and his new. He appreciated that McComb County and the Capital City were linked by the same kinships of xenophobia and provincialism, with a sustaining faith that they were God’s chosen people. “Damn rednecks,” Jawinski would mutter around the house. “Rednecks here, rednecks there. All the damn same.” In Matt’s opinion, this early strategic insight is what allowed Jawinski to do what seemed on face value as completely, ridiculously, and utterly impossible: get elected. Elected in a state in which there were probably just as many left-handed Lithuanians as Polish Jews. But Jawinski wasn’t just any Polish Jew; he transformed himself into a Polish-Jewish REDNECK, a Polish-Jewish redneck superman.

This identity has nothing to do with any policy that might help the poverty or suffering of the people of Mississippi. It has only to do with a particular style of speech and life, in this case, a variation on Bill Clinton without the Oxford education.

The communication of this identity to the voter, is what is of primary importance, with the candidate himself secondary and incidental to the process from the consultant’s perspective. This is obvious in this passage, where Matt Bonney talks of the ease of the end of the campaign, when the candidate becomes entirely an automaton, entirely under the control of consultants, who are now unhindered by the personality of an actual man, awake and alive.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

It was an inevitability in campaigns that during the final two weeks, a candidate was largely removed from the decision-making process, shunted from one event to another in a nineteen-hour-a-day frenzy. This always left the candidate in a near catatonic state of exhaustion with no time to think – at exactly the stage that required the most precise thinking. Most consultants, of course, relished this moment when a candidate teetered on physical collapse and functioned as a mindless automaton. Then they – the professionals – could go about their jobs without the messy hindrance of the person who was, titularly, at least, their commander in chief.

That Mitt Romney is a robot-like, lifeless man may be considered a liability by pundits and possibly voters, but: given the last fragment, I believe Stevens ultimately considers this automaton-like quality a strong plus.

Further, that policy is of no importance, that the focus be solely on violent gladiatorial combat, that the poor, suffering souls of Mississippi that Matt Bonney observes in the chinese restaurant may well remain poor and suffer, getting poorer and suffering more is of no concern to the consultant. He does not want any part of these voters’ lives, as he admits to Newsome, and he no longer lives in Mississippi, instead moving from state to state running campaigns, so the consequences of this election will never be felt or seen by him.

That there is something rancid in this, is pointed out by the most sympathetic figure of the book, his father, the former segregationist Powell Bonney. My bolds:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“We always call lieutenant governors Lite Guvs. Whatever state I’m working in,” Matt shrugged, “it always seemed to fit.”

“Don’t you get confused about what state you’re working in?”

Matt knew that Powell Bonney hated the very concept of consultants working on different races around the country. He thought it was fundamentally a corruption of democracy. Matt had never argued the point.

Matthew Bonney knows that he is something of a carpetbagger, plundering these campaigns in poor states for fortunes then scooting away, but he continues to do his work. There is the fact that he is paid an obscene amount of money, but also, something that might be constructed as Stuart Stevensism, a specific theory of political life, which pervades this book. I leave it to the next section.


In this novel, Stuart Stevens views politics as primal, violent, tribal struggle. Ideas are entirely absent. The identity and image of the candidate are crucial. When necessary, a show of force, a martial demonstration, is essential for victory. Elections are not decided by analysis, but through the rough feelings of the mob. Stevens, and his proxy, Matthew Bonney, make a great deal of money by manipulating this mob. Yet at the very same time, Stevens has contempt for the rabid crowd, this thoughtless rabble, and does not believe government is best served through appealing to their appetites. At the end of the book, the wishes of the mob are overruled by the wisdom of the elect: Jawinski abdicates as Senator, and has Powell Bonney appointed in his place. That there may be something racial in this attitude might be noted as well; former segregationist Powell Bonney cannot win in the state because of black voters, but in the end, he can be imposed on them, and it will be for their benefit.

That Matthew Bonney continues to work as a consultant, despite his contempt for this mob, despite the fact that it does not bring about the best result for the state, is, I think, because both the author and his proxy hero share the same belief, that there is something eternally mob-like and tribal in humanity, both in the United States and elsewhere, which can never be remedied or fixed, only manipulated or oppressed.

One of the first scenes in the book, the night of the TV debate, conveys this. This debate is, ostensibly, about the back and forth of competing ideas of the candidates. Yet none of the ideas of either is ever brought up. Beforehand, we are given the scene surrounding this debate, a portrait of two rival groups of passionate supporters. It is essentially, we are told, a pep rally. These crowds are crucial for psychological warfare. They embody no support of any particular idea, but they are essential for the candidate, who is part of this crowd, just as they are part of him, as well as necessary for giving a visual spectacle for reporters. We are given the side detail that an Iranian exile served a crucial role in crowd organization in a California campaign, and that he was extraordinarily skilled at it. The ideas of the candidate supported, a lunatic who wanted to toss a few warheads on Iran, are of no consequence. That the Iranian organizer before organized crowds against the Shah is of no importance. All that is crucial is the mobilization of the crowd for support, and this man is able to do so.

Then we move to the theme already seen before, that the natural state of politics is one of sadistic, brutal struggle. Jawinski is going to kick a little ass tonight. A demure grandmother, a previous client of Matt Bonney’s, was roused to want to rip off her opponent’s dick and shove it down his throat.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

A block from the station, supporters of Solomon Jawinski and Luke Bonney lined the street. They were mostly kids, teenagers or college students in their early twenties, the shock troops of every campaign. They all carried signs proclaiming their respective allegiance and shouted at each other as if at a pep rally which, more or less, they were. That intelligent human beings would find it rewarding to stand on a hot street corner, and jump up and down with signs trying to affect the outcome of an event that was taking place a block away in a sound-proof, windowless studio may seem marginally insane, but it was all part of the psychological warfare that no aggressive, in-your-face, must-win campaign – that is, a good campaign – ever neglected. The street-corner demonstrations were intended for two audiences – the reporters covering the debate and the candidates themselves. Both were expected to be impressed by this spontaneous outpouring of loyalty. In a California senate race a year earlier, Matt had been lucky enough to find a visiting Iranian student at UCLA who was a genius at organizing such demonstrations, having trained on the streets of Tehran chanting “Death to Americans!” It did not seem to bother the Iranian in the least that Matt’s candidate, a congressman from southern California, had once suggested Tehran might be in need of a little “nuclear renewal.”

Even though he knew the predebate street action was carefully scripted, Jawinski still enjoyed the show. “Yeah,” he snorted, “we’re gonna kick a little ass tonight. No doubt about it.” Matt found that all his clients had a tendency to talk like enraged, steroid-crazed linebackers in the predebate hours. Once a demure, sixty-five-year-old grandmother running for Congress in Florida on a pro-environmental platform had leaned over to Matt on the way to a debate and murmured, “I’m gonna to rip the bastard’s little wee-wee off and stuff it right down his golden throat.” She was running against a local anchorman, hence the “golden throat” reference.

Another important, though very brief, image occurs towards the end, in the ruins of Luke Bonney’s victory party. Matthew sees his brother on the stage:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Luke was standing on top of the crude podium, hands on his hips. He reminded Matt of nothing so much as Jim Jones just before handing out the Kool-Aid – a strange, troubled figure but not an unhappy one.

Politics is a cult, a gathering of a group through demagoguery. The supporters may be drinking elixir, or they may be drinking poison, but they will drink it, out of the mob’s blind animal fealty to a magnetic man.

However, at the same time that Matthew Bonney requires the mob for his business, he despises it. He hates the individuals who make it up, and he thinks that it is ultimately a destructive force. He has utter contempt for every other person involved in political consulting, whether it be Morton Koughan, Ruthie Simms, or Walter Farkas. In one of the last scenes, it’s shown how little he or his congressional wife care about the voters of their state:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

When Matt got back to his townhouse on G Street, Southeast, Lisa was on the phone. “That’s just wonderful. Fine. Good.”

She had the mindlessly happy, I’m-not-really-listening tone she usually adopted when talking to one of her constituents. Matt figured it was probably someone on the Farm Bureau or maybe the Rotary Club president of Arcadia looking for a speaker. “Why, Matt just walked in.”

Matt frowned. Lisa knew – everyone knew – that it was dangerous to put Matt in contact with average voters. It was the surest way to guarantee a difficult situation.

It was the surest way to guarantee a difficult situation. Matt Bonney needs average voters for his work, and he hates them as well. He guesses that his wife is on the phone with one of her constituents, because she sounds like she’s not really listening. Who wants to hear from the slobs back in Mississippi?

That the author believes the foolish cretins who make up this mob are also dangerous as a crowd, is made again in the views expressed on Germany and Japan. Stevens, in Feeding Frenzy states boldly that he hates Germany and hates Germans.

i hate germans

“You’re getting close to Germany. There is hope.”

“I hate Germans, and how am I going to get there without brakes?”

but they were germans

[He] was German. They were all German. Which was very troubling when I quickly realized what a likable, genuinely friendly person he was. It always troubles me when I come across Germans I like. It makes maintaining my rabid anti-German fervor all the more difficult, which, naturally, I resent terribly.

maybe it would kill some germans

“And leave the Mustang! Just like that?” [says Stevens]

“Yes. With any luck at all, some German will steal it and be driven mad with frustration.”

She knew I disliked Germans. The idea did have some appeal.

A few cars, not many, had passed us without stopping.

“A German wouldn’t know the brakes were bad. They might get in and drive away and plow right into a tree.” This enjoyable scenario began to unfold in my head.

“Or maybe a big tanker truck. Lots of flames.”

“But that would snuff the truck driver too,” I cautioned.

“He would be German as well.”

“Ahhh…” It was a delightful notion.

This same anti-German passion appears in a number of Governor Jawinski’s speeches. There is the televised debate:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

The question went to Luke Bonney. “If elected to the Senate, Congressman Bonney, would you support the president’s policy of noninvolvement with the difficulties of German reunification, or do you advocate stronger action to bring about change in Eastern Europe and other former captive nations?”

Luke Bonney knew this one was coming and hit smoothly over the fence. There was no question that the president had chosen a wise course of action. “Europe’s destiny should be in the hands of the Europeans. We have helped foster a great democracy in West Germany, and they are perfectly capable of charting their own course.”

Jawinski exploded.

“I’ve never heard such gibberish in all my life! I’d call it total bull if my ex-wife wouldn’t yell at me!”

The audience roared. Jawinski’s profanity had become a running joke in the state, as was his relationship with the former First Lady. “How is it that any responsible, intelligent person -,” he looked over at Luke Bonney to make it clear he didn’t really believe these adjectives fit his opponent, “could think for even one moment that this pansy approach” (gay rights was not a big issue in the state) “to the terrible realities of German reunification was a wise course of action has got to be one brick shy of a load. Maybe Luke Bonney doesn’t remember how many soldiers from our great state died fighting – ”

And Jawinski was off, hitting all his favorite notes, a wild John Coltrane improv riff, knowing where he was going but not sure how he would get there. There was something fundamentally wrong with Germans and their thwarted sense of destiny. If you think the Germans have really changed, just spend an hour on the autobahn! A nation with the soul of a bully! Either at your feet or at your throat! Is forty years enough? Hell, no! Forget Omaha Beach?! Forget the Bulge?!

The crowd, most of whom honestly didn’t care one way or the other about what happened to Germany, whooped and hollered their approval. Blood on the floor!

Note, of course, the reaction of the studio audience.

The idea of tribal violence is there again during a television interview conducted with the governor, speaking about the germans, the japanese, and the southern confederacy. I bold what I consider a truly striking detail, in this moment of grievous income inequality in the U.S.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“Everybody worries about the Japanese, and, to be sure, they’re terrible people-”

“They are?”

“Of course! Look we might think of them now as smiling, camera toting technocrats, but let’s don’t forget, not too long ago they were a nation of sun-worshipping lunatics trying desperately to take over the world. They’re racist, narrow-minded people.” He shrugged. “We just don’t have the same values.”

“But the Japanese don’t worry you?”

“Not really. When it comes down to it, they’d rather be rich than powerful. But the Germans-”

“They’re worse?”

“Ab-so-lutely!” Down came the hand, up went the cigarette. “They still have this horrible sense of thwarted destiny. Lookit,” he took off his glasses and rubbed the dark circles surrounding his eyes like bruises, “one hundred years ago, this was the richest part of the country. Man, we were rich, rich, rich. But then we went and did a stupid, violent thing called secession. In five years we became the poorest part of the country, and one hundred years later, it’s still that way. And maybe that’s not so bad.

“It’s good to be poor?” Dawn looked genuinely shocked.

It’s good to have some kind of reminder of what happens when people do something horrible – like rebellion. The Germans, all those damn cars, the money – amnesia!” Slap! Jawinski’s big hand crashed down on his knee. “Amnesia! That’s where being rich like that does to you! Losing the war made us better people! Don’t you get it?”

“We’re gonna miss that man,” [TV station manager] Tom Riddell said gravely. “When you got a man crazy enough to actually speak his mind, it’s a real crime to let him go.”

Note that the lunacy is not the ideas expressed, but to express oneself honestly. Also important is that Jawinski is easily the most sympathetic character in the book after Powell Bonney, the former segregationist. The view of the japanese, like that of the germans, is not simply Jawinski’s, but that of Stevens himself. The hero consultant Matt Bonney also dislikes the japanese, though not in such forthright terms.

From a moment in the morning after he lit firecrackers at the other campaign’s victory party:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

It wasn’t until he caught a glimpse of his face in the reflective backwaters of the river that he actually thought about what he had done the night before. What he saw was a face streaked with dirt and black powder smudges, long hair held in place with a black headband that trailed down his back like a strange tail.

“Jesus!” Lisa murmured, still half-asleep. “Geronimo. You look like Geronimo.”

“Yeah?” Matt said, pleased. “Not a ninja?” He had never considered the reference to be a compliment, not being overly fond of many things of Japanese origin.

This dislike, as stated by Jawinski, over the aggressive military aspect of the germans and japanese is never connected with the history of the countries, or particular conditions that might shape a people. It is entirely tribal, with the germans, the japanese, the confederacy having a nature that is something like a violent mob, which in turn must be beaten and controlled. There is something fundamentally wrong with germans. They are a nation with the soul of a bully. It is good that Mississippi is poor, because this educates and controls its citizens after rising up against authority. It would be better if Germany had not been unified, better if both Germany and Japan had remained poor, as that would have leashed their inherent tribal instinct for war. Remember that this novel takes the riot at the University of Mississippi, and places the blood entirely and wholly with this mob, while segregationist Powell Bailey is made into an innocent martyr.

Towards the end, Matt Bonney lets out his exasperation at the electoral process. It is a speech that shows the mixed feelings of the character and the author, but it also this sense of any group of voters as only a mob. He is now a co-host of “Showdown”, and gives the opinion on-air:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“I’m not sure,” Matt stuttered, “why anyone would want to be in public office.” Matt realized that he was saying something that he deeply believed. “I can’t imagine one single reason that anyone would run for office. I really can’t.”

“We expect people to live by a standard the rest of us have abandoned years ago, we invade their privacy, we pay them squat.” Matt faced the camera. From his earphone, he could hear the director’s calming voice urging him to get the program back on track. “With ridiculously small contribution limits, we think we’ve actually accomplished some ethical breakthrough, while we make our politicians roam around the country begging for money to pay people like me. Reporters hide in the bushes in front of houses, root through garbage, chase old girlfriends. We all ask, ‘Why would anyone want to put with that’ in one breath and then bitch that nobody decent runs for office in the other. My God!”

The problem is that the job pays too little and takes away too much of one’s privacy, which keeps better candidates out. These better candidates will make better decisions for us. That Matt Bonney focuses on image to the exclusion of all else, that he wishes elections to be like violent combat and pushes them to be so, goes unmentioned, perhaps because he and Stevens think that this aspect is inevitable, a bloodlusting idiot mob unavoidable. The only remedy is that somehow this mob be handed leaders who are better than they deserve, like Powell Bonney, who might actually pass programs that could help them.


For this last section, I bring up what should be a private matter, but which the GOP has decided is not. Supposedly, there are questions that cannot be asked of the powerful, because it is undignified and cruel, though this is a luxury only reserved for this society’s topmost niche. No man or woman barely making enough to support their children can ever turn down a pee test at work. No woman seeking an abortion in certain states can now avoid certain inquiries.

So it would seem that when a campaign, as part of its strategy to woo voters, makes a secret donation to the National Organization for Marriage, as well as signing their pledge, and has their candidate speak at Liberty University, I think one might be entitled to ask a question of the man behind said strategy.

However, the following is not so forward as an explicit question, so much as a carefree piece of literary analysis only hinting at a possible query, an analysis which could well be very, very wrong. It continues on a hypothesis brought up already, in discussing Feeding Frenzy, then referred to here and here as well. I leave it to the reader to be intelligent enough to make certain deductions.

One more note before we begin: Matt Taibbi wrote a hilarious piece on the overuse of italics in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. In deductive moments, I tend to overuse italics as well.

This novel features two brothers, Matthew and Luke Bonney. They are very, very much alike physically. Near twins. Matthew, the political consultant, must make an effort not to look like his brother. This observation is made on one of the first pages.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Luke stood with his arm around Matt, and Lisa realized it was one of the few times she had even sen the to brothers so close together. The resemblance, despite Matt’s best efforts, was striking. Since they were little kids, Matt and Luke had been mistaken for twins. Matt had confessed to Lisa that there was a time when he had enjoyed this, basking in the physical glory of his slightly older sibling. But since they had come to Washington, Matt had worked at distinguishing himself from the collegiate good looks of Luke Bonney. Though they still shared the same high cheekbones, Matt liked to think that he had aged faster than his brother, his face more creased, his features lived in, not like Luke Bonney whose face looked as if it had been made yesterday. Always gleaming, always smiling. Smiling. And Lisa knew how careful Matt was to avoid the perfect helmet-of-hair look that was a Luke Bonney trademark. These days, Matt wore a ponytail.

Luke, the congressman, barely exists in this book, with the story concentrated almost entirely on Matthew, the political consultant. We know very few things about Luke, except that he’s very good-looking, he’s a congressman, he’s not married, and the possibility that he slept with a number of transvestite prostitutes. Though we are never told why, and though we are given nothing by which to make an inference, Matt Bonney hates his brother. It is the foundation of his existence.

Here he is talking to his wife:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“And I don’t hate Luke. And I don’t understand how you can work against your brother, if you want to know the truth.”

“What? I hate my brother!”

“No, you don’t. Nobody hates their brother.”

Matt stared at her. “Of course I hate my brother! Hating my brother is one of the cornerstones of my existence. Look what he’s doing to Mule Jail!” Matt paused for a second. He almost never raised his voice when talking to Lisa. “Why shouldn’t I hate my brother?”

Mule Jail is the land where their childhood home once stood, before it burnt down. His brother has sold the land to a country club for development. He is desecrating a place sacred to their family memories.

Matt Bonney does not simply look like his brother, there is the good possibility that he might have been his brother. This is said clearly by Matt Bonney himself.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Even though he’d seen it hundreds of times, the plate on the office door that read Congresswoman Lisa Bonney never failed to startle him. It made him think first of his brother and then, more troublingly, of himself as a congressman. It was like being confronted with an alternative identity, the way his life could have been. It was not something he liked to think about very much these days.

So, there’s a man who looks just like Matt Bonney, is almost his twin and who he might well have been. This, I think, is the classic shadow self, the person who acts in ways we may wish to but do not. That Matthew views Luke not just as his double, but a dark mirror image, is implied rather strongly through a few details.

Luke does not simply have bad qualities, he is diabolical. Again, a conversation with his wife:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“He’s diabolical,” Matt moaned, returning to the Style section article.

“Diabolical?” Lisa questioned. “I’ve heard Luke Bonney described as a ‘pretty boy,’ ‘simplistic,’ ‘grossly ambitious,’ ‘overly friendly,’ and ‘the ultimate Sigma Chi,’ but never ‘diabolical.’ This is an entirely new development.”

Then, in one of the only times in the book when the brothers meet, Luke and Matthew speak following the revelation that his brother may have slept with transvestite prostitutes. What do we associate with the devil? Fire.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Matt looked at his brother. He was wearing a double-breasted gray pinstriped suit. His hair was perfectly in place, his teeth gleamed. He looked freeze-dried except for his eyes. His normal bright blue had been replaced by red-streaked horrors.

“You looking at my fireballs, brother?” Luke asked. “I can wear these if it’ll help.” He pulled out a pair of aviator sunglasses and put them on.

I go back to the beginning of the book, because there is a striking sentence there of some relevance. It is the only time when Luke, Matt, and Lisa appear together, all three in the men’s bathroom. I find the entire quote unusual in the immediate emphasis of the husband or wife as escort, with the last sentence especially stunning, almost an answer to a question unasked.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Congresswoman Lisa Bonney was there in her role as Matt’s wife, a most unusual turn of events since it normally was Matt who found himself dragged along as the spouse. It was a role – the spouse – that they both hated playing, but it was the nature of Lisa’s job as a member of Congress that she was more in need of a spouse as escort than Matt. Matt was a political consultant and no one, of course, really cared if a political consultant was married or not.

Matt is a political consultant, and no one cares if he is married or not, unlike his brother, the man he might well have been, whose marital status people very much care about.

I give now a lengthy excerpt from the press conference with the transvestite prostitutes. They are, I think, made into creatures as lurid and grotesque as possible.

Josh Finkelstein and Tom Alexander are reporters. Byron Timmons is a ridiculous conservative fanatic and Civil War revisionist, who organized the press conference. Trixie, Pierce, and Markel are the black transvestite prostitutes. Their ethnicity is made very obvious, and used for comic effect1.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Trixie smiled, as did Markel and Pierce. But none of them said a word.

“Well,” Dawn finally broke the silence, “this is certainly enlightening. What about it, Trixie, have you really been sleeping with Congressman Luke Bonney?”

Trixie giggled and cut his eyes sideways at Byron, who nodded and smiled while wiping his forehead with a hankie.

“Say what?” Trixie asked, crossing his legs.

“Did you sleep with Congressman Luke Bonney?”

A slow smile gathered in the corners of Trixie’s lipsticked lips. “I don’t remember doing much sleeping.”

Trixie was expecting laughter. The reporters stared in silence.

“What did you do, Trixie?” Tom Alexander asked.

“We done it all.”

Markel and Pierce laughed, covering their mouths with their hands. A few short grins broke out in the press corps.


“The nasty thing.” Trixie laughed.

“He done it all.” Pierce crowed, “the nasty and the watusi.”

“The nasty and the watusi,” Dawn repeated, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Ernie had his camera on.

“Yeow!” Trixie affirmed.

“How did you first meet Congressman Bonney?”

The three looked at each other, then over at Byron, who looked a bit calmer. He nodded and smiled.

“He come down Farish Street,” Trixie began.

“Driving that car of his -” Markel continued.

“Looking for a good time, he was,” Pierce added.

“He found it too.”

Trixie’s last comment occasioned a fresh round of giggles amongst the three.

“What kind of car does Congressman Bonney drive?” Tom Alexander asked.

“A white Poniac Sunbird,” the three said in unison.

Tom Alexander looked over at Byron, who shrugged and smiled nervously.

“Where did you have sex with the congressman?” Dawn asked. This seemed to stump them.

“Where?” Pierce finally asked, embarrassed. “You mean-”

The press corps hooted. “Ask him, Dawn!” Tom Alexander cried. “Get to the bottom of it!”

Pierce looked hurt and confused.

“At what location,” Dawn clarified. “Where did you go to have sex?”

“We did it at the Zebra Motel,” the three said, again more or less as a chorus.

“Which room?” Dawn asked.

“Twenty-four,” they answered together.

“All three of you at once?” Josh Finkelstein demanded.

This set off gales of laughter amongst the three.

“What kind of people you think we are?” Markel finally asked. “You dealing with a bunch of sluts, you think?”

“Tell me, girls,” Josh Finkelstein asked drolly, “how did you meet Mr. Byron Timmons?”

“He drove down Farish Street, too,” Trixie said.

“Is he a client like Congressman Bonney?” Josh Finkelstein pounced on Trixie.

“Now just a minute!” Byron exploded.

“I didn’t ask you, Byron.”

“I met these gentlemen when I was performing a citizen’s investigation of charges-”

“Who brought the charges?” Josh Finkelstein barked.

“I have had my longtime suspicions and I-”

“Yeah, I’ve got some suspicions, too, Byron.”

“Lots of suspicions going down,” Tom Alexander said.

“I don’t think any details about my personal situation are very important,” Byron said. “I’d like to focus-”

“We decide what’s important, Byron,” Dawn interrupted.

“There is no disputing that I have presented three independent sources-”

“You on drugs or what?” Josh Finkelstein yelled. “Independent? They’ve been drilled like trained seals.”

“If you are questioning the integrity of these gentlemen-”

“That’s right,” Josh Finkelstein said flatly. “You bet.”

“You callin’ us a liar?” Trixie shouted.

“I be callin’ us a liar,” Josh Finkelstein sneered, mocking Trixie’s accent.

“Why you little faggot,” Pierce cried, standing up. “You want to come up here and-”

“As long as I don’t catch anything!”

Markel and Trixie both stood up, squinting through the television lights.

“Bitch!” they cried in almost perfect unison. Trixie lobbed a small handbag at Josh Finkelstein, who ducked behind Tom Alexander.

“Gentlemen!” Byron cried.

“You call my black ass a ‘gentleman’ one more time,” Markel erupted, then threw his pocketbook at Byron. With surprising deftness, Byron pirouetted out of harm’s way. The imitation crocodile-skin bag sailed into a television light, tumbling it with a tremendous explosion as the bulb shattered.

“You moron!” Ernie screamed at no one in particular.

“Gentlemen!” It seemed to be the only word Byron still knew.

“I warned you!” Markel shouted. He turned around so that his back was facing Byron, presenting a profile to the press corps. He then dropped his pants while Pierce hooted, “Black moon risin’!”

Though what actually took place with Luke is left unresolved, late in the book, a strong hint is dropped that Luke did indeed have sex with these women – transvestites prefer to be referred in the gender they dress, so I refer to them as such.

Matt and his wife stay at the hotel where the alleged unions took place.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“George voted for Solomon,” Lisa greeted Matt. “That’s one vote.”

“George?” Matt sat down and immediately drank all of Lisa’s coffee in one sip.

Lisa nodded over her shoulder at a large black woman emerging from the kitchen with a coffee pot in her hand. At least, Matt thought it was a woman. She looked a lot like Tina Turner, only even more muscular.

“I felt kind of bad,” George said. The accent was Jamaican, lilting, and delightful. “To vote against a customer, it is not such a good thing.”

“Customer?” Matt whispered to Lisa. She shrugged, and Matt turned to George. “Customer?” he asked.

“You saw on the news. Mr. Luke likes the Zebra, that man can do, yes!”

“Oh,” Matt said, nodding. “You saw it on the news.” He turned to Lisa. “He saw it on the news. That doesn’t mean it’s true.”

“No?” George said, laughing.

Matt looked at Lisa, with a question in his eyes.

“Does Luke really…” For the first time, Matt thought about the idea that his brother might really be sleeping with Trixie, Pierce, and Markel. “I always thought it was a joke that Farkas and Byron cooked up.”

“I’m sure it is,” Lisa said.

“No, you’re not. You’re not at all.”

So, Matt Bonney has a brother who looks just like him, who he very well could have been, a congressman, with a public life open to scrutiny, who people can blackmail because of the grotesque figures he has sex with, if only he had not decided to be a political consultant, who no one cares whether they’re married or not.

As a related aside, there appears to be an attempt to always move the unsavory aspects of election campaigns to others. It is Walter Farkas who comes up with the attack involving the prostitutes. It is Morton Koughan who is a despicable creature, though like Luke, we are never told why he is so hateful. He appears to do, here come more italics, only exactly what Matthew does.

That Koughan is a judas goat for the sins of political consultants is not implied, but made explicit. Here is a conversation between Matthew Bonney and his father, upset about the ad involving the prostitutes:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

“I want you to go and talk to your mother about what is going on. Tell her you are getting that transvestite thing off the air. And tell her about what might happen with Luke. Blame it on that guy, what’s his name…?”

“Koughan. Morton Koughan. The media consultant.”

“Blame it on that New York media consultant. You can always blame anything on a New York consultant, right?”

Matt had to laugh.

So, perhaps there is the possibility that there is not one judas goat in this story, but two. Perhaps also, just as there are parts of a story about a political consultant, written by a political consultant, which we immediately detect as obviously biographical, there may well be other parts that are also biographical, though a little hidden. Anyway: if others are given license to speculate on a president’s birth certificate, I think I’m allowed to speculate on a political strategist’s books.

Though I have mapped out a pattern of a shadow self in this book, I should add that this idea of a shadow double is out in the open in an episode of Northern Exposure, “Jules et Joel”. Joel, the reserved doctor protagonist, suffers a concussion, after which he dreams of a twin brother who acts out the impulses he does not, and who can be blamed for any sins he commits. While this dream twin pursues these desires, Joel is interrogated by an imagined Sigmund Freud. These scenes are in the usual place. I quote the relevant moments:


Joel Ego

Joel Id

Do you always do things out of a sense of obligation?

No! (beat) Yeah, most of the time. Yeah.

Well, my point is what difference does it make to Jules? One more blot more or less on his already disreputable character, whereas to soil my reputation would-


At least Jules expresses his id. He is id. Me, I am all super-ego. Good behavior. Stellar achievement. Always judging myself how others judge me. But…who really is the bad one here? Joel, who is only pretending to be good…or Jules, who expresses his evil side, so that when he is good is the genuine article?

Perhaps you project onto your brother those parts of yourself which it is uncomfortable for you yourself to own up to.

Jules is an animal, a predator, a sexual juggernaut whose idea of guilt is something like lint. Say Jules meets a girl. As he rips her clothes off, they ride like eels into a frenzy of unadulterated love-making. Me, I’d shower with my socks on if they wouldn’t get moldy. I have this thing about getting totally naked…I feel totally…


Exactly. I mean I want to be spontaneous, I do. I have this thing about analyzing my every move. And pre-meditated spontaneity is about as exhilarating as getting the measles twice.

Let’s take O’Connell for example. I mean, Jules plies her with alcoholic beverages, instinctively tells her everything he knows she wants to hear, flatters her, charms her and then sticks his tongue down her throat before she has a chance to say “Ah.” I mean, me, do I want her as badly as Jules? Absolutely. But do I pin her against the wall, pressing my chest against her chest? Thrusting my hips against her hips? I mean, do I?

Do you?

Me, yeah. Joel Fleischman. Are you kidding? No way. I mean, I’d tell her it’d never work out simply because we have nothing in common… because I hate everything that she likes. And in return for my forthrightness and honesty, I’d get at best, if ever, her grudging respect. When, like Jules, what I really want… is to lick her naked body from head to foot like a postage stamp.

I near the end with one penultimate note, this time a small one on writing style. The character of Matt Bonney is someone, we are told, who has had “zillions” of girlfriends, a man with the usual rabid lust of almost any man. Here is the first, and only physical description of his wife:

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

She was thin and dark, almost an inch taller than Matt’s five feet eleven inches. She was not so much beautiful as exotic, with dark hair and cheekbones that cut sharply across her face. On a trip to China, an official junket on which Matt had been included as a spouse, guides had twice asked if she were a Mongolian fashion model, a species of creature that neither she nor Matt had known actually existed.

The only absence I note is that men with this conventional lust have, both inside and outside of books, the occasionally endearing and sometimes tiresome quality of always fixating on a woman’s body: the texture, the curves, the movement. It is for that reason women wear clothes which accentuate such features, and wear heels to exaggerate these extraordinary rhythms. Matthew Bonney makes no mention whatsoever of his wife’s body here, or anywhere in the book. Nor does he make any mention of the body of almost any other women, including Dawn Simms, who he has an affair with. This may be a simple aesthetic divergence, a show of greater gallantry than most men possess, or, forgive me…a dog that doesn’t bark.

I end with a compliment. The bookjacket, in its author profile, again, carries no mention of Stevens’ credits as an undergrad and graduate at Oxford. I praise him for his discretion and self-effacement.

Stuart Stevens book jacket

* An excellent profile of Larry McCarthy, “Attack Dog” by Jane Mayer is in the New Yorker.

(After initial posting, edits were made to fix links and to improve clarity. A relevant section of “Thank God This Will Only Get Worse” was added later. The mention of “Northern Exposure” was added later. “Northern Exposure” images and script quotes copyright Universal TV and related producers.)

1 When I first read this book, I assumed this section on the transvestites was fiction – however, it is very much taken from reality, an episode from 1980s Mississippi politics, one more incident from that state which has somehow fallen under the waves, while more banal scandals of the Northeast remain common currency.

I am grateful to We’re With Nobody by Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian, for giving it mention. The book is a memoir of their years as opposition researchers, researching weak points and scandals of political opponents for later use in attack ads and talking points. Huffman is fascinating as a coincidental doppleganger of Stevens. Both have backgrounds in Mississippi, both have travelled extensively in Africa and Asia, both have written prolifically about politics and other subjects. They are at separate polarities however – Stevens is a mercenary, while Huffman seeks some betterment of politics by eliminating the unsavoury and amoral from the field. Stevens sees Karl Rove as an ally unfairly maligned, while Huffman is enthusiastic in continued malignment of the man. I think, on aesthetic grounds alone, that Huffman is the better writer. His description of Timbuktu, for whatever reason, strikes me as more authentic than that of Stevens; I look forward to reading his pieces on Jan-Michael Vincent and dirt eaters.

Returning to the main episode, I give the full description in With Nobody. The perspective is Huffman’s:

In the mideighties, the state of Mississippi, which later served as our proving ground as opposition researchers, was in the throes of a particularly brutal, and surreal, gubernatorial election. At the center stood a trio of transvestite prostitutes who claimed they’d had sex, on numerous occasions, with the leading candidate, a Democrat who was then the state attorney general. Notably, considering where we were, the prostitutes were black and the AG was white.

I was a reporter in Jackson at the time, and the newspaper’s statewide editor, a fiery former marine and Vietnam War veteran, supervised the coverage of the story, which attracted a national media circus that included Geraldo Rivera, the controversial correspondent for the ABC News show 20/20. During a particularly aggressive interview, Rivera, a proud pioneer of trash TV, drove one of the transvestites to tears by angrily demanding to know how it felt to have “ruined a man’s life.” It was, in a way, a legitimate question, particularly considering the transvestites’ penchant for changing their stories, but his delivery was unnecessarily rough. On-camera, the transvestites came across as physically striking, yet they were shy, and clearly unprepared for what they were getting into when they agreed to vogue with the Republican businessmen who hired them to go public with their stories.

The viciousness of Rivera’s attack and the prostitute’s resulting distress prompted my editor, who was present for the interview, to intercede. He and Rivera exchanged a few heated words and the argument devolved into a shoving match-a precursor to Rivera’s brawl a few years later with skinheads, that famously earned him a broken nose. So it was that a freelance opposition research campaign undertaken by a group of conservative businessmen resulted in a Vietnam War vet fighting with Geraldo Rivera in defense of a sobbing transvestite. And that was just the offstage action.

The newspaper’s executive editor had initially balked at reporting the results of the businessmen’s inflammatory research, which they had privately presented to him. The group was comprised of longtime Republicans in what was then a staunchly Democratic state, and they clearly had a political vendetta against the AG. More importantly, there were significant questions about the veracity of their claims. Rather than accept the businessmen’s word for it, the newspaper’s editors assigned two reporters to investigate the matter independently.

The reporters discovered that the businessmen had hired a private detective agency to interview the prostitutes along with policemen who claimed to have seen the AG speaking with trolling prostitutes as they made their rounds. The businessmen then paid the transvestites to go public, and afterward sequestered them in various hotels across the Louisiana line, presumably to control access and to ensure they could find them when they needed them.

At the beginning, the Republican gubernatorial candidate steered clear of endorsing the businessmen’s claims, though they were designed to get him elected. That would soon change. As the scandal reached a fever pitch, even his wife got in on it, smugly proclaiming during one speaking engagement, in reference to the fact that the attorney general was, you know, divorced, “I’m running for first lady, and I’m unopposed.”

Ultimately, the lurid details, the shockingly personal nature of the attack, questions about the businessmen’s payments to the prostitutes and attempts to convince the attorney general’s financial donors to abandon him, together with the lack of clearly documented evidence, did not sit well with either the public or the media.

A reporter asked one of the businessmen during a news conference, “Are you attempting to ruin the man? Are you trying to defeat him? Are you trying to get him to withdraw? What are you doing?” Eventually, television and radio stations refused to sell the group airtime for their campaign ads, enabling the beleaguered attorney general to control the dialogue about the scandal. The result was that the Republican candidate’s campaign was eclipsed by a bizarre sideshow staged by his own supporters.

There are a few noteworthy points here – the women, when they appeared in a press conference were not the ridiculous, comic figures of the book, but tragic ones. Rivera’s bullying, continues unabated and remains consistently callous, having now found a suitable haven at Fox News. The gubenatorial candidate was democrat William Allain, and the detective who pressured the women to make the allegations was Rex Armistead. There was no ambiguity afterwards about the allegations – the women recanted them. The character of Byron Timmons in the book is not Armistead, but still perhaps based on someone real.. Armistead, however, had a colorful enough history for a book, from his possible involvement in covering up the killing of black students at Jackson State, to his futile attempts to prove that Bill Clinton was involved in cocaine smuggling. He is a character who would be as welcome to any fiction as his person is unwelcome to this life. In the disputed race, William Allain won the election. The “20/20” segment where Rivera questioned the women to the point of tears, despite its sensational nature, does not appear to be on youtube or anywhere else on the web. This footnote was added long after the rest of it was written, November 19th, 2012, two weeks less a day after the election. It originally stated that Armistead was involved in the killing of students at Jackson State due to an unmalicious mis-reading on my part; it has been changed to the still serious crime of possible complicity in veiling what took place there.

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Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story Part Two


(SPOILERS for both the movie Eyes Wide Shut and “Dream Story”. The translation of “Dream Story” is an excellent one by Margaret Schaefer from the collection Night Games. To supplement some points, stills from the movie have been used. Some of these stills contain nudity. For the usual tiresome reasons, the usual suspect parts of these stills have been distorted.)


It is here that the historical context of “Dream Story” intrudes, one absent in Eyes. Fridolin reaches the house of his dead patient to comfort his daughter, Marianne. While there, he fixes on an image which is of key importance for understanding Fridolin’s struggles throughout the story, and one missing from the film. Fridolin lives in Vienna, during the decline of the Habsburg empire, and after it has already lost a war with the ascendant Prussian state. Where before the weapons and uniforms connoted strength, now they are a reminder of this loss. Throughout the story Fridolin tries to make some claim to heroism through physical force, often fantasizing about duels or fights, a place where he can demonstrate a masculinity that is thwarted in his dealings with women. It is this plight that the picture, mentioned several times in the story, embodies. It is a soldier in uniform, sword out, charging at an invisible enemy:

Her brother was now living somewhere abroad; a picture he had painted when he was fifteen was hanging over there in Marianne’s room. It depicted an officer galloping down a hill. Her father had always pretended not to see the picture at all. But it was a good painting.

The father has disdain for the picture, since he is very much part of the old martial tradition and has contempt for the soft, feminine arts, among them, painting.

As he turned up the gaslight over the desk, his glance fell on the picture of a white-uniformed officer galloping down a hill with a sword drawn against an invisible enemy. It hung in a narrow gilded gold frame and made no better impression than a modest print.

That this theme begins here is not arbitrary either. What Marianne, the daughter, badly needs right now is the display of another noble virtue, simple compassionate empathy. Fridolin, however, is a cold, distant man, more suffused with the rational aspect than the sensual, and he entirely misses the need for what is wanted. This emotional blindness prevents him from helping Marianne, just as it makes him so emotionally clumsy with his wife.

This is the relevant portion where she expresses her extraordinary need for comfort in this moment:

She scarcely heard what he said. Her eyes moistened and large tears streamed down her cheeks; once more she buried her face in her hands. Instinctively he placed his hand on her hair and stroked her head. He felt her body beginning to tremble as she sobbed, first hardly audible sobs, then gradually louder and louder, and finally completely unrestrained. All at once she slipped down from her chair and lay at Fridolin’s feet, clasping his knees with her arms and pressing her face against them. Then she looked at him and with wide-open, suffering, and wild eyes, whispered ardently, “I don’t want to leave here. Even if you never return, even if I’m never to see you again, I want to live near you.”

He was more touched than surprised, because he had always known that she was in love with him or imagined that she was in love with him.

“Please get up, Marianne,” he said softly, bent down to her, and softly raised her head. He thought: of course there is hysteria in this, too. He cast a sideways glance at her dead father. I wonder if he can hear everything? he wondered. Maybe he isn’t really dead. Perhaps every man only seems dead the first few hours after he dies – ? He held Marianne in his arms but kept her a little away from him. Almost unthinkingly he planted a kiss on her forehead, an act which seemed a little ridiculous even to him. Fleetingly he remembered a novel he had read years ago in which a very young man, almost a boy, was seduced, in fact, raped, really, at his mother’s deathbed, by her best friend.

Fridolin is at many points ridiculous in the story, but I think it is here that it’s really comic. Marianne is devastated in this scene, in great emotional need, and the ridiculous, self-centered Fridolin takes her plea as a statement of long-standing love, a compliment he desperately needs after his wife’s fantasy of infidelity. This delusion is followed with an even more ridiculous one, a fantasy about the possibility that he might be sexually assaulted by this unbalanced woman, who simply wants a hug and words of comfort after the loss of her father.

The movie substitutes something more overtly lustful, Marion (slight variation in name) giving Bill an open mouthed kiss, while whispering “I love you.” The impulse stems from the death and demands a reciprocation not just in comfort, but in lust as well. This, I think, is one of the first points where the movie transforms Schnitzler’s work into one where sex is made into something alien and threatening. This is lust made frightening and morbid, because it erupts out of tragedy, a crude, degrading demand for solace.

When Marion’s fiancé appears, we get a possible explanation for this outburst.

Bill, Marion, and Carl

Carl and Bill have many similarities in look, and I think there’s a possibility that Marion is momentarily drawn to Bill because he is, in effect, Carl, but without their shared memories, a man with whom she can start afresh, and walk away from this tragedy rather than reconcile herself with it. The story’s Carl, a professor of philosophy named Dr. Roediger, may be a double for Fridolin, as almost all the men in the story are, but he serves as a reflection of Fridolin’s own coldness. Marianne desperately needs comfort, but she is unable to find any with her own fiancé so she turns to an expected figure of compassion, a medical doctor, but he fails her as well. There is one change from Roediger to Carl that I find puzzling; Roediger is like Fridolin, though devoted instead to purer intellectual pursuits, with Fridolin conceding that he went into the medicine partly for the material comfort. He is, however, very much Fridolin’s intellectual equal or superior, marked by his forthcoming professorship at the University of Gottingen, possibly one of the best institutions in Europe at the time. The movie instead has this character getting a professorship at the slightly less prestigious University of Michigan – the American equivalent for Gottingen would be Princeton, MIT, Harvard or Yale. However, Marion’s need for Bill has nothing to do with money or mobility, since, given her apartment, her family clearly has a great deal of money already.

The scene in “Dream” ends with one of the first details that make the narrative more fantastic and dream-like, though we have had no indicator before now that Fridolin was dreaming this. He leaves the house and:

The people he had left behind up there, the living as well as the dead, seemed equally unreal and ghostlike.


Now begins the sequence of events leading up to, and including, the second masquerade, all of which can be considered of one section, where are all of the story’s increasingly surreal, dream-like details, where the erotic feeling reaches a crescendo, but remains unfulfilled.

Appropriate to the heightening sensuality of this part, the air on this winter night becomes warmer and warmer. A passage from just after Fridolin has left the house of the dead father:

Here and there tightly clasped couples were sitting on shady benches, as though spring had already arrived and the deceptive warm air was not pregnant with dangers.

Another, later passage describes the increasingly warm night. Note that the source of the air is from a distant pastoral mountaintop, not unlike the setting of Albertine’s sexual dream.

Meanwhile it had become even warmer. The warm wind was bringing an odor of wet meadows and intimations of spring from a distant mountain into the narrow street.

First, there is an encounter with university students. This might be where Schnitzler makes the most merciless fun of Fridolin. The heroic virtue he most needs in the situations of the story, that would be of most benefit to him and others, would be empathy. However, the one he most ardently wishes for is strength. He sees the students and they remind him of what he no longer has, or perhaps, what he never had.

In the distance he heard the muffled sound of marching steps and then saw, still quite far away, a small troop of fraternity students, six or eight in number, turning a corner and coming toward him. As the young people came into the light of a streetlamp, he thought he recognized a few members of the Alemannia fraternity, dressed in their blue, among them. He himself had never belonged to a fraternity, but he had fought a few saber duels in his time.

That he feels the need to stress that he fought a few saber duels in his time explains what he sees in this man, strength, military valor, the qualities of a man that can only be demonstrated and acquired through combat. That I do not entirely trust his statement of having actually fought these duels has to do with how he, Fridolin, is presented up to this point and afterwards, a rather timid man who constantly protests that he’s not as timid as that.

The passage continues, this encounter reviving the image of the mysterious women of the first masquerade:

The memories of his student days reminded him of the red dominoes who had lured him into the loge at the ball last night and then had so despicably deserted him soon after. The students were quite near now; they were talking and laughing loudly. Perhaps he knew one or two from the hospital? It was impossible to make out their faces accurately in this dim light.

That the students’ faces remain blurry is another element of the dream-like setting, people are out of focus, somehow known but unknown.

He had to stay quite close to the wall in order not to collide with them. Now they had passed by. Only the last one, a tall fellow with an open overcoat and a bandage over his left eye, seemed deliberately to lag behind, and bumped into him with a raised eyebrow. It couldn’t have been an accident. What was he thinking? though Fridolin, and instinctively stopped. The other man took two more steps and also stopped. They looked at each other for a moment with only a short distance separating them. But suddenly Fridolin turned back and went on. He heard a short laugh behind him – he almost turned around again to confront the fellow, but he felt his heart beating strangely – just as it had on a previous occasion, twelve or fourteen years ago, when there had been an unusually long knock on the door while he was with that charming young creature who was always going on about a distant, probably nonexistent fiancé. But in fact it had been only the postman who had knocked so threateningly.

The man’s bandage suggests that he has perhaps been involved in violence, a wound from a pistol duel maybe, experiences Fridolin foolishly covets, but which he has never known. This is followed by another comic moment for Fridolin, his memory of once truly being scared as he is now by the knock of a postman at a lover’s place. I give a full excerpt of Fridolin’s inner monologue, to make clear the writer’s mockery of this man.

He now felt his heart beat just as it had at that time. What is this? he asked himself angrily, and now noticed that his knees were shaking a little. Coward – ? Nonsense! he answered himself. Should I go and confront a drunken student, I, a man of thirty-five, a practicing physician, married, and the father of a child! Formal challenge! Witnesses? Duel! And in the end get a cut on my arm and be unable to work for a few weeks because of such a stupid affair? Or lose an eye? Or even get blood poisoning – ? And perhaps in a week end up in the same state as the man in Schreyvogel Street under the brown flannel blanket [the dead father of Marianne]! Coward – ? He had fought three saber duels and had even been ready to fight a duel with pistols; it wasn’t his doing that the matter had been called off amicably at the end. And his profession! There were dangers, everywhere, anytime – one just usually forgot about them. Why, how long was it since that child with diphtheria had coughed in his face? Only three or four days, no more. That was a much more dangerous thing than a little fencing match with sabers. And he hadn’t given it a second thought. Well, if he ever met that fellow again this affair could still be straightened out. He was by no means obligated to react to such a silly student prank at midnight on his way to or from seeing a patient – he could just as well have been going to a patient – no, he was not obligated at all. On the other hand, if now, for example he should meet that young Dane with whom Albertine – oh, nonsense, what was he thinking? Well – well, really, she might just as well really have been his mistress! It wasn’t any different. Even worse. Yes, just let him cross his path now! Oh, what joy it would be to face him and somewhere in a forest clearing aim a pistol at that forehead with the smoothly combed blonde hair!

Fridolin assures himself that he does indeed possess the qualities of valor and strength, for not only has he been in several duels, he’s had a child cough in his face. The episode ends, significantly, with Fridolin connecting the weakness felt confronting this man and the revelation from Albertine about the young Danish man.

In the movie, the episode is outwardly similar, though much less subtle. There is no ambiguous bump, hard stare, and single laugh, but instead a group of students pushing him to the ground and overtly taunting the man, taunting him that he is gay. This is an appropriate jeer for youth, but it misses entirely Fridolin’s crisis. Bill and Fridolin feel unmanned because of their heterosexuality, their failure with their wives, something very different from being insecure about their heterosexuality.

After this, Fridolin walks into an area filled with prostitutes. We have a scene that is more realistic than the solicitation in Eyes, while more unreal as well, with these women as ghost-like as Roederer and Marianne when he leaves their house.

Suddenly he found himself past his destination, in a narrow street in which only a few pathetic hookers were strolling around in their nightly attempt to bag masculine game. Like specters, he thought.

He meets one, we have the recurrence of red, and its association with sex.

One of the girls wandering about invited him to go with her. She was a delicate, still very young creature, very pale, with red-painted lips.

During their brief meeting, there is a mention of the red of her lips, and her age is the same of his wife when they were engaged.

He noticed that her lips were not made up but colored by a natural red, and he complimented her on that.

“But why should I use makeup? How old do you think I am?”

“Twenty,” Fridolin guessed.

“Seventeen,” she said and sat on his lap, putting her arms around his neck like a child.

The meeting progresses, reaching a sexual height, and the red theme intensifies.

She took a red dressing gown, which was hanging over the foot of the unmade bed, slipped into it, and crossed her arms over her breasts so that her entire body was wrapped up.

Nothing, however is consummated. For the reason that Fridolin is not brave enough, again, he is lacking the valor that he truly wants. There is now a movement from red to blue.

She refused his money with such vehemence that he could not insist. She put on a narrow, blue woolen shawl, lit a candle, lit his way, accompanied him down the stairs, and opened the door for him.

A few changes make the movie’s scene no longer about bravery, but loyalty, with the coitus put off because of a phone call from his wife. The prostitute’s clothing embodies the more complex color scheme of the film, a purple worn by no other character, possibly a merging of the red and blue polarities. Where the story has no intimacy between the two, the film features a deep, slow kiss, beautifully shot.

After the encounters in both film and story, the protagonist meets an old acquaintance, a former medical student who ended up a musician. The movie introduces this character already at Ziegler’s party, the story only brings him in now, and makes him into something fantastic, giving him the name “Nightingale”. Where the movie tries to treat this as an actual name, calling him “Nick Nightingale”, in the story it is a name to be found only in a dream world, that we accept as part of the story’s dream logic. The character in the story is not an actual acquaintance, but perhaps a composite of many things, partial memories of a past friend and Fridolin’s own ideas. Nightingale is just what his name implies, a musician of the night – a night-time piano player, like the bird that sings at night. He is also a missing or submerged half of Fridolin, someone intuitive, musical, sexual, more successful with women than Fridolin, while Fridolin is closer aligned with the rational and scientific. He is also an exile of this society in a way Fridolin never can be, his speech touched by a “jewish twang” (his first language is Yiddish), and it is this apartness which perhaps made it more difficult to complete medical school.

He looked up from the newspaper and encountered two eyes fixed on him from the opposite table. Was it possible? Nightingale-? The latter had already recognized him, threw up both arms in happy surprise, and came toward Fridolin. He was a tall, rather broad, almost stocky, and still young man with long and blonde, slightly curly hair with a touch of grey in it, and a blonde mustache that drooped down Polish fashion. He was wearing an open grey coat and underneath a somewhat dirty suit, a crumpled shirt with three fake diamond studs, a wrinkled collar, and a dangling white silk tie. His eyelids were red as if from many sleepless nights, but his blue eyes beamed brightly.

“You’re here in Vienna, Nightingale?” exclaimed Fridolin.

“Didn’t you know?” said Nightingale in a soft Polish accent that had a moderate Jewish twang. “How could you not know? I’m so famous!” He laughted loudly and good-naturedly, and sat down opposite Fridolin.

And Fridolin realized that he had heard piano music drifting up from the depth of some cellar as he entered; in fact, that he had heard it even earlier, as he was nearing the caf&ecacute;. “So that was you?” he exclaimed.

“Who else?” laughed Nightingale.

Fridolin nodded. Why of course – the idiosyncratic vigorous touch and the strange, somewhat arbitrary but wonderfully harmonious left-hand chords had seemed awfully familiar to him. “So you’ve devoted yourself to it completely?” he asked. He remembered that Nightingale had given up the study of medicine after his second preliminary examination in zoology, which he ahd successfully passed though he had taken it seven years late. Yet for some time afterward he had hung around the hospital, the dissecting room, the laboratories, and the classrooms. With his blonde artist’s head, his ever-rumpled collar, and the dangling tie that had once been white, he had been a striking and, in a humorous sense, a popular figure, much liked not only by his fellow students but also by many of the professors. The son of a Jewish tavern owner in a small Polish town, he had left home early and had come to Vienna in order to study medicine. The trifling subsidies he had received from his parents had from the beginning hardly been worth mentioning and in any case had soone been discontinued, but this did not hinder him from continuing to appear at the table reserved for medical students in the Riedhof, a circle to which Fridolin also belonged. After a certain time, one or another of his more well-to-do fellow students had taken over the payment of his part of the bill. He sometimes was also given clothing, which he also accepted gladly and without false pride. He had already learned the basics of piano in his home town from a pianist stranded there, and had also studied at the Conservatory in Vienna, where he was alleged to be thought a musical talent of great promise, at the same time he was a medical student. But here, too, he was neither serious nor diligent enough to develop his art systematically, and soon he contented himself with musical triumphs within his circle of friends, or rather with the pleasure he gave them by playing the piano.

This piano player isn’t quite the smoothie musician of Eyes, but someone a little louche, cheap looking, ostentatious and insincere – so succinctly captured in the beautiful detail, “a crumpled shirt with three fake diamond studs”. He is an exile of bourgeois society, and yet his exiledom is intertwined with an enviable gift which Fridolin and his peers lack, for he hears a music of the spheres that they do not, captured in another beautiful deatil – “the idiosyncratic vigorous touch and the strange, somewhat arbitrary but wonderfully harmonious left-hand chords”*.

Nightingale tells the doctor that he will be playing blindfolded at a strange erotic masquerade that night, and Fridolin begs to go with him. The pianist gives him the password, which, significantly, is “Denmark”, the same place where both Fridolin and his wife felt lust for others. The masquerade will be a path to fulfill the doctor’s own secret, submerged desires. The movie’s password is “Fidelio”, a Beethoven opera which Nightingale is familiar with – but Bill is not – and the opera’s theme of a woman who infiltrates a prison to save her husband is either a possible foreshadowing of the sacrifice that will take place later, or of Alice’s forgiveness of Bill’s attempts at infidelity.

A small important detail in the conversation between Nightingale and Fridolin absent from the movie’s dialogue, stressing again the theme of the doctor’s lack of bravery, the same absence he felt during the confrontation with the students:

“Listen,” said Nightingale after a slight hesitation. “If there is anyone in the world that I would like – but how can I do it -” and suddenly he burst out, “Do you have courage?”

“That’s a strange question,” said Fridolin in the tone of an offended fraternity student.

After arrangements are made, in both versions the doctor visits a shop for the costume necessary for entrance to the masquerade. We have again an indicator in the story that Fridolin moves in a dream world; he is never told exactly what costume he should wear, yet somehow he intuits that it must be a religious one. This might be the key distinction between the masquerade of the movie and story. That of the movie involves a vaguely mystic cult, with an opening ritual where a masked leader circles with a censer and a staff. It’s a variation on the trope of a shadowy cabal, a select one percent of one percent that give wealth and sex a religious veneration. They are a sinister group in opposition to the values of Bill and the viewer. The masquerade of the story, on the other hand, is very purposely in Catholic outfits, of monks and nuns. This is not a critique of the church or religion, but there for the simple reason that Fridolin is Catholic. The outfits at the party serve as a metaphor for Fridolin’s internal self, his sense that beneath exteriors of piety and religious virtue are impulses of rabid carnality. Tellingly, Fridolin, for obvious reasons, is given the costume of a pilgrim.

Both movie and story feature a costume store owner with a strange, lustful daughter. The treatment of this character is another key distinction. In the story, she is just one more of a series of young women who are the age of his wife or younger when they were engaged, part of a fantasy of being with his wife before she was his wife. In the story, there are two men whose description is vague, but are of a position of authority, who are engaged, one assumes, in sexual play with this girl. The men, like others in the story, are not apart from Fridolin, but a projection of Fridolin – his own dualities. They are dressed as inquisitors, the outward costume of authority and judgement, though their robes are red, a sexual note, while one wears a wig that is white, a note of purity. The lusts they express are the lusts of Fridolin, for his wife, the young Danish girl, the various other young women of the story.

Two men dressed as inquisitors in red robes arose from the chairs to the left and to the right of the table, while at the same moment a graceful little creature disappeared. Gibiser rushed forward with long strides, reached across the table, and grabbed a white wig in his hand, while at the same time a graceful, very young girl, still almost a child, wearing a Pierrette costume with white silk stockings, wriggled out from under the table and ran to Fridolin, who was forced to catch her in his arms.

The movie handles this part very differently, making this lust not Bill’s, but that of grotesques. I think Kubrick here demonstrates something awkwardly crude here, with the two inquisitors made into very obvious, cheap asian sterotypes. By making the inquisitors into simple pedophiles, and men who clearly are not Bill, this moment loses the meaning that exists in the story, and again, makes sex into something like a malevolent outsider that intrudes on the doctor’s life, rather than the doctor’s own impulses.

asian grotesques

The girl of the story is dressed as a Pierrette, a clown pining for a lost love. This is an unsubtle mirror of Fridolin, but also an image of a woman in need of compassion, not valor. A helpful illustration can be found here. We see again two of the thematic colors, the white of the face, the red of the lips. It is also a mask, another female surface Fridolin cannot decrypt or see beneath. The girl of the movie has the lustfulness, but not the counterpoint of sadness of this character, making her into a simple perverse type. A Pierrette costume shows up in the second masquerade of the film, possibly worn by Ziegler’s betrayed wife (she stands next to a man who instantly recognizes Bill and gives him a nod), but the reason why a betrayed wife would wear a mask pining for a lost love is obvious.

Pierrette at masquerade

Before he receives his costume, the Pierrette offers a suggestion.

“No,” said the Pierrette with gleaming eyes, “you must give this gentleman a cloak lined with ermine and a doublet of red silk.”

Milich's daughter and Bill at costume shop

This makes sense in the context of the story’s color schema, it’s a white outfit of sensual softness with a red interior, a simple image of purity on the outside and carnality hidden inside, a reiteration of Fridolin’s recurring vision of his world. This line is repeated in the movie, but I have difficulty making sense of it given the film’s very different color mapping.

Fridolin receives his costume and mask, which carries a strange perfume. I assume that it is from the Orient, another intrusion of the exotic like the “1001 Nights”, one that is outside him yet part of him as well. He feels an urge to stay and protect the girl, yet once again, he finds himself painfully lacking the valor to do so.

Gibisier, standing on a narrow ladder, handed him the black, broad-brimmed pilgrim’s hat, and Fridolin put it on; but he did all this unwillingly, because more and more he felt it to be his duty to remain and protect the Pierrette from the danger that threatened her. The mask that Gibiser now pressed into his hand, and that he immediately tried on, reeked of a strange and rather disagreeable perfume.

Fridolin leaves the store, and we have another discordant note which establishes that we are in a dream world. Where the movie might imply a fantastic quality through heightened colors, here we have a moment that is not a more vivid reality, but one that establishes the dream state because it could not take place in reality. The men who were in the clothes of inquisitors are – in a sudden jump cut – now in another formal outfit, black and white tails, with red, sensual, masks.

Pierrette turned around, looked in the direction of the end of the hallway, and waved a wistful yet gay farewell. Fridolin followed her gaze. There were no longer two inquisitors there but two slender young men in coat and tails and white ties, though both had red masks covering their faces.

The doctor sees his reflection in the mirror and though he does not think of himself as this figure, a pilgrim into the sensual, nor as the man he does not want to be, someone “haggard”, a much older man than the Pierrette, he is very much these men.

She stood in the doorway, white and delicate, and with a glance at Fridolin sadly shook her head. In the large wall mirror to the right, Fridolin caught a glimpse of a haggard pilgrim – and this pilgrim seemed to be him. He wondered how that was possible, even though he knew it could not be anyone else.

In the movie, Bill leaves the costume store and travels far outside the city to vast estate where the masquerade is held. Before the story’s Fridolin leaves, however, he confronts the owner about his daughter:

But Fridolin did not stir from the spot. “You swear that you won’t hurt that poor child?”

“What business is it of yours, sir?”

“I heard you describe the girl as mad – and now you called her a ‘depraved creature.’ Rather a contradiction, don’t you think?”

“Well, sir,” answered Gibiser in a theatrical tone of voice, “aren’t the insane and the depraved the same in the eyes of God?”

Fridolin shuddered in disgust.

“Whatever it is,” he finally said, “I’m sure something can be done. I’m a doctor. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow.”

This is an important dialogue, as much about Fridolin as about the daughter. The doctor is confronted with the idea of his own sexual desire as a lunacy, something irrational, both part of himself, and entirely in opposition to the rational individual that he considers himself to be, as much a pervert and lunatic as this young girl.

Fridolin now leaves, following the carriage of Nightingale, the details having the fantastic quality of a fairy tale. A few fragments from the ride:

They crossed Alser Street and then drove on under a viaduct through dim and deserted side streets toward the outlying district. Fridolin was afraid that the driver of his carriage would lose sight of the carriage ahead, but whenever he stuck his head out of the open window into the unnaturally warm air, he saw the other carriage and the coachman with the tall black silk hat sitting motionless on the box a little distance in front of him.

Suddenly, with a violent jolt, the carriage turned into a side street and plummeted down as though into an abyss between iron fences, stone walls, and terraces.

A garden gate stood wide open. The hearse in front drove on, deeper into the abyss, or into the darkness that seemed like one.

When the doctor arrives at the house, the password is given. Again, we have the image of two men, the duality of Fridolin, it is he himself who is the guardian over this secret place, allowing himself entrance.

He heard a harmonium playing, and two servants in dark livery, their faces covered by grey masks, stood to the left and right of him.

“Password?” two voices whispered in unison. And he answered, “Denmark.”

As said before, the movie features a mystic cult, while the story’s characters are clearly in Catholic clerical dress:

One of the servants took his fur coat and disappeared with it into an adjoining room; the other opened a door, and Fridolin stepped into a dimly lit, almost dark room with high ceilings, hung on all sides with black silk. Masked people in clerical costume were walking up and down, sixteen to twenty persons all dressed as monks and nuns.

This is a contrast with the costumes of the film, which are variations on the historical outfits of a Venetian masquerade. A good contemporary example of such dress is here, “The Ridotto” by Pietro Longhi:

Ridotto of Venice

Eyes Wide Shut

Continuing the religious theme, the music of the story’s masquerade is liturgical:

A woman’s voice had joined the strings of the harmonium, and an old sacred Italian aria resounded through the room.

At a point in the ceremonies of both film and story, the women disrobe:

All the women stood there completely motionless, with dark veils around their heads, face, and necks, and black lace masks over their faces, but otherwise completely naked. Fridolin’s eyes wandered thirstily from voluptuous bodies to slender ones, from delicate figures to luxuriously developed ones – and the fact that each of these women remained a mystery despite hr nakedness, and that the enigma of the large eyes peering at him from under the black masks would remain unresolved, transformed the unutterable delight of going into an almost unbearable agony of desire. The other men were probably feeling what he felt.

A clear difference between the two is the variety of the bodies of these women, these are women that Fridolin has seen on the streets of Vienna that he has fantasized about, that he now sees exposed. The bodily perfection of the film’s women is something entirely different, women of a wealthy elysium, the models from an upmarket magazine, unclothed, their bodies like the marble of the bar of a VIP room of an exclusive club, unseen and known to only the elect. There is also the obvious point that if these were women of the streets of New York now re-created in Bill’s dreams, there would be a greater variety of skin tones.

nude woman of the masquerade

The men in the story now lose their monk robes, and display a range of rainbow colors in costumes of cavaliers, the noble warrior of the painting seen in Marianne’s apartment. They are, disturbingly for Fridolin, simultaneously the virtuous ideal and lusty animals. This contradiction is absent from the film, the martial ideal which existed in Vienna of the time, absent now. In the most infamous part of the film, there is now open and explicit sex, which is not at all a verbatim reading of the story, where no sex is visible in the house, and perhaps none takes place. The cavaliers and the nude women dance, yet never become closer than that. The events are part of Fridolin’s mind, yet this encounter, like the ones before, is frustrated by his own restraints; were he to imagine such an orgy as takes place in the movie, it would be a sign of a release from his inhibitions.

In both, however, the doctor is now warned by one of the women of the danger he’s in. This passage details the mysterious woman’s warnings, as well as the relative chastity of the event, despite what Fridolin himself deeply wants. A digression about the “wild tunes of the piano” in the following quote: in Eyes, the piano of the masquerade is an archaic relic, a marker of a society that is cultured, isolated, elite. The piano of “Dream Story” is simple sensual music, something like the torrid song of Tolstoy’s “Kreutzer Sonata”. A true contemporary equivalent for Nightingale in Eyes would be a frontman for a Prince cover band.

“It’ll soon be too late, go!”

He wouldn’t listen to her. “Do you mean to tell me there are no out-of-the-way rooms here where couples who have found each other can go? Will all these people here say goodbye with polite hand kisses? Hardly!”

And he pointed to the couples that were dancing in time with the wild tunes of the piano in the too bright, mirrored adjoining room, white bodies pressed against blue, red, and yellow silk. It seemed to him as though no one was concerned with him and the woman next to him now; they were standing alone in the smei-darkness of th middle room.

“Your hopes are in vain,” she whispered. “There are no small rooms such as you are dreaming of here. This is your last chance. Flee!”

“Come with me.”

She shook her head violently, as though in despair.

He laughed again and didn’t recognize his own laughter. “You’re making fun of me! Did these men and these women come here only to inflame each other and then go away? Who can forbid you to come away with me if you want to?”

In both story and movie, he is now found out and confronted by the partygoers. Again, another crucial change. The film has the doctor remove his mask, but he refuses the humiliating demand of taking off his clothes. The viewer might sympathize with this, few would want to take part in such a degrading exposure, but what takes place in the story is far more apt for the character. He is asked to remove his mask, and this is what he refuses, since this would be admitting that he, Fridolin, had these lusts. In fact, he states explicitly that to remove his mask would be worse than to be naked among these people.

“Off with the mask!” a few demanded simultaneously. Fridolin stretched his arms out in front of him as though for protection. It seemed to him a thousand times worse to be the only unmasked one among so many masks than to be the only one naked among people who were dressed. And with a firm voice, he said, “If one of you is offended by my presence here, I am ready to give him satisfaction in the usual way. But I will not take off my mask only if all of you will.”

Note the “I am ready to give him satisfaction in the usual way”, which would be a duel. He has once again been thwarted in his desire, so he seeks the security of the role of noble warrior.

The next voice, not incidentally, has the quality of a military man.

“Take off the mask!” another commanded in a high-pitched, insolent voice, which reminded Fridolin of the tone of an officer giving orders. “We’ll tell you what’s in store for you to your face, not your mask.”

“I won’t take it off,” said Fridolin in an even sharper tone, “and woe to him who dares touch me.”

Given what we know of Fridolin’s character, we may consider the last line either one more piece of comic ridiculousness, or, in a story made up of dreaming, a moment of heroic fantasy.

The mysterious woman is now, appropriately, back in the clothes of a nun to redeem Fridolin:

An arm suddenly reached for his face, as if to tear off his mask, when suddenly a door opened and one of the women – Fridolin had no doubt which one it was – stood there dressed as a nun, as he had first seen her. Behind her in the overbright room the others could be seen, naked with veiled faces, crowded together, silent, a frightened group. But the door closed again immediately.

“Leave him alone,” said the nun. “I’m prepared to redeem him.”

This heroic desire is thwarted, just as his sexual desire is frustrated again and again. Fridolin attempts to block this woman’s sacrifice by finally allowing his mask to drop, but it is too late, her redemption has been accepted. The movements at the end are properly fantastic, the disrobing, the falling of the hair, the doctor pushed away and out, as if propelled by the waves of a repulsing magnet, a not uncommon sensation of dreams where motions are not our own, or have sudden, greater momentum than they ever would in waking life.

“No,” he said, raising his voice. “My life means nothing to me if I have to leave here without you. I won’t ask who you are or where you come from. What difference can it make to you, gentlemen, whether or not you keep up this masquerade drama, even if it’s supposed to have a serious ending? Whoever you may be gentlemen, you surely have other lives than this one. But I’m not an actor, not here or elsewhere, and if I’ve been forced to play a part from necessity, I give it up now. I feel I’ve happened into a fate that no longer has anything to do with this masquerade, and I will tell you my name, take off my mask, and be responsible for all the consequences.”

“Don’t do it!” cried the nun, “You’ll only ruin yourself without saving me! Go!” And turning to the others, she said, “Here I am, take me – all of you!”

The dark nun’s habit dropped from her as if by magic, and she stood there in the radiance of her white body. She reached for her veil which was wrapped around her face, head, and neck, and unwound it. It sank to the floor. A mass of dark hair fell in great profusion over her shoulders, breasts, and hips, but before Fridolin could even glance at her face he was seized by irresistible arms, torn away, and pushed to the door. A moment later he found himself in the entryway. The door fell shut behind him; a masked servant brought him his fur and helped him put it on, and the outer door opend. As though driven by an invisible force, he hurried out.

The film has a woman who offers herself for sacrifice as well, but there are no protests from Fridolin, no attempts at gallantry, no expression of desire for this woman which requires him saving her. The nature of the sacrifice in the two works is different as well; the movie implies that her life will be taken, while in the story, the redemption will take place through this woman being ravaged sexually by the cavaliers: “Here I am, take me – all of you!” So we again have another paradox of the house. The partygoers are dressed as holy figures, the lust ridden men as cavaliers, and then we have a wanton woman who acts virtuously, and now there is now a holy redemption through debauchery.

Before reaching home, there are a few more details in the story establishing a dream state, not simply of atmosphere or vividness, but fantastic moments entirely alien to reality. Fridolin enters the carriage after leaving the party:

The servant replied with a wave of his hand so little servantlike that any objection was out of the question. The coachman’s ridiculously high top hat towered into the night sky. The wind blew gusts; violet clouds flew across the sky. In view of his experience tonight, Fridolin could not fool himself into thinking that he was free to do anything but step into the carriage, which started off the moment he was inside.

Note the surreal size of the top hat, and the unnatural violet of the clouds. Violet is used previously for the imperial robe of the prince, and later, for the imperial robe of an imaginary queen. Here it elevates the chaotic, the pagan, these violent unruly clouds, to the point of supreme power.

At the end of the journey, the carriage doors move entirely on their own, like objects animated by magic. The coachman, though never seeing or speaking to the doctor, knows where to go and when to depart, like someone spellbound and receiving orders from somewhere else:

The carriage began to jostle, going downhill, faster and faster. Fridolin, gripped with anxiety and alarm, was just about to smash one of the opaque windows when the carriage suddenly halted. Both doors opend simultaneously as if through some mechanism, as though Fridolin was sarcastically being given the choice between the right and the left door. He jumped out of the carriage; the doors closed with a bang – and, with he coachman paying not the slightest attention to Fridolin, the carriage drove away across an open field into the night.

At this point in both stories, the doctor returns home, where his wife wakes from her sleep in a burst of laughter, then tells him about her troubling dream.


Beside the changes to the masquerade, from one in Catholic costume to that of a mystic sect, those made to the dream of the doctor’s wife are the most important in the migration from story to film. The movie’s dream is in many ways much simpler, though carrying a common seed: that while Bill moves through his own dream world, tantalized by images he creates from his own past memories, his wife carries an image of him as well, traveling in her own world with this man, then betraying him. Alice dreams of a pagan place, an empty beautiful field, where she and Bill have sex before he disappears suddenly. She then has sex with the naval officer she fantasized about, before she is suddenly in an orgy among thousands of men and women, where she has sex with countless more men. When her husband returns she laughs at the way she betrayed him, and it is in the middle of her laughter at his humiliation that she awakes. The dream parallels what has taken place with Bill, though her fantasies are consummated while his are not. He avoids the degradation of being forced to disrobe at the masquerade, only to be humiliated in his wife’s dream. The shame of disrobing that he avoids at the house is of no importance in his wife’s dream, where she and her lovers are naked, and he may well be clothed.

We were in a deserted city…and our clothes were gone. We were naked…and I was terrified…(ALICE starts sobbing)…and I felt ashamed. Oh, God…and I was angry because I thought it was your fault. You rushed away to go find clothes for us. As soon as you were gone, it was completely different. I felt wonderful. Then I was lying in a beautiful garden…stretched out naked in the sunlight…and a man walked out of the woods. He was the man from the hotel, the man I told you about. The naval officer. He stared at me…and then he just laughed. He just laughed at me.

But that’s not the end…is it? Why don’t you tell me the rest of it?

It’s too awful.

It’s only a dream.

He was kissing me…and then we were making love. Then there were all these people around us…hundreds of them, everywhere. Everyone was fucking. And then I…I was fucking other men. So many…I don’t know how many I was with. And I knew you could see me in the arms of all these men…just fucking all these men. I wanted to make fun of you…to laugh in your face. And so I laughed as loud as I could. That must have been when you woke me up.

Albertine’s dream of the original story plays on the themes of Christian and heroic virtue that are prominent in the story’s masquerade, where the partygoers dressed in clerical outfits denoting Christian virtue, their carnal selves underneath, a tainted woman demonstrating a heroic bravery that Fridolin lacks.

Her dream is set in a pre-Christian pagan place where a virtuous act, his fidelity to his wife, isn’t heroic, but laughed at as weakness. It is all deeply upsetting for Fridolin, a man who wishes to hold onto the idea of a rational, moral universe. The dream opens with her near a city both European and that of the East, a union of their world and that of the “1001 Nights”:

“I didn’t see this city, but I knew it was there. It was far below and was ringed by a high wall – a really fantastical city that I can’t describe. It was neither an oriental city nor an old German one, exactly – rather it was first one and then the other. In any case, it was a city buried long ago.”

It is a city buried and behind a wall, a place of submerged, hidden carnal urges.

She gets dressed and Fridolin arrives, now both in the clothes suitable for the roles Fridolin wishes for them, a princess and a virtuous warrior whose appearance connotes his valor and purity, clothed in gold, silver, and a dagger. Note the galley slaves which bring Fridolin to Albertine, just as in the “1001 Nights”, and that among the costumes are Oriental ones.

I opened the wardrobe to look, and instead of the wedding dress a great many other clothes were hanging there – costumes, actually, like in an opera, splendid, oriental. Which of these should I wear for the wedding? I wondered. At that point the wardrobe suddenly fell shut or disappeared, I can’t remember exactly. The room was very bright, but outside the window it was pitch black…All of a sudden you were there – galley slaves had rowed you here – I saw them disappear into the darkness. You were dressed in splendid clothes, in gold and silver, with a dagger in a silver sheath at your side, and you lifted me down out of the window. I too was now gorgeously dressed, like a princess.

Fridolin now disappears, Albertine is joined by the man from Denmark she lusted after, they finally consummate her fantasy and are suddenly surrounded by other couples in carnal union. Albertine is not sure if she has sex with other men after this, but this is not the point which disturbs Fridolin, but rather what takes place upon his return:

Then, while you stood in the courtyard, a young woman with a crown on her head and a purple cloak appeared at one of the high arched windows between red curtains. She was the queen of this country, and she looked down at you with a stern and questioning gaze.

She was holding a piece of parchment in her hand – your death sentence, in which both your guilt and the reasons for your conviction were written. She asked you – I didn’t hear the words, but I knew it – whether you were prepared to be her lover, in which case your death sentence would be canceled. You shook your head, refusing.

Then the queen moved toward you. Her hair was loose and flowed over her naked body, and she held out her diadem to you – and I realized that she was the girl from the Danish seashore that you saw one morning naked on the ledge of a bathing hut. She didn’t say a word, but the meaning of her presence, yes, of her silence, was to find out whether you would be her husband and the ruler of the country. Since you refused her once more, she suddenly disappeared, and I saw at the same time that they were erecting a cross for you – not down in the courtyard, no, but on the flower-bedecked, infinitely broad meadow where I was resting in the arms of my lover in the middle of all the other lovers.

You climbed higher and higher, the path became wider as the forest receded on both sides, and then you were standing at the edge of the meadow at an enormous, incomprehensible distance from me. But you greeted me with smiling eyes, as a sign that you had fulfilled my wish and had brought me everything I needed: clothing and shoes and jewelry. But I thought your gestures stupid and senseless beyond belief, and I was tempted to make fun of you, to laugh in your face – because you had refused the hand of a queen out of loyalty to me, had endured torture, and now came tottering up here to a horrible death. I ran toward you, and you toward me faster and faster – I began to float in the air, and you did too, but suddenly we lost sight of each other, and I knew: we had flown past each other. Then I hoped that you would at least hear my laughter, just at the moment when they were nailing you to the cross. And so I laughed, as loudly and shrilly as I could.

Fridolin acts more virtuously than he did in his own travels, yet he is considered a fool for not surrendering to his own carnality, by all those in the field, by his wife. The story may have a setting like that of the “1001 Nights”, but it is one where women have power, with a female leader wearing a crown and an imperial robe.

Fridolin wishes to have the heroic qualities of a bygone time, courage and martial valor, yet the lack of these virtues are not the cause of difficulties between him and his wife. The gallantry one associates with the figure of the valorous man makes him a figure of ridicule in his wife’s dream. Fridolin returns from travels where the sexual self underneath the most virtuous exterior is revealed, to a home that he wishes to be a sanctum from such hungers, only to be confronted by a wife who reveals that she thinks even these external virtues are ridiculous. She dreams of Fridolin dying as a christian martyr, a man on a cross, and thinks this hilarious.

Fridolin’s sense of himself and his world is shaken. A later passage captures this vertigo.

After finishing his consulting hours he stopped to check on his wife and child, as he usually did, and ascertained, not without satisfaction, that Albertine’s mother was visiting and that the little girl was having a French lesson with her governess. And only when he was on the stairs again did he realize that all this order, all this regularity, all this security of existence was nothing but an illusion and a deception.

Both Fridolin and Bill now go back and examine each part of the night before: the grieving daughter, the prostitute, the costume shop, the masquerade. A search for answers, but also the possibility of consummating what went unconsummated, a reprisal for his wife’s dream infidelity.

* The description of Nightingale can be seen in the larger context of how the Jew may have been perceived in society from this passage in Hannah Arendt’s The Origin of Totalitarianism, on how Jew hatred merged with hatred of the parvenu, with Nightingale both parvenu and pariah:

The “Jew in general,” on the other hand, as described by professional Jew-haters, showed those qualities which the parvenu must acquire if he wants to arrive—inhumanity, greed, insolence, cringing servility, and determination to push ahead. The trouble in this case was that these qualities have also nothing to do with national attributes and that, moreover, these Jewish business-class types showed little inclination for non-Jewish society and played almost as small a part in Jewish social history. As long as defamed peoples and classes exist, parvenu- and pariah-qualities will be produced anew by each generation with incomparable monotony, in Jewish society and everywhere else.

That there is something magical and exotic in Nightingale’s gifts, a beautiful mixture of strange chords played with the left hand (as everyone knows, the left side is the sinister side) co-incides with Arendt’s description of the Jews in French society (though this overflows with a more general discussion of the Jew in European society) as something like members of an exotic circus, a subclass of magicmakers and artists:

The role of the inverts was to show their abnormality, of the Jews to represent black magic (“necromancy”), of the artists to manifest another form of supranatural and superhuman contact, of the aristocrats to show that they were not like ordinary (“bourgeois”) people.

In Eyes Wide Shut, Nightingale is no longer Jewish (or not such that it’s made note), his powers are not necromantic, but the masquerade is transformed from something faintly exotic, but comic, into something like a secular black magic ritual.


All images and dialogue excerpts copyright Warner Brothers.

On April 25, 2015, this post underwent a copy edit. On January 11, 2017, the lengthy Schnitzler excerpt describing Nightingale was added. The subsequent paragraph highlighting some details of the excerpt, along with the Hannah Arendt footnote, was added Janaury 12, 2017. On September 13, 2017, this post received another copy edit.

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Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story Part Three


(SPOILERS for both the movie Eyes Wide Shut and “Dream Story”. The translation of “Dream Story” is an excellent one by Margaret Schaefer from the collection Night Games. To supplement some points, stills from the movie have been used. Some of these stills contain nudity. For the usual tiresome reasons, the usual suspect parts of these stills have been distorted)


The doctor in film and story goes back to the costume shop, meeting again the owner and his daughter. In both, the doctor returns the costume. Where the film emphasizes the amount paid and the mask gone missing, the story does not note the absence of a mask at all. It then returns to a moment not in the film, Fridolin’s attempt the night before to help out the mentally ill daughter.

“I am also here,” said Fridolin in the tone of a police magistrate, “to have a word with you about your daughter.”

Herr Gibiser’s nostrils twitched – whether it was out of discomfort, scorn, or annoyance was difficult to tell.

“What do you mean?” he asked Fridolin in a similar tone of voice.

“Yesterday,” said Fridolin, with the outstretched fingers of one hand resting on the office desk, “you said that your daughter was not quite normal mentally. The situation in which we found her does seem to indicate that. And since chance made me a participant or at least a spectator of this strange scene, I would very much like to advise you to consult a doctor about her.”

Fridolin is complicit in this scene, because he felt lust for this girl. There is now an “unnaturally long” penholder, which may be a phallic sign, and an indicator that we remain in a dream world.

Gibiser, twirling an unnaturally long penholder in his hand, surveyed Fridolin with an insolent air.

“I suppose the doctor himself would be so good as to take the treatment upon himself?”

“I beg you not to put words in my mouth that I haven’t said,” Fridolin answered sharply.

The store owner’s barb finds its mark, for if his daughter is guilty of depraved feeling and in need of a cure, then so is the doctor.

At that moment the door that led to the inner room opened, and a young man with an open coat over an evening suit stepped out. Fridolin knew immediately that it could be none other than one of the inquisitors of the night before. No doubt he came from Pierrette’s room. He seemed taken aback when he caught sight of Fridolin, but immediately regained his composure, greeted Gibiser casually with a wave of his hand, lit a cigarette, for which he used a match lying on the desk, and left the flat.

“So that’s how it is,” remarked Fridolin with a contemptuous twitch of his mouth and a bitter taste on his tongue.

“What do you mean?” asked Gibiser with perfect equanimity.

“So you changed your mind, Herr Gibiser,” said Fridolin, letting his eyes wander about significantly from the entrance door to the door from which the judge had come, “changed your mind about notifying the police.”

“We came to another agreement, Herr Doctor,” remarked Gibiser coldly, and stood up as though an interview had ended. Fridolin started to go. Gibiser obligingly opened the doors, and in an affectless manner he said, “If the Herr Doctor should want anything else…it needn’t necessarily be a monk’s robe.”

A variation of all this is in the film, though the small changes alter the implications. What takes place in the story is an absurdist rendering of Fridolin’s own conflicting feelings of lust and protectiveness for his own daughter, who will one day be courted by beaus driven by his same impulses. He wishes to protect this young girl, yet he also lusts for her, and she feels this back. Fridolin condemns the store owner, yet this man is not much different from other fathers, who must accommodate themselves to the sexual lives of their children. Another crucial point is that before there were two inquisitors, now only one leaves. This, I think, has to do with these men expressing a duality, with one half, the rational, moral, restrained part, leaving the daughter’s room, while the carnal half remains.

The store owner of the film is made into something simpler and more sinister, a venal man who pimps out his daughter to the men of the night before, and speaks of an arrangement that can be made with Bill as well. Again, the father of the story and the inquisitors are both expressions of Fridolin, whereas the men of the movie are made into something entirely other, part of a disturbing sexual world that Bill has intruded into, but does not belong to.

MILICH [the store owner]
Would you like to say hello to Dr. Harford?

DAUGHTER extends hand. BILL gently shakes it.


The TWO ASIAN MEN emerge from the back of the store.

Thank you, Mr. Milich. I’ll call you soon.

Goodbye, gentlemen. Merry christmas and happy new year.

And you too.

Well, Dr. Harford, here is your receipt.

DAUGHTER smiles radiantly.

I’m tearing up your deposits and thanks for the business.

Mr. Milich, last night…you were going to call the police.

Things change. We have come to another arrangement. And by the way, if the good doctor should ever want anything again…anything at all…

MILICH meaningfully pulls his daughter close to him. A close-up of the DAUGHTER, still smiling radiantly.

It needn’t be a costume.

Another of Kubrick’s masterful shots, where we see the daughter, the light fully capturing her beauty and radiant smile, yet at the same time there being an eerie hollowness to the image, the child as wind-up doll.

Storeowner's daughter smiling

The doctor continues his search for answers by going to Nightingale’s hotel. There is again the contrast between the brevity of the scene on the page, and its length in the movie, though both give much the same information.

A tough-looking concierge with sly, red-rimmed eyes, ready to give information to the police, willingly gave Fridolin information. Herr Nightingale had driven up around five o’clock in the morning in the company of two other gentlemen who had disguised their faces, perhaps intentionally, with scarves wrapped high around their heads and necks. While Nightingale was in his room, the gentlemen had paid his bill for the last four weeks, and when he didn’t appear after half an hour, one of the men had personally brought him down. All three had then driven to the North Train Station. Nightingale had appeared to be very agitated – well, why not tell the whole truth to a man who seemed so trustworthy? – and, yes, had tried to slip the concierge a letter, which however the two men had immediately intercepted. Any letters for Herr Nightingale – so the men had explained – would be picked up by a person properly authorized to do so.

There was nothing to be done about Nightingale for the time being. They had been extremely cautious and probably had good reason for it.

Fridolin’s caution here does not reflect a simple physical cowardice, but his own reluctance to look too deeply into himself. If we consider the world he travels in a dream world, one he himself constructs, with the second masquerade his most hidden inmost desires, then what takes place now should be seen as his own reaction to these desires. Where the two inquisitors were reflections of himself, so too, I believe, were the two servants who gave him entrance to the house, his own self letting him peer deeply at his own carnality, and the two men who now appear in the story to take Nightingale away are a projection of himself as well, wanting to get rid of any trace or connection to these desires. The letter that the pianist tries to pass but is unable to, is the unconscious trying to transmit a message to the conscious mind that it cannot, whether because the very nature of the message won’t be understood by the rational, conscious mind, or because such messages are suppressed.

Given that the movie has removed much of the fantastic and metaphorical cues of the story, when the film’s concierge gives this information about Nightingale, these men become more “real”, frightening men who act on behalf of a secret society that hosted the night’s masquerade. When they take away Nightingale, his face is bruised, a detail of violence absent in the original text, a sign of intimidation unnecessary in the original text. A countervailing note is the way the concierge delivers the monologue in a way that sometimes seems frivolous or mocking, as if it’s a performance that he’s been paid to give, the intent to make Bill believe a false story of brutality so he’ll stop asking questions. In one of the few moments where the camera is not with Bill or Alice, it returns to the concierge after Bill has left, and we are given an ambiguous moment of his nervousness, though whether he’s unsettled about his performance achieving the desired intent, or the repercussions of his having given this information, goes unanswered.

Concierge after Bill leaves

Later, the doctor contacts Marion / Marianne to cheat with her in order to pay back his wife for her betrayal. This is a very short moment in the film, with a phone call to the woman’s house answered by the fiancé, after which Bill hangs up. It is an extended scene in the story, a moment which best conveys that the virtue most wanted from this man is empathy, rather than heroic valor, and this lack is what hurts him and those around him. It might be the most upsetting passage in the story, and makes clear that this is a woman not sick with infatuation but crushing grief.

He rang the bell, and Marianne herself opened the door. She was dressed in black, and around her neck she wore a black hade necklace that he had never seen on her before. Her face became slightly flushed.

“You’ve made me wait a long time,” she said with a feeble smile.

“Forgive me, Fraulein Marianne, but I had a particularly busy day.”

She sat motionless, and tears streamed down her cheeks. He saw them without sympathy, more with impatience; and the thought that she might in the next minute perhaps be lying at his feet once more, repeating her confession of yesterday, filled him with fear. And since she said nothing, he stood up brusquely. “much as I regret it, Fraulein Marianne-” He looked at his watch.

She raised her head, looked at Fridolin, and her tears kept flowing. He would gladly have said a kind word to her, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

She didn’t move, as though she had heard neither his congratulations nor his farewell. He held out his hand to her, but she did not take it, and he repeated almost in a tone of reproach, “Well, I sincerely hope that you’ll keep me posted about your health. Goodbye, Fraulein, Marianne.”

She sat there as if turned to stone. He left; for a second he stopped in the doorway, as if he were giving her a last opportunity to call him back. But she seemed rather to turn her head away from him, and he closed the door behind him.

Both Bill and Fridolin re-visit the house where the masquerade took place. The location and type of house in both works is of great importance. Eyes gives us a vast mansion on an estate far from the city. It is in all respects distant from the doctor’s life, in positions both social, economic, and geographic, its hosted perversities far from his own life as well.

Mansion of the masquerade

This contrasts with the source material, which aptly makes its masquerade house an undistinguished one, much like many others, in the heart of the city, with the bustle of children and families close by.

It was a quiet little street. In one front garden there were rose bushes carefully covered with straw; in the one next to it there stood a baby carriage; a boy, dressed from head to foot in a blue wool knit, was romping about and a young woman was looking down from the first-floor window, laughing. Next came an empty lot, then an uncultivated fenced-in garden, then a small villa, next a lawn, and then, no doubt about it – there was the house he was looking for. It didn’t look grand or magnificent in the least. It was a one-story villa in modest Empire style and obviously renovated not very long ago.

In both cases, he receives a warning to cease his inquiries. The threat in the movie feels more literal, an actual warning from a secret society that he is in physical danger if he continues his questions. The alert in the story feels closer to an existential warning, that his questions into what took place is an investigation into his own desires, and may well endanger his own sense of self.

Now the doctor tries to visit the prostitute of the night before, with him discovering that she has AIDS in the movie and syphilis in the story. He goes to a café, casually flips through a newspaper before reading that the night before a beauty queen overdosed on drugs, the account in the New York Post of the movie, or that a baroness committed suicide while staying at a hotel, the plot point of the story.

Shortly after coming across the story, there is this passage:

He would see her; no one on earth could stop him from seeing the woman who had died because of him; indeed, who had died for him. He was the cause of her death – he alone – if this was the same woman. Yes, it was she. Returned to the hotel at four o’clock in the morning in the company of two men! Probably the same ones who had brought Nightingale to the train station a few hours later. They didn’t have a lot of scruples, those two!

Fridolin very much wants to transform what has taken place – a messy, unsuccessful search for sex – into a gallant quest. The two men who returned this woman to the hotel are those who took Nightingale away – they embody his own self, his own mind, eliminating all evidence of this inconvenient desire.

His investigation winds near its close as Fridolin and Bill now travel to the morgue to see the body, under the suspicion that it is the woman of the night before.


This section of the plot, a conclusion to the search for answers about the masquerade, is a brief episode in “Dream Story” and a much longer sequence in the movie. That it is a briefer moment of the former does not dilute its importance. Fridolin goes to the morgue to try and see first-hand the body of the suicide and confirm that it is the woman of the night before. There, he runs into Adler, a man he went to medical school with. He is the only male character of prominence other than Nightingale, and like Nightingale, a variation and double of Fridolin. Where Nightingale abandoned medicine for music, becoming more intuitive and sensual, Adler is at the other polarity, a cold, clinical doctor who works beside corpses, comfortable in his isolation of working nights among the dead. It might be imagined that Fridolin, with his lack of empathy, his aversion to intimacy, will become more and more like Adler as he grows older.

Fridolin looks among the bodies of the morgue with a flashlight and finds a possibility.

Was it her body – that wonderful, voluptuous body for which only yesterday he had felt such agonizing desire? He saw a yellowed, wrinkled neck; he saw two small and yet already somewhat limp girl’s breasts between which – as though the work of decomposition was already beginning – the breastbone already stood out with terrible clarity from the pale skin; he saw the rounding of her brown-tinged abdomen; he saw how the well-formed thighs now opened indifferently from a dark and now meaningless shadow; saw the kneecaps, slightly turned outward, the sharp edges of the calves and the slender feet with the toes turned inward.

The mysterious woman has a hold on him for her extraordinary virtue in pledging to save him, yet his obsession with her is also intertwined with her physical form. Now this body is entering the stages of decay, and that desire is lost. The obsessive feeling he has had, for the image of this woman, nude except for a nun’s veil, and the decomposition he is confronted with, is part of the same theme of the distance between the image of the material and the material itself which is throughout the book, whether it is the memory of the Danish girl for Fridolin, the officer for Albertine, the image Albertine holds of him in her dream, the image of Albertine that Fridolin holds in his. The image of this woman, of that moment in the masquerade, will persist, even while this body decays. There is a subtle point made here, I think, about Fridolin’s marriage to Albertine, a union whose bond lies with how the two saw each other during their courtship, blind to how each other is now. Fridolin confronts the decay of this woman’s body, but also the distance between his image of Albertine and who she is now, as well as what he is now and the vision of him Albertine once held onto.

This last point is also implied when Fridolin begins to look through the bodies of the morgue and realizes that he has no idea what the woman’s face looks like, that he has in fact been picturing his own wife as this woman.

He only knew her body – he had never seen her face, had only been able to catch a hasty glimpse of it at the moment he was leaving the ballroom last night, or rather had been chased out of the ballroom. He realized that he had not thought of this fact before because, up to this moment, in the last few hours since he had read the notice in the newspaper, he had envisaged the suicide, whose face he didn’t know with Albertine’s face. In fact, as he now shuddered to realize, it had been his wife that he had imagined as the woman he was seeking.

Throughout the story, Fridolin has always suffered from a lack of empathy, a too cold distance from others. Now, for this dead woman, this distance disappears. It begins when he first asks Adler to see the corpses in the morgue. My bold for emphasis.

“I have a feeling that this so-called Baron Dubieski is someone I knew casually years ago. And I’d like to know if I’m right.” [Fridolin’s line]

“Suicidium?” [Adler]

Fridolin nodded. “Yes, suicide,” he translated, as though he wished to restore the matter to a personal plane.

Then, when he comes across the possibility, he is moved by feelings he has never known as a doctor:

The head was hanging down on one side; long, dark strands of hair feel almost all the way to the floor. Instinctively Fridolin reached out his hand to put the head in its proper position, but with a dread which, as a doctor, was otherwise foreign to him, he hesitated.

He moves, arguably, out of a place of strict science, to the landscape of magic. The body becomes imbued with a subtle anima. Fridolin sees life stirring in the eyes, and he is drawn closer and closer to look into them.

Rigid as they were, it seemed to him that the fingers tried to move, to seize his; yes, it seemed to him as though from underneath the half-closed eyelids a vague and distant look was searching for his eyes, and as though pulled by a magic force, he bent over her.

Suddenly, he heard a voice whisper behind him, “What on earth are you doing?” [this is Adler speaking]

The use of the phrase “magic force” is not, I think, an idle one. A sort of magic starts here, Fridolin looks into the eyes, achieving something closer to empathy than at any point in the story, and then – the spell is broken by Adler, a cold rationalist at the pole furthest from magic, sensuality, sex.

The magical trance has ended. He moves back to being the clinician of the story, and this is a regrettable choice, returning him to a more limited world. Note also the “pedantry”, a brief moment where he must re-acquire the instincts of an unempathetic man. My bolds for the key phrase.

He freed his fingers from those of the dead body, clasped the slender wrists, and with great care, even a certain pedantry, he laid the ice-cold arms alongside the trunk. And it seemed to him as though she had just now, just now this moment, died.

Now, one of the most important passages of the story:

“Well – was she the one?” [asked Adler]

Fridolin hesitated a moment, then nodded wordlessly and was hardly aware that his affirmation might in fact be a falsehood. Because whether the woman who was now lying in the morgue was the same one he had held naked in his arms twenty-four hours ago while Nightingale played his wild piano, or whether the dead woman was someone else, a stranger he had never met before, he knew: even if the woman whom he had sought, desired, perhaps loved for an hour was still alive and no matter how she now lived her life – he knew that what was lying behind him in that arched room, illuminated by the light of flickering gas flames, was a shadow among shadows, dark, without meaning or mystery like all shadows – and meant nothing to him, could mean nothing to him except the pale corpse of the past night, doomed to irrevocable decay.

The paradoxical image of sensuality and virtue persists, will continue to persist for all his life, and whether or not the woman here was the figure of mystery behind this image, is now of no consequence.

Eyes has a shorter morgue scene, entirely without dialogue, with Bill shown the beauty queen while a sleepy doctor stands by, Bill moving closer and closer to the woman before he stops himself. The nude woman’s body, like that of all the female nudes in the film, is perfect, without any sign of decay or flaw. Bill then receives a call to meet with Ziegler, the doctor who hosted the opening party, for urgent reasons.

Ziegler is entirely from whole cloth, absent from the original story, and not Adler or an Adler variation at all. He strikes me as very true in every note, a wealthy arrogant doctor of New York City, callous and grasping enough to have sex with a woman in the bathroom of a party his wife is at, a man who is casual in his cruelness, entirely blind to how his malice is seen by others. The character has all these qualities – yet he doesn’t come across as a stock villain, but rather, a very recognizable man. This, no doubt, is in part due to the excellent performance by the late Sidney Pollack. A supplemental point: though Bill and Ziegler suffer from wayward lust, the viewer does not see one as a variation of the other, again making the movie about a man intruding on the world of disturbed sexual desire, rather than a story about the exploration of his own.

Ziegler at pool table

Ziegler reveals he was at the second masquerade, a point underscored by the way his parlor feels like a light re-shuffling of elements of the rooms of the masquerade house, such as the lined bookshelves, the oil portraits, the similar carpet pattern, the red of the pool table at the center like the red of the circle in which the ceremony is performed. He makes ambiguous warnings, telling Bill that the people at the masquerade are incredibly powerful so he should stop asking questions, but that no harm has come to Nightingale, and though the beauty queen is the woman with the blue headdress, she died of a simple overdose. Ziegler tells Bill that there was no sacrifice, it was just a ruse to keep him from talking. What’s interesting is the way the movie takes Fridolin’s own doubts about the sacrifice, his wish that there be no sacrifice at all and he not need to take up any quest, and places them in the mouth of Ziegler.

A secret society? Well, yes, it certainly was secret. But they probably knew one another. Were they aristocrats, perhaps members of the court? He thought of certain archdukes who might easily be capable of such pranks. And the women? Probably…recruited from brothels. Well, that was not by any means certain. At any rate, they were very attractive. But what about the woman who had sacrificed herself for him? Sacrificed? Why did he persist in imagining that it was really a sacrifice? It had been an act. Of course, the whole thing had been an act. He should have been grateful to have gotten out of the scrape so lightly. Well, why not? He had preserved his dignity. The cavaliers must have recognized that he was nobody’s fool. And she must have realized it in any case. Very likely she had cared more for him than for all these archdukes or whatever they were.

Why was she willing to sacrifice herself for me?

Bill, are you so sure she was the kind of woman for whom the things you imagined were actually a sacrifice? If she attended these affairs and knew the rules so well, do you suppose it would have made any difference to her whether she belonged to one of the men, or to all of them? Bill, she was just a thousand-a-night- hooker – no more, no less.

BILL stares at him blankly.

Bill, tell me, did you never consider the possibility that the whole thing might have been nothing more than a charade?…A charade played out for the benefit of someone who didn’t belong – to frighten them and make sure they keep quiet?

Though whether or not to believe in the sacrifice still lies with the doctor, Fridolin’s need to doubt her virtue is because of the codes of virtue and gallantry of his own time, codes by which Fridolin has failed. That the sacrificed woman had met such codes, giving herself up to save another, while Fridolin lacked the bravery to do so, is something he does not or cannot accept.

A further discussion of the sacrifice in Eyes requires a separate section to look at the movie’s own themes, implanted and separate from those in the original story.


Eyes has several concerns not in the book, one being a man attempting communion with women and failing throughout. This is something different from Fridolin’s lack of empathy, as Fridolin makes no such attempts. That Fridolin wishes to act gallantly or be seen bravely, is for his own benefit, that he may demonstrate and be observed having this virtue, rather than for any attempt at a deeper contact with the women of the story.

There are five kisses in the movie, absent from the story, each an attempt at this contact, each for different reasons a failure.

Bill kissing Alice

A kiss that Alice breaks off, before giving herself a look in the mirror, a point of self-analysis and self-doubt. Perhaps asking herself, given all this happiness, my great husband and daughter – why am I unhappy about much of my life? This question might be tied to her own feelings about having to stay at home and take care of their child while her husband goes to work.

Marion kisses Bill

A deep kiss from Marion which Bill rejects, a kiss made out of desperate need for comfort, which Bill cannot reciprocate. When he does call her house to perhaps follow up on the promise of this kiss, it is for the petty reason of striking back at his wife.

Domino kisses Bill

A long, deep kiss which might be a communion between these two people except for a detail. Domino is a sex worker, and she makes this kiss as a servant might to a subject. The camera pulls back and we see that she is bending over and down to kiss Bill.

Domino bending down

This moment is interrupted by his wife’s phone call.

Masked woman and Bill kiss

There is the lengthy kiss at the masquerade between Bill and the woman with the blue headdress. Yet this also is a failure, it’s entirely a ceremonial one, their lips never touch because of the masks.

He remains obsessed with this woman, finds her body at the morgue, and drawn closer and closer, he does simply look into the woman’s eyes, as in “Dream”, but moves towards a kiss, before breaking away, knowing it is now too late, he is in the world of the living, she is in the world of the dead. In many ways, she is the woman he feels closest to, other than his wife, and the possibility of his reconciling and finding communion with his wife is left an open and ambiguous point by the film’s end. This woman has perhaps sacrificed her life for the doctor, while his wife has made the sacrifice of forgiving him for his attempts at infidelity.

woman at the morgue

Also absent from the story, but prominent in the movie, is the idea of society as partitions closed off by wealth and privilege, which require the equivalent of passwords to gain access. Some of these passwords Bill has, and some he lacks. In order to gain access to the costume shop at night he must show his doctor’s ID and have the extra money to pay the gratuity. He has the money for a long cab ride, and an extra hundred dollars for the cab to wait. The second masquerade, obviously, has a password which he knows, and a second trick password: the code that there is no second password. He uses his doctor’s ID to get information at the diner, to find out what took place from the concierge, and to gain access to the morgue.

That there are, literally, gates through which he can and cannot pass is made clear through two similar images.

Bill at gate of costume shop

Bill at gate of estate

The first is the gate of the clothing store, by which he gains access through the wealth and identification of a doctor. The second gate is that of the estate of the masquerade, which remains closed.

That his movement is restricted by his economic place, rather than anything inherent in his character, is made clear in the scene from Ziegler’s parlor, where he makes explicit how they knew right away he did not belong, even though he had a costume and password for the event:

Was it the second password? Is that what gave me away?

Yes, finally. But not because you didn’t know it. It’s because there was no second password. Of course, it didn’t help a whole lot that those people arrive in limos and you showed up in a taxi.

That the second password doesn’t exist, that ignorance of the fact is what marks those in the society and those without, is specific to the movie, not to be found in the story. It further conveys the exclusivity of this group and that it is ultimately a rigged game, that the expected method of answering a riddle to gain entry is pointless: the very fact that you think there is a riddle makes clear that you should not enter. Further, no second password is necessary because it can already be seen whether you should be at this place based on external cues, like a cab for a ride instead of a limo.

So, Bill has stumbled upon a corrupt enclave of extraordinary wealth, all powerful, at the heart of society. Bill may be able to travel to places restricted to some of us because of his medical license, but Ziegler can travel to those places too, as well as many more forbidden to Bill. This is not a recognition of the benevolence associated with a doctor, but recognition of power.

These themes are all intertwined with the last one indigenous to the movie, the setting of the whole story at Christmas. The holiday marks, of course, the birth of a savior who sacrifices himself for the redemption of man. This context, I believe, is not an arbitrary one, but an attempt to move this idea of a virtuous sacrifice from a religious context, which a Jew, a Mslim, any atheist or skeptic might question as having taken place, to a secular one, a woman having actually sacrificed herself for this man. Where believing in the Christian sacrifice is tied with Christian belief itself, and the obscurity of an event that took place thousands of years ago, Bill’s belief or non-belief in this sacrifice lies only with the acceptance of the consequences of his belief. If he is to believe that the sacrifice genuinely took place, it would mean disrupting his entire life and abandoning everything he has.

The world he lives in is something like ancient Rome, a wealthy elite devoted to a pagan cult with a sudden self-sacrifice that places this entirely in context, making the place look utterly squalid and corrupt. An obvious aside: this cult’s emphasis on materialism and a world twisted for the benefit of an elite is not alien to society’s top tier, then or now. Were he to believe the sacrifice actually took place and continue his investigations, he would be like a pre-Constantine Roman who took to Christian belief, a believer that there were virtues lacking in the society he lived in. It would mean leaving behind the comforts of his life, risking the possibility of exile and the appearance of a lunatic. Were he to believe the sacrifice actually took place, that would be his only moral choice, and it might offer him the possibility of a secular communion that eludes him so far.

It’s unimplied what takes place after the end of the movie, but of what we see until that point, Bill considers this burden too great, and refuses to see the sacrifice as real. We in the audience may wish to refuse to believe in the sacrifice as well, to believe that the choice he makes, to try and return to the life he had, is the best possible compromise, when it might be the lesser one. Where Fridolin is a man who very much wishes to be a hero in such a simple conflict, yet very clearly is a timid man lacking the necessary virtues, the movie presents us with a figure who, outwardly, has many of these heroic qualities, someone very good looking, strong, who often does the proper thing, played by an actor who has a long career of heroic roles. Yet at this crucial point, the protagonist makes the easier choice – one that is also the wrong choice, though the audience may well wish that it were the right one, since few of us would have the strength to take on the same burden of questioning our lives so much.

A final, minor, note. I think everything just mentioned rests on what’s easily seen and said in the movie. I leave this small point for last since it’s far more tenuous. Ziegler may signify to other members the upcoming ceremony of the masquerade cult, placing the cult’s symbol, a banal star surrounding a circle at various points, throughout his house.

At the party, this star is lit up.

lit up small star

lit up large star

After the ceremony has been completed, when Bill visits Ziegler, the star is now off, as we might turn off Christmas lights after the end of that holiday.

unlit small star

unlit large star

However, this may well be just a simple star of the magi, and it may be off for the obvious reason that even the wealthy like to save electricity.


Both movie and story end with the doctor arriving home to his wife, finding his costume mask on the bed. Bill’s mask is missing already when he goes to the costume shop, so the viewer assumes that the cult behind the masquerade somehow acquired it, then placed it in his house as a final warning. The story has Fridolin assuming that his wife placed it there in an effort to get an explanation. Something in the doctor bursts now, in both versions. He lets out an unrestrained sob, and then confesses to his wife all that took place.

His wife’s reaction, however, is very different at this point. In the film, she is utterly devastated by what she hears, and they are both emotionally spent after the doctor’s revelations.

Bill devastated after revelations

Alice devastated after revelations

Only after, when they go later that morning to a toy store with their child is there an attempt at reconciliation, though no completed kiss. This is all in extraordinary contrast with the story, which has Albertine hearing about the attempts at infidelity with great calmness, no visible reaction whatsoever. Her attitude is shaped in part, I think, in what a woman’s choices were then compared to now: Albertine cannot simply divorce her husband and find work on her own. This option, however difficult, is available for Alice. Albertine, who I read as far more perceptive than her husband, sees this man with a clarity that she’s never had before, a man who is fundamentally weak, childish in his attitude to his wife, and lacking the courage to engage in any sexual adventure, even an impulsive one born out of brief petty jealousy of her past lusts. Some image she had of him has finally died. His weaknesses will make it easier for him to stay loyal to their union, while also making him increasingly intolerable as a husband. That they are both awake for a long time to come, that they will now see each other without illusions, is entirely a good thing.

Albertine hadn’t once interrupted him with a curious or impatient question. She probably felt that he neither would nor could keep anything from her. She lay thee calmly, her arms folded under her head, and remained silent long after Fridolin had finished. Finally – he was lying stretched out beside her – he leaned over her, and looking into her immobile face with the large, bright eyes, in which morning also seemed to be dawning, he asked in a voice of both doubt and hope, “So what should we do now, Albertine?”

She smiled, and with a slight hesitation, she answered, “I thin that we should be grateful that we have come away from all our adventures unhared – from the real ones as well as from the dreams.”

“Are you sure we have?” he asked.

“Just as sure I suspect that the reality of one night, even the reality of a whole lifetime, isn’t the whole truth.”

“And no dream,” he said with a soft sigh, “is entirely a dream.”

She took his head with both her hands and pressed it warmly to her breast. “But now I suppose we are both awake,” she said, “for a long time to come.”

Forever, he wanted to add, but before he could say the word she put a finger to his lips and whispered almost as if to herself, “Don’t tempt the future.”

The movie, as said, ends in a toy store, the characters in a background of red and blue, the daughter with red hair and a blue outfit. Alice, who often wears blue clothes contrasting with her red hair, now, perhaps significantly, covers her dark blue outfit with a tan coat. Bill is a mix of blue, coat and pants, with red sweater.

Alice and Bill at toy store

child of Alice and Bill at toy store

Alice and Bill, Bill with coat open

This may be the conflict between two opposing qualities of the world, which now balance in Bill. I am not entirely sure, as I find the movie more cryptic than necessary in this area and others. A good quote about the respective mysteries of the story and the movie may be found in “The Wrong Shape” (a story with a vile attitude towards hindus and hinduism, but with some solid moments apart from this) by G.K. Chesterton:

“The modern mind always mixes up two different ideas: mystery in the sense of what is marvellous, and mystery in the sense of what is complicated. That is half its difficulty about miracles. A miracle is startling; but it is simple. It is simple because it is a miracle…If it was pure magic, as you think, then it is marvellous; but it is not mysterious-that is, it is not complicated. The quality of a miracle is mysterious, but its manner is simple. Now, the manner of this business has been the reverse of simple.”

I find “Dream Story” something like a miracle, one of the best stories I’ve ever read, an extraordinarily subtle and detailed work, without any melodramatic notes sounding its importance, a substantial lasting tale made up of elements light as cake dust. That Kubrick became obsessed with such a story is not surprising. To reproduce its qualities would be difficult, if not impossible, for any director. The change in time and setting ultimately requires other changes in detail, and in a story as finely sewn as this, small changes in the stitching will create something different, and ultimately, dilute the achievements of the original material. That these beauties are lessened is not to say the movie does not have beauties of its own, as any Kubrick movie would. Ultimately, the enigmas of the story do seem miraculous, a half smile cast partly in shadow, whereas the enigmas of the movie are too complex, an opaqueness for the purpose of puzzlement and worship, a monolith on the moon, but a monolith one keeps looking at, not for its puzzles, but the beauty of its puzzling face.

POSTSCRIPT (25/04/2015):

Earlier this year, I came across by chance the story “Melonie Haller’s Lost Weekend” by Anthony Haden-Guest, from a May 12, 1980 issue of New York magazine. Any one who enjoys Eyes Wide Shut will find this piece intriguing, as it feels like a precedent to the film, and were it not for “Dream Story”, it could be the unconscious inspiration for the central idea of the movie: a privileged society that engages in debaucheries behind closed doors, leaving behind a victim and unanswered questions. The first three paragraphs, which start with the killer open, “It was the cheapness that undid it”, introduce a story centering around a young actress and a show business producer named Roy Radin:

It was the cheapness that undid it. And this was odd. be-cause while Roy Radin’s house party may have been short on the urbanity associated with Southampton house parties, it was certainly lavish.

There were about a dozen present, including Robert McKeage IV, a busi-nessman, and his date, model Melonie Haller. The women were young. and pretty. The men were rich, and some were nearly famous. There was, as Melonie tells it, a Scene. Sexual rough stuff. And this time it went too far.

Melonie rebelled. With the camera-honed instinct of a trained actress—and it was her smartest move since she had arrived—she smashed a videotap-ing apparatus that was turned on her. What followed was, by her account, ugly: a beating and rape by two women and two men.

McKeage and Radin deny her account. But nobody denies that they wanted Haller out of the house. Myra Haller, Melonie’s mother, was telephoned and told that her daughter was “incoherent.” Myra Haller asked that she be put into a limousine and chauffeured back to Manhattan.

A limo. Sixty dollars. They had already tried to find a discount limousine service and failed.

So they put Melonie into a car, drove her to the Southampton station, and dumped her on a train. A conductor called the cops.

All that lavishness. And a single act of cheapness had blown a little Southampton secret wide open.

Well, one thing is plain. Whatever