Is it ethically okay for journalists to mine hacked Sony emails for stories?

[quote=“miasm, post:17, topic:48397”]
The roles of journalist and blogger are not mutually exclusive.[/quote]

Sure, but you seem to be suggesting that any criticism of BB writers for their use of charged language and hyperbolic headlines is baseless, as they aren’t acting as journalists here (even though the “about” pages describes them as journalists).

It’s also possible BB would get fewer blowhard judgmental assholes if so many of their posts weren’t blowhard judgments against those they consider assholes. Maybe more posts about wonderful things would get more wonderful comments (I imagine the blowhard judgmental asshole commenter quotient is quite low on squeetastic posts).

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No, the public does not have a right to know any more than they have a right to know what’s in your inbox. Unlike government information leaks, these are the private details of private people in private conversations, even if some of those private people happen to be incredibly rich. Is there “journalistic value” in the documents? Hell ya! Blogs can get tons of hits, people can learn all sorts of juicy tidbits, and heck even a scandal or two might be uncovered. But hacking is hacking and this is the fruit of a poisonous tree. There is no justification for digging through these details and doing so only encourages the hackers to do it again.


I’ll just leave that there.

If you fall victim to the obvious troll trapping and haranguing, it’s probably because your sense of humour is proportionally limited by your socio-political and ethical bias.

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“Xeni Jardin: Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist”

But aside from that, the interesting thing about being a journalist is that it doesn’t actually matter whether or not you claim to be. If you’ll humor me going all middle-school-research-paper for a moment, “Journalist, noun: 1. a person who practices the occupation or profession of journalism.” “Journalism, noun: 1. the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.” I don’t see any qualifiers for self-description there. Which of those does not describe Boing Boing?

(And even if I grant your not-really-journalism assertion, I’m not convinced of your implied assertion that non-journalists have no obligation to honesty or integrity.)

If you don’t want to be called out for abusing the truth, it’s pretty easy to just not do that.

(And I’ll cop to judgmental, but I have it on good authority that “arsehole” is inaccurate. Also I only blowhard on Tuesdays and Thursdays.)

Pearl clutching nonsense.

I’m beginning to think that some detractors may actually be (and I am in no way being sarcastic or seeking to insult here) on the spectrum somewhere.

Obsession with the rules, difficulty in perceiving the nuances of communication and language etc.

I’m not seeking to judge people who amplify structure and are upset by the bending and twisting of intent through language but that seems to be the state of criticism in this case.

(edited out a second use of the term ‘judgement’ in favour of ‘criticism’)

I split this off into a different topic, we’re derailing the discussion here.


Would it be ethically okay to ignore such an interesting data source?

There certainly are stories that should run tactfully(something like Bloomberg’s piece on the rather alarming amount that the friendly folks in HR know about you and your expensive, sickie, family members, for instance, is arguably very, very, good to have more broadly known; but would have been badly off the rails if it had included the actual medical data); but Sony’s dirty laundry getting cracked open is an epic treasure trove of journalistically valuable data about an industry that is both immensely influential and rather secretive in its details. Celebrity gossip, sure, you can have all of that you want; but they don’t call it ‘Hollywood accounting’ because the real info is as easily shared.

In an environment where major content holders, Sony very much among them, would have the law rewritten in their interest, it would be shamefully irresponsible to ignore such information, whatever peevish finger wagging Sorkin dredges up.


I wonder if the screen writer that’s supporting them (Sony) will continue to do so if he finds out those points on profit he was supposed to get on a movie were calculated with 'Hollywood Accounting" and even “Return of the Jedi” still hasn’t turned a profit.

This exactly.

There seemed to be no question here on BB when “the fappening” happened, and everyone was champing at the bit to declare that looking at etc… the hacked nudie pics was akin to a sex crime in itself.

Stolen private data is stolen private data regardless of whether it’s tits or someone’s pay rate. I’ll definitely agree that some violations are worse than others, but as waetherman notes, we’re not talking a Snowden-esque data leak of how our publicly funded government is violating national and international law here.

So no. It’s not “ethically ok” any more than it’s “ethically ok” for the NSA to read your personal emails without a warrant. Not liking the people or private entities that are being hacked doesn’t make utilizing the stolen data any more ethically acceptable.


And Cory’s a novelist.

Doesn’t mean his posts on BB are novels.

I’m a computer programmer.

The vast majority of my comments will not compile.


Compilers are meant to ignore comments.


I think we’re touching on a quite fundamental political/philosophical issue here.

  1. The state’s power needs to be limited, by human rights, by separation of powers, public scrutiny.
  2. Money is power.

I think those two points are quite agreed upon.

The controversy seems to be whether “money is power” is a good reason to strike “the state” from the first phrase and call for all power to be limited.

When big corporations are more powerful than many countries, do we want to protect that corporations rights (corporations are people!) from the big evil powerful national governments?
Or do we, the people, get to insist that whoever has the most power over our day-to-day lives has to make their decisions in a transparent and democratic fashion, and respect our freedom while doing so?

It might boil down to the classic left vs. right, socialist vs. capitalist thing.


I don’t disagree with that. But if it’s thats what should happen, it should happen through law. And let’s not confuse this hack against Sony, which is about as clear an act of financial terrorism as any that ever was, with an act of whistleblowing. To compare the two only muddles the question of ethics.

in the context of this particular post, it seems easy to distinguish.
there’s a headline, two sentences, and a link.

that’s pretty clearly an act of a blogging about journalism, and not journalism itself.

as you say, boingboing does both, as well as opinion pieces, and more. it rarely seems difficult to figure which is what.

… which takes us into the area of tainted evidence and the “fruit of the poisonous tree”.

Rules concerning evidence that is “tainted” and cannot be used in court are intended to make sure that police & prosecutors do not have an incentive to break the law in order to get evidence.

This doesn’t apply here in the legal sense, and I’m unsure whether it can/should apply in the ethical sense.

Consider an example: A carjacker steals a car at gunpoint, drives away with it. Then he leaves it in some public space, and he leaves the trunk open for everyone to see. The carjacker escapes.

Now, depending on what is in the trunk, there are some interesting variants:

  1. a dead body. (police can question and maybe arrest the owner of the car)
  2. a suitcase packed for a vacation. (nothing to see here, but the color of the underwear is still nobody’s business)
  3. sex toys (nobody’s business!)
  4. gay sex toys, and the car belongs to an outspokenly homophobic public figure
  5. we haven’t looked yet, should we have a look?
  6. we haven’t looked yet, and the car belongs to a suspected mafia crime lord
  7. as in 6., but the carjacker was hired by a competing crime lord

Is the Sony case analogous to any of these?


Both excellent and convincing points. Re ‘happening through law’, does it not muddy the waters further when companies like Sony have the financial clout to lobby for changes in law?
It is a bit of a David and Goliath setup.

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First let me say that “fruit of a poisonous tree” is a phrase with some legal meaning that may be confusing the issue. It was a poor choice of words on my part to use that.

To your example; it’s an interesting analogy. I think the journalist in this case should not look in the trunk - to do so would violate the privacy rights of the individuals. The problem of course is that once the journalist has looked, what are they supposed to do then? They can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak. And in my mind they should report on something that is clearly a crime or matter of national import. But other information should not be reported on (ie sex toys), even if discovered. And certainly the journalist should not continue going through the suitcase until they find something unless they have a genuine reason to think that there is evidence of a crime at the bottom.

@pixleshifter; that is a real problem - no denying it. That’s why I think it’s important to leave room for civil disobedience. But again, this is not an act of civil disobedience or a hack motivated by revealing evidence of corruption or criminal activity. It’s a hack intended to intimidate and punish Sony through financial ruin.

Nice summary. This is just like the YouTubers who review games or comment on the video game industry then say “I’m not a game reviewer” or “I’m not a journalist.”

And you think that BB always holds itself to journalistic standards such as these when it does longer, journalistic pieces? I believe that part part of the appeal of self-publishing is the ability to write about serious issues without being constrained by the editorial (and ethical or legal) standards in place at major publications. Which is to say that the breaking of the journalistic conventions and standards—while still publishing the same essential content—is part of what makes the digital platform appealing. While the appeal is easy to understand, the abandonment of journalistic principles is less easy to understand—except to say that both authors and readers are, as @miasm would say, somewhere along the spectrum and have different ideas about when or whether journalistic principles should apply.

Also, newspapers often run extremely short blurbs of local events, including police blotters and the like, some of which are extremely similar to things BB runs from time to time.

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The problem as I see it is a double standard. When other news sources editorialize, they are highly criticized here and held to a higher standard. This happens over and over. And yet, there is no perceived double standard when journalistic standards are relaxed here. I honestly shouldn’t care, but I am more often than not in agreement with what is said on this site, and the hyperbole ends up making this place an echo chamber where unless you buy into the same level of hyperbole, you are wrong. I would hope people I agree with are on the side of truth and logic, which would lead to reasonable discourse, but it rarely does. I find liberals that are fighting for the same things I am are far more likely to trash me than conservatives that I disagree with almost 100%.

And that comes from the tone above. When one constantly calls for objective journalism from others and calls oneself a journalist…we expect higher standards. That said, this thread is actually pretty mild, as was the article attached to it.