Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Protocols of Heartland

Contra Megan, I'm not especially upset by Peter Gleik's phishing Heartland's tax returns. I mean, I don't think liberal bloggers should get any breaks that conservative bloggers don't get, I'm just saying that my admittedly weak ethical intuition isn't as mortified as Megan's is.

Megan uses the term "wire fraud" to potentially describe Gleik's activities. Personally, I would reserve that term, both legally and ethically, for stealing actual money, or something of value the theft of which deprives the victim of the use of the thing being stolen. I will say parenthetically that I'm not trying to articulate a full-blown property rights metaphysic here, nor am I trying to piggyback this matter onto the debate over IP protection generally. I am saying that it's a Public Good for the Public to know more rather than less about a Public Organization. This doesn't justify anything and everything. But it justifies some things.

Gleik's alleged fabrication of a Heartland "climate strategy" memo, in contrast, is a Public Harm, and AGW enthusiasts deserve all the opprobrium now being heaped upon them for, basically, doing what Dan Rather did when confronted with evidence that his famous Bush National Guard memo was fake: keep pushing the lie.

It occurs to me how difficult it is to pass off a fake -- or cover your tracks -- in the internet age. Think of all the typeface experts that emerged to take on Dan Rather, or in the present case, to recover the pdf metadata pointing to dubious origins.


trumwill said...

I actually agree - well, almost - on both counts.

The only disagreement is that, at least morally, the two are not entirely separable (unless I am misunderstanding something). That is to say, the documents that he got through underhanded tactics that I might forgive in a vacuum. But those documents were used to try to perpetrate a particular fraud (if the latter accusation is accurate). Both in the sense that he took information of them to try to forge the document, and also that he tried to "hide a lie between two truths."

In other words, had he gotten the documents and then simply passed them on, I would probably say "Okay, let's focus on the documents themselves" (the way he got him being the business of the courts and not me). But given the context in which they were used... I am less forgiving than you are.

Dr. Φ said...

Well yes, and in fact the authenticated documents aren't especially interesting apart from the fake memo. So the primary effect was to facilitate the forgery.