Journalistic Integrity, RIP


Ever since its introduction on January 3, 2009, the media world has tried desperately to determine the identity of bitcoin’s mysterious inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto.

Nakamoto, who published “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” in October of 2008, is widely believed to be a pseudonym for one or more people, and his/her/their creation has since become the world’s first digital currency.

Last week, Wired thought it had finally unraveled the mystery of the popular cryptocurrency’s unknown creator. The trail led to a little known Australian man named Craig Steven Wright, who, according to Wired, either invented bitcoin or is “a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe he did.”

Now the tech publication says it appears that the latter is true. Three days after publishing a 3,200-word expose with all sorts of evidence that Wright is Nakamoto, Wired followed up with a post suggesting it may indeed have been the victim of an elaborate hoax by the man it had days earlier called a genius.

Not to be outdone, Gizmodo jumped on the bandwagon with its own nearly 4,000-word manifesto from a parallel investigation that somehow reached the same apparently erroneous conclusion about Wright. That is, if Wired is correct about it being a hoax. What a coincidence.

While Wired deserves props for questioning its own conclusion that Wright is “probably” bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, I haven’t seen any such sign of humility or journalistic integrity from Gizmodo, at least not yet. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

After all, we’re talking about an online publication whose tag is Everything Is Technology and features mind-bending articles like “This Is the Most Beautiful View of Poop You’re Ever Going to See,” “You Really Shouldn’t Snack on Urinal Cakes” and the ever-popular and educational “What’s the Best Way to Tie Your Shoes?

Nevertheless, Gizmodo’s bitcoin piece did at least attempt to make one valid argument. In pointing out that attempts to determine the true identity of Nakamoto can be treacherous, it references the blockbuster March 6, 2014 cover story of Newsweek’s triumphant return to print, “The Face Behind Bitcoin.”

Leah McGrath Goodman, who wrote the epic piece, was sure that she’d traced the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto to a Temple City, Calif. man with serious financial and health issues. The 64-year-old Japanese American is, oddly enough, named Satoshi Nakamoto, although he actually goes by Dorian. Hiding in plain sight, as it were.

Sadly, the Newsweek story had more holes in it than Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. After several articles debunked its credibility (including one by yours truly) and Dorian Nakamoto issued repeated denials and threatened to sue the publication, Newsweek’s epic piece was more or less written off as an epic fail. End of story.

But Gizmodo goes quite a bit further, calling it “easily the most disastrous attempt at revealing the identity of Satoshi” that resulted in “a great deal of embarrassment for Newsweek.” Since we have yet to see how the design and technology blog will handle possibly being hoaxed by Wright, I guess time will tell if it eats its words or not.

But it does have a point. As I see it, in presenting an entirely circumstantial case as a fait accompli instead of the theory that it was, Newsweek’s cover story was a journalistic disaster. I would like to believe that the publication suffered some embarrassment over the fiasco. But I never really got that sense.

Goodman and Newsweek editor-in-chief Jim Impoco both seemed to think they had the scoop of the millennium, at least that was their story and they were definitely sticking to it. Both are still highly regarded and dutifully employed at the publication. And everything seems hunky dory at Newsweek, which is owned by IBT Media.

The conclusion that Newsweek has suffered any real backlash over what I see as a lack of journalistic integrity holds about as much water as its deduction that Dorian – who, according to follow-up reports, hadn’t had a steady job since being laid off by the FAA after 9/11 and whose home had recently been foreclosed upon – was the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto sitting on a secret hoard of a million bitcoins worth a fortune.

While the Newsweek story turned into a real media circus for a few days, the frenzy soon died down and everyone moved on. Truth is, the 24/7 news cycle moves so fast and we’re all so completely overloaded with massive amounts of online content that nobody has the time or the inclination to follow up on anything, anymore.

Sadly, journalistic integrity is dead. Even sadder, nobody mourned. Everyone had their heads stuck too far up their smartphones to notice.