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A response to Vexnews

Last week, after one of my articles was unexpectedly submitted into evidence in court, an odd little online publication called Vexnews published a vicious, bizarre and inaccurate attack on me.

Screenshot of the Vexnews article
Screenshot of the Vexnews article

I said I wasn’t going to give it any oxygen in my last post, but I really think it should be pulled apart for the appalling piece of journalism it is.  Let’s have a look at Andrew Landeryou’s Vexnews piece, para by para:

A criminal defence lawyer has told the County Court that a writer for The Age newspaper was responsible for informing his drug dealing client about how to obtain his supply from the internet.

Defence barrister JJ Jassar tendered an article on Silk Road by Melbourne writer, journalist and blogger Eiley Ormsby from which he said Howard found the website.

He got this bit right.  Bravo!

A sanitised account of the submission appeared on the Age’s website that neglects to mention:

‘Sanitised’?  Because they didn’t report the entire 5 hours of proceedings? Um, that’s not what journalists do.

■ The offending article was published – and is still published to the present day – on The Age’s website; and

[n.b. the above bullet point linked to The Drug’s in the Mail]

Wrong.  This was not the article tendered.  The article tendered was a feature that appeared in Kill Your Darlings, six months after the offending and three months after the arrest.  It wouldn’t have taken much investigating to figure this out, as Butcher named the feature in his article from which Landeryou apparently got most of his information, as well as the date. 

Even if this was a sloppy but innocent – rather than malicious – mistake, the Age feature came out 7 days after ‘Shadh1’ registered for the forums.  And it was the first time I had ever written about Silk Road.

This shows an appalling lack of research, or even basic reading comprehension skills, by Vexnews.

■ The writer – Eileen Ormsby –  appears to be wheeled in by Fairfax management for strike-breaking purposes, suggesting she’ll come in handy for management going forward as it navigates the tricky territory of letting go most if not all of its editorial staff has written for The Age a number of times in a way many could regard as promoting the online drug site.

Strike-breaker?  I am a freelance journalist.  I had been commissioned for, and written, the article in question before a strike had ever been called.  I had been told it was due to run on the Monday.  According to my editor, management came in on the day he was on strike, found my article ready to go and pulled it forward to the Friday.

And ‘a number of times’?  Try once.

While the effects of illegal drugs varies, even the most supposedly innocuous of them have been associated with causing schizophrenia, memory loss and prompting addicts to get into a drug death cycle, taking ever more powerful narcotics

Uninformed hyperbole. ‘Drug death cycle’?  Really?  Do people really still trot out the old ‘gateway’ argument?  I hope Andrew Landeryou has never had a cigarette or drink – he’s well on his way to the ‘drug death cycle’ if so.

The Age online was not alone in talking up the drug-dealers’ site, Radio National had a red hot go at it too, giving Ms Ormsby’s pro-drugs views a credibility most would think they do not deserve.

Pro-drug reform views are not the same as pro-drug views.  I am unashamedly pro-drug reform.

While we won’t go into it in the same kind of detail as Ms Ormsby has, her writing frequently explains in detail how people can access this online operation in a manner you’d hope she might have feel cautious about if it related to child sex abuse, for example.

I’d like to see where I have ‘explained in detail’ how people can access Silk Road.  Significantly, I have never published the URL or the method of obtaining bitcoins, the cornerstones of being able to purchase from the site.

Does Landeryou think it would be better to ignore news such as the rise in online black markets?  He is squarely with many of the site’s users – who would prefer no publicity so the site can keep on operating under the radar – if so.

As for the unintelligible reference to child sex abuse – the mind boggles.

This is because Ms Ormsby makes it clear that she thinks the “War on Drugs” has failed and that online purchasing of dangerous, illegal online drugs is the way to go. It’s one thing for a blogger to be a spruiker for an online drug trafficking site but it does seem puzzling indeed that Fairfax would give these somewhat unorthodox views a serious profile.

Whilst I have stated that purchasing online is preferable to purchasing in a face-to-face deal, I have always made it clear that what I believe is the ‘way to go’ with regard to drugs is legislation, regulation and education.  Such measures would eliminate sites like Silk Road.  The site’s owner disagrees with my pro-reform views for obvious reasons. 

‘Spruiker’?  Some of my blog articles have turned people away from Silk Road.  I report on the scams, the hacks and the problems the site encounters.  I think Landeryou misunderstands how journalism works.

In her interview with Radio National, Ms Ormsby insisted the operation was “highly professional” and was akin to eBay in its methods, saying it was open to “anyone” and that it was all “completely anonymous.” Anyone familiar with these things will tell you there’s no such thing as completely anonymous online, no matter how much people fantasise to the contrary.

And yet Vexnews claims ‘anonymity and confidentiality guaranteed’ for anyone submitting tips to them.  People who are not taking precautions such as Tor and PGP.  So can they guarantee anonymity or not?

And sure enough, one young dope, inspired by what The Age’s writer Ms Ormsby had described, has found out the hard way that acting on information contained within it can only lead to trouble.

Wrong.  Please try harder.

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