They appeared to have us all fooled, including the New York Times' very own tech columnist, Nick Bilton. But shortly after an opinion piece penned under the name of Bill Keller, former Times executive editor, had been dubbed a fake, the infamous whistle blowers at WikiLeaks have claimed responsibility.
The confusion began late Saturday night when the Times' appeared to publish an intriguing piece from Keller entitled 'WikiLeaks, A Post Postscript'. The "op-ed" was then tweeted by an account that appeared to be Keller's, and before long the story had reached several influential journalists.
"Important piece by @nytkeIler defending @WikiLeaks and a plea to protect the First Amendment: http://t.co/LO5SBA3G," tweeted Bilton, who has since deleted the tweet, to his more than 120,000 followers.
The story quickly made the rounds online, noting Keller's supposed fear of a "potential financial blockade against the New York Times by Visa, Mastercard, and American Express." These very credit card firms have long refused to pledge donations to WikiLeaks, citing a necessity to refrain from supporting such "illegal activity."
In the fabricated story, Keller apparently writes, "I've said repeatedly, in print and in a variety of public forums, that I would regard an attempt to criminalize WikiLeaks' publication of these documents as an attack on all of us." That very anecdote was lifted directly from an email exchange between Keller and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM.
The story continued to portray Keller unfavourably. Sharing the belief that "journalism should work in unison with government," the story opines that if the Times had the WikiLeaks cables for itself, Keller would have given the U.S. government permission to review the leaked documents before they were to be published.
Both the story and the supposed Keller Twitter account were exposed as fakes by early Sunday morning. The curiously observant Christopher Songhoian, a computer security researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union, had noticed the suspicious domain name — which read opinion-nytimes.com instead of nytimes.com — as well as the capital "I" accompanying the letter "l" in the fake Keller Twitter account.
Even Keller's authentic Twitter account had retweeted the story before debunking the erroneous op-ed early Sunday morning: "THERE IS A FAKE OP-ED GOING AROUND UNDER MY NAME, ABOUT WIKILEAKS. EMPHASIS ON 'FAKE. 'AS IN, NOT MINE," read the tweet.
Keeping true to their effort to expose the truth, Julian Assange and his peers at WikiLeaks eventually came clean. And even if you don't support the hoax, you have to tip your hat for a job well done. The fake website was immaculate, a near identical copy of Keller's column, right down to the Times adverts and the author's photograph.
Yet despite the impressive matching of topographic style, Keller (the real Keller, that is) was far from impressed. "I see this in the realm of childish prank rather than crime against humanity," he told The Guardian, a publication that has joined the Times in feuding with Assange. "It's a lame satire. I'd take it a little more seriously if it were actually funny."
And the general public seems to agree. Effectively blowing the whistle on themselves, the WikiLeaks tweet exposition of their own hoax appears to further diminish their already questionable credibility.
(Photo courtesy of The Atlantic Wire)