LA Times Embarrasses Itself With Kozinski Coverage

from the digital-dumpster-diving dept

Last week we wrote about the hoopla surrounding some racy images and videos Judge Kozinski had accidentally made public on his personal web server. This week, it was announced that a panel of federal judges will be investigating Kozinski's conduct. I don't understand why an investigation is needed because it's pretty clear what happened, and that Kozinski did nothing wrong. My colleague Jim Harper links to a defense of Kozinski by Larry Lessig. I share Lessig's conclusion that the treatment of Kozinski has been disgraceful, but I don't think the analogy Lessig uses is especially apt. Lessig analogizes the situation to a man who climbs into Kozinski's den through a poorly-secured window and makes copies of the materials he finds within Kozinski's house. He also uses the term "hack" to describe the process of accessing Kozinski's files. I don't think this is quite right. It was a public web server; the files were readily available without a password to anyone who went looking for them. What was done to Kozinski was unsavory, but it wasn't illegal, and it's not analogous to breaking and entering.

A better analogy is dumpster diving. What happened was the digital equilvalent of somebody combing through Kozinski's trash and discovering an issue of Playboy. No respectable respectable newspaper would publish a front-page story about finding porn in a federal judge's trash. It's no more newsworthy that Kozinski inadvertently made some racy images available on his personal website. Kozinski's wife, Marcy Tiffany, wrote a letter about the affair that's well worth reading in full. She claims (and others agree) that the files were unearthed by an attorney with a grudge against Kozinski, who obtained the files months ago and has been shopping them around to different newspapers ever since. The LA Times apparently had this story months ago, but waited until Kozinski had finished the grueling work of impaneling a jury for a big obscenity case (it's hard to find a dozen people willing to watch hours of defecation and bestiality videos) before putting the story on its front page.

Even worse, the LA Times coverage appears designed to cast the material on Kozinski's computer in the worst possible light. For example, it describes one video as depicting "a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal." This description prompted a number of follow-up reports, including one in the San Francisco Chronicle, to describe the contents of the video as "bestiality," despite the fact that the video in question obviously doesn't depict bestiality. (The Chronicle story was here, but the word "bestiality" has since been deleted) The LA Times really ought to apologize to Judge Kozinski for needlessly dragging his reputation through the mud.

Filed Under: alex kozinski, coverage
Companies: la times


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  1. identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, 20 Jun 2008 @ 5:35am

    Re: Privacy

    "I would argue that trash is private"

    You're in the UK, trash may be different there. In the US trash is abandoned property so anyone can go look threw it without consequence. I do agree with you that dumpster diving is an invalid comparison but there is no better.

    From what I read he just left the files in a browsing enabled folder, it's not like he wrote the HTML code to publish it on his website. Someone had to go looking for that. Probably someone with malicious intent.

    @AC #1 and 2: If the LA times were a reputable company they would not have information we don't because they would have told us already. Whether they're holding back information or blowing this story completely out of proportion, it doesn't hold well for their reputation.

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