Yesterday I wrote about Joy Reid’s deeply odd claim that her old, defunct blog, The Reid Report, had been hacked in an effort to make her look homophobic. That was odd for many reasons, not the least of which was that she had apologized for some comments found on the blogs Internet Archive cache last December. At the time she said there was no excuse. But yesterday, as even more examples of awkward comments about gays were uncovered, Reid offered a completely different response. It wasn’t her fault at all:
In December I learned that an unknown, external party accessed and manipulated material from my now-defunct blog, The Reid Report, to include offensive and hateful references that are fabricated and run counter to my personal beliefs and ideology.
I began working with a cyber-security expert who first identified the unauthorized activity, and we notified federal law enforcement officials of the breach. The manipulated material seems to be part of an effort to taint my character with false information by distorting a blog that ended a decade ago.
Reid’s statement didn’t say when this alleged hacking took place, but given that the blog only exists on the Internet Archive and given that she apparently just noticed the problem in December of last year, the suggestion seemed to be that someone must have hacked the archive of her blog. Today the Internet Archive put up a blog post of its own saying they’ve seen no evidence they were hacked:
This past December, Reid’s lawyers contacted us, asking to have archives of the blog (blog.reidreport.com) taken down, stating that “fraudulent” posts were “inserted into legitimate content” in our archives of the blog. Her attorneys stated that they didn’t know if the alleged insertion happened on the original site or with our archives (Reid’s claim regarding the point of manipulation is still unclear to us).
When we reviewed the archives, we found nothing to indicate tampering or hacking of the Wayback Machine versions. At least some of the examples of allegedly fraudulent posts provided to us had been archived at different dates and by different entities.
For those not familiar with it, the Internet Archive aka The Wayback Machine uses a web crawler to identify and archive websites. When you search the archive of a defunct site, you’re presented with a calendar, often spanning several years. Clicking on a specific year gives you a list of specific dates when the site’s web crawler archived the site in question. So you can, in theory, see how a site looked in January of 2012 and how it looked different in June of 2012 or however often the site was archived.
So what the response above indicates is that first, there’s no evidence someone hacked the archive itself. Second, some of the material Reid is now claiming was added by a hacker had been archived multiple times over the months or years. That strongly suggests it appeared that way on the site when it was still active a decade ago.
We let Reid’s lawyers know that the information provided was not sufficient for us to verify claims of manipulation. Consequently, and due to Reid’s being a journalist (a very high-profile one, at that) and the journalistic nature of the blog archives, we declined to take down the archives. We were clear that we would welcome and consider any further information that they could provide us to support their claims.
So they declined to remove the archive because Reid and her attorneys didn’t provide evidence it had been hacked. So why did it disappear? As I pointed out yesterday, anyone can remove their site from the archive by adding a robots.txt file to the current site. That’s what Reid (or someone working for her) did.
At some point after our correspondence, a robots.txt exclusion request specific to the Wayback Machine was placed on the live blog. That request was automatically recognized and processed by the Wayback Machine and the blog archives were excluded, unbeknownst to us (the process is fully automated). The robots.txt exclusion from the web archive remains automatically in effect due to the presence of request on the live blog. Also, the blog URL which previously pointed to an msnbc.com page now points to a generic parked page.
So what’s going on here? The evidence strongly suggests that the Internet Archive was not hacked and that it contained multiple representations of what was actually found on Reid’s blog when it was live. This raises several questions: If the blog was hacked, why didn’t Reid notice at the time? Also, who cared enough about Reid ten years ago to hack her blog? Finally, it’s worth noting that back when Reid was writing these things, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both against gay marriage. In other words, these views weren’t nearly as out of the mainstream then as they are now. Why would a hacker go through all this trouble ten years ago to put mildly controversial words in her mouth?
None of this looks much like an investigation to me but it does look a lot like a cover-up. Reid got dinged last December for some awkward old comments and apologized. Then she immediately had her lawyers ask the Internet Archive (where the comments had been uncovered) to remove the archive, probably because she knew there was more embarrassing material out there. When that failed she used a robots.txt file to take down the archive. Unfortunately for her, additional instances had already been uncovered. Rather than apologize again when they became public, she’s claiming she was hacked. But at this point, all we have to go on is her word. That might be more convincing if she hadn’t already apologized for this once.