Wikileaks, the whistle-blowing website founded by controversial journalist and campaigner Julian Assange, has claimed credit for a complicated hoax opinion piece ostensibly by New York Times columnist and former executive editor Bill Keller.
The feature, Wikileaks: a Post Postscript, published on the weekend, argued that Wikileaks is worthy of support and that its exposure of private cables from the Obama administration falls under the protection of the First Amendment which serves to defend freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
“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, and I believe the mainstream media should come to his defense,” ‘Keller’ writes.
The article mimics perfectly the look and feel of a New York Times article. It was given credence by tweets sent out from a fake account in the name of Bill Keller, and also from Keller’s genuine New York Times Twitter account, linking back to the feature.
A later tweet from Keller’s official account — “I am now a world expert in dressage. Ask me anything” — raised alarm bells that his account had been compromised.
The feature presents a case broadly in favour of Wikileaks, concluding:
“I wish these were my final words on the existential drama that is WikiLeaks, but don’t get your hopes up. With an ongoing grand jury, extradition ruling, and Bradley Manning’s court martial, the WikiLeaks Postscript has only just begun. I fear I am condemned to a life in Sartre’s No Exit (or is it Kafka’s The Trial?).”
With its attention to detail, convincing tone and even some real statements from Keller on the question of Wikileaks, the article was quickly circulated around Twitter with journalists such as The New York Times’s lead tech reporter Nick Bilton retweeting the hoax. “Important piece by @nytkeIler defending @WikiLeaks and a plea to protect the First Amendment,” Bilton wrote. WikiLeaks and the hacker collective Anonymous also retweeted the piece.
Ed Pilkington, writing in The Guardian, says that Keller has had a fractious relationship with Julian Assange and Wikileaks since he published a profile that Assange regarded as unflattering.
After strenuous denials as to the feature’s authenticity, The New York Times is now said to be investigating the hoax to determine whether it will have any legal consequences.
Sources: The Guardian and Huffington Post