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Gizmodo’s Self-Righteous Claptrap Debunked — By Gizmodo!

Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory

In an article defending their actions at CES, Gizmodo editor Brian Lam cited his reporter’s misuse of the TV-B-Gone device as a defiant act of journalistic independence and integrity, vaingloriously calling it “civil disobedience”. However, an October 2004 Gizmodo review of TV-B-Gone does a far better job of explaining the type of person who’d use the device…

By now, you’ve probably read about the gadget blog Gizmodo’s prank at CES, in which they used TV-B-Gone devices — universal remotes designed to shut off any TVs in their range — to shut off display models of TVs on the showroom floor and even to shut off TVs that were being used in live presentations. Here’s a YouTube video of their pranks:

I’m of the opinion that shutting off display models on the showroom floor might be an acceptable prank, but interfering with a live presentation by shutting off the TV being used for slides crosses the lines of etiquette and ethics. A number of people agree, and the flak that Gizmodo has received led editor Brian Lam to write an article defending their reporter’s actions. Here are a couple of excerpts:

But bloggers and trade journalists, so desperate for a seat at the table with big mainstream publications have it completely backwards: You don’t get more access by selling out for press credentials first chance you get, kowtowing to corporations and tradeshows and playing nice; you earn your respect by fact finding, reporting, having untouchable integrity, provocative coverage and gaining readers through your reputation for those things. Our prank pays homage to the notion of independence and independent reporting. And no matter how much access the companies give us, we won’t ever stop being irreverent. That’s what this prank was about and what the press should understand.

Many of our harshest critics have done far worse than clicking off a few TVs. I’m talking about ethical lapses such as accepting paid junkets to Japan by Nikon, or free trips to Korea by Samsung. Turning a blind eye to Apple’s mistakes when they didn’t make an iPhone SDK and sought to lock down the handset. Stock prices torn downward by publishing incorrect leaked info. Writing about companies that also pay you for advertorial podcast work. All of these examples are offenses from the last year. And I consider those offenses far worse than our prank, because it ultimately it puts the perpetrators on the wrong team. As one reporter put it while chiding me, “Journalists are guests in the houses of these companies.” Not first and foremost! We are the auditors of companies and their gadgets on behalf of the readers. In this job, integrity and independence is far more important than civil or corporate obedience. Every tech journalist has to decide whether or not he’s writing for companies or for readers. When they start writing for the companies, covering all their press releases and regurgitating marketing jargon, you do no one any favors (not even the companies, which already hire press release machines).

To borrow a quote from Tom Waits: Get off the cross; we could use the wood. There’s a difference between “civil disobedience” and “asshole”.

The “I’m keepin’ it real” defense is the resort of idiot rappers and performance artists who’ve come under fire for going too far; it’s the mark of a mind that lacks the will or the wherewithal to get past those unresolved “rebelling against Mommy and Daddy” issues. As far Lam’s implication that if you’re not rude to “the companies”, you’re kowtowing to them, that’s a lame high school debating tactic called a false dichotomy.

In his weak defense of their use of the TV-B-Gone device, Lam seems to have forgotten Gizmodo’s earlier stance on the device. Here’s their October 2004 review of TV-B-Gone: (thanks to Webware and Zoli Erdos for pointing this out!)

Mitch Altman is an asshole. And not just any asshole, but one of those snotty holier-than-thou types who has nothing better to do with the money he made as a founder of 3ware than to develop a device with the sole purpose of imposing his viewpoint on others. See, Altman hates the television and its encroachment into public space. Rather than just doing what most everybody else has done—which is either not really caring or, failing that, getting the fuck over it — Altman has invented a device called the ‘TV-B-Gone’ (obviously having expended every last vapor of his creative ability developing the product, he was left to co-opt the most obvious name schtick ever). Essentially a universal remote that cycles through every possible code, the TV-B-Gone has a single purpose: to power off televisions whenever the user feels like being a dick.

Read the Wired News profile, where Altman wanders through a city, turning off other peoples’ televisions, peppering his behavior with such gems as, “We just saved him several minutes of his life.” Maybe after making his tens of dozens of dollars on the TV-B-Gone, Altman can invent a gadget that transports self-important cocks who think they’re waging a subversive culture war to a log cabin coffee shop where they can reassure each other how awesome they are for hating television. Free berets for the first 100 pricks to use the word “Sheeple!”

“Power off televisions whenever the user feels like being a dick”? “Self-important cocks who think they’re waging a subversive culture war”? How eerily prescient, yet unaware!

I’ll leave the last word to Josh Catone of ReadWriteWeb:

Toward the end of today’s post, Lam mentions his blog’s interview with Bill Gates. “We got the guy to open up and talk about Windows and its shortcomings like he never has before, not even on 60 minutes,” Lam says. “If that’s not journalism, I don’t know what is. If we had been in the pocket of this industry, we never would have asked such a risky question.”

That is the sort of thing that makes you a journalist. And what’s wrong with letting the questions you ask prove your independent spirit? No amount of silly pranks will ever do so much to prove your integrity as will the actual reporting you do. That’s something that any blogger who wants to be taken seriously as a journalist must learn. Actions might speak louder than words, but not if your actions are juvenile stunts that obscure your reporting.

4 replies on “Gizmodo’s Self-Righteous Claptrap Debunked — By Gizmodo!”

“I’m talking about ethical lapses […] Stock prices torn downward by publishing incorrect leaked info.”

Oh, give it up. Gizmodo’s parent company owns Valleywag, which often publishes leaked info.

I think what Gizmodo managed to demonstrate this past week (other than immaturity, unprofessionalism, poor judgment, and a complete lack of integrity) is that they’re a bunch of self-important cocks who think they’re waging a subversive culture war by reassuring each other how awesome they are for hating CES…

Bottom line, Gizmodo did it for the lulz. Trying to dress it up as some moral crusade just looks stupid. So next year companies invest in a few rolls of electrical tape, big deal. I think TV-B-Gone played Gizmodo on this one; they got publicity without the expense of putting up a booth at the event, thus raising their profile among the very “self-important cocks” they want to market to.

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