Jason Leopold, who used to be a reporter for the L.A. Times and the Dow Jones News Service, has had a bad last few years. His story on former Enron official Thomas White included several plagiarized paragraphs, and its main revelation was an email that Salon editors were unable to verify (the email was suspected to have been fabricated). Salon then retracted Leopold’s article.
When in 2005 Leopold’s book was withdrawn on the eve of release, Howard Kurtz profiled Leopold in the Washington Post:
[A] Salon executive said the source cited by Leopold [in his Enron/White story] as providing the e-mail insisted he had never spoken with Leopold. . . .
The [press] release [sent out for his book] fleshes out a troubled career. Leopold says his grand larceny conviction in 1996 was for stealing compact discs from his employer, a New York music company, and reselling them to record stores. He says he was fired by the Los Angeles Times “for threatening to rip a reporter’s head off.” Leopold says he quit Dow Jones Newswires in a dispute over his beat but later learned the news service was planning to fire him because of a correction to one of his Enron stories: “Seems I got all of the facts wrong.”
Kurtz also suggested an explanation for some of Leopold’s more bizarre actions:
Leopold says he engaged in “lying, cheating and backstabbing,” is a former cocaine addict, served time for grand larceny, repeatedly tried to kill himself and has battled mental illness his whole life.
2. Leopold’s TruthOut.Org Stories on Rove and his dispute with blogger Seixon.
In May, 2006 Leopold reported for TruthOut.org that Karl Rove had been indicted by the Grand Jury. In June Leopold reported that the Grand Jury had issued an indictment, Sealed v. Sealed, and that the sealed indictment might have been of Rove (the story was discredited here).
When a DailyKos diarist suggested that Leopold’s story should be taken with “a block of salt,” another diarist from Canada named AnonymousArmy posted a comment on DailyKos that accused Leopold of falling for a fraudulent story from a conspiracy theorist, a posting that triggered a vicious dispute between Leopold, AnonymousArmy, George Gooding (an American living in Norway who blogs as Seixon), and other internet posters and commenters. The blow by blow accounts are quite tedious, but can be reviewed at Seixon here, here, here, here, and here (tip to Instapundit). The misdeeds involve allegations of repeated lying by Leopold, an anonymous posting accusing Gooding of molesting small boys, and a call to Gooding’s parents in the US. Given Leopold’s established record of using sock puppets, he can’t be ruled out as a suspect in making the anonymous charges of child molestation.
3. Death Threat.
The situation has deteriorated so substantially that today Gooding reports receiving a death threat:
At approximately 7:00 AM Central European Time I received a phone call from a blocked number. The person on the phone told me I had written naughty things on my blog, and then laughed when I asked them who they were.
“You’re a dead man.”
This is what the person on the line told me right before hanging up.
I called my local authorities and they told me to come down to the station. . . .
I told the police that I believed this person to have been Jason Leopold. Due to the number not showing on my phone, I said I could not be 100% sure who it was. The voice on the phone sounded like Leopold’s voice which I have heard on at least one radio interview.
4. Fabricated Emails.
A much less serious, but more interesting, allegation made by Gooding: that Leopold rewrote two emails that Gooding had sent him and two days ago posted them at Think Progress. Think Progress’s site no longer has the emails up, so it appears that Think Progress removed the partially forged emails.
(I want to make clear that I have not verified Gooding’s claims myself. Given Leopold’s past admitted plagiarism, lying, and mental instability, until I see evidence that Gooding is lying, I will discuss Gooding’s email claims on the hypothetical assumption that they are true.)
The emails that Gooding admits writing to Leopold are bluntly worded. They accuse Leopold of unethical behavior and include a sleazy threat to get “high-profile bloggers” to cover the story.
I now have you on the record lying. You sent anonymousarmy threatening or intimidating emails:
May 8 – from Boston
June 12 – from your ADSL near Irvine
June 19 – a couple emails sent from the Vance Hotel in Seattle
I have additional emails as well. . . .
You use firstname.lastname@example.org as a fake account.
You seem to have sent a threatening email to Armando of DailyKos.
Now, would you like to start talking?
You know, I bet you know a whole lot about what’s going on with Johnson, the Wilsons, and VIPS. You could really make a name for yourself reporting on all of that. As it is right now, you’re just a petty liar going around threatening people who are critical of your fables. . . .
[After reviewing some of the evidence, Gooding continues] I don’t appreciate being lied to Jason, and unlike some of your readers, I’m not a mindless twit.
I suggest you start setting the record straight because what I’ve got
right now is highly embarrassing for you and your friends. I’ve got the
clout to get this covered by high-profile bloggers as well.
I wish you had taken my advice 2 months ago Jason, I really do.
In his second email, Gooding explains and tries to justify the tone of his first email. (To understand this context and some of the parties, you would have to work through the posts linked above and see some of the abuse that Gooding was subjected to.) The second email starts:
Jason, normally I would have just published what I have without even asking you to comment. This time I thought I would ask you to comment on this stuff, since this clown Dean went harassing me and my family, so I’m pretty pissed about it. Now, the reason for all this is basically all your fault because you just can’t tell the damn truth.
As I said, I don’t appreciate when people lie to me.
Compared to some of your emails (or Larry Johnson’s…), mine was pretty G-rated for being “confrontational”.
Look, I’m trying to help you out here.
I have what seems to be some pretty crappy stuff here that you did, and there’s really no reason why I shouldn’t tell people about that. You chose to do these things, and you have to live with the consequences of your actions. You can’t expect to go around threatening people just for criticizing your work and get away with it. Sooner or later someone will have to expose your unethical behavior.
Defaming you would be printing lies about you, which is not what I’m going to do.
You denied sending intimidating emails to this person, and I have proof that you did. It’s that simple. . . .
Certainly not pretty!
The first email as rewritten and posted on the web (allegedly by Leopold) omits some of the discussions of Leopold’s misdeeds and adds this language:
I will make lies about you. I can do it. I have my own blog. Tell me all you know about Larry Johnson or me and anonymousarmy will hurt your reputation even more. We’ve already succeeded planting phony stories about you and we will continue to do it until you tell us everything about VIPS and who they are working with. . . .
Either work with me or I will ruin you. . . . I will make up stuff about you and your family. If you do not admit to me that Larry Johnson was your source I will make up things about you and post it on my blog. I will smear you until you commit suicide. I plan to destroy VIPS [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity] and I will do it with or without your help.
Similar deletions and additions are made to the second email:
You’re damn right it’s blackmail. Johnson must be stopped and you’re the target. I will take you down and I will have the National Review back me up.
What strikes me about these fabricated passages is how ridiculous they are. The real language used by George Gooding was questionable enough, but at least it reads plausibly. The words that Leopold is alleged to have put in Gooding’s mouth are just beyond belief. It appears that Leopold assumes that Gooding is a bad guy who would make things up and that Gooding is trying to ruin Leopold. To prove this, Leopold just puts all these supposed admissions into Gooding’s mouth: “I will ruin you. . . . I will make stuff up about you and your family. . . . I plan to destroy VIPS.” If Gooding’s account is true, in the terms of pop psychology, Leopold appears to be projecting onto others his own willingness to lie, make things up, and embarrass Gooding’s family.
To put Leopold’s behavior in context, consider this June 16, 2006 story by Joe Lauria in the Washington Post:
Leopold says he gets the same rush from breaking a news story that he did from snorting cocaine. To get coke, he lied, cheated and stole. To get his scoops, he has done much the same. As long as it isn’t illegal, he told me, he’ll do whatever it takes to get a story, especially to nail a corrupt politician or businessman. “A scoop is a scoop,” he trumpets in his memoir. “Other journalists all whine about ethics, but that’s a load of crap.”
Note that these admissions to Lauria occurred in early May of this year. Lauria then goes on to report that Leopold, in researching his Rove indictment story, pretended to be Lauria and gave out Lauria’s cell phone number with one digit off to Rove spokesman, Mark Carallo. Lauria then challenged Leopold on his unethical behavior:
I called Leopold. He gave me a profanity-filled earful, saying that he’d spoken to Corallo four times and that Corallo had called him to denounce the story after it appeared.
When he was done, I asked: “How would Corallo have gotten my phone number, one digit off?”
“Joe, I would never, ever have done something like that,” Leopold said defiantly.
In his Washington Post column, Joe Lauria then offers his own brief psychological profile of Leopold:
Leopold is in too many ways a man of his times. These days it is about the reporter, not the story; the actor, not the play; the athlete, not the game. Leopold is a product of a narcissistic culture that has not stopped at journalism’s door, a culture facilitated and expanded by the Internet.
In the end, whatever Jason Leopold’s future, he got what he appears to be crying out for: attention.
This brings me back to the most disturbing language that Leopold appears to have fabricated and added to George Gooding’s email: “I will smear you until you commit suicide.” That Leopold has a history of mental illness and suicide attempts and now may be imagining his own suicide could be a cry for more than attention. Leopold’s friends and journalistic colleagues should take this talk of suicide quite seriously.
NOTE: Given the psychological issues, threats of litigation, and flame wars in this dispute, I have not turned on comments.