In an internal memo Wednesday, Daily Beast Executive Editor Noah Shachtman told the staff that “we’re going to hit pause” on Joy Reid’s columns amid an investigation into “homophobic blog posts” from a decade ago that Reid and her legal team now claim are the product of hackers. “As you’re well aware, support for LGBTQ rights and respect for human dignity are core to Daily Beast,” wrote Shachtman. “So we’re taking seriously the new allegations that one of our columnists, Joy Reid, previously wrote homophobic blog posts during her stint as a radio host.”
On Thursday, The Daily Beast’s Kevin Poulsen published a piece that suggests that the “pause” on Reid’s column might turn out to be a permanent one. The title of the piece makes clear what the outlet’s investigation into Reid’s allegations has found so far: “Claims by Joy Reid’s Cybersecurity Expert Fall Apart“:
MSNBC host Joy Reid claims that recently unearthed homophobic articles attributed to her are fakes. And she says a cybersecurity consultant has proof that her old blog has been hacked.
But that consultant, Jonathan Nichols, had trouble producing the promised evidence. And what he did produce failed to withstand scrutiny, according to a Daily Beast analysis. Blog posts that Nichols claimed do not appear on the Internet Archive are, in fact, there. The indicators of hacked posts don’t bear out.
It only gets worse from there. Poulsen provides a timeline of Reid’s “homophobic blog” scandal, including her apology for her “Miss Charlie” posts about Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, then her pivot to blaming hackers for other similar posts unearthed afterward. “On Wednesday evening, Reid’s attorney announced that the FBI had opened an investigation into ‘potential criminal activities surrounding several online accounts, including personal email and blog accounts, belonging to Joy-Ann Reid,'” Poulsen notes.
Nichols’ claims: he found “significant evidence” that some hacker allegedly inserted material without her knowing in her blog. His proof? Some of it didn’t appear in a search on her blog, some of it was supposedly posted while she was on air, and some posts weren’t stylistically consistent with her other posts. In addition, Nichols claimed, some of the posts that have been circulated on Twitter have been altered after the fact. “We have both evidence of fraudulent posts and evidence of screenshot manipulation,” the consultant told The Daily Beast Wednesday.
“Except, that wasn’t quite so,” writes Poulsen, who goes on to systematically dismantle Nichols’ claims. Here’s an excerpt:
To support the screenshot forgery allegation, Nichols pointed to six images in the @Jamie_Maz Twitter timeline that he said were definitely not written by Reid nor posted by a hacker, but instead were outright fabricated images of posts that never appeared on the site. “The most obvious one was an instance where—it’s an easy one, it’ll stick in your head— [@Jamie_Maz] says Joy made statements about Eddie Murphy. It’s obviously false, she never made that claim.”
Nichols said those six posts are nowhere to be found in the Internet Archive. But that is not true.
Further searching on the Internet Archive turned up the posts for all six of the screenshots Nichols described as fakes, including the one about Eddie Murphy. The Internet Archive’s records indicate they were retrieved and stored between 2006 and 2009. And all six are exactly as they appear in the screenshots. A random check of other screenshots attributed to the blog produced the same result: None of the images are faked or doctored.
Oops. It turns out that the cybersecurity expert’s method’s were flawed: He’d simply used content tags to search for the articles. “But in fact the tags in question were not Blogger.com labels, but rather tags linking to Technorati.com, a long-defunct blog-tracking site completely external to Reid’s blog publishing host site,” Poulsen notes.
Poulsen’s conclusion: the 50 posts in question were all in fact published on Reid’s site, as proven by The Wayback Machine and the Library of Congress. So now, her only argument is that someone else published them on her site at the time and she somehow didn’t notice. So is it possible? Yes, but highly unlikely.
Poulsen found that Reid’s email address did in fact show up, “like millions of others,” in a search of the breach-notification site Have I Been Pwned. “If Reid used the same password on Blogger and one of the websites that suffered a password leak, it’s conceivable that someone found it and used it to log into her blog back in 2005,” writes Poulsen. “But Nichols could not provide any evidence suggesting this had occurred.”
Unless Nichols came come up with some more convincing evidence — really any evidence at all — don’t hold your breath for Reid’s next column at The Daily Beast.
“It’s possible that in the end Reid will discover her adversary isn’t a determined hacker, but a far more dogged foe: The Joy-Ann Reid of years past, writing in a voice she can no longer recognize as her own,” writes Poulsen.