April 1st, 2011

NYT Gets Punked Again on April Fool’s Day (But not by me)

Oy. Again Gray Lady? It didn’t seem to take that long, though I guess that’s old media for you. The Times got suckered again on April Fool’s Day. And it was just before bed last night that I wrote:

But, fear not, someplace out there on the web there are hoaxsters and pranksters of all stripes, and someplace, somewhere some folks will get gotten either because they weren’t wary, or if the gag is good enough, despite it.

Despite being punked twice last year by April Fool’s gags, and despite even doing that editorial mea culpa on the subject, the New York Times seems to have been snared again. That’s what they get for putting up a paywall.

Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice fame has the link.

 

August 30th, 2010

New York Times Bashes Lawyers (And Forgets History)

In an editorial today regarding the BP oil spill in the Gulf, the New York Times decided to take potshots at lawyers and assume that they would breach their ethics. In doing so, they elected to act like the New York Post by simply ignoring history and accepting one long running newspaper meme:  No one ever lost a nickel by bashing lawyers, because when we defend ourselves we sound like, well, lawyers.

The context of today’s assult is the $20B in funds offered up by BP to settle Gulf claims, and management of the fund by Ken Feinberg. Feinberg has quite the recent portfolio, managing this fund, being the “pay czar” for companies that were bailed out by the government during the recession (from which he stepped down to become engaged here), and also managing distribution of an extraordinary $700M+ funds related to settlement of claims related to 10,000 responders to the September 11 attack.

So what did the Times do? In an editorial today it discussed the virtues of the new fund being run by Feinberg, and that this was preferable to lawsuits. The paper then went on to claim:

Given his reputation, experience, and the amount of money on the table, it is clearly in the interests of every victim of this spill to give this program a careful, unemotional look. We probably cannot expect the lawyers to act responsibly.

The Times‘ justification for this assault is the presumption that, if one is going to go through the BP fund, then one doesn’t need a lawyer. In so claiming, the Times displays either its utter ignorance of proving the elements of an economic loss, or it elects to turn a blind eye. Because all claims are not equal. Some are difficult and need experts. The shrimper with the W2 is one thing, and the new business owner who was making investments in the business at the time BP recklessly wrecked Gulf waters is something else. Proving that future loss won’t be easy.

And it isn’t just shrimpers and beach resort businesses that are hurt, because as they go down, so too do the brick layers and bread makers that depend on those people. An entire economy suffers, and proving the relationship to the oil spill won’t be simple for many. There will be a billion shades of gray for the manner in which people were affected by the spill.

Does the Times seems to suggest that Feinberg will simply pay claims without the expert analysis that’s needed in the evaluations? Will the  claims simply leap off the table and magically prove themselves to Feinberg without effort?

In one sense, this is like a trial on damages only, with liability already established. But you still must prove those damages to the finder of fact. Perhaps many of the claims are simple. Most assuredly, many are not. Only a fool would walk into the forum unarmed.

The outrageousness of the Times‘ lawyer bashing is brought home with the irony of Feinberg’s involvement. For he also oversaw the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund and has been, to nearly universal acclaim, an outstanding public servant. And that 9/11 Fund saw over 1,000 lawyers working as part of Trial Lawyers Care, representing most of those directly injured in the attack and the families of those killed. Those lawyers did so on a pro bono basis.  It was then, and remains today, the largest distribution of free legal services in the country, and I was a proud (albeit small) part of it. Nobody knows better than Feinberg about the extraordinary efforts put forth by the legal profession.

And yet, the Times merely assumes that, despite history to the contrary, lawyers will act unethically by giving advice that is contrary to the interests of their clients. I expect such crap from the Post, not the Times. Perhaps the usual editorial writers were away this week on vacation, and they left the interns in charge. For the piece surely wasn’t written by anyone with a lick of common sense.

 

April 10th, 2010

NYT Explains How They Got Punked on April Fool’s Day


The New York Times has a piece on social media and how the Times is dealing with it, and the mistakes that they are making in the process. Part of it concerns our little April Fool’s joke, in this excerpt from the Public Editor in The Danger of Always Being On:

David Goodman, who writes New York Online, an aggregation of news from many sources, bit on a claim by Eric Turkewitz, a personal injury lawyer and blogger, that he had been appointed official White House law blogger. Goodman tossed in a short item at the end of his April 1 post. Turkewitz wrote the next day that he had been hoping to catch political bloggers, “whose reputation is to grab any old rumor and run with it,” but instead bagged “the vaunted New York Times.”

Goodman, who said he knows he should have checked it out, especially on April Fool’s Day, said that because several prominent legal blogs also had the item, he gave it more credibility than he should have. What he did not know was that the other bloggers were in on the hoax. Corbett said the episode pointed up the risks of news aggregation and the need to rely on trustworthy sources.

But we weren’t the only ones to get them. They explain another episode also.

 

April 5th, 2010

Welcome New Readers (Gawker, Instapundit, Right-Wing Blogosphere and others) – bumped and updated x2


To those coming over from Gawker for a few moments to read about a small April Fool’s stunt that punked The New York Times, and how it happened, welcome.

[Bumped and updated: Welcome, also, Instapundit, and others linked below]

[Updated x2 due to an influx of political bloggers from the right side of the aisle, with a selection below]

To give you a sense of the joint, for first time visitors, you can see some of the Greatest Hits in the right side bar, along with my Blawg Reviews.

I’ll trust you know how to use that RSS button when you realize you simply can’t live without having a personal injury lawyer in your RSS feed. People are like that sometimes.

Feel free to mosey around, but please try not to trash the joint while you’re here.

See: NYT Fooled Twice on April Fools’ Day (Gawker)

More:

  • Mr. NYPILB Doesn’t Go to Washington (Coverage Counsel):

    And I, for one, am glad Mr. NYPILB is staying in New York. And that he posted that second, less aged-looking photo of himself with his family…

  • Blogger Tricks NYT on April Fools Day (Mediaite):

    April 2nd is sometimes like the “morning after” scene in a big war movie, where you walk around the body-strewn battlefield and try to identify everyone who’s been killed. Or in this case, fooled. This year, one of the victims turned out to be that old veteren war horse, the New York Times, who got tricked by a prank pulled by the writer of a law blog…

  • Today’s Blooper of the Week (Set in Style):

    April Fool’s Day was great fun for some. Even the Pope participated, washing 12 pairs of feet with water and (who knew?) a solution that made those feet itch like mad 10 minutes later….

  • Turkewitz Blogger — The OTHER One — Punks The New York Times (Let’s Talk Turkey):

    Eric Turkewitz, blogger extraordinaire, also happens to be my man. He’s got a highly-popular blog in the legal and political landscape and rarely do our paths cross in the traffic-jammed blogosphere. But today they did…

  • New York Times is April Fooled by Law Blogger (Lowering the Bar)

    Not me, unfortunately — as I pointed out yesterday, nobody with fingers and access to a search engine would be fooled for very long by anything I tried to pass off as serious. But somebody, or a group of somebodies, with more respectability than me did manage to fool no less than the New York Times for about three hours…

  • That April Foolin’ New York Personal Injury Lawyer (Wise Law Blog):

    I confess that for a brief moment, I was fooled too.

    When our blawger friend, Eric Turkewitz of the New York Personal Injury Attorney Blog announced his appointment last week as “official White House law blogger,” my instant immediate reaction was ‘wow, that’s cool — I know that guy!’…

  • Fake story meant to ensnare bloggers catches NYT instead (Liberty Pundits):

    And these clowns wonder why they are circling the drain? This lawyer pulled the fake story stunt to entrap us — political bloggers — because “fact checking is not” our “strong suit,” so he claimed. We ignored the story, and the NYT ran with it…[much more, with bonus personal attack, no extra charge!]

  • Fake story meant to ensnare bloggers catches NYT instead (LauraIngraham):

    It’s a good ruse complete with charts and stories…

  • New York Times punked again (American Thinker):

    What happens when a personal injury lawyer tries to punk “political bloggers”? Answer: the blogs ignore it, but the New York Times runs with it — on April 1…

  • April Fools’ Joke Snares NYTimes (TheAtlanticWire):

    The rise of Twitter has made rapid information-sharing and fact-checking so easy that many journalists spent April Fools’ Day bemoaning the end of pranks. But one enterprising law blogger could celebrate a successful hoax when he hooked the Gray Lady herself…

 

April 2nd, 2010

About That White House Blogger Post from Yesterday….(NYT Gets Punked)


Welcome to April 2nd. And that means a deconstruction of what happened on April Fool’s Day when I announced that I was going to become the official White House law blogger.

The basic idea was this: A bunch of law bloggers would try to punk the political bloggers, whose reputation is to grab any old rumor and run with it. Fact checking hasn’t always been the strong suit of this community.

But the political bloggers, to their collective credit, didn’t bite, despite wide dissemination of the story. Not on the right or the left. Instead it was the vaunted New York Times that ran with the story without bothering to check its facts. The Times, of course, had no sense of humor about it when the angry phone call came to me a couple of hours later.

Here’s how it played out: Knowing that the premise of me getting such a gig was, shall we say, a tad far-fetched, I enlisted some heavy-duty muscle to give it credibility. Without others watching my back, I knew the ruse wouldn’t get off the ground.

This was the plan:

I post at 6 a.m. with an understated announcement.

At 9 am Above the Law uses its megaphone by putting it in the Morning Docket. Those that come to read my post will likely think it’s an April Fool’s gag.

Patrick @ Popehat (who last year pranked the world by creating the North Korean Twitter Feed) follows at 9:30 with a rip-snorting, barn-burning denunciation of my appointment, filled with speculation and innuendo trying to feed red meat to the political right. It would be a parody of a political attack, if it were still possible to parody such attacks anymore. (see: I Guess John Edwards Wasn’t Available) Patrick also has a source inside the Senate Judiciary Committee to give the appointment credence, albeit an anonymous one.

Scott Greenfield @ Simple Justice pitches in on petty political problems within the office of the White House Press Secretary. Those problems arise since I won’t be answerable to this department, but only to the White House Counsel. The Press Secretary is mad about that. (see: Turkewitz: Honest Broker or Loose Cannon?) Now, if the WH denies the story, I have a good reason. His source inside the press office was anonymous.

And Orin Kerr @ The Volokh Conspiracy comes in to say that his source inside the White House counsel’s office is also pissed. (see: How Did the White House Pick Its Law Blogger?) This source is mad because I posted before it was official. I’m a loose cannon. And yes, his source is anonymous.

The underlying idea was to give people second thoughts about the story’s legitimacy, because practicing lawyers would never set themselves up to be skewered like this and have their Google reputations trashed for years to come. (Hey guys, can you, ahem, edit those stories now?)

So, I have the ATL megaphone followed by three reputable bloggers confirming my appointment with three anonymous sources on a day everyone is looking out for pranks. Would anyone be taken?

Just to be sure, I tried to put some mustard and relish on the hot dog:

Doug Mataconis @ Below the Beltway pitched in with complaints about my appointment from the perspective of opposition to the health care bill. (see: Medical Malpractice Attorney Appointed White House Law Blogger)

And Walter Olson @ Overlawyered was on tap to likewise pan my selection, if he was able to get to a computer (he Twittered it).

Now let’s ask again: Would anyone be taken by this motley consortium of co-conspirators?

Silly question. Of course someone would. Who needs bona fide confirmations in the digital age when speed is more important that accuracy? Everyone wants to beat everyone else to the headline. And the illogic of someone setting himself up for a digital thrashing provided cover for the preposterous nature of the whole endeavor.

While I may have certain skills as a trial lawyer, none of them prepare me for a position in the office of the White House counsel expounding on constitutional law issues I haven’t dealt with before.

The comments came in via email and blog comments, on Facebook and on Twitter. I felt bad for my friends that were taken in. But only a little bit. My friends know how to laugh. And so do my digital friend co-conspirators.

But the political blogosphere, as I mentioned earlier, never bit.

Perhaps one reason (aside from it being a silly endeavor), is people love to expose a ruse, making it more difficult to pull off on such a high-profile day. Even before I made it to the office, the ABA Journal had very strongly hinted at a stunt. Their post is time-stamped 6:46 AM CDT. Ouch. They even gave a run-down of my a prior April Fools hoax I ran regarding fantasy baseball and judicial recusals. It was almost like they were waiting for me.

By 1 pm, Ashby Jones at the WSJ Law Blog was emailing me, trying to get me to ‘fess up. Seems he had called the White House for confirmation. (See: White House Hires Personal Injury Lawyer to Launch New Blog.) He conceded “we were had” and was, to be sure, a terrific sport about it when he tried again (this time by phone) to pry the secret out of me. The White House, he said, claimed it was an April Fool’s joke. The WH was apparently ready for this because, by 9 a.m., I already had hits from the service provider “executive office of the president usa” as well as the “us department of justice.”

But the New York Times didn’t bother to fact check. Not with me. Not with the White House. And not with Google, which already had the stories from both the ABAJournal and the WSJ by the time they ran the story at 2:05. The Paper of Record blogged in it’s City Room this piece on When Lawyers Blog:

…After all, as Mr. Turkewitz, a Manhattan lawyer, writes on his New York Personal Injury Law Blog, he is about to be sounding off on all manner of legal issues as the Obama administration’s new White House law blogger.

“Excited about new blogging gig as White House law blogger,” he tweeted this morning. “But hope I don’t have to spend too much time in D.C.”

Spoken like a true New Yorker.

At 4:45, I received a phone call from an infuriated “Andy Newman” from the New York Times demanding to know if this was an April Fool’s joke. Unlike the classy Ashby Jones, Newman had zero sense of humor and demanded that I answer “as an officer of the court” or he would pull the post down.

I tried not to laugh, and told him that due to concerns in the White House about me jumping the gun on the story (as per Orin Kerr’s post @ Volokh), I really shouldn’t say anything and would clear it up tomorrow. This clearly wasn’t good enough for him as he hung up on me, and down came the NYT post. The Times, I guess, doesn’t like being punked on April Fool’s Day.

Next time, perhaps, they will fact check April 1st stories involving small-time law bloggers suddenly becoming White House law bloggers. Next time.

The Times then updated its piece with this editorial comment:

[Note: an earlier version of this column had an item about a blog post by a personal-injury lawyer, Eric Turkewitz, announcing that he had been appointed the White House law blogger. Blogospheric chatter indicates a high likelihood that this post was an April Fool hoax. Mr. Turkewitz declined to give us a straight answer on this score, so, pending callback from the White House, we’ve taken the item down.]

As of 6:30 a.m. on April 2nd, the new comment about a a “pending callback from the White House” is still up, so maybe The Times is losing its muscle in the White House. Hopefully, my new best buddies in Washington weren’t too upset about getting the press inquiries.

So where did the idea come from? It came from my screenwriting brother Dan, who has no shortage of story ideas, and who was recently in the news because of the letter Justice Scalia wrote him regarding secession. He was also the one that stuck my head on the body of former Senator George Mitchell for my photo op with President Obama (compare to picture at top).

Incredibly, one commenter at the Volokh Conspiracy actually knew this was a picture of Mitchell. How? There must be a million photo op pictures like this. Which leads me to believe that Sen. Mitchell himself or his wife/kids/friends/staff must be reading and commenting. (The same comment was left on my site, which I declined to publish so the gag wasn’t too quickly exposed.) So let me give a big shout-out to the Mitchell family, and thank them for tolerating my comments about George’s posture.

My wife, by the way, hated the head shot that was photoshopped on to Mitchell’s body, since she said it made me look 20 years older than I am. So for Mrs. NYPILB (she loves that acronym), I’m putting up another that was taken the same day.

Now one final question: Why the hell would I go to all this trouble for an April Fool’s stunt?

I’m glad you asked: Lawyers often deal with misery. Peoples’ lives can be forever changed in a fraction of a second in an accident. Divorce. Child custody. Bankruptcy. Arrests. There is no real end to the chain of human misery that clients bring to the doors of practicing attorneys.

So the April Fool’s post is a count-your-blessings kind of thing. You only live once and life doesn’t come with rehearsals. If you can enjoy yourself a little without hurting someone else, then that’s OK. Laughter isn’t the antidote to all of life’s ills, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Unless, of course, you’re the Paper of Record.

Victory Lap Update:

Numerous additional links to the gag are at this welcome post for new readers.

Update: April Fool’s Day 2011: The NYT got taken again (Scott Greenfield @ Simple Justice)