TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: : The Back Story : The Back Story

Jack Shafer (
Mon, 06 Nov 2006 12:49:38 -0600 The Back Story
How a reporter's source came to design his eponymous Web site.

By Jack Shafer ...

Reporters are supposed to get close to their sources, but what's too
close? I criticized New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald for
achieving extreme proximity to primary source Justin Berry in the
process of investigating his expose on Web-based child pornography.

In the Dec. 19 package, Eichenwald writes of persuading the
19-year-old Berry to quit using drugs and leave the pornography
business, into which he was "lured" at the age of 13. Eichenwald also
referred Berry to an attorney last summer, introduced him to a doctor,
and suggested he seek counseling, which he did. Thanks, in part, to
the reporter's efforts, Berry became a witness for federal prosecutors
and was granted immunity.

In my piece and in a civil e-mail dialogue with Eichenwald that
followed (attached to the bottom of my piece), I argued that his
intervention into Berry's life had left him too invested in his
source's fate to report the story faithfully. Reporters can do good
while doing good journalism, but the former can subtly overtake the
latter if they're not careful.


After my Eichenwald article appeared, a reader pointed me to, a professional-looking Web site promoting
Eichenwald's books, his newspaper journalism, and his availability as
a speaker through the Lavin Agency. "Copyright 2005-2006 Kurt
Eichenwald," read the legend at bottom of the home page. ...

According to the Whois page on,
is registered to the author's publisher, Random House, and the page's
DNS servers include and

When I browsed to, I found a Web developer
and Internet marketing concern by that name promoting the page as one of its September "Clients of the
Month." listed Justin Berry as the firm's
president as well as his phone and fax numbers and e-mail address.

Eichenwald says that nobody assigned Berry to design, and nobody paid for his
work. isn't even the journalist's official
Web site. That distinction belongs to,
named after Eichenwald's recent book of the same name, and is also
registered to Random House.

Eichenwald, who described Berry's computer talents in the Times, says
the young man presented him with a mock-up design for an Eichenwald
site in late August 2005, when the Times story was still in
process. When Berry asked if he could put the site up on, the reporter says he didn't give the issue
"much consideration" before securing permission from Random House to
use the address. (The publisher had purchased to prevent a Web squatter from taking the

After a couple of weeks, Eichenwald says he was no longer
"comfortable" with the site being up. He explains that Berry was in a
volatile emotional space during those weeks, and he was glad to give
the young man something constructive to do. After Berry had gotten
"his head on straight," the creation of the Web site had served its
purpose. Eichenwald asked him to pull the plug, which he says Berry

What caused the site's resurrection? Eichenwald, who didn't know the
site was live again until I notified him, says he called Berry, who
explained that he wanted to display his work to someone. Both and went dark this
afternoon following my inquiries to Eichenwald. Berry did not return a
call for comment.

Eichenwald doesn't regret letting Berry use the address to showcase
his skills.

"In the same circumstances, I'd probably do it again."

Jack Shafer is Slate's editor at large.

Copyright 2006

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