We’re coming up to the 20th anniversary of the story that ended my career as a tech journalist at Time Magazine: The July 3,1995 “Cyberporn” cover.
The ruckus that followed publication has been well documented. The incident was newspaper and magazine fodder for much of the summer. It produced two books. For many years it was assigned reading in journalism schools as an essay topic in ethics classes — usually as an example of what not to do. Hotwired created the "Philip Elmer-DeWitt Award for Bad Internet Reporting," for which I remain the only recipient.
I’ve never written about the story -- the editorial process that produced it, the warning signs missed, the firestorm sparked.
For the network of networks that looms so large in our lives today, the incident was a kind of coming of age. John Gilmore famously wrote that the Internet, designed to withstand a nuclear attack, would interpret censorship as damage and route around it.
But this was something more -- a foretaste of a new kind of media dynamics. Faced with what was arguably the Internet's first existential threat -- legislation that aimed to criminalize adult content online -- free-speech activists organized a grassroots defense that didn't just discredit the story, its author and its key source, it became the story.
The lead actor in the counter-attack was Mike Godwin, then a lawyer with Electronic Frontier Foundation, best known today as the originator of Godwin’s law of Nazi analogies. He is still around and working Internet law.
But Marty Rimm, whose research paper "Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway," was Time's news peg, stuck around for a couple of weeks, gave a few interviews (NY Times, ABC News) and disappeared, leaving me holding the bag.
I’d need to find Rimm to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. The free Internet search tools yielded nothing useful. One that took my credit card gave me two dead-end addresses -- one in Atlantic City (Rimm's home town) and another in Peekskill, New York.
The next step is to enlist the services of a private investigator. I've talked to two PIs, one an ex-NYC cop, the other ex-FBI. They want retainers between $750 and $1,250 and charge $75 to $100 an hour.
This is a Kickstarter to fund the cost of a private eye -- or at least it began as that. It seems to be morphing into a broader project. See Update No. 2.
Risks and challenges
Both PIs were confident they could find Rimm. But he could be dead. He could be overseas. He could be untraceable. And even if they can locate him -- and I can raise the funds to track him down -- there's no guarantee that he will talk.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)