UPDATE: 07/30: Talked with Congressman Rick Boucher twice this afternoon. He is very upset over the way the Park Rangers treated festival goers and promises to call in the head of the Parkway and make it clear "that nothing like this can ever be allowed to happen again." I’ve worked with Boucher enough to know that when he gets mad, heads roll. Stay tuned. More to follow.
Andrew Ward Hayden was a young man on a mission to bring me down because of my comments about Virginia Tech’s abuse of power in covering up the many misdeeds of star quarterback Michael Vick during his time at the school.
Hayden, which is the name he used to open a web hosting account but which I also doubt is his real name, says he is not from Floyd County, but claims he has friends here and, with their help, he admits concocting a scheme to launch a web site called Floyd Free Press that would publish a number of scandalous stories about residents of the county and then be falsely linked back to me as some sort of outlaw pushing effort.
It almost worked. I linked to their site thinking it was a legitimate operation. They wrote about politics with what looked like insider knowledge. Then the stories turned nasty — a review of local bloggers that was particularly scathing towards one; a suggestion that a county official was having an affair with his daughter; a claim of alcohol abuse by another prominent citizen.
Sean Pecor, an alert reader, discovered that running a traceroute on the site appeared to point back to one of my web servers based in Blacksburg. But when I ran a trace based on the site IP it routed back to a server in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Hayden, who says he has a degree in computer science, admits he created a script that sat on his leased server space and sent false traceroute and ping information that pointed back to one of my servers. It was, he admits, part of the plan to eventually falsely claim Floyd Free Press as something I had created.
It didn’t work. At my attorney’s request (a demand actually), Hayden’s web host shut down his site and suspended his right to use it. After we explained the legal ramifications of what he had done, and the penalties he could face, he agreed to admit responsibility for his efforts and apologize to the residents of Floyd County. The apology was posted on the Floyd Free Press web site for one week and the web site is being taken down.
This incident should serve as a warning to all who publish on the Internet that you can’t always hide behind fake names and false pretenses. There are ways to discover who you are and expose your true intentions. I’ve been the target of such smear efforts before, usually aimed at my involvement with the political web site Capitol Hill Blue. Most of the time I ignore such attempts but this one could not be ignored because it involved people I know and respect and it tried to affect where I live and my relationships with friends.
If you mess with me I may ignore it but if you mess with my friends you will pay for that foolish mistake.
In the news business we have three words that describe this situation: Conflict of interest.
Any time you see a news organization taking a financial stake in a public event you immediately wonder if that organization will treat the event objectively. Will The Roanoke Times, for example, provide more news coverage because they are sponsoring the event? Will they overlook stories that might place the event in a controversial or negative light?
Good questions. On opening night of FloydFest 6, the talk on the grounds centered around the gestapo-like tactics of The National Park Police and their "Criminal Interdiction Team" brought in from Asheville to profile, harass and arrest festival attendees. Didn’t see a word about the problem in Friday’s Times. Some gosh, gee-whiz feature stuff about the event but no hard news coverage.
The old Roanoke Times, the one I worked for back in the 60s, would have avoided such a conflict. The editors would have said that such sponsorship creates the "appearance of impropriety."
And they would have been right.