As I revealed last week, the Journal News ran a
attempted smear job orchestrated by Noam Bramson fascinating article Sunday which "exposes" that I own domain names relevant to New Rochelle, among them domains based on public figures in New Rochelle like Barry Fertel.
The article provides a classic example of how Noam Bramson and his North End Democratic machine operate to manipulate the public, in this case with the enthusiastic connivance of Ned P. Rauch a "reporter" for the Journal News, a long-time Democratic mouthpiece in Westchester County. It goes a long way towards explaining why, according to the Mayor, less than 20% of households today subscribe to the regional Gannett newspaper.
Here's how it works:
Step One, gin up a faux controversy and pitch that to a "reliable" news outlet like the Journal News.
The article begins with the unsupported claim that "several City Council members" are upset that I own their domain names. The article then identifies two, both Democrats, who have been complaining about Talk of the Sound for years because we have been exposing waste, fraud and abuse on their watch.
Fertel and Sussman, the angry pair of Council Members, have been elected officials for years and never bothered to plunk down the $13 required to reserve a domain name -- either too cheap or too inept to bother. In all their years in office, they have not once expressed the slightest interest in owning domains based on their own name. I bought the domains last summer. Since that time I have encountered both Fertel and Sussman numerous times and they never mentioned any concern about the domains. The first I heard about their sudden interest in these domains was in a heated, accusatory call from Ned P. Rauch of the Journal News. At no point before or after has either Fertel or Sussman contacted me to express any concerns or express any desire for me to transfer the domains to them.
The only person who has ever expressed interest in a domain name based on his name was City Council Member Jared Rice. He contacted me last week, before the story ran, and asked me directly if he could have it. Who would think the youngest member of Council would be the only adult among the Democrats, the only person who would have the courtesy to just pick up the phone and ask me for the domain. Of course, I agreed to transfer the domains jaredrice.org and jaredrice.com to his control so he can build a web site for his upcoming campaign. He will reimburse me for my out-of-pocket expenses which amount to about $45 for one-year on two domains plus transfer costs. I have no obligation to do so, and certainly I would have been well within my rights to mark up the price, but if someone treats me cordially I will always do the same.
Step Two, make available several "outraged" people, in this case elected officials from within the New Rochelle Democratic party.
Barry Fertel and Marianne Sussman are "livid". Fertel uses words like "objectionable" and "inappropriate" and says he feels like "his name has been stolen from him".
I make the entirely correct point that there is nothing unusual about web site publishers buying available domains relevant to their site but, according to the article, Barry Fertel has "a different take". Does that mean that Fertel wants to argue that domain redirects are not a common Search Engine Optimization ("SEO") strategy? No. Just that Fertel, who apparently knows nothing about SEO, finds using such a strategy ""objectionable and inappropriate". It is always amusing to get lectures on appropriate behavior from the likes of Barry Fertel.
Step Three, initiate a series of ambush interviews, in this case two elected officials from within the New Rochelle Republican party.
Council Members Lou Trangucci and Albert Tarantino are quoted in the article. Both of them were aware that I had bought up domains based on their names. Neither of them particularly cared. It should be no surprise that when they received a phone call and were asked to comment, out of the blue, on a topic that did not interest them, by a reporter hustling a particular angle on behalf of Noam Bramson, they would not recall my having mentioned it to them. Their mistake was to trust Ned P. Rauch or anyone else associated with the Journal News. Having seen the article, they both now recognize responding to Ned P. Rauch without having first refreshed their memories was a mistake. I called them after the story ran and they both acknowledged that I had, in fact, informed them that I had bought their domains. In fact, I had encouraged them, like I do for everyone I talk to about this in New Rochelle, Republican or Democrat, that they should create web sites. Tarantino intends to contact the Journal News to complain that the words attributed to him by Ned P. Rauch do not accurately reflect his answer to Rauch. This would be the second story in a week about Robert Cox where the Journal News is being asked to run a correction.
Step Four, find some "independent experts" to validate the "outrage".
Expert #1: Ralph Stein, a law professor at Pace University.
Stein says the practice is both legal and protected under the First Amendment. Here Stein is on safe ground because he is a law professor and is commenting on the law. So far so good but this is not going to get him included in a Bramson manufactured article in the Journal News. He needs to be part of the "attack Cox" strategy so he tosses in his own personal ethical view which has nothing to do with his being cited as an expert affiliated with the Pace University law school.
Stein adds "Anytime you lead a person to believe they're going somewhere and you lead them somewhere else, I have a personal ethical problem with that".
I have problem with a law professor turned ethicist making the false claim that a particular domain such as "barryfertel.com" is leading anyone to believe anything. It just "is". There is no marketing or promotion around it that creates any particular impression about anything. For a lawyer, this guy does not know much about contract law. There is no promise by me or anyone else, implied or stated, that typing in barryfertel.com will lead anyone to any particular place. In fact, until I purchased the domain last summer, barryfertel.com did not lead anywhere. To address Mr. Fertel's supposed concerns, his domain no longer re-directs to Talk of the Sound.
Stein closes by noting "But the law is not decided on my personal ethics."
Well, that sounds like a good thing then considering Stein's personal ethical history. Not mentioned in the Journal News article is that Stein served as the top Army Intelligence analyst in the Counterintelligence Analysis Bureau at the Pentagon at the height of the Vietnam War. He was part of an operation to spy on civilians in the United States including Jane Fonda, Pete Seeger, Martin Luther King and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement.
According to an archived article from United Press International, Stein was gathering and processing military intelligence in civilians coming from "1,500 Army plainclothes agents had infiltrated, photographed, recorded and watched over political picnics, party conventions, peace marches, a union meeting, yippie communes, a church youth group and a drunken college brawl in Yap, N.D."
In 1971, Stein had a change of heart and agreed to testify against the U.S. Army before the Senate constitutional rights subcommittee led by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
In more recent activities, Professor Stein has weighed in on important topics like a patented process for turning an electric toothbrush into a vibrator and girls at a Kansas high school selling sexually suggestive t-shirts which violated the copyright of a Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation. Copyright violation appears to be a theme for Professor Stein who copied and pasted an entire article from The New York Times on the Feminist Law Professors web site.
Today, Stein lives in Cortlandt Manor and is a Democratic campaign donor.
Expert #2: Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College.
Zaino also says the practice is both legal and protected under the First Amendment although she is not a lawyer and has no particular qualification to comment on the legal or Constitutional issues.
Zaino says "it's unlikely a traditional news outlet would share Cox's tactics" and that "standards for blog-based journalism are still evolving".
Zaino adds "claiming council members' names for his benefit, however, could make things more difficult for Cox 'if he fancies himself a journalist and he's trying to cover the City Council.'
I addressed all of this in email to Professor Zaino:
I read your remarks in a recent Journal News article:
Ralph Stein, a law professor at Pace University, and Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College, said the practice is legal and protected by the First Amendment. But they also said it raises ethical questions for the evolving world of new media and online journalism.
Zaino said it's unlikely a traditional news outlet would share Cox's tactics, and standards for blog-based journalism are still evolving.
She said claiming council members' names for his benefit, however, could make things more difficult for Cox "if he fancies himself a journalist and he's trying to cover the City Council."
I have published several articles about you and the Iona polling center and so was somewhat familiar with your background which appears to focus on politics. It has been my published opinion that your polling center will be a welcome addition to the local political scene. For the first time, this fall, we will have (I hope) some real-time, public polling data available for our races.
I was curious then to know what qualifies you as an expert on evolving standards for blog-based journalism and media ethics or how you allowed yourself to be dragged into commenting on subjects outside your area of expertise on stories you know nothing about. Purchasing domains and re-directing them is a common practice in the field of Search Engine Optimization. I see nothing in your background that suggests you are qualified to comment on SEO techniques or have any particular knowledge of what sorts of SEO techniques are employed by web publishers and, in particular, traditional media outlets.
I have been consulting to traditional media outlets on web-publishing, blogging and social media platforms for a decade. I have spoken all over the country and journalism schools, journalism conferences and new media/blogging conferences. If you were more familiar with the subject, you would know that traditional media outlets today use all manner of SEO techniques including the use of names of subjects they cover to drive traffic through meta data, taxonomy "tagging" and domain re-directs. Ironically, Gannett uses these techniques; a fact Mr. Rauch willfully left out his story (I advised him to check internally something he apparently declined to do). I have consulted to USA TODAY and worked closely with the senior leadership of Gannett. I have done the same with Newsweek, the Associated Press and other traditional media outlets.
If you were familiar with the subject, you would know that the issue is not "blog-based journalism" which is an idea predicated on the mistaken notion that publication format embues content with certain elements. It does not. The issue is that I am serving as both publisher and reporter and opinion writer for Talk of the Sound As a publisher, my role is to increase traffic and bring in revenue to support the web site. My efforts to do that have no bearing on covering any particular beat or story or articulating a point of view in an Op-Ed.
It is therefore with some disappointment and no small degree of alarm that I see how someone of your stature would jeopardize the reputation of your polling center by participating in yet another one of Noam's pathetic little schemes by giving opinions on subjects outside your field of expertise to feed a narrative created by our Mayor as part of a political hit job. It will not help Iona College if the leader of their polling center is dismissed as another North End New Rochelle Democratic operative. I would hope you consider that and be more careful in the future.
Best of luck this fall.
PS, Did anyone bother to mention to you that all of the domains in question were unclaimed as of last year and that neither of the two people complaining in the article, people I encounter routinely, have ever expressed any interest in the domains? Or that even as of this moment I have still have not heard from Mr. Fertel or Ms. Sussman. Seems to me if they were really concerned they could do what Jared Rice did -- pick up the phone and ask me to transfer them to his control which I have agreed to do once he opens an account with a domain registration service.
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound
For the record, Zaino lives within walking distance of Noam Bramson's house. The property portal indicates that children living in her home are in the Barnard district which means they would attend Davis Elementary School and Albert Leonard School, same as Noam's children and same as many of the people who organized against my recent campaign for school board.
In conclusion, I can tell you that I have bought all the domains mentioned in the Journal News article and many more. I did not say "a hundred" but "hundreds" when Rauch asked me how many domains I owned. There is nothing mysterious or nefarious about buying available domains and once I own them I can do with them as I please. Not only is there nothing mysterious about it, my ownership is a matter of public record. For a fee, I can hide the identity of the ownership of the domains I own but I do not do that because there is nothing to hide. As best I can tell, the only person who is genuinely upset about my owning a domain based on their names is Barry Fertel. Hopefully, Barry will be satisfied now that I have redirected www.barryfertel.com away from Talk of the Sound and towards a more appropriate web site.