Newsweek's cover article falsely naming Dorian Nakamoto "The Face Behind Bitcoin" was published in March 2014. Criticism of the article was immediate and universal. Thereafter, Newsweek appended a statement issued by Dorian to the article’s online version, but has not retracted the article, apologized, or compensated Dorian or his family.
The article’s conclusion is false. Dorian Nakamoto is not the inventor of Bitcoin. He has never worked on Bitcoin. Newsweek and Leah McGrath Goodman, the article's author, should have—and may have—known this conclusion was false, or at least highly unlikely. Newsweek's article terrorized both Dorian and his family, all of them private citizens.
In addition to the article’s false conclusion, it contains misstatements of fact and invented and altered quotes from Dorian and his family members. This is not the first time these allegations have been made against the article’s author. In addition, in an interview after the article was published, the author appears to have wholly invented an additional conversation with Dorian supporting her version of events.
Why would Newsweek publish an article they knew or should have known to be false?
It's not the same Newsweek you remember. After years of ownership by The Washington Post Company, "tiny digital publisher" IBT Media purchased the near-defunct Newsweek "brand," but possibly not its prior legal and editorial infrastructure. The article was the cover story of a relaunched Newsweek as a highly-priced physical magazine in March of 2013. According to one journalist, the editor "was interested in creating a splashy magazine article for the print reincarnation of a storied mass-market newsweekly."
Criticism of the article and the article’s author and background information on Newsweek and its parent company are detailed below.
CRITICISM OF THE ARTICLE
Criticism of the article was immediate and universal:
In a lengthy analysis titled “The colossal arrogance of Newsweek’s Bitcoin ‘scoop’”, Ars Technica writer Joe Mullin called Newsweek’s article “a ‘Dewey beats Truman’ moment for the Internet age, with all of the hubris and none of the humor” and “a caricature of journalism gone awry.”
Relying on publicly-available information, New York Public Radio’s Mike Hearn published a comprehensive list of the factual, circumstantial, required skill, and writing inconsistencies weighing against the article’s conclusion, concluding that Newsweek should have known the premise of the article was false.
In an analysis at Reuters, journalist Felix Salmon found the article unconvincing. He included a quote from the article’s author: “If I read my own story, it would not convince me…I would have a lot of questions.”
Reading Newsweek’s article, Fox Business’s Steve Tobak “felt transported to a jury box where an overzealous prosecutor was trying hard to convince me of a conclusion she believed was true, even though it had been built entirely on weak circumstantial evidence.” Relying on facts disclosed in Newsweek’s article, including Dorian’s health problems, financial straits, and lack of bitcoin-related skills, Tobak concluded that Newsweek’s article “doesn’t pass the smell test,” and questioned Newsweek’s motives in overwriting the story.
ABOUT THE ARTICLE'S AUTHOR
The article’s author, Newsweek employee Leah McGrath Goodman, was previously sued for defamation in 2011.
The complaint in that case alleged that a book written by Goodman contained “significant factual errors and misquotes.”
In the course of her reporting, Goodman obtained Dorian's private email address through deception, lied to Dorian in emails, published details of his private life, including his health, employment, and financial troubles, published pictures of his home, indirectly making public his address, and published altered or invented quotes from Dorian and his family.
If Goodman's conclusion were true, which it is not, it would have meant:
that he possessed hundred of millions of dollars in Bitcoin for which he may have owed taxes and in which unsavory third parties might be interested (Goodman: "There are wealthy people and they’re not not in the phone book. The idea that you can invent something and be successful and that it’s dangerous and you could be murdered is really repugnant.");
that Dorian was associated with a product little-understood by the broader American public, aside from its association with illegal activity.
If Goodman's conclusion were true, which it is not, it would have meant that Dorian lived a double life, making a practice of lying, for a decade or longer, about his activities, employment, and financial condition to his family, including his estranged wife and children.
Goodman's article leans heavily on a single shouted and chaotic outdoor conversation with Dorian, who was in recovery from a stroke he suffered in October 2013, a fact of which Goodman was aware. Her account of Dorian's statements during that incident is incorrect. She claims to have no recording of the interaction.
Dorian's request for retraction to Newsweek, which was ignored, listed 16 factual errors and altered or invented quotes. In addition to the altered or invented quotes contained in the article, Goodman invented an entirely new conversation that did not occur in an interview with Kashmir Hill of Forbes:
"'I was prepared up until the day I spoke to him for him to laugh and say it was a ridiculous coincidence. But he didn’t; he acknowledged it,' says Goodman. 'I told him, 'You’re acknowledging Bitcoin and if you weren’t involved you need to tell me now.' He said, 'I cannot do that.'"
This conversation is wholly fabricated. Note that it is not in the Newsweek article, though its inclusion would presumably have been helpful to Goodman's case.
ABOUT NEWSWEEK AND ITS OWNER
Newsweek was owned by The Washington Post Company from 1961 until 2010. In 2010, it was bought by entrepreneur Sidney Harmon for $1 (and the assumption of its debts). Newsweek's parent company announced that magazine would cease publication of its printed edition at the end of 2012.
In August 2013, IBT Media announced that it had purchased "the Newsweek brand" and its online "operation." It is unclear whether any remnant of Newsweek's prior legal or editorial infrastructure remained after the sale to IBT. In a Buzzfeed article, the IBT founders asserted that they believed that the brand still had "a lot of cachet."
In a New York Times article, the "tiny digital publisher" discussed its plan to relaunch Newsweek with a high cover price of $7.99; IBT founder Etienne Uzac is quoted as calling the relaunched print magazine "a luxury product."
According to journalist Felix Salmon, Newsweek's editor "was interested in creating a splashy magazine article for the print reincarnation of a storied mass-market newsweekly."
After publication of the article, journalists at Mother Jones and Christianity Today investigating IBT found connections between the company and "charismatic Korean pastor" David Jang, who is alleged to teach his followers that he is the Second Coming of Christ.
- These reports strongly implied Jang's continuing involvement with and control over IBT. Mother Jones reported that "internal documents show [Jang] routinely weighing in on a wide range of business decisions, from personnel and business strategy to typography."