Friday, August 03, 2007

Don't Try To Con A Con Man

Don't try to con a con man. This is the lesson learned from the 1988 movie, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine. (BTW, Steve's official website wins the prize of funniest and most bizarre of the week, narrowly edging out this one -- it's been a busy week, folks.) This lesson is one of the classic blunders. Unfortunately for one of Dateline NBC's producers, Michelle Madigan, she'd never heard the corollary "never try to social engineer a hacker."

You see, the trouble started when Ms. Madigan decided to try to infiltrate the (in)famous technology security convention, DefCon to get a story about the participants breaking the law. Of course this wouldn't be news, but neither is Dateline NBC (yes, a cheap shot, but c'mon -- have you seen this?). Apparently, the DefCon organizers have their own mole deep inside Dateline HQ who alerted them to the plan and sent along a picture. This photo was displayed before each lecture along with the message that she was attempting to deceptively gather information for a report. Apparently the assistant producer was lured to an ambush, was confronted, fled, and was hounded by people taking photos and videos. Sound familiar?

The takeaway here is that confronting an opponent on their own turf is a great way to get the opposite of the result you want. There have been several legitimate reporters (even kids!) and bloggers who have spoken with the kind of people who populate the virtual back alleys of the Internet. By being open and honest about their intentions, they usually manage to get a worthwhile interview. There are also several bloggers who have misrepresented themselves to get access to material from these people. But they were very careful about doing it and built up a trust relationship. I think the best advice here is to just be forthright and honest and leave the tricky and manipulative stuff to the professionals.

update: Here's a video, complete with crappy crowd participation boos and hisses, amateur videography, paparazzi style ambush journalism, etc. While turnabout is fair play, do you think that she's the only person who's misrepresented herself at DefCon? I doubt it. Show's over, get back to the presentations, folks. That's what we'll all be thinking about on Monday.

Of course, Elliot brings up some good points about her refusing press credentials, the irony of the "spot the Fed" competition she hoped to join, and the fact that even bloggers apply for press passes to avoid this treatment. So maybe I'm off base by thinking that it's only a funny story with the slow news weekend coming up. Decide for yourselves, folks.

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