If a French judge had been caught scheming to deprive the U.S. gymnastics team of its gold medal, the deceit may not have caused the furor that the publication of an NBC email address sparked over the weekend. On Tuesday, the emerging international crisis looks to have somehow been averted without a Barack Obama-David Cameron summit.
From beginning to end, the three parties at the root of the strife – the reporter, the social network and the network – all acted with a degree of cluelessness. The reporter (Guy Adams) somehow thought he had a shot at influence. The social network (Twitter) proposed what smacked of censorship. And, the network (NBC) gave that practice the green light.
On Friday, British reporter Adams grew frustrated that NBC was airing the Olympic Opening Ceremony on tape delay. So, he followed the strategy angry viewers have used for decades: publish network contact information, hoping to generate a rash of complaints.
Adams, who writes for The Independent, figured the email address of NBC’s top Olympics executive Gary Zenkel would be a good complaint venue, so he tweeted out Gary.Zenkel@nbcuni.com. “Tell him what u think!” he wrote.
Zenkel’s email address is not exactly a state secret. Not Valerie Plame-CIA-identity stuff.
It could be found via Google in “about five seconds,” Adams told a Toronto radio station.
But Twitter, which has a policy of preventing publication of private information, alerted NBC about the Zenkel exposure.
Adams’ Twitter account was suspended.
The uproar ensued.
Then Tuesday, Adams was back on Twitter and the original offending tweet with Zenkel’s address was restored. According to Adams, NBC withdrew its complaint and Twitter lifted the moratorium.
Adams wasn’t at fault in the whole saga. But really what was he thinking? What gave him this crazy idea that email bombardment of Zenkel (or anyone at NBC) would do any good? Why did he waste the Twitter characters with such folly? He should have spent time shooting for the moon where he had a better chance of reaching it.
Twitter, which has an Olympic partnership with NBC, certainly should work diligently to avoid exposure of highly personal information. Punishing the release of Zenkel’s cell phone number or a private email address would be just, but not releasing an NBC corporate email that is easily obtainable.
If that is Twitter's standard for suppression, it is ceding much of its role as a venue for protest, which should be a pillar of its raison d’etre. Twitter has shined in that role in the Arab Spring. Is it ready to ask a high-ranking military defector to take down Assad’s @syria.gov address?
NBC obviously acted rashly, forgetting it was dealing with a reporter, who obviously would go public with word about his forced Twitter abandonment. And, not realizing news outlets would cover a story that had any hint of “evil Comcast suppresses information.” If there’s one thing reporters hate, it’s a whiff of censorship.
Of course, NBC also failed to realize that in the coverage of the story, Zenkel’s email address would receive far more awareness than had it been buried innocuously in Adams’ feed. Obviously, if Zenkel’s inbox had become overloaded and needed to be shut down, Zenkel could get a new address.
Surely, Zenkel has one now. Though MediaPost sent him an email thanking him for the inspiring swimming coverage and didn’t get a bounce-back.
Perhaps when thinking under cooler circumstances than the craziness of putting on an Olympics, NBC would have taken a different course. Deep down, its people surely know one of the privileges of being part of a broadcast network is having the chance to reach so many people. And criticism is a validation of that role. If none comes in, that’s bad.
As for MediaPost, we have engaged in some introspection and recommitted to a similar relationship with our readership. We would have no problem with people tweeting the work email address of our West Coast bureau chief Wayne Friedman, looking to garner complaints about his coverage of NBC’s Olympic work. So, when Twitter comes to us and notes firstname.lastname@example.org has been made available for the world to see on its platform, we would say Friedman can deal.