The Slatest

Experts (and Laypeople) Are Skeptical of Joy Reid’s Claim That Hackers Published Homophobic Comments Under Her Name

Joy Reid on a panel in Pasadena, California, on July 29.
Joy Reid in Pasadena, California on July 29, 2017.
Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon

Last December, MSNBC host and prominent #resistance figure Joy Reid apologized for having made homophobic comments about Florida politician Charlie Crist in blog posts published between 2007 and 2009. A week ago, the Twitter user who’d provoked Reid’s apology by surfacing the Crist comments—@jamie_maz—highlighted a number of other posts apparently published on Reid’s blog that were homophobic or dismissive of LGBTQ-rights activism. (While the blog is now defunct, @jamie_maz explained, its content had been saved on the Wayback Machine internet archive.) Here’s one example:

Reid also (apparently) wrote that gay sex is “gross” and speculated in pejorative fashion about the sexual orientation of various male politicians and celebrities. (FWIW, the other posts on @jamie_maz’s timeline are generally about progressive/left activist topics. I DM’d the account to ask if its owner would like to be identified publicly and will update this post if I hear back.)

Rather than apologizing further, though, Reid announced in a statement that she’d been hacked:

In December I learned that an unknown, external party accessed and manipulated material from my now-defunct blog, The Reid Report, to include offensive and hateful references that are fabricated and run counter to my personal beliefs and ideology.

I began working with a cyber-security expert who first identified the unauthorized activity, and we notified federal law enforcement officials of the breach. The manipulated material seems to be part of an effort to taint my character with false information by distorting a blog that ended a decade ago.

Now that the site has been compromised I can state unequivocally that it does not represent the original entries. I hope that whoever corrupted the site recognizes the pain they have caused, not just to me, but to my family and communities that I care deeply about: LGBTQ, immigrants, people of color and other marginalized groups.

Her claims have been described as implausible by tech experts. The Intercept wrote that specialists it consulted “were personally unaware of previous instances of the Wayback Machine being hacked and altered” and noted that Reid has also used some of the homophobic tropes in the newly surfaced posts (e.g., referring to allegedly gay men as “Miss”) on her presumably authentic Twitter account. A Tuesday post on the Wayback Machine’s blog said the site’s operators looked into Reid’s allegations but found that “nothing to indicate tampering or hacking” had taken place. (The post also noted that material from Reid’s blog has been automatically removed even from the Wayback Machine’s archives via a “robots.txt exclusion request,” a subject that you can read more about here.)

Tuesday night, Jonathan Nichols—an “independent security consultant” employed by Reid—released a statement responding to the Wayback Machine post and other coverage. Nichols asserted that the alleged hacking may not have taken place via the Wayback Machine but via saboteurs who logged into Reid’s actual blog itself using login information that was obtained on the “dark web.” As observers including BuzzFeed tech/politics reporter Joe Bernstein have noted, however, the disputed posts were independently archived years ago, seemingly suggesting that whoever framed Reid would have had to have done so when she was still a blogger and Florida radio host who was unknown at the national level:

Nichols also claims (without supporting detail) that some of the material posted by @jamie_maz was never published on Reid’s blog and suggests that this material is simply the result of “screenshot manipulation,” i.e., photoshopping. As mentioned, Reid’s blog is no longer available on the Wayback Machine, which would seem to make Nichols’ claim impossible to check—but CNN reports that a Library of Congress–specific internet archive does in fact contain the disputed posts, which the network says were archived and saved in 2006.

Moreover, while I am not a tech expert, I did read many blogs, political and otherwise, during the midaughts and can attest that if the 40-plus disputed posts at issue are in fact the work of hackers, they are hackers who were very, very good at capturing the milieu of the midaughts internet to a precise and even mundane degree. For example:

Defamer was a Hollywood-oriented Gawker Media site that ceased to exist as an independent entity in 2009 before being relaunched in 2013 and shutting down in 2015; in its own words, it was operated during the course of its lifetime “with varying degrees of effort and resources.” That’s a deep cut, hoaxwise.

MSNBC, for its part, is distributing Nichols’ statement as well as similar material prepared by Reid’s attorney to reporters. Neither Nichols, the attorney, nor MSNBC have explained when they believe Reid was hacked or by whom.