Here’s to some great investigative reporting

John Calhoun

As noted in this morning’s Oregonian Alan Classen and his colleague, Mike Ryerson of The Northwest Examiner did what many bloggers and their readers wish they could do. They used some great sleuthing to expose an anonymous blog commentator who berated public figures, and Portland in general. Turns out he is Brian Owendoff, the head of the Portland office of CB Richard Ellis, a major commercial real estate firm. Mr. Owendoff arrived in Portland about four years ago from Cleveland and apparently is not too happy with his new city.

From the Oregonian:

Owendoff was a regular on OregonLive, posting more than 200 comments since last June. For the most part, he voiced the sentiments of many pro-business conservatives concerned that Oregon's tax structure, business environment and lefty politics are dooming the state to economic also-ran status. He was particularly tough on Adams. "Sam has no fiscal responsibility. Sam will go down as a one-term mayor and among the weakest leaders the Rose City has ever seen. He will be pumping gas at the Chevron at 19th and Burnside before 2011."

Owendoff was a big supporter of Chris Dudley, the business-friendly GOP gubernatorial hopeful, and took frequent swipes at his Democratic opponent, now-Gov. John Kitzhaber. "Cohabitation in sin," Acta Non Verba wrote in a Dec. 3, 2010, post in apparent reference to Kitzhaber's relationship with his companion, Cylvia Hayes. "And a retread government that refuses to 'dress for success' in hillbilly jeans."

Owendoff even fretted about the message sent by "Portlandia," the new cable television sendup of the Rose City. "Unfortunately, this will continue perception that Portlanders are lazy with low work ethic and underemployed compared to other parts of the country. No wonder our median income is plummeting and very few out-of-town venture capitalists are making significant investments in Portland."

And from The Northwest Examiner:

"The silent majority dislikes the NW Examiner," Acta Non Verba wrote. "Why anyone would waste their money to advertise in this rag is beyond me. In addition to being good for bird cage liners, the NW Examiner is also excellent for potty training puppies and to wrap used fish parts. Shut up Allan, no one takes you seriously. Time to retire."

It makes me really happy that BlueOregon now requires Facebook identification. Just go to the Oregonian link above and read the vitriol in the comments section compared to the commentary here. Also I recommend you read the original article in The Northwest Examiner and enjoy the detective work and some real investigative journalism.

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    This was investigative journalism? Where is the public benefit?

    Owendoff sounds like he was way over the line with his comments, but didn't he have some expectation of privacy, since the sites he was posting on didn't require some identity?

    I'm not defending Owendoff, but I just don't think we should feel too great about the justice that this story brought about.

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      If this guy thought he had an "expectation of privacy" on the internet, he's foolish. He clearly revealed enough information about his identity so that these journalists could suss out who he is. It's not like they had to do vast technological sleuthing to figure it out. They used information posted by the guy--confronted him, and he confessed.

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    Can anyone ascertain the motives behind this story?

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      If you read the Examiner story you will see that the recipients of Owendoff's derogatory comments wanted to see if they could determine who he was. Seems natural to me.

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        I did. Why did they care. Sounds to me like they wanted to out a critic. Sounds very "Fox-y" to me.

        If they were just curious, why did they write the story? Unless they wanted to hurt him and shut him up.

        FYI -- before anyone goes there, I don't care what his political learnings are, it doesn't matter. This whole thing stinks imho.

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            1. I firmly believe in the value of anonymous dissent.

            2. It's easy being blue in Oregon.

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              1. Fair enough. But when one is irresponsible with it (such as being personal and vicious, as this guy was) then one becomes fair game. It's one thing to dissent. It's another to be mean and nasty.

              2. Perhaps it is. But it's certainly not easy to be blue across the US nowadays. Many lefty bloggers aren't anonymous at all: Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, Jane Hamsher, David Neiwert, John Aravosis, David Dayen, Michael Whitney, Duncan Black..I could go on and on. If they can manage it, so can a conservative real estate guy in small blue Oregon.

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                1. It would be one thing if an anonymous commenter were making threats, then yes, trying to determine his identity would be justified. This was just "sticks and stones..."

                2. Since I haven't heard of any of them other than Kos, I assume they make a living as bloggers. They get paid for having an option. When people with real jobs ;) are discouraged from voicing their opinions for fear of some silly retaliation(lists of progressive friendly businesses--proposed here several times, not to mention what I assume is the gist of the new article on BO today)then we as a democracy fail. It is just one more step towards the red/blue divide of our country. And it sucks!

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                    First off, thank you for posting this article. I have no problem with you commenting on the story and giving your POV. I am happy we are able to have a civil discussion about it as well.

                    If I had been the publisher of the Examiner, I would have sent him the letter detailing the links, as they did, and asked him why he felt it was necessary to say the things he did in an anonymous manner. What were his motivations.

                    What bothers me about their publishing the story is that it gives the appearance that they were swatting down a critic. I wonder if they have ever "outed" a prolific anonymous poster who they agreed with?

                    I agree that mean-spirited comments provide nothing to the debate. I just don't agree with how they handled it. When conservative friends of mine complain about the latest "too sexy for tv" show, my answer is simple: change the channel. The same applied here before real names, the people who added nothing were easy to discern and I simply skipped over any post that they wrote.

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                  I use my real name. Rest assured, I don't make a living as a blogger. I've had political opponents try to screw with my real life job, btw.

                  There are many local lefty bloggers in much more conservative states who don't or didn't get paid and used their real names:

                  Sarah Fong: Square State (Colorado), Matt Singer and Robert Kailey: Left In The West (Montana), All the front pagers at Burnt Orange Report (Texas), Shannyn Moore (Alaska). You get the idea.

                  All these people own their words, including the sticks and stones.

                  A person with a "real job" should own their political words just as much as these lefty bloggers do. It certainly isn't cramping Jack Bogdanski's style, and he's one of Sam Adams most vociferous critics.

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                    I agree. Ironic you mention BoJack considering his outing of critics from time to time.

                    I like having names attached to comments here. Does this change what I post? Sometimes.

                    Do I have insight on some topics that I would like to address anonymously? Absolutely.

                    Do I like it when people out their critics? No.

                    Do I think their is value in anonymous comments? Yes

                    Do I think people abused that privilege here at BO? On a daily basis.

                    Do I think Mr Owendoff's comments were of value? Some yes, many no.

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                      I don't agree with BoJack's tactics--but I can understand his frustration. He puts his real name and reputation out there as part of his criticism. Vicious, anonymous commenting gets pretty tedious--and after awhile crosses the line over into cowardice.

                      Is there some value to anonymous commenting? Perhaps. But when the cost-benefit analysis is said and done, I remain unconvinced that the value outweighs the negatives.

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    Yes and now Face Book is certainly expanding every day your personal data bank to include Blue Oregon entries-

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      Personal data bank?

      I'm one of the more prolific contributors to this site and a wide user of Facebook. While I have no illusions about privacy on Facebook, I do manage to keep stuff out of it that is so personal that I don't want it out in the world.

      If I can do it, you can.

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      Facebook knows that you connected to BlueOregon, but doesn't have any greater access to your comments than anyone reading this blog right now.

      Remember, Facebook only knows what you tell it. If you don't want Facebook to know something, don't post it on Facebook. Real simple.

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    Oh my goodness, I'm with Michael Pingree on this, for the same reasons. "Outing" someone is always bad. There goes that dissent. (Do you think his employer is going to allow anymore?) Anonymity is often negative, irrational, hurtful, and dishonest, but it serves an important purpose. Personally, I NEVER do it, but I might...

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    You can support the switch to Facebook here without agreeing that this article represents "great investigative reporting."

    Let's be clear what happened: a reporter at the Examiner got pissed off at the comments that were being posted. He was going to ignore it, and another reporter at the Examiner decided not to drop it.

    This had little news value. This was not some public scandal. This was not an issue of public policy. This was two people at the Examiner deciding to out a critic who was too stupid to cover his tracks.

    I don't care what the Examiner did one way or another. I thought the whole thing was pretty silly. And Owendorff was stupid.

    BUT to call this "real investigative journalism"? Only in a self-absorbed town like Portland could this be a major story on the Metro page in the state's largest paper--and the story wasn't even broken by the O!

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    It is called cyberbullying in schools.

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    And now Mr Owendoff has lost his job. Oh, what a great city you have there.

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    Kari has got one thing right for sure: the anonymous comments on newspapers are toxic. By far the majority of commentary at the Register Guard is anonymous, and it is sickening to read.

    I wouldn't forbid the practice, but I would like to see online media take some responsibility for improving the dialogue somehow. There is a place for anonymous dissent, even satire, but that doesn't mean anonymity is always an honorable choice.

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