March 15, 2013

Via Mother Jones’s Kate Sheppard comes the revelation that David Martosko, the outgoing Daily Caller executive editor, had once created a fake Facebook account under a pseudonym. (Disclosure: My wife works at Mother Jones.) The maneuver was part of Martosko’s work at Berman and Co., a public relations firm with a mission to “change the debate.” Or, in the words of Sheppard, it fights “progressive activists who target corporations.”

For Berman and Co., Martosko piloted a client organization known as the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), which opposes “self-anointed ‘food police,’ health campaigners, trial lawyers, personal-finance do-gooders, animal-rights misanthropes, and meddling bureaucrats.” As detailed in the story, CCF runs Humane Watch, a site that dogs the Humane Society of the United States.

In a 2011 deposition as part of a civil suit against CCF, Martosko copped to using the made-up name “Gregory Davis” on Facebook to scrounge for dirt on animal-rights activists.

As Gregory Davis, Martosko posted about stereotypically lefty, vegan, and animal activist subjects, such as “living in a wood hut” and hanging out with his “freegan crew,” and friended progressive activists and groups such as PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Mercy for Animals, Sea Shepherd, and Stop Humane Watch, a group that aimed to monitor and push back on Martosko’s outfit. Many of the individuals Gregory Davis friended were later profiled on a CCF website devoted to monitoring animal rights activists.

Gregory Davis even attempted at one point to get “fellow” animal rights types to take violent action against an Ohio dairy that had come under scrutiny and protest over an instance of livestock abuse.

The thing is, Martosko sucked at being Gregory Davis.

Over time, Gregory Davis began posting out-of-character comments, including criticism of the Humane Society of the United States and a defense of Martosko in threads about Martosko’s personal life and CCF’s work. Consequently, activists grew leery. “He kind of betrayed himself,” the moderator said. “The more he talked, the more he showed he was inconsistent.”

The name on the Facebook account changed to “Preston G. Davis.”

Following up on suspicions raised by Martosko/Davis, the activists, via a bit of computer sleuthing, uncovered the fake account.

Martosko has bolted the Daily Caller for a position at the Daily Mail. Tucker Carlson, the Daily Caller’s editor-in-chief, told Sheppard the episode didn’t concern him: “I watched carefully everything David did, and I was satisfied that everything was completely aboveboard and honest from the second he got here,” said the editorial topper. Perhaps Carlson should have chosen a different tack, noting that Martosko failed in his role as Facebook faker, proving his inner wholesomeness.

Carlson’s hypervigilance over his executive editor must have taken a rare vacation roundabout September 2011. That’s when the Daily Caller reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was asking taxpayers to fund 230,000 additional positions to enforce certain regulations. Wasn’t true.

After critics howled, it fell to Martosko to defend the story. Here, the former PR guy showed his PR roots. One of the points he made was that Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) had agreed with the Daily Caller’s analysis. Impressive-sounding, distractive and ultimately meaningless, like most spin.

The entertaining part about the Martosko story is that if he’d been a soldier in the mainstream media, his story of Facebook subterfuge would be worthy of the feature slot at DailyCaller.com for days in a row, complete with follow-ups on all dimensions of the piece, plus appearances by Carlson and other Daily Caller officials on various television shows. When it happens to a Daily Caller editor, though, it’s worth a shrug.

Patricia Enright, spokeswoman for Sen. Robert Menendez, a target of much recent Daily Caller coverage, passes along a question from Martosko dated Feb. 19. Here it is:

Does the senator think it’s appropriate to be discussing government corruption with Afghan President Hamid Karzai while he’s under a cloud of suspicion himself?

Enright: “[D]oes he think his actions were appropriate?” Yes, he does. In a comment to Mother Jones, Martosko noted:

Activists in the animal rights movement have spent decades posing as everything from medical lab workers to farmhands—both online and in person—in order to gather information about their investigative targets. That tactic is their bread and butter. So it should be unremarkable that many researchers would turn the tables on them in order to collect information. Law enforcement infiltrates the violent wing of the movement on a regular basis as well. As the saying goes, what’s good for the goose…

There’s a hypocrisy issue here. Have a look at the deposition. When asked if he’d advocated violence against that Ohio dairy farm, Martosko responded, “I don’t recall doing that.” When asked whether he’d dispute a characterization that he did advocate such violence, he said, “I don’t recall doing that.” When asked if he “absolutely” denies having done such a thing, he responds, “No.” When asked again, he responds, “I just don’t recall.” When asked whether he’d ever used Facebook to “urge” animal rights activists to use violence, he responds, “I don’t recall doing it.” When asked if that’s something he might have done, he responds, “I don’t believe so, but I can’t recall.”

Consistent!

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.