Joy Reid attends the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival on April 20 in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Media critic

Joy Reid deserves everyone’s support. The most destructive and insidious hacker in journalistic history is on the loose, ready to snatch another career.

Reid, who hosts “AM Joy” on MSNBC, is somehow hanging onto hers. On Saturday morning she addressed the controversy relating to a stack of homophobic posts that piled up on her long-shuttered blog, the Reid Report. “I genuinely do not believe I wrote those hateful things because they are completely alien to me. But I can definitely understand based on things I have tweeted and have written in the past why some people don’t believe me,” said Reid on “AM Joy.”

Who are these disbelievers? What more evidence could they possibly demand to prove that Reid was wronged by some bad actor who spent years inventing a new form of hacking just to create the impression that she wrote a few more offensive things in the 2000s than she was willing to admit to? Isn’t that what hackers do these days? When has anyone ever made up a claim about hacking anyway?

And do the skeptics doubt Reid’s claim that her long-ago writings now look “alien” to her? Here are some examples of that material:

  • A post in which she some darned hacker supported the anti-gay comments of former NBA star Tim Hardaway: “Most straight people cringe at the sight of two men kissing… Most straight people had a hard time being convinced to watch ‘Broke Back Mountain.’ (I admit that I couldn’t go see the movie either, despite my sister’s ringing endorsement, because I didn’t want to watch the two male characters having sex.) Does that make me homophobic? Probably.”
  • A post identifying several “totally not gay celebrities of the year” — possibly closeted people who she some darned hacker riffed about.  
  • A post in which she some darned hacker riffed about gene manipulation to prevent gayness.

Those are pretty distinctive thoughts. Distinctive enough that Reid, if she had written them, surely would have remembered them. And the reference to the sister’s movie review? Classic fraudster move.

The entirely plausible storyline goes as follows. When first presented late last year with some homophobic material from her blog’s archives, Reid apologized. Then, when additional posts bearing similar sensibilities surfaced in April, she cited hacking. “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,” she wrote in a statement to Mediaite. She noted that she’d contacted “federal law enforcement” and issued this appeal: “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.”

Evil corrupter.

Nitpickers descended on Reid’s claims. There were all kinds of tweets and blog posts raising questions about the claims of Reid’s cyber expert, Jonathan Nichols. After Nichols said that some posts appeared to be the result of “screenshot manipulation” — essentially Photoshop-aided fabrication — a guy named Michael Nelson fished some of them from the depths of web archives. Kevin Poulsen took a skeptical approach to the claims as well, concluding that Reid’s hacking story wasn’t holding up. But hey, what do Nelson and Poulsen know, anyway? The former is merely an Old Dominion University professor with deep knowledge of digital preservation; the latter is merely a longtime journalist with a clear writing style, loads of technical bona fides and what you might call a practitioner’s appreciation of hacking.  Claims dismissed.

In a moment of transparency and generosity, Reid on Saturday morning noted, “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense of these posts. I hired cybersecurity experts to see if somebody had manipulated my words or my former blog and the reality is they have not been able to prove it,” she said.

Reid cannot give up now. If her original experts haven’t been able to redeem her own fine-tuned instincts, it’s time to hire new ones. Have them rummage through archives, screenshots, passcodes, digital trails from the 2000s. Put them in touch with the FBI, hold conference calls, put out press releases, sue someone.

Why keep this investigation going? Because of the stakes. Somewhere out there is a hacker — or perhaps an entire collective — specializing in retroactive-digital-homophobia-archival-insertion intrusions. This time they victimized Joy Reid. But tomorrow they could go after anyone in the industry. They’ll memorize old blogging archives; they’ll study fonts and writing styles; they’ll turn back the web’s clock a decade, then push it forward, then drop some inflammatory text on some platform. They’ll make everyone think that their targets are way more homophobic than they ever were, regardless of their ability to “evolve” on gay rights.

(As with any claims in the public arena, Reid’s proclamations have drawn some haters. “Joy Reid’s Defenders Praise Her Apology — But Ignore Her Apparent Cover-Up,” notes a headline over at HuffPost. Some people, apparently, have no appreciation for what Reid “genuinely” believes.)

When we asked MSNBC for an official statement, we got no such thing. And when we asked Nichols whether he’s still working on Reid’s hacking, we received no response. These people have no time for silly press inquiries. They have a perpetrator to track down.

Read more from Erik Wemple:

The Hill uses correspondents-dinner flap for world-class pandering

The president is seeking to destroy journalism. Now let’s debate dinner entertainment!

Tom Brokaw pens vicious attack on accuser