Well, You're a Public Figure Now

For Chapter 14: "Nobody is Safe from Everybody"

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The last post was about how a Wisconsin lobbyist's connection to the so-called "DC Madam" has become internet fodder, even though it doesn't meet most standards of newsworthiness.

For all the good that has done Bill Broydrick, who was outed by an enterprising local TV reporter using an extraordinary internet tool. He found it at DCPhonelist.com, a site developed by a couple of Harvard web geeks who realized that the data in Palfrey's phone records – essentially, thousands of phone numbers – would be mined if there were a specialized engine for searching them.

They created just such a thing, enabling anybody to type in a phone number for cross check. If it appeared anywhere in Palfrey's records, it would register a hit, including times and dates. Broydrick, unfortunately, had a whole mess of them.

The reporter, (from an NBC affiliate with the jaw-dropping call letters WTMJ) got a perfunctory no comment from Broydrick and rushed online with his scoop. Yep. A private citizen can't keep his pants zipped. Stop the presses.

The point here, though, isn't that one Milwaukee TV station has a low threshold of scandal. The point is that the scenario was being played out many times over, by wives, girlfriends, colleagues, rivals and maybe even extortionists who need only to click on a website to dig for dirt.

Broydrick may have been cautious enough to elude detection by his wife and law partners, but nobody is safe from everybody. And in the digital world, everybody can get into your business – legitimate and unsavory -- and cause all kinds of havoc thereafter.

"Exactly the sort of thing we'd hoped would happen," Daniel Silverman, co-creator of DCPhonelist.com told me after Broydrick's name turned up. It was vaguely creepy to hear that sort of gloating from him, because he is an earnest and thoughtful young man. But it's not so hard to understand.

You may recall how in Rathergate, right-wing bloggers fanned out to debunk the supposed military correspondence surrounding President Bush's Vietnam-era service avoidance. More recently, lefty blogger Josh Marshall enlisted his Talking Points Memo audience to pore over thousands of Justice Department and White House emails in the fired-US-Attorneys scandal.

DCPhonelist, of course, employs the web in approximately the same way: crowd-sourcing a function historically dominated by a relative handful of journalists – journalists with a tiny fraction of the overall time and resources enjoyed by the whole blogosphere.
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