A week after we broke the story about GM’s serial shilling, the media writes, GM answers, but the blogosphere looks the other way. Over the years, more than 3,000 anonymous comments were left on Thetruthaboutcars.com from what looked like GM computers. When I started researching the story half a year ago, PR professionals and seasoned experts of the social media business assured me that I was onto “the holy grail” of the business. They predicted that the story would trigger a fire storm. They were right and wrong. The story was picked up by Drudge and Instapundit, both good for an avalanche of attention. The story was discussed on Edmunds. As far as the auto blogosphere goes, the story does not exist. Instead of being righteously outraged, the blogosphere is embarrassed, and it sheepishly looks the other way.
This is astounding. Usually, it does not take much to get the blogs riled. Transgressions as minor as the haptic qualities of dashboards, or perceived branding blunders, are flogged mercilessly. A tweet counts as an impeccable source. If you can google it, it must be true. Jalopnik is the self-styled ethics watchdog of the shady blogging business, probably as penance for working in a corporate house that is built on Fleshbot porn [Editor’s note: Jalopnik’s Editor insists that “Gawker hasn’t owned Fleshbot in years, nor made much $ off it.” WHOIS data shows Nick Denton’s Hungary-based Blogwire is still the owner of record for fleshbot.com, and it appears that its attempted sale is caught up in a legal dispute. In 2005, the NYT reported that Fleshbot was Gawker’s most-trafficked blog, bringing in twice the volume of the network’s eponymous flagship]. When former Autoblog writer Jeff Glucker sent, quite in the open, innocently, and perhaps naively, an email to a few fellow bloggers, inviting them to watch and possibly write about a video on http://www.myversaroadtrip.com, Jalopnik was outraged: “At best, that’s a conflict of interest,” Jalopnik thundered. “ At worst, it could be a violation of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines.”
Within a few hours, Glucker was tarred, feathered, drawn, quartered, and crucified. Pounding chests that barely had hairs on them, the folks at Jalopnik lambasted Autoblog for “a complete abdication of accountability for this lack of judgment.” A shitstorm ensued on the Internet, and Glucker was fired the same day. In the age of Web 2.0, writers are like toilet paper. If shit happens, they can be flushed down the toilet without getting your hands dirty. Fresh ones are waiting right in line.
When they pitch-forked Glucker, Jalopnik wrote:
“Double-dealing, no matter who does it or how it’s done, is wrong. Every violation of the trust between reader and writer — no matter how seemingly innocuous — casts all of automotive “media” in the light of suspicion.”
Remember that. We will come back to it again.
With morals that high, one would think that the watchdogs hunt down every little scrap of a systemic ethics scandal of monstrous proportions, one would expect that Jalopnik would call what happened a most egregious violation of FTC guidelines, even worse, a violation perpetrated by a company that has the government as a part-owner. Suprisingly, Jalopnik is much more lenient with GM than with poor Glucker, calling the story “a lot linked together by IP addresses and one internal source who makes rather bold, unsubstantiated claims.” Welcome to the world of hyper hypocrisy, a world that knows no shame.
Unsubstantiated claims? When two former chiefs of TTAC go on record saying that they saw the 9-5 trolls in action, when the story is corroborated by a former TTAC moderator, and not by just one, but by several former GM employees, when every salacious quote can be found on-line with the help of Google, how much more proof do they want? Did they ask Gluckner for a signed affidavit before they strung him up?Did they at least attempt to be a journalist, a status they hunger after so much, did they pick up the phone, did they call TTAC and ask them whether my claims are baloney? Did they check their own databases for comments posted from computers at GM?
To Jalopnik’s credit, at least they wrote about the story. The rest of the blogosphere treated it as if someone farted in the subway. Silently roll your eyes, wrinkle your nose, and get out before someone thinks it was you that stank up the train.
My former employer (I am using that term very loosely) Thetruthaboutcars.com had all chances to be the center of the attention which they crave. Playing their traditional anti-GM part, they could have written that yes, it’s true, and here are the timestamped transcripts. Or, just to be ornery, and perhaps to win a few points in Detroit (good luck with that), TTAC could have written that I am full of excrement, and here are the time stamped transcripts that prove that all alleged GM commenters were in fact innocent private citizens who posted from home. TTAC did neither and kept quiet with the rest of the embarrassed blogosphere that hopes to sell “sponsored conversations” to automakers. Good luck with that, they already control the conversation without paying.
The car blogs left it to the Washington Free Beacon to call GM for comment. A spokeswoman reaffirmed the regulations, but did not directly deny the allegations.
“The GM spokeswoman did not respond when asked if the company intended to investigate the allegations in the report.,” the Free Beacon writes.
As the echo from Drudge and Instapundit shows, the world wants to know about this, and the carblogs are keeping the truth from the readers. Most blogs claim that they aren’t here for the advertisers, not for the PR people, not for the auto executives, but for the reader. Readers have long abolished their trust in the writer. Partly because the reader knows that the writer is on the take, partly because the hordes of corporate commenters sowed dissent and distrust. The reader still trusts the opinion of a genuine fellow reader. By putting this conversation up for sale, the automotive media violates its reader, it is committing fraud and suicide. And if they continue to ignore this scandal, they lost all moral authority to blame anyone for any loose ethics whatsoever.