May 02, 2002
It's a hoax!

Matthew Yglesias points to the scoop on the Alex Michel email. The New York Post's Page six got a confession from Jonathan Locker, one of the two conspirators:

When we reached Locker yesterday, he confessed to making up the exchange.

"It was a complete hoax," Locker said, "and I feel really bad about it." Sahrbeck has e-mailed Michel an apology.

Glenn Kinen and Alex Rubalcava, who blogged it first, also point to this story.

I'm not surprised. I was doing a bit of detective work on this myself, but I can see that the route I was taking might have led me to an incorrect answer. When Rubalcava mailed me the full email chain, I took note of the domain from which Michel's email supposedly originated. When I visited that site, I discovered that it allows guest signups. I figured that Sahrbeck and Locker probably created an address for Michel via the guest singup. This would have enabled them to write those messages from Michel themselves. What's clever about that is even if a noseybody such as I had gotten my hands on the originals, their headers would have looked perfectly normal.

So, my investigative idea was to contact the site administrators to see if that address was a guest address and if so, when it was created. From the Post article, it's clear that the address was real. I haven't heard back from the admins yet (I'm going to send a followup note and withdraw my request - no need to make them do unnecessary work), but if I had they'd have told me that the account was bona fide. Another beautiful theory slain by an ugly fact.

Turns out the hoaxers weren't that clever. They simply made up the replies from Michel and started the forwarding chain, so header analysis would likely have caught them if the Old Media hadn't sweated a confession out of them first. Well, good on you, Page Six. I've seen enough of these hoaxes in my capacity as tech support and email admin that I'm happy to see an offender get caught. They were looking for publicity, and they got it. Enjoy the fallout, fellas.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 02, 2002 to Skepticism