Josh Harris: "Pseudo was a fake company."


Josh Harris, founder of Jupiter Communications and, later, Pseudo.com, forwarded a letter to Boing Boing today in which he proclaims to the New York Times that "Pseudo was a fake company," and that the entire enterprise was "an elaborate piece of performance art."

Why did he address this to the NYT? Mr. Harris claims many of the news articles which established a perception of legitimacy for the once high-flying internet video startup -- the sort of legitimacy that helped encourage investors to part with tens of millions of dollars -- were written by now-disgraced NYT writer Jayson Blair, who was forced to resign in 2003 after having been caught plagiarizing and faking content in his stories for the paper.

"I suggest you do a NYT archive search and find the four articles written by Jayson; search terms: josh harris jayson blair," says Harris.

If you're not familiar with Pseudo (and Harris') significance during the late '90s internet bubble, here are a few profile links: NY Mag, Wired, Radar, Wikipedia, BusinessWeek. His online experiment "We Live in Public" predated the era of now ubiquitous always-on lifecasting video sites.

Journalists used words like "wild, Warholian," "oddball," "dot-com playboy extraordinaire" and "golden boy" to describe Harris during the Pseudo era; also "crazy."

The man who replaced Harris as CEO at Pseudo was David Bohrman, now an executive at CNN overseeing the network's election coverage in Washington.

Harris sends this to Boing Boing from Sidamo, Ethiopia (see snapshot above, with his almost-ripe coffee plants), where he moved shortly after selling his most recent creation, Operator 11. If he looks a little under the weather, that's because, as he explains, he's been fighting a fever there for the past few weeks; he says he's there "working on a documentary about the 'Great Ethiopian Nation.'"

Here is Harris' letter, which continues after the jump:

I now acknowledge that Pseudo Programs, Inc., a New York City based Internet television network founded in 1994 and sold from bankruptcy in 2000 was the linchpin of a long form piece of conceptual art. Pseudo burned over $25 million in private and institutional capital over a span of seven years. Pseudo was a fake company.

I believe that the then New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was actively following my work and onto my game (taking one to know one). The last article Mr. Blair wrote about me was entitled Dot-Com Executive, Once a Conjurer of Silicon Alley Razzmatazz, Logs Off (Jayson Blair, March 4, 2001). For that interview Mr. Blair requested that we meet in the empty back room of Sardi’s (the first time I recall meeting him face-to-face) and then basically winked at Andy Morris (my publicity agent) and I for over an hour. Previously Mr. Blair mentioned or quoted me in three other articles.

Does the New York Times have an ethical responsibility to its readers to contact ad infinitum, ad nauseam every single source that touched Mr. Blair’s writing when the integrity of its reporting is at stake? Did someone at the New York Times Corporation contact each and every person that Mr. Blair wrote about?

Is it ethical for the New York Times to carry the banner of “the newspaper of record” and claim journalistic integrity since it failed to thoroughly and completely follow up each and every article that Mr. Blair wrote? Is it ethical for the New York Times to assume (per Felix Unger) that all the subjects of Mr. Blair’s work would employ the “honor system?”

Is it ethical for current New York Times writers to not live up to the contemporaneous lip service they “self-flagellatingly” gave in at that time? On May 12, 2003 William Safire wrote: Self-examination is healthy but self-absorption is not; self-correction is a winner but self-flagellation is a sure loser. Let us slap a metaphoric cold steak over our huge black eye and learn from this dismaying example – so that other journalists in the nation and around the world can continue to learn from ours.

Was it fair and right (or ethical?) to sacrifice Mr. Blair’s editor’s (Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd who resigned) when the New York Times Corporation still has not met best of bread standards for vetting Jayson Blair’s reportage? NYT editorial a few weeks after the scandal broke: The forced introspection The Times has been going through since the Jayson Blair story surfaced will, in the long run, be healthy. A string of rather spectacular successes might have made us too cocky, too sure that the future would simply bring more of the same. Now, we are re-examining some of our internal rules and structures. The recent weeks have not been particularly enjoyable for those of us on the inside, but even in the moments of greatest internal stress the reporters and editors have done their jobs. That comes from the strength of the institution. Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd quit to protect that strength, and their sacrifice simply gives the rest of us one more reason to work toward that perpetual goal of the perfect report.

As for myself, I suggest you ask The Times writer Roberta Smith about the ethics of great art. In his editorial (May 25, 2003) Frank Rich wrote: We expect our journalistic media to fictionalize the truth. As others have noted, the most dispiriting aspect of the Jayson Blair scandal may be that even the subjects of his stories usually didn’t bother to complain about the lies The New York Times published about them; they just assumed it was standard practice. One way or the other, we all inhabit the Matrix now.

Josh Harris

Sidamo, Ethiopia

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