Josh Harris: "Pseudo was a fake company."

Josh Harris, founder of Jupiter Communications and, later,, 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


  1. Pseudo burned over $25 million in private and institutional capital over a span of seven years. Pseudo was a fake company.

    Unless he has documentation from the time to back this up, how its this indistinguishable from fraud?

    Hell, even if he does how is it indistinguishable from fraud-in-which-the-fraudster-has-come-up-with-a-novel-way-of-covering-his-ass?

  2. I’m going to start conning elderly people out of their pensions and retirement monies and calling it “Performance Art”

    This guy is sick (and not from the fever). He got away with a huge scam, but he misses the media attention so he’s drumming it up himself.

    Can we get some ninjas on the case please?

  3. I’ve long felt the stock market is primarily a amusement park ride where people purchase a short time of feeling like they are participating in their economic fate.

  4. Fraud writ large as “conceptual performance art”? Interesting. There’s a phrase to describe that viewpoint:


  5. Sounds like a bit of sour grapes to me. Everyone was grabbing venture capital willy-nilly, often without any real clear concept of how they would actually make money. Hell, it was free money! And everyone was hoping that there concept would somehow become profitable in the long run. Calling it “conceptual art” ten years later sounds like he’s just making excuses for what ultimately amounted to a failed business venture. “If I rationalize it as ‘conceptual art’ then it sounds like a success rather than a failure. Yay, me!”

    I loved because I got to watch/listen to “Infinity Factory” which kicked ass over everything that Metzger or has ever done since. (If anyone has old Infinity Factory episodes, I WANT EM!)

    P.S. Does anyone else find “after the jump” to be an annoyingly overused bit of blog lingo (blingo?) erk.

  6. Second the “WTF” reaction to scam as performance art. It’s not actually insane… just completely immoral. Which a scammer is anyway, by definition.

    Re #3: Stock market SPECULATION is very definitely a gambling game run by pros for pros. Like any such, if you don’t see the sucker at the table, that means you’re the sucker. If you don’t have the knowledge and time and skill to avoid getting taken, don’t try it.

    Stock market INVESTMENT is a different matter. That approach means you’re riding with the pros rather than trying to beat them, and you’re working with a long enough time scale and a diversified enough portfolio than errors and manipulations tend to even out. It does mean settling for “only” market-rate-of-return… but chasing more means you’re likely to wind up with less, not to mention having higher overhead costs.

    (Possibly interesting detail: Stock charting services were not allowed to claim that their products had any real value. Their advertising has always been very carefully worded as “the information you want” — which by definition is true or you wouldn’t be buying it — rather than information you need.)

  7. I assume there is more to this story? (I don’t know anything about the history) … because I don’t see exactly what makes this “guy founds internet startup, later goes bankrupt” story so noteworthy. Just the fact that he’s retroactively saying “I meant to do that”?

  8. Sociopath. Thing of it is, they’re never content to just take the money and run. It’s the game that makes them feel. They do not stop until they’re dead or locked up, and will even try to run their scams from prison if given the means. That’s why he’s writing this, and there will be a new angle soon. Maybe we’ll start to see more believable 419s from Ethiopia.

  9. OK, he’s questioning whether NYT acted ethically while explaining that he defrauded investors out of millions of dollars as “an elaborate piece of performance art”. Somehow that’s ethical?

  10. I don’t get it; I think I’m missing something here, seriously.

    What does this guy’s theft of investor money have to do with a discredited journalist? Why should I care about this clearly untrustworthy nutjob’s opinions?

    All this yammer about NYT ethical followups — well duh, the as-yet-un-found ramifications of bad journalists is the REASON for the embarrassment.

    Flush this guy, let’s move on. They a**hole bought a farm probably stolen from a bunch of poor people, with stolen money. I wish a plague of locusts on him.

  11. Well this is news to me.

    Pseudo was my single investment. I put an entire book payment in there – back when I was single and reckless – because Josh called me and said he was doing me a favor and wanted me to make some money off the net for a change. I thought I was the silly artist who didn’t know how to actually earn a living, and Josh was the smart guy who started Jupiter.

    I find it hard to believe he’d have intentionally defrauded me with an art project – not when I was (and am) so very much poorer than him.

    I think more likely he saw Pseudo a bit like eToy – an art project and a hack of corporate culture that would nonetheless pay off for those of us playing there, doing shows, and experimenting with streaming media. And for some with great shows – Jason Calacanis, Richard Metzger to name just two – it really did in the long run.

    In any case, I can’t bring myself to believe he intentionally went bankrupt, and I doubt that’s what he means to say here.

  12. Like Pahool above, I was also a big fan of Infinity Factory, and watched a lot of Pseudo’s programming back in the day.

    I’m not sure what Harris is trying to do by calling a failed/fake/fraudulent company “performance art.” Perhaps he’s trying to clear his conscience in a way that he thinks will absolve him of any wrong-doing? It seems like he has, in his head, shifted responsibility from himself to the media, which he blames for not seeing through his ruse. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying, because his arguments are elaborately conspiratorial.

    I fear that this will not be enough for Harris, because he’s smart enough to know this explanation isn’t very good, but currently unable to accept the consequences of his mistakes and find a way to move on. At worst, he will become the new Bobby Fischer, living a secluded life, occasionally sending ever-more paranoid statements to the media that paid attention to him back when he was on top. At best, he’ll find a good therapist, work through some of his issues, and rejoin society a humbler man.

  13. well then, using Josh’s analogy I too must be a conceptual artist and all the tech support calls I take are my performances! wow, I too am cool artist now!

  14. If that was an art piece, wow– good one! I’m happy to think of it as art, and if the hive-mind of the arts establishment eventually agrees, then great– everyone can call it art!* Otherwise it’s a con. But that’s the sole distinction between the two, and there can be beauty and brilliance in either form.

    At contemporary art museums, I marvel at the beauty of the Big Con, and how sophisticated it can become when honed over generations by large institutions! The great con men of yesteryear are today’s art stars, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If they can extract millions from the wealthy by making them feel special, more power to them. To do so successfully, you can’t help but hold up a valuable mirror to society. And the particulars of how this is accomplished are worthy of analysis, teach us about where we draw our lines, and can even help make a better world.

    *I don’t think they will, though, because as far as I know, Josh Harris wasn’t enough of an art insider. But maybe he does have some longtime artist pals from early in his career who were in on the game, and have since advanced themselves. If so, he might be able to get into the art history books after all.

  15. Hmm, I take it back– he does have lots of art world connections. So this may work after all!

  16. But this was definitely not his intent.

    Yes, he wanted to be a cool art scene where people trip a lot and have sex or whatever, and use the net to make weird points.

    But he also, almost definitely, wanted to make money for himself and his friends. At the very least, I have to believe he saw his friends, parents, siblings, and girlfriends as being on the winning side of the art/money/scam equation. I don’t think he meant for the “artists” he was playing with – myself included – to lose all our savings by participating.

    Perhaps he saw some endgame scenario where that would happen to Wall Street people, but even then, I think it was supposed to be about eventually getting other people’s money to build a really fun media studio. That we had to put in our own money at the beginning to make it work wasn’t about scamming others or being scammed ourselves, I don’t think.

  17. If he really meant to have the company fail, and told investors something else, that’s clearly criminal. But it’s pretty obvious he’s looking back now and thinking “long-form performance artist” sounds better than “deluded dot-com laughing-stock”. But even though I don’t believe him, there’s no theoretical reason he can’t be both. If you act like an idiot and call it art, you still acted like an idiot. And if you act like an idiot over the course of a decade, you are actually an idiot.

    If your art requires you telling me it is art, it isn’t good art.

  18. How to insulate yourself from an embarrassing bubble-era failure: call it “art” and tell the world “oh, I meant to do that”.

  19. “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?”

    Would that be track 5 “It Don’t Matter to Me”
    or track 11 “Look What You’ve Done” or maybe 17 “He’s a Good Lad” or 2 “Everything I Own” ?

  20. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Dude starts a website that has *obvious* performance art aspects – especially in the context of the mid-90’s exploration of the Net as a new medium for art. Website fails.

    Dude goes public a decade later saying, “HAY GUYZ MY ARTY WEBSITE WAS ACTUALLY ART HA HA” and trying to link the entire thing to a years-old plagiarism scandal.

    What in g-d’s name is the point of this??

  21. Good points– “Intentional Fallacy” aside, if he wanted to make money for himself and his pals, create a great scene, and then he succeeded with all of that and later told everyone it was performance art, that would be a more interesting piece– more “Warholian.”

  22. Hey neighbor, you know that lawn mower I borrowed and then destroyed? performance art. And that time I came home drunk and passed out on your lawn? performance art. And the mail I stole from your mailbox? performance art! Hey guess what! You’re gonna love the piece I’m working on now with your wife at the airport ramada! THAT’S performance ART!

  23. Awesome – so those Koolout sessions I’ve been trying to track down for a decade aren’t “lost” or “missing”, they’re conceptual.


  24. #24 Anonymous– you got it! It’s just a matter of getting other people to indulge you, usually by convincing them that you’re special. The more of an asshole you can get away with being, the higher the status you’ve achieved.

  25. Usenet veterans of the 1980s will remember the “sociological experiment” excuse used by posters having been caught being especially obnoxious, trollish, or full of lies. “No, I didn’t really mean it”, whines Harris, just as his eighties counterparts did, and with as much credibility.

    I suppose Ethiopia has no extradition treaty with the United States …

  26. Like Rushkoff above, this all comes as a surprise to me as well!

    I was there, so I can attest that Pseudo was “real” in so far that it had regular employees, sitting behind desks, computers, cameras, and studio mixing desks doing actual work for pay, with benefits. If I was a pawn in someone’s conceptual art piece, well, it’s a bullet point in my resume, man.

    In a way, however, it’s nice to see Pseudo back in the news. It was a great talking point for me in job interviews right after it imploded, but these days it’s hard to find someone who’s heard of it.

  27. *Sigh* As a Silicon Alley veteran who also went to many Pseudo events–and sat in and participated in some of the early “Silicon Alley Reporter” “netradio” broadcasts from there–I call bullshit on this story.

    It’s sad that after all the money that he’s made, and all the money he helped other people loose, Josh still feels the need to jump back in front of the camera.

    People also forget that another business that he was associated with, Jupiter Communications, cranked out bullshit inflated “business analysis” numbers for quite some time. They’re still in business, but not before they (and a million other pie in the sky fake statistics-cranking companies) helped burst the dotcom bubble.

  28. Now I’m jonesing…Seriously…does anyone have an Infinity Factory torrent or something…Must listen to Metzger telling Genesis P-orridge how cool s/he is…

  29. As someone who worked at pseudo during it’s final
    year,the fakeness that I remembered seemed to
    revolve more or less around josh harris himself.
    I also remember the walking sleaze that was
    David Bohrman, who upon taking control wasted no
    time in killing all that was cutting-edge about
    pseudo. Not to mention the incessant harrassment
    of the production team. I worked on the 6th floor,
    under josh white, bonnie lemon and lance harkins,
    all hugely talented and tirelessly driven. For
    josh harris to make such statements is ridiculous.
    He is an attention-whore, that’s all.

    One thing that did turn out to be fake,our
    stock options!

    wes hansen

  30. He doesn’t have much of a tan for someone who’s been growing coffee in Ethiopia – sure he’s not still yanking your chain and sent you a pic of himself at a botanical garden?

  31. rushkoff, joel, and the other old-skoolers, thanks for weighing in.

    Whatever the truth is here, and whatever the evaluation of Josh (good/bad/sane/insane/artist/scam artist), I just wanted to add how much I, too, loved Infinity Factor, and many of the other Pseudo shows.

    they were my first experience of internet TV. I totally fell in love with them, they were the future, and I remember wishing so hard that I could do something that cool, those shows shaped the rest of my life in a huge way, influenced some of the most important career decisions I made along the way.

    Had I not seen Pseudo, I probably wouldn’t be doing BBtv today.

  32. It provided s legitimate service. It had a source of income. By definition, it was a real company. It can be art too.

  33. That’s quite a statement. But is it really from Josh Harris? The writing is maddening — why the obsession with Jayson Blair so many years after the fact? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And when you talk about business failure vs. performance art — it’s all a matter of perspective in the end. Whatever he thinks of the company now, Pseudo performed a business function of creating video programming for a Web site. It wasn’t a very profitable business function, and that, along with profligate spending, inadequate broadband access at the time and a poor business model (add the word “user-generated” to the content model and it mighthave been YouTube) is why it’s no longer in busines. Oh, but it sure was fun. :-)

  34. Folks, like Doug Rushkoff et al. I’m an old dog. Too much gray hair from those days on Broadway and such. I had three thoughts when I read this piece:
    a) I’m worried about Josh. Why does he always need to seek the attention, just when he seems to be getting better.
    b) Josh is being Josh and maybe that’s a good thing. The whole issue turns on the definition of “real company.” In Josh’s mind, I’ll bet, there ain’t a lot of companies that are “real.”
    c) Oh, wait, damn…Josh IS being Josh. The whole letter to BoingBoing and the rant about Jayson (and maybe even the gig in Africa)…THIS is the performance piece.

    And now, in writing the above, I hope Josh is reading all these comments and laughing himself silly.

  35. @DigitalHustlers, I am quite confident that this letter really did come from Josh Harris. Everything checks out. Now, while I _am_ sure he _sent_ it, I have no way of verifying whether or not he was in fact the author of every single word in the letter. But look — all of the tools I have to validate and all of my past interactions with him, everything I’ve ever read or heard from him, say: yes, it’s 100% Josh Harris.

    Anyone else here who is familiar with the man will no doubt agree.

    @Jerry Colonna, it’s really cool to see your name and your words here, after lo these many 8 or 9 years.

    And I do believe you’ve nailed it, sir.

  36. Bah, if the late-nineties habit of treating investor cash as your private party fund is an art form, Dennis Kozlowski is the Rembrandt and Josh Harris is merely School of. Anyway, it’s not very pretty to see Josh pretending to laugh at the people he pretends to have suckered. Pseudo was not merely an Underpants Gnomes corporation with pretensions. Pseudo was a genuinely good idea (interactive Web TV) ruined by bad management. (Also, not enough people had broadband yet, and the content was a little too free-cable-channel in tone to be convincing.) The Pseudo vision of the Web has come to pass, but other people made it happen. That said, it’s nice to see Harris in an environment that raises his chances of waking up and smelling the coffee.

  37. As everyone seems to be thinking, this is utter nonsense. What the hell made this a ‘fake’ company? Sure, you can do an IPO with your ‘art project’ buddies as a lark using all made-up plans and products… but once you are incorporated and you’ve got a whole bunch of products and people are buying them and investing in you… you have a REAL company, at least by the standards by which we (as nations) define such corporate entities. Even if it started as a fraud, even if it continues to be fraudulent – it’s not FAKE! This guy sounds like a douche. Enron and Worldcom aren’t considered ‘fake’ companies just because they were cooking the books and selling stock based on stuff they didn’t have. They’re just fraudulent companies, and now they’re companies that don’t exist anymore. Don’t see how this is ANY different.

  38. To Xeni’s point (#40) above and as someone who’s an old friend of Josh’s and who’s in regular–if not daily contact with Josh–I can confirm that he authored every word of his letter and that he is, in fact, in Ethiopia.

  39. That’s pretty funny. I worked for Pseudo, did a couple websites for them. While they may not have made any money, they did some kick ass stuff. I was especially fond of their online dj shows, really good drum&bass. There offices in Soho were sick. They had a full size basketball court in there. Also threw some great parties. So even if they “failed” as a company, they succeeded in spending their money with imagination and pleasure.

  40. “Pseudo was a fake company.”

    Well DUH..

    That’s why it was called Pseudo. Shared a building with Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi , both masters of the genuine fake , I am not really and artist and this isn’t really art.

    They should have just called it the liar’s paradox building. you know the whole “I am a liar. Thus, I am telling a lie. Thus, I am not a liar. Thus, I am telling a truth. Thus…”

    If he said it was a real company , then I’d get suspicious.

    Now if he can convince people that the whole thing was an art project , then maybe the stock certificates will be worth as much as say a stainless steel balloon

  41. i know josh. this is typical retrospective hype/spin, and i’m afraid he may be shooting himself in the foot with hyperbolic self incrimination, just to get attention (again).

    pseudo was “real” in the sense that they actually existed and spent their funds on real projects, so there is no fraud per se.

    but they were “fake” in the sense that everything they did was essentially disposable and a part of josh’s momentous sense of aggrandizing self-promotion. there was no “there” there, but there was actually a lot going on there.

    no more of a fraud than any television network, or a bank charging you $3 to use an atm, for that matter.

    i thought his letter to the times could have been worded a little better to clarify his peculiar meaning of the word “fake”. like so many other capitalist ventures, pseudo wasn’t so much “fake” as it was just “shallow”. they remain significant in the history of the dotcom, and i suspect this was his essential intent and thus his claim to “art”, another term he recklessly misappropriates.

  42. Really it does not matter what actually occurred at the corner of Broadway Houston in a few hyperreal months at the turn of the millennium. We all will remember it differently.

    What feels great is to be a part of a psychedelic ( in the classical sense of the word) history that is being forgotten. One of many great ironies is that after the Pseudos and the Kozmos and the Webvans imploded, those SunSparc servers found their way via liquidation sales into the homes of a thousand tiny simulacrae, some of which are enjoying their own Dadaist valuations. This is one performance art piece that is without end.

  43. wrote this snarky essay the week Pseudo folded. (Last blurb in the Hit and Run from October 10, 2005.)

    “Alas, you can only extrapolate growth curves for so long, and though they’d formed an integral part of Pseudo’s ongoing coverage of the burgeoning southeast Asian underground music scene, Veena and Neena, the identical twin boa constrictor belly dancers, will have to seek employment elsewhere.”

  44. great article ;

    i am proud to have been part of this art experience too, since i already expressed in some interview with WIRED, Charles Pratt, that i saw it as some art experiment too incl. we live in public and QUIET, a pre-9/11 experiment.

    I still believe however, Josh is an Isser and the rest was MIT-AI with some 9/11 tv fakery perps like Kevin Centanni. I saw the 2nd -Nathaniel/Park Foreman hit on his big screen ;

    nico haupt aka nicointelpro aka
    aka testpod69 [during 1999-2000+]

    u will loose, we will win this time! ;

    ps: u timing smacks shill toy alert ;
    call me at warren, josh if u kewl ;

  45. If the Fatman can dine “in house” on takeout then the Little boy is obliged to attempt “gulps” of espresso in the “shit house”.

    “To want fame is to prefer dying scorned than forgotten.”, E.M. Cioran

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