Picture this: A wire-service newshound finds out that a Republican congressman, now a candidate for Senate, was a member of a notorious hacking group. When asked about it, the congressman confirms that information on the condition that it not be released until after the election. What are the odds that this information somehow “leaks” to the media beforehand? One hundred percent? Two hundred percent? Eleventy-billion percent?
Reverse that and make it a Democrat. What are the odds that it doesn’t get shared?
Well, now we know the answer, thanks to the fact that a Reuters reporter knew Beto O’Rourke was a member of the hacking group the Cult of the Dead Cow and didn’t share that knowledge publicly despite the fact that he knew it in late 2017.
“While a teenager, O’Rourke acknowledged in an exclusive interview, he belonged to the oldest group of computer hackers in U.S. history,” Reuters‘ Joseph Menn reported on Friday. “Members of the hugely influential Cult of the Dead Cow, jokingly named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, have protected his secret for decades, reluctant to compromise his political viability.
“O’Rourke’s membership in the group — notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows, and also known for inventing the word ‘hacktivism’ to describe human-rights-driven security work — could explain his approach to politics better than anything on his resume,” Menn continued. “His background in hacking circles has repeatedly informed his strategy as he explored and subverted established procedures in technology, the media and government.”
The story went through O’Rourke’s early days of hacking, back when he used his Apple IIe to find “cracked” games — games that you could pirate free of any digital rights protections — on electronic bulletin boards. It also talked about his time running a board of his own, called “TacoLand.”
Part of TacoLand involved O’Rourke publishing his own writings, which Menn was able to uncover.
Here was one snippet from a 15-year-old Beto: “One day, as I was driving home from work, I noticed two children crossing the street. They were happy, happy to be free from their troubles…. This happiness was mine by right. I had earned it in my dreams.
“As I neared the young ones, I put all my weight on my right foot, keeping the accelerator pedal on the floor until I heard the crashing of the two children on the hood, and then the sharp cry of pain from one of the two. I was so fascinated for a moment, that when after I had stopped my vehicle, I just sat in a daze, sweet visions filling my head.”
Lovely. The story also noted that O’Rourke “pilfered long-distance service ‘so I wouldn’t run up the phone bill’” when he was connecting to bulletin boards, something that could have been a felony in Texas if O’Rourke pilfered over $1,500 of service. (The statute of limitations has long since expired, obviously.)
On a busy news day where the Christchurch massacre dominated the headlines, the story managed to get an enormous amount of traction, with Reuters noting that “(w)ithin minutes, (Menn’s) special report was the most popular story on Reuters.com here and was picked up by other news outlets.”
However, one thing that wasn’t so clear in the special report was that Menn had had the story since 2017.
“I decided to write a book about the Cult of the Dead Cow because they were the most interesting and influential hacking group in history. They illustrated a lot of the things that I think are fascinating about hacking and security work,” Menn said in an “interview” with his own wire service. (Wonder how they scored that navel-gazing bit of self-promotion?
“While I was looking into the Cult of the Dead Cow, I found out that they had a member who was sitting in Congress. I didn’t know which one. But I knew that they had a member of Congress.
“And then I figured out which one it was. And the members of the group wouldn’t talk to me about who it was. They wouldn’t confirm that it was this person unless I promised that I wouldn’t write about it until after the November election. That’s because the member of Congress had decided to run for Senate. Beto O’Rourke is who it was,” he continued.
“I met Beto O’Rourke. I said ‘I’m writing a book about Cult of the Dead Cow, I think it’s really interesting. I know you were in this group. This book is going to publish after November and your Senate race is over. And he said, ‘OK.’
“And he told me about his time in the Cult of the Dead Cow.”
And we didn’t find out about it until O’Rourke the Senate candidate became O’Rourke the presidential contender — and with considerable spin from Menn, who seems to put forth the argument that O’Rourke’s youthful indiscretions could actually help him in the 2020 presidential race.
“Arguably, there has been no better time to be an American politician rebelling against business as usual,” he wrote in the piece published Friday. “There is no indication that O’Rourke himself ever engaged in the edgiest sorts of hacking activity — breaking into computers or writing code that enabled others to do so. Still, it’s unclear whether the United States is ready for a presidential contender who, as a teenager, stole long-distance phone service for his dial-up modem, wrote a murder fantasy in which the narrator drives over children on the street, and mused about a society without money.”
Well, that’s certainly a pleasant way of putting things.
If Texas voters had known any of this before they went to the polls in November, we arguably wouldn’t be talking about this at all. O’Rourke’s appeal to liberals is that he came kinda sorta close to unseating a Republican in a red state during a race in which the media treated him as a skateboarding, livestreaming rock star.
An acknowledged membership in the Cult of the Dead Cow — once the Cult of the Dead Cow was properly explicated to voters — likely would have significantly curtailed the momentum O’Rourke enjoyed at the time. In fact, had it been revealed in 2017, when Menn first knew of his membership, it’s questionable whether Beto would have even been the nominee for the seat.
Now that the moral victory of the 2018 Texas senatorial election is under his belt (a belt no doubt replete with a belt buckle and holding up some worn denim just to prove how very Texan he is), O’Rourke and his supporters can try and file this one under the “cool Beto” heading.
See, he doesn’t just skateboard! He was a l33t hacker all the way back in the Apple IIe days! He used bulletin board systems! And now he livestreams his dental appointments! Please just don’t look at that stuff he wrote when he was 15 about running over kids, OK? Thanks.
I’m not certain that we should judge candidates based on what they did during their teenage years, but these are still facts voters should know in order to make a decision on their own. This isn’t just minor delinquency here. O’Rourke was a member of a notorious hacking group that not infrequently compromised an operating system. He may have committed a felony through theft of phone service.
The media loves to inform of us of just how important they are to us. To hear reporters tell it, they make sure we know the facts necessary to maintain a functioning democracy.
Yet, in what was arguably the biggest Senate race of 2018, a Reuters reporter sat on very pertinent information for roughly a year before the election because, well, why? Because he got an interview out of O’Rourke for his book? Because it would have compromised Beto’s chances? Because it would have compromised his book? There are many examples of media bias favoring Democrats in American politics, but not many are as sickening.
If only Beto had been a Republican. We would have all become privy to this fact the moment it became known to Menn.
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