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This time the reporter didn't make it up

By Paul McNamara on Thu, 08/10/06 - 11:30am.

Sure, that freelance writer -- the so-called Norwegian Jayson Blair -- did confess to making up his in-flight interview with Bill Gates (c'mon, the world's richest man flying commercial?). And there have been enough such cases -- way too many -- that you can't begrudge anyone their general skepticism about the press.
 
But that doesn't change the fact that Juniper security researcher Michael Lynn really did bluff his way past the check-in table in order to enter Cisco's invitation-only party at last week's Black Hat conference in Las Vegas. Lynn denies he did so, Juniper is standing behind its man, and a number of other bloggers and comment posters on this one have alleged that the story about Lynn's little stunt that appeared on NetworkWorld.com was made up.
 
They're all dead wrong.
 
How can I be so certain?
 
Because the reporter who wrote our story, Senior Editor Ellen Messmer, was standing directly behind Lynn in line, was perfectly positioned to watch and overhear his encounter at the check-in table, and -- most important -- she's more likely to reach up and punch Bill Gates in the nose than fabricate an anecdote just to support a gossipy story. (She has not, to my knowledge, ever hit anybody.)
 
Why should this matter to anyone but the principals involved? Lynn may be a minor celebrity in IT security circles because of an uproar he caused at the 2005 Black Hat event that got him sued by Cisco and shown the door by his then-employer, ISS, but we're talking about a party here, not exactly a major news event.
 
So maybe it doesn't matter to those who are not involved, but my belief is that one of the reasons the press is held in such low regard these days is that too often we just turn the other cheek when critics are kicking us in the butt. Not today.
 
Here, again, is Messmer's account of what she witnessed and heard:

"Basically what happened is the Cisco party had a line in which each person who wanted to enter had to give his or her name to a young woman sitting at a table with a list. She then crossed the name off and the person could go into the party. If your name wasn't on the list, you wouldn't be given immediate access."

"When Lynn's turn in line came, she asked him three times what his name was. He appeared a bit panicky, and wouldn't answer. Then he put his finger on the sheet with the names and said, 'That's me.' The woman didn't make any response but just checked off a name. And Lynn went into the party."
 
"His name wasn't on the list."
 
"The irony is had Lynn decided to give his real name, it's unlikely Cisco would have turned him away. Lynn has friends at Cisco who wanted him to attend the party, and although he wasn't officially invited, Cisco would probably not have kept him out."
 
In fact, Messmer's original story also noted that Lynn's presence did indeed appear welcome once he was inside the party and that Cisco officials were fine with him being there. But that doesn't change the reality of how he first gained entrance.
 
A Juniper spokeswoman told me by e-mail that the company does not "wish to get drawn into a debate about Ellen’s article; nor do we wish to turn this into Ellen’s word vs. Michael's word."
 
That's understandable, but they can't both be right.
 
Here's more from the spokeswoman in response to my questioning: "Michael Lynn was invited by Cisco representatives; therefore, he did not evade security in order to get into the party.  His name was not on the original roster at the Pure nightclub door that evening.  It was Cisco employees that came out of the party to escort Michael and the people he was with into the event.  He did not evade the security check and signed in with his name at the check-in area."
 
  As for Lynn himself, according to the spokeswoman: "Michael Lynn denies any allegations that he bluffed his way past the check-in table."
 
My blog, so I get the final word: Neither Lynn nor Juniper has requested a retraction or a correction.