Warning: This article contains sexually graphic language, funded in part by grants from Carnegie Mellon University. No, I'm not joking.
Jacking in from the "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" Port:
Washington, DC -- If I were drunk or stoned or Hunter Thompson or a combination of any of those, maybe this past week would make sense.
But there is no empty Jack Daniels bottle on the floor, there is no drug residue dusting the desktop and unless that wino on the street corner I can see from my office window, the one harassing the hooker, is Thompson -- and you just never know -- then I'm left all alone with a virtual Marty Rimm staring back at me from my Mac in the form of Email, inside a folder called "Rimm Job."
You know Marty. He's the current media lightning rod. Time magazine recently ran a cover story -- "Cyberporn" -- based on work he did while an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon university. Marty's taken a lot of heat for that work ... he's about to take a lot more, owing to a little moonlighting publishing venture he had going while conducting the study.
This story should write itself, but it doesn't. I've had phone calls, Email and more phone calls. Each of them adds another small piece to the "Marty and Brock Show" to which I've been an unwitting dupe in for the past week. A fairly simple puzzle a week ago, it has now becomes a 10,000 piece jigsaw of the Milky Way.
Marty calls me "friend" for some reason and asks me questions via Email like "why do I like you, Brock?" Well how the hell do I know?
And things just keep getting more and more bizarre. It's like I've stepped some kind of karmic black hole where a lot of good shit happens, but you can't tell anyone about it. At least not right away, because first you're bound to figure out "What it All Means."
But I can't. Maybe I'll never figure it out. Which means this is an ugly story, which means I have to write it ugly or it doesn't get written. So here goes and god help us all ...
The same Marty that wrote the study on which Time magazine hung its June 26th "Cyberporn" cover story is the same Marty that wrote a dicey little paperback called the "Pornographer's Handbook: How to Exploit Women, Dupe Men and Make Lots of Money."
Somehow, somewhere, someone named "John Russel Davis" gets ahold of this porn handbook and begins to upload excerpts from it to the Internet.
It's 6:27 a.m. on July 11th and the only message I get from Marty is a one-liner: "Who is John Russel Davis?" I have no clue. This is the last I hear from Marty all day. He has gone into hiding, suddenly retreating from our Email tug-of-war.
The Marty has "gone dark."
Routine checks of Email reveal nothing. At 11:26 p.m. the "RimmSat" lights up. The Marty is back online.
He fires off this message to me: "Look, I'm pissed off about what Carolyn is spreading around certain Usenet newsgroups after I broke up with her. Someone named John Russel Davis from AOL appears to be helping her. If you don't know what newsgroups they are, I certainly am not going to be the one to tell you, but let's just say it's where bbs sysops hangout. Maybe then you'll know why I am so silent."
For those playing without a scorecard, "Carolyn" is "Carolyn Speranza" as in the person listed in "Books In Print" as the illustrator for Marty's "how to" porn marketing manual. She also happens to be listed as an advisor for his academic paper.
But Marty's outburst is a mystery to me. Having been wrapped in a regular reporting gig as Washington Bureau Chief for Interactive Week, I haven't been trolling the Usenet. When I tell him this, he gets insulting: "Brock, I thought you were more clever than this. If you were a bbs sysop, and you just got onto the Usenet for the first time ... where would you go? But I've said too much, and I don't know what is the lesser of two evils: not to tell you (and hope it goes away), or you will eventually find out later anyway and be pissed off and nobody looks good."
The red-flag has been waved and I call in the troops, posting a cryptic message on the WELL asking for assistance in tracking down messages from "John Russel Davis." Aaron Dickey, who toils away in the stock listings department for the Associated Press, takes up the challenge and delivers--in spads.
Into my mailbox flow excerpts of Marty's "how to" manual. Here is a sample of his turgid prose, taken from the Usenet posting, from a chapter on Anal Sex: "When searching for the best anal sex images, you must take especial care to always portray the woman as smiling, as deriving pleasure from being penetrated by a fat penis into her most tender crevice. The male, before ejaculation, is remarkably attuned to the slightest discrepancy; he is as much focused on her lips as on her anus. The slightest indication of pain can make some men limp."
The early returns on the excerpts are that they are a hoax. People castigate the anonymous "Davis" for having tried to foist such a laughable scam on the Net.
But Marty knows different and when I ask if these postings are authentic, he writes: "The excerpts circulating around the Usenet were stolen from my marketing book, Brock. You are the only one I am telling."
This would be the same "marketing book" that in another of these same Usenet excerpts says: "I spent two full years as a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, where I received four grants to study adult materials on the Internet, Usenet, World Wide Web and Adult BBS from around the world. Despite countless deprivations and temptations, I have examined this topic with great diligence, having obtained nearly one million descriptions of adult images which were downloaded by consumers more than eight million times. I developed linguistic parsing software to sort these images into 63 different classifications from oral to anal, from lesbian to bondage, from watersports to bestiality."
If that was your jaw hitting the floor, imagine what's happening at Carnegie Mellon about now.
Marty, at first, seemed unruffled by all this. When I asked him what kind of "damage control" he might be formulating to respond to the news of his little self-publishing venture, which, by the way, is listed as having the "Carnegie" imprint and which happens to have the same address in Pittsburgh as someone named "Martin Rimm". Marty replied: "What attention? I don't see it. This is just an oddity. Do you have reason to suspect otherwise?"
But by the night of July 13th, at virtually the 11th hour, he tries to cut a deal with me. He notes that people monitoring the Usenet groups think the excerpts "are a fraud." He says the only ones that know they are real are me and him (forgetting, I suppose, about Carolyn and "Davis"). He says he could essentially upload to the Net a kind of confession, "claiming authorship and you lose your scoop." In return for not blowing my scoop, he wants me to send him an advance copy of this article so he can review it.
He says I'm "close" on some things, but that I have missed "too much" of the story. We could work together, he promises. We could establish a "working relationship," something we obviously don't have now because my earlier article on this whole wretched debacle was "pathetically inaccurate," he claims.
If I comply with his deal, I would then know all, he says: "You will really understand what I did and did not do. If you want."
In case you're wondering, Marty is reading this for the first time along with the rest of you. He has never seen a word of it, other than his own Email messages reproduced here.
Not eight hours after he wanted to cut a deal, to "negotiate from the edge," as John Schwartz of the Washington Post characterizes such desperate ploys, he sends a message July 13 (Thursday) that is frantic and elusive: "The thing is about to blow, probably by Friday at noon. I am not happy about this. I don't like it. I don't want it. But I consider you the lesser of two evils. I am going away in about a half hour and will probably return next week."
I have no idea what "the thing" is. I have no idea what the "lesser of two evils" is.
Hell, right now, I'm not even sure he's telling me the truth.
Indeed, throughout this investigation, he has led me back and forth, playing games, trickling out information like some damn chinese water torture.
Mike Godwin, staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has made the discrediting of the Time "Cyberporn" cover story and Marty's study something of a personal Jihad, sums up Marty like this: "The more you research Rimm, the more a portrait emerges of someone wily, subtle, glib, manipulative. Even when he tells you he's being totally honest, totally frank, you have this lurking feeling that below the surface he's calculating the precise effect his choice of words -- both his admissions and his omissions -- will have on you."
Godwin is dead bang on.
An old college classmate of Marty's, Bret Pettichord, surfaced during this whole affair. He and Marty went to the New College in Sarasota, Fla., in 1984. They were philosophy majors. It was a small school, Petticort says, so "everyone knew everyone." Marty was a loner. But Marty had a peculiar quirk: He studied tapes of the Rev. Jerry Falwell. "Not for the message," Petticort said, "Marty didn't buy into that." Instead, Marty was "fascinated by how Falwell was able to sway people with his rhetoric ... and he studied that." But as far as Petticort knows, Marty never practiced it while in college. They drifted apart, meeting briefly around 1986. When the "Marty as Media Lightning Rod" emerged, Petticort got back in touch. Marty's response: "I'm busy now."
Before the Great Usenet Excerpt incident, Marty was already pacing back and forth across my computer screen.
When the listing of his porn book from "Books In Print" hit the Net, it was like some one had lit Marty's fuse.
When I asked him to explain the book, he answered with two questions: "[T]ell me 1) whether you actually have a copy of the Porn Handbook, and 2) where you got it."
I answered that I had sources in "low places" and that I didn't appreciate having to "bargain" with him for information. His book "wasn't hard to track down," I told him.
His secret now blown, he goes ballistic: "It looks like that *bitch* got a copy too," he wrote, complete with asterisks, referring to Vanderbilt Professor Donna Hoffman, one of his earliest critics. "To say I'm pissed is an understatement," he wrote in Email. "They all agreed not to photocopy it - I'm going to nail them for copyright violation." The "they" he refers to there are the adult BBS operators.
I know, throughout this story you have to keep telling yourself: I am not in the Twilight Zone ... I am *not* in the Twilight Zone. But I swear, I'm not making any of this up.
How did Marty pull this off? Adult BBS operators aren't known for their openness and trusting attitudes, in general. When I asked Marty how he was able to do what had taken me years to do -- develop sources inside this network of adult BBS operators -- he said: "[Y]ou didn't have powerful software which you could use to convince them that you indeed had something to offer. What took you years I could do in anywhere from five minutes to two months. You'll have to figure the rest out."
That software, of course, was the same software he mentions so prominently in his academic study, the one published by the Georgetown Law Journal, the one that starts out telling how pornographers have started to use "sophisticated software" to help them become better marketers.
Are you catching the trend here? It's the ultimate media hack. He's working both sides of the fence. One one hand, Marty is helping the porn operators better market their wares, enabling them to place the stuff more strategically online. And then he writes a study with which he reels in an "exclusive" Time magazine "Cyberporn" cover story decrying the fact that, oh-my-gawd, there's an ever increasing amount of porn online, due in part, to better marketing tactics by adult BBS operators.
I tell Marty that I think it's "brilliant" that he was able to work the "acquisition of data" from BBS operators so that he could use it for his "how to" porn marketing manual and also crank it into his academic study. His reply: "If I do say so myself."
It was so brilliant, in fact, that it almost backfired on him on day the Time magazine story ran. You see, the BBS operators *didn't know* Marty was collecting their data for an academic study; they thought it was going to be used only by Marty, who would in turn, help them better market their porn.
Now, Marty didn't tell me that, directly, he made a game of it, making me ask questions and pose them to him in the form of a theory. So, when I ran the above theory by him, the one where he dupes the BBS operators and uses the data for both his porn book and the study, he wrote: "I'm somewhat impressed that you picked this up. Yes, I got about a dozen surprised calls this week [when the Time cover story ran] from sysops, but the academic study and BBS marketing manual were kept entirely separate ... so they (the porn BBS operators) took no offense."
But the academic community has ... except Carnegie Mellon University. To CMU Marty is the new "Media Darling."
Meanwhile, charges of unethical reserach practices are being launched and brought to the attention of the CMU administration.
Jim Thomas, a professor of sociology/criminal justice at Northern Illinois University, wrote a blistering attack challenging the ethics underlying Marty's study. Thomas' writing is brutal, written in the cold measured prose of an academic: "The most serious and explicit ethical violation is the deceptive nature in which Carnegie Mellon collected the data. Virtually every principle of informed consent was breached, because there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the research team gathered data deceptively, perhaps even fraudulently."
Marty's senior advisor, CMU professor Marvin Sirbu, is nowhere to be found. He has refused to answer questions Emailed to him about whether he knew Marty was using university funds to gather data for a "how to" porn marketing book at the same time he was using the data for his academic study.
When Marty is asked whether Sirbu knew of his actions, he writes only: "Ask him."
Apparently Marty did run his methodology past George Duncan, a professor of statistics at the Heinz School at CMU. Marty says Duncan is a "privacy expert." However, Marty doesn't list Duncan among the many so-called advisors for his study. "In hindsight, I guess I should have listed him," he told me during our only phone interview.
When Duncan is asked about Marty's methodology he says he sees nothing wrong. When I ask him if he knows the data Marty was collecting was being used for the "Pornographer's Handbook" he says, "that's totally implausible." When I tell him that Marty has confirmed it and that I know for sure he used the data to help write the porn book, Duncan, still says, "well, that's just ridiculous."
What's not ridiculous is the fallout and the "collateral damage" as the military likes say, in which they really mean "the number of innocent civilians that are murdered by a bomb meant only for a strategic target."
First there is the reputation of Time magazine. This can be summed up in one word: Toast. They will have to scramble big time to recover from having been spun by Marty "Mr. Porn Handbook" Rimm.
Then there is CMU. Your call here is as good as mine. The university, even as this article is grinding to a close, still refers to Marty's study as "the CMU study." They'll have to dodge a few bullets on this one now.
And then there is the Net itself. It will likely take some time to heal the damage here, too. Of course there is pornography on the Net, but it's not nearly as pervasive as recent events have made it out to be. And what's more encouraging, is that there is "real research," ironically enough, from Carnegie Mellon itself, that indicates that sexually oriented material, while available on the Net, isn't really that big a drawing point.
As CMU professor Sara Kiesler, one of the principles of a study called "HomeNet" says: "What's important is to look at how people use the Net and what they are actually looking at, as opposed to looking at what is actually on the Net itself." Her study is finding that very few people access sexually oriented material, even when they know its readily available, she said. And when they do access it, it's mostly out of curiosity, she says, "there's not a high percentage of repeat access."
That should be the word that gets out; not the by now well debunked "83.5% of the Usenet is porn" figure that sadly (thank you Time magazine) is becoming the sound bite of the Religious Right and certain dense Senators.
As for Marty? Well, he's been accepted by MIT's Technology and Policy Program, where he'll go for his masters. I'm sure he'll do just fine ... after all, he does have this little publishing venture to help him cover expenses.
Meeks out ...
CyberWire Dispatch Clarification (16 Jul 95):
Carolyn Speranza says that she "did not approve" Martin Rimm listing her as "illustrator" of the "Pornographer's Handbook," as it appears in a cite from the "Books In Print" database. She also said that she "did not know" that Rimm was listing her as such. Additionally, she said she is in no way responsible for placing excerpts of Rimm's pornography handbook on the Internet.
Dispatch called Speranza -- twice -- previous to running its article, asking for her comments. She failed to return those calls before Dispatch ran its article. Speranza contacted Dispatch more than a day after the article went out. Dispatch is running this clarification at her request to clear up any misunderstanding.