CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright ) 1997 // May 1997
Jacking in from the "Totally Clueless" Port:
by Lewis Z. Koch
Special CWD Correspondent
Chicago -- The Chicago Tribune, which should know better, headlines on its front page "Local computer buff seized in Gates plot." Since the Tribune and other media can't shout "The Commies are Coming!" or "DEWEY BEATS the new enemy has become THE INTERNET! Yet, again
The Trib starts this pristine bit of hack journalism like this: "By all accounts, Adam Pletcher was so fascinated with the Internet (sic) that he would spend hours gazing at his computer in a back bedroom of his parents' Long Grove home." Which begs the question: "And the point is?"
The likelihood is that anyone who is reading CWD spends "hours gazing at his [or her] computer." Somehow it doesn't quite follow that spending long hours computer gazing will, necessarily, lead one to threatening the life of Bill Gates.
On the other hand , there are indeed, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people, who gaze at their computer screen, the bile rising, their hearts filled with loathing for Bill Gates as they fight their way though his incomplete, incompetent, insecure operating system. And Gates' raking in billions through quasi-monopolistic practices, hell, the list of "Why should I hate Bill Gates" is practically endless. But only a goof, a blithering, witless cretin would actually plot to extort $5.5 million from him by threatening to kill Gates.
I mean, c'mon asking for a paltry $5.5 mill should have been the tip-off that this clown was one taco short of a combination plate.
But even the most die-hard computer-gazing Gates-hater is unlikely to be as complete a schmuck as 22-year-old Adam who, by the way wasn't using the but rather America Online. Chicago Tribune reporters still don't know the difference.
Follow this tortured story, folks, and, as Dave Barry often writes, "I am not making this up."
Pletcher, as part of his diabolical scheme, reportedly sent Gates a computer disk as part of the extortion plan. The disk (be still my heart!) had his parents' name on the label. Pletcher also sent extortion letters to Gates, mailed from Palatine, Illinois, not far from his north suburban Long Grove home, as well as from Milwaukee (about an hours drive away.) Part of the instructions to Gates demanded he place a personal advertisement on the "Netgirl" bulletin board on AOL to acknowledge receipt of Pletcher's extortion letter.
Can't you just see it? Among all those ads for mind-blowing sex from nymphomaniacal voluptuous computer-gazing babes, a note from Gates which says, "Hey big got your note demanding $5.5 million or you'll kill me. Hold on while I input that in my new OS. Back to you soon, muh man."
Turns out this dunce Pletcher is just another sorry loser. His other failed schemes include: selling fake driver's licenses, "lean steaks" and sports cars on AOL. The Tribune reported that "one Nevada man wired Pletcher $5,500 for help in finding a car at a below wholesale price." Hey, it's Nevada. End of story.
How difficult could it have been for the FBI to arrest him? Pletcher earlier in the year had been charged by Lake County, Illinois officials with attempting to sell those fake driver's licenses plus the Attorney General of Illinois had filed a civil suit against Pletcher for his other AOL scams. One can hear the conversation in the FBI office now: "Any reports of scam artists operating out of north suburban Chicago using a computer?" "Why boss, only last week..."
This dunderhead Pletcher sends letters to Gates (probably with his fingerprints and saliva all over it), and of course, that computer disk with his parents' name on it. Hellooo? "FBI officials later determined that Pletcher had been among 79 people who visited that AOL site that night," the Tribune said. Okay, so it's not exactly as challenging as the Unabomber investigation, but it's a living.
Authorities say Pletcher wanted the $5.5 million from Gates because he wanted to start a nightclub. What was he going to call "Planet Moron"?
Remember, this was a front page, 24-paragraph story that was written with a straight face.
The mainstream media has become a willing terrorist organization against the Internet and all those strange looking dudes and dudettes gazing endless at computer screens who should be reading the Tribune, or at least watching television. They prime the hysteria pump with stories about porn, about "cyberseduction." Only a couple of months ago a 14-year-old New York state girl was reported to have run off with a 22-year-old Air Force deserter/Internet Satanist (always a good combo.) NBC News and Fox News couldn't get enough of the story. Weeping mother, tearful step-sister, and Jerry Springer (you gotta love him) all went nutso. Pictures of bleached bones and Beelzebub dancing in the head. Springer even replayed the hysterical show, with an added note at the bottom of the screen that the girl had in fact returned home safely. So much for truth in re-runs.
The fact is that the mainstream media seem determined to perpetuate the blood libel that anyone who spends more than a couple of minutes in front of a computer or on the Internet, even America Online (other than checking for stock quotes) is a potential terrorist, or hacker, or pornographer/Satanist.
Every Internet "scare" story only perpetuates the myth that the real world is in immanent danger of the man in front of the computer screen, no doubt with Cola glazed eyes and Twinkie filling dried in the corners of his mouth. Here's a Big Hint: It just won't happen.
The media, with the connivance of too many government and military people seem to be edging ever closer to saying the only reasonable solution to the complex problems of the Internet, and those who populate it, is a good old fashioned cyberlynching, perhaps even a full fledged cyberpogrom.
It's a variation on the old Chicken Little story, only in this case it's chicken shit.
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Lewis Z. Koch <email@example.com> is a freelance journalist and former investigative reporter for NBC News.