Monday, August 10, 2009

Jesse Griffin and Hayekian Journalism:
Lessons From Stoney the Pool Hustler

"Dan Riehl and R.S. McCain have decided that a leftist blogger named Jesse Griffin (aka Gryphen) of Anchorage Alaska needs to be destroyed. . . . All I know is that in my opinion they have crossed an ethical line and I think it's disgusting."
-- Chad, KURU Lounge, 8/9/09

"Just because you don't know what I'm doing, don't assume that I don't know what I'm doing."
-- Robert Stacy McCain, 5/8/09
While I've sometimes referred jocularly to my status as a top Hayekian public intellectual, it is one of those unbidden honors that causes a man to reflect soberly on the path by which he has traveled to reach . . . well, not yet a destination, I hope, but at least my current location.

You might describe me as "middle-aged," but that would seem an actuarial misnomer to anyone who cares to calculate the likelihood of a 49-year-old smoker living to be 98, Stranger things have happened, but the smart money doesn't favor such a proposition. Two years ago, I wrote the obituary of John Berthoud, a great man (and non-smoker) who died of sudden heart failure while sitting in front of his computer at age 45.

Since that day, while continuing to play my accustomed part of the clown, I have striven to live more purposefully, conscious that I'm far past the point of being a "Promising Young Journalist." This is a change of attitude which has been difficult in some ways because for years, I kept in my DIY psychological tool kit a mental device that came in handy whenever I found myself under pressure in a crucial situation.

"Now, you're messing with The Kid," I'd think to myself, repeating a favorite saying of a Alabama pool-hall hustler named Stoney, who beat me for more than $100 when I was 19. (And $100 was a lot of money to a college sophomore back then, when Carteresque malaise o'erspread a troubled nation.)

Over the course of my journalistic career, whenever I was behind the eight-ball and the odds were stacked impossibly high against me, I'd remind myself of all the tough situations I'd survived in the past. The Kid didn't bring his cue to this game with the intention of losing, you see, so the question at hand was never if I'd come through triumphantly, but rather merely how.

Learned in a Hard School
This habit of thinking of myself as an unknown youngster with something to prove -- the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude of a skinny joker accustomed to being underestimated -- had the unpleasant side-effect of inciting suspicion and resentment, since I never bothered to explain the Hayekian lesson I'd learned when Stoney hustled me out of that $100.
"Experience keeps a hard school, but a fool will learn in no other."
-- Benjamin Franklin
Because I'm not in the habit of explaining or justifying my actions, but am content to let the results of my labors earn whatever praise they might merit, misunderstandings are to be expected. And in Chad's expression of "disgust" with the Gryphen project, we have a classic example of this problem:
Here is Riehl making the insinuations (and here) and here is McCain selectively highlighting quotes from Griffin's blog to try and make it appear that he is advocating sex with children.

Here our friend Chad has made the mistake of assuming to know what Dan and I intended to do, based upon his own interpretation of what we'd actually done. Perhaps many others, equally free to draw their own conclusions, also made a similar interpretation.

The non-chronological juxtaposition of "Gryphen" quotations entitled "Give Jesse Enough Rope" was consciously composed for a purpose, and that purpose required that the material be presented without explanation of the purpose. Merely let the reader confront the quotes per se, so that no one might accuse me, by the intrusion of my own explanation, of attempting to bias their judgment: "Here is 'Gryphen'/Griffin in his own words."

However, in another post I provided an explanation:

Please note that the juxtaposition of quotes at that post is intended to highlight the vast difference between (a) what he wrote when he thought his anonymity was secure, and (b) what he wrote once his deception was exposed, and it was learned he was "an assistant teacher in a room full of five year old children."
That explanation was posted at 9:12 a.m., after I'd had time to recover somewhat from the exhaustion of toiling over the earlier post that went online at 4:30 a.m. It seemed best that the quotes and the explanation be in separate posts, for the reason previously stated: Do not give anyone cause to say that I sought to bias their judgment about what these quotes signified.

'When You Catch a Liar Lying'
At that point, between Jesse Griffin's posts at Immoral Minority and his private e-mail exchanges with Dan Riehl, Griffin had shown himself to be a compulsive liar.

Every time he was confronted with one lie, Griffin would tell another lie to explain it and . . . well, such a pattern of behavior was certainly interesting, given that on the morning of Aug. 1, "Gryphen" saw fit to declare as a fact that the marriage of Todd and Sarah Palin was broken beyond repair and the couple were on the road to "Splitsville."

No student of journalism, and certainly no student of Hayek, would dare to make such a statement based upon the mere assurances of any "source" who was neither Todd nor Sarah nor someone who could provide documentary evidence to support their claim.

Griffin was not only a liar, but a clueless idiot who reportedly "laughed off the threat" rather than retract his insupportable assertion when confronted with a letter from the Palins' lawyer. And then, in sending that letter to Dennis Zaki for publication, Griffin doubled down on stupid by identifying himself as an Anchorage kindergarten teacher, which allowed some unknown person on the Internet to add 2+2: "Gryphen" = Griffin. That unknown person e-mailed his amateur research to both Dan and I, and so on the evening of Aug. 2, the story took an unexpected turn.

Keep in mind that I hadn't been sitting around on the afternoon of Aug. 1 pondering the state of affairs in Wasilla, Alaska. What happened was this:
"Sarah is finished with Todd and has decided to end their marriage," Griffin wrote at "Immoral Minority" Saturday morning, saying that "one of [his] best sources" had told him the Palins were divorcing. Griffin's story was immediately promoted by Dennis Zaki's "Alaska Report" site, which claimed that "multiple sources" had confirmed the report.
Jeanne Devon, an Anchorage Democratic activist who had previously blogged anonymously, also promoted Griffin's "exclusive" at the Huffington Post. As a result of this promotion, by Saturday afternoon Zaki's headline, "Todd and Sarah Palin to divorce," was the lead item at the popular Memeorandum political news site, even though it had already been officially denied by Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton.
Everybody who has read The Rules knows that Memeorandum is my go-to source for keeping up with political news in the blogosphere. So when this Griffin-to-Zaki-to-Devon sequence boosted the Palin divorce headline to the top of Memeorandum, action on my part was clearly required.

Confirmed by "multiple sources"? Holy crap!

By the evening of Aug. 2, having demolished this absurd piece of malignant gossip, I was ready to move on to other things when -- out of the clear blue -- I got the e-mail that ID'd "Gryphen" as a 49-year-old man employed in an Anchorage kindergarten. This unsolicited bit of information gave a demonstration of how, as Rich Crowther said, "the six inch high capitalised red letters W, T and F can form so instantly in the mind."

A kindergarten teacher? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Given merely a minimal outline of biographical data about "Gryphen," and considering it only in light of his scurrilous attack on the Palins, I was shocked. However, when the anonymous e-mailer then forwarded to me and Dan some quotations (accompanied by JPEG screen-caps) of what "Gryphen" had written about pornography, masturbation and other such matters . . .

Scene at a Board Meeting
Well, having covered a few school-board meetings as a young reporter back in the day, I could easily envision the scene when those Trailside Elementary kindergarten moms showed up at the next board meeting in Anchorage and one of them approached the microphone to begin reading aloud from The Collected Works of Gryphen. Even for the skeptical Hayekian, an entirely predictable conclusion of the matter was apparent.

Meanwhile, Dan Riehl had demonstrated to me what a wealth of information is available as public record, including the address of Jesse Griffin's house and its purchase price of more than $300,000.

Knowing the value of his house, and his salary from Anchorage public schools, it was evident that Griffin must have other sources of income. Had he won the Powerball or collected a lucrative insurance settlement? Was he on retainer with the National Enquirer? I had no idea, but by the morning of Aug. 3, I was 100% certain that Griffin would soon be without his public-school salary.

Dan and I were both dog-tired, and some facts needed to be verified, requiring a delay, but in the meantime Griffin decided to send Dan a threatening e-mail. So on the morning of Aug. 4, I sat down to compose my own e-mail to Griffin. By the time I'd finished it, Dan was ready with his "Troubling Revelations" post -- showing that there was an Internet portal that linked "Gryphen" and Griffin -- and I again supposed that the story was over and I could return to other work.

But Griffin wouldn't let it go. He began to posture as a martyr for truth, claiming he was being targeted by "minions" merely because of partisan politics:

"Yes I stand by every single word of it. Believe me if it had been wholly inaccurate you would NEVER have witnessed such a response by the Palin team and their minions."
-- "Gryphen," a/k/a Jesse Griffin, Aug. 5, 2009
That phrase "wholly inaccurate" is interesting, as it suggests that Griffin is such a fool as to "stand by every single word" of blind-source reporting that admittedly may have been partially inaccurate. Ask a newspaper attorney about the wisdom of such a stance, and be prepared to hear laughter. If one of your "best sources" tells you X, Y and Z, and it can be demonstrated that X is false, you cannot -- based solely on that same source -- continue to "stand by" Y and Z.

This is Journalism 101. A source is either credible or not, and no self-respecting journalist would protect a source who fed him a potentially libelous load of crap. The Hayekian insight is that, in a universe of facts, among the numerous facts we do not know may be facts more important than the facts we know. And you can learn a lot of that Hayekian stuff while shooting pool.

An Informational Imbalance
When Stoney and I starting shooting eight-ball at a dollar a game in 1979, I did not know he was an experienced pool hustler, who could make almost any shot that might present itself. Though I was somewhat skilled, Stoney was so much better than me -- and so adept at the psychology of pool-hustling -- that it was only a matter of time before I was down at the pawn shop exchanging my stereo for enough cash to squeak by on for the next week.

Well, I didn't know that when Stoney unpacked his two-piece cue and offered to play me for $1 a game. I didn't recognize the hustler's trick when, in game after game, I'd come this close to winning, only to watch Stoney run the table once I missed a shot. Oh, he'd occasionally let me win a game -- keep that fish nibbling at the bait, see? -- but his estimate of my skill was far more accurate than my estimate of his.

My lost wagers mounted steadily, yet it appeared for all the world as if I was merely a victim of bad luck. All I needed was to make one good shot -- really, I was pretty good at the time -- and then I'd be the one running the table on Stoney. So when at last Stoney offered to make the next game double-or-nothing . . .

No Hayekian would have accepted such a wager, and the hard school of experience taught a young fool a bitter lesson indeed when Stoney finally called his shot on the eight ball and put it right where he'd called it.

Who Is 'Destroying' Whom?
Is it true, as our friend Chad says, that Dan Riehl and I "have decided that a leftist blogger named Jesse Griffin (aka Gryphen) of Anchorage Alaska needs to be destroyed"? Or is it not rather the case that Griffin has been destroying himself? Given the opportunity to retract his "exclusive" -- to put his cue back in the rack and walk away from the game -- he instead chose the double-or-nothing wager:
"[A]s of right now I have every confidence that I will be vindicated."
-- Gryphen," a/k/a Jesse Griffin, Aug. 2, 2009
OK, fine. The man is a proven liar. And, as that juxtaposition of quotes was intended to demonstrate, "Gryphen" spoke in one manner when he thought his online alias was safe, but began speaking in another manner once his identity was known. Is this significant? What about the evident gap between Griffin's public-school income and the payments on a $300,000 home -- is that signficant, too?

Jesse Griffin has "every confidence" in his own vindication and continues publishing insinuations about the circumstances of Trig Palin's birth, having previously stated those facts of which he has "absolutely no doubt":
"But just where did Trig Palin come from? As of today, as of this minute, and after over a month of searching I cannot tell you. I simply do not know for certain. I do know however where he did not come from. He did not issue forth from Sarah Palin. . . . He was not conceived in her uterus. On that one fact I have absolutely no doubt."
-- "Gryphen," a/k/a Jesse Griffin, June 6, 2009
Given his notorious dishonesty and habit of asserting as fact things that he cannot possibly know, Jesse Griffin has no grounds on which to complain if others wish to speculate about his various enthusiasms for pornography, masturbation and teaching kindergarten. But why speculate about what one does not know, when one need only report what is already known? Apply this question to some other circumstance and see how it works.

It has been reported that Levi Johnston arrived at an event holding hands with comedienne Kathy Griffin, and he was photographed kissing her cheek. Gawker therefore writes:
So the burning question on everyone's mind has to be -- did Levi nail her?
One might speculate in such a manner, of course, just as one might speculate about the significance of whatever facts one knows about Jesse Griffin. Yet keep in mind my summary of what I call the Hayekian insight:
In a universe of facts, among the numerous facts we do not know may be facts more important than the facts we know.
A couple of days ago, Jesse Griffin speculated about my own sources of income. He perhaps does not know about my car payment, my cell-phone bill or the cost of my Internet service. He certainly doesn't know what expenses I've incurred in recent weeks reporting the IG-Gate story before I was so unfortunately distracted by that idiotic Palin divorce "exclusive" of his.

In all honesty, I can assure readers that your contributions to the tip jar are now more earnestly solicited than ever. Whatever else Jesse may know, he will never know how grateful I am for the astonishing generosity of my readers. Every $5 or $10 helps, but there have been some of you who have given much more. One of the tasks I've assigned to Myles The Blog Intern is compiling a list of all tip-jar donors, so that you might all be thanked with proper courtesy and gratitude.

Confident as I am in your continued generosity, then, let me note some curious facts about our recent encounter with "Gryphen"/Griffin: So, whatever else we might say, Jesse Griffin certainly has a lousy track record as a prophet, and the editors of the Anchorage Daily News don't seem very interested in his career either as a phony journalist or as an employee at Trailside Elementary. As for the "vindication" that Jesse Griffin said he awaits with "every confidence" -- if Dan Riehl tells you he's about to put the eight ball in the corner pocket, you probably don't want to bet against him.

Like Stoney said, "Now you're messing with The Kid."

Watch for updates at RIEHL WORLD VIEW.


  1. Now we know what problem Levi has been dealing with all this time. Holy cow! She is more than twice Levi's age.

    I don't think this news would tingle Griffin's leg (too much) althought it can probably be used to try to cause shame for Bristol.

    Levi doesn't (as me old mum used to say) have the couth to be ashamed.

    That young man is going to get just what he deserves, maybe not what he wants, but certainly what he deserves. I see gossip columns filling up with all sorts of 'news' about the gigolo from Wasilla.

    *snicker* *snort*

  2. Here our friend Chad has made the mistake of assuming to know what Dan and I intended to do, based upon his own interpretation of what we'd actually done. Perhaps many others, equally free to draw their own conclusions, also made a similar interpretation.

    You say that I misinterpreted your intentions. I believe you and you have my apologies. I will update my post or make a new one to reflect that fact whichever you feel is more appropriate. I continue to have reservations about Dan Riehl's posts (especially the 8/6/09 6:33pm post) but if you or he were to tell me that his intentions were also misinterpreted by me I will offer him my apologies also.

    I would like to point out that I said both in my comments here and in my post that I had no problems with you attempting to show Griffin's complete lack of credibility

    I don't have any problem with exposing the source of the rumor and showing his lack of credibility

    and that I expressed my respect for you as a blogger outside this of this issue.

    I feel guilty about posting this because Smitty and RS McCain have been pretty good about throwing links my way and generally have treated me pretty good. I appreciate that and I have a lot of respect for McCain's ability as a blogger but I really feel strongly about this.

    Again I apologize for my misinterpretation of your intentions

  3. The Gryphen Files is a blog event both memorable and instructive. I suppose the Left is trying to say it was an unfair fight, 2 crafty journalists ganging up on a novice who meant well; they would fault Stacy and Dan for going after low hanging fruit. But Gryphen offered nothing but low hanging fruit - and a bumper crop to boot. Let me for one say THANK YOU for holding this blogger accountable and demonstrating that there can be accountability in the blogosphere.

  4. What about the evident gap between Griffin's public-school income and the payments on a $300,000 home -- is that signficant, too?

    I'm not sure this line of inquiry is going to lead to anything of interest or significance. Griffin is 49 years of age, and has therefore had (in theory) many years to build up savings or equity. He may also have been the recipient of money in an inheritance - are his parents still living? Possibly he was simply careful with his income over the years and put enough money aside to permit him to buy an expensive house with an inexpensive mortgage.

    I think the most important thing to have come from the Gryphen affair is the message you and Riehl have sent to those who smear: there shall be consequences. Up until now, the gossipcats have been able to get away with just about anything.

  5. I'm getting a clue that this is not really about Griffin. He is just a frontline tool for disseminating someone else's anti-Palin memes. He lied reflexively in e-mail exchanges with Stacy & Dan, yet oddly, he passionately stuck to his divorce "exclusive" because he believed in his "sources". Why? Why did he trust his sources? Just what - in his mind - gave them credibility? Well, I'll answer my own question: what gave them credibility was his own vanity and PAYOFFS. Dan's scoop tomorrow will be who paid Griffin to broadcast their talking points.

  6. "Stoney", your reading of the wannabe's overarching vanity is precise: look at me, notice me, pay me some attention. However patently absent of intellect and human compassion I might be, make me the story. Hence his admission last week that he "wanted to cause a controversy".

    In that context, whether his sources are credible or not may not really be important to him. For example, when his much vaunted iceberg tease of several weeks ago combusted spontaneously he offered his readership not one word of explanation. The unconscionable liar in him felt no compulsion to justify his actions.

    Perhaps if you hold his feet to the flames long enough he might actually learn something about himself. In which case you are doing him a favor, and should continue to extend that courtesy.

  7. Anybody want to take bets that Levi is Gryphen's 'source'?

  8. "In a universe of facts, among the numerous facts we do not know may be facts more important than the facts we know."

    In Vedic parlance this is a principle of logic, inquiry and discourse. Its name is "neti," and it means "Not only that, but also ...." The principle of "neti," vigorously applied, should be at the root of all human endeavour, to keep it self-correcting.

    Functionally, "neti" is comparable to the via negativa that is a central principle of European and American philosophy and culture (properly termed "The Latin Church") ever since the great Sephardic Divine, Maimonides, who gave it.

    A well-known quip of Twain's runs parallel from the other direction (paraphrasing): What undoes is man is not what he does not know but what he does know that just ain't so.