How a blogger got in the middle of Foley story
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MOORE, Okla. -- For three days, William "Wild Bill" Kerr huddled over an old computer, trying to solve a curious mystery.
He wanted to figure out the identity of the congressional page who received the salacious instant messages that prompted Florida Rep. Mark Foley to resign Sept. 29, triggering the scandal that's rocking the House of Representatives just weeks before the election.
The 32-year-old conservative blogger said he felt the news media were distorting the story, and he suspected, among other things, that the page in question was over the age of consent.
Five days after the Foley news broke, Mr. Kerr thought he had found the former page -- a 21-year-old political operative who, by chance, worked about 10 miles north of Mr. Kerr's two-bedroom apartment here.
Mr. Kerr disclosed the results of his investigation Oct. 4, and gained the sort of instant celebrity made possible by the Internet age. Traffic to his site, Passionate America, shot up from a typical 32 hits a day to more than 40,000, he says. And the national media picked up the story.
Mr. Kerr is just a bit player in the unfolding Foley drama, but his experience shows the rapid-fire and harsh ways a scandal can unfold. Little-known bloggers -- with no inside connections, knowledge, or restraints imposed on mainstream journalists -- can play a big role furthering investigations, and affecting public perceptions of events.
Mr. Kerr drew immediate scorn from some fellow denizens of cyberspace after exposing -- without independent confirmation -- the name of Jordan Edmund. Mr. Edmund, through his lawyer, has neither confirmed nor denied that he was the page who engaged in sexually explicit Internet chats with Mr. Foley. But, as a result of Mr. Kerr's assertions, Mr. Edmund's name has been news on every major television network in America.
Mr. Kerr's own life has come under uncomfortable scrutiny. His 11-year-old son's photo was posted by one blogger in Ohio who hoped to spook Mr. Kerr, whom he believed had acted unethically.
It has been a heady time for the unemployed Mr. Kerr. He says he had been fired from several jobs over the years -- installing car radios, working for a call center -- and was discharged from the Navy in 1993 after faking a suicide attempt. He volunteers that years ago he was arrested for burglary. These days, he is a stay-at-home dad, taking care of his two sons, the younger of whom is 3 years old. Mr. Kerr's wife supports the family with her job at a call center here. Mr. Kerr says he has never met a famous person or a member of Congress. "I need to get out of the house more," he says.
He spends most of his days looking after his kids, working on his blog and doing an online radio show. He hosts it three times a week from his bedroom, hoping to break into conservative talk radio.
Mr. Kerr got into the business in 2003 with an independently published newsletter called the "Passionate Conservative." After a few issues, he concluded that the newsletter was too expensive to print, so he turned his attention to his Web site, where he has expressed the opinion that the Iraq war isn't going as badly as the media claim and that the Dixie Chicks should stop criticizing President Bush.
Shortly after ABC News broke the story on the Foley emails, Mr. Kerr says he felt the mainstream media were doing a poor job of covering the subject. He set out, he says, in hopes of "exposing ABC News as liars" and proving that at least one former page who received inappropriate messages from the Florida congressman was over the age of consent.
"Even if he was 17, he wasn't a victim. ... Was it a joke?" Mr. Kerr asks. And was the alleged transcript of messages a political dirty trick? Though he asked such questions, Mr. Kerr hastens to add, he wasn't defending Mr. Foley, whom he calls a "scumbag."
Mr. Kerr's investigation began when he found a Web page loaded on ABC's Internet server that wasn't easily accessible by the public. It contained what he believed to be the AOL screen name of a page who received messages from the congressman. He accomplished the feat by typing in variations on the Internet address that linked to the Internet page that featured Mr. Foley's instant messages. By slightly altering the address, he stumbled upon an older version of the exchange, which contained the AOL screen name ABC thought it had deleted from its site.
With the help of another conservative blogger Mr. Kerr had met online who goes by the name MsUnderestimated, Mr. Kerr then found the AOL profile of the page he believes received the instant messages. It said the person's first name was Jordan but didn't list a last name. Searching through congressional-page Internet sites, Mr. Kerr found a photo of a dark-haired page beaming at President Bush. The page was identified as Jordan.
From there, Mr. Kerr and his friend began scouring Internet sites, looking for a surname. They eventually discovered Mr. Edmund's MySpace profile, which contained a photo of the same young man they had found on the congressional page Web site, along with detailed biographical information, such as where he went to school and whom he worked for, that seemed to track some of the information in the Foley instant messages posted by ABC. They also discovered that Mr. Edmund now lived in Oklahoma City and works for the gubernatorial campaign of Ernest Istook, a Republican congressman.
After connecting the dots, Mr. Kerr began emailing newspapers and prominent political bloggers on Oct. 3, hoping to make a big splash. He invited them to check out important news he promised to post the next day on Passionate America at 4 p.m.
He had not, however, contacted Mr. Edmund. Mr. Kerr says he called the Istook campaign, asked to speak to Mr. Edmund but didn't leave a message. He says he was getting ready to leave his apartment around noon on Oct. 4 to drive his rusty, gray Ford Tempo to Mr. Istook's campaign headquarters in downtown Oklahoma City when his laptop PC froze. When he rebooted, he discovered his investigation had been inadvertently published on his blog four hours ahead of time.
Mr. Kerr said it had been his intention to fix spelling errors, try to get comment from Mr. Edmund and add a last paragraph. But there's no taking things back in Internet publishing. Other bloggers had already seen his posting. Soon, other sites, including the widely viewed Drudge Report, linked to his investigation.
After Mr. Kerr's report, ABC News pulled the material off its server and apologized for failing to delete the screen name from the material Mr. Kerr unearthed from the ABC server.
ABC issued the following statement Oct. 5: "On Friday, ABC News published instant messages between a former page and Congressman Foley with the IM screen name of the teenage victim redacted. Immediately, we discovered that in one instance, the screen name of the teen on one IM exchange had not been properly redacted. ABC News immediately took down the posting, redacted the screen name and republished the posting. We certainly believed that we had taken care of the issue quickly. Last evening, after an inquiry from Matt Drudge, it came to our attention that a blogger was able to access our deleted file by typing in a slightly modified Web address. To be clear, no one visiting our Web site would have simply stumbled on the old version. We thank the blogger and Drudge for bringing this to our attention."
The day after Mr. Kerr named Mr. Edmund, Mr. Istook called a news conference on the sidewalk outside his campaign headquarters to defend his aide. He blasted Mr. Kerr, without naming him, as "an irresponsible Internet blogger."
Mr. Kerr was present at the news conference and afterward identified himself to reporters. At least one local TV news reporter put him on the air.
For Mr. Edmund, life hasn't been the same since. He talked to the FBI last week for its investigation of Mr. Foley. He still works for Mr. Istook's campaign but has been on an unofficial leave for a few days. His lawyer, Stephen Jones, who is best known for having represented Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, complains the former page has been receiving threats. He has also been accused by bloggers of playing a joke on Mr. Foley and jeopardizing the Republicans' House majority in the November elections.
"I think it's disgraceful and clearly opportunistic," Mr. Jones says. Mr. Kerr "had his 3 1/2 minutes of fame at the expense of a number of other people's reputations and careers," he adds.
Mr. Kerr got a letter from Mr. Jones asking him to cease any further efforts to publicize a connection between the former page and the disgraced congressman. Mr. Kerr promptly posted the letter on his blog.
He says he feels he did the right thing all along. His main complaint is that he hasn't been given the credit he deserves for his scoop. Reports usually refer to him only as "a conservative blogger."
First Published October 16, 2006 12:00 am