9.25.2006

Lies, cable TV, and Patrick Hynes

Note: Ten updates appear at the bottom of this entry - latest update 10/20/06 -- New Media Strategics and the Romney Connection ...


Borderline does not like being lied to or manipulated.

Borderline especially doesn't like being lied to and manipulated by national corporate interests pretending to be earnest locals with an axe to grind.

Yet that's exactly what has happened to Borderline in the last week. The lie was sent to me by a corporate interest, disguised in an email from an ordinary local college student supposedly concerned about cable TV. The message said:
I'm reaching out to Boston bloggers because I think that what's happening (or should be happening) in the Boston area with regards to cable competition is a pretty important topic.  Check out my recent posting on competition in Southern Massachusetts.  [link]  If you don't want to join my personal vendetta against the cable companies (due to an excess of sub par experiences), it's worth taking a look at the comment string on Broadband Reports message board (that I link to) to gauge how people feel.  Interesting topic ...

Anyway, hoping for a link and wonder what your take is.
I was immediately suspicious. "Personal vendetta" over cable television? C'mon. No one has a personal vendetta over cable television. I have complained about the high prices in Waltham before, but I just consider it a luxury that our family can't afford. No reason to get in a snit about it, or - gasp! - launch a vendetta.

But I became even more suspicious when I visited this guy's blog. Or, should I say, this student's blog. An English-majorin', guitar-playin' student, and a junior at a local college. Writing on a regular basis about arcane debates all across the country involving cable TV and Internet access, with posts titled Michigan Edges Toward Cable Competition and Video Choice Vs. Net Neutrality.

What's all this about? Well, if you've been reading the business sections of the papers over the past year or so, you've probably seen a few articles about this stuff. From what I understand, the debates involve delivery of television signals and other high-bandwidth content (i.e., Internet service) to people's homes. Cable TV has been the dominant player for the last 20 years, thanks to technological issues and municipal-level monopolies, but ISPs and telephone companies are positioning themselves for an era where the Internet is used to deliver paid television programming.

A related issue is how Internet traffic will be treated in the future. Currently the Internet isn't owned by anyone, but companies do own parts of it. Any network connection that's part of the Internet treats all traffic - whether email, Google searches, news, music, or video - equally, or relatively equally. From what Borderline has been able to fathom, some companies which own "backbone" connections (kind of like the superhighways of the Internet) as well as potential distributors of high-bandwidth programming -- want to be able to segregate traffic by type and price, so things like blogs or free video posted on local websites would be on the slow road with lots of traffic lights, while paid video channels would be on the faster toll road. "Net Neutrality" refers to the efforts to keep the Internet the way it is now, i.e., all traffic is treated in the same way, rather than paid programming getting higher priority.

In any case, do topics like this sound like the interests of a typical 20-year-old to you? A 20-year-old of the MySpace generation? No, of course it doesn't. It sounds like a 40-year-old lobbyist or PR person ... and you know how Borderline feels about PR people!

So I write back:
It is an interesting topic, and we've had a very unusual experience here in Waltham with cable and two carriers, Comcast and RCN.

I don't mind starting a dialogue or linking to grassroots political blogs, but I insist on transparency on the motivation for such blogs. Therefore, before I link to your blog, could you please confirm whether you are are in contact with any ISP, telco, satellite TV company, their PR agencies, or special interest groups? Are you receiving any money from anyone to post blog entries on this subject?
Borderline doesn't receive a reply. And there is no reply to a follow-up message a few days later. Why so shy, guitar-strumming, cable-hating guy?

In the absence of a response, I can only try to dig up information on my own. And the more I research these issues, the more angry I get. Someone is trying to play Borderline, but it's surely not a 20-year-old college student. So who might it be?

It doesn't take long to find out. Whenever Borderline wants to understand a blogger, he looks at the very first month's worth of posts, which usually reveal something about the motivations for posting. In the case of the Channel Changer blog, the first few posts from December of last year are not different than the posts from September of this year. I see More on Unbundling and Cable Rates on the Rise. Could it be that our young college student has been writing up the cable industry for the past 10 months?

No. From December 1, 2005, until August 14, 2006, all of the posts are written by someone named "patjhynes." After that, there was a period of a few weeks when someone named Matthew Wrotch contributed to Channel Changer, before fading out on Channel Changer (but still talking about these issues on his own blog, and sometimes linking back to Channel Changer). Then came the college student, for the past month or so.

But let's take a look at patjhynes. It takes just a few Google searches to figure out who it is: Patrick Hynes, a suit-and-tie kind of guy with a national political and media consultancy based in New Hampsha. Hynes created the Channel Changer blog, but eventually decided to change the public face of the blog. After all, a consultant doesn't seem like an authentic enough supporter of a grassroots issue. So he recruited a 20-year-old kid at a local college to be the face of Channel Changer to post the articles and contact people like Borderline, writing about being a fed-up consumer in an attempt to create legitimate grassroots support.

Hynes has an extensive online presence elsewhere. He is the founder and proprietor of the political blog Ankle Biting Pundits. He consults for Calypso Communications and owns New Media Strategics. On the New Media Strategics pages, Hynes says he "understands how bloggers receive and process information." Moreover, he understands "what energizes them and, just as import, what turns them off." He offers services like:
Target Sweep (tm) - Our technology and professional expertise allows for regular, detailed canvassing of the New Media to capture and analyze relevant chatter based on predetermined target words, subjects, sites, and content. Target Sweep (tm) is a reputation management tool that augments our Personal Brand Protection (tm).

Alliance Building - Our existing relationships with bloggers create powerful alliances to deliver your brand message and reputation through the New Media.

Rapid Response Swarming (tm) - Today's participatory news cycle allows for immediate reaction to negative and potentially damaging stories. In fact, it demands a rapid response. Through the power of the blogosphere, a single mouse click can counter negative press. When you multiply this power by scores, even hundreds of bloggers, you get a "swarm." Through our existing international network of blogging experts and the formation of new alliances, New Media Strategics uses Rapid Response Swarming(tm) to manage reputations. Beyond diffusing negative press, Rapid Response Swarming(tm) creates an outcome better than if the story had never broken.

Buzz Targeting(tm) - Often to persuade public opinion, you need to create a lot of noise to influence only a few people, sometimes only one person. Buzz Targeting(tm) uses blogging technology to reach decision makers and journalists with precision. Buzz Targeting(tm) is fast, effective, and measurable.
In other words, it's all about manipulation of the blogosphere to serve corporate clients. And while his trademarked methods may sound professional, as an attempted victim of his tactics, I feel they are deceptive and amateurish. Consider the following elements and actions that he is apparently selling to some company:

And some client is actually paying money for this? Who could it be?

It's not hard to figure out who's probably buttering Hynes' bread. Read Channel Changer posts like About Verizon's Investment, or this one entitled Video Franchise Battles - First Local, Then National. There's a company that comes up again and again in Hynes' blogs and comments. A company that wants to compete with the cable franchises. A company that wants a tiered Web, with their traffic getting higher priority. A company that is desperately positioning itself for the post-DVD and cable TV world when all media programming is delivered over the Internet. A company that is trying to get better access to the Newton market. A company whose name starts with "V", ends with "n", and whose public voice was once the same dude that played Darth Vader in Star Wars.

Has anyone else been approached by the Channel Changer blog, or allied interests?


Note: Borderline contacted the Channel Changer blog a total of four times about the true motivations behind the blog. In the most recent two emails, sent over the past day and a half, I asked for any clarifications or responses to the specific issues listed above. There was no reply.

I am also leaving out the identity of the college student. He's a stand-in for Hynes, and he shouldn't take the heat for the misdeeds of Hynes and his corporate client. Hynes should recognize this, and remove the student's name and picture from the Channel Changer blog and replace it with that of the blog's true master - himself.


Update to this post

Well, thanks to links from sites like the Consumerist, Craig Newmark (the Craigslist guy ... yeah, that Craig!) and Universal Hub, there has been a huge spike in traffic to Borderline, and some very interesting questions and comments. Some interest from national media, too. Stay tuned ...

Hynes responds! (Second update to this post - 9/26/06 11 pm)

Patrick Hynes, the owner of the Channel Changer blog and Ankle Biting Pundits, has responded. Kind of. You can read it all here.

Interestingly, Hynes doesn't mention his blog manipulation consultancy, New Media Strategics. He is also very careful not to mention the name of the company that I suspect is responsible for this fake grassroots effort. Yeah, that's right, the company whose name rhymes with "horizon." He had a chance to deny this before I posted on Monday morning (I notified Channel Changer on Saturday, Sept. 23, that I was preparing a long entry on the subject) but he didn't answer. And he didn't mention the name in his last post, either, even though it would be the most convincing piece of evidence to back up his "weird" and "bizarre" claims.

He further distances himself from the "Network Neutrality" issue. No, no, he says. It's all about "my personal dislike for on particular cable company."

Really? Who might that be? Hynes occasionally criticizes major cable companies, but often in conjunction with praise for another company. Here's an example:
"Looks like a huge victory for consumers will be celebrated next week in Hillsborough County, Florida. More than 700,000 county residents will be allowed to choose between incumbent cable provider Bright House Networks and Verizon, which will roll out its FiOS cable offering after county officials approve a deal they made with the telecom powerhouse next week.

The Tampa Tribune predicts the outbreak of a possible price war. Why? Because Verizon will offer more channels for less money than the incumbent cable operator ..."
Sometimes, Verizon is fawned over, without ANY mention of that mysterious, evil cable company.

And check out the comment on that post:
It's getting closer! Now I've got competition right next door. I never thought I'd see the day when I would want New Hampshire to have something that Massachusetts has, but it's here. Bring it on up - competition that is.
Hmmm. Does that sound like a normal human being to you? Excitedly talking about "competition" in the cable market? And the name -- "Pablo Joven"? Sounds like one of those names you see in the "from" line of a spam message!

I'll finish off with a few responses to the other lies/half truths/exaggerations in his latest post.

Hynes quote:
"... The idea that I am "secretly" behind this blog is absurd, as I have never presented this blog as anything but my own."
BS, Patrick. You had a 20-year-old student as the face of your page until a few days ago. In the "About" section, there was no mention of you founding the blog, or supporting it while you had other writers contributing to the blog. The motto of the blog, which you removed in the last two days, was "One man's crusade for communications competition". There could be no other conclusion that the blog belonged to the college student.

Furthermore, that student emailed me, saying that he had a "personal vendetta" against cable companies. Vendettas are very personal. You can't transfer them from one person to another, unless the second person is personally affected ... or compensated.

Another Hynes quote:
"I generally try to ignore it when anonymous bloggers cast baseless aspersions at me."
"Baseless"? Please. I have presented evidence that identifies you as contributing to an astroturfing campaign.

And what's with the Victorian lingo? "Aspersion"? What is this, Wuthering Heights?

Earth to Patrick Hynes: You can't hide behind fancy language, a student at a local college, your children, or your ABP blog. You started Channel Changer for a reason ... and that reason is not that it's your hobby, or something to do with your "personal dislike" for a certain cable company.


Strategics vs. Strategies (Third update to this post - 9/27/06 8:45 pm)

I made an error involving the name of Hynes' black-hat PR firm. It's New Media Strategics, not -ies. My apologies to the legitimate, white-hat PR firm affected by the mixup.

Six Questions for Patrick Hynes (Fourth update to this post - 9/27/06 9 pm)

Now, onto other things. Patrick, it's time for you to come clean about the issues raised in this post. You've tried to spin yourself out of the mess that you've created, but I won't let it go. I'll make it easy for you, by posing a series of simple questions that you can answer by comment, email, or on your own Channel Changer blog:

1) What is the nature of your professional relationship with Verizon? Have you had any contact with Verizon executives, or Verizon-affiliated lobbyists/PR people in the past year?

2) Is Verizon, its PR firm, its lobbying firm, an industry consortium that it belongs to, or any other Verizon-associated company compensating you for services?

3) If yes, do those services include blogging or leaving comments on Internet message boards?

4) If no, are you being compensated in any material way for posting on the Channel Changer blog, or contacting local blogs like Borderline?

5) Did you write the posts that were ostensibly created by the BC student?

6) Is "Matthew Wrotch" really you? If not, do you have any contact with him outside of cross-linking?

Myself and the many other people visiting Borderline this week are looking forward to your replies.


Verizon's History of Astroturfing (Fifth update to this post - 9/29/06 7:45 am)

While we wait for Patrick Hynes to come clean about his Buzz Targeting (tm) campaign that attempted to snare Borderline, let's not forget about Verizon's likely role in this. Verizon has a history of astroturfing and comment seeding, along with other big telecommunications companies, apparently. Check out these posts:

Oh Look, Even More Astroturf

Do Broadband Providers Employ Blog Comment Shills?

Markey Attacks, Barton Defends, Telecom Legislation

Then there's this entry/definition from SourceWatch on Astroturfing:

Sometimes genuine grassroots organizations are recruited into corporate-funded campaigns. In June 2003, for example, the Gray Panthers participated in protests against WorldCom that were funded largely by the telecommunications company's competitors such as Verizon. According to the Gray Panthers, this reflected a policy decision that the organization made prior to and independently of its funding. However, an article in the Washington Post raised questions about failures to publicly disclose the corporate funding which paid for full-page advertisements that the Gray Panthers took out in several major newspapers that called on the federal government to stop doing business with WorldCom. The ads said they were paid for the Gray Panthers but did not mention that Issue Dynamics Inc. (IDI), a PR firm that specializes in "grassroots PR," had provided most of the $200,000 it cost to place the ads. Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe has declined to say how much the company is paying IDI, and Gray Panthers Executive Director Timothy Fuller has declined to say how much of the funding for its "Corporate Accountability" project comes from IDI. Notwithstanding the egregious nature of WorldCom's corporate crimes, the lack of transparency in these funding arrangements by WorldCom's corporate competitors raises the question of whether the Gray Panthers campaign should be considered genuine grassroots or astroturf.


The Beltway Takes Notice (Sixth update to this post - 9/30/06 10:07 am)

More blog buzz about Patrick Hynes. I didn't know that he had been "exposed as a hypocrite" earlier this year, or had also been engaged in unethical behavior with political blogs. But it's documented, check out this Beltway Blogroll edition for more.

Channel Changer no more? (Seventh update to this post - 10/3/06 6:00 am)

Uh-oh. Looks like Channel Changer is offline. I wonder what prompted that? A technical glitch? Or Patrick Hynes and New Media Strategics can't take the heat, and this is some sort of attempt to put out the fire?

Well, Patrick, you can run, but you can't hide from your online activities. Borderline made an archive of the original Channel Changer blog -- the pristine version, before you started removing information from the blog. If you're another blogger or news outlet and would like a copy of the Channel Changer archive to better understand the context of this post, email Borderline and I'll try to zip one over to you.

Moving onto Verizon ... (Eighth update to this post - 10/4/06 12:10 am)

Borderline is going to lay off Patrick Hynes for a while. His family has a newborn on the way this week. If you have kids, you know what it's like. I'll revisit him when he gets off of paternity leave and resumes posting on his Ankle Biting Pundits blog.

In the meantime, we'll cover a few items relating to the Verizon Corporation. They've apparently been carrying out some questionable activities in the Commonwealth. Borderline will relate some of them in the weeks to come.

Maybe a few things about Net Neutrality, too. Stay tuned ...

Verizon and the courts (Ninth update to this post - 10/8/06 9:00 pm)

Most of this post has concentrated on Patrick Hynes, but it's time to turn the focus to Verizon and its designs for world domination.

Well, maybe not world domination, but certainly market domination. And, Verizon has a checkered past in Massachusetts and other states, writes Bruce Kushnick, of a group called "Teletruth":
We filed a complaint in 1999 over the fact that in 1995 Verizon (then New England Telephone) made commitments to have 330,000 Massachusetts homes rewired with fiber optics. In exchange for these upgrades, the company was able to get the state public service commission, the Department of Telecommunications and Energy (DTE), to change state law to give the company more money in the form of higher phone rates and tax perks.

Here's a copy of our complaint, and the actual filing by Verizon, MA.

http://newnetworks.com/Masscomplaintsummary.html

And here's the filing from Verizon.

http://newnetworks.com/massfiberfailurepage1.htm

... this is not history. The current franchise fights throughout the US have the bells etc. not only making the same claims of deploying, but this time they want to own the networks, even though customers paid about $2000 a household in money for "OPEN" ubiquitous networks. --- And today, rates are still inflated because of the changes in law.
Bruce also pointed Borderline to some astroturf efforts by Verizon (in addition to the resources already noted by Borderline).

Now, one thing Borderline wanted to establish when Bruce contacted me was his own background. After all, after being an attempted victim of Hynes' deceptive blogging efforts, I don't want to be deceived by someone else on the other side. And, unlike Hynes'/Channel Changer's refusal to answer my questions about PR firms or payment for posts, Bruce was very direct in saying that he represents a group which has tangled with Verizon in the courts. There's no pretend games about being an ordinary joe or other astroturf B.S. -- Bruce was a telecom analyst, and Teletruth is involved in industry debates and legal action. Another way to put it: His group has an agenda, although he's not trying to cover it up. Here's what he had to say, when I asked him where he's coming from:
Teletruth is an experiment in customer advocacy, We are unfunded and for-profit, which means we lose money. Most of the services -- web stuff -- have been donated by Bway.net, on our board of advisors Teletruth does not receive money from corporations/industry/political groups. Instead, we've ended up have an active board who works together on projects. ...

Our income since 2002 has been a) the successful settlement of 2 class action law suits against Verizon, NJ. We helped to initiate these suits based on our phone surveys, and act as 'expert witness' --we settled out second case last month. b) phone bill auditing. LTC has an active auditing business, which Teletruth/NNI works with, c) the sale of the ebooks and licensing the book/data, d) a grant from the California Consumer Protection board in 2004 to study phone bills with UCAN, and e) occasionally donations.

The legal work was also done 'pro-bono' for our FCC, SEC, IRS filings, while we work with a law firm to take class actions.
Bruce also pointed me to one of his group's latest triumphs, "Verizon New Jersey Settles Class Action Alleging Overbilling for Special Circuits".

New Media Strategics and the Romney Connection (Tenth update to this post - 10/20/06 midnight)

This post really is getting too long, so I am continuing the discussion of Patrick Hynes, New Media Strategics, and his pattern of deception here.

Labels:

7 Comments:

Anonymous adamg said...

Did I hear "New Media Strategies"? Why, yes, I did! They specialize in astroturfing. And New Media Strategies sucks.

Good work digging this all up.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Andrew W said...

Excellent work. That's one thing that still gives me hope about writing on the internet--it's easy to track back over an author's history. Great for individuals and their readers, terrible for companies, or at least the dishonest ones.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Det. Rhiannon Brock said...

As if it couldn;t get any worse... 'Patrick is the author of the book In Defense of the Religious Right'.

3:05 PM  
Blogger L.Austin Bernard said...

Pat's political blogging is coming into question to as he is now all cuddly and snuggly with John McCain who...yes...hired New Media Strategies to work for him and now everything Johnny does is golden to pat

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Howard Mortman said...

Appreciate your paying attention to the net neutrality issue. Just a quick note of clarification -- you are confusing companies. My company New Media Strategies is not involved with the blog you cite. Strategics/Strategies -- I know, just one letter difference, but we're entirely different companies. We are involved in the net neutrality issue -- and that's something we disclose. For example: http://andyvogel.com/blog1/2006/09/06/qwest-ceo-net-neutrality-is-anti-competitive/

If you could update your post to take out my company -- New Media Strategies -- we'd very much appreciate it, for accuracy's sake. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Many thanks, Howard Mortman from New Media Strategies

12:48 PM  
Blogger Borderline said...

Howard,

My sincere apologies. It's a mistake that myself and several commenters have made, as well as other bloggers out in the blogosphere. It's probably a mixup that Patrick Hynes likes -- his "black hat" PR firm and policy of deceiving local blogs, being confused with an agency that actually is transparent in its practices. I'll remove the refs to your firm in my post.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Armil@cable tv said...

Wow, what are they doing? They are trying so hard just to deceive people to have their selfish popularity. I think they would try to consider others side so that they can differentiate and try also to change their selves.

5:39 AM  

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