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The sad story of a right-wing corporate smear campaign that has suckered well intentioned people

I am a regular reader of the Daily Kos, and this is my first diary. It is a sad one. A week ago, a Daily Kos diarist let himself be snookered by one of the foulest corporate smear campaigns out there.

Here is a link to last week's diary.

There is another side of the story, and it is a whopper.

What we see here is a conspiracy theory on stock manipulation being promoted actively on the Internet by a right-wing Utah Republican CEO by the name of Patrick Byrne. Byrne has been involved in a witch hunt against people he doesn't like in the media. He accuses them of all kinds of things to divert attention from his being a bad businessman.

I have to confess to you that I was not aware of this entire situation until I read an article today in the Huffington Post by Diane Tucker. Here is a link to that.

Here is what Ms. Tucker has to say:

For years Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne has been conducting a campaign against naked short-selling of stock, which he wants everyone to believe is causing his company to go down the tubes. Byrne also wants everyone to believe naked shorting is a major contributor to the global financial meltdown.

Byrne's cry for help was heard and investigated in good faith by some of the most respected names in financial reporting. Here's a partial roll call:
-- Jesse Eisinger (Conde Nast Portfolio, Wall Street Journal)
-- Herb Greenberg (MarketWatch, TheStreet.com)
-- Bethany McLean (Fortune, Vanity Fair)
-- Joe Nocera (New York Times, NPR)
-- Carol Remond (Dow Jones Newswires)
-- Gary Weiss (Conde Nast Portfolio, Forbes, Business Week)

The unanimous conclusion? Naked shorting is a controversial practice, but it's not the reason Overstock.com is tanking, and it's not the cause of the global financial meltdown, either.

That did not sit well with Patrick Byrne. Here it really begins to stink. Again Ms. Tucker:

Byrne should have been satisfied to be a legitimate part of the national discussion about a questionable stock practice. Instead, the colorful CEO paid shills to smear the reputations of the reporters who discounted his theories.

"It has always seemed to me that Mr. Byrne's primary mission had less to do with the supposed evils of naked short sellers, and more to do with making life miserable for anyone who dared to criticize his company," said New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.

Blogger William K. Wolfrum, who uncovered the Martin Eisenstadt hoax, is all over this story.

Here he describes how Byrne systematically engages in Swift Boat attacks against journalists who criticize him. Of course he does. He supported the 2004 Swift Boaters against John Kerry.

The principal character behind the Byrne charade is named Judd Bagley. He has quite a backstory of his own, described in this blog by veteran investigative reporter Gary Weiss of Conde Nast Portfolio magazine:

Here's an Internet post from 2000 that, as you can see from the links, have been traced directly to Bagley:

   "The word in Tallahassee is that the Tampa Tribune fired M--- P---...the reporter whose writing has provided them with the lion's share of their editorial fodder.

   They say it happened because she physically struck J--- W---, her bureau chief."

Mind you, this smear was being spread after this reporter had already been fired and was no longer a danger to Bagley's employer.

That is the kind of character assassination that you can see liberally saturating the Deep Capture astroturf blog that is operated by Bagley, and which was quoted in the Kos last week.

Byrne's tactics indicate a twisted persona, a corporation engaged in the worst kind of sleaze. Wolfrum says:

Byrne’s relentless hype about naked short-selling has combined the "Swift Boat" mentality with the mentality of conspiracy theorists, with most of it being played out over the Internet. Those that have been detractors against Byrne’s short-selling campaign have been attacked via the Internet, with said attacks normally going after the integrity of the reporters in question. But in the story of Patrick Byrne and Overstock.com, there is really but one truth - over the past decade, Overstock.com has performed miserably.

While Byrne’s crusade against naked short sellers may be an honest one, his tactics have been anything but. With murky cohorts like PR specialist Judd Bagley(who denies working for Byrne), and Bob O’Brien (a pseudonym), the Overstock.com attacks not only lack truth, but have been destructive to the journalists and bloggers that have been on the receiving end.

Even an incomplete look at the notable journalists Byrne and his team have smeared gives a good idea of this method. Gary Weiss, Bethany McLean, Jim Cramer, Herb Greenberg, Jesse Eisinger, Joe Nocera, and Carol Remond are but a few of the financial journalists who have been attacked by Byrne’s team. And while none of the attacks have shown merit, they have been effective on some levels.

"Byrne’s attacks have discouraged coverage of Byrne and Overstock. In fact, one of the people who wrote negatively about Byrne has vowed never to do so again for that reason," said Weiss. "This is why such acts as he commits fall under the classification of ‘issuer retaliation,’ as they are designed to impede coverage of a publicly traded company. I’d say that the share price of Overstock is definitely artificially inflated by Byrne’s tactics."

Weiss’s words ring true in that Byrne has continued his new media attacks despite the fact that they have been reported repeatedly in the media, both online and mainstream, with even the New York Times had a story on Byrne’s shenanigans as early as January 2007.

It's all there, in Ms. Tucker's and Mr. Wolfrum's blogs. They are sponsoring an Internet Truth Squad, to put an end to these abuses. I wish them well, and will be following this story. I hate being suckered. What I read last week in Kos makes me feel suckered, and I want to help set things straight.

More on Patrick Byrne:

William K. Wolfrum: Wow. Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne is an unethical freak

Gary Weiss on Judd Bagley.

Originally posted to Tom Sykes on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 03:23 PM PDT.

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