Mike Arrington's Time Out and the decloaking the mob with Torches & Pitchforks

I wasn’t that surprised to read Mike’s post today about some really bad stuff happening over the last 6 months.

I didn’t know the details until I read them on TechCrunch, but I knew something was up when I messaged him to let him know I was going to be in the Valley for a couple of weeks in November. To my surprise, he told me he was going to be out of the state, at his parents place, and this was with months of advance warning. The Mike Arrington I know doesn’t make many plans that far in advance, and he’ll the first to admit that being right in the middle of Silicon Valley has as much to do with Techcrunch’s success as the many other factors. Being out of town – and the state – for months didn’t seem right.

I thought it might have been family stuff – I knew where he told me he was going to be was his parent’s place – and was hoping it wasn’t bad news or health stuff with him or his folks, and instead that he just needed to get out of the Valley to get out of the echo chamber for a while.

Of course, little did I know it was work related, and he was trying to get away from it, but instead of another Vulture piece from ValleyWag or a hatched job from the clearly jealous and much less talented writer, Betsy Schiffman, it turns out someone with a felony, and gun and an axe to grind was stalking Mike and his staff.

I’ve lived as a house-guest of Mike’s on a number of occasions, initially for 3 month stint in early 2006, when TechCrunch was less than 6 months old, and during that time I felt like I got to know the guy really well. We chatted about times before Techcrunch, women and relationships, lessons from previous business ventures and more. Those were personal conversations, and they’re going to stay that way.

My point is, however, that I got to get to know a person, a man I regard as my friend, thankfully for me at a time when he still “assumed most people were essentially good, and assumed that an individual was trustworthy until proven otherwise”. I saw someone who’d always take a contrarian position and get you to justify it. I’d watch – and cop – him taking the piss out of people, but we’d give as good as we got. I reckon he’s got more than a small potential to become an honourary Aussie: he didn’t care for status/authority, is direct, and loved to stick it to the man, which in his industry, is the incumbent media outlets. Pure Aussie in my books.

I also saw up close just some of the untrustworthy people, the types who lie even when the truth will do just as good a job, who’ve tainted his perspective. I’ve been frankly stunned that such an insightful and intelligent guy could be so trusting of people who’ve since screwed him over. And still he didn’t raise a finger in anger or retribution using his extensive online influence.

I’ve watched from afar as one storm or another has erupted online as people struggle to realise that just because its easier to click a mouse button, it doesn’t make it any less of a fight, and reflected that, with the exception of the stouch with DEMO, none of those fights were of his making. Sure, he’s no shrinking violet – he’s an attorney who loves a fight as much as the next lawyer, but more for the challenge than for the desire to stand upon the head of a lifeless opponent – but frankly, the vast, vast majority of the attacks and abuse levelled at Mike over the last couple of years have been way off base.

So, what’s the deal with these attacks? Given we’re talking about real world threats and attacks, its really worth having a look at them, and potentially shining a bit of light on the attackers. I believe they fall into one of three categories:

  1. Jelousy and Self-Interest – this one is the de rigueur attack motivation for the journalists out there covering tech. Many of them represent old-media, who see the competitive pressure of TechCrunch to be more than a little intimidating. The story I read on SMH today over lunch almost made me choke: headlined “Tony Soprano of Bloggers Faces Death Threats“, and in a piece that characteristically didn’t link to its sources, feature quotes taking shots at Arrington, including the one used in the headline, from other traditional, dead-tree media, who’ve got a pretty clear self-interest in taking him down. I thought this was a bit rich given most tech stories I’ve seen in SMH Tech News lately have been rehashes of TechCrunch pieces with a 12 hour delay and no links to sources. Moving away from traditional media to the other tech bloggers, a decent amount of the attacks are motivated by jealousy. And in the cases where they’re really legitimate differences of opinion, rather than just hit jobs, things are resolved amicably, and mostly in person. I enjoyed lunch with Mike and Dave Winer not two months after this comment’s little dust up, and there were no hard feelings at all around the table in Palo Alto.
  2. Bitterness of Rejection – there’s been a few recent posts about how stupid it is for startups to pin all their hopes on success, interest from VC’s and the implicit legitimacy of a positive review on Techcrunch. I can see how a want-re-preneur might get angry and upset about getting passed over, but if their key to success was a favourable Techcrunch post, I’d argue they don’t really have a business, just a fantasy of rock-star success and a Tesla in every garage. This sort of bitterness is just sour grapes (ok, enough taste metaphors already). The guy who did the spitting might have been responding to the bitterness of rejection, or he could have just be someone acting out the next point…
  3. Tall Poppy Syndrome – anyone who’s spent any time with Mike knows he isn’t a geek, programmer or deep technologist. To my knowledge, he’s never pretended to be. He does business analysis of businesses that just happen to be in the tech scene. Most of the flames I see posted in comments are either from people bitter after being rejected, or just pissed off that some guy who doesn’t know Perl from Python commands so much attention in the tech world. If you’re some random hater who’s rejoycing that Arrington is ‘out’ because you don’t think he knows tech enough, my suggestion is to think about what you’re going to do when you get pink-slipped because the business bit that pays for your lifestyle doesn’t work out, and hope that XKCD remains free so you can at least have some humour.

Anyway, the key point I’m trying to make here is that Mike’s a great guy: within 10 mins of meeting me and my business partner in Palo Alto, he offered us his house for as long as we needed it. All this stuff about Tony Soprano is just plain bullshit peddled by people with their own agenda, and if we let the bitter, jealous and tall poppy types continue with their baseless tirades without any accountability, we’re going to loose more and more good people.

Lets hope the serious stuff of the stalking ends, and for personally, I hope those enjoying the specatle of watching one of their biggest competitive threats bow out (hopefully temporarily) wake up with a nasty hangover tomorrow when they realise their rehashed and late stories, with little analysis, depth, opinion and conviction, supported by a business model more conflicted that Arrington’s ever was, is crumbling around them.

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