The Oregonian versus an Oregonian

A letter from Jeffrey Kegler, one of the Friends of Randal Schwartz.

In researching an Oregon court case, I read The Oregonian's coverage of it, and what I found was shocking. I found a paper which abuses its status as the sole paper in town to misrepresent news and to suppress news it does not wish people to know. I felt the people of Oregon would be especially disturbed by this instance where the victim is a life-long native of Oregon, well known and respected in the world of high tech and with an intense loyalty to the Portland area, and the beneficiary is an out of state corporation.

Oregon v. Randal Schwartz is a case of an important Oregon story, getting substantial coverage nationwide and international attention, which The Oregonian does not want Oregonians to know about. It's a story of corporate misuse of the criminal courts to pursue a baseless vendetta against a very decent, productive local citizen. Amazingly, even after his being railroaded into three felony convictions by the a faction of the local establishment, talking with Randal is like talking with a PR person for the Portland Chamber of Commerce. He may yet wind up serving time, and if he does, I predict he will continue to sing the area's virtues from a jail cell. Let nobody doubt that Oregon has loyal sons.

Randal was fingered by Intel for some computer break-ins they'd had. They had his home searched and found nothing, but rather than lose face decided to prosecute anyway. A vague law, an ambitious prosecutor, a supine judge and a jury bewildered by the complexity of computer security resulted in three felony convictions (one reduced to a misdemeanor.) Crucial to this process was ridiculously biased Oregonian reporting.

Randal is not a household name, but he is well known among those building the Web. In the words of the New York Times (11/27/95), 'much of the World Wide Web had been built by programmers who got their start by reading his Programming Perl and Learning Perl books.' As long as Randal Schwartz lives there, nobody can claim that the Portland area is an unsuitable place to pursue high tech as a business. But The Oregonian leaves it to The New York Times to sing Randal's praises. This is because Intel, the California corporation, needs to have Randal be seen as a common criminal to save face, and The Oregonian does Intel's bidding.

People concerned about this have established the Friends of Randal Schwartz Web Page. The Web page has a Press section, which gives all the coverage we know of. This includes strongly pro-Randal editorials in the technical press. Also on the Web page is an Open Letter to Intel strongly objecting to the prosecution. It has over 380 signers at this point from 30 countries. One-third of the signers are international. People from as far away as Singapore, the former Soviet Union, Slovenia and Iceland are scandalized. The inventors of the two most used Web scripting languages have signed the Letter, as have many other programming, computing and computer security authorities.

Randal's loyalty notwithstanding, this story, and The Oregonian's role in it, could badly hurt the Portland area's image in the eyes of the very hi-tech employees and industries it is trying hard to draw at the moment. Prospective high tech employees will believe, if this is how a loyal native son is treated when an out of state corporation fingers him, that they had best seek employment elsewhere. The Oregonian's journalism is not just a local joke, but could be genuinely bad for business.

The above is startling and frankly, a little incredible. A prudent person will not want to take my word for it. The Friends of Randal Schwartz Web Site archives all electronically available material, both anti- and pro-Randal. A quick, basic introduction to the case is provided by the Why Care? document. There is also a section describing the press coverage and making it available where possible. The Oregonian has refused permission to to make its coverage available. At least they have some sense of shame.

Jeffrey Kegler


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