Amidst the backlash to the reveal that @Horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book were components of a larger art project comes the account of Gaby Dunn, a reporter from The Daily Dot who had uncovered the identities behind Pronunciation Book back at the beginning of the summer, but sat on the information after Jacob Bakkila, one of the account's creators, allegedly fed her lies and sob stories to keep her from publishing.
Dunn, based on research compiled from 4chan and WHOIS records, figured out the identity of YouTube creators, but was by her own account convinced by Bakkila and strung along so that she would not spoil the reveal. She writes:
I expressed to a co-worker how weird it was that he just kept telling his story, without any prompting from me, like he was hitting assigned marks for how to talk to a reporter. I thought he was full of shit. It felt like Bakkila was putting on a play, and he wasn’t a very good actor. Every time I would tell him that, he’d freak out, admonishing me for not trusting him when he was trusting me. Telling me if I outed him, he’d be sued for so much money that he’d have to go bankrupt and it would be all my fault. He’d cry. He’d call me heartless. He’d threaten me. He’d beg, saying he was just one guy and he couldn’t go up against the army of lawyers this media company was threatening him with. He was worried his career at Buzzfeed and in marketing was over and he didn’t know how he’d pay his rent or his bills. He was scared of 4chan’s wrath or of someone really hurting him. He’d text and call me all the time with his sob story. It was all fiction. A play for no one but me, and for no reason other than psychopathy.
Bakkila also reportedly sent her a long set of documents with names redacted, promising a fuller picture, but in the end stalling until Tuesday's reveal of an art project called Bear Sterns Bravo, and leaving Dunn empty-handed.
Dunn elaborated on her situation on a supplement to On The Media. In addition to being a reporter, Dunn is a comedian, and many of her acquaintances in that area had collaborated on parts of Bear Sterns Bravo even if they didn't have the entire picture. It led to a situations she compares to The Truman Show in which everyone she knows was involved in trying to keep the story from her. She told On The Media:
When you have a source, and you're a human and they're crying and they're telling you that their life's work is gone and they're bankrupt and all these things, I wanted to be a person before a journalist. And that was apparently a mistake now, maybe to the detriment of someone else, I'll never make again.
Neither side is entirely at fault here. Bakkila's urge to keep his project under wraps is understandable, though the lengths he went to do so are maybe less so, and the same applies for Dunn's empathetic response, though it does highlight the perils of reporting on circles (such as comedy) that one is themselves a part of.
But the artists' apparent brazenness (again, by Dunn's account) in how they went about avoiding scrutiny also points to a certain lack of respect towards publications like The Daily Dot which regularly report on odd or obscure web trends. As Kelly Faircloth wrote at BeatBeat on Tuesday, "Handing the scoop to the New Yorker felt like the final fuck you to the people who had rallied around the handle; the 'artists' didn’t want the news broken by Mr. Chen or even BuzzFeed, but a publication deeply disconnected from the bizarro depths of the Internet."