Today in things that make my chosen profession look bad, Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, who Newsweek is pretty damn sure is the man behind Bitcoin, told the journalists who descended upon his house that he did not invent Bitcoin.
This morning, the cover story for Newsweek's return to print went live and it was a doozy: Leah McGrath Goodman found the mysterious man who created Bitcoin, known only as "Satoshi Nakamoto." Everyone thought that was a pseudonym, but it turns out it's his real name and he's a 64-year-old man who lives in Southern California and wants nothing to do with any of this.
But Goodman never found anything conclusively linking Nakamoto to Bitcoin; just a lot of circumstantial evidence and Nakamoto himself "tacitly acknowledging" it by telling her "I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it."
Cue the journo-mob (or "Bitcoin frenzy," per the L.A. Times) outside Nakamoto's house, which Newsweek originally posted a photo of (and then took down) while Redditors fretted about the ethics of "doxxing" a man who seemed to value his privacy (and created something they liked to use).
Nakamoto eventually agreed to talk to one reporter -- with conditions.
"I'm not involved in Bitcoin. Wait a minute, I want my free lunch first. I'm going with this guy," Nakamoto said.
"This guy" was a reporter from the AP. He and Nakamoto tried to have sushi, but the media followed them to the restaurant so they went to the AP's office. Reuters said Nakamoto's movements created a "freeway car chase" as reporters continued their pursuit, sometimes tweet-insulting the guy:
#Nakamoto's brother had a description of Satoshi. Apparently, from live reports, the characterization is right.— Joe Bel Bruno (@JoeBelBruno) March 6, 2014
(Arthur Nakamoto called his brother "an asshole.")
After a two-hour interview, AP had its big exclusive: four paragraphs in which Nakamoto denies that he created Bitcoin. So, basically what he said to all the reporters standing outside his house. I'm not sure why the AP needed two hours for that. (UPDATE: The AP filled its story out and it is now much longer -- see below.)
So, is this Nakamoto the Satoshi Nakamoto? Newsweek had better hope so: it would be a serious blow to its credibility if the just-relaunched magazine's first cover story were to fall apart. So far, Newsweek's managing editor Kira Bindrim tweeted: "We welcome the feedback and stand by the story."
That said, just because Nakamoto now denies having anything to do with Bitcoin doesn't mean he's telling the truth. We still don't know why he told Goodman he was "no longer involved" with Bitcoin.
Update, 9:30 p.m.: The AP story got a lot longer and more detailed. Nakamoto says he told Goodman that he was "no longer in engineering."
"It sounded like I was involved before with Bitcoin and looked like I'm not involved now. That's not what I meant. I want to clarify that," Nakamoto said.
He is not a native English speaker -- he was born in Japan and moved here at age 10 -- and the AP notes that his English "isn't flawless." It's possible that a language barrier could have created a misunderstanding between Nakamoto and Goodman.
Also, a user named Satoshi Nakamoto has posted in an online forum denying that he is the man in California. Before today, the user's last posts were in February 2009, when he announced that he had developed "a new e-cash system called Bitcoin." That doesn't prove anything, but it's worth noting.
Goodman told the AP that she stands by her account of her conversation with Nakamoto, and says it was clear to him that they were discussing Bitcoin.
Update, 1:09 a.m.: The AP's video of part of its interview with Nakamoto, including quite the scoff: