FBLA EXCLUSIVE: Michael Parks on Seipp-Stein Story: “Most People Don’t Want to Be Nice”

FOX News.com ran a story about the late Cathy Seipp’s feud with Eliot Stein, the guy who bought her domain name and posted what he called a satire and her friends called an outrage. The story got over 500,000 hits on the first day. Journalist Michael Parks asked us about Cathy for the story, and then answered our questions here:

FBLA: As a journalist, how do you pick your way through such a minefield of a story–emotional friends, teenage daughter, aggrieved Stein?

Parks: Actually, my major concern was the timing–I got the story late on a Friday afternoon when I was out in the field till late, so I really only had a couple hours on one weekday to scare up the legal experts who were willing to comment on that particular case. That turned out to be harder than I expected because I needed an expert on California law but was working on an East Coast deadline. I was pretty much on the phone constantly on Monday between noon and 6 p.m. and while I was typing out the story.

FBLA: Did you have to do much digging?

Parks: The actual digging up of the story turned out to be a lot easier, because so much of the story took place on the Internet and because Cathy Seipp had a lot of friends who wanted the story to be told. They let me into the tapped-in network of friends she’d accumulated. Eliot’s really made no effort to hide himself, so he was easy to track down. I just called him on Saturday morning and talked to him for about an hour.

FBLA: With so many people and twists, how did you weed out what’s useful to your story?

Parks:Because both sides were so emotional, a lot of what I got was unusable or besides the point of the story–Eliot going off on Cathy’s political views when he said he only learned of them well after the feud started, Cathy’s friends wondering jokingly whether Eliot still lived with his mother, that kind of thing.

From all that, I worked out a basic timeline, filled
in the facts I could establish, and then tried to get
a big-picture sense of what was going on. One thing I
couldn’t put in, for example, was Eliot’s claim that
Cathy and Maia had orchestrated another teacher’s
removal from school about five months before he got
there. Maia wasn’t talking, Ribet Academy wasn’t
talking, and I simply didn’t have time to track down
that angle of the story. In the end, I judged that
even if they did, it didn’t make his ultimate response
to Cathy any less an example of overkill, which is
what a lot of the story really boils down to.

FBLA: Does the internet need a code of conduct?

Parks: Whether or not the Internet needs a code of conduct, I don’t see how it could be enforceable. It’d be like the New York MTA’s campaign to get people to stop drinking coffee on the subway. You can ask people to be nice, but in situations where people have the illusion of anonymity, they’re only going to do it if they want to be nice. And most people don’t really want to be nice.

Cathy Seipp: Victim of Cybersquatter