Devil Mountain Software Hoax: No Apology, No Forgiveness

Don Tennant

ZDNet was miffed. It was gearing up to break a story on Monday morning that it knew would embarrass rival publisher IDG, and it had to run a half-baked story on Sunday morning instead, after IDG stole its thunder.


First, full disclosure: I spent 19 years at IDG publications, including nine years at Computerworld. I served as editor in chief from 2004 to 2007, and after that I spent a year as editorial director of Computerworld and sister media outlet InfoWorld. So it's not surprising that I'm a fan of those pubs, and that I would notice a story filed by Computerworld reporter Gregg Keizer on Sunday headlined, "Windows Metrics Source Lies About Identity." This is how the story began:

One of the more interesting people I've talked with in the last two years is a figment of his own imagination.

"Craig Barth," the chief technology officer of Florida-based Devil Mountain Software, a company that makes and markets Windows performance metrics software, is, I have discovered, nobody. He doesn't exist.


Barth is, in fact, a nom de plume, which is a fancy, French way of saying "alias." The real man behind the curtain is Randall C. Kennedy, a popular, sometimes outrageous blogger for and frequent contributor to InfoWorld, a publication that like Computerworld is part of IDG. Kennedy's connection to InfoWorld was severed on Friday.


The two, Barth and Kennedy, are one and the same. The problem was that I didn't know that. The problem was that Kennedy didn't tell me he was Barth, that I didn't figure out Barth was he, and that together, they were Devil Mountain.

Keizer went on to apologize for his failure to validate his source.


Also on Sunday, InfoWorld Editor in Chief Eric Knorr informed his readers of the development in a piece headlined, "An Unfortunate Ending." Knorr offered an apology, as well:

On Friday, Feb. 19, we discovered that one of our contributors, Randall C. Kennedy, had been misrepresenting himself to other media organizations as Craig Barth, CTO of Devil Mountain Software (aka exo.performance.network), in interviews for a number of stories regarding Windows and other Microsoft software topics. Devil Mountain Software is a business Kennedy established that specializes in the analysis of Windows performance data.

There is no Craig Barth, and Kennedy has stated that this fabrication was a misguided effort to separate himself (or more accurately, his InfoWorld blogger persona) from his Devil Mountain Software business.

Integrity and honesty are core to InfoWorld's mission of service to IT professionals, and we view Kennedy's actions as a serious breach of trust. As a result, he will no longer be a contributor to InfoWorld, and we have removed his blog from this site.


Over the past 10 years, Kennedy has contributed valuable information on Windows performance and other technical issues to InfoWorld and its readers -- insight and analysis we still believe to be accurate and reliable. Based on our discovery, however, we cannot continue our relationship with Kennedy.

The only one who hasn't apologized is Kennedy himself. Rather than acknowledge the outrageousness of his unethical behavior, Kennedy is attempting to throw IDG under the bus in a desperate, somewhat pathetic, bid to salvage his reputation. It's an effort that's doomed to fail.


Kennedy is probably taking some comfort in the fact that some of the blame is being directed at IDG for failing to properly vet a source. That's unfortunate. The fact is, even really good reporters, like everyone else, can be duped.


A similar situation unfolded at Computerworld in 2003, when I was the news editor. Brian McWilliams, a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire, perpetrated a hoax that convinced one of our reporters that he was a Pakistani terrorist named Abdul Mujahid, and he took credit for creating the Slammer Internet Worm. Our reporter wrote a story on that basis, the hoax was exposed, and Maryfran Johnson, my predecessor in the EIC chair, took responsibility for the mess and apologized to our readers.


Of course, the blame rested far more squarely on my shoulders as the news editor, but Johnson did what any good EIC would do, and she was one of the best. The bottom line was we messed up, we immediately acknowledged it and apologized for it, and we took steps to avoid a recurrence. That's all you can do.


That's what Computerworld and InfoWorld did when, seven years later, there was a recurrence. They no doubt are stronger for it, and I'm confident that their readers will be as forgiving as all people tend to be when those of us who goof up admit it and apologize.


If Kennedy does eventually come clean and apologize for his unethical behavior, my hope is that he will be shown just as much compassion. Until then, his road ahead will likely be a bumpy one.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 23, 2010 9:33 AM Nick67 Nick67  says:

The uncomfortable question that needs to be asked is this: "If Barth/Kennedy/Devil Mountain's results hadn't been so ignoramously wrong that everyone started looking into their source, how much longer would the deception have carried merrily along?" And how many other shills/flacks/spin-doctors/PR people/bloggers are there out there doing the exact same thing?Kennedy was exposed because he was an ignoramous about pre-fetch/SuperFetch/Dynamic memory allocation -- which has been around since Exchange 2003 and SQL Server 2005. Store.exe has been using all idle RAM for years already. Duh. Nothing new here, move on. Except Kennedy didn't get the memo apparently.So, how widespread IS the abuse of online identities? You'll see occasional accusations of it in the Comments postings of blogsbut they're just that - accusations. How many sources and contacts do you have that you have never met IRL? Might be time to rectify that!

Feb 23, 2010 6:06 PM Ed Bott Ed Bott  says:

No, Don, the ZDNet story was not "half-baked," and saying it was so really diminishes your report here. As Editor in chief Larry Dignan wrote in the first sentence of the intro to this story, the ZDNet team that had been working on this story was waiting for some sources (real people, with real names, unlike Kennedy/Barth) to confirm some key facts for us. The story was written and almost ready to publish.

The story was in fact published on Sunday morning, roughly an hour before Keizer published his confession. Go read it and tell me it's "half-baked."

Oh, and you owe it to your readers to provide a link to the ZDNet piece so they can see for themselves what you're talking about. Here it is:


This wasn't a story about one publisher being "miffed" about a rival. It was about a highly controversial columnist for one of the largest tech publications in the world who was regularly feeding deceptions to a sister publication. These stories were picked up by other sources, including the AP and the Wall Street Journal. And yet they were all founded on lies, attributed to a source who literally didn't exist. And this deception went on for more than two years.

Feb 23, 2010 6:25 PM Ken Hardin Ken Hardin  says: in response to Ed Bott

Ed -- thanks for the note and the link; I have edited into Don's post above. Obviously a production error for which I am partly to blame. Ken

Feb 23, 2010 8:43 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Ed Bott

Hi, Ed -

Huge bummer-I had the link to the ZDNet story ready to go and failed to paste it in. That, of course, is 100% my fault, and I apologize to the ZDNet crew and to our readers. I appreciate you pointing it out so early, so fortunately the post was only up for about an hour without the link. (The post is stamped 11:42 last night, which is when I filed it, but it didn't go live until 8:21 this morning.)

'Half-baked' is admittedly strong, but I used it intentionally to draw attention to the fact that the story was incomplete and posted before ZDNet was ready to post it. The decision to post an incomplete version Sunday morning was made after InfoWorld stole the thunder by informing its readers what happened and apologizing for it. That tells me that there was a 'gotcha' underpinning to the ZDNet story that, as a career IDGer with tremendous respect for my former colleagues, I was inclined to return with a strong backhand rather than a lob.

The editor's note atop the ZDNet story states, 'We were going to publish this investigation Monday morning after buttoning down a few more key facts. Given the fact that IDG just severed ties with Randall C. Kennedy over having an alter ego, we decided to publish our findings, which go beyond fictional sidekicks.'

Why? It's entirely unclear to me why ZDNet felt it had to post the story before 'buttoning down a few more key facts' just because InfoWorld had publicly cut its ties with Kennedy. If the facts were that key, there's no reason the story couldn't be held until this morning in order to include them. To me, the note read like a disclaimer. If you don't have all the facts and you publish anyway, I don't think it's too far out of line to call such a story 'half-baked.' What facts don't you have? What in the story should I not trust because you don't have all the facts?

I have to take issue with your reference to Keizer's story as a 'confession.' It was, of course, no such thing. It was a report based on his discovery that 'Craig Barth' doesn't exist, and an apology for failing to properly vet his source. Calling it a confession infers that Keizer was guilty of some kind of wrongdoing (that he was in on the ruse, perhaps), and that he fessed up. Come on.

In any case, I appreciate your comment, and I'm glad that ZDNet is shining this spotlight on Randall Kennedy and Devil Mountain Software.


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