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Shortly after Beto O'Rourke announced his 2020 presidential campaign, Reuters broke a fairly shocking news story about the former Democratic Congressman. We now know that O'Rourke was a member of a notorious secret online hacking ring known as the Cult of the Dead Cow. The public was already aware of O'Rourke's previous arrests for DUI (an incident in which he attempted to flee the scene) and burglary, but this revelation was not reported prior to the 2018 Texas Senate election:

While a teenager, O’Rourke acknowledged in an exclusive interview, he belonged to the oldest group of computer hackers in U.S. history. The hugely influential Cult of the Dead Cow, jokingly named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, is notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows. It’s also known for inventing the word “hacktivism” to describe human-rights-driven security work. Members of the group have protected O’Rourke’s secret for decades, reluctant to compromise his political viability. Now, in a series of interviews, CDC members have acknowledged O’Rourke as one of their own. In all, more than a dozen members of the group agreed to be named for the first time in a book about the hacking group by this reporter that is scheduled to be published in June by Public Affairs. O’Rourke was interviewed early in his run for the Senate.

His fellow hackers weren't the only ones who "protected O'Rourke's secret," possibly out of reluctance to "compromise his political viability." We have now learned that the reporter who broke this scoop learned of it back in 2017 while researching for a book he was writing -- and explicitly agreed to withhold the information from the voting public until after O'Rourke's electoral match-up with Ted Cruz was over:

“I decided to write a book about the Cult of the Dead Cow because they were the most interesting and influential hacking group in history. They illustrated a lot of the things that I think are fascinating about hacking and security work. “While I was looking into the Cult of the Dead Cow, I found out that they had a member who was sitting in Congress. I didn’t know which one. But I knew that they had a member of Congress...And then I figured out which one it was. And the members of the group wouldn’t talk to me about who it was. They wouldn’t confirm that it was this person unless I promised that I wouldn’t write about it until after the November election. That’s because the member of Congress had decided to run for Senate. Beto O’Rourke is who it was...After more than a year of reporting, Menn persuaded O’Rourke to talk on the record. In an interview in late 2017, O’Rourke acknowledged that he was a member of the group, on the understanding that the information would not be made public until after his Senate race against Ted Cruz in November 2018.

The journalist defended his actions, saying that he couldn't have gotten confirmation from O'Rourke without pledging to hold back what he knew until the election was over. He also sought to draw a distinction between his "day job" as a reporter, and his side project:


We should all respect and understand the need to pin down sources and confirmation before publishing a potentially-damaging story about a prominent political figure, but Menn wrote in his own story that he had "more than a dozen" named sources for his book. Are we to believe that there was no way on earth he could have gotten this story without this quid pro quo? It's possible, but many will have their doubts. If the subject of the story had been a Republican, would Reuters have decided that willfully withholding major information about a candidate's past was an acceptable journalistic decision -- or would they have pulled out all the stops to get pertinent facts to voters? I don't have to tell you how most media-suspicious conservatives would answer that question.




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