Governor Parson, apologize to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which responsibly disclosed data leak

John Karahalis
Oct 24 · 3 min read

Last week, I read the bizarre story of Governor Mike Parson of Missouri vowing to prosecute local journalists who notified his office of a data leak in a state website. In a press conference, he claimed that the reporters “decoded” the site’s HTML in a “multi-step process,” struggling to pronounce the unfamiliar abbreviation and testing the credulity of his technologically-literate audience. (Does clicking View source involve more than one step? Perhaps among those who find mice to be confusing.)

A screenshot of syntax-highlighted HTML
HTML (credit: jamesmarkosborne on Pixabay)

As someone who started a career by clicking View source, I couldn’t let this weird, funny, aggravating news story go. After calling the governor’s office to call his actions, “respectfully, moronic,” I decided to create a change.org petition asking him to apologize, which I have copied below.

Last week, Governor Parson of Missouri vowed to prosecute reporters at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who notified his office about a data leak in a state website. An attack ad has since been released calling the Dispatch “fake news.” I urge Governor Parson to apologize for these confused and senseless attacks on innocent journalists.

I’m a web developer with nearly twenty years of experience. I have worked at Mozilla, an important and influential internet company based in Silicon Valley. Governor Parson, I cannot convince you, but I assure you that the reporters at the Post-Dispatch did the right thing by notifying your office about this data leak. Any responsible technologist would have acted likewise.

By analogy, the reporters at the Dispatch inspected your tires, noticed that they were flat, and alerted you to that fact. They did not hack your car or flatten your tires. They simply alerted you to the fact that your tires were flat. In response, you vowed to prosecute them. Viewed this way, it is clear that your actions do not make very much sense.

I promise you that this is precisely what has happened here, except instead of tires, this situation involves social security numbers and a website. I cannot convince you that this analogy is correct, but as someone who genuinely knows what he is talking about, I implore you to listen. This is precisely what happened.

Allusions to HTML, a technology that you respectfully do not understand, do not change this fact.

Truthfully, I think you know that you are not making sense, but you see this phony controversy as an opportunity to bolster your image. I must say that you are failing. This race to the bottom is embarrassing.

Whatever the reason, and with all due respect, Governor Parson, you are not making sense. If you care about civil rights and the freedom of the press, I urge you to apologize.

Thank you.

Yes, the petition is frustratingly cordial. A less forgiving text might have asked whether someone so malignantly stupid deserves to be governor. What would be achieved by making that point? It would be satisfying, of course, as it is now, but would it increase the likelihood of my message being heard? I don’t think so.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, published just before the release of The Social Dilemma, I do not hang around the enchanting digital battlegrounds of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. I therefore ask that you consider sharing this petition on my behalf. Don’t linger too long, lest you find yourself self-radicalizing and losing friends in the name of compassion and connectedness.

Reflections