Editorial: Sony's Kotaku Fiasco a Troubling Glimpse into Video Game P.R.

March 2, 2007 -
In case you missed yesterday's Sony-Kotaku soap opera, here's the executive summary:

Kotaku latched onto a hot GDC rumor concerning the possible announcement of something called PlayStation Home, a combination of achievements and social networking for the PS3.

That's what good journalists do: root out stories. In its report Kotaku explained that it was a rumor, and cited a number of reasons why it might be valid.

The backstory, Kotaku editor Brian Crecente revealed later in the day, was that Sony applied intense pressure to the popular game blog in an effort to suppress the story:
Sony asked us not to publish the story, first nicely, then not so much. (SCEA) representatives reminded us that the story was a rumor and then went on to say that publishing it could harm our professional relationship with them.

When I responded that we were going forward with the story and that sometimes news doesn't come from official sources I was told that if we published we would likely be blackballed by the company.

Specifically, they said we would be asked to return our debug PS3, uninvited from all meetings scheduled with Sony at GDC, including one on blogger relations and a one-on-one with Phil Harrison, and that they would no longer deal with us.

It's unclear which rocket scientist at Sony made this decision, but it would be difficult to imagine a more destructive course of action. As a news site, Kotaku was entirely within its right to publish the rumor. Hell, it had an obligation to its readers to publish it. The fact is, Kotaku has more journalism chops than most other game blogs. Crecente, the site's editor, has been a full-time newspaper reporter for years.

As to Sony's objection to publishing rumors, are they kidding? Rumors get published all the time, not only in the game blogosphere, but in mainstream media publications as well - baseball trade rumors, Wall Street takeover rumors, political rumors, Britney Spears rumors...

What's really troubling here, however, is the mindset underlying Sony's decision. It says that the video game industry doesn't really want an independent gaming press. What they want are a network of websites that will regurgitate their press releases and recycle the product propaganda espoused by their executives during interviews.

Wasn't it only a couple of weeks back that outgoing ESA president Doug Lowenstein criticized the gaming press for a lack of professionalism? Here's an example of a member of the gaming press exercising quite good journalistic standards and, for its trouble, being threatened and bullied by a major industry player.

It's disgraceful.

In the end, Sony reversed its bad decision. But that came only after criticism of its bully tactics exploded on the net. If there's any silver lining here, it's that other game publishers will hopefully absorb the lesson and let the free press continue to be free from heavy-handed pressure tactics.


Adnan Hajj, late of Reuters, is probably the most (in)famous photographer from this time period, since his rather shoddy photoshopping of several images (taking the most damaged building in a skyline shot and duping it several times to make the damage look worse, and cloning the smoke to make it darker and thicker in one shot, for example) somehow made it through multiple layers of trained and experienced photo editors, despite totally untrained eyes being able to spot the fakery in seconds:


An IAF fighter dumping a flare in a defensive measure is photoshopped, and the result is captioned as an "air strike":


Other photos, instead of being doctored, are staged for dramatic emotional effect:


While others use the same woman, same house, and report them as different stories a week apart (in both cases the story refers to the home being destroyed the day before) to increase the perception of collateral damage:


Later, after the apparent Israeli attack in Qana, Hezbollah stages a carefully orchestrated circus, a sort of grand guignol for the benefit of the various reporters who are happy to play along. Adnan Hajj is one of the many reporters there. This was the attack in which the original death toll was more than doubled.

EUReferendum's systematic analysis and deconstruction of the images and video footage from Qana.

A German news program's footage that includes "Green Helmet" actually ordering people around to pose for the camera in between his orders for the cameras to keep filming:

While no one else seems to be willing to talk about it, and instead presents all of this with the unstated premise that what people are reading and seeing is unvarnished, free of spin, staging, or manipulation, a few reporters are willing to state that what's coming out of the area is being stage-managed by Hezbollah.



I could go on, but I think I've strayed way off the normal topic for Gamepolitics, and for that I apologize. Still, this is an important issue and when someone says "prove it" I think that that's worth responding to.

Ok, Reuters and/or doctored and staged photos (photos in this case coming from sources other than just Reuters). I'm leaving aside my other allegations about the distorting use of language, not just by Reuters (who has a standing policy not to call September 11th an act of terrorism but called the July 7th London bombings terrorism, and who attaches provisos like "most historians say" and "generally accepted story" to stories referring to the Holocaust") but by the press in general. If you really want proof of that, I have reams.

Oh, and I do apologize for not being able to link to many of the photos in their original contexts. Once they were caught out, most of the time these photos were removed.

First, doctored photos in general:

-In 2003, LA Times' Photographer Brian Walski uses a composite of multiple photos to "create a more compelling picture". The picture runs on the front page.


-Also in 2003, Sky News (a british news channel) shows a video report claiming to be footage of a British sub firing cruise missiles into Iraq. The footage was a mish-mash of stock footage and the reporter "on the scene" had never set foot on the sub. They were caught, ironically enough, because there WAS a news crew from the BBC onboard the sub.


-In 2004, The Boston Globe publishes photos it claims are of US Soldiers raping civilians in Iraq...the photos are from a porn site's section called "Sex in War".

-In 2005, the AP runs a story about a US Soldier that is captured and will be executed, along with the photo of the soldier...which is actually an action figure doll...


So lets move on to the main attraction and most recent example of various news outlets, including but not limited to AP and Reuters, of using doctored and staged photographs: The fighting between Hezbollah and Isreal last year:



Since it's a strong claim that's a reasonable Request. I refer you to the "Jamil Hussein" saga from the AP. First, one of the original stories, claiming that "rampaging militiamen burned and blew up four mosques" as well as the immolation of six civilians in a related attack:


MNF-Iraq actually stands up and calls them, more or less, liars, which is an unusually strong stance to take:


Bloggers and at least one newspaper attempt to verify the claims...and find that there is ONE mosque that has been moderately damaged by fire, but all are standing and none have been either burned down or "blown up", while other newspapers find inconsistencies in the way the AP reported the "burned alive" story and find that while AP is trying to sell the story to western audiences, this shocking and dramatic incident somehow completely slipped the notice of everyone actually IN Iraq:




AP, in an astonishing real-world example of DoubleThink, simultaneously claims the original story is 100% accurate, and quietly changes the facts it reports in subsequent followup stories. This would also not be the first time the AP has defended unreliable sources. For another good example look up "Edward Daily" and "No Gun Ri", although that's a much older story. Also, you might want to familiarize yourself with Janet Cooke's Pulitzer Prize-winning story "Jimmy's World".

This post is getting long, so I'll move on to doctored photos and Reuters' deceptions in a bit.

So you are saying we have a new industry still?....
its become entertainment not news thus there are going to be higher instances falsified or diminished truth in reporting.

Well sony is not helping them selfs with some of their PR stunts....

with the senstaionalist crowd of people on kotaku which calls any diversion from sony's stated plans as "a big fat lie" i don't find it suprising at all that sony would actualy try to prevent idiots from getting more things to claim as lies. is it so radical that company would want to steer clear of stupid rumors that can be used against them in a future point?


I'm sorry, but you're going to have to put forward a large amount of evidence to support your claims that "AP and Reuters routinely publish falsified information in their stories and accompany them with photos that have been digitally altered and tampered with to support a given spin" before I believe your arguments are anything but paranoid speculation. Give some facts.

new"news" for the media age,whee news is not news but entertainment and this corrupted for it.

I am not saying all news is bad just leans to heavily to the entertainment side of things.

Sadly you have to read between the lines more and more on any given issue ,sheeple don't care they just want entertainment >>

@Mike B.

Sorry Mike, but when AP and Reuters routinely publish falsified information in their stories and accompany them with photos that have been digitally altered and tampered with to support a given spin, and when called on it deny-deny-deny and act outraged that anyone DARE question their journalistic ethics and drive to bring the truth to the masses, it becomes impossible to see them as reliable.

And if you're working for a smaller, local or regional newspaper, how many of your stories a month covering national or international news come in through the wire services and have an AP or Reuters byline?

As for working to overcome bias, that is of course correct and I am intimately familiar with the need for personal vigilance. I'm pursuing a career in the fields of genetic engineering and biochemistry research. And yet even in the sciences, a place where the fact-checking is far more rigorous than the field of journalism (in part because the mechanisms for checking fact are easier and more clear-cut, with no exclusives, personal sources, and so on) you have many egregious examples of science being distorted and mis-used by -scientists- to serve political agendas.

I'm not arguing that ethical and objective journalism, or objective scientific detachment in my fied, are impossible. I'm saying that the latter gets violated on a semi-regular basis, and the former is violated on an almost daily basis by the biggest names in the business. All the committed, dedicated guys writing for the Marcotte Daily Crier or the Dubuque Intelligencer or what-have-you don't make much difference in the big scheme of things when the WaPO, WSJ, NYT, AP, Reuters, BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, FNC, LA Times, Seattle PI, and on and on -aren't-, because in the end they're the ones defining what the average person knows about the world around them.

Well, good thing I don't really want a PS3.

"puts on opps I did it again"
they made up....

I said it be fore and i'll repeat it in a slightly different way
PS3 = N64 (the humble pie is served)
PS4 will = GC (the humble pie is finished off around the end of the consoles time)

@Mike B.

I'm not saying that Crecente would have taken the offer, but it would have been the ideal PR move (not the ideal Journalistic move). The ideal move for Crecente played out on March 1st. Of course he had to publish the information he had. However, Sony could have at least tried to keep this information under wraps in an entirely different manner. Even a "no comment" would have been better.

As far as trading a slightly delayed release date for exclusive information... I'm not sure that would be entirely bad journalism. From one standpoint it can look pretty bad, but as a reader I'd much rather have confirmed facts than speculation, even well-researched speculation. As a reader, it wouldn't have damaged Kotaku's credibility with me if they'd accepted a deal like that. At the core of matter, Kotaku's goal is providing me with information about the gaming industry. If they can gain information nobody else can get while remaining independent and unbiased (which is they key piece for me, and why I don't read system-specific magazines), more power to them.

[...] 3 mar 2007 Kotaku contre Sony Posted by ludoscope under Jeu vidéo , Information , Internet  Que penser de cette histoire?Une attaque méprisante contre une presse spécialisée indépendante? Une stratégie promotionnelle finement orchestrée? Un peu des deux? [...]


Well, I disagree with that assessment, being a newspaper reporter myself. I don't work for a paper that covers national politics or Hammas, but based soley on my own experiences I know there's a wall between the editing process for the Op/Ed page and the news pages. And if there's not, then that's a problem. I have never been told what to write, by anyone.

Your point about biases is right on, though. We all have them. The real meaning of being an ethical journalist is recognizing them, balancing them internally and ultimately trying to put them aside. It's not always possible, and it's not an exact science, but it's what journalists strive for. If I didn't believe that was possible, I'd just quit my job. I sure as hell don't do it for the money.


I didn't take Lowenstein's comments to be in relation to obedience or disobedience. I think he was talking about reporting news and/or rumors without cross-checking anything (which is NOT was Kotaku did, btw, they did some reporting before publishing), and the general fart-joke tone of the gaming press. He's talking about Sean Baby and stuff like that. Not that I completely agree with that view, but that's what I took his comments to mean.

Sony has shown its arrogance is beyond the pail as well as lowering hardware spec and charging the same for it,they are removing the PS2 hardware and dialing back PS2/Psx support to the extreme
this says it all

I am not a fan of the 360 either but christ at least they are "improving".....

Sony and Kotaku have come to an agree about their disagreement.


Now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

@ Parallax Abstraction

I know what you meant. I have been reading Kotaku for a long time now and I don't recall them doing anything you accused them of.

@ Rusty Shackleford:

I think my post said it all. To clarify though, when I said "this site" I didn't mean GP, I meant Kotsku.

Is it settled?

"This industry is probably the most dishonest one out there with the most broken promises."

You obviously don't have much experience with industry in general. They are all equally dishonest - becasue people are equally dishonest. Name me an honest industry with that much (or even close amounts of) capital and I will stand corrected.

Man...there really isn't no way to get around being called a "Nintendo Fanboy" by people who love Sony...(No way in getting around calling people Sony Fanboy's eather....*sigh* hard not too when you get people blindly calling you a Nintendo Fanboy dispite some facts.)

@Connected Internet - What you referring to is known as a Non-Disclosure Agreement, or NDA. This is a binding agreement between the two parties that the journalist gets the exclusive as long as they postpone the news until date X. In Kotaku's case, the story was actually a RUMOR, not an exclusive. Additionally, it came from a source that was NOT straight from Sony's mouth. Neither one of these would be covered in an NDA unless an NDA was agreed to afterwards, which did not happen. Sony's hardballing and news of the action actually gives the rumor a huge leap in credit, which did more damage in the end to them not wanting the news released. Their best bet would have been to just say "No Comment on rumors" and be done with it.

By the by, this tactic just kept me from buying another Sony product for the next five years at least.

@ Parallax Abstraction

What are you talking about?

When are corporations going to realize that making threats over the internet will ALWAYS end badly for them?

Just when you thought Sony couldn't get any stupider, crap like THIS happens.

I mean, Sony's remarks about offering a $1200 bounty for any PS3 on store shelves was bad enough. How many more times can they screw up before they run the Playstation brand into the ground?

With that action Sony just made those rumors look less rumor-like.

@Mike B.

I'm not suggesting that media outlets are contorlled by some shadowy conspiracy. I am saying that they don't cultivate an "independent" status in most cases. Gaming, Gun, Automotive, and Nutrition magazines write articles and "reviews" that end up being about two steps away from paid advertisements for products rather than taking them to task for problems (as Lowenstein complained in his parting speech, but the problem is endemic to pretty much -every- form of "enthusiast" media). Meanwhile, mainstream newspapers establish editorial positions and they make DAMN sure that reporters toe the line. I'm not even talking about the Op-Ed page.

Some newspapers decide that "Hamas is a legitimate political organization made up of principled and ethical men and women dedicated to see peace prevail and obtain justice for their fellow Palestinians", so don't you dare refer to their involvement in deliberately targeting high-density civilian areas with suicide bombers or their ideological support for Islamic Terrrorism in general. Newspapers with positions like this carefully edit out words like "terrorist" and replace it with "fighter" or a similar neutral but less accurate term. In other cases you have right-wing leaning publications which ensure that any article on, say, social security, ends with a boilerplate paragraph illustrating the huge growth of SS as a part of the federal budget and the possible effects that growth has on taxation.

In any case, my overall point is that your media is not independent because it takes sides, and it takes sides consistently. You can obtain something more closely approaching objective reporting by reading a wide variety of news sources, exposing yourself to as many possible biases as possible and trying to be aware of them and filter them out. But on the whole, "media objectivity" is a myth. The biases may often be small and subtle, but they're always there.

So, in the end, the lessons I have learned from Sony.

Executives making incredibly stupid remarks = OK.
Executives making incredibly unrealistic statements = OK.
Press pointing out problems within Sony = OK
Independent press actually covering a positive story about Sony = BAD.

So, apparently at Sony, idiotic and unrealistic PR is good, even bad PR is good; but good PR is BAD. Brilliant!

How many other ways can Sony tarnish its image?

"I'm stel not responcabel fer my comuter's spleling errnors." -- Xlorep DarkHelm

1. When Doug Lowenstein was talking about more professionalism in the gaming press, are we sure that he didn't mean that they should be more obedient, not less?

2. Of course the videogame industry doesn't want an independent gaming press. All three console manufacturers have their own official magazines and websites. Didn't anybody here ever read Nintendo Power magazine? For years, they wouldn't even review games if they were bad - "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

3. I think that Kotaku did the right thing by resisting Sony's efforts to control them.

"It says that the video game industry doesn’t really want an independent gaming press."

No, it doesn't say that. It MAY say that Sony doesn't want an independent gaming press, but the fact that they reversed the decision would indicate that it (a non-independent press) is just not much of a concern for them. More importantly, it says absolutely nothing about any other game company.

I applaud Kotaku for standing up to Sony and telling them to shove their threats but this site is famous for publishing unsubstantiated rumours as fact rather than rumour and failing to admit the numerous reporting mistakes they've made in the past. So is Joystiq. I know GP writes for Joystiq and knows people from both these sites but I've always found them to be shoddy journalists who hang on the same sensationalist, fanboi-baiting style that most mainstream press also relies on. Kudos to them for this action, it doesn't make them authoritative sources of news.

I wouldn't want consumers to know I was "borrowing" two of my competitors' features sooner than I could put some PR spin on it, either. *ahem*

In the end this was just an exercise of people's rights:

Kotaku had the right (with appropriate disclaimers) to post the article.

Sony has the right to invite whoever they wish to thier press conferences.

And, we as consumers, have the right to not buy Sony's overpriced feature-lacking system.

It's all good, people!

"What I found really hard to understand is why so many bloggers were so incensed by these stories. In the ‘old media’ world neither of these stories would have created any ripples."

No ripples because this isn't a matter of national security. There's a big difference between rumors of military secrets and rumors that is Sony copying XBL. The media is asked to hold on stories all the time when it concerns the government and govt officials, both because the government doesn't want any leaks at the time and that the media wants to be accurate.

The big deal with this is the fact that Sony even came out and did this is news in itself. It was not only the fact that Sony was being unreasonable but also that they basically confirmed the this rumor isn't so much of a rumor as it is fact. What exactly did Sony do wrong? They turned something little into something big. All they had to say was "no comment".

It's because they're tired of the negative spins and rumours they're getting now.

[...] What I found really hard to understand is why so many bloggers were so incensed by these stories. In the ‘old media’ world neither of these stories would have created any ripples. In the case of the Sony Vs Kotaku story, what exactly did Sony do that was so wrong? All they asked from Kotaku was some discretion about leaking Sony stories, in return for Sony continuing to grant Kotaku access to its inner sanctum. This is a common practice in old media where reporters are regularly asked not to break certain news, in return for gaining access to potentially even bigger scoops in the future. I’m not saying that Kotaku were wrong to break the rumour, but I feel that they should have accepted the consequences more gracefully. [...]

Personally, I think this just went to prove, to all the remaining Sony loyalists(whose numbers have been in steady decline since the infamous "rootkit fiasco"), that Sony has become too big for their britches.

The first, truly interesting, truly positive news to come along about the PS3(I was even starting to imagine some sort of Mii meets Achievements meets The Sims type environment, as a whole sub-app based on their goods), and Sony fires all cannons at Kotaku for posting a rumor that was leaked by someone either within Sony(but not anyone high up), or someone in one of the closer developers.

What's sad, is this was going to be Sony's entire "Big announcement" next week, that was going to make a lot of current PS3 owners "very happy" they bought their system. Sony took what was going to be very positive, then overreacted to the point of getting universal backlash across the internet, with every indy gaming site blasting right back, further pushing them deeper into the hole of consumer hate they've been digging since early last year.

If it were Nintendo, they would have just stayed quiet and let people use their imaginations, until it was time to reveal the details. If it were MS, they'd have issued a "no comment", then sat back and examined all the comments to see just what the most common ideas were, that might be used in an update to the feature, or an evolution of it. Sony, however, needs to fire their entire management and PR staff, and go back and get new monkeys from the zoo. The ones they have now have learned to start throwing their feces at everyone watching.

@ Brer:

"Almost no one wants an independent press and that includes most journalists and editorial staffs of major newspapers."

What in the world are you talking about here?? Did you forget your tin foil hat today?

@ Marshie:

"Sony should have confirmed the rumor (as they did by trying to employ these strong arm tactics) and asked Kotaku to leak the information perhaps a day before the keynote in exchange for some sort of exclusive."

Wrong. Journalists don't do anything -- or rather shouldn't do anything -- in exchange for something else. That's NOT how journalism works, at least not if the reporters are being ethical. If Crecente does what you suggest, then he gives the appearance that he was not breaking the story on a rumor, but in fact getting fed information from Sony to leak in advance on a well-read blog in exhange for an exclusive at a later date. Regardless of what really happened, that'll be how it looks to some readers, and that alone is enough to damage Kotaku's credibility. Journalism about perception as much anything else. And for many readers, perception is reality.

GP is absolutely right: rumors of all kinds get reported in every industry. This industry should be no different. Bully for Brian. F Sony.

Applause to both Kotaku and GP.

And can Sony do anything else wrong?

If you run a gaming fansite, you always run the risk of pissing off the wrong people. I have been running sites for years now, and on a few occasions, stepped on the wrong toes, and paid the price. Kotaku is big enough, to be able to buck it. I ran smaller sites, and was not able it. It really is the publisher's game, out there.

The most amusing thing about scrolling through the comments in the Kotaku comments section was picking out the Sony corporate plants trying to derail the commentary from a "Sony is wrong" line of discussion.

The PR Department needs to be collectively sent back to school. You don't make threats against the press and you don't try to blackball them when they can convey the details of your actions instantly to their readers. What did Sony think was going to happen? There's no way this threat could have ended well for them, and it's gratifying to see that it took less than a day of pressure to make them realize what they'd done poorly and underscore their need to apologize to Kotaku ASAP.

Kotaku, bless their integrity, gives the impression that the Sony Executive was still disagreeing with him and they just sort of agreed to disagree and played again. I imagine it was closer to Dave Karraker calling Kotaku with a constant stream of "Make it stop! Make it stop! For the love of my bandwidth, please make it stop!"

The funny thing is that the ideal PR solution was presented in the comments section. Sony should have confirmed the rumor (as they did by trying to employ these strong arm tactics) and asked Kotaku to leak the information perhaps a day before the keynote in exchange for some sort of exclusive, perhaps on the Playstation Home itself. I'm sure Kotaku would have delayed the story for a few days in exchange for detailed information about the service days before the competition. Sony should have used the carrot, not the stick.

Bets on whether or not Sony learns it's lesson?


Hmmm... Didn't think so.

It's simply too heavy handed.

It's par for the course that some companies will try a bit of carrot and stick. Usually this is a promise of a future heads-up, or the cold shoulder for a few weeks, and the journal can decide whether it's worth it to sit on the story. These things happen. But a total blackballing is way over the top.

[...] I’m sure you’ve seen the Kotaku thing by now, but if you haven’t, here’s a recap. Quick version. Kotaku hears a rumor. They pester Sony, Sony says we can’t comment on that, but if you run it, we’ll take our ball and go home. Kotaku calls their bluff. Sony takes their ball and goes home. Kotaku posts the sordid details, including the we-don’t-want-play-with-you-anymore email. News spreads around the intarweb. Sony and Kotaku talk, kiss and make up. [...]

So, let me get this straight...Sony did the following:

1: Asked a news site not to publish a story.
2: Threatened the news site not to publish the story
3: Thought that the news site wouldn't post anything about it?

My god. Either they have a Nintendo/MS loyalist running the PR department, they're incompetent, or they finally went over the deep end and gave Jack Bowser a management position.

Thanks, Kotaku! I want an independent gaming press, and I think I'm in the majority opinion. This rumor was offensive to Sony because they either intended a "big reveal" at GDC, or they're just unsure if it will ever go live. The strong-arm tactics imply a lot of truth to the rumor, because otherwise, they'd just sit back and chuckle.

Like it or not, the independent gaming press is more or less a large ad for the games discussed, good or bad. If you really pay attention, you'll be able to avoid the bad games, but not everyone does.

In fact, only Sony has managed to defy the "no such thing as bad press" rule. Constant negative press from Sony themselves has managed to make the PS3 less successfule, but I think it's mostly the cost. Still, they lost a lot of ground because official reps couldn't keep their mouths shut.

While I'm not surprised (big companies do this all the time), I'm still disappointed, especially considering how quickly this followed on Doug's speech about promoting professional journalists over fanboys.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

*Sigh* Sony, is there anything you can do right anymore?

This was yet another unconfirmed rumor that would have quietly died out if you hadn't opened your big fat mouth.

Welcome to the land of hubris, Sony. Enjoy your stay.

Perhaps Sony just didn't want to be portrayed as a company that actually cares about its consumers. Nobody wants to ruin their public image. ;)

Good for Kotaku.

This industry is probably the most dishonest one out there with the most broken promises. Whenever you get a new system out you always get a load of lies about capabilities and features and they are busting on the press for publishing a rumor.

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