If you have paid any attention to Twitter or the Herald in the last few days, you will be aware that the people behind the blog Lauda Finem decided to release a series of intimate images that were sent to Ben Rachinger by a prominent journalist. I won’t link to the post in question, and I’ll trust readers to realise that giving page views to Lauda Finem is simply a bad idea. I will also talk about the incident without mentioning the journalist’s name, because they are the victim in this piece, no matter what you think of the various conspiracy theories on offer.
So, let us get the big issue out of the way. The photos are of the journalist in question, and they were sent to Rachinger over the a prolonged period of time. It is fair to say that Rachinger and the journalist were engaged in some kind of relationship. At some point these images – which had been sent to Rachinger – were fed to a third party, and that third party provided them to someone at the Lauda Finem blog. Lauda Finem then published the pictures, in part to try and recentre the Rachinger story on their particular claim that the real purpose of Rachinger’s online activity was to entrap the people behind Lauda Finem. They also published the images, it seems, to punish said journalist for connecting Lauda Finem with Cameron Slater and the Whaleoil social media empire.1
So, the big question is who gave the pictures to who?
The Lauda Finem story
The person behind the Lauda Finem post suggests they got the photos from someone in the Press Gallery. Rachinger allegedly sent to the images to the entire Press Gallery because he was blackmailing the journalist in question, in order to destroy their career. The journalist, however, asked their friends in the Press Gallery to ignore Rachinger, and so the story went nowhere. That was, at least, until Lauda Finem “went to press”. They published the images to show Rachinger was untrustworthy, and that his story about a solo investigation into Cameron Slater’s activities should not be taken seriously.
It is also clear that the people behind Lauda Finem also wanted to get revenge on the journalist for daring to associate them with Slater. In the post in question they claim they reached out to all and sundry about these images before going to print, so there’s a real question as to why they think thought it was wise to publish this material. Yes, they want to take Rachinger down, but if this is the only ammunition they have – the only way they can prove he’s untrustworthy – it’s an off (to put it really lightly) strategem. Why make a victim out of the journalist in order to attack Rachinger when it makes both Rachinger and Lauda Finem look guilty of leaking private information. Whatever moral high ground the people at Lauda Finem think they might have goes right out the window when they engage in the spreading of the same information they say makes Rachinger look untrustworthy. Oh, they try to make out that Rachinger, the journalist, et al. are all attached somehow to Lauda Finem’s pet enemy, Matthew Blomfield, but most of the actual talk is about leftish and corrupt journalists who need taking down a peg.
Which is to say, the one of the stated reasons the people behind Lauda Finem end up using to defend their release of the images seems to come straight out of Slater’s playbook. Corrupt journos, they say, need to be exposed, by any means necessary. This, for them, inadvertantly supports the idea that Lauda Finem is a satellite blog of the Whaleoil media empire. If the people behind Lauda Finem really aren’t vassals of Cameron Slater, they sure are acting like they are.
The Lauda Finem-sponsored conspiracy theory is itself a weird beast. They have tried hard to sidestep the Slater connection, and make their personal feud with Rachinger all about Matthew Blomfield. The case for a conspiracy by Blomfield against Lauda Finem has not really been set out to any adequate evidential standard; it’s mostly bluster about how he’s very well connected and that he has the Press and Police in the palms of his hand. The fact this conspiracy keeps getting bigger and bigger, involving more and more of the Press indicates either a huge conspiracy on the part of one failed business person, Blomfield, or the people behind Lauda Finem are suffering from acute conspiracist ideation about Blomfield (which is to say they believe in the existence of a conspiracy for no good reason), or this is all part of a disinformation campaign by the Slater media empire – with Lauda Finem as its spokesblog – to distract from the guts of the Rachinger allegations.
Now, it seems unlikely that there is a all-embracing conspiracy concerning the machinations of one Matthew Blomfield, so the most likely hypothesis to explain Lauda Finem’s vendetta against Rachinger and the recent leak of images is either acute conspiracism, or a disinformation campaign. The more Lauda Finem write on the topic, the more they make their particular conspiracy theory look less and less plausible, and the more they make it look as if they might well be doing the work of others.
The Ben Rachinger story
Rachinger claims that he did not have a relationship with the journalist in question, that he did not send those images to a third party and he has not tried to blackmail the journalist. As such, he claims he cannot be held in any way responsible for the leak of the images.
The first claim – that he was not in a relationship with the journalist – is what we might term a “Bill Clinton defence” given that President Clinton was famous, among many things, for claiming that he had never smoked weed because he never inhaled and he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky because they never had penis-to-vulva intercourse. Rachinger seems to be claiming, in effect, that because he and the journalist were never officially “going steady”, that they were not in a relationship and thus – so it seems – the photos cannot originate from him.
This is, to quote the “kids”, “weaksauce”. Whilst maybe we can quibble about the precise nature of the relationship, it did happen. 2 Denying that actually puts the boot into the victim of this piece, the journalist, once again. Either we have to now imagine the images were unsolicited (which still raises the question of how they got out of Rachinger’s posession) or Rachinger is throwing someone he was in a relationship under the bus (so to speak) in order to make himself look innocent of passing sensitive information to others.
The claim he did not send the pictures to a third party (which he intimates would have to be Cameron Slater – more on that in a moment) does not seem plausible. For one thing, Rachinger has published online private information sent to him, presumably in confidence, before which was irrelevant to the case he was pressing against Cameron Slater. As such, he has prior history of passing on correspondence when it suits his agenda to show how connected he is.3
For another thing, how did someone else get the images that were sent to Rachinger by the journalist? The images themselves support the hypothesis that they were sent by Rachinger to some third party. Here are two interesting details “hidden” in the images:
“Aww bro she’s like 45. I’m 26” – which is the respective ages of the journalist and Rachinger, and suggests that the message genuinely does come from him.
This one is much harder to decipher, although “I’m a … get some … voices paid I can help”, which suggests some line about paying invoices. Notably, this is a message from the third party, and this detail fits in with the story of Rachinger doing paid work for Slater. As such, the leaked images support the theory these images came from Rachinger.
The images in questions are not screencaps but rather photos of a device showing the messages. Rachinger himself identifies the phone as the kind Slater uses in this tweet:
So, it’s plausible to think that Rachinger sent the images to a third party, likely Slater, given that he received them in the first place the images provide circumstantial evidence sent the images on to a third party. So, why is Rachinger is denying being the sender. Why? Well, two reasons. One is that he feels there isn’t sufficient evidence to show he can be the originator:
And because the Lauda Finem story, which denies any role in this matter to Slater, makes out that the images came from someone attached to Rachinger’s alleged blackmailing of the journalist to the Press Gallery. If he can deny that link – he claims to be no blackmailer, after all – then how could the images have originated from him in the first place?
Some have argued that Rachinger could not have sent those images to Slater because by December 18th (the date the images were sent) the working relationship between Rachinger and Slater had soured. Yet according to Rachinger’s own leaks he was asking and receiving money from Slater in February of this year:
So, the theory the photos can’t have orginated from Rachinger because the relationship between he and Slater had soured by that time is contradicted by Rachinger’s own leaks. We know that Rachinger was asking for and getting money from Slater in as late as February. Not only that, but the general tenor of the leaked communications from February does not suggest that the relationship had soured but rather was in the process of souring. February looks to be the time period in which Rachinger becomes distant from Slater, not December, which indicates that it is well within the realms of possibility that Rachinger passed those images on to Slater.
The most credible hypothesis
The most plausible hypothesis in this particular case is that Rachinger passed the images on to Slater in mid December, and Slater only recently released them to the people behind Lauda Finem in order to destroy Rachinger’s credibility with respect the Nation story. That fits in with idea of Lauda Finem being a Cameron Slater satellite blog and it fits in with these messages Rachinger leaked back when he was writing the Medium posts:
These messages in totum (which can be seen here, although some of the tweets seem to have disappeared) suggests that in February Slater was taking stock of what Rachinger had given him, and decided he had not received much for the money he had spent on Rachinger’s services. This, co-incidentally, fits in with Rachinger’s oft-repeated claims that when he alleged hacked the Standard he provided Slater with nothing other than publicly available data. This, however, leaves open the question of what Slater is referring to when talking about the “nice pics of cunt journalists”? The most plausible hypothesis at this stage is that the images in question are the pics Slater is referring to.
Why might Rachinger have passed on these images to Slater? Whereas the previous analysis relies on looking at publicly available evidence, the following claims really are conjecture.
There’s the “Matey hypothesis”, where Rachinger, in a moment of friendly discussion with Slater, passes on without thinking much of it, images of the journalist because he’s mentioned knowing said journalist in a somewhat intimate manner. This is the kind of slip people do make, where they feel compelled to prove something they have intimated, thus breaching privacy.
Then there are the variety of “Digger hypotheses”: Rachinger may well have given the images to Slater either as ammunition for Slater’s dirt collection on local journalists or to curry favour with Slater or as part of an attempt to keep Slater’s money coming in (which seems a plausible hypothesis, given what appear to be references to invoices in the images). If any of these hypotheses are true, then they push Rachinger out of the Noble Hacker category (as discussed in the last post). It would leave him firmly in the category of being suspicious in his motivations.
Isn’t this a distraction from the real story?
Some will say “Isn’t this all a distraction from the main story, which is about #dirtypolitics?” Yes, it kind of is, but it also speaks to the allegations themselves. On a “positive” side it really does indicate that Slater and Company are worried about the Rachinger allegations and want it shutdown. That shows the existence of a conspiracy. As I have argued in the previous posts, we need to treat this claim serious, because it has all the hallmarks of being a warranted conspiracy theory; this is all evidence that the #dirtypolitics campaign continued after the 2014 General Election.
However, the analysis of this material also shows that part of the narrative Rachinger wants us to believe – that he’s a noble hacker – simply isn’t – as many people have already noted – the most plausible hypothesis. It seems likely that he – for some reason – passed on sensitive information to Slater.
What this also shows is that it is plausible to believe that Rachinger may well have been a willing accomplice of Slater for some time up to and after the release of “Dirty Politics” (which he claims changed his opinion on Slater as a person). If Rachinger passed the images on to Slater in December, post the election, then either Rachinger has misled us about when he changed his opinion on Slater (which supports the other hypothesis in this matter, which is that they had a falling out rather than Rachinger going rogue and starting a one person investigation) or Rachinger thought that the sacrifice of the journalist was worth it to keep Slater happy and unsuspecting as Rachinger performed his investigation. Either way, this new evidence (which happens to dovetail nicely with some of the evidence Rachinger himself has leaked) challenges the narrative Rachinger has presented, and suggests that, at least up until February, Rachinger might have been a willing conspirator in #dirtypolitics.
Now maybe, just maybe, Rachinger is innocent of leaking images of the journalist to some third party, and this is all a large and elaborate plot against him (certainly, people are claiming that I have fallen for a plot by Cameron Slater and the people behind Lauda Finem to smear Rachinger). Given what we know about Slater’s operations post the release of “Dirty Politics”, it is very likely indeed that the leaking of the images of the journalist was designed to derail the debate about the seriousness of Rachinger’s allegations. However, we also know that Slater’s modus operandi is the weaponising of dirt; he collects information to use against others and attacks by insinuation and then by release. What’s striking about this particular attack by (as we all presume, Slater, operating through Lauda Finem) is that Rachinger’s actions – releasing large chunks of data online – means he has provided evidence himself that makes it seem likely he passed those images on to Slater in December (for reasons which may not be not entirely clear). There is enough circumstantial evidence, some of it which much be stressed emanated from Rachinger himself, to support the claim he’s not entirely innocent in this matter. At the moment the most plausible story about the source of the images in the Lauda Finem post is that Rachinger likely passed the aforementioned images on to Slater, and somehow they were passed on to the “fine” people at Lauda Finem.
- Which seems less imperial now due to Slater’s “Decade of Dirt” party absolutely fizzling.↩
- As part of my continued failure to screencap tweets at the beginning of the year, I cannot offer you as proof the tweets Rachinger was posting publicly on Twitter back in January as evidence that they certainly were involved in some way at that time.↩
- Rachinger’s argument at the time as to why this sharing of information was not obviously immoral was that as the information was shared with him rather than him getting it via some hack. However, as many argued at the time, if someone shares information with you, you have to be able to argue that either they have no issue with your then passing that information on to a third party, or there is some moral imperative as to why you breach their privacy. At the time, Rachinger’s release of private correspondence was slapdash and seemed, in some cases, simply designed to prove he was connected, rather than because the release of that correspondence was necessary to uncover some crime or immoral act.↩