Reporting the Landmark e-mail story

Doing the reporting for the “Kespohl doubts sending Landmark e-mail” story was (and is) the most complex story I’ve had to do so far. Gary Kespohl, a candidate for the Third Ward council seat, has always said he would have voted for Landmark Hospital. Karl Skala, the current Third Ward councilman running for re-election, presented an e-mail that directly contradicted that platform. Either way, finding the truth on this will leave some people unhappy.

People who keep close track of all the different media outlets in the area might have noticed that it took The Missourian a little over a week to get this story published.

A week is an eternity in a newsroom, especially for a story that unfolded in less than a minute.

It’s never satisfying for a reporter to publish a story that doesn’t have a definitive answer. Since the story was published, we’ve had several concerned readers contact us asking for that definitive answer. Based on all the comments the story has gotten so far, we’ve decided to be as transparent as possible and explain some of the finer details of how I went about my reporting and what it proved (or didn’t prove).

The mega question: What does metadata prove?

My reporting began with trying to verify the names, dates and facts mentioned in the message. Most people either wouldn’t speak with me, or because the e-mail was sent almost two years ago, they said didn’t remember anything.

When contacting sources became virtually fruitless, I began looking into tracing where the e-mail came from.

Mike Martin had posted the metadata from the message on The Columbia Heart Beat and said it allowed for “easy tracking back to the source.”

Unlike the rest of this story, this sounded simple enough. Trace the e-mail and find out if it was from Kespohl’s computer or not. Case closed…right?

I got the metadata from the e-mail Skala forwarded to me by clicking “show original.”

My editor and I brought that data to the Investigative Reporters and Editors headquarters on MU’s campus to see if they could pin down where the message originated.

There, we found out how to trace a message through the “Internet Protocol” or IP address, which can be found in the metadata. From what we gathered, tracing the IP is the best way to trace the message to the Internet Service Provider, or ISP.

We plugged the IP address into reverse look-up search engines, but the IP address could only be traced to the Internet Service Provider, CenturyTel.

A few of the search engines we used to look up IP address 207.119.88.242:

http://psacake.com/web/eg.asp

http://www.domaintools.com/reverse-ip/

The reason why we haven’t been able to prove where the message comes from is because the information for private IP addresses is highly protected. It would be like calling AT&T and asking them to give out a customer’s cell phone number.

To sum up what most Web sites on the topic say, it would take hundreds of dollars, subpoenas or other legal documentation to force a company like CenturyTel to give out the private information of the e-mail’s origin, whoever it came from.

I want the definitive answer and will continue to seek it. But for now, this is the most complete form of the information I have gathered.

One Response to “Reporting the Landmark e-mail story”

  1. At least the Missourian is pursuing this. At this point all people have is a He said-He said situation and it comes down to who I, as a voter, believe based on what I know about the candidates.

    For my money, my personal experiences with both candidates puts me solidly in the “I believe Skala” camp.

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