Joey Skaggs, Matjaz Rogelj and the world championship:
How the Slovene media hoaxed themselves
Mladina, by Miso Alkalaj, March 5, 2001 On Monday, February 26, Joey Skaggs called me a little after eight in the evening: "I have just received an e-mail from a reporter of Radio Slovenia. She is asking me about that winner of the world computer championship because, as she says, she suspects that it is a hoax and that Iım behind it. You know, since they are so insistant that it is me, I'm just going to admit that it is! Can you e-mail me everything you know about this guy, whatever his name is, so that it will appear that I know what I'm talking about?" The Skaggs media hoax that drove the Slovene media crazy in the next few days started with this telephone call. In the beginning of the week of February 18 a few journalist acquaintances had called me and asked whether I knew anything about a computer world championship in Rio de Janeiro that was the first time I had ever heard of Matjaz Rogelj and what he was supposed to have achieved. I told them that I had never heard of this championship which does not mean much since I do not follow such events - and suggested they contact a few of my colleagues who might know more. Only then I started to surf through the web pages of Slovene media and dug out some of the news stories that had already been published. Ooops, I said to myself, it looks like this guy is trying to hoax the media in the style of Joey Skaggs. He has sent out the press release himself and all the information I could find was based only on what came from Matjaz Rogelj. The media were basing their stories on a single source. But I thought the young man should have invested a little more effort. I found the web pages of the "sponsor," the Sat 5 Institute, shoddily designed and executed, uninformative, with broken links. I could not find anything remotely specific about Rogelj's "winning" project. How hard can it be to spin out a few expert-sounding terms that really do not say anything! Well, it is the guy's first media project, and after all, he did score with his first attempt. I was really interested in how this affair would develop! Next day my phones started to ring: "You cooperated in a Joey Skaggs media hoax some time ago. Would you care to comment? Of course I would not care to comment. Firstly because I knew nothing more than what I had read in the reports of Slovene media. Secondly, because whatever this is about, it is Matjaz Rogelj's show, let him finish it any way he wants to. But I had also received some disturbing news in the meantime: Rogelj supposedly received funds from the Ministry of Education and Sports. If this were true, it is a different ball-game: if Rogelj had indeed received a grant for "preparation" for the alleged championship, this would not be a hoax, but a case of fraud. Anybody with at least minimal legal knowledge would be particularly cautious in such a case: commenting on Rogelj's performance as a hoax now actually means expressing an accusation of a criminal act that can be penalized with a severe sentence. But most of our journalists obviously do not understand such legal niceties. The phones kept ringing and ringing. My statements that I did not care to comment on the affair obviously fueled their imagination. The next morning a friend brought me the Finance newspaper where the idea of a conspiracy with Matjaz Rogelj and Joey Skaggs had already taken hold. I found the subject interesting enough to mention it in my e-mail to Joey Skaggs: "Look, they suspect us of a hoax that we know nothing about and that may have been executed by somebody we've never even heard of!" And then Joey called on Monday evening. I sat down at my computer, searched for everything that could be found on the web sites of Slovene media and translated the basic data into English. Joey chatted politely with representatives of Slovene media from Monday evening to Tuesday noon (Slovenia time, CET), he answered e-mails, phone calls, he gave statements for radio and television. He told journalists what he'd read from their questions that they wanted to hear; new data that he learned from one corresponded he passed on to the next one, as original knowledge that proved his involvement. While I simply persisted in my original strategy: I do not care to comment on the affair. And sensational reports started growing like mushrooms after rain. From Joey Skaggs' point of view the "Rogelj affair" was a media project that just dropped into his lap; even more, Slovene journalists who were blowing up the story actually placed all the words into his mouth. How can a media artist whose primary art form and entertainment is testing the credibility of the media resist such temptation? While I write this, there is a stack of Wednesday's newspapers on my desk, reporting profusely on the Skaggs hoax. In passing, some also print criminal accusations about my behavior (like, supposedly it was me who convinced Matjaz Rogelj to commit a fraud). All this interesting material will eventually become a part of an expose on Joey's web pages at http://www.joeyskaggs.com/. Actually I wish that Joey had carried his hoax a few days longer. Something is missing in this story: the response of Matjaz Rogelj. But at this moment Joey's hoax is already over. Because he has proved his point: in their hunt for a sensation, the media carried unverified news, jumped to their own unwarranted conclusions and stated false accusations. Of the two stories that are at the foundation of this affair, the first one remains untold: what Matjaz Rogelj really did and why, the media have not discovered. The second story about Joey's hoax was really manufactured by the media themselves. Joey just played the role of the mirror in which the journalists could discern only the conclusions that they fabricated themselves. It is probably too much to expect that the journalists who have blown up this story will apologize: not to Matjaz Rogelj, Joey Skaggs or myself, but to their readers, viewers and the general public who pay good money for such concocted stories. It is also unlikely that they will learn from this case that theories spun out of lack of knowledge may be an interesting subject for a private chat, but should not be published in public media. I fear that the media will now lynch Matjaz Rogelj to cover up their own unprofessional behavior. I do hope that somebody within the Slovene journalist circles will defend the young man. Because whatever he had really done, he does not deserve to be judged by people who have hoaxed themselves. I am aware that even today I still do not know enough about Matjaz Rogelj to form a logically consistent picture of what really happened. And therefore I still do not care to comment on his "affair."