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Danny Get Your Gun

Written by Michael Berlin '08
3/5/2008

Danny Green '85, co-founder of the Smoking Gun website.

It’s funny how things work out. A decade after Danny Green ’85 entered Ithaca College he found himself in Washington D.C., waiting with a crowd of other journalists to get his hands on the public release of evidence in support of the Kenneth Starr report. “I bought a copy, literally ran to Kinko’s, and began making copies and faxing the materials back to New York,” says Green, who at the time had recently co-founded the Smoking Gun website.

The report Green was furiously faxing contained, among many things, exclusive FBI briefings, handwritten notes, and telephone conversations concerning the Monica Lewinsky–Bill Clinton affair. Nowadays documents like these would leak online instantly. But on November 11, 1998, faxing was the fastest tool Green and his partner had. Once all the documents were faxed, Green’s partner posted them to the Internet.

Co-founding what would become one of the Internet’s more popular sites was the furthest thing from Green’s mind when he entered Ithaca College. For starters, Green was a cinema and photography major. What appealed to him about studying photography at IC? “I really enjoyed learning the history of photography and developing a photographer’s eye,” he says, also reflecting on the importance of personal application in college. “At Ithaca I could have learned as much as I chose to learn. The only thing holding me back would have been my own intelligence and ambition.”

Green was also drawn to Ithaca’s natural surroundings. “Physically, Ithaca was just such a beautiful place,” he says. “I thought it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.”

After graduation, Green moved to New York City to pursue photography and film. He landed various freelance jobs, eventually finding some work as a production assistant on television commercial sets. But he grew dissatisfied with the lack of responsibility and direction as a result of being so low on the totem pole. Eager to use his foundation in communication and news, Green decided to try writing, which was another of his passions.

In 1989, he secured an internship with the Village Voice, where he met William Bastone, a staff reporter. Over the next few years, Green made a living as a freelance journalist, writing for many publications including the Village Voice, Maxim, New York magazine, Ski, and GQ. He remained friends with Bastone throughout his writing career, and eventually the pair came up with the idea for the Smoking Gun.

Bastone -- who often found himself privy to obscure but fascinating documents -- and Green saw opportunity on the Internet. Whereas an editor of a print publication who was pressed for space would shy away from publishing full-length documents (like FBI records of Lou Costello’s pornography collection or extortion charges filed by Bill Cosby), the Internet provided a limitless medium.

From this notion, the Smoking Gun website was born. The site now thrives on publishing materials such as police arrest forms and mug shots, celebrity tour riders, and shocking legal documents. Groundbreaking releases like The Starr Report evidence and supporting documents have lent credibility to the site and fueled its notoriety. “We’ve been popular because people, after a while, get a little sick of the same fluff celebrity pieces,” says Green.

There is more to this idea, however. The Smoking Gun exposes the ways in which thorough, factual, investigative journalism can still prevail in the current information age, where reporting frequently becomes subjective amid the plethora of online news sources.

When the site began, Green and Bastone spent a lot of time on the phone, trying to secure documents from court clerks and police stations. Now information travels faster, expanding the publishing capabilities of news outlets. What Green needed to fax at Kinko’s in 1998 might now be sent in a matter of minutes with a handheld device. Even so, Green points out, the Smoking Gun staff still spends much of its day on the phone and awaiting faxes from police departments and courts.

But Green, now the site’s senior director of development, urges fellow writers and reporters not to take today’s wealth of information for granted. “Google is only one tool in a writer’s toolbox,” he says.

This idea was one of the main points of a lecture he gave last year to Ithaca College students: “Google Isn’t Everything: How Inexperienced Investigative Journalists Rely Too Much on the Internet and Not Enough on the Telephone.” While on campus Green also discussed with current students some of today’s pressing issues in journalism. “I loved getting into debates with a lot of the journalism students,” he recalls.

He also reflected on what drew him to Ithaca in the first place. “I think Ithaca is still a beautiful place,” he says. “I think the idea of going to school outside the city is a right one, where you can focus on your schoolwork, on your friends, and on your life.”

And for all those aspiring journalists out there, he offers this advice: “When pursuing a story, leave no stone unturned. You can always make one more phone call or try to find one more source.”

 



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