RIP Vile Rat

Friday, February 21, 2014


On September 11th, 2012, gunmen attacked two American compounds in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans. Sean Smith, one of the four killed in the attack, was an IT manager in the real world, but online, he was Vile Rat, a hugely influential diplomat in the video game Eve Online. OTM Producer and TLDR co-creator Alex Goldman talks to Sean's friend Alex "The Mittani" Gianturco about who Sean was both in Eve and in the real world.

Programming note: This segment originally aired on TLDR, OTM's new blog and podcast


Alex Goldman

Comments [6]

B from nyc

So I'm listening to OTM and find myself wondering huh, why is this entire segment devoted to something as meaningless as an online virtual game, particularly when the subject died a violent real death? How is his truly stupid hobby relevant to anyone?

At the end it became clear. This was another dimwitted "TLDR" piece sneaking into OTM proper.

As someone with a career in technology I have to plead, keep the kiddie pool tech stories out of OTM. It will be the death of you. When real adult OTM staff do a tech story it's wonderful. When you let the baby social networking interns TLDR your show it's a waste of your listeners' time. His online gaming friend? REALLY OTM? Shame. Brooke, Bob, Katja, please put an end to it.

Mar. 09 2014 11:51 AM

This story doesn’t measure up. OTM's website explains that while "maintaining the civility and FAIRNESS that are the hallmarks of public radio, OTM tackles sticky issues with a FRANKNESS and TRANSPARENCY ... It has won Edward R. Murrow Awards for feature reporting and INVESTIGATIVE reporting, the National Press Club's Arthur Rowse Award for Press CRITICISM and a Peabody Award for its body of work" (emphasis mine).

RIP Vile Rat isn't a story "on the media," it is by the media, which means it is off topic. RIP Vile Rat is a story about Sean Smith, one of the four Americans killed in Benghazi. This was a tragedy, but this heroic treatment of Smith leaves more questions than answers.

RIP Vile Rat seems to be based largely on the account of Alex Gianturco, Smith's best friend, someone who quit his job in corporate law and who now makes his living in the online game world. Smith was an information management officer whose job was to make sure the electronics used by American diplomats worked. He was also a husband, a father, and a major player in the online game world, where he was known as Vile Rat. Here are some issues OTM should have addressed.

- Gianturco says he talked with Smith every day over the six years they had known each other, chatting on the Internet "during the day," and having their chats periodically interrupted by rocket attacks, with Smith saying something like "air raid siren" after which he would go off for a while. Gianturco says the last communication from Smith was "gunfire." I'm not one who regularly criticizes Americans serving our country, but did OTM investigate how much time Smith spent working versus how much time he spent playing online games (and how did he fit this in with his responsibilities as husband and father)?

- Gianturco says that Smith was the chief diplomat in his online game world, and that he created a diplomatic corps similar to that created by the State Department. Did Smith's apparent preoccupation with his online game diplomacy detract from his work in the real world?

- Smith's job was to make sure the electronics worked. Did Smith's responsibilities extend to security systems? What role did security systems play in these events?

- Gianturco says that he was running interference between the grieving family and media outlets which typically enjoy covering crying widows and that Smith's family "obviously" had no desire to be contacted. Recognizing that OTM is itself a "media outlet," did OTM look critically at the assertion that the media “typically” enjoys putting crying widows on the news? Does OTM know that grieving families don't want to talk with press? Did OTM confirm that Smith's family didn't want to talk with the press? Did OTM consider why the family might not have wanted to talk to the press? Did OTM consider Gianturco's interests?

- What other sources did OTM use for this story?

Do we have an ombudsman here? I'd love to see OTM take a critical look at its treatment of this story.

Mar. 03 2014 05:13 PM

I find the glowing eulogies of Vilerat particularly interesting, as someone who disagreed with his ideological positions. He would use his moderating powers in online forums to shut down criticism of his steadfast defense of American imperialism. He, along with others, used their positions of power to stifle debate, when the debate wasn't going their way. Some may feel it doesn't matter because it was all online, but I do not feel he is a victim, not on seeing his true positions laid bare, not on seeing his willingness to bring the unwilling into America's sphere of influence. Violence begets violence and Vilerat reveled in it, online and off, whether he pulled the trigger or not.

I feel only for those he left behind and those who's lives abroad are made worse by the state departments presence.

Feb. 23 2014 11:57 PM
Stacy Harris from Nashville, TN

Inspiring profile of Sean. Of course, Alex Goldman and OTM are still guilty of the sin of omission: "And others' is plural.

We now know about Ambassador John Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith. What about the two others?

Feb. 23 2014 03:20 PM

The most perfect obituary I've every heard... This sketch of a stranger's life made me wish I'd known him, sad he's gone, but glad he lived.

Feb. 23 2014 11:03 AM
Celine from Capitola, CA

I was very pleased to hear this story. It strikes me as inhumane that those killed alongside "important" people are rarely named or described, for example, the many body guards who are killed, the bystanders in bomb blasts, the individuals besides the targeted one in drone strikes. To their families and friends, and in basic fact, they are as important as those named. Even when there is an accident on the road, we hear about the traffic jam, the possible wait time, even when the accident has been cleared, but never anything about those killed or injured. This all says quite a bit about our humanity -- and our priorities.

Feb. 22 2014 08:20 PM

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