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PBS Website Hacked

May 31, 2011

Officials at PBS Television said hackers broke into the network’s website and posted a phony story about deceased rapper Tupac Shakur.

The fake posting claimed Tupac was alive and well and living in New Zealand, and the group that claimed responsibility for the attack complained about a recent “Frontline” news report on WikiLeaks that aired on the public station.

The posting, which was put on the site sometime Sunday, was removed by Monday morning, according to PBS officials.

PBS vice president of corporate communications, Anne Bentley, said in an email to the Associated Press (AP) that the fake story posted on the PBS NewsHour Program website had been removed.

The hackers also posted login information for two internal PBS sites: one that media use to access the PBS press room and an internal communications website for stations, Bentley said, noting that all affected persons and parties were being notified of the issue.

In a Twitter posting, a group calling itself LulzSec and The Lulz Boat claimed it had hacked the PBS site.

One message said the group was “less than impressed” with the WikiSecrets story about the leak of US confidential material to the WikiLeaks website. The WikiSecrets program is still available to view on the PBS website.

David Fanning, executive producer of Frontline, said the hack on PBS was unusual, but “probably not unexpected.” He said the attack was “irresponsible and chilling.”

“From our point of view, we just see it as a disappointing and irresponsible act, especially since we have been very open to publishing criticism of the film… and the film included other points of view,” he told BBC News.

Fanning said he learned of the hacking early Monday, nearly a week after the “WikiSecrets” program aired. The documentary, produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, generated a lot of criticism from those sympathetic to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. There was also significant feedback from people who thought the program was fair.

LulzSec has claimed responsibility for other security breaches in recent months as well, including those involving Sony and Fox.

Michael Getler, a PBS ombudsman, said in his weekly column that WikiSecrets had generated only a few complaints, but he did expect more to come.

“This may be a good thing for Frontline if it suggests that most viewers found the program to be in keeping with Frontline’s reputation for fair yet tough reporting,” Getler wrote. Questioning by interviewer Martin Smith was tough but fair, Getler said of the program, although the reporting raised some questions in his mind.

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