Photo: AP

MSNBC host Joy Reid’s claim this week that newly-surfaced homophobic posts on her old politics blog were the work of malicious hackers was bizarre enough, but the explanation Reid and her “cybersecurity expert” are spinning now feels even more outlandish.

On Thursday night, the Daily Beast posted an analysis of Reid’s claims, which have been circulated in statements from her “expert,” Jonathan Nichols—who has a checkered internet history of his own—and by NBC. The site found that the claims fall apart under scrutiny:

Today Nichols says Reid and her team no longer believe the archive was hacked, and the Internet Archive has denied any such manipulation could have occurred. “We found nothing to indicate tampering or hacking of the Wayback Machine versions,” an archiver for the site said in a statement.

That means the supposed hacker was posting alongside Reid for years. According to [Reid’s attorney John] Reichmann, that even included inserting updates in Reid’s live blog of the Alito hearing in January 2006. Reichmann claimed that the hacker was responsible for two consecutive updates sandwiched between Reid’s legitimate ones. The updates report that Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch was using his questioning time to metaphorically fellate the judge. “Oh, look, Orrin Hatch is putting on his Supreme Court knee pads to save Alito,” one line read. The post’s title, which Reichmann says the hacker changed, was “Brokeback Committee Room,” another reference to the film about gay lovers. All the contested material in the post is present in the earliest archived copy, which was captured the day after the hearing.

All of this alleged hacking apparently went unnoticed at the time by Reid.

That’s a helluva claim! The site did find that Reid’s email address and some passwords were indeed posted to the dark web, where Nichols reasoned that a hacker with an axe to grind found them. But that hacker would have had to be CONTEMPORANEOUSLY BLOGGING alongside Reid, without her notice, and using her same tone. For instance, Reid is contending that the offensive Hatch post, which references Brokeback Mountain, was hacked. Yet numerous anti-LGBTQ posts she apologized for last year contained similar references to that movie, which disgusted Reid because of the gay sex scenes, so this hacker would have only been repeating anti-gay sentiments Reid has already admitted expressing. (There’s been no word about whether Reid is claiming that hackers wrote the highly anti-Muslim posts that the conservative Washington Free Beacon found on her blog on Thursday.)

There were other signs that the whole explanation is starting to fall apart. The Daily Beast found posts on the Internet Archive that Nichols said didn’t exist—and were therefore evidence that the Twitter user circulated doctored images of the blog to smear Reid—and couldn’t find grammar differences between the disputed and verified posts, another claim made by Nichols.

When asked about these things, Nichols’ response was less than reassuring (emphasis added):

As described by Nichols, the conclusion that a hacker was posting on Reid’s blog rests primarily on two types of forensic clues within the disputed posts. First, he said, some of the allegedly planted posts contain punctuation choices and markup sharply different from Reid’s other posts. The Daily Beast compared scores of disputed and undisputed posts and could not discern any such anomalies. Pressed for specifics—which posts, which artifacts—Nichols said Wednesday that he did not have ready access to that information, but would provide it. Reached again on Thursday, he said he did not have any details to offer. “I thought I did,” he said “We’re kind of reevaluating as of yesterday.”

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Incredible! Reid and her expert and her lawyers are “reevaluating.”

But lest I be accused of being too sinister, the Beast’s Kevin Poulsen offered up the best explanation I’ve heard for why Reid—who had already apologized for homophobic posts before and been welcomed back into the liberal fold—is going through all of this song and dance: She seems to genuinely believe she was hacked and might not remember writing these posts! Still, if she hangs on much longer, her case is only going to get more and more flimsy.