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Why did Dealbreaker freelancer have reader info?

Online publication gives a freelance writer, an accused plagiarist, access to readers' personal info. He is now accused of using it to try to intimidate critics.

Dealbreaker, a self-described "Wall Street tabloid," is scrambling to answer questions Monday about why it would give a freelancer--especially one with a history of questionable conduct--access to readers' personal information.

Zachery Kouwe Screenshot by Greg Sandoval/CNET

Zachery Kouwe, the former New York Times reporter who resigned in February after acknowledging he plagiarized material from competing publications, apparently tried to intimidate readers who made critical comments about his stories by informing them he knew where they worked, according to a report in Reuters.

Managers at Dealbreaker, owned by Breaking Media, told Reuters that they severed ties with Kouwe on Thursday, after learning that he "wrote emails to Dealbreaker commenters referencing their workplaces."

Kouwe obtained readers' e-mail addresses "presumably through his privileged access to the commenter login system," wrote Felix Salmon, a Reuters reporter.

In the comments section of this Kouwe story, a reader wrote:

I've been berating Kouwe since day one, obviously, under many a different alias. I made some comment the other day and a few comments down 'anonymous' posted a response saying something to (the) extent of 'f*** you, go back to watching the f****** Red Sox.' While I didn't take it personally, the only way this person knew I worked in Boston would be that [he or she] were an administrator on the site and could see my IP address. Stop stealing my identity Dealbreak[er]. I'm nervous."

Bess Levin, the site's editor, did not respond to an interview request.

Levin did tell Reuters: "What happened is not condoned by Dealbreaker and you can rest assured we've taken the necessary steps to ensure it will not be happening again."

That Kouwe had the potential to play fast and loose with rules shouldn't have surprised Levin or Breaking Media executives. Kouwe acknowledged after he was pressured to resign from the Times that he lifted numerous passages from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and, yes, Dealbreaker.

Levin joked about Kouwe's plagiarizing background in April when she announced that Dealbreaker had hired him.

"Apparently that's what it takes to get a job here these days," Levin wrote. "If you're looking for a new gig just start CTRL+C'ing DealBreaker--and I'm sure we'll be giving you a call. Plagiarizers with tech expertise will get extra-special consideration."