Just over an hour ago, the New York Times "revealed" the identity of NYTPicker, the anonymous blogger who made good sport of critiquing its namesake newspaper. Now the paper has beat a hasty, somewhat embarrassing retreat.

You'll no longer find Rebecca Ruiz's post "NYTPicker Revealed" on the Times' Media Decoder blog, although for the moment it remains in Google's cache. Citing "a person with close ties to the site," the Times fingered as NYTPicker's author David Blum, the Times vet turned fumbling newspaper turnaround artist. Blum had declined to comment to the Times, but about half an hour later, NYTPicker denied the report on its Twitter feed, and the Times pulled it from the Web.

The wording of NYTPicker's tweet did imply a team of two or more writers is behind the site, and that would certainly help explain its impressive track record: The site caught the Times romanticizing the plight of a child rapist, taking a hypocritical position on publishing the identities of foreign kidnap victims, and writing several erroneous things in Walter Cronkite's obituary. It also coaxed the first admission of plagiarism from Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

The site's authors are no doubt having still more fun at the paper's expense in the wake of its bad guess. And to think that, just two years ago, this sort of embarrassing public guessing game was played only by unscrupulous bloggers. Silicon Valley was in a frenzy about the identity of the author of the anonymous blog Fake Steve Jobs. After several erroneous, confidently-worded guesses by Gawker Media CEO ringleader (and then-Valleywag blogger) Nick Denton, the identity of the real author, Forbes editor Dan Lyons, emerged, thanks to some old-fashioned digging by none other than... the New York Times. Maybe the writer behind that successful exposé, Brad Stone, can be brought in to help this time around.

UPDATE: The Times has issued a new post, carrying a full denial by Blum. The paper adds that Blum "hadn't intended to decline comment." WTF?

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