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Unlikely Website Scoops World on Kerry’s Choice

Times Staff Writer

Bryan Smith is not a journalist.

But the 39-year-old airplane mechanic from Moon Township, Pa., was behind the biggest political scoop of the week.

The first word that Sen. John F. Kerry had tapped Sen. John Edwards as his running mate trickled out not from a newspaper or cable TV news network but on an aviation website in a far-flung corner of the Internet.

A popular niche site, USAviation.com, beat all the major news outlets with a message board posting at 11:44 p.m. EST Monday by Smith, who had spied “Kerry-Edwards” emblazoned across the campaign’s 757 parked in a Pittsburgh airport hangar.

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“I thought it would be something interesting to put on there,” Smith said of the website posting.

He passed the plane, covered with paper and masking tape, during work and later peeked in the hangar window to see what was going on.

The rest of the world heard about the Kerry-Edwards ticket -- kept secret by the presumed Democratic presidential nominee until early Tuesday -- nearly eight hours later from the first reports by NBC at 7:30 a.m. EST.

“It was such a well-kept secret, I guess people couldn’t believe that it would leak out on a little website like this,” said Kevin Laufer, a 28-year-old commercial pilot from Moorestown, N.J., who co-founded the site.

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Even though his site broke the story, Laufer was oblivious to Democrats’ machinations and the buzz surrounding them. He was too busy caring for his son, 5-day-old Michael Joseph.

A stuffed e-mail inbox and 13 phone messages greeting him Tuesday morning were his first indication that something unusual was happening.

Smith conducted a handful of interviews Wednesday, including one with National Public Radio. He’s enjoying his 15 minutes of fame.

“I get a kick out of it,” he said. “I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal.”

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Smith said he supported Kerry’s selection of Edwards; Laufer is a Republican who says “it really doesn’t matter.”

Traffic to USAviation.com increased to 10 times its normal activity Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of people jammed onto the site to check the Kerry posting.

Smith is skeptical whether he will be behind any more breaking news.

“That’ll probably be it unless I’m in the right place at the right time again,” he said, laughing. “It took me 39 years to get this one.”

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Laufer has no plans to give up flying for a career in Internet journalism, although his wife gave him a brief reprieve from baby duty to bask in the national attention.

“She’s letting me take care of this and get some good exposure for the site while she’s changing some poopy diapers,” Laufer said.


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