APRIL 28, 2010
Last week, the tech blog Gizmodo scored a major scoop by publishing images and video of the brand new iPhone 4G, blasting the website's traffic into the stratosphere, embarassing the notoriously secretive Apple company, and prompting a police raid on Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's house. How did Gizmodo find the phone? A careless Apple engineer left the prototype in a bar. The story has dominated media conversations ever since, so we thought we'd put together some other tales of infamous items lost, stolen, or simply misplaced.
Item: The U.S. nuclear codes and the "nuclear football."
What it is: The "football" is a briefcase containing launch codes, strike options, site locations, and procedures for the use of the nation’s nuclear arsenal. It's always supposed to travel with a military aide who is never far away from the president.
How it got lost: President Jimmy Carter insisted on carrying the codes in his jacket pocket and, on one occasion, left them in a suit that was sent to the dry cleaner. Gerald Ford once left the football on Air Force One during an economic summit. And, in 1999, President Bill Clinton left a meeting in such a hurry that the aide with the briefcase was left behind.
The fallout: Minor embarrassment. No one launched a preemptive nuclear strike while any of these presidents were separated from the codes. Nevertheless, even if there had been such a strike, backups of the “football” do exist: One remains in the White House, while the other travels with the vice president.
Item: Ernest Hemingway's lost novel.
What it is: Early in his career, Hemingway’s then-girlfriend traveled from Paris to Lausanne to see him, bringing all of the existing manuscripts for his first novel with her in a suitcase.
How it got lost: While the train was in Lyon, the suitcase disappeared, even though his girlfriend had asked the porter to watch her baggage. It has never been found.
The fallout: Hemingway was crushed to lose his first novel, but it got him started on the work that would eventually become The Sun Also Rises.
Item: Rudy Giuliani’s secret presidential strategy documents.
What they are: A 140-page campaign plan for Giuliani’s 2008 presidential run, including his entire fundraising plan and his perceived vulnerabilities—which included his three marriages and liberal views on social issues.
How they got lost: According to a Giuliani spokeswoman, the plan was inside a staffer’s bag, which was misplaced during campaign travel. The bag disappeared only to resurface several days later with the documents still inside. Meanwhile, a copy made its way to reporter Ben Smith, who promptly made the contents public.
The fallout: Although a Giuliani aide claimed that the document was "very outdated," the loss of a secret campaign document was nonetheless an embarrassing gaffe. Quipped John Weaver, one of McCain's top operatives: "I though [Giuliani Partners] was a security company."
Item: Bob Dylan's 1962 BBC recording.
What it is: After seeing the then-unknown Dylan perform in Greenwich Village, director Philip Saville cast the singer as the lead role in the BBC play Madhouse on Castle Street. Once he'd flown to the U.K. for production, Dylan announced that he would only sing, not act. No matter—Saville had the role split into two parts, one acting, one singing. Dylan performed "Blowin' in the Wind" and three other songs never recorded again.
How it got lost: Because of an agreement with the actors' union limiting rebroadcast rights, the BBC routinely wiped tapes clean five years after their original broadcast. So in 1968, half a decade after its debut, the only known copy of Madhouse on Castle Street was erased.
The fallout: In 2005, the BBC began a search for the play. No video could be found, but, almost 50 years after the original broadcast, several home recordings of Dylan's songs surfaced and ended up playing in a documentary titled Dylan in the Madhouse.
Item: Haiti's Declaration of Independence.
What it is: In the wake of a bloody revolution, a group of former slaves declared Haiti independent from France on January 1, 1804. "We must live independent or die," they announced in their country's founding document.
How it got lost: The newly formed state sent copies to other governments in 1804, but all originals were thought to have been destroyed or lost. The Haitian government later combed the world for a copy, but, as Haitian historian Edmond Mangonès noted in 1952, “All searches to date have been in vain."
The fallout: Julia Gaffield, a Canadian grad student at Duke University, was doing research in Great Britain's National Archives when she stumbled upon a copy of the eight-page document in late March, just weeks after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti. Said one Haitian archivist of the discovery: "It’s something that can unify Haitian people to start a new life."
The Item: The John Edwards sex tape.
What it is: It's ... well, it's a sex tape. Want to know more? Fine. According to The Daily Beast, both partners are naked, with Hunter "four or five months pregnant based on the swollen state of her belly and nipples." Hunter, holding the camera, "is propped up against the hotel bed headboard, with John Edwards belly-down on the bed between her legs."
How it got lost: Edwards aide Andrew Young claims that he was going through the trash at Hunter's California hideaway when he stumbled on a damaged videotape. Instead of tossing it, Young had the tape repaired and kept it for himself.
The fallout: Young got some mileage out of the tape by describing it in detail inside his tell-all book, The Politician. The tape was reportedly returned to Hunter, but not before further damaging Edwards's already mangled reputation. And it will only get worse from here: Edwards is set to testify about the tape in North Carolina Superior Court next month.
Item: A controversial RNC fundraising slideshow.
What it is: The 72-slide presentation, shown to top RNC fundraisers at a retreat in February, detailed the GOP's strategy in stark language. "What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the Senate...?" asked one slide. Another described Republican donors as "Ego-Driven," "Reactionary," and motivated by "Fear."
How it got lost: A hard copy of the slideshow was left lying around the Florida hotel that hosted the Republican retreat. Unfortunately for the GOP, it was discovered by a well-connected Democrat, who handed over the document to Politico.
The fallout: The RNC acted quickly to distance Chairman Michael Steele from the incendiary document. "Obviously, the Chairman disagrees with the language and finds the use of such imagery to be unacceptable," the RNC communications director told Politico. That didn't stop Steele, along with the RNC, from being roundly criticized by the left and the right.
The Item: The Ark of the Covenant.
What it is: The container believed to hold the tablets on which Moses's Ten Commandments were engraved.
How it got lost: If it existed, it was probably destroyed, taken, or lost during Babylonian conquest of ancient Israel.
The fallout: It's pretty hard to quantify the loss of such a venerable artifact, so many years down the line. One thing is for sure though: If it's ever rediscovered, we'd be wise to exercise caution when opening it up.