Someday, someone is going to make a million by writing a book on what so far is largely unwritten; the rules and etiquette of blogging.
When that happens, we won’t have internet ignorant philistines like Ed Whelan running around destroying the anonymity of bloggers who choose to remain unknown. Or maybe we will, if they prove as unable to control their anger as Mr. Whelan has demonstrated.
Whelan, a legal writer of some repute whose stuff has appeared just about everywhere one would expect from a brilliant legal mind, but is perhaps best known for writing Bench Memos at NRO, became annoyed with Publius of Obsidian Wings for some of the cracks the blogger made about Whelan’s analysis of Sotomayer’s remarks about judicial policy making.
Responding point by point to Publius’s piquing of Whelan’s demonstrably thin skin, the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center couldn’t leave it at that. Instead, he decided to act rather unethically and dig unto Publius’s personal life in order to discover who this mosquito nibbling on his backside might be.
Sounding for all the world as if he had solved the mystery of Area 51, Whelan wrote triumphantly:
I’ve been reliably informed that publius is in fact the pseudonym of law professor John F. Blevins of the South Texas College of Law. I e-mailed Blevins to ask him to confirm or deny that he is publius, and I copied the e-mail to the separate e-mail address, under the pseudonym “Edward Winkleman,” that publius used to respond to my initial private complaints about his reckless blogging. In response, I received from “Edward Winkleman” an e-mail stating that he is “not commenting on [his] identity” and that he writes under a pseudonym “[f]or a variety of private, family, and professional reasons.” I’m guessing that those reasons include that friends, family members, and his professional colleagues would be surprised by the poor quality and substance of his blogging.
I am very happy Ed has enjoyed his Captain Queeg moment and solved the mystery of the missing strawberries. Such sleuthing no doubt builds up an appetite to which Whelan might consider eating the plate of slightly overdone crow that is sitting in front of him.
And since Publius’s opinion differs from Whelan’s on Sotomayor’s beliefs regarding judicial activism, the only obvious explanation for his anonymity is that he is trying to keep his family and colleagues in the dark about the “poor quality and substance of his blogging.”
Could it be something else? Publius explains:
As I told Ed (to no avail), I have blogged under a pseudonym largely for private and professional reasons. Professionally, I’ve heard that pre-tenure blogging (particularly on politics) can cause problems. And before that, I was a lawyer with real clients. I also believe that the classroom should be as nonpolitical as possible – and I don’t want conservative students to feel uncomfortable before they take a single class based on my posts. So I don’t tell them about this blog. Also, I write and research on telecom policy – and I consider blogging and academic research separate endeavors. This, frankly, is a hobby.
Privately, I don’t write under my own name for family reasons. I’m from a conservative Southern family – and there are certain family members who I’d prefer not to know about this blog (thanks Ed). Also, I have family members who are well known in my home state who have had political jobs with Republicans, and I don’t want my posts to jeopardize anything for them (thanks again).
All of these things I would have told Ed, if he had asked. Instead, I told him that I have family and professional reasons for not publishing under my own name, and he wrote back and called me an “idiot” and a “coward.”
Whelan obviously doesn’t get out much. Or read the news. He is certainly an ignoramus about blogging if he hasn’t read about the dozens of cases of people who have lost jobs, been stalked and threatened, or forced to give up writing by employers all due to their passion for blogging.
My own case is instructive, although not for the reasons cited above. For the first 7 months this blog was in existence, I used the nom de blog” Superhawk” as a handle. The reasons was simple; being the brother of a national journalist known to most in the blogging community, I wanted to establish myself as a writer/blogger before coming out. I had always intended to write under my own name eventually. But I wanted to assure myself - quite understandably, I believe - that any success I enjoyed was due to my own efforts.
The irony, as it turned out, was that my own brother outed me on the Hugh Hewitt Show. He did it at almost the exact moment I was thinking of coming out of the anonymity closet anyway so it actually worked out pretty well.
The point is, there are a lot of good reasons for bloggers to remain anonymous and Ed Whalen has no right to decide differently just because he got steamed about someone’s response to his analysis. Did Publius commit a crime? Was he slandering Whalen? If not, Whalen’s fit of personal pique looks low, tawdry, childish, and vengeful. The closest Publius got to getting personal with Whelan was in calling him a “know-nothing demagogue.” And this was after making the point that Whelan knew better and was simply pandering to conservative sensibilities.
Holy Jesus, Ed. I’ve got pretty thin skin myself but it would take a helluva lot more than that to set me off. Questioning my integrity will do the trick as will trying to tell me what to write on my own site. And if you plan on commenting on this or any other post without reading what I’ve written and instead, substitute what you think I wrote or make the same points I made in the post and try and convince me I didn’t make them, you might as well be prepared for some skin flaying because that is my number one pet peeve.
But a “know-nothing demagogue?” In the rarefied atmosphere you inhabit at NRO and other elite bastions of opinion, them’s might be fightin’ words, but in the blogosphere, that’s almost a compliment. To point out that almost any blogger has experienced much, much worse (and dished it out accordingly) would be to mention the obvious to anyone who has spent more than an hour reading blogs.
So, through Whelan’s towering ignorance, he has outed someone for no good reason save his own sense of payback with still unknown consequences to a man he doesn’t know, who never did him any personal harm, and couldn’t affect his reputation one way or another even if that was his intent.
Yeah - way to go Ed.
The question of anonymity of bloggers is, I think, something to be settled by each individual blogger for the reasons I gave above. But what about anonymous commenters? Should they be granted the same comforting cloak that a blogging pseudonym brings?
There are so many sneering, snarky, ignorant, racist-bigots-haters out there in Blog Commentville - many more proportionately than actual bloggers - that I find it disgusting that these reprobates don’t have the guts to use their real names when chastising me or anyone else. If they want anonymity, they should start their own blogs. Their poison is spread to a far wider audience than they deserve as they glom onto sites with large traffic and where like minded anonymous trolls gather to cheer on each other’s putrid rants.
Even in the free wheeling atmosphere that blogs inhabit, if one were to attack fellow bloggers using the language and insults hurled by these anonymous commenters, they would never get the kind of attention they get on larger blogs. Hence, many bloggers are contemplating outlawing anonymous commenters altogether. Most publishing platforms today give the blogger the option of forcing their readers to register if they wish to comment, the registration being activated only when a link to a valid email address is sent.
While this stops the most rabid of trolls, it can’t stop anonymous commenters from fouling a site. The only option for the blogger is to ban the IP and name of the transgressor - a sometimes fruitless exercise as it is relatively easy to establish a new IP, get a new email address, and change one’s handle. In the end, one has the choice of banning comments altogether or simply deleting the objectionable ones.
If Publius had been a commenter at some blog attacking Whelan personally, or spreading lies about him, or simply calling him names, I would not be very sympathetic. But the blogger - one of the few left of center bloggers I find reasonable and thoughtful - gave what most bloggers would consider a mild rebuke to Whelan’s analysis and was outed for his trouble.
I would recommend that Mr. Whelan familiarize himself with blogs and the nature of the beast before going off half cocked and making himself appear a vengeful, spiteful, small minded man. I lost far more respect for Whelan through his outing of Hilzoy than anything the blogger has written about him.
What does that tell you, Mr. Whelan?
I stupidly wrote “Hilzoy” was the blogger outed when the actual victim was “Publius.” No excuse, just carelessness.