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Hiltzik Suspended

The L.A. Times has suspended Pulitzer-winning business columnist Michael Hiltzik without pay, and discontinued both his column and his weblog, in response to the news that Hiltzik used psuedonyms on his blog and elsewhere to comment on Times-related matters, including his own work. From the editor's note:

Hiltzik did not commit any ethical violations in his newspaper column, and an internal inquiry found no inaccurate reporting in his postings in his blog or on the Web. But employing pseudonyms constitutes deception and violates a central tenet of The Times' ethics guidelines: Staff members must not misrepresent themselves and must not conceal their affiliation with The Times. This rule applies equally to the newspaper and the Web world.

Over the past few days, some analysts have used this episode to portray the Web as a new frontier for newspapers, saying that it raises fresh and compelling ethical questions. Times editors don't see it that way. The Web makes it easier to conceal one's identity, and the tone of exchanges is often harsh. But the Web doesn't change the rules for Times journalists.

Whole thing here; related material at L.A. Observed. Hiltzik will be "reassigned" after the suspension. The investigation was triggered by some tech sleuthing by serial Hiltzik/Times antagonist Patrick "Patterico" Frey, who drew an initially dismissive response from Hiltzik.

Frey is conflicted about the result:

Obviously, the decision was the editors’ to make, and they have made it. I will have to reflect on this. I may post further thoughts over the weekend.

Regardless of whether this was the right move, I take no joy in the result, and I encourage readers to show class and restraint in their comments.

L.A. Voice's Mack Reed is not shedding any tears:

The memo from Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Doug Frantz puts it pretty well, but almost misses Hiltzik's crime against authorial morality in pinpointing the one against editorial policy [...]

[H]e stumbled by manufacturing two of his greatest fans, posing as them on his own blog and others, and trying to mislead the public as to his own popularity - both the height of vanity and the depth of stupidity for a blogger. It was only a matter of time before someone exposed him. If you proclaim yourself a truth-teller and analyst of fact, you can't get away with lying for long in this venue.

Hugh Hewitt pours scorn on the whole enterprise:

Isn't it at least a little ironic that the Times releases this information on a Friday afternoon, traditional burial ground of bad news-- in an obvious effort to have the story pass with as little attention as possible? So much for transparency.

Michael Hiltzik is just one of hundreds of examples of ideologicially blinkered agenda journalists at the Times. He just got caught. [...]

The Times concludes "an internal inquiry found no inaccurate reporting."

[T]he culture at the Times that produced him quite obviously stays the same.

Lefty blogger and bankruptcy lawyer Steve Smith, on the other hand, thinks the suspension was a terrible mistake:

Perhaps demonstrating, once and for all, that the LA Times doesn't get the internet or the blogosphere [....] Being a monopoly allows you to do stuff like that.

 

Comments () | Archives (93)

The comments to this entry are closed.

nk

There's no schadefreude on my part about Mr. Hiltzik's predicament. What we bloggers thought was laughable, the LAT converted into an offense subject to discipline. Now they can feel morally correct and superior for enforcing their policy against pseudonymity while they still selectively report and slant stories to suit their bias. And Patterico (Patrick Frey) has no reason to feel bad about this. I have seen much more vehement back and forth on just about every site I have visited. I thought that was part of blogging. Everything is picked apart to the smallest detail. What happened to Mr. Hiltzik is the result of the attitude of the LAT and nothing else. I think that, basically, the LAT suits are not ready to blog yet. New York Times vs. Sullivan spoke about a marketplace of ideas. Don't stiffle speech. Let the audience walk from the speaker, argue with the speaker, pick at the speaker's every fault, throw rotten tomatoes at the speaker (well, maybe not the last). I criticized Mr. Hiltzik on my site. I allow open, uncensored, unmoderated comments. He could have come back and criticized my writing, poetry and taste in music if he wished. That is what I expected, not that his editors would silence him.

Cathy Seipp

Anyone even vaguely aware of how journalists are supposed to behave should understand and applaud the Times' decision. This has nothing to do with "not being ready to blog" yet or suppressed speech. The issue is Hiltzik's dishonesty, bad judgment and petty anger at anyone who disagreed with him -- all of which undermined his credibility as a columnist.

Tom Cleaver

Allowing a halfwitted far right idiot like Patrick Frey to bamboozle the LA Times shows how far you have fallen now that you've become the AAA farm club for Chicago's best litter-box liner/cage-bottom cover/toilet-paper substitute.

This semi-literate "pontificator" (check his blog name, he thinks it's cool to self-identify that way) has traditionally used anonymity - so long as it only applies to his fellow dwellers in the fever swamps of the far right. For this hypocrite to claim that somehow Michael Hiltzik has done something wrong by doing what the rest of his posters do, demonstrates his complete and total intellectual hypocrisy.

For you idiots to take this moron seriously proves I am right to have dropped my subscription to your litter-box liner when I heard you had done this.

Can anyone in your office find the zipper on their fly with both hands on a clear day with a 3-hour advance notice? I doubt it.

nk

But Cathy, we fight back instantaneously. The commenters, the other bloggers. We don't need to shut anyone up. We can put them down. Like what you did to me and I am now doing to you.

Chris from Victoria, BC

I’m going to add something a bit strange. I hope (and it will probably just remain a hope) that Michael Hiltzik develops... a personal blog.

Maybe not even a political one, although that would be fine too.

If he chooses humility even at this late stage, then confidently moves forward toward advancing his ideas, whatever they may be, he may gain a following for his newfound forthrightness and the fact that he has adequately paid for his transgression. And naturally, with his views, he will have some people who agree with him.

As others have said, at least he’s not guilty of plagiarism.

While he may just choose to shy away from the Internet, I’d encourage him to cinch the saddle tighter and step in it again. He’s not the first person to ever do something stupid on the net (not the first person on this page and not the first person in this comment!). His biggest mistake was doing it while working for the LA Times.

Now that his discipline has been decided and the public has had a chance to form its opinions, he should pick himself up and move forward.

Rush Limbaugh, a man many respect, did his 3-hour radio show today with his normal aplomb and good cheer… then, in a deal worked out between his attorney, Roy Black, and Florida prosecutors, he turned himself in, was arrested and charged with a single count of prescription fraud, was released on bond, and has promised to continue his physician supervised drug addiction treatment regimen for the next 18-months, at which time, prosecutors will drop the charge.

He showed humility after a personal failing and challenge and then he moved forward with confidence. Michael Hiltzik should learn from his intellectual enemy.

Chris from Victoria, BC

Why my other comment didn't show up first, I don't know, but here goes:

I'm not surprised.

It's what I expected, LA Times - a good decision. And this from myself, your vehement critic.

A frequent commentator on Patterico's blog during this last week, having had several head-to-head sessions with Patterico where, while I agreed with his exposing the deception, but disagreed with him for being too soft on Hiltzik.

My reasoning can be found here: http://patterico.com/2006/04/21/4474/more-on-why-the-times-should-not-discipline-hiltzik/#comment-36951

I will just say the LA Times' response was firm, measured, fair, and dare I add for a Conservative critic of your paper, well-explained and reasoned.

It fits smack in the range of remedies I consider appropriate. I think it's a good one.

Well done.

Chris

P.S. Knock off the outrageous eye-boggling mind-shocking bias.

stackja1945

Even 99 Percent truth is not good enough. 100 percent or nothing.

Matt Welch

"Allowing a halfwitted far right idiot like Patrick Frey to bamboozle the LA Times shows how far you have fallen"

I won't get myself into the position of commenting on the propriety of the editor's reaction or anything like that, but I think it's worth pointing out that the fundamental facts of the case are just those -- facts -- and have nothing to do either with Patrick Frey's politics, or his ability to bamboozle anybody about anything.

Chris from Victoria, BC

I disagreed with Frey lots of times (and I agree with him lots too). Heck, in the above comment thread I linked (if you read the entire thing), I think I creamed him in logic.

Yet that doesn't change the facts. So as they say in the House of Commons, Matt Welch, "Hear, hear."

Dafydd ab Hugh

I really don't have an opinion one way or another about the appropriate punishment (if any) for Mr. Hiltzik. I only want to comment on one aspect.

I've only been blogging myself since September, but I've been reading them for a number of years. And it rankles me when blogging etiquette is (evidently) confused with the manners of a bulletin board like Usenet.

The whole "sock puppetry" (as my friend Patterico calls it) has never, ever, ever been considered acceptable on blogs; at least not on those I've read. Pseudonyms, sure; lots of people use those, though I don't (I blog -- and comment -- under my own name). But not multiple-personality comment disorder, where one invents ficticious personae that applaud one's every argument and assail one's opponents.

As somebody noted, that is like an author using a pseudonym to favorably review his own books on Amazon.com.

When Isaac Asimov was writing reviews for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, he was once handed a "Paul French" novel to review. Paul French was, of course, Asimov's only pseudonym -- for his young-adult "Lucky" Starr series. He was tempted... but he declined with an explanation.

Would that Mr. Hiltzik had as much integrity.

Michael Hiltzik is welcome to post any opinion he wants on my blog; he can even use a nom-de-comment, I don't care. Nor would I be offended if he failed to identify himself as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times; it makes no difference to me.

And he can wildly disagree with my posts. All of that is well within blogging etiquette. But I would certainly find it boorish and classless if he signed on as different Commedia dell'Arte characters to gang up on me or some other commenter, to make it appear as though he was a whole mob by himself.

That was his crime; that is what he should have been punished or admonished for; that is what he should have confessed.

Although you, personally, appear to understand the point, Mr. Welch, I don't think your employer does... even now.

And that is symptomatic of why the Times is dying.

Dafydd ab Hugh

Xrlq

Tom Cleaver:

For this hypocrite to claim that somehow Michael Hiltzik has done something wrong by doing what the rest of his posters do, demonstrates his complete and total intellectual hypocrisy.

Actually, it demonstrates nothing, except that Tom Cleaver has no clue what the issue is. Hiltzik may have gotten in trouble simply for using a pseudonym, but that was never Patterico's beef, nor anyone else's. It was his dishonest use of a pseudonym to create a virtual echo chamber - exactly the same sin I would be creating myself if I followed up this post with another post under my real name, praising Xrlq for his brilliant insight.

Mike K

The Tom Cleaver posts above sound like Hiltzik. His thin skin and hostile, over-the-top ranting when anyone disagrees with him, make him one more lefty moonbat. He shouldn't be as his book, "Dealers of Lightning," was terrific. There should be a place where those who disagree can discuss important issues. There are not many, unfortunately. Hiltzik contributed to that problem. His sock puppet cheerleaders attacked anyone who disagreed with him, pretending to be supporters when they were, of course, his own lesser self. Political discourse has always been contentious, the Jefferson- Sally Hemmings story was spread by a political opponent, but the Times should avoid voices like his.

Mike Myers

I feel some sympathy for Mr. Hiltzik, but ultimately the Times could not let this pass. I've listened to Mr. Hiltzik debate or attempt to debate. He has trouble dealing with challenges and reacts poorly to them. That's fine for a print media person (I think Mark Twain said something to the effect that you should never argue with anyone who buys their ink by the barrel) who can simply put it on the page--and wait for a few letters to the editor, which can be printed or ignored--the paper's choice. In the cut and thrust of the interactive world that sort of personality and intellectual dishonesty turned it into a credibility problem. Unfortunately the credibility problem was exposed for a good part of the Time's readership to see. The Times had to do something when one of their columnists developed a credibility problem. Mr. Hiltzik has been in trouble before in the Times organization, and I fault the Times's management for selecting Mr. Hiltzik for a blog. He was the wrong choice. Nobody looks particularly good in this mess.

John Beauregrad

I never heard of Hiltzik before this episode. I think more people know of him because of this incident than his Pulitzer. That is punishment enough for the thin-skinned loudmouth. I think the Times went too far in their actions, but I would rather see them go too far in this direction than the other.

kcom

"As somebody noted, that is like an author using a pseudonym to favorably review his own books on Amazon.com."

I ran into this type of situation and can honestly say I passed the "Hiltzik test". I came across my (non-blog) site on Alexa or somewhere like that. The section for reader reviews showed no reviews and it asked if I was familiar with the site and would like to review it. Of course, I was familiar with the site but I declined to review it since I was the author. I was hoping that there would be at least one review there but I wasn't going to do it myself. I knew that was just wrong. Mr. Hiltzik should have known it, too.

Flap

Hiltzik should have been shown the door at the Times.

This is his second MAJOR ethics violation.

Why would the Times editors want to keep him around?

Additional thoughts:

Michael Hiltzik Watch: Golden State Column and Blog Discontinued for Ethics Violations - The Round-Up

Flap (Dr. Gregory Cole)

Bradley  J. Fikes

I have no beefs with the punishment. But the Times needs to stop confusing the issue. Pseudonymity per se is not dishonest. Misrepresenting oneself is. The Times disingenuously mischaracterizes critics with descriptions like this:

"Over the past few days, some analysts have used this episode to portray the Web as a new frontier for newspapers, saying that it raises fresh and compelling ethical questions."

No, it's the same ethical issue, in a different medium. And the phraseology seems dangerously like what politicians use when they don't want to answer an argument, so they rephrase the issue.

The Times editors seem to have a superstitious fear of mentioning the words "sock puppetry" in their corporate explanations, let alone explaining how it's like a reporter writing laudatory letters to the editor about his stories under an assumed name.

Perhaps if the Times editors participated in pseudonymous blog commentary -- without misrepresenting themselves or discussing the Times -- they'd get a better understanding.

Let the top editors take part in a blog about sports, or history, something non-journalistic where they could interact with others and come to learn about how Internet communities form and grow.

Then after several months, they could write about their experiences. I guarantee the editors would have more personal understanding about this world of the Web, where the quacking lunatics often use harsh language.

JJ

I'm in agreement with Patterico.

The blog should not disappear. Actually also, I am convinced that Hiltzik did not need to be suspended.

Would have been good if the LAT had restated policy and given Hiltzik another try at it. Assuming, of course, that the man even agreed that what he did was wrong...which if that was the case probably was a news item in itself.

Because, after all, LAT hired Hiltzik and published and promoted his work.

Stephen M. St. Onge

The Times did the right thing in suspending Hiltzik.

Reporters should be honest. I can see why Hiltzick might want to comment on various blogs without revealing that he is "Michael Hiltzik, Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Concealing your identity on-line isn't necessarily dishonest.

But to sign some posts on a given website with your own name, and others with psuedonyms, is dishonest. You pretend to be more than one person, which you are not. Hiltzik was wrong to do it.

And the people here who criticize "Patterico," and who try to make this an issue of 'psuedonyms vs. real names,' are also dishonest.

Mike K

The comment above about declining to post a favorable review on your own book when no comments have been posted, is much to the point. John Lott has been pilloried on the left for succumbing to that temptation with his own books. We'll see if l'affaire Hiltzik is mentioned in the same quarters.

TakeFive

Hiltzik willingly shed his credibility, and for what? To get the satisfaction of delivering some low blows? If he had come to the discussion, such as the one on cable companies, and identified himself as a Times columnist who had researched the issue, I would have thought “great - this is someone who may have a much greater understanding of the issue”. Instead he chose to open with “Boy, are you guys stupid” under a pseudonym. And to the blogger’s credit, he still took Hiltzik’s argument seriously!

Sidebar: Yes Patterico, I know - it’s the sock puppetry, not the pseudonyms.

This whole business makes Hiltzik look cowardly and adolescent. Attitudes like his dripped from the pages of the Times, culminating with the astounding “pseudo-journalists” rant from fromer editor James Carroll. The Times is administering some bitter medicine, but it’s needed if they are to win back subscribers - like me.

Stuart Makagon

The LA Times had a choice of doing nothing about Hiltzik's sock puppetry and openly acknowledging that liberal ideology is what matters most at the paper or disciplining him and pretending that ethics trumps ideology. The real problem at the Times is not the immature behavior of a single columnist but using its news columns to editorialize for liberal policies and candidates.

John Crowley

I read the LA Times off the rack, and go to the Business section first. Dilbert and Tom Petruno are the draws.

Hiltzik's columns belong in the 'California' section, as they reflect the exact same bias and perspective as George Skelton, Steve Lopez, Patt Morrison, etc. His dishonesty is another question, and tells me all I need to know about his character. What the LA Times decides to finally do about it will also be a display of character.

John R. Mayne

This seemed an appropriate, measured response to Mr. Hiltzik's misdeeds. Hiltzik's initial response - one of defiant name-calling - showed a lack of understanding of the concept. It's good to see The Times has a better understanding than Mr. Hiltzik.

On a side note, I'm very impressed by Mr. Welch's response to the ad hominem attack on Patterico; the question in this instance is whether Mr. Hiltzik did what he was accused of and what the appropriate punishment is. And whether he did seems to be in no doubt whatsoever.

--JRM

Matt Welch

Bradley J. Fikes wrote:

"But the Times needs to stop confusing the issue. Pseudonymity per se is not dishonest. Misrepresenting oneself is."

Dean Baquet wrote:

"Hiltzik has acknowledged using pseudonyms to post a single comment on his blog on latimes.com and multiple comments elsewhere on the Web that dealt with his column and other issues involving the newspaper."

While you may lament the reluctance to use the phrase "sock puppet," there is nothing unambiguous about the wording: "using pseudonyms to post [...] comments [...] that dealt with his column and other issues involving the newspaper."

Brian

I believe I recognize Tom Cleaver from a past dialogue I've had with him over on the Golden State blog, and it's clear that he is still as fiercely flippant and condescending as ever.

This is not about Patrick Frey, as much as some insist. One of the best attributes of the blogosphere is its ability to bring instances of dishonesty and/or selective fact-checking to the fore, and let the chips fall where they may. The "chips", in this case, are the ethical rules of the LAT. If they carry are to carry any weight, they must be applied when put to the test.

In the case of Mr. Hiltzik, it's clear that the rules were tested, and the Times chose to honor those rules rather than rationalize the situation. Regardless of whether one agrees with the severity of the punishment, the Times should at least be applauded for taking the side of its own rules.

Matt Welch

Two housecleaning comments:

1) Please use your real names. That's a request, not a demand. TakeFive, JJ, Flap, kcom, Dafydd ab Hugh, stackja -- I'm looking at you! It's my firm belief and experience that the quality of discussion improves immensely when people avoid the cheap courage of pseudonymity when tossing around insults. Would you say whatever it is you want to say about Hiltzik or anyone else if you had to stake your name behind it? That's what I want to know.

2) The blockquote function and other formatting stuff like italics don't work on this comments form yet. If you want to quote from something, do it the old fashioned way -- use quotes!

Matt Welch

Housecleaning, Part 2:

Comments are (hopefully) now being moderated (as is Times policy), so expect delays, though I'll try to drum up some approval-coverage....

Matt Welch

Housecleaning, Part 3:

Oh, and you can't leave any hyperlinks in the text of your comments (it will simply refuse to publish). We might eventually change this....

Darleen Click

I believe suspension and reassignment are appropriate. However, I wonder why the LA Times finds it necessary to continue to obfuscate exactly what Hiltzak engaged in -- not merely commenting using a psuedonym, but by faking the reality that these psuedonyms were actually OTHER people, who went about fighting Hiltzak's fights.

I've blogged since Aug 2004 and always under my own name. Prior to that I would comment on message boards under a psuedonym, but never-ever pretended to be more than one person. While some may find the idea tempting, ANY pretense at credibility is forever lost when such a masquerade is unmasked (as it inevitably is).

As Tom Cleaver (self-proclaimed member of the "Reality-based Community") above demonstrates, the base of the contemporary Left is consumed with hatred. It is a hatred that the LA Times has seen fit to feed, not just on its Editorial Page but in its ostensible News/Business/Entertainment sections. As loud and demanding and "connected" the "Reality-based Community" is, they are still represent only a small portion of the LA Times [potential] readership.

Which is a large part of the problem behind the LA Times plunging subscribers - regardless of how many people the LA Times see fit to stand in supermarkets each weekend handing out "free" newspapers.

Patrick Frey (Patterico)

Dafydd ab Hugh is a real name.

Matt Welch

My apologies to DaH....

Patrick Frey (Patterico)

And Flap said his name was Dr. Gregory Cole.

Andy

I'm going to (appropriately) pile onto Tom Cleaver's post. If you had bothered to read about the entire issue, from beginning to end, you would realize that Patterico's problem was not the use of pseudonyms. (Seriously, do you think anyone over the age of 5 is stupid enough to complain about a tactic someone else uses while trumpeting the fact that he uses the exact same tactic?) Rather, the problem was the use of multiple identities (aka "sock puppets") to echo each other's arguments and tear down opposing viewpoints. The LA Times, for some reason, and as is their right, chose to focus merely on the use of pseudonyms. If you can't see the difference, and can't see why this is a problem, then you should use the LA Times as litterbox liner, since the intellectual prowess of the paper is way over your head.

TakeFive

Re: Housecleaning

Matt -Given the topic, it's understandable why you would call for us to use our real names. But my reason for not doing so is perfectly exemplified by Tom Cleaver and his fellow travelers. Read the comments Mr. Cleaver left on Patterico's site and you'll see that we are dealing with someone that is ill. I don't mean that as an insult, honestly.

An example of this illness was detailed in a Washington Post article a couple weeks ago about a woman that runs a website called Talk Left, or My Left Foot, or something akin to that. Anyway, the woman is basically being consumed by Leftist anger. My opinion is that when these sorts of people finally admit how ineffectual they are in advancing their positions, they either suffer a mental breakdown or turn to more devious methods.

Witness what happened to Michelle Malkin this past week. She re-posted a flyer on her website that a Santa Cruz anti-war group had handed out, and the Left went ballistic. They dug up anything they could find on Michelle, her husband, even her small children - and posted this on the Lefty forums. I think the implied threat was pretty clear.

My policy, even when using a pseudonym, is to never write anything I will regret seeing attributed to me or would be embarrassed to have my family read. Or my employer. But when one side of the political spectrum will not, or cannot debate in good faith, I don’t find it reasonable to open myself or my family to potential threats just because I wish to join the discussion.

Bradley  J. Fikes

Matt,

"While you may lament the reluctance to use the phrase "sock puppet," there is nothing unambiguous about the wording: "using pseudonyms to post [...] comments [...] that dealt with his column and other issues involving the newspaper."

Point taken. But Hiltzik didn't just post comments that "dealt" with his column and the newspaper, he attacked critics and praised himself. The Times statement is still maddingly oblique as to just what occured.

Further muddying the waters, the editors' note states:

"But employing pseudonyms constitutes deception and violates a central tenet of The Times' ethics guidelines: Staff members must not misrepresent themselves and must not conceal their affiliation with The Times. This rule applies equally to the newspaper and the Web world."


The misleading pseudonym = deception meme rears its ugly head once again. The Times doesn not seem to have thought this issue through enough.

If a reporter with a disease posted pseudonymous comments on a Web site asking for help in dealing with the affliction, not for a story, but out of personal need, would that be considered a violation of Times policy?

Or, if a Times reporter took part in a blog discussion about sports (and the reporter was not covering sports), should the reporter automatically be required to reveal his/her identity? Would that be required of the reporter walking into a bar discussion?

This blog discussion is a good start to making the Times more transparent. But anyone seeking the most complete and accurate information about what happened with one of the Times' own employees would have to go elsewhere, namely Patterico. That is a sad commentary on the Times' refusal to answer questions and criticisms about its own workings -- the same information it demands from everyone else.

Matt Welch

TakeFive -- Actually, the "use your real names" idea pre-dates the Hiltzik affair. If you look at comments sections that are just untenably crazy & off-putting to all except the true believers, the percentage of pseudonymity is almost always very high.

And like I said, it's a request, not a demand. But know that the bar for approval of a pseudonymous comment will be *much* higher, especially if the comment involves a rhetorical attack on an individual or entire group.

While I respect arguments about anonymity in political speech, A) we have no obligation to host it on our site, B) I think the real-world chances of being endangered by your political comments on some weblog are infinitesimal, and C) I frankly suspect you wouldn't be so willing to accuse an entire chunk of the political spectrum of mental illness & the inability to have a simple good-faith discussion if you included your real name.

Sure, I could be wrong about that, but lacking information about you & your track record of commentary, I'm left to go with what I've learned about blog comments over the years. And that's that pseudonymity makes people braver than they actually are.

That's the thinking, anyway, and don't take it personally. Just know that your bar is higher.

Xrlq

Matt sez:

"While you may lament the reluctance to use the phrase 'sock puppet,' there is nothing unambiguous about the wording: 'using pseudonyms to post [...] comments [...] that dealt with his column and other issues involving the newspaper."

Actually, there is. Using pseudonyms is not inherently dishonest. Using pseudonyms while discussing oneself, one's employer, or anything else that makes one's true identity more relevant is a bit closer to the line, but the real issue is pretending to be more than one person.

"Please use your real names. That's a request, not a demand. TakeFive, JJ, Flap, kcom, Dafydd ab Hugh, stackja -- I'm looking at you! It's my firm belief and experience that the quality of discussion improves immensely when people avoid the cheap courage of pseudonymity when tossing around insults."

Religions die hard, so I won't question that it's your firm belief. But experience? I doubt it. Mine has been that bloggers are far more civil than Usenetters, on average, but that neither group tends to be more civil, more thoughtful, or anything else except maybe a little more intimidated, when using their real names. As Patterico has already pointed out, two of those individuals did use their real names, but perhaps more importantly, none of those who didn't have posted anything remotely insulting in this thread. Quite the contrary: the only participant in this thread who has tossed around any insults was Tom Cleaver, who posted them under his (allegedly) real name.

Would you say whatever it is you want to say about Hiltzik or anyone else if you had to stake your name behind it? That's what I want to know.

Seeing as the individuals you named didn't post anything particularly controversial, I think it's a pretty safe bet that they would. I certainly wouldn't post anything under the name "Xrlq" that I thought would hurt my reputation in the blogosphere. If I had to comment under my real name, I certainly wouldn't say anything different, but then again, I probably wouldn't comment at all. Is that the goal? It sure is a good thing Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay didn't have a finger-wagging editor prohibiting them from writing anything they would not willingly publish under their real names.

Matt Welch

Xlrq -- Like I said, the blockquote tag don't work here....

I appreciate that the discussion here has been civil and lively, named and unnamed alike, and in fact I intended to say that in my first Housecleaning note, but deleted it by accident. Also, I didn't name-check you above, because your history of commentary is well-known to me.

But as for religion and experience, I have little or none of the former, and tons of the latter. I have long encouraged commenters on my own site to use their names, especially when levying attacks on people, and though the comments-action there has never been in the range of hundreds, it's also never been the kind of cesspool or hallelujah chorus that you'll see on political blogs of equivalent size.

And, obviously, it's not "the goal" to dissuade people from commenting, nor are we "prohibiting" anyone from commenting, as is obvious when you note that, um, comments are open, and on a thread that isn't particularly flattering about my employer. The goal is very transparent -- to build a lively and actually readable comments section at the website of a large media organization.

Chris from Victoria, BC

No pseudonymity here, Matt... I agree with you about real names, but also that people may have valid reasons for not using them and it's better for them to say what they have to say than not. These reasons include physical security (for example, when making a controversial political statement or image that certain groups... will threaten to kill you for and actually carry it out... or say a woman concerned about the safety of posting her details on the net... this site allows 13-year olds+ to contribute after all!)

If anyone checks out my email address it uses my full name (Chris Dollis) or if they click on the link to my blog, it has my name plastered all over it... I just LIKE "Chris from Victoria, BC"... back in the day, if a local woman saw it she'd strike up a conversation and next thing you know, we're having coffee.

Of course, then I would have to fall in love with the most wonderful woman I have ever met... who lives in Australia.

Typical.

Back to topic. Good blog and great conversation, Matt. You should never attempt to please your critics, only tolerate them and let them express themselves. You seem to do that and as a result have less critics.

Darleen Click

Matt writes:

"...frankly suspect you wouldn't be so willing to accuse an entire chunk of the political spectrum of mental illness & the inability to have a simple good-faith discussion if you included your real name."

Let me disagree. I have, and will, continue to accuse the deranged-by-hatred contemporary illiberal Left as not arguing in good faith. I am, too, aware that some of these people could move from cyber threats to realtime. I understand that people with children at home might want to be even more circumspect when dealing with an element that sees not much wrong with shooting into Republican campaign headquarters or slashing the tires on Republican "get voters to the polls" van.

Black Jack

Face it, you're not going to see an acknowledgment of Hiltzik's actual transgressions here. Bradley made the key point: if you want the facts, they aren't available at the LAT. They pretend it's about the use of screen names, but that's pure smoke and mirrors. They're being deliberately obtuse, with a little fancy footwork thrown in for cover.

The issue is blindingly obvious: it's sock puppetry. Oh, there are ambiguous weasel words aplenty, a virtual fig leaf, readily available to misdirect the debate. But that's it, they simply refuse to engage on the issues. Nothing new here, so let's move on.

nk

I'm not sure, Black Jack. I said this before at Patterico. You can't have an offense without a rule. The LAT has a rule against pseudonymity, not against "sock-puppetry". My defense attorney's reaction is that if there's no rule against "sock-puppetry" there's no grounds for discipline. The LAT feels differently. It feels Mr. Hiltzik's actions were wrong and looked for the closest matching rule to discipline him. My further reaction, as posted earlier, is that he did not offend against the LAT but against his readers and readers of other blogs on which he commented. Patterico's exposure, along with the blog storm which followed, took care of that. There is no need for further action from the LAT.

Glenn Logan

Interesting thread, and I have a couple of comments:

Hiltzik's use of psuedonyms in the manner in which he used them is unquestionably unethical. It was intended to deceive others, glorify his own opinions and avoid being held accountable for politically based attacks.

Obfuscation of one's identity out of a fear of reprisal for his opinions is a legitimate non-ethical consideration, but that didn't reasonably apply to Hiltzik's situation, since he posted his opinions under his true name. Hiltzik has received not only the censure and the loss of credibility he deserved for cheerleading his own opinions while illegitimately attacking his critics, but the ignominy of being caught dissimulating to do so.

As to whether or not the punishment fits the crime, I am in no position to judge. It largely depends upon how the L.A. Times views unethical public behavior by one of their employees, and how much harm has been done to the reputation of the paper and its stockholders.

Regarding pseudonyms in general, you can find a discussion I had on the topic with an ethics expert at a website called the "Ethics Scoreboard" (note: the simplest of Google searches will take you right there).

Pseudonymity can be ethical as well as unethical. In Hiltzik's case, it wasn't even a close call.

Dana

It seems to me that there is a serious difference in perspective between the bloggers like Mr Frey, who believe that the problem was Mr Hiltzik's "sock-puppetry," but have no problems with his using a pseudonym, and the Times and other journalism sources, which have had no (stated) problems with his praise of himself, but do with his use of pseudonyms. Though I'm a blogger, I took the position, early on, that Mr Hiltzik's problem would be a violation of journalistic ethics, and that he would have to be fired by the Times.

That he was suspended, lost his in-paper column as well as his blog, and will be "reassigned" seems to me to be tantamount to firing: he will have to start from the bottom (or at least near it) again, and his credibility as a journalist (the part that really matters to the Times is seriously compromised. My suspicion is that Mr Hiltzik will be pressured, by his own pride, if not the editors, to resign.

You noted Steve Smith's comment, "Perhaps demonstrating, once and for all, that the LA Times doesn't get the internet or the blogosphere." I'd say that's correct; concomitantly, I'd say that much of the blogosphere doesn't get the newspaper business. With a few exceptions, neither side understands the other very well.

Victor Wong

I do have one question about all this: why on earth Hiltzik would feel it necessary to create pseudonymic personalities in the first place for commentary on his own blog.

John

But it's strange that among all the things we could discuss (a massive challenge to immigration policies; an unfinished, unpopular war; a domestic suspension of various individual liberties; impending environmental crises; oil prices; etc.) this is the one that draws forty-some reader comments. Why is that?

I don't mean to minimize Hiltzik's duplicity, (and it certainly appears to be that). But it seems to me less pressing, less consequential for the world and for me, than almost everything else presented for possible comment in this very interesting section of the Times's website.

Matt Welch

John -- In fairness, there are some 600 comments debating immigration over here....

Patrick Frey (Patterico)

Matt, a couple of observations:

First, your statement that pseudonymous commenters are less likely to be civil is perhaps true more often than not -- but like any generalization, it has exceptions. Other commenters have already observed that one commenter on this thread, apparently posting under his real name, called you and your colleagues idiots and me a moron. He then went to my blog and dropped a stunningly ugly comment, complete with several f-bombs and a wish that I die in a car accident.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of poeple here commenting under pseudonyms and making reasonable points in a calm and respectful manner.

You say that people generally have nothing to fear in having people know their real names. The experience of Michelle Malkin suggests otherwise. I have had people make threats about my job, both on the Golden State blog and, more recently, on my own. The man who made the threat on my blog commented under a semi-pseudonym, but made no real effort to hide his name from me (he is a freelance journalist).

(Incidentally, it's interesting to know all comments are moderated. As for the threats on my job on the Golden State site, I guess Hiltzik allowed those to get past moderation, even as truthful comments about the newspaper's declining circlation didn't see the light of day.)

But there is also support for your theory. A commenter from the L.A. Times calling herself "Masha" and "workingjournalist" (and, incidentally, defending Hiltzik at every turn and commenting on the paper while failing to disclose that she was with the LAT) called me and certain other conservatives "fascists." Would she have done so if forced to use her real name? I don't know.

Finally: if you're moderating comments, you have very little excuse for not allowing hyperlinks, which are, in my view, essential to a fully open discussion.

Kudos to you and the editors for throwing this open to readers for comments.

John

Matt--Yes, I know, and I've been reading that thread for a month with occasional interest and/or dismay. Much of it (unlike the Hiltzik conversation above) isn't very informed or useful analysis. This thread, on the other hand, is mainly dominated by calmer, more thoughtful voices, even when I don't agree with them.

But point taken: I should probably be mixing it up over there, where the shouting is drowning out reason . . .

 
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