Saturday, June 06, 2009

Um, Yeah; That's Not Cool

Publius at Obsidian Wings:

So there you have it – I’ve been officially outed by Ed Whelan. I would never have done that to my harshest critic in a million years, but oh well.

And to be clear – the proximate cause was that Whelan got mad that I criticized him in a blog post. More specifically, he’s mad that Eugene Volokh made him look rather silly – and he’s lashing out at me for pointing that out, and publishing my name...

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.” (I’ve posted the email exchange below).

Whalen's post is titled "Exposing an Irresponsible Anonymous Blogger":

In the course of a typically confused post yesterday, publius embraces the idiotic charge (made by “Anonymous Liberal”) that I’m “essentially a legal hitman” who “pores over [a nominee’s] record, finds some trivial fact that, when distorted and taken totally out of context, makes that person look like some sort of extremist.” In other of his posts (including two which I discussed here and here), publius demonstrated such a dismal understanding of the legal matters he opined on—including, for example, not understanding what common law is—that it was apparent to me that he had never studied law.

Well, I’m amused to learn that I was wrong about publius’s lack of legal education. 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.

(Edward Winkleman is actually a former member of Publius's group blog, Obsidian Wings.)


California Reader said...

Man, that is skeezy. Disgusting, actually.

Howard said...

Honestly, I have a hard time feeling much sympathy for ole Publius.

He did a fine job articulating why he wants to be anonymous, but not why I (or any reader) should want him to be. Indeed, most of the disadvantages he cites (repercussions at work, family pressures, etc) may likewise be thought of as useful checks and balances that keep people from making irresponsible accusations.

And if he had attacked me by name as a “hit man” while writing anonymously himself, I’d have had even less sympathy.

Words have consequences. Man up, Publius.

P.S. Also: stealing Alexander Hamilton’s handle? That hubris alone may be worth punishing.

Tim said...

Hamiltonian hubris aside, I disagree. First, there are reasons why we call ad hominem arguments a fallacy. If Publius's accusations are irresponsible, then it's up to Whelan (or whomever) to show it. Instead, Whelan just says, "I just exposed this anonymous idiot, but I won't even respond to him."

Second, as Publius points out today, there's a difference between anonymity and pseudonymity. If "Publius" - a reasonably well-known and widely read blogger with an established personality and track record - starts writing dreck, then Publius loses his credibility, then influence, then readership, and has to go back to being plain old John Blevins. It's different from astroturfing or trolling or popping up in an anonymous comment thread and starting a whisper campaign.

This is where there really is a difference between employed professional journalists and amateurs: journalists can (and must) act as journalists in their own names. It would be better if amateurs ALWAYS could write under their own names, but their professions and the politics of writing don't always let them -- and if folks insist on ad hominem attacks or trying to make things difficult for people personally and professionally, who DON'T have the same kind of protections professional journalists - or even professional politicians - have, then pseudonymity is a viable and appealing option. I mean, Hamilton (and Franklin, etc.) did do it for a reason.

It's a tradeoff. Publius was willing to give up everything he could have GAINED by publishing under his own name - for example, the credibility accrued to his profession, education, institution, record of publication - so that he could write freely about topics where legal scholars don't often tread, but where their expertise is often essential. He wanted his arguments and commentary to be judged on their merits. You could say that that's an avoidance of responsibility, but I just don't see it that way.

Howard said...

I agree that pseudonymity is somewhat better than anonymity. I might even be persuaded that it's sufficient for arguments that, as you suggest, can stand or fall based on their own merits alone. (The pseudonymous will always start with far lower iherent credibility with me, but the writer presumably expects and accepts that).

That certainly is not the case when attacking others, calling somebody an intellectual hitman and the like. That practice, from the shelter of namelessness, seems like mere cowardice to me.

Tim said...

There are all sorts of layers of pseudonymity in the bloggy world. For years, I've just been "Tim" on Short Schrift, Snarkmarket, etc. If you were motivated to try to find me (and some folks were), you could put it together. But no Google searches would put this blog together with my name. I gave it up, not least because doing everything "right" for one year on the academic job market, I've gotten convinced that a lot of the advice out there is bunk. Anyways, I just got tired of it.

* Do you always need a full name for full credibility?

* Is "intellectual hitman" that big of an insult? Maybe there's something I'm missing here.