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April 29, 2006

This Is Nuts

The LA Times stripped Michael Hiltzik of his column because he posted some anonymous comments on rightwing blogs? He didn't lie, or misrepresent the facts, or buy into spin, or lose his intellectual vibrancy, he just assumed a pseudonym to engage some detractors in their comment sections? And so they killed his column, which was one of the most informative, erudite, and sharply written efforts in the country? And while Hiltzik, with his deep understanding of complex policy matters and his skill for distilling them for laypeople, languishes in the paper's purgatory, Jonah Goldberg and Rosa Brooks will continue tossing up their banal entries week after week?

Something's wrong here.

April 29, 2006 | Permalink

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» L.A. Times Cuts Column After Misrepresentation from Everything Between
The L.A. Times canning of first Michael Hiltziks Golden State blog and eventually his column is the latest development to strike the high-drama, unclearly defined world of newspaper blogging. Last week, L.A. Observed posted that Hiltzik had bee... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 30, 2006 5:14:55 PM

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Tracked on May 1, 2006 8:42:09 PM

Comments

I rarely (almost never, even) disagree with you, Ezra, but on this one I think the LAT had a clear policy (it seems) and Hiltzik didn't observe it.

In my mind, on the LAT times blog and other blogs where he was commenting on his own work, he should have used his name. That should be universal policy for any publication (or blog where the real name was first used to post material). Role switching is really nasty.

I don't know if a LAT reporter or columnist can use an anonymous name on other non-LAT blogs when NOT commenting on LAT material - I think they should be able to. It seems unclear from the letter.

To me, it seems sleazy to comment on your own material using a pseudonym, and easy to see how that could be abused.

My opinion would be changed if their policy was not crystal clear in regard to pseudonyms and blog posting (when commenting on LAT material). Their policy on commenting anonymously on non-LAT blogs regarding non-LAT material should be spelled out, if it is not - and should allow anonymous posts in that case - for then the person is just being another citizen.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 29, 2006 8:23:04 PM

I agree with Jim, above, that commenting on one's own blog under a pseudonym is, at best, inappropriate.

That said, is it a firing offense? Give me a break. Why not use the opportunity to clarify the paper's policies and slap the guy on the wrist?

In a vaccuum, this would not be that big of a deal: The L.A. Times' tough but fair ethical guidelines causes a talented but sloppy writer to lose his column. But this isn't a vaccuum. One cannot help but note that there is a pattern of selective punishment of journalists, both at the LAT, and in journalism generally.

It was just last year that the LAT published an article by John Lott, infamous for his" missing" data and Mary Rosh alter-ego. Now they want to crack down on anonymous postings? I don't think so.

Over the past few years we have seen numerous journalists punished for alleged ethical transgressions...so long as they were also perceived to be left-leaning: Eason Jordan, Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, and Jay Blotcher. I would even throw Harold Raines into the mix, not because he was openly left-leaning, but because he only lost his job as a result of perceived liberalism (i.e. "affirmative action" for Jayson Blair and anti-Augusta National reporting). Pushing for diversity in the NYT newsroom or on the golf course was a career-killer. A decade of Whitewater propaganda? Not so much.

Meanwhile, administration-friendly journalists and columnists have been getting a pass on virtually all their behavior. Sue Schmidt's fictions about Jessica Lynch did not faze the editors at WaPo any more than Judith Miller's propaganda fazed the NYT editors. How many blatantly false columns did William Safire pen? Apparently editorials are no longer guaranteed to be free of willful deceptions.

Bob Woodward shamelessly lied to the public, as well as his own editors, as to his role in the Plame affair. Ditto Tim Russert, who covered the story repeatedly without mentioning his role in the matter.

Bob Novak's leaks unquestionably put America at greater risk by blowing the cover of Plame and Brewster Jennings than Eason Jordan ever did. But guess who still has a job?

And recently WaPo has subjected readers to the wingnut team of Deborah Howell and Jim Brady. Both are still, unfortunately, drawing paychecks. As is the walking conflict-of-interest named Howard Kurtz.

At what point can we call bullshit?

Posted by: space | Apr 29, 2006 10:14:11 PM

in the vein of washington journalism,but a little off-topic... i just watched on c-span live, stephen colbert giving the most courageous monologue at the white house correspondent's dinner...just feet away from the president. it will be replayed again, and though it takes a few moments for his commentary to evolve,i think it is certainly worth seeing....and i also think it took some bravery, instead of the sycophantic and polite speech or tame roasting one often see. my hat is off to stephen colbert.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 29, 2006 11:10:41 PM

Are there any links to the actual posts in question and their contexts? Surely this decision should hinge on whether he really was perpetrating deception or just too lazy to register or log in. It's likely this can be reasonably inferred from the content. Either the LA times made that judgement, or they're too timid to make any such determination and are just practicing zero tolerance.

Posted by: pantomimeHorse | Apr 30, 2006 12:38:48 AM

The issue shouldn't be whether he was posting under a psuedonym, Ezra's right that that's nuts.

The real issue is that Hiltzik had pseudonyms which he used as sock puppets to compliment and defend himself (just like John Lott did.

Posted by: Jacob | Apr 30, 2006 3:20:58 AM

Hmm, posting to one's own blog under a pseudonym! Dear god, what next?

"...Bush administration is exploring a more radical measure to protect information it says is vital to national security: the criminal prosecution of reporters under the espionage laws."

Posted by: A. Cottreau | Apr 30, 2006 3:38:36 AM

Get a clue: The issue isn't that he used a pseudonym, in and of itself. The issue is that he used pseudonyms to comment favorably on his own work, and vice versa (citing his own pseudonymous comments as if they were supportive comments from someone else).

Posted by: Niels Jackson | Apr 30, 2006 10:51:21 AM

The issue is that he used pseudonyms to comment favorably on his own work, and vice versa

Again, I agree that that behavior is inappropriate. But we live in a world where the President of the United States allowed his minions to leak intelligence information to the NYT about Iraq and then cite the NYT in support of invasion. Where was the LAT to condemn those actions and demand Bush or Cheney's resignation?

Using blog comments as a personal sock puppet? Firing offense.
Using the front page of the NYT as a sock puppet for invading a foreign nation? Not so much.

Posted by: space | Apr 30, 2006 11:23:01 AM

If he wanted to say something to people on his own blog, or on blogs of his critics, he should have had the balls to at least do it in his own name. If he was just posting on blogs anonymously that had no direct link to him or his professional life, that is one thing. But here what he did was completely dishonest and he deserved to lose his column and his blog.

Besides, I'm sure some Lefty Betsy will pop out of the woodwork and offer him a new column/blog faster than you can say Jack Robinson, so really what's the big deal?

Posted by: shoelimpy™ | Apr 30, 2006 1:05:32 PM

Unfortunately LA TIMES has turned into two papers. The reporting and quality of the news section is really excellent, often more incisive than the NYT or Wash Post. But the editorial page has languished and floundered recently, ever since the untimely dismissal of Robert Scheer. The inclusion of such talking points parrots as Max Boot and doughy pantload Jonah Goldberg makes the last page of the California section good for nothing but emergency toilet paper. (Oh, I forgot--the weather on the reverse side of that page is at least useful.)

Posted by: Len | Apr 30, 2006 1:52:51 PM

He wasn't fired, he was suspended and will be reassigned. And he did misrepresent his identity.

He was posting using company equipment. His bosses were unable to monitor his posts because (in violation of a clear company rule) he was not posting using his real name. When they found out (after his posts had embarrassed the LA Times) they were (understandably) annoyed and disciplined him. I don't see anything wrong with this picture.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Apr 30, 2006 5:44:25 PM

"He was posting using company equipment."

That's a pathetic excuse. If a paper prints, using its own equipment, Goldberg, Max Boot, VD Hanson and John Lott, they have no respect for their own equipment anyway.

Posted by: Barry | May 1, 2006 4:01:52 PM

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