I have argued for a couple of weeks now that Michael Hiltzik’s use of pseudonyms as sock puppets was embarrassing and silly, but not something that should get him disciplined by the Los Angeles Times — beyond, perhaps, a temporary suspension of his blog. (See my posts here and here, and the UPDATE below, for more on why I feel this way.)
Guess what? The King of the Blogosphere, Glenn Reynolds, agrees with me.
Glenn was on Howard Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” show on CNN this morning. Glenn discussed the Hiltzik matter at the very end of his appearance. The video is available at Expose the Left, here, and the relevant segment appears at 15:21. I can’t find a transcript, so I created one for your benefit:
Howard Kurtz: Glenn Reynolds, I want to turn now to Michael Hiltzik. He’s the Los Angeles Times columnist and blogger who lost his column and his blog just the other day, over an incident in which he posted, on his own blog and on other people’s blogs, some pretty disparaging language under pseudonyms. He didn’t use his own name; The Times said that this was unacceptable.
Should a blogger for a news organization, as opposed to an independent guy like yourself, be able to post comments anonymously?
Glenn Reynolds: Well, you know, I don’t know. To me, this seems more like a misdemeanor than like a felony. I mean, what he basically did is, he created what is known in the Internet world as “sock puppets,” which were fake IDs in the comments section of his blog and others, and these “sock puppets” would say:
[Holding up hands to imitate sock puppets]
[Right hand:] “Michael Hiltzik’s really smart!”
[Left hand:] “Yes, he is!”
[Laughter from Kurtz]
And, you know, they would take his side in arguments with other commenters and such. And, you know, it’s quite embarrassing for him to have it come out. It’s kinda cheesy, but . . . I guess this is my day to say that people aren’t as bad as the general press coverage of them is, but, you know, it just doesn’t seem like a felony to me. It seems like the tackiness rule should apply.
Kurtz: All right, we’ll leave it there. He also did get suspended for an undetermined period of time.
I think Glenn is exactly right. I have said all along that embarrassment should have been punishment enough for Hiltzik. It’s nice to know someone as level-headed as Glenn agrees.
P.S. This post by one of the principals behind the Independent Sources blog — which started the whole ball rolling on this controversy — is worth reading in its entirety. Highlights:
Bloggers were fine with the pseudonyms, but thought Hiltzik’s greater sin was the sock-puppetry: using those pseudonyms to talk up Hiltzik’s Golden State Blog both on its pages and at other blogs. If Hiltzik was going to post comments on Golden State as Michael Hiltzik — which he did — then it was deceitful to also comment under any other name.
. . . .
Even though bloggers were focused on what they perceived to be a greater sin, few were calling for Hiltzik’s head [citations]. The punishment had already been meted out, virtually instantaneously: post-Patterico, any knowledgeable person reading Hiltzik would henceforth do so with a few extra grains of salt.
This is the most fascinating part of this final chapter in l’affaire Hiltzik. The bloggers who did so much to bring Hiltzik’s deceit to light were far more forgiving than the institution for which he has toiled for over 20 years. The bloggers, it seems, associated Hiltzik’s transgression with Hiltzik himself, not with the LAT. And his punishment would be swift and fair — his devaluation in the marketplace of ideas.
Read it all.
My original post on Hiltzik’s sock puppetry was here.
I know many will say: but, but . . . Hiltzik was dishonest! I address that argument in the posts linked above, but here’s the argument in a nutshell: gee, someone from the L.A. Times did something dishonest? Stop the presses!
If the paper is going to can everyone who has been intellectually dishonest in their pages, there are a lot of heads that belong on the chopping block before Hiltzik’s — starting with the people responsible for their (non)coverage of Mary McCarthy’s partisanship, and continuing with the issues I document in this post. These instances of bias and distortion are far more significant than Hiltzik’s silly sock puppets.