Patterico's Pontifications

4/20/2006

Suspending the Blog Is Good Enough

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 9:08 pm

I said this in a comment early this morning, in response to someone’s suggestion that Michael Hiltzik’s sock-puppet antics could be a “firing offense”:

The idea of it being a “firing offense” is ludicrous, in my opinion. As I say: the newspaper need not get involved. This is simply a matter of credibility within the blogosphere, nothing more. I think that the only thing necessary is for Hiltzik to simply acknowledge the error in a forthright manner and stop doing it.

Even after his ridiculous defense of himself this morning, I still believe this. And I thought this was worth saying in a post as well as a comment.

I think Hiltzik has conducted himself in a classless manner throughout this affair, right up through his dishonest and insulting defense of himself this morning. And Hugh Hewitt makes a good case that Hiltzik has technically violated the paper’s code of ethics.

But you know what? That code of ethics is a joke. I bet there’s hardly a reporter or columnist at the L.A. Times who has always lived up to it.

I think it’s enough that he’s embarrassed. He doesn’t need to be fired, or even disciplined, in my view. I think the suspension of the blog, perhaps even only temporarily, is punishment enough.

I had hoped all along that he might simply learn a lesson from this. Perhaps naively, I continue to hold out the hope that he will express genuine contrition, show that he understands why this was a problem, and simply pledge not to do it again. I think if he does that, the paper should let it go.

UPDATE: Man, Armed Liberal just nails it here. Let me quote him at length:

I’m human enough to want to crow, but mature enough not to, to be a bit concerned that the damage to Hiltzik’s career will be more serious than would be justified by this, and to be very concerned that the Times will use this as an excuse to step away from the baby steps toward interactivity that it has taken in the last year or so.

As to Hiltzik, I’m not sure what to say, so I’ll say little. He’s at best been ungracious, we disagree about policy pretty significantly, and most important, he’s tone-deaf. From the reviews of his books, he’s a good writer and a smart guy, and I genuinely hope that he’s smart enough to absorb the lesson and come out the other side a better person and a better journalist.

. . . .

Transparency, respect, an interest in a mutually beneficial dialog with one’s audience. That’s the future of mass media.

Arrogance, secrecy, and a death-grip on the megaphone is the past.

The Times will eventually embrace the former; I genuinely hope that future is now. The form of dialog without the substance – a willingness to talk and listen – is, as this episode has shown, not going to get them there.

We, in the blogging community, can encourage them by not crowing, not attacking the Times or Hiltzik, and instead trying to encourage them down the path toward their – and our – future.

Well said.

Hiltzik’s Blog Suspension Should Not End the L.A. Times’s Interactivity with Readers

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 6:19 pm

The top post at Michael Hiltzik’s L.A. Times-sponsored Golden State blog reads as follows:

The Times has suspended Michael Hiltzik’s Golden State blog on latimes.com. Hiltzik admitted Thursday that he posted items on the paper’s website, and on other websites, under names other than his own. That is a violation of The Times ethics policy, which requires editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public. The policy applies to both the print and online editions of the newspaper. The Times is investigating the postings.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On one hand, I was very disappointed when I read Hiltzik’s response to my post exposing his mutually admiring sock puppet identities. I had hoped that he would make a forthright admission of what he had done, show an understanding of why it was wrong, and pledge not to do it again. Instead, he erected and demolished a strawman argument, pretending that my complaint was that he had used a pseudonym to comment on my blog:

[Patterico] seems to think that pseudonymous posting is deceptive, though he can’t articulate why that should be, given the abundance of pseudonyms and anonymity on his own blog starting with the name on the banner. He makes a stab at rationalizing his selective exposure of one out of his scores of pseudonymous commenters by complaining that my comments were “acid-tongued” or “insulting.”

Hiltzik habitually argues against strawmen, but this one was especially brazen and dishonest. I most certainly did not criticize the practice of commenting using a pseudonym. To the contrary, I defended it. What I criticized was the fact that Hiltzik and his pseudonyms praised and defended each other as though they were different people. As I said in my post:

Why does this matter — or does it? After all, I’m obviously not objecting to use of pseudonyms by bloggers and blog commenters. How could I be? I mean, you’re reading a post by someone who calls himself “Patterico.” And, while I made the decision to make my real name public long ago (it’s Patrick Frey), many of my commenters use pseudonyms. So what’s the big deal?

Here’s the thing. I am actually a strong defender of people’s right to comment anonymously, or pseudonymously. I myself was semi-pseudonymous for the first several months of this blog. But I don’t think that commenters should use pseudonyms to pretend to be something or somebody they aren’t.

(Note that I identified myself by name in the post. My name has been public for some time now.)

Although I was quite clear about why I had exposed Hiltzik’s sock puppets, Hiltzik pretended that I had “outed” him because of his liberal politics. He suggested that I was disrespectful of privacy — this coming from someone who was once reassigned because he had snooped into his colleagues’ e-mail. He also took the occasion to suggest that I am a racist — because I oppose illegal immigration.

Fortunately, virtually all of his commenters seem to have understood how dishonest his response was. The second comment to his post sums it up well:

Well, if someone starts leaving comments as “MrStrawMan,” we’ll know who it is.

With a reaction like Hiltzik’s, it’s hard to feel too bad about the blog suspension.

But there is a bigger picture here.

Another part of me is sad to see the blog suspended, even temporarily — not because it is (was?) a great blog (it’s not), but because I am afraid that this may mark the end of The Times‘s experimentation with the Internet for quite some time. And that would be a very bad thing.

I firmly believe that a newspaper should interact with its readers. I published two “Outside the Tent” columns in The Times last year. These were columns that allowed critics of the paper to criticize it, on its own op-ed page. It was a great experiment, although it appears to have died a quiet death.

There is no better way to interact with readers than by using the Internet. And last year, when Michael Kinsley began an experiment with interactive editorials, or “wikitorials,” I supported the effort. When the first one was defaced by pornography, many declared the experiment a failure — but I believed that it had been a success, just because the paper had the guts to undertake it.

In my year-end post reviewing the paper’s performance, I praised the fact that the paper had allowed Hiltzik to start a blog, saying in an update to the post:

[H]ow could I have failed to mention that L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik started a blog of his own, hosted at the paper’s web site? It even has comments — and Hiltzik reads them and responds. I hope to see many more blogs like his.

I didn’t know anything about Michael Hiltzik when I said that, or I wouldn’t have made that comment. I don’t really want to see blogs like his — blogs manned by deceptive sock-puppeteering destroyers of strawman arguments. What I wanted to see was blogs manned by honest reporters and columnists of all political persuasions, who would be willing to engage their reading audience on a personal level.

I still want to see that. But I’m afraid that this incident may have ensured that we won’t see any such blogs on the Times‘s web site for a long time to come.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Times editors realize that their mistake was not the decision to allow a staff writer to operate a blog — it was the choice of Michael Hiltzik as that blogger. I hope that this is not the end of the paper’s experiment in using the Internet to interact with its readers. It is a noble experiment, and I want to see it continue.

P.S. I think suspending the blog is punishment enough. I explain why here. And I have more on the kind of dishonesty that is truly dangerous here.

Three in One: Michael Hiltzik, Mikekoshi, and Nofanofcablecos

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Hiltzik — Patterico @ 12:22 am

Is an L.A. Times columnist leaving comments on the Internet under assumed “sock puppet” identities — identities which he pretends is someone other than himself?

Read on and judge for yourself. As for me, I’ve made up my mind, and the answer is “yes.”

In an early post on his L.A. Times-sponsored Golden State blog, Times columnist Michael Hiltzik was criticized by a couple of commenters calling themselves “Chad” and “Booker.” These commenters left juvenile comments mocking Hiltzik for explaining blogs to his readers. A commenter named “Mikekoshi” rose to Hiltzik’s defense, scolding the commenters for criticizing Hiltzik’s column:

“Mikekoshi” has defended Hiltzik before. For example, in April 2004, L.A. Observed’s Kevin Roderick posted an item about one of Hiltzik’s Golden State columns. In comments to that post, someone named David Poland posted a comment critical of Hiltzik, wondering: “who is whispering in Hiltzik’s ear and what are their motives?” Commenter “Mikekoshi” left a comment ridiculing Poland, asking: “Where has Mr. Poland been the last three years?” In a later comment, Mikekoshi echoed the point made in Hiltzik’s column: that Reuters, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal had fallen for a ploy by Kirk Kerkorian to artificially inflate the value of MGM stock.

“Mikekoshi” has commented on various blogs over the past two or three years, including L.A. Observed, Brad DeLong, Washington Monthly — and most recently, at Hiltzik’s blog, and at my own blog. Mikekoshi and Hiltzik appear to get along quite well. In comments on his blog, Hiltzik has praised Mikekoshi’s arguments. For his part, Mikekoshi has lobbed rude insults at folks known to be disliked by Hiltzik, such as Cathy Seipp, Hugh Hewitt, and myself. Mikekoshi is also a fan of the Los Angeles Times, and often rushes to defend the paper when I attack it in posts on my blog — his comments dripping with venom and inaccuracies alike.

If Mikekoshi sounds a lot like Michael Hiltzik, that’s no coincidence. Because “Mikekoshi” is, in fact, Michael Hiltzik.

Since at least 2004, Hiltzik has left comments on the Internet under an invented pseudonym, at times explicitly pretending to be someone other than Michael Hiltzik. Actually, as we shall see below, the evidence is overwhelming that he has used more than one pseudonym. Hiltzik and his pseudonymous selves have echoed each other’s arguments, praised one another, and mocked each other’s enemies. All the while, Hiltzik’s readers have been unaware that (at a minimum) the acid-tongued “Mikekoshi,” who pops up from time to time at Hiltzik’s favorite blogs (including his own) defending Hiltzik and his newspaper, is in fact Hiltzik himself.

Before I present to you the proof of the charge I have made, let’s get to know Mikekoshi a little better.

Mikekoshi’s comments, like Hiltzik’s, are often . . . sharp-tongued. For example, on L.A. Observed, Mikekoshi described Cathy Seipp as a “tool” and as someone “hampered by her own ignorance.” On my blog, Mikekoshi said this about Hugh Hewitt:

PCD has one thing right: The prospect of having Hugh Hewitt running around loose in public without a muzzle should make any intelligent person nervous.

Mikekoshi has insulted me on my blog, in comments like this:

Congratulations, Patterico, for a new high-water mark in dopey criticism.

and this:

What a buffoonish post this is.

and he has insulted my commenters with comments such as this:

Charles: Spoken like another bloviating illiterate. Congrats for joining the club.

In these and other comments on my blog, Mikekoshi has combined an insulting tone; a poor grasp of facts and logic; a love of strawman arguments; a hatred of conservatives and lawyers in general, and of me and Hugh Hewitt specifically; and an strangely obsessive defensiveness about the L.A. Times.

Sound familiar?

But the weirdest thing about Mikekoshi is the way that he and Hiltzik praise each other, and back each other up — all the while pretending that they are different people. I have already mentioned how Mikekoshi defended one of Hiltzik’s first posts on his L.A. Times blog, and how Mikekoshi argued with a critic of Hiltzik’s on L.A. Observed.

But the admiration doesn’t just flow one way. Hiltzik has also praised Mikekoshi — when Mikekoshi was (in Hiltzik’s estimation) showing up an enemy of Hiltzik’s in an argument.

Back in January, Hiltzik wrote a post on his own Golden State blog slamming me for supposedly misinterpreting an L.A. Times editorial. (I hadn’t.) In the comments to that post, Hiltzik became embroiled in a dispute with a commenter named Specter. (See this comment and scroll down).

A couple of days later, “Mikekoshi” started taking Specter to task in comments on my blog about an unrelated topic. And back on his own blog, Hiltzik praised Mikekoshi for ripping Specter’s credibility to shreds.

The timing of it all is revealing. At 12:54 p.m. on January 30, Hiltzik, commenting as Mikekoshi, left a comment on my site criticizing Specter. The comment ended with this zinger:

What’s that that just whizzed out the door? It’s your credibility, Specter.

At 1:02 p.m., just 8 minutes later, Hiltzik left a comment in his own name in the comments at his own Golden State blog, praising Mikekoshi’s arguments against Specter on my blog:

Specter:
I see that a commenter over at Patterico has ripped your credibility on these 20 issues to shreds.
For the amusement of readers here, the Patterico comments in question start here:
http://patterico.com/2006/01/29/4176/a-challenge-for-the-lefty-commenters-here/#comment-30670

Here is a screenshot:

Further down the thread at his own blog, Hiltzik gloated again in this comment:

For anyone interested, Specter is getting his head handed to him over at the Patterico blog for trying to sleaze out from under his flat misstatements of fact. And that’s a conservative blog. Follow the link above, and enjoy the carnage.

“And that’s a conservative blog.” Why did Hiltzik say that? Here’s why: Hiltzik was arguing that the arguments made against his enemy Specter at my blog were especially credible, because they were being made by some commenter at a conservative blog. Here’s a screenshot:

The thing is, the comments at my blog that Hiltzik praises here weren’t being made by some random commenter at a conservative blog, as Hiltzik seemed to suggest. They were being made by Michael Hiltzik himself. The bizarre part is that Hiltzik was simply praising himself. He used a pseudonym to make arguments against someone he already didn’t like, and then praised the arguments made by himself under that pseudonym.

How do I know this? How can I say that Hiltzik is Mikekoshi? Am I simply surmising based upon the similarity of his verbiage and viewpoints to Hiltzik’s?

No, I’m not. The proof is overwhelming. And it’s surprisingly easy to find — once you know that Hiltzik is Mikekoshi. (If you don’t know that, then you’ll be left in the dark — just like this Hiltzik commenter, who read a comment by Mikekoshi on Hiltzik’s blog, and was fooled into thinking that it had been made by someone other than Hiltzik.)

The simplest way to prove it is through a simple Google search for Hiltzik and Mikekoshi. Among the top results are links to what appears to be an Internet mailing list having something to do with sumo wrestling. The first link is a page with a message responding to a message from Hiltzik. From here you can scroll backward in time to the original message, which bears Hiltzik’s full name, his title as a Los Angeles Times Financial Staff Writer, his work e-mail address, telephone number, and fax.

The message is signed “Mikekoshi.”

Other links from the Google search reinforce this, including a link to the mailing list, with Hiltzik listed as “Mikekoshi”:

and a members list, listing Hiltzik/Mikekoshi as a member:

I could stop right there, but there’s more. It turns out that Mikekoshi also shares the same Adelphia IP address as Michael Hiltzik.

Mikekoshi has, to date, used two different IP addresses in 18 comments on my blog. I will not set out the entire addresses, but one begins with “69″ and one begins with “70.”

Only one other commenter here has ever used the same IP address as Mikekoshi’s IP address beginning with “69″: Michael Hiltzik, who commented here twice using his own name. (Here and here.) Both comments are appended to this post critical of a Hiltzik post.

Here’s the chronology: Mikekoshi posted this comment using the “69″ IP address on January 30 at 5:20 p.m. Michael Hiltzik posted this comment the next day, January 31, at 9:59 p.m., using the same IP address. He posted another comment within the hour. Less than a week later, Mikekoshi posted this comment on February 6 — again using the same IP address.

Hiltzik’s IP address is the same as Mikekoshi’s. Nobody else has commented here using that IP address.

Even the little details point to Hiltzik’s being Mikekoshi. Mikekoshi has commented primarily on sites on Hiltzik’s limited blogroll, including Washington Monthly (where Hiltzik has been a guest poster), Brad DeLong’s blog, and L.A. Observed. Mikekoshi speaks like Hiltzik. He insults the same people Hiltzik doesn’t like. And they both love the L.A. Times.

Is that the end of the story? No . . . the plot thickens further.

The blog Independent Sources reports on a comment left on their site by someone called “Nofanofcablecos.” The comment is appended to this post, and the comment’s opening line displays Hiltzik/Mikekoshi’s usual tact:

Boy, you guys are stupid.

The topic of Nofanofcablecos’s comment ended up being the subject of Michael Hiltzik’s L.A. Times column two days later. After calling the bloggers “stupid,” Nofanofcablecos argued in the comment that wewanttvchoice.com (aka TV4US) is “a front for the phone companies, which are pushing the State Assembly bill to deregulate their own TV service while keeping the cable companies regulated.”

In an amazing coincidence, just two days later, that argument was the thesis of Michael Hiltzik’s Golden State column.

It gets better. The Independent Sources guys say that “Nofanofcablecos” found their site by searching for “Hiltzik” from an L.A. Times computer.

And now, for the coup de grace: “Nofanofcablecos” left a comment on my site recently, on a post of mine that had criticized Hiltzik for misrepresenting the facts about Hugh Hewitt’s blog traffic. Nofanofcablecos supported Hiltzik’s position. And he spoke about Hiltzik in the third person:

The post you linked to doesn’t say it’s one randome day. It says he’s tracked Hewitt over a two-month periuod and the decline has been steady. How do you explain that? Also, wasn’t he just responding to Hewitt’s point that his newspaper’s circulation decline reflected its politics? As a commenter on his site said, turnabout is fair play. If Hewitt claims the newspaper’s losing readers because it’s too liberal, it sure looks like Hewitt’s losing readers because he’s a conservative crackpot.

His IP address wasn’t from the L.A. Times — but guess what? It was the same as Mikekoshi’s other IP address — the one beginning with “70.” No other commenter on my site has ever used that IP address other than Mikekoshi and Nofanofcablecos. And, just to nail it down completely, I have verified that this address is one of two IP addresses used by Nofanofcablecos at Independent Sources (the other one being the L.A. Times address already mentioned).

Hiltzik has apparently denied to another blogger that he is “Nofanofcablecos,” and “Nofanofcablecos” implied in the comment thread linked above that he is not Hiltzik.

Do you believe that?

It’s true that I don’t have screenshots equating “Nofanofcablecos” with “Michael Hiltzik,” like I have with the Mikekoshi sock puppet. But imagine what would have to have happened for “Nofanofcablecos” to be someone else. Someone other than Hiltzik would have to have been searching for the term “Hiltzik” on a Saturday night from an L.A. Times computer. That person would have to have been making the same argument that Hiltzik would make two days later in his column. That person would have to have left another comment from a different computer that just so happens to share an IP address with “Mikekoshi,” who is conclusively shown to be Hiltzik from the above evidence.

I’m not buying it, and you’re not, either. “Nofanofcablecos” is Michael Hiltzik, too.

And he referred to himself in the third person.

Why does this matter — or does it? After all, I’m obviously not objecting to use of pseudonyms by bloggers and blog commenters. How could I be? I mean, you’re reading a post by someone who calls himself “Patterico.” And, while I made the decision to make my real name public long ago (it’s Patrick Frey), many of my commenters use pseudonyms. So what’s the big deal?

Here’s the thing. I am actually a strong defender of people’s right to comment anonymously, or pseudonymously. I myself was semi-pseudonymous for the first several months of this blog. But I don’t think that commenters should use pseudonyms to pretend to be something or somebody they aren’t.

I don’t go around pretending to be someone else. I am accountable for what I say. If I were anonymous commenter “Patterico,” defending the arguments and actions of well-known blogger “Patrick Frey,” I wouldn’t be surprised if people found that fact worth sharing. And as far as I know, my blog commenters are not going around pretending to be people they’re not, commenting on themselves using pseudonyms. If I found out that they were doing that, I’d let ‘em have it.

John Lott has endured much ridicule for posing on the Internet as a person other than himself, and justly so. Is this any different? You be the judge.

The one thing I know for sure is this: This just isn’t the way that bloggers do things.

UPDATE: L.A. Times editors have suspended Hiltzik’s blog. I have mixed feelings about this. I will have more to say about this in a separate post. [FURTHER UPDATE: That post is here.]

Also, I have corrected a typo in the post. Thanks to Jim Treacher “Tim Jreacher” for the heads-up.


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