Patterico's Pontifications

4/23/2006

Hiltzik Blog Suspension Makes the Pages of the New York Times

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 10:46 pm

The Hiltzik blog suspension has made the New York Times.

Since it’s the Old Grey Lady, the article must necessarily be better than the previous ones. Right?

Long-time readers are already spitting their beverages onto their screens.

Yeah, it’s the same old nonsense. There is no hint in the article about the actual reason why Hiltzik’s use of pseudonyms rankles: because of the ridiculous sock-puppetry involved. (Say it with me: It’s not the pseudonyms! It’s the sock-puppetry!) Instead, slavishly observing the bland characterization of L.A. Times editors, the NYT describes Hiltzik’s offense as nothing more than posting comments under false names. The concept that Hiltzik used his pseudonyms to praise and defend each other is apparently just beyond the capability of journalists to understand — even at the (supposedly) most prestigious paper in the land.

Along those lines: I haven’t mentioned this until now, but now that it’s in the freaking New York Times: I am a Deputy District Attorney. You hear that? Deputy! Every single article that has come out on this, including the NYT piece, has called me an “assistant Los Angeles district attorney.” That’s gotta come as news to the actual Assistant District Attorneys in our office. There are only three of them, and they are among the five top-ranking supervisors in the entire office of 900+ attorneys.

But have you ever read any article in Big Media, about any topic where you had intimate personal knowledge of the facts, where they didn’t screw up something? Of course you haven’t. I have never met anyone who has.

But hey! guess what? They actually picked up the bit about Hiltzik’s e-mail snooping! So they get at least partial credit.

By the way: no. None of these news organizations has ever called me in connection with this story. The only person I ever heard from was Hugh Hewitt’s producer.

UPDATE 5:25 p.m.: I finally did get a call — one call — from an AP reporter. But I never spoke to him. I explain here.

UPDATE x2: Thanks to Tom Maguire for the link, and for promoting me to Deputy Attorney General (and Supreme Court nominee). Please consider bookmarking the main page and subscribing via Bloglines, by clicking on this button:

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L.A. Times Runs Flawed Op-Ed on Parole Policy

Filed under: Crime,Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 8:34 pm

The L.A. Times runs an op-ed today about parole policy. It is by a visiting professor of law at Stanford, and another Stanford law prof who runs the University’s Criminal Justice Center.

You’d think that, if such distinguished academics were going to pontificate on the topic of, say, how long robbers must be imprisoned in California, they could get such a basic point correct. Alas, you’d be wrong:

Judges in California used to decide which sentences to impose on defendants, and the parole board had near-absolute discretion to decide when inmates were released. This system pleased neither liberals (it was too capricious) nor conservatives (it wasn’t tough enough).

So, in the 1970s, the Legislature adopted determinate sentencing. Judges handed out prison terms according to a fixed formula tied to the crime. For example, a robbery conviction translates into two, three or four years in prison. Inmates no longer have to earn their release because they are automatically freed once their set time is up. Even if a prison offers rehabilitation programs, inmates lack any incentive to enter them because they know when they’re getting out.

There are at least three things wrong in that passage.

First, a standard second-degree robbery conviction (virtually all robberies are second-degree robberies) results in a prison sentence of two, three, or five years — not four. It’s in California Penal Code section 213(a)(2). There is no robbery statute in California that is punishable by two, three, or four years in state prison. (If any of you want the satisfaction of forcing the L.A. Times to issue a correction, just write Jamie Gold at Readers.Rep@latimes.com and tell her this fact. I’m not going to bother, but you’re welcome to do it. Let me know in comments if you do, and we’ll watch for the correction and give you a virtual pat on the back when it appears.)

Second, in most cases, the stated sentence is not the actual sentence served, as the piece seems to imply — because prisoners can earn worktime credits against their sentence. When the authors say that robbery is punishable by two, three, or four (actually five) years in prison, they really mean it’s punishable by that amount minus any credits earned by the inmate. For violent crimes like robbery, their sentences are reduced by a maximum of only fifteen percent — so that, for example, a five-year sentence is actually about four years and three months. But for most crimes, prisoners can earn fifty percent credits while in prison, meaning their actual time served is about half of their stated sentence. This is true for almost any prison commitment for a non-violent offense where the convict has no prior convictions for serious or violent felonies. Your typical drug dealer or car thief serves only half of his sentence.

Third, it is misleading for the authors to say:

Inmates no longer have to earn their release because they are automatically freed once their set time is up. Even if a prison offers rehabilitation programs, inmates lack any incentive to enter them because they know when they’re getting out.

Wrong. Prisoners have a strong incentive to enter such programs. Worktime credits have to be earned — and rehabilitation programs count. California Penal Code section 2933 provides:

It is the intent of the Legislature that persons convicted of a crime and sentenced to the state prison under Section 1170 serve the entire sentence imposed by the court, except for a reduction in the time served in the custody of the Director of Corrections for performance in work, training or education programs established by the Director of Corrections. Worktime credits shall apply for performance in work assignments and performance in elementary, high school, or vocational education programs.

While it’s true that a guy serving four years for dealing crack knows that he will get out in four years even if he does squat, he also knows that he’ll get out in two if he goes with the program. Most people would prefer to get out of prison sooner, so most do what’s necessary to earn their credits. If they want to earn those credits by bettering themselves through work or training programs, the opportunity is there.

I’m not saying the program is perfect. Far from it! The authors are right that our recidivism rate is terrible — basically because people do bad things once on parole, and end up returning to prison again and again, one year at a time. (Parole violations generally result in a maximum incarceration of only one extra year — something else the profs forget to mention.) What can we do to fix this? I’m not sure. Maybe the profs’ prescriptions are right. But they make so many misstatements of fact that I’m a little leery of taking their pronouncements at face value.

UPDATE: Commenter JRM, who is in the same business, writes to say that he thinks prisoners can sit on their rear ends, avoid committing infractions, and earn their credits.

I haven’t worked in the prisons or dealt much with prison officials. My experience with this comes from 1) reading the statute, which seems to require participation, and 2) speaking with the Deputy District Attorney who worked on the habeas petition filed by Rafael Perez, seeking his full worktime credits. It’s a long story. I know from the story that, to earn credits, you have to be in state prison to earn your prison credits — you can’t earn prison credits sitting in County Jail.

But perhaps JRM is right that, in reality and contrary to the express terms of the statute, you can thumb your nose at prison officials, refuse to participate in programs, and still earn your credits. If that is true, then I apologize to the profs on that point. I still wish they knew that robbery was a 2-3-5 offense, but hey? who knows everything? Not them, and not me.

Any prison officials reading this blog who can answer this question?

Hiltzik Dishonesty — of the Type Times Editors Are Likely to Ignore

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 7:25 pm

So Cathy Seipp says that L.A. Times editors are searching Hiltzik’s work for past evidence of dishonesty. Somehow, I’m guessing an example like this one, from Bob Somerby, isn’t going to faze them in the slightest. (Scroll down about halfway down the page.)

Somerby sums up the transgression this way:

Hiltzik put a word in [Matt] Cooper’s mouth—a tangy word Cooper hadn’t used. He then used a few tangy words of his own—words he never quite explained. Our question: What exactly does it mean when a scribe seems to spin up his language this way? It makes us feel that we’re being played—a feeling many readers enjoy.

Dishonest? You bet — in the same way that Hiltzik has been intellectually dishonest in many of his debates with me. But somehow I don’t think that’s what Times editors are looking for. If they find a third pseudonym — if he posted comments somewhere as “Mikeysushi” — well, under The Times‘s odd standards, that could end his career. But “improving” the facts to suit a liberal agenda? Standard operating procedure!

P.S. I enjoyed this line from Somerby:

Hiltzik being a sensible type . . .

Heh. Maybe Somerby doesn’t know what he’s talking about after all . . .

LAT Drops the Ball on the Mary McCarthy Leak Story

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 1:18 pm

The L.A. Times story yesterday on Mary McCarthy, the CIA officer fired for leaking classified information to the press, neglects to mention several important facts — facts that the blogosphere is doing an excellent job of covering, but that Big Media seems to have a heckuva difficult time reporting.

Here is the L.A. Times‘s lede:

The CIA has fired a senior officer for leaking classified information to news organizations, including material for Pulitzer Prize-winning stories in the Washington Post that said the agency maintained a secret network of prison facilities overseas for high-ranking terror suspects.

As far as the average reader knows from reading this article, a nonpartisan CIA whistleblower was fired for disclosing important and substantiated information to a nonpartisan reporter, who received the Pulitzer prize as a result. The only true fact there is the awarding of the Pulitzer. Just about everything else a reader would naturally conclude from the article is 100% wrong.

Why are L.A. Times readers being misled? Because the newspaper isn’t reporting what the blogosphere is reporting.

And what is that? Power Line has a nice summary (h/t Sparkle):

IT’S HARD TO KEEP UP…with the revelations coming out about Dana Priest, the Washington Post reporter who published the “secret prisons” story, and Mary McCarthy, the Democratic Party activist and now-fired CIA bureaucrat who leaked the story to Priest.

Sweetness & Light points out that Dana Priest is married to William Goodfellow, the Executive Director of the the Center for International Policy (CIP). At the top of its web site is CIP’s mission statement: “Promoting a foreign policy based on cooperation, demilitarization and human rights.” It appears that CIP’s idea of “demilitarization and human rights” is best exemplified by Cuba.

Sweetness & Light goes on to hightlight connections among CIP, which operates The Iraq Policy Information Program, Joe Wilson, and Dana Priest. This is not just guilt by association: Priest herself participated in an anti-Iraq war program put on by her husband’s group, CIP, along with Joe Wilson and other even more unsavory characters. (Via The Corner).

Then we have Ms. McCarthy, the CIA leaker, who turns out to be a substantial contributor to the Democratic Party. Andy McCarthy notes that the Washington Post has published a sympat[h]etic portrait of McCarthy–who leaked, remember, to the Post, resulting in a story for which the Post won a Pulitzer Prize–which touts McCarthy as unbiased without ever mentioning that she was a Kerry supporter who has given up to $7,700 a year to Democratic candidates!

So we have a Democratic Party activist violating federal law by leaking classified information to an antiwar activist on the payroll of the Washington Post, which publishes the criminal leak and is awarded a prize by the left-wing Pulitzer committee.

Finally, several bloggers are speculating about the possibility that the whole “secret prisons” story might have been a sting operation by the CIA designed to catch a leaker. I don’t think this can be true, based mos[t]ly on public statements that have been made by intelligence officials, but it is a curious fact that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence for the existence of the secret prisons other than Dana Priest’s story. Can it be that this is one secret the CIA has actually been able to keep, but for the leak?

Go to Power Line’s post for the relevant links. Also see Jeff Goldstein, Ace, Michelle Malkin, Flopping Aces, Tom Maguire, Andrew McCarthy, and Rick Moran.

What’s missing from the L.A. Times story? Basically, all of the above. There is no mention of McCarthy’s connection to the Democratic Party — a connection that, Rick Moran ably argues, shows her to be far, far more than a standard contributor. There is no mention of Dana Priest’s connection to leftist causes through her husband. And there is no mention of the fact that the leaked information about “secret prisons” has not been substantiated, at all. Nobody has found them.

Other than that, it’s a great article.

When is the L.A. Times going to report this stuff? Ever?

P.S. I should make this explicit: much of this information came out yesterday or earlier — yet the paper has diddly on McCarthy today. Not one story.

L.A. Times Characterization of Hiltzik’s Sock Puppetry Misses the Point Completely

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 9:51 am

Say it with me: It’s not the pseudonym! It’s the sock-puppetry!

It strikes me that it’s a very clever thing that the Los Angeles Times has done, defining Michael Hiltzik’s transgression as simply posting comments under a pseudonym. That, of course, is not why he is the laughingstock of much of the blogosphere, as I have made clear many times. Hiltzik is mocked, not for using a pseudonym, but because he used his pseudonyms dishonestly, as “sock puppets” who praised and defended him while pretending not to be him.

But his newspaper’s editors are doing a little pretending, too. They are pretending, as Hiltzik did in his initial defense of his sock-puppetry, that his real offense was simply using a pseudonym online. This definition of the transgression accomplishes several related goals for the newspaper.

It trivializes the offense. What’s the big deal about using a pseudonym?

It allows Hiltzik defenders to argue that his critics are hypocrites. After all, most everyone on the Internet does it. Why, even the guy who caught him does it — his real name is Patrick Frey, yet he calls himself Patterico!

And it allows the paper to maintain the pretense that it abides by standards of honesty and integrity that are greater than those observed by the rabble of the blogosphere. Hiltzik’s defenders claim that his only mistake was to adopt the loose practices of the blogosphere. Newspaper editors claim to be upset because, after all, the L.A. Times is better than that! It would never stoop to the standards of those bloggers!

It’s all a load of horse manure, yet many people are falling for it, large and small. For example, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen was interviewed on Hugh Hewitt’s show. From the transcript:

HH [Hugh Hewitt]: What do you make of Mr. Hiltzik’s behavior?

JR [Jay Rosen]: Well, I think that when you are a writer today online, and you write in your own name, you should do everything in your own name, and creeping around the web under anonymous handles is just bad behavior. It’s bad practice, and you shouldn’t do it. And he got caught.

HH: What should, if any, the punishment be of him?

JR: Oh, well, I don’t really recommend what punishment should be for journalists, but I think it would be very surprising to me if he kept any column, kept his job, kept his space at the L.A. Times. I would be surprised if they kept him on.

HH: Oh, really? You know, Patterico, who revealed it, is urging that he not be disciplined at all beyond the public embarrassment. Do you think the Times has to get rid of him?

JR: Well, the reason I say that, Hugh, is that they said in their announcement on the blog that he had violated Times policy.

HH: Oh, yeah. And have you read their code of ethics?

JR: I have not read this part of it, but they explained that…I would have the same rule, wouldn’t you? You can’t go around with any other name than your own name.

HH: Yes, what they actually said, it was very clever, Jay Rosen. They said his guilt was not revealing himself as a Times reporter when he engaged the public.

Hugh didn’t elaborate at that moment what was clever about it, but he has said it on other occasions. It was indeed clever, for the reasons I have stated.

By the way, Rosen is a blogger himself, with a well-respected blog called PressThink. Jay is left of center, but he is honest, savvy, and knowledgeable about media ethics issues. I actually considered sending Jay my post before publishing it to see what he thought, both about its importance and the way I expressed it. (Ultimately, having alluded to the story in comments on another blog, I felt a time pressure to put the case together quickly, and didn’t get around to it.)

Jay ought to understand the distinction between what Hiltzik did and simply using a pseudonym in a non-dishonest way. But if he does, he didn’t express that understanding in the interview with Hugh. If Jay has been misdirected by the paper’s characterization of Hiltzik’s actions (and I stress the word “if”), then I think a lot of other people will too.

[UPDATE: Jay says in the comments that he understands this perfectly well. My point wasn’t to assert that he didn’t. That’s why I said I stressed the word “if.’ My point was that Jay should know the difference, but said nothing about it in the interview. He says in comments that it’s because he wasn’t asked. I do see that I did imply that Jay “fell for it” in another section of the post. That was sloppy language. Apologies to Jay. — Ed.]

Take this lefty blogger. She quotes from Hiltzik’s dishonest defense, and says:

Later in the same post, Hiltzik notes that 230 of the 259 comments on one of Frey’s posts were pseudonymous. All of this appears to be true, and it’s very common for many people, including people I know, to post pseudonymous comments on this blog.

So why, given the accepted practice of assumed names on blogs, did the Times suspend Hiltzik? It somehow seems wrong and hasty and not in keeping with good journalism for the Times to so quickly shut down an otherwise solid writer’s blog. Plus, do bona fide journalists not have the right that every other writer on the Internet has – to post under a pseudonym?

If they don’t, they should. But they shouldn’t have the right to use those pseudonyms as a chorus of cheering sock puppets.

This critic misses the point as well.

What Hiltzik did — sock-puppetry — is something that no self-respecting blogger would ever do. Every blogger who took the time to read my post instantly “got it” — and knows that the above commenters on the Hiltzik situation are missing the point entirely.

I wonder if that’s what the paper’s editors want. I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that they understand exactly what was wrong about what Hiltzik did. But so far, they have given no indication of this.

I hope that, whatever the final resolution of this matter is, that the editors will issue a statement that shows they understand why Hiltzik’s actions were wrong. It’s not the pseudonym! It’s the sock-puppetry!

Dunphy on “Bums” and Judge Wardlaw

Filed under: Constitutional Law,Court Decisions — Patterico @ 1:10 am

LAPD officer Jack Dunphy has an amusing piece about that Ninth Circuit decision holding that it is cruel and unusual punishment to arrest homeless people for sleeping on the sidewalk, unless you have provided free beds for each and every one. (That decision has my current vote for “Most Likely To Be Overturned by the Supreme Court.”) I’m not sure I subscribe to every last thing he says, but he sure has a way with words:

But if you were to exit the lobby of the New Otani and head south, even for only a block or so, you would experience a different Los Angeles altogether, for if you cross Third Street, especially at night, you will have crossed the River Styx to find yourself immersed in an underworld far beyond your worst imaginings. The sidewalks will be barely if at all passable, for as night descends on the city they are claimed by the homeless — known to those who eschew politically correct euphemisms as “bums” — who erect camping tents and all manner of makeshift dwellings in which to spend the night. But before falling asleep in their tents and their “cardboard condos,” these men (and a few women) will pass their time drinking, smoking crack, shooting heroin, fighting with (and occasionally murdering) each other, and preying on those decent citizens imprudent enough to wander through.

If you were mistakenly to venture into this frothing maelstrom of depravity and somehow escape unharmed, you might walk over to Parker Center and approach the impassive police officer behind the counter in the lobby. “Listen here,” you might say, “what are the police doing about all those besotted bums down the street?” You will find the answer horrifying but somehow unsurprising. “There’s not much we can do,” the cop will say. “They are enjoying the blessings of freedom guaranteed them by the Constitution, as interpreted by the ACLU and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”

The sound you hear is that of James Madison spinning in his grave, for in a case decided last Friday, a panel of the Ninth Circuit created the constitutional right to be a bum.

Dunphy has some choice words about Kim Wardlaw, the judge who wrote the decision:

You could have all the shelters you like on Skid Row, you could even turn the New Otani into one for that matter, but if they all enforced those pesky prohibitions against the various vices there would still be a substantial number of bums out on the streets enjoying a life unconstrained by expectations that they behave themselves.

All of this would surely come as a shock to Judge Wardlaw, who apparently sees herself as a protector of the downtrodden. “All my life I have had a really keen sense of justice and injustice,” she once told the Los Angeles Business Journal. “A large part of that is derived from the fact that my mother was discriminated against in front of me when I was a young child. My father was disowned because he married a Mexican.”

Was it this keen sense of justice and injustice that inspired Bill Clinton to nominate Wardlaw for the Ninth Circuit in 1998? Or was it, as the cynic might suspect, the great heaps of cash she and her husband Bill Wardlaw bestowed on the Clintons? (The Wardlaws were among the Clintons’ guests who enjoyed a stay in the White House’s Lincoln Bedroom.)

I don’t know where Judge Wardlaw lives, but I’m confident there are two commas in the price tag of her home. And I’m just as confident there are no bums sleeping on the sidewalk outside. If there were, how long would it take her to call the police and have them rousted?

Read it all.

I’ve tried to get Dunphy to guest blog here, so far without success. If you all sing his praises in the comments, maybe we can get him on board . . .

It’s All Greek Dutch to Me

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 12:52 am

WebWereld has an article titled LA Times columnist weg na blog-onthulling:

Zaterdag 22 april 2006, 10:43 – De Amerikaanse krant LA Times heeft een blog van een van zijn columnisten offline gehaald. De auteur reageerde en verdedigde zijn schrijven in de commentaren van zijn blog.

Hierbij bediende de columnist zich van meerdere bijnamen. Wat de implicaties zijn voor de toekomst van de auteur, Michael Hiltzik, is nog onbekend. Het reageergedrag van Hilztik, die in 1999 nog de Pullitzer Prize won, is aan het licht gebracht door blogger Patrick Frey. De blogger werd online aangevallen door enkele personen. Frey ging op onderzoek uit en kwam tot de ontdekking dat Hiltzik achter de schuilnamen zat, zo meldt CNet.

Bloggers liggen vaker in de clinch met de traditionele media. Zij vinden dergelijke media vaak arrogant en bevooroordeeld. Eerder deed Hiltzik de beschuldigingen van Frey nog af met de term ‘vermakelijk’.

I’m not exactly sure what any of that means, except that I strongly suspect that “vermakelijk” means “sock-puppet.”

UPDATE: Commenters say my suspicion is wrong. It means “amusing” or “entertaining.”


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