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.

41 Responses to “Suspending the Blog Is Good Enough”

  1. In theory you’re probably right. In practice he hasn’t even acknowledged a mistake, and in fact has become more offensive.

    Time will tell.

    Nofanofnewspapercos (0f6d86)

  2. I hope they fire those sock puppets for destroying the career of this Pulitzer winning journalist. Those bastards set him up, just like Rather.

    Puccinello (0e2175)

  3. Man, after all the fun you’ve had with the LAT, if you ever lose a big case, you know that story’s going page one, above the fold, 85-point banner headline.

    “DOWN PAT: DEFENSE FRIES FREY!”

    Allahpundit (4ba106)

  4. What if this guy has schizoaffective disorder?

    Sue Donnamis (0e2175)

  5. ” ‘TRICK-ED OUT: DEFENSE PROVES ‘RICO NOT SO SUAVE”

    Allahpundit (4ba106)

  6. Hilarious, Allahpundit. Brilliant as always.

    Allahpunditkoshi (4ba106)

  7. Well, if you think that’s funny, Allah (and I agree it is), you should have been around earlier when someone was pretending to be Puce when Treacher was commenting here.

    Dan Collins (0e2175)

  8. Even if it was true that the ethical standards set by MSM are honored more in the breach, that only “works” when no-one is caught. Besides, the “everyone does it” defence is no defence at all. He should be fired for conscious and continual unethical behavior.

    His employer provided him with a blog, which he then abused in all manner imaginable. The blog is not his, but the behaviors are.

    The blog should be closed permanently and he should lose his job. Anything else would be shoddy governance on the part of the newspaper, and would set a dangerous precedent next time any journalist breaches codes of conduct or ethics – any journalist. This is no minor slip-up by a dumb journalist; it’s not a trivial thing – the implications are quite significant.

    Ck (975608)

  9. I cannot and do not agree with you that he should of necessity not be fired.

    The LA Times is two things:

    1.) A business — its goal as such is to make money and its reputation is a valuable asset; when you damage that, you bite the hand that feeds you

    2.) A professional organization with well established standards — ethics violations, which were clearly spelled out in their ethics guidelines, which then form part of his employment contract, are a key part of their moral responsibility to readers; the Times has an interest in protecting that

    Mr. Hiltzik’s transgressions and his disingenous deflection/attack/defense were serious and the LA Times would be right to take it seriously. As was his habit of pruning readers’ comments, which linked to well-sourced information sources that challenged or refuted his positions.

    What decision they make should be a balance of the damage already done to them, their assessment of their reporters ethics and any further damage he may do, and his value in the future.

    I respect your opinion, however, it’s certainly not your place to restrain the LA Times’ hand. They are the injured party more than anyone, except, perhaps, their readers.

    Note: I moved this comment from a previous post because it relates directly to the subject of this one.

    Chris from Victoria, BC (5d90a2)

  10. I respect your opinion, however, it’s certainly not your place to restrain the LA Times’ hand.

    Well, it’s their decision, obviously. All I can do is offer my opinion.

    Patterico (156eed)

  11. Perhaps the LAT will find someone to operate the Golden State blog in a more positive way. It would be nice to see a blogmeister who reaches out to readers instead of screaming at them.

    Try rereading Hiltzik’s “A Blogger’s Manifesto” in light of this debacle.

    http://goldenstateblog.latimes.com/goldenstate/2005/10/a_bloggers_mani.html

    Bradley (e619fc)

  12. Well, if you think that’s funny, Allah (and I agree it is), you should have been around earlier when someone was pretending to be Puce when Treacher was commenting here.

    An obvious fake! (Or… was it?)

    Hiram Reject (f69e1b)

  13. I agree with Patterico that firing Mr. Hiltzik should not be an option. I don’t want to see a repeat like the Bill Hobbs’ case and, even though the situations are distinguishable, the results would be sadly similar if Mr. Hiltzik lost his job. In my opinion, it’s a bad thing for people to lose their jobs because of non-threatening, non-pornographic internet posts, and I think it would also have a chilling effect on the blogosphere. While this is admittedly an overstatement, why should we worry about FCC regulations if the internet is going to self-destruct one blogger at a time?

    However, not everything about this subject is dreary and bleak. The comments here, at Michael Hiltzik’s blog, and elsewhere are among the funniest I have ever read. Laugh out loud funny and a veritable smorgasbord of -sushis and -koshis. Thank you, Patterico.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  14. Patterico,

    This is just so sweet. Such a different attitude than with the whole Ben D. thing.

    No wonder Ace wants to do you.

    😉

    Rightwingsparkle (39dfa1)

  15. I disagree, says the lurker.

    I recall a HUGE deal being made about pro-gun researcher John Lott about what is essentially the same thing. There’s websites dedicated to it. Made the Washington Post, it did.

    Rake the bastard over the coals. Just for the principle of the thing. I disagree with ArmedLiberal (arfcom, yeah?) as well. He won’t “absorb the lesson”. He’ll always view it as an unfair attack on him, personally, by you. People like that don’t learn.

    /Returns to lurking.

    Spade (b89335)

  16. The biggest problem with Hiltzik is his inability to be civil in argument. When you couple a mean spirit with a predilection for arguing with straw men, etc. you wind up up someone who is essentially a very noisy three year old child. Ultimately, even in this permissive age, when the three year old screams his little lungs out, the effective parent removes him from the room–and from polite society. Until someone amends the ADA, it’s still not a crime to fire someone for being a jerk. I don’t doubt that Hiltzik may have done some good work in the past–but lately he seems to have had a track record of questions about his behavior. A jerk’s background will catch up with him or her, and ultimately they are just too expensive to keep in an organization. They cost you in ways you can’t begin to imagine.

    Were I Dean Baquet, Hiltzik would be gone tomorrow.

    Mike Myers (3a4363)

  17. Ultimately, it’s the Times choice based on their Ccriteria. How their readers, competitors, colleagues, and the market sees it is theirs.c

    One thing I feel strongly about though is, from the LA Times point of view, he should be fired from blogging.

    He was a successful columnist, but even before this, an inadequate blogger — so inadequate Hhe had to invent supporters and supress comments that were well-researched and had material to debunk his posts and other work.

    So what the LA Times may want to do, in my humble opinion, is find another liberal (or heaven forbid, a liberal and a conservatist and maybe even a centrist, sports writer, entertainment writer, whatever… the CTV news organization in Canada is exerimenting with pretty much enabling any of their reporters, regardless of views, to blog on their website — with routine professional standards! — and it’s working quite well) blogger who can take a moment to review the LA Times ethics expectations and proceed.

    They’re not unreasonable or hard to understand.

    Why does this have to be any kind of debacle for the LA Times? They can learn from it, cut their losses here, acknowledge errors made, but point to quick action taken, and enhance their Internet reader interaction.

    Can’t they?

    Chris from Victoria, BC (5d90a2)

  18. Good comments all. Just one question….

    If this were a conservative writer who had done this on the Golden State Blog, would he still be employed, or would he be on the street? I think we all know the answer to that one.

    What’s really interesting here is that there is no braying and cackling. Just an honest airing of opinions, civil and straight forward. Could you in your wildest dreams, imagine this type of discussion on Kos or DU?

    Bill M (4f48a9)

  19. Sorry about the random characters… I had issues with the site’s JavaScript and didn’t realize it’d placed them helter skelter! Otherwise, I love the technical functionality of this comment solution. Quite remarkable.

    Ode to have something like it for Blogger™ / Blogspot™.

    Chris from Victoria, BC (5d90a2)

  20. Here here, Bill!

    And YES, I’m really another person, from Canada, with a totally different IP address, and I’m not Bill complimenting Bill.

    Chris from Victoria, BC (5d90a2)

  21. STLLATB (Save the Leftist Los Angeles Times Blogger)

    What to do about Michael Hiltzik?
    I hope that as editors at the Los Angeles Times ponder that question, they are able to isolate Hiltzik’s act from the medium, and not retreat from their (limited) efforts to a create more interactive news organ…

    Independent Sources (dd41d6)

  22. Is there such as thing as being too magnanimous in victory?

    I think the suspension of the blog, perhaps even only temporarily, is punishment enough.

    Like our (Sherlock) Holmesian host, I am not in favor of firing Hiltzik, but I think that his blatant transgression combined with his seriously lame defense of it, means that Hiltzik should never blog for the LA Times again. By all means find another blogger for the paper, just not him. As for the Golden State Blog, to quote Johnny Rotten, “Good riddance to poor rubbish.”

    JVW (d667c9)

  23. Patrick, you seem to miss the central point. People who have the power to propogate their voice to a million homes every day shouldn’t be sort of dishonest, strawman attack individual that Michael Hiltzik have revealed himself to be.

    Let me repeat. Michael Hiltzik has shown himself again and again to be a fundamentally dishonest individual — a fatal character flaw that comes out in his style of “analysis”, e.g. the patented Michale Hiltzik misrepresentation of the point at issue.

    We don’t need this sort of individual in journalism. In fact, we need these sorts OUT of journalism. And most particularly the LA Times needs them out of their newsroom.

    PrestoPundit (fa2820)

  24. Hugh Hewitt nails it:

    You can’t trust Hiltzik, and his deception in this matter is the same as every deception by every reporter who has misled readers who rely on journalists to honestly state their view of the facts and opinions.

    PrestoPundit (fa2820)

  25. Give the blog to Patterico. That’ll be punishment enough for Hiltzik.

    Polybius (e56744)

  26. With increasing research, I must increasingly diverge from your opinion that Michael Hiltzik should not be fired.

    What I’ve just personally learned (new for me although you’ve reported it earlier and I’m sure many of your readers are aware; if not, listen up) is that Mr. Hiltzik ended up recalled back to the Los Angeles bureau of the LA Times from Moscow after he was discovered by the paper in a sting operation to have somehow “obtained” other reporters’ passwords and read their email.

    Think about it… how many “sting operations”, ethical challenges, and public embarrassments does the LAT feel like enduring over this guy?

    His pattern of dishonesty is well established. LA Times gave him a chance and he responded by violating their ethics guidelines and tarnishing their name. Plus ethics guidelines aside, his behaviour was clearly self-serving and so foolish that it was likely to damage his colleagues and news organization.

    It’s their paper; they can do what they want. But if they’re smart, they’ll take this opportunity to jettison a problem and start from scratch.

    Chris from Victoria, BC (5d90a2)

  27. 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 went to bed feeling sort of like this.

    I got up with the full realization of what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot. Have you considered that Patterico? How Hiltzig – and the LATimes – would behave if something happened to you, or you lost a big case, or there was some minor scandal in your office that could be even slightly tied to you by implication?

    RIGHT WING ATTY PATRICK FREY, AN ANONYMOUS BLOGGERTHAT GOES BY THE PSEUDONYM PATTERICO AND IS A FREQUENT CRITIC OF THE TIMES, TODAY DENIED….

    You know it. I know it. They’d toast your ass. And Hiltzig, based on his past behavior and what I’ve read on his blog, would lead the pack with the most viscious distortions and innuendo if not outright lies. They’d drum your ass out of town, and the only thing they’d regret is that they forgot the tar and feathers.

    So what? Well yeah I agree, just because they’d do it doesn’t mean we (you) should. I just think you should keep this in mind when you are feeling sorry for Hiltzig and bad about being the one that outed him.

    Dwilkers (a1687a)

  28. I keep thinking about Maxwell’s discussion about the devolution of journalism. Maybe Hiltzik is just the latest example of “the new journalism.”

    sharon (fecb65)

  29. And a further point please? The sock puppets weren’t the only problem with Hiltzig’s blog. Hiltzig’s blog was trash top to bottm, end to end.

    * He was posting outrageous Ad Hom attacks flat out lying about simple facts like what people were saying, what their posts were about, what the debate was about etc.

    * His posts were littered with poisonous verbage (Patterico’s “lunatic poster’s” etc) while in the same posts he would decry name calling. Utterly clueless.

    * His comments were being filtered. This is a practice almost equally dishonest as the sock puppets. What he was doing was letting comments through that supported him and blocking comments with sharp, well stated and documented counter-points unless they contained some flaw that he could slap down and ridicule easily. Point: the Alexa data is still not posted in the HH thread, although many have attempted to link it.

    I mean, it wasn’t even an interesting nasty lefty MSM blog. It was eye-rolling bullsh*t.

    If Hiltzig came back with no sock puppets but nothing else changed his blog would still be absolutely worthless. It would still be an extreme example of MSM bias, cluelessness and arrogance.

    From the point of view of an organization trying to break into the blogosphere and compete with new media (if that’s what the Times was doing) that blog was the wrong blog in the wrong place at the wrong time – even without the fakery and fraud.

    They need to do a reset.

    Dwilkers (a1687a)

  30. I have three seperate thoughts on the outcome:

    1. Q: Will the LA Times back off from interactivity entirely?

    A: No. At least, not if they’re any good. The “Web 2.0” phenomenon is too big for a respectible business dealing in information not to snap up. So far, we have seen enormous success from places like Newsvine, Slashdot, and Digg in the online journalism realm. Trouble is, they’re online only. Dead tree media companies just haven’t spent enough time researching the effects of community-driven news. But it’s easier to become an expert if the gun is put to your head. As the papers try to find the balance between online and traditional content, they will be forced to promote greater interactivity to increase the profitability of their web offerings, making them supplimental, rather than redundant. Whereas Hiltzik believes in the inevitable condensation of blogging, I would argue more that the incorporation of blogging techniques into existing media models is more of an inevitability simply because the traditional media needs to survive.

    2. Q: Do I think Michael Hiltzik will be fired?

    A: Not really. One of the nice things about keeping a seperate blogging section of a website when you’re a huge corporation is that you can treat it with some sense of standoffishness. They were forced to react to an ethics breach in this case, but they still have the option of saying, “Well, he’s an excellent columnistm he’s just not that good of a (ohwhatwuzthatwordbooger..bonger…) blogger.” They’ll keep him on because of his economic expertise or whateverthecrap he writes about. From emprical evidence alone, I’m sure that whatever readers he had in the Times never really bothered to visit his site faithfully. Keeping him on the printed page while suspending the blog will not make any average Times reader the wiser that there was a scandal.

    3. Q: Should he be fired?

    A: I lean toward yes. Given the near-inevitablilty of reader interactivity, his attitude during the whole mess, and the fact that I just don’t like the guy, I think that the Times doesn’t really need him. And hey, with all of the layoffs in media recently, what’s one more nonproductive firebrand? He’s got a Pulitzer and two ethics violations. He can get a job anywhere. 🙂

    Arch Radish (1e9714)

  31. Magnanimity, patterico, or just a realization that if Hiltzik/mikekoshi/nofanofcablecos didn’t exist, you might just have to invent him?

    Hmm, maybe “invent” is the wrong word.

    TNugent (6128b4)

  32. In my opinion, it’s a bad thing for people to lose their jobs because of non-threatening, non-pornographic internet posts, and I think it would also have a chilling effect on the blogosphere.

    Jayson Blair’s articles weren’t threatening or pornographic, either. Should the NY Times have retained him?

    Xrlq (f2a50e)

  33. According to Cathy Seipp, this isn’t Hiltzik’s first brush with ethical breaches. Please see my blog post for more:

    http://laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com/2006/04/michael-hiltzik-two-strikes-and-youre.html

    How many times does a writer have to engage in deceptive practices before the Times will fire him?

    Sincerely,
    Laura

    Laura (a90377)

  34. XRLQ, after quoting me, related my comment to the Jayson Blair case:

    “In my opinion, it’s a bad thing for people to lose their jobs because of non-threatening, non-pornographic internet posts, and I think it would also have a chilling effect on the blogosphere.

    Jayson Blair’s articles weren’t threatening or pornographic, either. Should the NY Times have retained him?”

    I’m no expert on Jayson Blair but generally it’s my understanding that he fabricated and exaggerated stories published in his name as a reporter for the NY Times. Mr. Blair’s actions were a firing offense and if Mr. Hiltzik did this, he should be fired. I would also understand if the LA Times fired Mr. Hiltzik because of the cumulative effect of the ethical and other incidents raised here.

    But I am not comfortable with firing someone who is dishonest or disingenuous in internet blogs unless it violates an express agreement with the blogger’s employer (and it appears that might be the case with the LA Times and Mr. Hiltzik). Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or I’m personalizing this issue, but I don’t want my boss to fire me because I’m posting comments with which he disagrees. If I’m going to fired for internet comments, it ought to be something a reasonable person would expect to be objectionable like making threats or posting porn.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  35. XRLQ,

    I’m glad you made your point, and it was a good point, regarding Jayson Blair because it allows me to follow up with this:

    One of the beauties of the internet is its anonymity, even if it means sometimes people post dishonestly. How do I know you are XRLQ as oppposed to ACDF? I don’t and I don’t care because one of the best aspects of the internet is that ideas have to stand up for themselves. Sure, I have come to trust Glenn Reynolds, so I do read some sites because I trust them, but in general I’m looking at the quality at the argument and not the reputation or reliability of the person making the argument. Over time, unrealiable bloggers get revealed, but long before that happens you know they can’t be trusted because the quality of their logic is deficient. I am not eager to see the internet lose it’s free-wheeling anonymity simply to deter people like Michael Hiltzik from playing Sybil on the internet.

    DRJ (3c8cd6)

  36. I agree with you, DRJ, and to strengthen the case against Mr. Hiltzik, here is an excerpt from the LA Times Ethics Policy:

    Fabrication of any type is unacceptable. We do not create composite characters. We do not use pseudonyms. We do not exaggerate sourcing (a single source is a “source,” not “sources.”).

    It’s important to realize that Mr. Hiltzik, who has a history of ethical lapses related to honesty, wasn’t posting on any blog, he was posting on the LA Times blog — at latimes.com.

    Chris from Victoria, BC (5d90a2)

  37. lol… to clarify, I agree with post number 34. And I do not think that the LA Times wants its reporters to use LA Times IT assets and distinct branding to go on an anonymous free-for-all on the Internet.

    Enforcing higher, yet well-defined and previously disclosed, standards for LA Times reporters working under their banner is in no way going to deter people who don’t work for the LA Times from posting anonymously.

    To prove this, I am posting anonymously.

    Anonymous (5d90a2)

  38. How do I know you are XRLQ as oppposed to ACDF?

    Because ACDF is pronounced with a long ‘E’ sound.

    McGehee (5664e1)

  39. Patterico, the problem is Hiltzik didn’t just embarrass himself, he embarrassed the paper. That is something employers (understandably) take a dim view of, particularly when it is on company time.

    James B. Shearer (fc887e)

  40. DRJ:

    I’m no expert on Jayson Blair but generally it’s my understanding that he fabricated and exaggerated stories published in his name as a reporter for the NY Times. Mr. Blair’s actions were a firing offense and if Mr. Hiltzik did this, he should be fired.

    I would argue that Hiltzik did indeed do that. He didn’t just post with a pseudonym, he did so to create fictitious personas. The only difference is that Blair lied in a print medium, while Hiltzik did so on a web site. I see no meaningful distinction there. The main thing is that both media were owned by the news sources they worked for. If Hiltzik had pulled the same stunt on his personal blog, that there’d be different.

    How do I know you are XRLQ as oppposed to ACDF?

    You don’t. However, if you see a series of comments under the name Xrlq on Patterico’s Pontifications, a few others on Say Uncle, some blog entries on a web site called xrlq.com, and so forth, you should be able to rely on the fact that they are all from the same person. And if you saw a series of comments by Xrlq, Acdf, Mnxt and Prqx, all arguing on the same side of an issue, you should be able to assume that they were posted by four different people, not by me alone in a lame effort to make my ideas sound four times as popular as they really are.

    Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or I’m personalizing this issue, but I don’t want my boss to fire me because I’m posting comments with which he disagrees. If I’m going to fired for internet comments, it ought to be something a reasonable person would expect to be objectionable like making threats or posting porn.

    If you’re posting on your own personal site, I agree. But if you’re posting on your employer’s site, big difference. If Jayson Blair had confined his creative writing to his own personal blog, he shouldn’t have been fired, either.

    Xrlq (f2a50e)

  41. […] Patterico has said more than once since the story broke that Hiltzik shouldn’t be fired, that suspending his blog is sufficient. For what it’s worth, I agree. See here and here for reasons why. […]

    Hot Air » Blog Archive » Radio Alert: Patterico To Discuss Hiltzik on “Hoist The Black Flag” (d4224a)


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