Interesting. It turns out that “Masha,” who posted a couple of comments today from an L.A. Times computer, is not a new commenter. She posted some comments in December accusing me and the Power Line guys of being “fascists.” Now that we know she’s associated with the Los Angeles Times, let’s take a little trip down memory lane, and revisit some of Masha’s old comments.
This is rich. Commenter “Masha” says (all emphasis mine):
The LA Times presents far more news, far more fairly, and with far more use to the public than anything this blog ever has published. I never see anything on your blog about, say, what happened at my last city council meeting, or school board meeting. You never report in any useful fashion on local crime, or state legislation. You say nothing useful or intelligent about economic policy. You add nothing to the debate about social policy. You could be serving a public purpose, but instead you focus on narrowing my choices of information by trying to persuade me that people like you should be trusted to inform me. Please. (And this, by the way, goes double for Hugh Hewitt et al). If it were up to you, I’d know nothing but your idiotic propaganda. You’re all worse than Pravda. Hiltzik, Schmiltzik. All this incident shows is that blogging tempts people to overstatement and dishonest behavior. At least The Times chooses to do something about it. Not like you.
The bloggers made him do it!
Read that comment again, with its ringing praise of the L.A. Times, and its silly caricature of bloggers as “worse than Pravda,” spewing “idiotic propaganda.” Doesn’t it sound just like something that someone from the L.A. Times would say?
And the punchline is, as you have no doubt already guessed: it is.
The comment was posted from IP address 188.8.131.52, which comes back to The Tribune Company, The Times‘s parent company. More specifically, it is an L.A. Times IP address, one that is “registered to lye1.latimes.com and is shared by multiple users.”
(You did realize I could check that — didn’t you, Masha? Have you paid no attention to this scandal at all?)
What Masha has done here is to defend the L.A. Times without telling us that she works for the L.A. Times. That’s a little weaselly, Masha. But that’s okay: most of the commenters suspected you were a Times person anyway.
Let’s hear more from Masha, because she is just so dang entertaining (the emphasis is once again mine):
Hiltzik’s ideas are smart and well put and useful to the public, whether or not you agree with him. His work in the column is vetted by editors. He shouldn’t have dummied up phony reader comments on his own work, but most bloggers do it and he fell prey to that trap. So the LAT’s decision is easy: Take away the blog (which nobody but Hugh Hewitt and Patterico read anyway), keep the column (which is read by lots of people), run only letters that have been verified as being from readers (which I think they do anyway). Yes, it’s true that all a journalist has is his reputation, and now Hiltzik’s is now tarnished. A little. But only because he tried to play by two sets of rules — yours and the LAT’s. There are mortal sins and venial sins. Say what you will about the guy, he doesn’t concoct the information in his columns. Which is more than I can say for most bloggers.
I am especially amused by the assertion that “most bloggers” have dummied up phony reader comments on their own work — and that poor Michael Hiltzik simply “fell prey to that trap.” I’m convinced! Why, all the bloggers go around using sock puppets! How could he have possibly avoided it?
Then there is the assertion that “they” verify that letters are from readers. Doesn’t it seem a little odd that a person commenting from the L.A. Times would use the term “they”? Yes, I know: if “Masha” is not an op-ed page editor, then the term “they” is technically correct. But when people talk about the practices of their own organization, they usually say “we” — unless they’re trying to hide the fact that they work for the organization.
I enjoyed reading the various replies to “Masha,” but enjoyed Xrlq’s best of all:
I’m an idiot who has never read this blog before, yet who nevertheless fancies myself as qualified to comment on it.
Why did the commenters suspect you were from The Times, Masha? I suspect it’s because, with the disappearance of Mikekoshi and Nofanofcablecos, nobody seems to be rising to Hiltzik’s defense — except you. I have yet to see a lefty blogger come to his defense. Lefty blog Shakespeare’s Sister, in a post titled “LA Times blogger suspended for being a douchebag,” says this:
Patterico says this shouldn’t be a firing offense, but I disagree; this wasn’t just some random personal blog of some dude in Nowheresville—it was the employer-sponsored blog of a professional journalist, whose credibility is now zero, which doesn’t just affect him, but his employer and their reputation. Frankly, he should have been shitcanned after he was busted snooping into his colleagues’ email back in 1993.
And in comments at Cathy Seipp’s site, Tim McGarry, who has scarcely a nice thing to say about me, says this:
My overall view of Patrick Frey is negative. I see him as an extreme partisan who cares little about journalism. In this instance, however, he deserves only praise. He was right to disclose his discovery and was completely on target in pointing out why Michael’s deception mattered. Whatever else one can say about him, Patrick’s a very intelligent and determined individual.
Show me the people defending Hiltzik.
I think the only people left who think I’m the bad guy in this scenario are working at The Los Angeles Times — folks like Hiltzik and Masha. And you know what? I doubt any of them are going to say so, but I bet you that even at The Times, Hiltzik and Masha are in the minority on that question.
I don’t think everybody at The Times is like Hiltzik, who once compared me to a Stalinist; or Masha, who says bloggers like me are “worse than Pravda” — or “Biff” (remember him?), the Tribune Company guy who, in January, said this:
Patrick Frey? a deputy district attorney? commenting on the LA Times? and people care what you think because….????
Apparently people care now, Biff. And that includes some of your Los Angeles colleagues down at The Times, not all of whom are high-handed folks like you, Hiltzik, and “Masha.”
UPDATE: It turns out that Masha is not a first-time commenter. She called me and the Power Line bloggers “fascists” in December. More details here.
When I was talking to my friend Marc Danziger (aka “Armed Liberal”) about the post I was planning to do about Michael Hiltzik’s sock puppets, he told me it was going to hit the mainstream press. I told him I didn’t think so. I figured it would cause a nice little blogosphere ripple and die there.
Following Howard Kurtz’s story in this morning’s Washington Post, the story has hit the Reuters and Associated Press news wires. Not surprisingly, the AP story is making its way into numerous publications.
The story is not going away.
Like Kurtz, the reporters who wrote these stories either didn’t know about Hiltzik’s 1990s e-mail snooping scandal, or didn’t consider it relevant (even as they found his Pulitzer prize worthy of mention).
The L.A. Times has not run a story yet, which is no surprise, given that they don’t really know what to say at this point. But the print edition of the paper ran this editors’ note (the same one that currently sits at the top of the now-suspended blog) in a small box on page A2, just above the corrections.
Cathy Seipp says that the paper is investigating Hiltzik’s past writings for evidence of dishonesty. I suppose they have to do that, but I wouldn’t read too much into it.
Hugh Hewitt’s producer called me today to ask if I could be on the show at 3:30 or so. Unfortunately, I couldn’t, due to my day job. Sorry, Hugh. I appreciate the invitation.
Hiltzik has apparently been told he cannot comment. But I’d like to think that he has privately told Times editors that he has learned from the experience. I have no evidence to support this hope, and plenty of evidence to indicate that he is not the type of person who easily admits guilt. This Slate piece by Michael Weiss sums up Hiltzik’s reaction better than the overly “objective” mainstream media reports do. Weiss says:
Defiant and unapologetic to the end, Hiltzik scorns his critics as making his liberal politics the issue, not the cloaked medium through which it was presented.
So it’s unlikely that Hiltzik will simply learn his lesson, admit guilt with contrition, and move on. But that is still my hope.
Many on this blog have said that I am going soft on Hiltzik by saying that I don’t think his actions warrant discipline — certainly not dismissal. I respect your opinions, but I continue to believe that embarrassment is a sufficient punishment. As I said this morning, I believe that far worse sins of intellectual dishonesty have been committed by many at the paper, on many occasions. For us to pretend that Hiltzik’s juvenile antics somehow sully the wonderful reputation of The Times for integrity and truth is to ignore the fact that, on many occasions, the paper’s editors have shown a disdain for the whole truth in their pursuit of an ideological agenda. This intellectual dishonesty has been far more detrimental to the dissemination of the truth to the public than Hiltzik’s silly Internet sock puppets.
I may try to further articulate my thoughts along these lines in coming posts.
I’ve been struggling to figure out just why it is that I think Michael Hiltzik should not be disciplined for creating mutually admiring sock-puppet identities. I think I’ve finally figured it out. It has to do with the type of dishonesty that most bothers me — that is the most dangerous — and its prevalence at the L.A. Times.
When someone creates sock puppets, like Hiltzik did, is it dishonest? Yes, I suppose it is. But is it dangerous? I don’t think so. Goofy? Sure. Easily mocked? You betcha! But dangerous? Nah.
What bothers me more — and what I find far more dangerous — is the kind of dishonesty that Hiltzik employed in his response to me yesterday: blatant intellectual dishonesty. He fundamentally mischaracterized my argument. He was smart enough to know he was doing it.
And he thought he’d get away with it.
Because his colleagues get away with that sort of dishonesty all the time.
This is the kind of dishonesty that I find far more disturbing than sock puppets. It’s intellectual dishonesty — pretending that they don’t see the point, when they damn well do.
It’s the sort of thing that happens when the paper says that President Bush claimed that Iraq was an “imminent threat” in a State of the Union speech, when he didn’t — and then refuses to correct the mistake. Or when they run a fundamentally flawed story about the costs of the death penalty, and then pretend not to understand the flaws (or just ignore you) when you point them out.
I documented dozens of such examples in my year in review 2005 post, and in previous annual reviews of the paper. This sort of dishonesty — blatant intellectual dishonesty — goes on there all the time. And Michael Hiltzik is far from the only person there engaging in it.
If they do something to him, they’re not getting him for his real sins — and they’re pretending they’re not guilty of the same sins.
That pretense would be simply more dishonesty.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has an article on the suspension of Michael Hiltzik’s L.A. Times-sponsored blog:
The Los Angeles Times suspended the blog of one of its top columnists last night, saying he violated the paper’s policy by posting derogatory comments under an assumed name.
The paper said in an online editor’s note that Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize winner who writes the Golden State column, had admitted posting remarks on both his Times blog and on other Web sites under names other than his own. The Times said it is investigating the matter. Editor Dean Baquet declined comment, and Hiltzik said he could not comment.
The deceptive postings grew out of a running feud between Hiltzik and conservative bloggers in Southern California. One is Hugh Hewitt, a radio talk show host and blogger. The other is an assistant Los Angeles district attorney named Patrick Frey, who maintains a blog under the name Patterico’s Pontifications.
For a mainstream media account of the controversy, Kurtz’s story seems fair enough. Kurtz brings out the meat of the story — that Hiltzik’s various sock-puppet identities have praised and defended each other without disclosing that they are all Hiltzik — by quoting from my blog post:
Frey wrote that “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’ . . . is in fact Hiltzik himself.”
Kurtz also quotes Hiltzik’s defense — the ludicrous strawman argument that I was simply upset at Hiltzik for being liberal:
On his Times blog, before the editor’s note appeared, Hiltzik did not deny using the name “Mikekoshi” and seemed to dismiss Frey’s complaint: “This is amusing, because most of the comments posted on his website are anonymous or pseudonymous. . . . Anonymity for commenters is a feature of his blog, as it is of mine. It’s a feature that he can withdraw from his public any time he wishes. He has chosen to do that in one case only, and we might properly ask why. The answer is that he’s ticked off that someone would disagree with him.”
Hiltzik’s Pulitzer prize is mentioned. The fact that he was once disciplined for snooping into his colleagues’ e-mail is not.
The appearance of the story in the Washington Post is another reminder to Times editors that the issue won’t simply go away on its own.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: Hiltzik should simply admit his wrongdoing, show a sincere understanding of why it was wrong, and pledge not to do it again.
There’s still time.