Okay, as Dave Barry says, I swear I’m not making this up. I’m just going to tell you the facts and let you make up your mind.
I posted earlier about L.A. Times commenter “Masha,” who today posted two comments supportive of Hiltzik on this blog, using L.A. Times computers. The comments came from two Times IP addresses. One was 126.96.36.199, which is registered to lye1.latimes.com. The other was 188.8.131.52, which is registered to lye2.latimes.com.
In a later post I noted that, in December, Masha had used a single non-L.A. Times IP address to post six comments on this blog, all of which were appended to a post of mine about a December interview that Hugh Hewitt had done with Michael Hiltzik. Masha called me and the Power Line guys “fascists” and otherwise frothed at the mouth against conservatives. The IP address that Masha used to make these comments was a Comcast address, and remained constant across all six comments, which were posted over the course of about 48 hours.
I have used Comcast as a cable provider and I believe that they provide static IP addresses — in other words, IP addresses that don’t change. (When Julian Sanchez busted John Lott for using a sock puppet, the tipoff was that Lott had used the same Comcast IP address as his sock puppet had used.) [UPDATE: See this comment for a quibble with my assumption.]
So I thought: hey, why not plug in that Comcast IP address into my search engine and see who has commented using that IP?
What came up was the six December comments from Masha, and two more comments from someone calling themselves “workingjournalist.” These comments are from January 3 and 4 of this year, and are appended to my 2005 Dog Trainer Year in Review post, in which I criticized a year’s worth of the newspaper’s sins in a single post. The first comment from “workingjournalist” read as follows:
Um, gee, Mr. Patterico, out of curiosity, have you ever covered even one government agency, and translated its actions into useful information for the average voter? I see that you’re very interested in seeing to it that your news agencies aren’t being too nice to Democrats, but I never see coverage in your blog of anything that would help me, as a voter, know whether my elected officials who are paid with my tax dollars, are doing their jobs. Why is that? Do you want good government? Or are you just out to kill what’s left of the only governnment watchdog we have?
and the second says:
Neither you nor this site are truly interested in whether the media or the LAT are biased. If you were, you’d note the many, many articles that, day in and day out, leave readers more informed than they were before. You’re interested in sucking up to power. If you had your way, nothing this administration did would ever be questioned, by the press or anyone else. You believe there is such a thing as a benign dictatorship. Talk about moonbats. Keep it up, and maybe you’ll get the authoritarian regime you deserve.
The e-mail address provided by “workingjournalist” was “firstname.lastname@example.org.” That’s a correct spelling, with the extra “s” and the extra “o.” And what was the e-mail address that Masha used, both in her December comments as well as her comments from today? You already know the answer: email@example.com. Extra “s,” and extra “o.”
Why am I posting about this? Two reasons.
First, I think this helps answer the question of whether loony lefty “Masha” is actually a, well, working journalist at the paper — as opposed to, say, a janitor who got access to someone’s computer. It sure looks like we have a working L.A. Times journalist who called me a fascist on my blog.
That’s okay. Masha thinks I’m a fascist, and Hiltzik has compared me to a Stalinist. I figure I’m somewhere in between, but I’m content to let readers judge for themselves, including Hiltzik and Masha.
My second point is the more significant one, and it goes to the silly way that the L.A. Times is characterizing Hiltzik’s offense.
Here’s the thing. Masha/workingjournalist may have extreme leftist opinions, and she is clearly expressing them using a pseudonym. But unless she is Hiltzik — which I doubt — she is not guilty of the sin that Hiltzik got busted for. She hasn’t used her varying identities to praise and defend each other. “Masha” didn’t talk about how pretty, rich, and powerful “workingjournalist” is. And “workingjournalist” didn’t post a comment saying, “Yeah, Masha’s right! I think you’re a fascist too, Patterico!”
The bottom line is: in my view, Masha/workingjournalist is entitled to express her opinions, whether she is using a pseudonym or not. I really could not care less that this person wants to come on my site and criticize me using a pseudonym. That happens here day in and day out. I’d prefer that she be honest and tell people that she works for the paper she is defending, but it’s not a huge deal. All she is doing is using a pseudonym — and to me, that’s fine.
Hiltzik’s sock puppets, praising and defending each other — that’s a different story entirely. His real offense was using mutually admiring sock puppets and being dishonest and silly.
But the L.A. Times is claiming that Hiltzik’s offense was not identifying himself as a member of the paper. Which, as Hugh Hewitt has pointed out, is a stupid indictment of his behavior — and one that Masha/workingjournalist is apparently guilty of (unless this is all some kind of incredibly clever trap that the newspaper has laid for me today).
So, unless “Masha” is really Hiltzik — and I have no reason to believe that she is — then it now appears that we have another Times journalist employing multiple names, including at least one pseudonym, to comment on blogs. Because “workingjournalist” and “Masha” sure seem to be the same person, and Masha posted from Times computers today. And she has clearly used a pseudonym to comment on a blog, because her fanatical ravings wouldn’t come across too well if she identified herself as a journalist for the paper.
But so what? Is this really what The Times considers a punishable offense? Because if it is, that’s ridiculous. Is there anyone here who wants to see The Times start seizing employees’ computers to find out who Masha/workingjournalist is? Do they want to scare their staffers to the point where they feel like they can never comment on a blog again, because God help them if they misspell their name?
That is the result of enforcing a strict no-tolerance policy against ever using pseudonyms in any context.
I understand why they have the rule. They don’t want reporters calling up people and interviewing them by pretending to be someone other than a reporter. That’s fine.
But their policy has to bend a little to allow employees to comment on blogs using pseudonyms. As long as they’re not silly Hiltzik-style sock puppets, there really should be no problem with this.
Which just makes the point clear: using a pseudonym, by itself, without more, is not a transgression on the Internet, and that is not what Hiltzik should be investigated or punished for. It’s a phony offense. Even if The Times has a policy against it, they need to recognize that companies have lots of policies about lots of things that get violated all the time. Use common sense, Times editors.
Again, his real offense is not the stated one, using a pseudonym, but rather making an idiot of himself by using sock puppets that praise each other.
But I’m not sure whether the paper’s ethics policy covers this clearly.
And this is part of the explanation for why I don’t want Hiltzik fired or disciplined any further. Look, if I had busted a guy for blatant plagiarism, and if the plagiarist got fired, I’d see it as a sad thing for his family — but a completely necessary thing for the newspaper. Because everybody knows that plagiarism is a firing offense.
Hiltzik’s transgression, while dishonest, was dishonesty of the goofy sort. He has to have known that this was wrong — but if it was a firing offense, he may not have known that. Because not everyone agrees that it’s a firing offense. I don’t. Allahpundit(koshi) doesn’t. And some of the rest of you don’t. And that means that Hiltzik may not have seen it that way when he did it.
I just don’t see it as the same thing as plagiarism. And when the offense in question is this odd, and occurs in a setting like the blogosphere that is so alien to newspaper people — I just don’t see the value in seeking to impose the harshest possible sanctions on the guy.
I hope that the episode with Masha helps some readers understand this.
P.S. By the way, the episode gets even weirder than I have described — and this is where I am signing off. I’ll let you do the research and tell me what it means. Take that “firstname.lastname@example.org” e-mail address and plug it into Google. It’ll ask you if you mean “email@example.com” (no extra “o”), so tell it okay — that’s what Masha probably meant to enter, right? That leads you to a search with unexplainable results. (You may have to go to a cached page to find the “princesss” address.) What the hell it all means, I have no idea. I’m not sure I want to know.
Is this a sting? Is someone testing the limits of what I can discover? Am I being baited? Or is this just bizarre?
I don’t know what to make of it. I report, you decide.
P.P.S. Okay, I took down the link in the postscript, even though it was only to Google results. Basically, a cached version of the link appears to show some teenager’s MySpace page, and someone using that firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address leaves a message for the teenager. You just feel like you’re entering the Twilight Zone. Like I say, I don’t know if it’s a coincidence (even with the extra “s”), or what. Anyway, a couple of commenters objected to the link being there, and maybe they’re right, so I took it down. You can just do the Google search yourself, if you really want to.