Patterico's Pontifications


Glenn Reynolds on Hiltzik’s Sock Puppets: He Agrees With Me!

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Hiltzik — Patterico @ 10:33 pm

I have argued for a couple of weeks now that Michael Hiltzik’s use of pseudonyms as sock puppets was embarrassing and silly, but not something that should get him disciplined by the Los Angeles Times — beyond, perhaps, a temporary suspension of his blog. (See my posts here and here, and the UPDATE below, for more on why I feel this way.)

Guess what? The King of the Blogosphere, Glenn Reynolds, agrees with me.

Glenn was on Howard Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” show on CNN this morning. Glenn discussed the Hiltzik matter at the very end of his appearance. The video is available at Expose the Left, here, and the relevant segment appears at 15:21. I can’t find a transcript, so I created one for your benefit:

Howard Kurtz: Glenn Reynolds, I want to turn now to Michael Hiltzik. He’s the Los Angeles Times columnist and blogger who lost his column and his blog just the other day, over an incident in which he posted, on his own blog and on other people’s blogs, some pretty disparaging language under pseudonyms. He didn’t use his own name; The Times said that this was unacceptable.

Should a blogger for a news organization, as opposed to an independent guy like yourself, be able to post comments anonymously?

Glenn Reynolds: Well, you know, I don’t know. To me, this seems more like a misdemeanor than like a felony. I mean, what he basically did is, he created what is known in the Internet world as “sock puppets,” which were fake IDs in the comments section of his blog and others, and these “sock puppets” would say:

[Holding up hands to imitate sock puppets]

[Right hand:] “Michael Hiltzik’s really smart!”

[Left hand:] “Yes, he is!”

[Laughter from Kurtz]

And, you know, they would take his side in arguments with other commenters and such. And, you know, it’s quite embarrassing for him to have it come out. It’s kinda cheesy, but . . . I guess this is my day to say that people aren’t as bad as the general press coverage of them is, but, you know, it just doesn’t seem like a felony to me. It seems like the tackiness rule should apply.

Kurtz: All right, we’ll leave it there. He also did get suspended for an undetermined period of time.

I think Glenn is exactly right. I have said all along that embarrassment should have been punishment enough for Hiltzik. It’s nice to know someone as level-headed as Glenn agrees.

P.S. This post by one of the principals behind the Independent Sources blog — which started the whole ball rolling on this controversy — is worth reading in its entirety. Highlights:

Bloggers were fine with the pseudonyms, but thought Hiltzik’s greater sin was the sock-puppetry: using those pseudonyms to talk up Hiltzik’s Golden State Blog both on its pages and at other blogs. If Hiltzik was going to post comments on Golden State as Michael Hiltzik — which he did — then it was deceitful to also comment under any other name.

. . . .

Even though bloggers were focused on what they perceived to be a greater sin, few were calling for Hiltzik’s head [citations]. The punishment had already been meted out, virtually instantaneously: post-Patterico, any knowledgeable person reading Hiltzik would henceforth do so with a few extra grains of salt.

This is the most fascinating part of this final chapter in l’affaire Hiltzik. The bloggers who did so much to bring Hiltzik’s deceit to light were far more forgiving than the institution for which he has toiled for over 20 years. The bloggers, it seems, associated Hiltzik’s transgression with Hiltzik himself, not with the LAT. And his punishment would be swift and fair — his devaluation in the marketplace of ideas.

Read it all.

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link. I hope new readers bookmark the main page, blogroll the site, and return daily. You can subscribe via Bloglines, by clicking on this button:

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My original post on Hiltzik’s sock puppetry was here.

I know many will say: but, but . . . Hiltzik was dishonest! I address that argument in the posts linked above, but here’s the argument in a nutshell: gee, someone from the L.A. Times did something dishonest? Stop the presses!

If the paper is going to can everyone who has been intellectually dishonest in their pages, there are a lot of heads that belong on the chopping block before Hiltzik’s — starting with the people responsible for their (non)coverage of Mary McCarthy’s partisanship, and continuing with the issues I document in this post. These instances of bias and distortion are far more significant than Hiltzik’s silly sock puppets.

24 Responses to “Glenn Reynolds on Hiltzik’s Sock Puppets: He Agrees With Me!”

  1. From a blogger’s point of view, maybe. Obviously there is no BLOGGING consequence to any malfeasance… just public ridicule: No firing.

    But the LA Times’ isn’t going to ridicule their writers. That makes no sense. Their standards and rules prescribe certain penalties – for example suspension, firing, reassignment.

    They chose two out of three. Good call.

    Chris from Victoria, BC (5d90a2)

  2. Hiltzik would not be showing any of the magnanimity you are trying to show him. He would be grinding your name into the ground if your places were reversed.

    Carlos's sock puppet (98df3a)

  3. AFTERTHOUGHT: As an anology… Patterico is a prosecutor. Guy does something some people think was major, some people think a harmless lark. Say public nudity – streaking for example.

    Guy is now totally embarrassed. Some people say its punishment enough. And maybe it is.

    But the prosecutor, representing the people, doesn’t have simple humiliation as a punishment… he has laws, rules.

    And these rules outlign a wide variety of possible consequences from probation to jail time.

    So, you proceed and come up with something that seems fair and takes into account the views of those who were deeply offended/harmed and also the fact that not eveyone sees it that way. You compromise.

    Remembering of course this isn’t the person’s first “brush with the law” (it’s an anology).

    So you choose serious consequences of some kind. That’s what happened to Hiltzik.

    Intelligent people may disagree about whether the consequences were justified or inadequate… but the Times’ actions were well within a reasonable range of potential consequences…. and the rules were clearly laid out for Mr. Hiltzik ahead of time and unlike the law, he signed off on them… again, unlike the law, he had a choice: He could have worked someplace else if he felt he couldn’t follow the rules.

    Chris from Victoria, BC (5d90a2)

  4. Hiltzik would not be showing any of the magnanimity you are trying to show him. He would be grinding your name into the ground if your places were reversed.

    He has tried that before, and may try it again.

    Patterico (156eed)

  5. Having now watched Glenn Reynolds video clip at length (which touched on many issues in addition to Hiltzik and was great) a few observations:

    Mr. Reynolds believes all drugs should be legalized and no one should be prosecuted for use or sale of them. Regarding the incident where Diane Sawyer and the NBC PRIMETIME news magazine show videotaped a father jumping into his daughter’s chair and striking her repeatedly, but did not report it to the police (something that outraged the District Attorney in her jurisdiction when he learned of it). He doesn’t see that as a big deal even though he hadn’t seen the tape of the incident.

    In my estimation, he almost seemed flipant.

    So do I take Mr. Reynolds belief at face value that Mr. Hiltzik shouldn’t have been disciplined?


    Chris from Victoria, BC (5d90a2)

  6. Patterico, why should the LA Times want to keep a blogger who keeps losing blog fights?

    To make a strained analogy: Suppose you are a hockey team and your goon keeps getting beaten up by other team’s goons and then does something that makes him a laughingstock in the goon world. I think you would be looking for a new goon.

    James B. Shearer (f9a775)

  7. My God, don’t brag on Reynolds! He does enough of that himself.

    Goombasa (24d0b3)

  8. Mr. Shearer above strikes a chord with me. They guy should be fired because he’s a loser. The sock puppets were a symptom of his lack of online debating skills. The world is filled with good bloggers. Now that providing information and analysis content is nearly a perfect free market, Mr. Hiltzik can be replaced easily.

    That should be the real eye-opener here for the media, not the disciplining of some columnist because he used sock puppets. Globalization has hit the MSM and your marginal value to the organization is minimal.

    As a result, I’d look for declining salaries. The oligopoly that was the MSM hid a lot of weaker talent like Hiltzik. Now that the old model is broken, these people are being revealed for the second-tier pundits that they are.

    (Vanity alert!) I blogged about a similar issue yesterday.

    K T Cat (ce419f)

  9. The fellow who writes the blog L. A. Observed (which gives an overview of the L.A. Times each day) reports an interesting comment from Dean Baquet, Editor of the L.A.T. yesterday. Baquet was appearing at the Los Angeles Book Fair. Baquet said he was thinking about the Enron Ken Lay trial as a very interesting basis of a story for a business columnist–and realized that Hiltzik, his business columnist, could no longer write a credible series about deception.

    So what does an editor[coach} do when he looks to his bench and realizes that one of his players [Hiltzik] just can’t play the game anymore? The answer of course is that you get a new player. That may be especially true when you realize that your player is losing all the blogfights he starts–he may not have been that good a player from the day he stepped on the team.

    Mike Myers (3a4363)

  10. I think his firing is a sensible business move, regardless of sympathy. He is, and forever will be, seriously damaged goods, because what he did is correctly perceived as pathetic and wierd.

    Rick (04f1e7)

  11. Weird. I meant weird

    Rick (04f1e7)

  12. Plz, don’t call Greenwald the “King of Blogland” or whatever. As Goombasa says.

    Instead call him the Emperor and mention that he’s no clothes on.

    About Hiltzik, there is a difference between anonymity and deception. Anonymity is not malicious deception. Sock puppetry (if that comic-book term is used) is a deceptive use of anonymity.

    JJ (e77a84)

  13. Patterico, you did some excellent work here. But the fact that it’s you who exposed Hiltzik’s sock-puppetry doesn’t mean that your opinion on what should be done about it has any more weight than anyone else’s opinion. Once it’s out there, you lose control. I think that after Rather and Jordan, the ‘sphere has a rep among some of being “Digital Assassins” (as the BBC has it), and you’re trying not to contribute to that. And I agree with that motivation, assuming you hold it.

    But it really is up to the LAT, and I don’t see that they had much of a choice. Imagine if you were part of a group blog and one of its members were exposed in this way. Could the blog continue with the puppeteer continuing to contribute? Sure, but not without losing some of its credibility. The LAT had to let him go (which seems to be what they did, “future assignments” notwithstanding).

    Brian O'Connell (69c9fc)

  14. This whole affair is a bit like an incident with in Canada a year or two ago. For some reason the anonymity of reviews got turned off so everyone could see the real ID of reviewers. Apparently, there was a scandal as many reviews turned out to be from “sock puppets”. John Lott got caught posting pseudonym reviews on his own books, although I understand many were replies to nasty reviews that are typical of lefty non-readers. Hiltzik is disgraced enough although I doubt it will improve his disposition.

    Mike K (25eab7)

  15. I think Brian O’Connell has it exactly right. Patrick, who knows, the LAT just may be grateful to you. They sure suspended the blog quickly, and then him. He has a very mean arrogance about him. What a comedown. I almost feel sorry for him.

    Maggie45 (b4f630)

  16. Some very excellent comments, from everyone. I especially agree with Rick’s (#11) “damaged goods”. The doctrine of unintended consequences was in full stride in this case. Or maybe, can we say that Mr. Hiltzik’s critics, me unabashedly included, played in a game in which they did not know all the rules? That we played by rules which said that a blogger loses his credibility and the LAT (with the power to say so) that he loses his job?

    BTW: I have been agreeing with you, all along. So why is it that “Glenn Reynolds agrees with me” and not “NK agrees with me”? (Smile) [I respect that you hate smileys] It’s because he’s a professor and I’m not, isn’t it? Well, my mother had a different view. She was horrified at the mention of an academic career. To her a lawyer was a lawyer but a law-professor was just another school-teacher. (Smile again)

    nk (d5dd10)

  17. You cite Glenn Reynolds in support of your position? Reynolds will support anything, just so long as he doesn’t have to establish any principle, abortion, legalized drugs, illegal immigration, and on and on.

    I think you could do better, but it would be hard to do worse.

    And if he’s “king of the blogosphere,” that says an awful lot about the blogosphere.

    MD (71415b)

  18. I think he should have been subjected to harsher punishment. Imagine if this had been done in print. To me this is akin to the imaginary people in the Janet Cooke scandal, only on a much smaller scale. Time and time again journalists have been told you don’t make up imaginary people and pretend they’re real people. Just because this was in online comments instead of print doesn’t make it any less serious. I agree that it wasn’t serious in terms of impact – but impact is not the only way to measure the seriousness of a transgression. When big-time journalists let their egos get in the way of their ethical judgement, they hurt the whole industry and they need to be slapped down – hard.

    Steve Manning (1db351)

  19. what with all the off-topic reynolds attacks?

    Jake (fea0c0)

  20. […] If Michael Hiltzik’s Internet deception didn’t merit firing or significant discipline (and I believe it didn’t), then what kind of Internet deception from a jouralist does? […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Internet Deception That *Should* Get You Fired (421107)

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    jioumpeela (ec1554)

  22. […] and least: Pulitzer-winning sockpuppet Michael Hiltzik, “A more rational view on budget […]

    L.A. Times Multiple Choice: A) Raise Taxes B) Raise Taxes C) Raise Taxes - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine (e625fb)

  23. […] and least: Pulitzer-winning sockpuppet Michael Hiltzik, “A more rational view on budget […]

    L.A. Times Multiple Choice: A) Raise Taxes B) Raise Taxes C) Raise Taxes | Daily Libertarian (6679b9)

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