The issue of journalists using Internet sock puppets has rekindled lately with the suspension of Lee Siegel, a senior editor with the New Republic. Siegel used a sock puppet identity named “sprezzatura” to say things like this about himself:
Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep.
In addition to being suspended, Siegel lost his blog — but wasn’t fired. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same punishment that the L.A. Times meted out to Michael Hiltzik after I caught him using sock puppets on this blog, his L.A. Times blog, and other places around the Internet.
To my knowledge, the New York Times editorial board never commented on Hiltzik’s sock puppetry. But today the editors call Siegel’s punishment “the right call,” saying:
Sock puppetry may be rampant online, but journalists writing for their employer’s Web site have a greater responsibility to be honest than run-of-the-mill posters. Mr. Siegel should not have posted about himself in a way that implied he and the poster were different people, and he should not have denied it. Intentionally deceiving readers is wrong no matter what technology is used to convey the misinformation.
This is a somewhat sterner message than the one sent by the paper’s news article on the suspension. (Oddly, Siegel’s story doesn’t seem to have been covered by the L.A. Times. I wonder why that is?) In its news story, the New York Times minimizes and then minimizes again. It fails to give any of the sock puppet’s silly quotes about Siegel, like:
You’re a fraud, and a liar. And a wincingly pretentious writer. You couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces.
But while there is no room for quotes from the sock puppet, the article has paragraphs to tell us about Sir Walter Scott and Walt Whitman, who apparently both reviewed their own work!
But here’s the thing: when they did, did they sound as silly as Siegel? After all, when Walt Whitman wrote “Song of Myself” (ironic title, eh?) he penned lines like:
Whoever degrades another degrades me,
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.
And the Times quotes one of his self-penned reviews of his own work as saying things like: “An American bard at last!”
Whereas Whitman-as-Siegel would sound more like this:
I’m a huge fan of Walt Whitman, who is, I assure you, not me — but who totally rocks. He writes like a poet is supposed to write. Not like that vapid, pretentious Longfellow. That guy couldn’t even tie Whitman’s shoelaces!