Patterico's Pontifications


Song of Myself: Lee Siegel, Michael Hiltzik, and Rick Ellensburg

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 6:05 am

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!

Jack Shafer thinks Siegel is being suspended for embarrassing his magazine:

Unless there’s more to the story, Siegel isn’t getting spanked for misleading the magazine’s readers or the New Republic brass but for having publicly embarrassed the magazine with his egomaniacal posts. Had the New Republic uncovered his ruse without the public finding out, do you think we’d be witnessing this orgy of punishment and soul-searching?

I think Shafer has a point — and I don’t think sock-puppetry is all that terrible a sin, as I said during the Hiltzik affair. But Shafer misses the point entirely on why sock-puppetry is a sin at all:

Siegel’s role in pseudonymously posting flattering material about himself and criticism of others appears shocking. But practically every Web site with a comments area implicitly sanctions the practice of sniping at foes from a camouflaged position. Few sites, Slate included, make any effort to make users post under their real names. Anonymity appears to be one of the inalienable—if not operational—rights of Internet “citizenship.” It’s my conjecture that posters adopt pseudonymous names precisely so they can express stuff they don’t have to accept responsibility for. It’s the Web.

So, if Siegel is a cretin for concealing his role in the authorship of Web comments, then so are millions of other posters. If Siegel is a cretin for arranging pseudonymous posts that benefit him, then so are hundreds of thousands of other posters.

I’m not saying Siegel is a cretin, although he acted like a buffoon. But his (minor) sin was not pseudonymity, but rather using his pseudonym to praise himself.

Shafer has no evidence that hundreds of thousands of people do that. That’s a ridiculous thing to say.

My educated guess, based on my own experience with anonymous commenters, is that such behavior is very rare on the Web. It’s much more likely that someone will lob insults that he would never dare deliver in person — but praising oneself by name is an act reserved for a silly few.

Speaking of that silly few, what about Rick Ellensburg?

Ellensburg, aka Glenn Greenwald, taught Internet sock-puppeteers an important lesson: if there is no smoking gun, then deny, deny, deny. That’s what Greenwald did, quite implausibly, when Ace of Spades and I showed that it is overwhelmingly likely that he praised himself repeatedly using sock puppets. His rabid fans seemed hardly to notice. And any mention of his sock puppetry has disappeared from his Wikipedia entry. It says this:

Starting in May/June 2006, while busy on his book promotion tour, Greenwald had several guest bloggers posting to his site. “Anonymous Liberal,” Barbara O’Brien and “Hume’s Ghost” each have their own blogs in addition to their posts to Greenwald’s Unclaimed Territory. Some confusion has resulted from this as each of these bloggers has their own focus and viewpoint. Consequently their views have been mistaken for his by some readers.

But has nothing like this:

Starting as early as July 2006, several commenters posted comments praising Greenwald from his IP address. These commenters have names like Ellison, Rick Ellensburg, and Thomas Ellers. The commenters posting from his IP address are similar to Greenwald in personality, writing style, and verbal tics; English competency and usage; and obsessive interest in and knowledge of Greenwald’s posts, Greenwald’s updates, commenters, and enemies. Some confusion has resulted from this, as each of these commenters sounds exactly like Glenn Freaking Greenwald. Consequently, their views have been mistaken for his by some readers.

That’s what denial gets you.

So if you’re one of those “hundreds of thousands” of sock puppets out there, keep that in mind. If you’re caught, deny, and then deny again. Because if you admit it, Jack Shafer might sort of defend you, but the editors of the New York Times might not.

36 Responses to “Song of Myself: Lee Siegel, Michael Hiltzik, and Rick Ellensburg”

  1. Jealous much?

    Glenn Greenwald has had his statements engraved on the door of the Senate, has twelve law degrees, and is author of the New York Times Best Selling Book “How Would A Patriot Edit His Own Wikipedia Page?” His offhand comments to his dog often become front-page stories on most major newspapers in the country. And he has the most-read blogs on the Interent, or indeed the history of civilization, after just 9 days of blogging. I love how all you super-important rightwing bloggers attack me, I mean him, just to get traffic.

    I bid you GOOD DAY, sir.

    Ellers Ellison "Ellsberg" McWilson (f22734)

  2. Well, you can advise denial all you want; ain’t no way I’m going to Egypt to see it.

    Mr. Bingley (3d923f)

  3. #2, may I praise your keen insight and wordly knowledge?

    Bingley Is Great (3d923f)

  4. I heartily concur, #3.

    Pocksuppet (3d923f)

  5. Dear Sir,

    I am, as you must know, *not* Ellers Ellison “Ellsberg” McWilson but rather Ellison Ellers “McWilson” Ellsberg and I must add my own statement to the above.

    It is a clear fact that it was Glenn Greenwald who parted the Red Sea for the jewish Exodus and not Moses. That anybody thinks for a moment that Moses was in any way responsible is due to this excessive unsupported bragging.

    Additionally it was Mr. Greenwald himself who discovered the Polio vaccine and not Mr. Salk.

    Any claims to the contrary must of course be repudiated by all.

    ed (0b5c51)

  6. Shortly after the Greenwald kerfuffle hit its stride, I put together a few snippets of PHP code for WordPress blogs (easily adapted to others) to put a simple “fingerprint” on commenter’s posts, based on a seeded hash of the poster’s IP address. It makes many sockpuppets immediately obvious, but still protects the privacy of legitimate posters.

    Pixy Misa has since incorporated this as an option of various blogs like Ace of Spades. It lets users employ more of an “Army of Davids” approach to outing sockpuppets. (Here’s Pixy’s test thread

    Perhaps if we make this a common feature on blogs, we can discourage the problem and nip it a bit more in the bud.

    VekTor (1828d0)

  7. “Intentionally deceiving readers is wrong no matter what technology is used to convey the misinformation.”

    COME ON!!! The New York Times didn’t REALLY say this, did they? ROTFLMAO!!!



    Carol Johnson (98e93a)

  8. Me, personally, I’ve always felt that the comments posted by a guy named Jim O’Sullivan indicate that he is man of broad intelligence, profound depth of understanding and extraordinarly refined judgment. And, I hear he’s really, really good-looking, too!

    Jim O'Sullivan (d250b7)

  9. In my childhood my family knew a writer pseudonymned Patrick Dennis, who also used the pseudonym “Virginia Rowans.”

    So of course they blurbed each other’s books. We, who were in the know, thought it was funny. A kind of in-joke.

    That’s a venial sin at best. If you liked Virginia, in fact, you liked Virginia, you’d probably like Patrick.

    Here‘s some biographical info.

    Grumpy Old Man (7d4fb2)

  10. Quick question Patterico: have any of Greenwalds puppets posted again on any of the sites that helped blow his cover? Has Greenwald posted on those? If those names disappeared, seems to me that makes his guilt obvious.

    Richard (277e6b)

  11. Can I just say that commenter Joel B., is so totally awesome. Everytime I read his comments I think, wow, that guys like primo genius or something. I mean X, Patterico, they’re smart and all, but really, can they compare, I think not. After all Joel B. has worked with Senators!

    Good DAY to you SIR!

    Bill Peters (d5a883)

  12. Might I point out to you that the tiny snippet of skin removed from Mr. Greenwald when he was circumcised just after birth is larger than your entire adult lower body, and that this bit of excised skin has also been quoted on the floor of the Senate and even by Clarence Darrow during the famous Scopes Mouthwash Trial (in which Glenn was a leading lawyer), and it has more talent than you, and your three most talented (no talent hack) friends? See Glennn’s amazing takedown of Patterico, the excised portion of Patterico’s foreskin and several friends of Patterico combined, if you don’t believe me. I assure you it is authoritative, and I say that as one of the few remaining genuine non-partisan conservatives, an as an influential lawyer and well known published author with a new but very influential blog who has been quoted in the Senate myself. In fact certain tribes in the Gilberts and Marianas Islands have formed cults based on the wisdom that the excised portion of Glenn’s foreskin has uttered from time to time, and they’re doing pretty darn well according to Margaret Meade and other sociologists. Glenn ocasionally emails me snippets of the excised portion of his foreskin’s wisdom so I can attest to its wisdom personally. In contrast to your excised foreskin, which has done nothing with itself, the no-talent hack. Heh, indeed. Heh, indeed.

    GoOD day, SiR!

    Green Glenngrow

    Glennwood Greengrow (89d0b6)

  13. I can’t believe you keep harping on Michael Hiltzik’s alleged transgressions. He is a wonderful human being whereas you are a right-wing operative trying to block the media’s lofty and divine goal of telling one side of the story to get the right party elected to Congress.

    I, too, bid you GOOD DAY, sir. And I, for the record, am most assuredly NOT Michael Hiltzik. However, I am not a fan of cable companies.

    Hichael Miltzik (d17514)

  14. Richard, the sockpuppets only appearances on the internet are those praising the majesty of GiGi. One of the names also belongs to a guy in Arizona who doesn’t seem to have any connection. Aside from that, there is no more and they’ve never been heard from again with the exception of the sort of posts on this thread.

    It’s like they came and went by magic!

    Pablo (efa871)

  15. Snot puppets. They’re invariably snotty, and it snot who you think it is.

    Buddy Larsen (fbb940)

  16. I agree that Shafer misses a point about sock-puppets that matters to some readers like myself and it is not (to me, as a reader) that they claim to be someone they are not but rather that they are pointedly claiming to NOT be someone they actually are — this is much more specific and is a lie that undermines the credibility of their entire communication. When it is revealed, I feel as though I have been lied to (as opposed to reading the general opinions of an anonymous writer or one speaking from a pseudonym). To me, this distinction matters and makes sock-puppeting, in addition to vain, hurtful: it hurts my feelings that someone would purposely lie to me — it’s disrespectful.

    carson_bennett (47ec15)

  17. I’ve heard from reporters of cases where newspapers will have reporters write letters to the editor when the public doesn’t have enough interest and there are “inches” to fill.

    The practice still continues in other new forms.

    Neo (cba5df)

  18. You know, all this ‘sleuthing’ would be rendered moot if the idiots were at least savvy enough to open “internet options” and plug in a freely available proxy. They are either to lazy or stupid to do so. As a long time net forum denizen and vet of countless flamewars, we know that there’s nothing like 4-5 ‘alters’ (which is what we called alternate screennames back in aught aught and the ’90’s) backing you up to seem like you had an army of supporters. To foil Mods, who can usually see IPs on the post itself, you just use a friggin’ proxy.

    That’s one of the results of blogging I guess, where completely tech ignorant people could start making their own webpages. If you are going to be devious, at least be smart about it. USE A PROXY next time you are going to commit fraud.

    Its just that simple.

    docweasel (85bd73)

  19. I am Spartacus!

    Spartacus (certainly not ras) (a646fc)

  20. docweasel,

    The best way for journalists to maintain their “cover” when sock-puppetizing is to use their current/usual i.p. address and to include in their comments a legal disclaimer from their employer. Please stop telling them otherwise.

    The above comment represents the personal opinion of one of our journalists and does not necessarily represent the official view of our organization except when it does.
    — Sincerely, The Editors of the LA Times

    ras (a646fc)

  21. No, I’M Spartacus!

    Techie (6cd00b)

  22. Ellensburg was a fluffer on the Team America set.

    Dan Collins (57d0a9)

  23. But I am Smartacus. Take that, HA!

    The Greek Messenger (a17097)

  24. Is it my imagination, or is this comment section very similar to something we might find on Protein Wisdom? Heck, just add something about spackling plaster, and it’d be JG himself.

    Or maybe actus.

    Dana (1d5902)

  25. Jeff–
    Just make sure that you have your basement checked for strontium.

    Dan Collins (c568a0)

  26. Baby, I’ma want me,
    Baby, I’ma need me,
    I’m the only one I care enough
    To hurt about.
    Maybe I’m teh crazy,
    But I just can’t live without
    My loving and affection
    Soothing my erections
    Like a guiding light I help me though
    My darkest hour . . .
    Lately I’m a praying
    That I’ll always be a-staying
    Beside me . . .

    Dan Collins (c568a0)

  27. VekTor – and yet, we still don’t know who Spurwing Plover is.

    Pixy Misa (90abdc)

  28. I have been proposing that in honor of the late, great Shari Lewis this practice be called “lambchopping” as in: Greenwald got caught lambchopping again. This lambchoppery must stop! That Greenwald guy is a lambchopper.

    Rob Ives (d2c024)

  29. Glenn Greenwald is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful person I know.

    Major Bennet Marko (acb56d)

  30. Did Dan really quote lyrics (with slight alterations) from Bread? 😛

    sharon (dfeb10)

  31. Yeah, Sharon. I’m hoping to plea bargain, though, so mum’s the word.

    Dan Collins (208fbe)

  32. we still don’t know who Spurwing Plover is

    Pixy, I put it to you that that “who” is assuming rather a lot.

    Dan Collins (208fbe)

  33. Exactly! As others mentioned on the test thread, there’s no need for a hash to determine a Spurwing Plover post… it’s already fully self-identifying.

    Like gravity, we don’t have to know exactly what it is and how it works to recognize it when we see it.

    VekTor (1828d0)

  34. […] A proud member of Insty’s Army of Goliaths, Patterico is among those infuriated that Glenn Greenwald is a best-selling author. So, he’s been using his blog to smear Greenwald as a sock puppeteer: Ellensburg, aka Glenn Greenwald, taught Internet sock-puppeteers an important lesson: if there is no smoking gun, then deny, deny, deny. That’s what Greenwald did, quite implausibly, when Ace of Spades and I showed that it is overwhelmingly likely that he praised himself repeatedly using sock puppets. His rabid fans seemed hardly to notice. And any mention of his sock puppetry has disappeared from his Wikipedia entry. […]

    alternative hippopotamus » Blog Archive » Bloggers We Have No Use For: Patterico (26dcca)

  35. […] spurwing plover has been mentioned on this blog as well — ironically enough, in a post about sock puppets titled Song of Myself: Lee Siegel, Michael Hiltzik, and Rick Ellensburg. In that post, a commenter named VekTor suggested that I implement a PHP code that supposedly puts a “fingerprint” on commenters’ posts, to prevent sock puppetry in the comments. Commenter Pixy Misa replied: VekTor – and yet, we still don’t know who Spurwing Plover is. […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Krazy Kagu Outed: He Is Spurwing Plover (421107)

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