Michael Hiltzik has a column titled A Chevron PR website pretends to be an objective news source. Hilztik complains that a site called the Richmond Standard is pretending to be something it is not: a community news site. For example, the Richmond Standard site has a piece that describes the “rude, messy, and smelly” people at the People’s Climate March — commentary that sounds like it is coming from the grass roots, but which is actually coming from Chevron. In his column, Hiltzik talks to the PR consultant for Chevron who runs the site, and confronts him about the fact that the site is nothing but, well . . . a sock puppet (you knew that term was coming!) for Chevron:
The site is “transparent” about its sponsorship, he says. That’s true, up to a point: The homepage states that it’s “brought to you by Chevron Richmond. We aim to provide Richmond residents with important information about what’s going on in the community, and to provide a voice for Chevron Richmond on civic issues.” Chevron corporate announcements are sequestered in a section labeled “Chevron Speaks.”
Is that sufficient disclosure? The answer is a resounding “no.”
“The disclosures don’t go very far to show how news can be corrupted,” says Ed Wasserman, a news media ethics expert who is dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
So, to sum up: this is Michael Hiltzik complaining about a sock puppet’s unethical lack of transparency.
Michael Hiltzik — the original sock puppet guy.
I assume most of you remember this, but if not, treat yourself to a stroll down memory lane. Back in 2006, I exposed the fact that Hiltzik was running around leaving nasty comments about me, Hugh Hewitt, Cathy Seipp, and other conservatives, all under assumed names. The details are in this long and joyous post. If you’ve never read it, do so now. My favorite part was when Hiltzik, under his own name, praised comments he had left under an assumed name at my site:
For anyone interested, Specter is getting his head handed to him over at the Patterico blog for trying to sleaze out from under his flat misstatements of fact. And that’s a conservative blog. Follow the link above, and enjoy the carnage.
The person who was supposedly handing Specter’s head to him was a guy named “Mikekoshi” — who, I showed, was Michael Hiltzik himself. So you had Hiltzik praising his own arguments and falsely implying that they were being made by a conservative (“And that’s a conservative blog.”). As a result of this dishonest inanity, Hiltzik lost his business column. As the Associated Press reported in 2006: Los Angeles Times Ends Column of Writer Who Used Pseudonyms.
The Los Angeles Times said Sunday that it was discontinuing the column and blog of a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter because he posted items online using assumed names.
The decision, reported in an editor’s note on The Times’s Web site, came a week after the paper suspended Michael A. Hiltzik’s Golden State blog. It said Mr. Hiltzik would be reassigned after serving a suspension.
Mr. Hiltzik “did not commit any ethical violations in his newspaper column, and an internal inquiry found no inaccurate reporting in his postings in his blog or on the Web,” the editor’s note said. “But employing pseudonyms constitutes deception and violates a central tenet of The Times’s ethics guidelines: Staff members must not misrepresent themselves and must not conceal their affiliation with The Times.”
. . . .
Mr. Hiltzik had been in a blog feud with Patrick Frey, the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, who writes the conservative blog Patterico’s Pontifications. Mr. Frey recently contended that Mr. Hiltzik had been posting messages to his blog and other Web sites under assumed names.
Mr. Frey said he did not object to anonymity on the Web but rather to people using “pseudonyms to pretend to be something or somebody they aren’t.”
At the time, Dean Baquet (now editor of the New York Times) said that Hiltzik had to lose his column because he could no longer write about others’ dishonesty:
Baquet said he wasn’t certain sure how to punish Hiltzik until he read about Ken Lay’s trial last week and thought how the Enron saga would make great fodder for a business columnist. He realized then, Baquet said, that his business columnist—Hiltzik—could no longer write credibly about duplicity in the business world. There’s no place, he said, for dishonesty under the Times banner.
Well, sure there is, Dean Baquet. There’s all kinds of room for it! And nothing says so better than the utter gall of Michael Hiltzik criticizing business owners for using sock puppets.
Thanks to Robert C.J. Parry on Twitter.