Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The blogosphere is not for the thin-skinned asshole, Whelan

Ed Whelan, the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (you'll see how that becomes horribly ironic soon) and who is basically a "right-wing judicial attack dog" as Ed Brayton keenly puts it, is one of the more frequent commentors for the National Review. Recently, he decided that Plubius from his Obsidian Wings blog was too mwean to him, and got his revenge in a typical asshole's manner: he outed the anonymous Plubius as John Blevins from the South Texas College of Law, along with sending him kind notes of respect. What a completely uncalled-for and incredibly childish thing to do.

Exposing an Irresponsible Anonymous Blogger [Ed Whelan]

One bane of the Internet is the anonymous blogger who abuses his anonymity to engage in irresponsible attacks. One such blogger who has been biting at my ankles in recent months is the fellow who calls himself “publius” at the Obsidian Wings blog.

In the course of a typically confused post yesterday, publius embraces the idiotic charge (made by “Anonymous Liberal”) that I’m “essentially a legal hitman” who “pores over [a nominee’s] record, finds some trivial fact that, when distorted and taken totally out of context, makes that person look like some sort of extremist.” In other of his posts (including two which I discussed here and here), publius demonstrated such a dismal understanding of the legal matters he opined on—including, for example, not understanding what common law is—that it was apparent to me that he had never studied law.

Well, I’m amused to learn that I was wrong about publius’s lack of legal education. I’ve been reliably informed that publius is in fact the pseudonym of law professor John F. Blevins of the South Texas College of Law. I e-mailed Blevins to ask him to confirm or deny that he is publius, and I copied the e-mail to the separate e-mail address, under the pseudonym “Edward Winkleman,” that publius used to respond to my initial private complaints about his reckless blogging. In response, I received from “Edward Winkleman” an e-mail stating that he is “not commenting on [his] identity” and that he writes under a pseudonym “[f]or a variety of private, family, and professional reasons.” I’m guessing that those reasons include that friends, family members, and his professional colleagues would be surprised by the poor quality and substance of his blogging.

What a sanctimonious asswipe. Really, this sort of pompous, crass "take that!" behavior is something you'd expect to see from kindergartners. 3rd-graders would look down on this sort of trolling.

Apparently, Whelan starts by confusing irresponsibility, with plain old criticism. Yes, Plubius dared to criticize him for some stupid writing (I wasn't interested enough in this pleb to look any deeper into it), which got Mr. Stuffy-Pants-Whelan all high n' mighty and made him decide Plubius was unfit to blog anonymously anymore. So he had a "reliable source" (which makes one wonder which not-all-that-legal brand of thug he hired to find the information out for him) discover Plubius' real identity.

Below is the actual initial eMail sent by Whelan to Plubius, demanding to confirm or deny his actual identity.

Plubius/Blevins could've responded any number of ways. Personally, I would've told him to keep his nose out of others' business lest he wants it broke. Blevins responded in a rather more diplomatic manner, though, which you can see at the bottom of the following picture, where he explained why he blogged under the cover of anonymity to begin with. However, Whelan's response was – shall we say – less than respectful. Typical Whelan, really.

Wow. Did he really call Blevins a coward and an idiot – just for taking a paragraph to explain why he blogs anonymously to begin with?

And as for that delightfully sophomoric phrase, "Now who's the hitman?" – is it also impossible for anyone else not to read that while imagining it said in a 7-year-old's voice? Seems to fit, no?

Stay classy, Whelan.

Plubius wrote up a comprehensive response to this affair, and it pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

As I told Ed (to no avail), I have blogged under a pseudonym largely for private and professional reasons. Professionally, I've heard that pre-tenure blogging (particularly on politics) can cause problems. And before that, I was a lawyer with real clients. I also believe that the classroom should be as nonpolitical as possible - and I don't want conservative students to feel uncomfortable before they take a single class based on my posts. So I don't tell them about this blog. Also, I write and research on telecom policy - and I consider blogging and academic research separate endeavors. This, frankly, is a hobby.

Privately, I don't write under my own name for family reasons. I'm from a conservative Southern family - and there are certain family members who I'd prefer not to know about this blog (thanks Ed). Also, I have family members who are well known in my home state who have had political jobs with Republicans, and I don't want my posts to jeopardize anything for them (thanks again).

All of these things I would have told Ed, if he had asked. Instead, I told him that I have family and professional reasons for not publishing under my own name, and he wrote back and called me an "idiot" and a "coward." (I've posted the email exchange below).

So there you have it - I've been successfully pseudonymous since the Iowa caucuses in 2004. During that time, I've criticized hundreds of people - and been criticized myself by hundreds more. But this has never happened.

Near the end of his reply, he writes this bit that I think just about hits the nail on the head.

And yes - I criticized Whelan rather harshly. But that's what the blogosphere is about. Blogging is not for the thin-skinned. And you would think that someone who spends their days trying to destroy other people's reputations in dishonest and inflammatory ways wouldn't be so childish and thin-skinned.

Extremely well-said, Plubius. In other words: Whelan is a cowardly, oversensitive asshole. Nothing more needs to be said.

It turns out Whelan may have noticed he stepped over the line with his reckless outing of Plubius, as he's since posted an apology (of sorts).

On reflection, I now realize that, completely apart from any debate over our respective rights and completely apart from our competing views on the merits of pseudonymous blogging, I have been uncharitable in my conduct towards the blogger who has used the pseudonym Plubius. Earlier this evening, I sent him an e-mail setting forth my apology for my uncharitable conduct. As I stated in that e-mail, I realize that, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to undo my ill-considered disclosure of his identity. For that reason, I recognize that Plubius may understandably regard my apology as inadequate.

I would. It's too late: you've shown your true colors, Whelan. You've outed yourself as a jackass far more than you've outed Plubius as a blogger.

Anyway, it seems the matter is at rest for now. Plubius has publicly accepted the apology, and so that's all there is to it.

On a final note, Rod Dreher from beliefnet.com, another conservative blogger (though one who's far more intellectually honest and overall behaved than Whelan) comments on the problems of anonymous blogging, and the even worse problems that occur when one's anonymity is overthrown by angry little men.

Now, if [hypothetical person] started a blog under a pseudonym, he could probably get away with it, but if someone who learned his true identity decided to out him, everything he had written would be held against him. Why take that risk? People who blog anonymously have a moral responsibility not to abuse their privilege by making nasty personal attacks against others from behind the mask of anonymity. If you do abuse that, I don't feel sorry for you if you're outed. On the other hand, I think bloggers who out pseudonymous bloggers are, as a general matter, doing us all a grave disservice, by making it harder for people who have interesting things to say but who cannot say them under their own name (for professional or personal reasons) to get their ideas into public conversation. Bottom line: if you are going to out an anonymous blogger, you'd better have a very, very good reason for doing so, because the damage you can do to that person's career, and to the online public square, can be real and irreversible.

Well said. Whelan's reason of "he was mean to me!" is just pathetic – as is his behavior, apparently.


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