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April 20, 2006
The Difference Between Anonymity And Deception

The Los Angeles Times columnist and blogger Michael Hiltzik has been suspended from his latter role after he admitted posting comments at other blog sites under names other than his own. Hiltzik has used more than one persona to defend himself from criticism at Patterico's Pontifications, the blog that regularly critiques the LA Times and its reporters. Patrick wrote that he suspected Hiltzik of using the varying identities to create an impression of a larger support for his work than truly existed:

In an early post on his L.A. Times-sponsored Golden State blog, Times columnist Michael Hiltzik was criticized by a couple of commenters calling themselves “Chad” and “Booker.” These commenters left juvenile comments mocking Hiltzik for explaining blogs to his readers. A commenter named “Mikekoshi” rose to Hiltzik’s defense, scolding the commenters for criticizing Hiltzik’s column ...

If Mikekoshi sounds a lot like Michael Hiltzik, that’s no coincidence. Because “Mikekoshi” is, in fact, Michael Hiltzik.

Since at least 2004, Hiltzik has left comments on the Internet under an invented pseudonym, at times explicitly pretending to be someone other than Michael Hiltzik. Actually, as we shall see below, the evidence is overwhelming that he has used more than one pseudonym. Hiltzik and his pseudonymous selves have echoed each other’s arguments, praised one another, and mocked each other’s enemies. All the while, Hiltzik’s readers have been unaware that (at a minimum) the acid-tongued “Mikekoshi,” who pops up from time to time at Hiltzik’s favorite blogs (including his own) defending Hiltzik and his newspaper, is in fact Hiltzik himself.

Hiltzik offered this defense in his penultimate posting at the Golden State Blog:

The right-wing blogger Patterico has apparently worked himself into a four-star ragegasm (Tbogg’s inimitable coinage) at the notion of anonymous or pseudonymous postings on his website by me. This is amusing, because most of the comments posted on his website are anonymous or pseudonymous. "Patterico" is itself a pseudonym for an Assistant Los Angeles District Attorney named Patrick Frey. Anonymity for commenters is a feature of his blog, as it is of mine. It’s a feature that he can withdraw from his public any time he wishes. He has chosen to do that in one case only, and we might properly ask why. The answer is that he’s ticked off that someone would disagree with him.

Set alight by my recent post tweaking Hugh Hewitt for his numbskulled method of analyzing newspaper economics and newspaper circulation, two subjects about which Hewitt claims omniscience and knows nothing, Frey evidently pored through the IP addresses of comments on his blog to discover that sometimes I commented under my own name, and sometimes under a pseudonym. ...

He seems to think that pseudonymous posting is deceptive, though he can’t articulate why that should be, given the abundance of pseudonyms and anonymity on his own blog starting with the name on the banner.

Anonymity in itself isn't deceptive, and Patterico would agree. I tried it for a while, but then included my name in e-mails, and so my anonymity didn't last long. Most of us do so just to keep our politics out of our professional lives; it doesn't amount to deception, just caution, as the recent contretemps with Bill Hobbs demonstrated. If Hiltzik wanted to comment anonymously, under one consistent pseudonym, no one would really care.

However -- and this is where Hiltzik gets intellectually dishonest -- he used multiple pseudonyms in order to set up phony interactions between comments that he had written himself. For CQ readers, think if Monkyboy, Vinceman, and Bayam all turned out to be the same person. (They're not, and this is only a hypothetical and no disrespect is intended.) Considering that they often disagree with my posts and other commenters and sometimes reference each other's arguments, it creates a phony concordance when in reality it would be the same person posting over and over again. It's dishonest, and it certainly appears intended for rhetorical intimidation.

Is that a journalistic/blogospheric mortal sin, on par with plagiarism? Of course not. But it does reveal the person to be somewhat dishonest, and also very immature. Who needs to make up imaginary friends on the Internet? It's not a blogofelony, but it's pretty pathetic.

Almost all of my commenters from all sides remain anonymous, and their anonymity is a choice they have made for their own reasons, probably very good ones. Pseudonyms have a long and glorious tradition in literature and journalism, and they provide certain rational benefits to honest people. What Hiltzik did is to abuse that tradition, and for that the Los Angeles Times has rightly suspended him. They should make that permanent and have one of their other columnists take over the site.

UPDATE: Fixed my mispelling of Hiltzik and a bad HTML tag, as well as cleaned up a grammatical error.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 20, 2006 6:47 PM

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