Name That Blogger

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 9, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Name That Blogger


Byline: Victor Morton, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Name that blogger

A lengthy quarrel between publius, a pseudonymous liberal lawyer who blogs at Obsidian Wings (http://obsidianwings.blogs .com/) and Ed Whelan of the National Review blog Bench Memos (http://bench.nationalreview.com/) over the Sonia Sotomayor nomination turned particularly nasty at week's end, with Mr. Whelan outing his liberal antagonist and prompting a widespread Internet debate about netiquette, the ethics of outing and anonymous blogging.

Mr. Whelan explained his reasoning as "[in] the course of a typically confused post yesterday, Publius embraces the idiotic charge ... 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' "

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.

In a post titled Stay Classy Ed Whelan, Publius confirmed his identity and said he 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. Mr. Blevins also cited his identity as a teacher, potential disapproval by a conservative family, and the chance their professional lives might suffer by association.

Seemingly every lawyer with a blog then weighed in. The liberal sites were predictably critical of Mr. Whelan, but there was a real split among conservative-leaning sites.

Law professor Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit (http://pajamasmedia.com/instapundit/) said he had sympathy for a professional need for pseudonyms, but if you appoint yourself someone's anonymous blogging nemesis, you can probably expect to be outed. But Steve Dillard of Southern Appeal (http://www. southernappeal.org/) took the opposite tack, calling it poor form and calling on Mr. Whelan to apologize because this kind of disproportionate response to harsh criticism is, quite frankly, beneath him.

Jonathan Adler, a formerly anonymous blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy (www.volokh.com), agreed and defended the general practice.

In my view - and I'm hardly a disinterested party, given my own history - pseudonymous blogging can enrich the academic and policy blogosphere. While it enables some to hurl reckless charges and gross epithets, it also facilitates the engagement of more individuals in on-line discussion and debate. There are many understandable reasons why intelligent and knowledgeable people in various fields are reluctant to blog under their own name.

A Sunday afternoon post at Hot Air (www.hotair.com), which included a poll on When is it OK to 'out' anonymous bloggers?, had more than 640 comments within just 24 hours. Of more than 5,600 votes as of 1 p.m. Monday, the most popular of the five responses was When they commit a crime, slander/libel, or out someone else, with 53 percent.

Gaffe game

Speaking of Hot Air polls, the latest Obamateurism of the week poll has these choices, all linked at the site. These are the contenders for the biggest gaffe made by President Obama the previous week:

* Urban legends about hackers blacking out major cities

* Democracy cannot be hoisted on countries.

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