The Liberal Avenger non-scandal, cont’d

Pandagon co-blogger Ilyka Damen responds to my post on The Liberal Avenger’s now-admitted alteration of a comment on his blog with sophomoric sarcasm, or actually, more like junior high school sarcasm (“I am astonished that such deceit could be countenanced anywhere, let alone on the internet. Goodness gracious! Where’s the integrity?”). To the extent that Damen and her supportive commenters make actual points, they are as follows:

1. Everyone knows that blogmasters have the ability to edit comments, so what’s the big deal.

The big deal is that we trust them not to do so, at least not in a malicious manner, and if that trust is broken, the result (not to sound like a broken record) will be to damage the exchange of ideas in the blogosphere. Newspaper can easily alter a letter to the editor in a way that makes the letter-writer look like a jackass, but we trust them not to do it. (Edits for spelling, grammar, or space are a different matter.) To use an analogy from a different sphere of life: everyone knows that the cook or the waiter at a restaurant has the ability to spit in your food. However, we trust them not to do it. And I would assume that if a cook or a waiter actually got caught spitting in a customer’s food, initially denied it, then admitted it and justified it on the grounds that s/he thought the customer was acting obnoxiously, people would be strongly discouraged from attending said restaurant unless the offending cook/waiter was fired.

Also mentioned in the thread was some bloggers’ practice of inserting their own editorial remarks in comments by their posters — for instance, in response to a point made by the poster. But these editorial remarks are always identified as such; typically, they are bracketed and italicized. There is simply no comparison.

2. There was no harm done because anyone reading the comment would have known that it was edited and that Carlito did not actually casually admit to an incestuous affair with his sister. Liberal Avenger’s prank was no different than commenters on left-wing blogs spoof-posting as “Ann Althouse.”

Yes, I assume any sane reader would have known that Carlito’s tale of sibling sex was not true, but they could have easily thought that Carlito was a troll making an extremely tacky joke, or (since the incest story was supposedly meant to demonstrate why abortion is sometimes necessary) ridiculing his pro-choice opponents by painting them as sister-humping perverts.

The “Ann Althouse” comments are pretty juvenile, but they are obvious spoofs, not alterations of actual posts by Ann Althouse. (The names used are often variations such as “Althoos.”) Do the people at Pandagon see no difference? When Hustler ran the infamous Campari parody ad in which Jerry Falwell described having drunken sex with his mother in an outhouse, that was political satire protected by the First Amendment (and in fact the ad carried a parody disclaimer in small print). Would anyone find it funny, or ethical, for a liberal editor at a newspaper or magazine to take an actual interview with Falwell and spike it with a similar “confession”? I have a sinking feeling that the people at Pandagon would, because, after all, Falwell is one of those subhuman “wingnuts” toward whom anything goes.

3. There was no harm done because the altered post was deleted in a few hours, and it’s “wingnuts” like Patterico and yours truly who are keeping the text of the altered post on the Internet. (The Liberal Avenger webmaster even says that we should apologize to Carlito.)

Nice try. If Carlito asks me to remove this post, I will. By the way, according to Patterico, the edited comment was removed only after he emailed Liberal Avenger about it.

Meanwhile, over on Patterico’s blog, Liberal Avenger offers this defense:

What sort of penance do you folks think I should do?

Would you like me to apologize to Jamail Hussein on your collective behalf for destroying his life in a war zone?

Maybe you guys could pass a plate to raise some money for one of the firebombed-yet-not-actually-destroyed mosques in Baghdad, and I could deliver it on your behalf and help them rebuild?

Because, obviously, the war in Iraq has so much to do with altering comments on a blog.

Several people have told me that this story is a non-scandal because who cares about small fry like The Liberal Avenger. There is some truth to that, but I still believe this incident raises some important questions about blog ethics. It also highlights the all-too-widespread tendency in the blogosphere (not limited to any political persuasion) to dehumanize opponents.


More: Another left-wing blogger, Thers of Whiskey Fire, chimes in with an “oh, get over it” admonishment:

The reason it is not a “blogosphere scandal” is that nothing that ever happens or has ever happened or ever will happen in a blog comments section is worth getting upset about for more than two minutes.

After all, Thers remind us, there are people dying in Iraq.

This is from the same person who, less than a week ago, devoted his only post for the day to Ann Althouse attributing a negative blogpost about her to the wrong blogger, and then being mean and rude to said blogger in her comments section when he showed up to expose her error. Something tells me that post took more than two minutes to compose, especially since it even includes a YouTube video clip for humorous effect.

And this is from the crowd which thinks that if some of Michelle Malkin’s blogposts are written by her husband, that’s very serious business indeed.

Imagine that, in a discussion related to rape, Ann Althouse altered the post of a commenter she found annoying and added the following:

Of course, rape isn’t always a totally bad thing. When I was a college student at the age of 19, a bunch of guys at a frat party got me drunk and then took turns raping me for 10 hours straight… [lurid, obscene description of various sexual acts follows] I kept saying “no” and “stop” the whole time, but damn it felt good — I never had so many multiple orgasms in my life! I still get horny every time I think about it.

Suppose that, caught in the act by a left-wing blog, Althouse brazenly denied altering the comment, then admitted it and said that her earlier denials were just meant to tease the moonbats, and added that the reason she altered the comment was that the commenter was spouting predictable leftist crap. Suppose, too, that it came to light that the commenter was particularly upset by the alteration because she was in fact raped in college, and that after finding this out Althouse still refused to apologize and told her critics to “stop taking themselves so seriously.”

The same people who are now willing to give Liberal Avenger a pass would be calling for her head. And that’s pathetic.

24 Comments

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24 responses to “The Liberal Avenger non-scandal, cont’d

  1. Thers

    What do you suppose I would do with Althouse’s head? Do you think if I got it, a prize would pop out?

  2. Cathy Young

    Classy, Thers. Maybe, instead of resorting to snark, you should actually try the mental exercise I suggested and ask yourself how you would react to such a stunt by Althouse.

  3. Cathy Young

    Troll comment deleted.

  4. sgo

    according to Patterico, the edited comment was removed only after he emailed Liberal Avenger about it.

    Well Patterico is not telling the truth. I was the one who deleted the comment all on my own. I received no email regarding it.

    get your facts straight lady.

    ~

  5. Fritz

    Do you have any evidence of that, SGO, any evidence at all? Why should we trust you, when you’ve already been caught out in one lie? Do you have any credibility left? Also, way to miss the point of the post, SGO. I guess it’s all that philosophical training that makes it impossible for you to appreciate basic ethical concerns.

  6. sgo

    When you’ve already been caught out in one lie? Do you have any credibility left?

    hmm so now you are accusing *me* of lying? Where did *I* lie?

    If I’m understanding you wingsluts correctly, basically nothing will slow this witchhunt as nothing anyone on the left says is to believed about anything ?

  7. Anonymous

    can’t you tell sgo is putting you on? you can’t? why, it’s totally obvious from his bristling demeanor. don’t you get humor?

  8. Sc

    Oops~ Looks like small online community having a chat over here.
    Hi all~ This is Scope.

  9. The Liberal Avenger

    Cathy:

    Such hard-hitting essential reporting by you this week! Reason Magazine must be so pleased to be finally taking on the big issues. This story must be a real feather in your cap!

    LA

  10. Cathy Young

    LA — how telling that all you can do is resort to cheap playground taunts.

    No, this isn’t a tremendously important story in the grand scheme of things. But as I said in my post, that’s rich coming from someone who spent a lot of time and blogspace investigating the possibility that Malkin’s husband may have done some ghost-blogging for her. As you know, I’m no fan of Malkin, but I think that your little stunt is a far more egregious violation of blog ethics than ghost-blogging.

  11. Fritz

    “It’s the lying… It’s the scandal. It’s the persona. It’s the questions it raises….”

  12. Ampersand

    As you know, I’m no fan of Malkin, but I think that your little stunt is a far more egregious violation of blog ethics than ghost-blogging.

    I think this comparison is flawed, because Malkin is a fairly major pundit, which makes anything she does a bigger deal than worse things done by relative unknowns.

    (Abusing prescription drugs is a victimless crime, and imo not a big deal. That doesn’t mean it’s not legitimate news when Rush gets caught doing it.)

    I don’t care much about LA’s initial act of editing, which was obviously a prank. The waffling and lying about it after-the-fact is much more bothersome, in my opinion. I agree with you that LA acted badly.

    But even so, it’s a blogger I’ve barely heard of acted badly towards another blogger I’ve barely heard of. I just can’t agree with you that something like this “should be a blogosphere scandal.”

    And frankly, I think I’d feel the same way if a right-winger blogger I had never heard of had done the same thing. This sort of blog scandal just seems like non-news to me. (On the other hand, perhaps having been at the center of a blog scandal myself has biased me against the genre :-P ).

  13. Mark

    Well, this is a fun excursion into blog Peyton Place. I’m no fan of Patterico since I was banned there simply for disagreeing, and actually was threatened with violence. Not by women though, but altering a post isn’t kosher. But then again, LA isn’t anything but a commenter. He has no status to protect. Usually these people don’t need doctoring to say bizarre things that pass for policy discussion.

  14. Anonymous

    I didn’t know that comments could be edited! Deleted, yes, but…
    Now we know to ask of blogs what we ask of mainstream media, “I wonder if it’s true?”

    I rarely read political blogs that comment on day to day political happenings; I prefer writing on large, over-arching issues, but the Marcotte thing was extremely interesting, though, and reeled me in after awhile. Being a Catholic and all the things that she hated didn’t bother me one bit, instead her writings so piqued my curiosity. I’m not trying to be cute, it’s that the writing is quite juvenile, but most of all, her feminism is such a throwback. I know some feminists and they are not like that and especially not in 2007. I just thought of her posts as interesting specimens of well preserved circa 1970 feminist ideology; I couldn’t read enough (I wasn’t born, yet), honestly. I feel guilty, though, for being interested just for curiosities’ sake and laughing at her, like taking on the sweet Duggar family!? Now, who does that? She did! LOL! Then I was like, this poor lady needs empathy and not our laughter and scorn. I’m a Christian, but I feel I fell far short in my duties.

    BTW, another thing about political blogs, I think what has turned me off the most are the twisted souls who reign freely. A couple of your posters… Life is too short to have to deal with someone who thinks its cool to write, “What do you suppose I would do with Althouse’s head? Do you think if I got it, a prize would pop out?”
    I would love to see a psych study done on bloggers AND their commentors.

  15. Cathy Young

    Barry: thanks for visiting the Y-Files again. :) I agree that the relative significance of a blogger makes a difference (two well-known bloggers, one from the left sight of the blogosphere and one from the right, have privately told me that they decided not to cover this story because, basically, “Who’s Liberal Avenger?”). Nonetheless, I still think there is a basic question of blog ethics here. And I actually think this incident is quite revealing in terms of the attitude many people in the blogosphere seem to have toward commenters with dissenting views (dissenting from the majority viewpoint on a given blog, that is). It seems that they’re quite commonly labeled as “trolls.” In fact, I have to say that having read the original thread at LA, I saw nothing trollish about Carlito’s comments (though I don’t share his pro-life views).

  16. Fruitbat44

    A rather general observation here, but one which applies equally to all factions of cyberspace.

    It seems to me that some people, when they get online, abandon the basic rules of civillised behaviour they would expect in a face-to-face conversation, and also that they abandon the standards of truth and fairness they would expect in any other medium.

    I think that’s rather sad.

  17. Cathy Young

    Irrelevant personal comment deleted.

    Fruitbat44: excellent point!

  18. jens

    The ability to edit comments in blogs depends somewhat on the platform. Obviously, if the server belongs to you, you are pretty much omnipotent (but not over cached data!). But people who, for example, blog on Myspace are able to delete comments, but not otherwise alter the contents.

  19. Cathy Young

    I don’t think there’s any capacity to alter comments on blogger. If I enable comment moderation, the only two options are to publish or reject.

  20. Joanne Jacobs

    To make it seem that Carlito was admitting to incest was dishonest and stupid. Liberal Avenger could have said, “I did it and I’m sorry,” and this would have blown over quickly. Instead, he tried to deny it and since then has refused to admit fault. As Cathy writes, it’s all very junior high.

  21. Cathy Young

    Great to see you here, Joanne!

  22. Revenant

    This story must be a real feather in your cap!

    The news of your dishonesty is, as you sarcastically note, not a significant story, since you yourself are not a significant person. It is, however, a story of interest to that small number of people who *do* know who you are. Several such people read Cathy’s blog.

  23. thecobrasnose

    I’d forgotten this earlier instance of comment modification:

    http://www.seixon.com/blog/archives/2005/12/rattling_the_ha.html

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