Outing anonymous bloggers

by Walter Olson on June 7, 2009

I share my views on the Edward Whelan/Obsidian Wings/”Publius” affair at Point of Law.

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PointOfLaw Forum
06.07.09 at 6:13 pm

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1 Nurse K 06.07.09 at 3:26 pm

He’s right, no freakin’ way I’d be able to discuss our health care system if I was not anonymous. Incidentally, my employer sent us all a letter the other day reminding us to not discuss our work (if it involves patients) with OUR FAMILIES as if we were in the Manhattan Project. The world has gone so far beyond HIPAA, which only really involves disclosing names, social security numbers or other “unique patient identifiers”, to not allowing anyone to discuss any de-identified patient-care encounter anywhere, even at home.

We need to hear from doctors and nurses on the front lines, but, alas, we are silenced by fear.

2 Pete Warden 06.07.09 at 4:51 pm

I have to say I’m in strong agreement with you Walter, Obsidian Wing’s pseudonym of Publius is a reflection of a long tradition. Michael’s position in the follow-up that it’s only acceptable to be anonymous if the state may imprison or murder you is a pretty radical statement, and I’d bet not many authors of the Federalist Papers would qualify under his standards.

It’s pretty easy to be dismissive of the need for anonymity when your job is having opinions. The rest of us live with a lot of external constraints, including employers who may retaliate. It feels like Michael would either like us to defy those pressures at a possible high personal cost, or just be quiet.

I blogged for years while I was at Apple, always avoiding anything related to the company. Even so there was a real risk of being fired if the wrong people in my management chain noticed, which happened to several other folks during my time there. I chose to use my real name, but it wasn’t an easy decision, and I was always worried. Michael’s approach seems to dismiss the value of non-professional writers with domain knowledge.

3 JAB 06.07.09 at 9:12 pm

Great post.

Funny that no two bloggers remind me more of each other–in tone and rhetoric–than Ed Whelan and Brian Leiter (although I tend to agree with one much more often than the other, they both make me cringe).

4 CarLitGuy 06.07.09 at 9:59 pm

I for one, would not be able to make even the infrequent comments made here, were my public identity known. Granted, no comment of mine is of huge import, but I would hope those few items I do weigh in on are made more useful to the masses by the little experience I bring to the conversation.

Viva anonymity!

5 cmmjaime 06.07.09 at 10:37 pm

So these folks who are against anonymous blogs, do they not know their history? Seems like our founders took free speech, including this type of thing, quite seriously…Is it too far a stretch to call the Federalist Papers anonymous blogs? I don’t think so!

6 Scott Sigl 06.08.09 at 10:09 am

Not to mention Ben Franklin, aka Silence Dogood, and his submissions to the New England Courant.

7 Dennis 06.08.09 at 1:51 pm

By revealing the identity of Publius, Edward Whelan has demonstrated his cowardice and complete lack of character. Sirrah, you are no gentleman.

8 Hyman Roth 06.08.09 at 2:56 pm

Poor Publius/Blevins. All those years of insulting people and slinging mud anonymously came to a crashing halt. Boo hoo. What shall I name this river I am crying?

One of Publius’ comments to Ed Whelan:

[Ed Whelan is] “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.”

Hey, Dennis, does the description “cowardice and complete lack of character” apply to a person who posts that insult anonymously during a discussion of a judicial nominee’s qualifications?

9 fozzy 06.08.09 at 3:20 pm

National Review, where Ed Whelan does his ‘outing’ work, has an anonymous contributor. Jack Dunphy is the pseudonym of a writer who works for the LAPD.

10 The Crafty Trilobite 06.08.09 at 9:42 pm

Hyman Roth, you are right in a very limited sense. As they say in court, I admit that you have quoted words publius said; and I deny your remaining allegations. Ironically, you quote out of context a line about…quoting out of context.

You quote a line publius did not himself write, but that he enjoyed enough to repeat at the end of a post explaining why he agreed with it, following several more substantive posts over a period of time during which Whelan was not always completely polite either. In short, publius, caught up in the heat of an intellectual quarrel, a dispute over ideas and policy, used a “zinger” to sum up his position. Perhaps you have never done that. Whelan has, so have most of us, and it’s no big deal.

You skip over the question of whether Whelan IS, in publius’s jocular sense of the word, a “hitman,” — DOES Whelan “pore 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.” If he does, is there something wrong with saying so? I think not. If the shoe fits, Mr. Whelan should wear it. My personal opinion, and I won’t bother repeating the reasons for it, which are all over the web, is that publius is right. Whelan does purposefully quote out of context and does use his credentials to bolster poor arguments.

But even if publius were wrong about that, just couldn’t see the true genius that is Whelan — so what? The real issue here is that Whelan brought a gun to a knife fight, used a body block in a touch football game, kneed his wrestling partner in the groin. He turned a casual intellectual dispute into a job and family threat. He did it quite purposefully. What you think of publius is pretty irrelevant to the fact that Whelan’s conduct stank.

11 Soronel Haetir 06.09.09 at 12:56 am

Nurse K,

As someone on the other side of the health care divide, a patient with massive issues, I would prefer that my providers not talk about me at all in situations not related to my care. I live in a small town and have overheard doctors talking about me in the local airport as an example. I find that completely inappropriate.

I would no more appreciate those same individuals talking about me at home with their family even though I would be much less likely to find out about it.

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