Sunday, June 7, 2009

Will Blevins/'Publius' Be Dooced?

My first reaction to Ed Whelan's identification of "Publius" as University of South Texas law professor John F. Blevins: They've got a law school at the University of South Texas?

Amazing things you can learn on the Internet!

My second reaction: Is Blevins tenured? If so, why would he insist on anonymity? Professor Glenn Reynolds is not anonymous. Being a tenured professor is like being James Bond, licensed to kill. Firing a tenured professor is nearly impossible. The rare occurrence -- the ousting of the fraudulent Ward Churchill at University of Colorado -- practically requires an act of the state legislature and abuses so flagrant that the dismissal can withstand Supreme Court scrutiny.

So if Blevins is tenured, what are these "variety of private, family, and professional reasons" for his anonymity? If blogging cannot threaten his job security -- and as a tenured professor, Blevins couldn't be fired even if he were arrested for robbing a 7-Eleven -- why would he hide his identity at Obsidian Wings? Dan Riehl sides with Blevins/"Publius":

That a writer at a site like NRO would stoop to outing an anonymous liberal blogger is, hopefully, far more a discredit to Whelan and NRO, than it is trouble for said blogger.
In saying so, Riehl agrees with James Joyner:

Jeopardizing a man’s career and family relationships over something so petty is simply shameful.
Hmmm. Without getting into all that (I'm logging in on the free Wi-Fi at the Krystal in Acworth, Ga., and just about to head out on the 12-hour drive homeward) my question is the extent to which Blevins' arguments for anonymity are plausible. Even if Blevins isn't tenured, it's not as if being a liberal is grounds for termination, even in Texas. And if Blevins were fired for blogging -- "Dooced," as they say -- surely his application would be welcome at the many law schools dominated by liberal faculty.

How, then, can Whelan be accused of "jeopardizing" Blevins' career? When I covered basketball as a sportswriter, and the ref would call a touch-foul, the coach of the penalized team would holler, "Hey, ref, no harm, no foul!"

The "no harm, no foul" principle might apply to this situation. Whelan blogs under his own name and felt that he was being abused by the anonymous "Publius." The fact that "Publius" was relatively obscure -- I'm not into legal blogging, and have seldom read Obsidian Wings -- might make Whelan's "outing" of him seem an overreaction. But I don't presume to judge what is or is not abuse of another. If Blevins is harmed by his "outing," he ought to be able to demonstrate (not merely assert) that harm.

Blogging under your own name in an environment where so many others are anonymous or pseudonymous is difficult. There is a reason comments are moderated here. I must consider the possibility that the vicious anonymous commenter is actually a sock-puppet for one of the many people I've criticized publicly.

An honest flame-war with Rod Dreher or any other of The Republicans Who Really Matter? I can handle that. What I won't tolerate is an anonymous commenter of mysterious motives trying to use my bandwidth to attack me. (Effectively, that is. I have no trouble approving abusive comments so long as they are so self-evidently idiotic as to be unpersuasive.)

There are no comments at the NRO blogs, so the only means others have of arguing with the NRO bloggers is through their own blogs. So Ed Whelan was blogging under his own name and being attacked by the anonymous "Publius," and decided to end his antagonist's anonymity.

This is Whelan's choice and he obviously believes it to be a defensible choice, but heaven forbid any liberal should ever go after Rusty Shackleford's anonymity. Or Smitty's, for that matter.

And all this I say without reference to the specifics of the dispute between Blevins and Whelan. I'm just blogging from the Krystal in Acworth, Ga., and don't have time to play blogosphere ethics cop.

UPDATE: Professor Reynolds weighs in.

UPDATE II: Professor William Jacobson weighs in. There is no truth to the rumor that Reynolds, Jacobson and Donald Douglas are ringleaders of a gang of academics who rob Seven-11s in their spare time.

UPDATE III: A commenter asks if I read Blevins' post in which he said he is not tenured. No, I didn't read Blevins' post. I told you, I'm at a Krystal in Acworth, Ga., and don't have time to read everything. But I'm sure Blevins will be all right. Just invest in a ski mask and practice saying, "Stick 'em up!"

UPDATE IV (Monday a.m.): Now that I'm home and have seen both Blevins' post and Feddie's post at Southern Appeal, I am inclined to believe that Whelan did the wrong thing. However, I also think Blevins is either unnecessarily concerned or disingenuous:
Professionally, I’ve heard that pre-tenure blogging (particularly on politics) can cause problems. . . . 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. . . .
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. . . .
What Blevins is confessing here is that he would argue differently, or perhaps not argue at all, if he were arguing under his own name. Bingo. This is at least relevant to Whelan's complaint about being sniped at from the ambuscade of anonymity.

Whelan risks his own reputation every time he pushes the "publish" button, while his anonymous critic risks nothing. I'll have more to say, but will say it elsewhere.


  1. Is Blevins Tenured?

    Did you actually bother to read his post? He says perfectly clearly that he is not tenured. And just because you can't get fired for being a liberal doesn't mean that there aren't very good professional reasons not to have everything you say on a blog come up in front of a tenure committee. In short, your response to this issue completely lacks substance.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Did you read publius post?

    Did you read Stacy's? Apparently not, since otherwise you would have noted that he moderates comments, and thus avoided the double post.

  4. Anonymity will not be tolerated!

  5. I blog under my own name but I make it a point never to mention my place of employment online: reason being, our firm works with some very lefty corners of academe and there is a real risk of blackballing to which I do not wish to expose my fellow employees.

    Just out of curiosity though, I wonder if Publius might mention some of the things he'd be worried about a blogger having come up in front of a modern tenure committee?

  6. From a cursory reading Blevins is just another Obama cheerleader, which hardly requires being anonymous, even in Houston.

    I have a blog, rarely updated, which I started because a friend was starting a blog and wanted help with the software. I maintain anonymity because my ideas are frightening and repulsive to normal people. Blevins is jumping up and down like a little girl and saying "Yay Obama! Yay Democrats! Yay liberals!" which almost gets you a federal stipend these days.

    As with everything else, liberals are very situational about anonymity. In Washington State they are trying to "out" people who sign petitions to have Referendum 71, which would restrict domestic partnerships for gays, put on the ballot.

  7. It seems to me that the issue is less the anonymity of the commenter, than the content of the comments. As a professional and, in particular, an aspiring academic, Mr. Blevins should hold himself to a high standard in any comments he publishes whether anonymous or not. To do less is betray a certain lack of self-discipline inconsistent with the role that ought to be his ambition.

  8. Blevins is just a cheerleader for Obama, which hardly requires anonymity. Jumping up and down like a little girl and yelling "Yay Obama! Yay liberals! Yay Democrats!" practically gets you a federal stipend these days.

  9. Two words that aptly describe Stacy: lacks substance. Good call Satya.

  10. Anonymity is not so much created as it is maintained. No one else is responsible nor beholden to play your game. One wrong step and you lose your anonimity. This is nobodies fault but your own.

  11. If you don't want to put your reputation at risk, then don't go after other people's reputations. It's actually a pretty simple rule.

    If Blevins had simply been giving his opinions on legal cases or reporting the daily news and Whelan went after him because he didn't like the guy's opinions, then I'd come down on the side of Blevins. But Blevins picked the fight and went after Whelan's reputation and then ran and hid behind his anonymity.

    Sorry, but that is just plain cowardly. He thought he could say whatever he wanted without any repercussions. Now he has to actually put his own reputation on the line when he makes attacks on other people. Boo hoo. I'm trying really hard to find a way to feel badly for him, but it's not going to happen any time soon.

  12. IMO, Blevins outed himself. Whelan emailed Blevins, and Blevins, like an idiot, replied. Then Whelan published his post with the allegation that "publius" is actually Blevins, and Blevins, again like an idiot, confirmed it.

    Whelan has issues but Blevins isn't the brightest bulb in the box, either.

  13. No personal offense to you, but it says something about the art of blogging that a man can have enough time to post an opinion about something, but not enough time to do enough reading to understand even the basic facts of the matter.

  14. I noticed that Whelan used anonymous sources to pin down Publius's identity. So, Ed, are you going to "out" your sources, or are you happy with cowards so long as they suit your purposes?

  15. This is Whelan's choice and he obviously believes it to be a defensible choice, but heaven forbid any liberal should ever go after Rusty Shackleford's anonymity. Or Smitty's, for that matter.

    In other words, it's OK as long as you're a Republican. Anyone on the right can out people as much as they want whenever they feel insulted, but heaven forbid if anybody on the left does it!

    But I guess you should know since you have experience with outing people. Anonymously, to boot. Odd how you don't tell your readers about that.

  16. Tenured or not, a law professor ought to know better. Still, as noted, what law school tenure committee has ever held being a lying leftist agitator against a candidate?

    More likely he wished to keep his nasty true self secret from wealthy conservative in-laws, who may restructure their wills now.

    Perhaps he ought to have diversified to provide multiple income streams. They tell me "community organizing" can be rather lucrative . . .

  17. I still sort blog anonymously, just out of long term habit, and the user name goes with blog theme, but, anyone who wants to see my real name can look on my about page, and that is my real picture (though one from 1994) It is hard to be fully anonymous, but, that is part of the fun of the Interwebz, and I think Whelan went to far.

    Great point on comments at NRO. Kinda like with Excitable Andy, they do not allow discussion, so, how else is anyone supposed to argue back except with a blog post?

  18. Next time, try waiting until you've read both sides. Shouldn't that be Rule 1?

  19. Same thing I posted on Shreveport's blog:

    I don't know. I say if you're going to play you have to know at some point you'll have to pay. That's a risk he (Publius) took. The Marquis of Queensbury rules do not apply to the blogosphere (unless it's mutual). No need to vilify Whelan. They both made choices.

  20. Let me say, as a pseudonymed cartoon dog, that outing other blogger should be off limits.

    Now in this case of dueling Starbucks customers, I can understand the other writer getting pissed off. So a case can be made that the guy abused his anonymity, but outing people is still a recipe for disaster.

    On The Rude News, I started out "hidden" because I didn't know what the hell I was doing.(Still don't) Soon, (okay 3 weeks) the site took off and one of my posts pissed off the crazy muslims. I decided then and there that "coming out" would go over pretty bad, and I had some partners in crime who didn't want to go public.
    I used this to my advantage however, to help get Jihadist losers like Samir Khan fired. It's powerful to have people read your stuff and remain secret. It also means no flame wars with other bloggers unless they are goliath. (LGF goliath)
    Also, the few writers TRN has attacked by name, have perpetrated egregious acts like hurling sexually aggressive insults at women writers.
    Other than that, attacking from the place of secrecy should be reserved strictly for the enemy who put you there, not a professor or regular civilian.

    So outing if secret blogger should not be an option. It doesn't blunt their argument, and it may cause tremendous collateral damage you did not intend. It's simply a reprisal tactic.
    If the secret blogger does the attacking, it's their risk to take. If the "outer" is the aggressor, they suck as a human being.

  21. I would feel a little more sympathy for this dude if he wasn't involved in what appears personal attacks on his subjects. For example
    "Don't feel sorry for Ed (...) he just enjoys playing the role of know-nothing demagogue".

    Not to say that there is much incendiary about that comment, but it looks like someone who is taking advantage of their anonymity to toss around insults.

    If he'd been more civil, I expect it would never have happened. Liberals do have a tough time with civil however.

  22. I don't see any reason have sympathy for this guy. keeping your anonymity is your job no one elses. If you get outed, it's your fault, not the outers.


  23. Blevins critique of Whelan was not anything out of the ordinary on the Internet, certainly not anything to get Whelan all riled up. Most importantly, however, is reading the short email exchange posted by Blevins. Whelan is, at best, rude and obnoxious. In other words, he was behaving in exactly the manner that Blevins had cited.