If You Really Want to Punish Michael Hiltzik…

…give him back his blog, and turn on the comments.

Michael Hiltzik is the LA Times columnist and blogger who was busted by Patterico for using pseudonyms to praise himself and zing his foes. Patterico did Hiltzik’s readers a real service, in a couple of ways. First, obviously, he caught Hiltzik in the act of trying to create a false impression of support for his viewpoints. The comments attributed to Hiltzik’s alter-egos tended toward vapid ad hominem attacks on bloggers who don’t like him (e.g. Cathy Seipp, Hugh Hewitt, Patterico himself), which further showed Hiltzik up as a kind of Internet graffiti artist.

Patterico’s discovery prompted Hiltzik to write an appallingly disingenous self-defense, in which he characterizes his nemesis’ detective work as an attack on pseudonyms! It is very revealing of how Hiltzik’s mind apparently works:

Of course, (Patterico’s) real goal isn’t to make all his commenters disclose their real names or to delve into the ethical and moral dimensions of Internet anonymity. It’s to quash debate on his blog. His sensitivity to criticism has been evident ever since he was first confronted with it—in a pair of postings here this year in which I serially demolished his supposed proofs of the Times’s supposed bias. One of the most easily-goaded bloggers on the right, he’s never recovered from the shock of being challenged.

The Patterico comment threads are generally filled with quacking lunatics agreeing with each other, punctuated by the occasional voice of reason. Now those few dissenting voices will disappear, because Frey has signaled a new policy on anonymity: that it’s granted, but only if you toe the Patterico Party Line. Why should anybody subject themselves to his selective exposure?

I have a sidebar link to Michael Hiltzik’s column, and it will stay there, because I think Michael Hiltzik is one of the Times’ best prose artists. I often disagree with him, and I think he stacks the deck against the targets of his screeds by mischaracterizing their positions. However, he’s never boring, and can be powerfully persuasive. The discovery of Hiltzik’s craven need to demonstrate that his audience approves of him by pretending to be one of them certainly diminishes my respect for him; but lots of writers much better than Hiltzik have done things far more disgraceful than this.

I violently disagree, however, with how the Times has chosen to react: Suspending Hiltzik’s blog, which the editors announced, and switching off all future comments, which they did without telling anyone.

Hiltzik with Lou Dobbs.jpgNo: Leave Micheal Hiltzik right where he is. Make him try to redeem himself by letting him write, not by silencing him. Let his friends and foes write too. Patterico has long suspected Hiltzik blocks some critical comments on his blog. Don’t permit him to do that anymore. He should take his lumps. If he wants to portray himself as a victim, let’s see him try. If he’s ready to be contrite, let him put it out there, but on his own timetable and in his own words, not via a forced confession dictated by Tribune Company flacks.

Hiltzik’s got a big fat target on his back now. The right is after him. The Times-bashers are after him. Even some embarassed liberal bloggers are after him. It’s an existential moment. His betrayed readers deserve the chance to see him work his way through it. If he’s not tough enough to take the heat, let it be his choice to withdraw. But corporate muzzling is cheesy, tin-eared behavior by the Times.

UPDATE (5/1/06): Well, the Times did the cheesy thing and took away Hiltzik’s blog and his business-section column. But they didn’t fire him, and they handed him an interesting new beat, “sports investigations.” Perhaps they’re envious of the kudos the San Francisco Chronicle’s been getting for its BALCO scoops. It’s a compliment to Hiltzik’s strong writing and reporting skills that they’re keeping him around. But it still sticks in my craw that the Times believes it’s appropriate to “take away” his blog. The whole point of a blog is that it is individual free expression, not a “product” like a sports or news column.

My link to Hiltzik’s blog will remain until the Times removes the content. So far, they haven’t.


2 thoughts on “If You Really Want to Punish Michael Hiltzik…

  1. Pingback: From the Desert to the Sea… » Blog Archive » There is No Such Thing as an Anonymous Blog Comment…

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