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June 09, 2009

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» WHELAN APOLOGY LEAVES QUESTIONS UNANSWERED ABOUT BLOG COMMENTERS from Right Wing Nut House
I dont know the man so I cant say definitively if this apology is a self serving effort at damage control or whether it is sincere. But it strikes me as genuine - a realization by Whelan that his actions caused real damage to a real perso... [Read More]

Comments

Well, that was unexpected. I hope after your martyrdom we can expect this debate over 'outing' to simmer down a bit.

On the plus side, all the attention brought me to your site for the first time and I have really enjoyed your writings, as well as Hilzoy's. I hope there are lots more like me because you do quality work here. And now I know it's legally sound, as well. : )

Take note: This is how it's done.

Good for him. And welcome, jp2!

I think this is a good time to recognize that Whelan has done something right. I won't question his motives for doing the right thing, but I do think this is a pretty big acknowledgment that there are boundaries that those who operate in good faith on the web should not cross and that we can all agree upon what those should be.

I think this could be a very big moment for the whole community. I'm just sorry Publius had to suffer the consequences for it.

Keep up the excellent work, man. I'm looking forward to talking about something besides you. :)

As I said in the previous thread, I don't understand: Ed Whelan writes about something that is "completely apart from any debate over our respective rights and completely apart from our competing views on the merits of pseudonymous blogging" and he apologizes for [having] been uncharitable in my conduct towards the blogger who has used the pseudonym Publius" in some way.

What is this thing that is completely apart from "the merits of pseudonymous blogging" that he is apologizing for?

I seriously can't make heads nor tails of this. Was there some other interaction going on that he's referring to? What's he talking about here?

And where does he stand on the actual issue of "pseudonymous blogging," and his outing you, as well as his stand on the right of everyone to out any and all pseudonymous bloggers/commenters? That stand is an attack on everyone who writes on the internet who doesn't use the name on their birth certificate. Is he withdrawing that stand?

You're right, publius: this isn't about you.

"But people can disagree in good faith about these things, as Whelan correctly notes."

Sorry, where did he say that? In some other post somewhere? He doesn't say anything of the kind in the post you link to. There's not a word there about disagreeing in good faith. Where did Whelen write about disagreeing in good faith about... what?

"For that reason, I recognize that Publius may understandably regard my apology as inadequate."

You can regard it as adequate or inadequate as you like, but let me be one of the first to say that it's completely incoherent.

"...but I do think this is a pretty big acknowledgment that there are boundaries that those who operate in good faith on the web should not cross and that we can all agree upon what those should be."

[scratches head] To what are you referring? Whelan explicitly states that he's not addressing the issue of "the merits of pseudonymous blogging." What "acknowledgement" are you referring to?

Kudos to Ed Whelan for the personal and public apology. I know (from experience) that you really have to swallow hard to apologize and back down when you were in the wrong and even more so when it happens so publicly.

Also, I think it's good of him to acknowledge that his apology doesn't necessarily undo what he has done but that it's worthwhile to make the apology regardless.

Personally I think Whelan's apology is a load of shit, and probably coerced. On a personal level, Whelan had more than his fair share of right-wing team players leaping to his defense (Goldberg, etc) and had done a pretty good job of rationalizing his behavior. I suspect NRO felt the pressure from the righties with actual intelligence (Volokh, etc)

Publius, you're a bigger man than I.

Gary,

It seems clear that he's apologizing for putting publius' career and family relationships at risk. That he can make that apology "completely apart from [their] competing views on the merits of pseudonymous blogging" is also clear: Ed can think it's worthless, publius can think it's worthwhile, and both can agree that outing publius was wrong. Do you feel differently?

I would be more impressed by his apology were he not getting his ass handed to him by the fury of the internets, but it's not me Whelan has to impress. So: I'm glad that the issue has been resolved to as close to your satisfaction as can be reasonably hoped.

Was Whelan's original reasoning coherent? Nothing he's said in these matters has made a lick of sense.

The act of apologizing is significant, as is the recognition that Publius may "understandably regard [his] apology as inadequate." I concede that beneath this intended appearance of magnanimity, he's created for himself an out.

But the read the apology itself, symbolically, as a far greater act than any attempt by Whelan to limit what the apology is for. I suspect that a multitude of factors has played upon him over the past two days to lead to this result. Publius is nothing like the caricature his detractors have labeled him, so he will say out of this discussion—and probably wouldn't appreciate our questioning of either motives or the literal applicability of the apology itself.

Maybe I'm in too much shock and am being too kind, but any kind of unqualified apology of his behavior (even if he refrains from commenting on pseudononymous blogging as an act) is a vindication of Publius in this debate.

I'm not inclined to be terribly generous to Whelan - and as Gary notes, Whelan apparently continues to abhor pseudonymous blogging, so that it's far from clear what Whelan feels is apologizing for, in what way Whelan feels he has been uncharitable. After all, if pseudonymity really is bad, then surely Whelan's action would require no apology.

But then, my opinion of Whelan's apology isn't the critical one here. The apology is Publius's to accept, and he has done so, and I think we should respect that.

After feelings have cooled for a while, it might be interesting to have some sort of debate about the merits of pseudonymity, although I don't think there's an especially broad range of opinion among the ObWi commenters.

"Do you feel differently?"

I think, and feel strongly, that serious apologies are explicit as to what they're apologies for.

This is a very common view. Here is an example article on how to apologize.

It includes:

[...] Begin the apology by naming the offense and the feelings it may have caused. Be specific about the incident so that they know exactly what you're apologizing for. Make it a point to avoid using the word "but". ("I am sorry, but..." means "I am not sorry.") Also, do not say "I'm sorry you feel that way" or "I'm sorry if you were offended." Be sorry for what you did! "I'm sorry you feel that way" makes it seem like you are blaming the other person, and is not a real apology.

[...]

Find the underlying problem, describe it to the person (as an explanation, not an excuse), and tell them what you intend to do to rectify that problem so that you can avoid this mistake in the future [....]

All I know from what Whelan wrote is that he as "been uncharitable in my conduct towards the blogger who has used the pseudonym Publius" in some way -- who knows how? -- and that he apologizes for this unstated offense.

And he explicitly states that he's not apologizing over "our competing views on the merits of pseudonymous blogging." That's out. He's specifically not apologizing for that.

That's it.

First step in an apology is to state what you're apologizing for.

"...both can agree that outing publius was wrong"

He doesn't say any such thing. If he'd like to apologize for outing publius, he can say so. He specifically hasn't.

It's nice that Publius will be gracious about this; me, I'll be gracious to Ed Whelan when he actually makes a real apology, starting with saying what the heck he's apologizing for. Then he can say what he's doing to make amends.

The next step would be to clarify whether he's going to continue to attack the use of pseudonyms online. Or will he try to make amends for that error in judgment? Write articles about why he was wrong, for instance?

May the term "douche-bag" hang around his neck like an albatross for the rest of his career. He can't un-shit the bed, but at least he's not so totally self-absorbed to recognize that he was swimming against a flood.

You, good Professor, deserve praise for taking the high road.

If it were me, I would only take that high road for the opportunity to piss on Whelan from a great height.

jexter, aka jeff christensen

You do all realize that every time publius is a gentleman, he only makes Whelan look worse.

So when he comes out with a post so pitch-perfect in its magnanimity and modesty, well, all I can say is I hope I never get on his bad side.

A quick summary of my comments from the other post, for those who may not have gone to that older post (and I'm also new here, and I'm thankful that one redeeming quality of this ugly episode is that it brought me to OW!):

--I bet the National Review (or its lawyers?) told Ed, apologize or you're gone. Ed doesn't go from a post outing Publius and two subsequent unrepentant, "f-you, Publius, you little twerp"-type posts after that to all of a sudden apologizing and concluding that what he did was ill-considered. Not Ed. Especially not given how mean-spirited a guy he is (read his blog posts over the years and note the way he shows next to no respect for anyone with a differing view, particularly if they're not named Volokh). No, I think what happened is that he has issued this apology under duress -- someone at the National Review wasn't impressed with what he did and told him either apologize or he'd be out of a job there as a blogger (not that I think the National Review actually pays him; Ed does this, I'd bet, entirely for the credibility that writing or the National Review's website gives him and his organization). Ed had to have realized that apologizing to Publius would be the "least bad" option. By apologizing, he would keep his blogging platform and retain some marginal level of credibility in the right-wing blogging world, although this little stunt never will be truly forgotten -- see his Wikipedia page for proof. (And hey, for all we know, he may even now be on probation at the National Review for what he did.) By comparison, if Ed were canned from the National Review's Bench Memos for what he did, he would be seen as having "lost" to those mean lefties, he would lose his excellent blogging platform, he would lose all credibility ever again in the judicial/culture wars, and he would be remembered only as the guy who got canned from his beloved conservative rag's judicial blog for "outing" a blogger. Something like what I've sketched out above likely was what happened. Someone (Rich Lowry?) at the National Review didn't like where Ed had gone (and the exposing of his e-mail to Publius, which showed him to be as Ed himself later acknowledged, "intemperate," further revealed that Ed's a hothead more than a bully, and that he clearly has trouble reining in his temper). Someone at the National Review maybe even started to worry that Ed was becoming a liability. They didn't want to embarrass Ed publicly, but I would assume that they gave him a private ultimatum: Apologize to Publius or walk. That's my take on what happened today.

--Another commenter on the other thread named Pseudonym thought it was more the case that Ed realized he was getting hammered everywhere on this thing and couldn't win. "Pseudonym" wrote that he doubted very much that there were any ultimatums; instead, "Pseudonym" thought that Ed just accepted that he had screwed up and realized he was best to face the music and put this behind him. Perhaps there indeed were no ultimatums; an alternate explanation might be that instead of an ultimatum, some highly regarded peers of Ed's who didn't (directly) weigh in publicly might have told him privately, hey, that was bad form and very much beneath you, Ed (which of course it was). (Obviously, a few conservative peers whose opinion of Ed surely matters to him -- like Southern Appeal and Jonathan Adler weighed in publicly with negative reactions -- as did many other conservatives; at the same time, if you look at the reactions to this stunt by most of the "Bench Memos" and "The Corner" bloggers today, like those of Wendy Long, Matt Franck, Ramesh Ponnuru and Jonah Goldberg, they were generally supportive.)

--In the end, it is fascinating how universally Ed's stunt was denounced; I hope that it was solely this realization -- that when this many people of this varied ideological stripes were against him, he had done something wrong -- that drove Ed to apologize. But whatever it was, I'm glad Ed finally apologized. It redeems what was one of the uglier episodes in the blogosphere that I've seen of late. Still and all, shame on Ed; it's very unfortunate that this situation occurred. May everyone involved (including myself) learn something from it (patience, mercy, or whatever) and be better people for it.

I don't know, Gary. You can disagree about the relative merits of pseudononymous blogging yet realize that outing a pseudononymous blogger is wrong. Just because you think it's a bad idea doesn't mean you also have to believe that outing a blogger who may have reasons to keep him anonymity is a good idea.

Given the fact that this is the public offense for which he has been criticized, that is the offense his vague apology will be taken for. And that's what I think is significant about the apology.

HHmmm...

Well, I'm pleasantly surprised. I'm glad an apology was given.

I hope there are no repercussions on publius.

I would also like to note that writing opinion posts for a well-known magazine's online blog, without allowing comments, pretty much puts you in the "cowardly douche-bag" quadrant of the internets.

Bob Leadbetter,
I think you're really going too far here and speculating too much. IANAL, but I really doubt that the National Review's lawyers were worried that someone had used their website to make a factual claim about someone else, no matter the effects and motives, especially given the lack of immediately obvious quantifiable effects. And, still remembering that IANAL, I would have thought that, absent an agreement, an apology could actually worsen their legal position - if I thought their legal position was at all likely to worry them, which I do not.

And as to whether the higher-ups at the magazine came down on Whelan with an ultimatum, it seems unlikely. After all, as you yourself note, several of their bloggers have taken Whelan's side on this issue, and you include in that list the regrettable Jonah Goldberg, who iirc is the former editor of their online content. Besides, the National Review, and especially its online arm, features incendiary false claims all the time (Liberal Fascism, anyone?), and the cover art for the current issue is a far bigger embarrassment than Whelan's action could ever aspire to.

I think that the most likely explanation is the simplest one: act in haste, repent at leisure. In this case helped out towards that repentance by an overwhelming chorus of denunciation from nearly all parts of the blogosphere, the backing he's gotten from some at the Corner not withstanding.

Whelan was out of line in outing Publius. I'm conservative, but Publius did not deserve this. He had reasons for not using his real name, and he used it consistently, as did the original users of the alias.

People do make mistakes, including Whelan, and even Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton paid with his life, Whelan with embarrassment.

Publius has apparently accepted Whelan's apology, so no need for pistols at dawn.

You can disagree about the relative merits of pseudononymous blogging yet realize that outing a pseudononymous blogger is wrong. Just because you think it's a bad idea doesn't mean you also have to believe that outing a blogger who may have reasons to keep him anonymity is a good idea.

Uh, how? If you believe--actually believe--that anonymous posting is a baneful enterprise to be abhorred, then it is not possible to believe that attacking a manifestation of that abhorrent practice is wrong, unless the manner of the attack in some way violates some other personally-held ethical guideline or decision procedure. Since literally all he did was the act of breaking the seal of anonymity (the act of outing publius' identity) it is hard to see the act itself justified any other way.

If the belief isn't tightly held, it is hard to believe that it motivated an act which flies in the face of the culture's strongly-held norms, and thus isn't the crux of the matter at hand (i.e. whether he actually repents of what caused him to act in a harmful manner towards publius). This would rather point to the act being a merely malicious one (motivated by the desire to harm another), and his beliefs about anonymity would be besides the point.

On the other hand, if the belief is tightly held, then at best he can be apologizing only for the consequential effects of something which he still believes and which still motivates his actions, in which case it is reasonable to believe if he had to do it all over again he would, and the apology is mere condolence for harm, rather than an admission of guilt.

Good for him. I totally take back the man-on-dog thing.

Did anybody else read that apology and immediately think of Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda? There's no way this came from Whelan sua sponte.

While I agree completely with Gary, I do think it speaks well of publius that he accepts Whelan's "apology".

Incidentally, I have to say as a mere civilian that a pseudonymous blog WITH comments is a fundamentally more honest enterprise than a signed blog WITHOUT comments. It takes courage and integrity to let your readers see what other readers have to say about your writing, instead of hiding behind an e-mail address. That's the real difference between "Ed Whelan" and "the blogger named publius".

--TP

"You can disagree about the relative merits of pseudononymous blogging yet realize that outing a pseudononymous blogger is wrong. "

You can. But if it were so, t'would be best to not keep that fact a secret.

If you want to apologize for something, you need to apologize for it. The word "vague" shouldn't come into descriptions of it.

Gary, Ed said in his third sentence that "unfortunately, it is impossible for me to undo my ill-considered disclosure of [Publius'] identity." It takes a very literal and uncharitable reading to conclude that is not the subject of Ed's apology. Though I can sympathize if you're not inclined to be charitable, so perhaps we can chalk our differences up to that.

Gar-

I think the issue here is that when one realizes that they have behaved embarrassingly shabbily, it still is hard to get the words out. Reading Whelan without more finely parsing, I find the key phrase to turn around Whelan realizing that whatever his feelings had been, the apology might not ever be adequate to the crime. The only thing that I think matters here is that Whelan at least admits some sort of magnitude to his actions. It wasn't bad considering very few in this game every seem to backtrack once the flames start flying.


Uh, how? If you believe--actually believe--that anonymous posting is a baneful enterprise to be abhorred, then it is not possible to believe that attacking a manifestation of that abhorrent practice is wrong, unless the manner of the attack in some way violates some other personally-held ethical guideline or decision procedure. Since literally all he did was the act of breaking the seal of anonymity (the act of outing publius' identity) it is hard to see the act itself justified any other way.

"Breaking the seal of anonymity" has consequences, which is why it was established in the first place. Believing that pseudononymous writing gives someone an advantage from which to hide doesn't preclude the possibility of recognizing that there were repercussions that are also problematic. You can actually believe both at the same time. Being most charitable to Whelan, you could say that he is willing to acknowledge that outing Publius as he did was wrong. He can still believe that pseudonymity is a bane of the internet, even if he recognizes that his behavior was wrong. Several commentators have made this point, that Whelan could have ridiculed Publius's decision to write pseudononymously. That would be taking a position of disagreement about the merits of pseudononymous writing while still recognizing that there are proper bounds for his behavior (that he violated in this instance).

But trying to be generous to Whelan is an exhausting and non-rewarding task. He's a walking self-contradiction, and his reputation is largely beyond repair due to his behavior in this situation.

Whelan's goal was to attack the messenger. Unable to address the message, he attempted to neutralize the messenger. It was a totally cowardly act, and his apology is just as cowardly. He has zero genuine remorse or concern for the person he outed; his goal is simply to cover his own backside. He is a snake and a slime and unworthy of any respect.

Yo PP!

Mr. Whelan behaved badly and apologized. Good for him. Of course, an interlude of civility does nothing to attenuate his vigorous work advancing some of the worst policies of the worst executive team in U.S. history. That is a stain that cannot be erased by a simple apology.

" Since literally all he did was the act of breaking the seal of anonymity (the act of outing publius' identity) it is hard to see the act itself justified any other way."

Consider a person who thinks homosexuality is wrong, but wouldn't out someone because they have considered the possible second- and third- order, unanticipated effects of doing so.

A person who hasn't thought it through might think he's only embarrassing the closeted gay target. But deeper reflection would reveal the potential for far more severe, unintended consequences: disowned, cut off from college funds, beaten up, etc.

I suppose Whelan might have had time to go from wanting to embarrass publius to score points in an argument, to a deeper understanding that outing someone who's anonymous can have effects more severe than he intended, and that he doesn't have any control over it.

Anyway, since when does opposing ANYTHING require invasive personal attacks against the people who hold the opposite position?

It's rather weird that people are insisting that, if Whelan thinks anonymity/pseudonymity is undesirable on the web, therefore, he must be ever-vigilant to out people who attempt to be anonymous or pseudonymous. He can just as easily express his opposition whenever he mentions such a person in his blog posts by saying, I dunno, "cowardly pseudonymous blogger 'Fafnir'".

The derision is clear, but he doesn't take it to the point of being invasive or risking repercussions beyond his control.

Good for Whelan. (Though I agree with Spiny and Schilling.) Also, good for Publius: that's a very generous acceptance.

Anarch: I would be more impressed by his apology were he not getting his ass handed to him by the fury of the internets

Very true, but I have seen - this year alone - multiple instances of people who were clearly in the wrong and appeared to be aware they were in the wrong, nevertheless declining to apologize for what they'd done.

Ed Whelan behaved badly in outing Publius. He's apologized for doing so and acknowledged that a mere apology won't undo his wrongdoing. Publius has accepted the apology. We can hope that Whelan will not do that again.

The rest of us who care about Publius and about the principle of people having the right to be as pseudonymous as we please on the Internet, would do well to honor Publius's generous acceptance by dropping the topic of Whelan's bad behavior, since the only thing now being accomplished by continuing to bring it up is to continue to make Publius's RL name more linked with his blogging identity than he would like.

Also, what Jon H. said.

Publius himself made this differentitation:

You may disagree with my decision to blog under a pseudonym. There are several good arguments supporting you. But, that's a distinct issue from outing.

So disagreeing about pseudonymous blogging, while apologizing for outing him, seems consistent to me.

Yeah, on the one hand, well, good. Imagine one of the other extremists on the right apologizing for anything.

On the other hand, it means exactly zero, since what he did is done and can't be reversed just because he now realizes that he shouldn't have done it.

It's kind of like the reasons that argue against the death penalty, in that one and limited sense: you can't reverse it if you later realize that you made a mistake.

This guy clearly has anger issues, from what Sullivan and others have related, and he should address them. It's fairly typical for people with that stuff to apologize in between lashing out in destructive outbursts, often very convincingly, and it almost never meaans that anything has actually changed.

publius is what we technically call "a Mensch".

Moving on, the whole Jon/Kate/8 thing was the first time I've stood in the checkout line at the grocery store (my home away from home) and every single gossip-type magazine had a cover story about the same couple, but I'd never even heard of them before. I had to ask some friends who these people are.

I wonder, is there some sort of correlation between not knowing who your neighbors are and gossiping about people who are so distant from you they might as well be fiction? It's almost like there's some sort of Law of Conservation of Gossip.

"pseudonymity is a net benefit"

good pun!

but the real benefit of the net is having sharp analysis like yours available to us.

i look forward to reading more of your excellent posts. long live publius!

Here's my follow-up post on NRO's The Corner and Bench Memos:

Publius has generously and graciously accepted my apology. I thank him for his kindness in doing so.

I see that some of the earlier commenters on his post have raised concerns about my good faith. One stated concern is that my apology is too vague. Let me be clear: In apologizing for having “been uncharitable in my conduct” towards Publius, I am apologizing both for disclosing his identity and for making harsh statements about Publius in the course of doing so. In stating that my apology is “completely apart from any debate over our respective rights,” I am apologizing for my conduct whether or not, in some abstract sense, I had a “right” to do what I did. In other words, I am acknowledging that I had a duty to be charitable to Publius (because a human being is beneath the pseudonym) and that I violated that duty.

A second stated concern is that my apology is insincere and coerced. On that score, I will simply say that no one at (or on behalf of) National Review or NRO (or in any other position of authority over me) ever raised with me a single concern about my posts or ever remotely suggested that I should make an apology. Further, as those who know me will readily attest, for better or worse my response to mob pressure is to entrench, not to cave. I made the decision to apologize on my own, without consulting with anyone before doing so, and I fully mean what I have said.

I will add that just as my apology cannot undo my disclosure of Publius’s identity, I fully acknowledge that folks may legitimately continue to criticize my conduct.

I am acknowledging that I had a duty to be charitable to Publius

Ah! Mr. Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, seems to have suddenly remembered deontology. Next up, acknowledgment of moral obligations.

good for Whelan.

and we here in the mob hold *you* in the highest esteem, too!

but this is between you and publius. if he is satisfied, i am satisfied.

now we can go back to what we were doing before this:

showing that you are engaged in a completely baseless and misleading campaign to smear sonia sotomayor, using claims about the place of "policy" in jurisprudence that are good for fooling the rubes on fox news, but really should never issue from the mouth of someone who claims to know something about the law.

shall we pick up from where we left off?

As someone who took his own shots at Whelan, I'd like to sincerely thank him for his first apology at the Corner and coming over here as well.

I’ll just second LJ. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy thing to do.

Thank you Mr. Whelan, for that civil and rather gracious elaboration of your apology. It speaks well of you - at least, in my eyes.

WTF does it mean to apologize for being "uncharitable?" Doesn't that imply that Sir Whelen's prior lack of disclosure was charitable? How beneficent. It's no apology. What a douche.

Good for you, Ed Whelan.

Further, as those who know me will readily attest, for better or worse my response to mob pressure is to entrench, not to cave. I made the decision to apologize on my own, without consulting with anyone before doing so, and I fully mean what I have said.

Yeah, me too. Good on you.

The initial apology was a tough thing to do, but Whelan's considered response to severe criticism here in the comment thread is truly to be admired.

I think this whole affair will make the Internet a better place-- strengthening norms of preserving pseudonyms, and maybe giving Whelan pause in the future before going nuclear on whichever topic. It's a shame, of course, that 100% of the burden falls on publius. (Well, maybe a bit on Whelan, he seems to agree that he's taken a reputational hit on this one).

Well, I think the in comments post answers a great many questions. Of course, Publius was gracious enough to take the man at his word but, alas, in the internet world we tend to take a blogger more at his deeds. I think that was a very gracious apology by Mr. Whelan, given that he apparently still thinks that his "rights" actually extend into the violation of another person's privacy and only some sense of belated noblesse oblige or "charity" as from a superior to an inferior suggests to him that the might restrain his individual desires in any way.

At any rate, the proof is in the pudding. Lets see if, as others have pointed out above, Mr. Whelan takes some anger management classes and remedial ethics and morality training (its never too late) and in his on line writings actually manages to live out his newfound appreciation for the existence of other human beings who are not republicans.

aimai

Apologies are cheap, especially when they're designed to forestall the personal consequences of one's actions.

Thank you for clarifying your position, Mr. Whelan. Online criticism can be harsh, and I've read more than a few arguments over the last few days made in apparent good faith against pseudononymous blogging. I believe those arguments are wrong on the merits, but hopefully your public comments will serve to give someone pause the next time they face your choice. The fact that you publicly and privately apologized for this action may not undo the damage, but it most certainly wasn't an easy thing for you to do, and I can respect that.

I too say, "Good for Whelan."

And I see no problem of consistency in disliking pseudonymous blogging and recognizing an obligation to respect the pseudonym. It's entirely possible to disapprove of what someone does, or consider it useless, and still understand that that is no reason to do them harm.

Good for Whelan. At this point, all he could do is apologize, and he has done it.

The main benefit of pseudonymity is that it forces the reader (or dissenting party) to engage with the IDEA being presented, rather than the personalities involved.

It's hard to divert a debate with an ad hominem attack when there's no "homo" (stop snikering...) to attack.

And especially good for the strong clarification. Not a weaselly apology, a real one. That's great because it means Mr. Whelan is going back to his best self.

I hope that this incident will be a sign of change, of a gradual diminishment of the incivility, indeed outright bullying, which has typified rightwing political argument since Lee Atwood's day.

I'm probably indulging in wishful thinking, but wouldn't it be nice if the next time some rightwing pundit tried to push the latest smear against whoever they are systematically smearing at the time got pushed into an apology?

And even nicer if we could start talking issues realistically instead dealing with an endless stream of cynically concocted rightwing talking points designed to imflame and mislead for purposes of obstruction, unconnected to any positive political agenda.

I'm all for having a functional two party system.

ThisIsn'tMyName, I don't think that's quite true that pseudonyms forces a reader to engage with idea vs. personalities, esp. in the case of well established pseudonyms.

This seems to be an instance of the anonymity/pseudonymity confusion.

(It *is* true that a reasonable reason to write under a pseudonym is to put some distance between what you write under that pseudonym and one's actual nym for the sake of getting a more "unbiased shake". You might do this to get around sychophanty as well as hostility.)

I would truly like to here what Jonah Goldberg, who supported the outing, has to say about Jack Dunphy blogging under a pseudonym on their site.

So, as per usual, the only one who ends up looking like an idiot is Jonah Goldberg.

Thank you for clarifying, Edward Whelan. Your 6:56 AM is distinctly clearer than your previous effort.

"I would truly like to here what Jonah Goldberg, who supported the outing, has to say about Jack Dunphy blogging under a pseudonym on their site."

Oh, that's as predictable as the sun rising: that's a different case, where Dunphy has a good reason, unlike the irresponsible and dishonorable law professor whose only reason for being pseudonymous was cowardice.

I would just like to add that, and this is to Publius' credit, that we do not know what the private apology consisted of, and I think that apology had more meaning to Publius than the printed one.

And yes, I give credit to Whelan for coming here and expanding on his published comments without resorting to any sarcasm or snide rebuttals.

That appears to be more than most commenters on the right are able to do, as well as a few on the left.

Good for Whelan. It's easy to lash out in anger, easy to retrench in the face of criticism, and hard to man up and apologize. But it was the right thing to do, and publius was gracious to accept the apology. Of course, now Whelan's defenders look slightly ridiculous...

John Miller: And yes, I give credit to Whelan for coming here and expanding on his published comments without resorting to any sarcasm or snide rebuttals.

Exactly. That was a classy thing to do.

We may now return to disagreeing with everything else that Ed Whelan has to say...

Well, Mr. Whelan insists the decision to apologize wasn't coerced or insincere, and I have to take him at his word. Still and all, I'd like to know just *what* exactly it was in particular that changed his mind so dramatically, and in such a short time. Barring that, I'd still also like to know just *who* dropped a dime on Publius (or at least, I'd like for *Publius* to know!).

Recognizing that I'll never get the answers to either of these questions (unless I one day become Ed's best friend -- which isn't likely, although I did actually meet Ed once), I would say that if the National Review's pseudonymous "Jack Dunphy" blogger *does* get outed because of this affair (and yes, to Jack's point on the Corner today, Ed *did* end up inadvertently hanging a target on Jack's back), Ed will have no one to blame but himself. Let's hope that that doesn't come to pass......

As someone who has, like most of us, difficulty in admitting when he is a total asshole -- and has lived with someone who never apologized without piling on all sorts of ridiculous excuses -- I am aware how difficult what Whalen did was.

I can only applaud him, condemn those who -- even after his explanation here -- continued to criticize him for this (unlike criticizing him for his opinions, which is well-deserved), and look forward to the next post publius puts up.

MikeF -- you raise a great point about Whelan's defenders. They *do* look pretty ridiculous right now (of course, Wendy Long *always* looks ridiculous!), particularly Charles Murray and Jonah. Well, thankfully (sarcasm alert here), they'll be very supportive of whoever eventually ends up outing Jack Dunphy, then......

And to Jonathan Adler's credit, he comes out of this smelling like a rose. As does Feddie at Southern Appeal. And, as does Publius, who has become my new favorite blogger. Publius, I've been reading your older posts, and I have to tell you, I like your work!

I give Ed full credit for his apology and to me it had no qualifications or conditions that we so often see in these kinds of things.

So sorry publius had to go through all this.

Pseudonymous commenters suck.

See, this blog should number its comments consecutively, so that latecomers can just say, "I concur with (3), (14), and (22), while acknowledging the force of (17) which however I think is adequately refuted by (39)."

Wouldn't that be great?

(Numbers chosen at random for illustrative purposes.)

Let me agree with Anderson on this. (Not that the people here have a chance in hell of getting Typepad to go along.) Ed Brayton's blog has recently started doing this, as has PZ's, and believe me it makes things much easier.

I'm glad to see this matter closed with class on both sides (repercussions notwithstanding), but shouldn't it be noted that the whole thing opened with a post entitled "The Education of Ed Whelan"?

Glad he did the right thing, even if far too late. Also, I must comment on this:

More voices are better than less

Argh! More voices are better than fewer!

[/grammar geek]

ooh! ooh!

as long as we're getting our grammar geeks on:

" It's easy to lash out in anger, easy to retrench in the face of criticism, and hard to man up and apologize."

you want the word "entrench", i.e. dig in, rather than "retrench" which means to cut back, to minimize or economize.

I'm just surprised you like Houston.

Hamilton and Burr could have learned from these guys.

Hey, Dean Martin liked Houston. Good enough for me.

Well it's lonesome in this old town
Everybody puts me down
I'm a face without a name
Just walking in the rain
Goin' back to Houston, Houston, Houston

And while we're on the grammar/spelling nazi trend:

It's "sycophancy". :)

Oh, and good on Whelan. Speaking as someone whose own instinct when piled on is to entrench, that kind of unqualified apology can be difficult to do.

Apologies are cheap, especially when they're designed to forestall the personal consequences of one's actions.

I think this is an incorrect view of Whelan's apology, and especially incorrect given the fact he's waded into comments here to clarify.

Here's the thing --- there is no indication that Whelan would have faced any consequences. Look at the other posts on NRO --- I mean, good Lord! He enjoyed 100% support from the other employees of one of his employers. He's the president at his other job. Look at the posts by the conservatives who call him out -- pretty much all of them qualify their condemnation. The tone is, from how I read it, that they think Whelan was justified in his anger because publius is simply a coward who hides behind a pseudonym and just hurls insults . . . but that it was a touch over the line to out him. You think these folks would ever exact any consequences for this act? Do you think there's any level of lefty blog anger that could topple him from his sinecure? Okay, maybe there are some legitimacy questions that will be associated with his name, but to the extent those are legit, they existed before his attack (thanks, Volokh!) and will likely not be forestalled by any apology. Indeed, if you want to go reading tea leaves, there's an excellent case to be made that he faces more consequences by apologizing than not (since now he's caved in to the terrorists).

The point is, Whelan manned up and acted out of his better nature because he has a better nature. We all sink below our aspirations, and sometimes we fall a great ways off --- and when we do, there's always people like Jonah Goldberg around to tell us that we didn't really fall . . . we were pushed. Those voices are always, always tempting, and it takes a massive effort of will to overcome them and get back in touch with what we wanted to be before we fell. These voices are especially tempting when we know we can't unring the bell, can't make everything right. We want to endlessly justify and defend our actions, because we know the alternative is to look on the mess we've made and to know that mess will be there forever. An apology is not always about making things right. It's also about recognizing that things can't be made right, and that we're to blame.

I would be sincerely surprised if there is a single thing that Ed Whelan writes -- from here to eternity -- that I agree with. And no doubt he couldn't care less about that. But I will also always regard him as someone who clearly has a moral compass, even if I also believe he would do better if he consulted it on a more regular basis.

And no doubt he couldn't care less about my thoughts on that matter, either.

"That appears to be more than most commenters on the right are able to do, as well as a few on the left."

A few on the left? The consistently snide bs of anonymous commenters on the left made me sympathise (empathize?) with Whelan however much I disagree with his politics. All we learned from this "episode" is that Whelan is easily provoked and thin-skinned.

I got a girl waiting there for me
Well at least she said she'd be
I got a home and a big warm bed
And a feather pillow for my head
Goin' back to Houston
Houston
Houston

If Dino had been born a few hundred miles south, he'd have been the greatest country singer not named Lefty Frizzell.

Yes, good on Ed Whelan. A very gracious and unstinting apology. I see no reason not to take him at his word.

still wrong, catsy: it's "psycho fancy".

Are you nuts, Prof?

You don't accept Eddie Whelan's apology.

You crush him.

If you believe for one second that Eddie wouldn't destroy you and every member of your family to please Tony Scalia - were it NOT for the fact that Eddie's only personal, sexual, and financial histories are about to bite him in his behind - then you, sir, are, with as much respect as can be mustered, a fool.

Eddie Whelan is pure evil. Credit his parents for the genes and Tony Scalia for the Josef Mengele buff and polish.

You lie down with the likes of Eddie Whelan and you'll get a knife in the back quicker than you can say, "billable hours."

Ed's still a douchebag; he just stinks a little less today. Jonah Goldberg, he who lept to Whelan's defense, cheetos in one hand, cardboard sword in the other, is left completely exposed and naked and looking as ridiculous as usual.

To Tony P at 1:37: right on. I agree with this ("Incidentally, I have to say as a mere civilian that a pseudonymous blog WITH comments is a fundamentally more honest enterprise than a signed blog WITHOUT comments. It takes courage and integrity to let your readers see what other readers have to say about your writing, instead of hiding behind an e-mail address. That's the real difference between "Ed Whelan" and "the blogger named publius".").

The Corner, Instarube, Malkin, all of them are total cowards. It's tough to allow comments when almost everything you say is a lie. Makes it much more likely your idiot readers will recognize you are full of it.

I think we've all said/done something in haste or anger that we really regret afterwards. We all humans, we all make mistakes. We learn the lesson and move on.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Erick Erickson managed to find a way to be an even bigger douchebag than Whelan was.

I have to remind myself that there was a time that Redstate was worth reading even for humor value, and that that time is long past.

Pseudonymous bloggers and anonymous blog commenters are the brownshirts of Liberal Fascism.

All's well that end's well then. If this were the comics at this point we'd have Mephisto erase everyone's memory of publius' secret identity like he did with Peter Parker.

Well, one effect is that I have bookmarked this website 'cause I've never read it before, and will now.

Josh Trevino, with all his traditional charm, calls out von, and dramatically (again) unmasks Hilzoy.

Von "is wrong." "Being Bok writing, Bok is wrong."

Etc. "Whelan almost certainly had a decent idea what the consequences might be, inasmuch as he knows Blevins’s professional situation: that is, a professor of law at an unremarkable Texas college. Blevins is therefore unlikely to suffer physical injury, harm to loved ones, loss of employment, or state persecution."

And, of course, that's all that matters. You see, "a serious harm to Blevins was (and is) almost unimaginable to any reasonable person...."

He also has at "moral arbiters at Obsidian Wings" in general.

von stands up for ObWi by abjectly confessing error: "Your response is, regrettably, on point with regard to me. This isn’t going to matter much in the grand scheme of things. I admit that I was a bit overblown."

What's particularly hilarious is that Trevino is the guy who spent years hiding his identity pseudonymously as "Tacitus."

[...] Of course Tacitus would have folded if I’d been identified while I was still working for the GWB Administration. I adopted that pseudonym as a convenience, not a right. Of course I’m grateful to anyone who refrained from exposing me: but let’s not pretend I was done a surpassing favor or humane act in this — nor that I deserved, as a moral principle, that forebearance.
Now he tells us.

Of course Tacitus would have folded if I’d been identified while I was still working for the GWB Administration. I adopted that pseudonym as a convenience, not a right.

And thusly Trevino cruises neatly past the opportunity to examine how his own untimely unmasking might have made him feel, or how much poorer the blogosphere would have been without the Tacitus blog when it was actually good. That would require, you know, empathy. Or a conscience. Neither of which, as anyone who's been reading Tacitus for the past six or seven years knows, Trevino has evidenced possessing.

Of course I’m grateful to anyone who refrained from exposing me: but let’s not pretend I was done a surpassing favor or humane act in this — nor that I deserved, as a moral principle, that forebearance.

Pseudonymity for me, but not for thee.

IOKIYAR.

I'm not sure what it says about me that I'm still able to be disgusted by the soulless lack of basic human decency in some of these people.

I wish Ed Whelan would apologize to me.

I don't blog. I have a corporate mid/senior executive type job, and I work with a lot of good people across the political spectrum that I want to have harmonious relationships with - and part of how I do that is keeping my politics to myself in a work context. A psuedonym is a great tool for that.

I also know that my political positions on occasion run up against the particular position of my company. I may view what may help short term the shareholders of this company as a poor long term choice in a broader context. I would never personally, publically, undercut the ones who sign my paycheck.

Also, the senior management of our parent company is fairly outspoken in their political stance. That's fine - but I do note that I have missed out on opportunities for exposure by not participating in partisan fundraising, etc. Personally, while the atmosphere is not alienating, if I were running things I would try to keep it less overtly partisan.

That said, I think I have something to contribute. The very fact that I see things from a different perspective of most bloggers adds a voice - I am neither a real nor a frustrated journalist, I don't work for a partisan pseudo think-tank, and I'm not a politician.

I have a different perspective on our regulatory environment than a lot of folks, because it's something I deal with every day - and I see things that are great for the consumer and a mild pain in my rear, and things which make great populist talking points but help neither the consumer nor the economy.

But, ultimately, I can't blog under my name. I can't discuss a regulation, knowing the regulation I criticize might have been written by a regulator whom I or my company might need to work with. I can't discuss what regulations I think help the industry but hurt the consumer, knowing the more senior executives I report to might read it unkindly. I want a vendor, customer, or employee to feel uncomfortable with me after noting a strong partisan disagreement from my blog.

Taking away pseudonymity takes my voice out of the public debate, at least for now. Now, it's likely whatever I wrote wouldn't be so impactful that I'd acquire enough attention to have someone expose me, but events like this make me unwilling to take the chance. In the age of google, once it's out there, anyone doing a web search on my name would be able to find out everything in two minutes.

I'm sure I'm not the only one in my circumstance, or who has other reasons to wish to debate publicly with a private identity - there are a lot of voices that are silenced when this happens.

Ed Whalen just silenced a lot of voices. Public blogging is fine for him - he has a public career that is only helped even by notoriety. He removed voices that might agree with some of his positions passionately and intelligently, or would be able to provide perspective that might improve his understanding of the issues. He silenced opponents and friends. He is restricting the debate to those who have the luxury of a public identity (e.g., people like him.)

Ed Whelan stole my voice and robbed me of the diversity of debate and opinion that I might otherwise have.

Ed Whelan owes me an apology.

Something just occurred to me.

I distinctly remember being around when the idea that became Redstate first started being bandied around. There was a discussion on Tacitus.org about the value in a community forum where left and right could engage, and part of what came out of that discussion was the intent of Tacitus and others to start such a thing for a right-leaning community. Redstate sprang, in part, from that. Part of what makes this stick in my head is the fact that I was in that discussion and expressed my desire to participate, which is what led me to be a commenter at Redstate for many years.

Trevino has it wrong. It's not just he that should grateful that he wasn't outed at a time that would have shut down Tacitus.org. That mendacious turd Erickson and everyone on Redstate should be blubbering with gratitude that their hate site even exists. Because if Trevino had been forced to shut down Tacitus prior to his leaving the Bush Administration, there's a good chance it wouldn't.

Also hilarious is that Trevino was "the motivating force behind a blog called Online Integrity, which bills itself as 'a nonpartisan, non-ideological commitment to basic decency.'"

But, you know, being decent is for schmucks; it's only for people who deserve it.

In fact, you're to blame; betcha didn't know that:

[...] No mention of Online Integrity in this case should go without noting that it is dead because it was emphatically rejected by the online community of which Obsidian Wings and its commentariat are thoroughgoing members.
Josh Trevino: collectivist.

Also, you started it, your mother is another, and publius was picking on Ed.

Next post: if ObWi doesn't stop, Joshy will tell his mommy on you. And then you'll all be sorry!

well, gary, do you *deny* that you are a "thoroughgoing member" of the "online community"?

you can't deny, can you!

not just a member, either: a *thoroughgoing* member!

The real story here wasn't really about me anyway -- it's about whether the norm of pseudonymity is a good thing.

I disagree. I think the story was about whether others owe a pseudonymous blogger a duty to refrain from divulging his identity.

I think there is no such duty per se, but that any duty to refrain comes from some other consideration - comity, or civility, or respect for reasonable concerns for anonymity. But such considerations are not always present, and the duty is "situational."

Anyway, what occurred here is a good demonstration of what will always happen in these occurrences: A small group of partisans who generally oppose the blogger's views but who sincerely believe a duty not to disclose always exists in all cases will speak up in opposition to the outing, while a large group of the blogger's supporters will feign outrage at the outing even though they would greet the outing of one of their opponents with either silence or cat calls and whistles.

I confess: I often go thorough.

I also hereby 'umbly request that ObWi start issuing identifying cards to members of "its commentariat," so we can properly be accused of being card-carrying thoroughgoing members ("courtesy may be foregone").

Hilzoy gets a special one, identifying her as an "ethicist," in quotes, which will parallel Trevino's self-identification as a "consultant" in scare quotes.

After that: tee-shirts.

Someone should start a collection of classic Trevino quotations, though, including this one:

[...] There’s a reason the ability to face one’s accuser is codified as a basic Constitutional right. It’s a right that does not, of course, extend beyond the courtroom, but it is grounded in a fundamental truth: to call a man by his name is to hold him accountable as himself, and not as his pretense of himself.
How many years was he known online only as "Tacitus," again?

He funny.

I think there is no such duty per se, but that any duty to refrain comes from some other consideration - comity, or civility, or respect for reasonable concerns for anonymity. But such considerations are not always present, and the duty is "situational."

The duty is situational in that, if you're an a**hole, you don't have respect for other people's choices. That's not to say that one can't take advantage of being pseudonymous in some way that makes that person an a**hole. But then, everyone is free to call that person an a**hole without revealing his or her personal information. One thing that drove me nuts in Whelan's earlier rationalizations was that he asserted that he didn't owe Publius some sort of courtesy of not outing him, as though there is some special effort required to avoid outing someone. You don't have to TRY not to out someone. You have to try to do it.

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Whatnot


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