Sunday, February 08, 2004

Yet Another Pseudonymity Rant

Christopher Farah is yet another in a long line of conventional journalists pissing and moaning about pseudonymity. He calls it "anonyblogging", but neologisms for ideas that already have names Just Isn't Cool, kiddies, so I'll avoid that myself.

The arguments aren't new, or remotely interesting- it's the same blend of "people don't trust pseudonymous writers" nonsense that we've all read before, usually from other bloggers desperate to try to leverage their name into some sort of credibility. (Instapundit, anyone?)

What IS interesting is that Farah's repeating the "why do they have to be so mad about it" bit. He doesn't appear to hate pseudonyms per se, but that the pseudonymous writers are criticizing mainstream writers, giving the example of Atrios' labelling of Nick Kristof as "human scum" as an example of Atrios going over the line. As commentators on Digby's blog have pointed out, though, that this is a mischaracterization- Atrios was angry with Kristof for misrepresenting liberal advocate groups' positions on prostitution, but Farah implied that it was for the story itself.

This is THE key reason why people like Atrios exist. Being a "legitimate" journalist means that you have vested interests in the field- you have interests in maintaining good relations with sources and fellow journalists, and you have interests in maintaining the good name of the field itself. You can't be as savage a critic as someone like Atrios because there's simply too much at stake- too loud a critic will find himself out in the cold. Yet at the same time, "outsiders" tend to get ignored- their non-journalistic backgrounds are used to discredit them, and their employers (who have no interest in journalistic ethics, but simply good or bad P.R.) may tell them to "lay off or get laid off".

With pseudonymity, though, one can be as critical as necessary. If the criticism is valid, then either it gets out there and the journalist changes his actions or it remains present for others to employ later when evaluating his work. If it isn't valid, it gets quickly rebutted. In neither case is the identity of the critic used as a response, which is the way it should be, because the focus should be on the validity of the original story, not the identity of the critic. It doesn't MATTER who Atrios is, because by definition he cannot employ his real-world credibility on the issue, which is the only reason why one would need to criticize the source.

(Note that none of this applies to right-wing opinion journalism, because they have no need to cultivate mainstream support, an air of objectivity, and a variety of mainstream contacts. They're operatives, not journalists, and as long as they've got their own networks they can function perfectly well within them.)

Farah and the other critics, then, is doing what anybody would do when their livelihood and friends are threatened. He's circling the wagons. He needs to eat, same as anybody else, so more power to him. There's no reason, however, why we need to pay attention to a word of it. Considering Atrios' popularity, it's pretty clear that people aren't.

By the way, as to why I haven't been posting recently... it's some level of burnout on politics, to be honest. While it's somewhat gratifying to see the truth kinda-sorta coming out on Iraqi WMDs, the way in which it's being massaged to protect the Bush Administration is nauseating, and the fact that he's almost certainly going to get away with it even more so. I still think the Democratic primaries are pretty much over and done with, with the only real question being who Kerry picks for his VP nominee and the shape of the debate.

The 9/11-centered shape of the upcoming race that Digby laid out seems perfectly understandable, if endlessly frustrating. It's the one issue on which Bush retains an advantage and all efforts are going to go towards maintaining it. The Republicans will frighten and intimidate the American public just enough (through fearmongering and leveraging of "patriotic correctness") to get a small number of independents in each battleground state to come over to their side, and in an environment of massive polarization, that'll be enough.

And, of course, once Bush no longer has to worry about re-election, the REAL fun will begin. The only thing keeping him from enacting a massively conservative agenda is November. Once he's in his second term, it's all about the "legacy".

And yet we still have Dean supporters who are declaring that they'll switch to Nader if their man doesn't win.

Is it any wonder I'm starting to get sick of the whole damned thing?

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